Choosing Your Guitar Teacher

Hello again from Colin Berrido, the independent music teacher based in Bagshot, Surrey, England.

I’ve been busy lately giving guitar lessons and teaching a variety of instruments – including mandolin and ukulele plus I’ve played a couple of gigs with Rogues Gallery – The Not So Traditional Barn Dance Band and I also did a stand-in/dep gig with another local barn dance band.

For this posting I thought I’d chat over “Choosing Your Guitar Teacher” – very important for both you and your teacher to make the right choice.

This first thing to think about is: what to look for in picking a guitar teacher?

Some areas could be:

–       to learn to play in particular style.

–       to help me get in to College or University.

–       to boost my confidence and help me play in front of people.

–       to show me how to play barre chords.

–       show me how to solo.

–       or, to help me enjoy music and de-stress.

A good tip is to make a check list of what you want to ask your potential teacher BEFORE you contact them. With the Internet and all the Social Networking sites, such as Facebook/Twitter now available, it is relatively easy for you to check out possible teachers and draw up a short list of candidates.

As part of the screening process you should also ask around friends and family to see if they have any recommendations – “word of mouth” is a good source of information as you can get first hand opinions as to what a particular teacher is like. Music Shops are also a good source of information as they often personally know local teachers and can make recommendations.

A key point I would highlight is wherever possible CALL the prospective teacher up and speak with them. You will instantly get an idea of whether you will get on with them – after all we are all people and “chemistry” is important. Sometimes, for no fault of our own (or the other person), the “chemistry” is wrong and the relationship doesn’t fly. By speaking directly with someone you can get an instant “read out” as to their personality and can quickly gauge if you will get along with them.

Getting back to your Check List – questions you might want to ask when choosing your guitar teacher are:

–       Do they have a recognised Teaching Qualification? I hold a teaching Diploma from the London College of Music (Dip LCM). Remember – great players don’t always make the best teachers (and vice versa).

–       How long have they been teaching? In general, it is difficult to short cut experience.

–       What level/grade can they teach up to? Not all teachers will teach (or want to teach) up to advanced level students. I had a good friend who was a piano teacher and he only taught up to Grade 5 by choice but he was brilliant at getting people up and running!

–       Ask what they think is the most important aspect a student should focus on? The obvious answer is of course – keep up regular practice, but other points of view could include, play music that you like (I’m a firm believer in this philosophy), make sure you play with other musicians, learn to read music (I tend to learn towards the Suzuki philosophy of “learn to play first & them loop back and learn the theory or learn to read music”. As guitarists we have the advantage of being able to use TAB – which I believe is an excellent system as long as it’s used in conjunction with regular notation).

–       Ask what teaching aids or facilities they have? As the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland said – “You have to keep running just to stay where you are!” Technology keeps moving on at a rate of knots and it’s important that your teacher can offer you the advantages of these advancements. Now I’m the first person to say I love valve amps (very old analogue technology) but I wouldn’t record them with a reel to reel recorder anymore (although that could sound very good) simply because at some point I would have to convert the analogue signal to a digital one. For speed and simplicity I use an iPad with a dongle/digital analogue interface these days since the amp emulations are very good and it gives me the ability to quickly email or file share the recording with a student.

On the subject of recording I’m a big fan of recording a student’s efforts (particular those who are working towards an external exam) since it gives them the chance to hear how they are getting on. It’s also a non critical way to give constructive feedback – more often than not we are very self critical of our own work and think our “mistakes” are the size of Mount Everest when in fact when you listen back to the recording they are barely noticeable. Once we learn we can often “get away” with little faux pas as our confidence level rises – which has to be good (see you can “fool” the listener some of the time!).

–       Do they have Web Site or use Social media? This is a good way to keep in contact with your teacher and get extra tips and information (for free!).

–       Do they have any specialist knowledge or types of music they specialize in? Like most teachers I’m a bit of a “jack of all trades” – we have to be to help our students however my specialism is electric Celtic based folk music – in particular playing jigs & reels and the like on electric guitar (that Richard Thompson chap has a lot to answer for but is still the Master). I find they are great “finger twisters” and are an excellent supplement to conventional scales (and more fun – which is the aim of the game after all).

–       Are they a working, gigging musician? I still am and I share my experiences of what pieces of kit – amps, guitars, effects pedals etc., that I find work well (or don’t). This often saves my students a lot time in chasing down a gigging rig that will sound good (and often keeps them on track to a limited budget).

I’m sure you will have lots of questions of your own but I hope these will spark your thought process.

Please don’t lose sight of the fact that a good music teacher can have a long and lasting positive effect on you as well helping you learn to play guitar – they can be inspirational, a mentor, a gigging partner (two of my current band are former pupils) or just a great source of learning. I was taught piano from the age of seven to fourteen (when I took up guitar) and the music theory I was taught by my piano teacher, for which I will be forever grateful, I still use on a daily basis.

So take some time and seek out a teacher that ticks the boxes for you – a teacher is not just for Christmas but their effect on you may be for life (like my piano teacher was for me).

Buying a Strat Style Guitar – SUMMARY

Welcome back to the web site of Colin Berrido, an independent guitar teacher based in Surrey, England.

So, on my previous articles I took you through the basic things to look for in selecting your Strat Style Guitar. To tie off all the loose ends let’s try to summarise and give you a check list to work from:

  1. Budget – set yourself a budget and try to stick it! Your shiny new “way over budget” guitar may look fantastic but you still have to eat until your next pay day (or you Dad has to feed the family). Hunger whilst seldom fatal in the first twenty four hours is still not good! If you really want that dream guitar it may be better to hold on to the cash and wait until you have saved up for it.
  2. Where to buy – my personal preference is to go to your local friendly music store. In my experience no two guitars are quite the same and you need to try them out and let them “speak to you” – be careful of those expensive ones, they can keep whispering “buy me!”. Also, take a friend who can play (or your guitar teacher – we are here to help, honestly!).There are some great bargains on the internet but the down side is that reading a specification does not tell you how a guitar feels.
  3. Key points to look for: colour (doesn’t make it play any better – except red ones so I’m told) but it’s important to you (and can affect re-sale value). Weight – I personally like light weight guitars (getting old I suspect). Feel of the neck: skinny, wide, fat, large radius or flat radius fingerboard, small or tall frets? No one type is best – it’s what it feels like to you.
  4. Check out the hardware: make sure everything works – machine heads, tremolo, no loose strap buttons etc.
  5. Check out the electrics: try to play it through a “quality” amp AND a small practice amp (which is what your budget will probably direct you towards). Why try both: well if it sounds good through a quality amp then it’s basically a good guitar. If it still sounds good through a small low budget amp then it’s still a good guitar plus you know the budget amp is also good piece of kit (not always the case sadly). Couple the two together and you’re like to be a “happy camper” and still on track re the money. Listen for any crackles and pops from the volume & tones controls and the pickup selector switch. You may get told that they just need a squirt of switch cleaner – yes it can work but in my experience it is only a temporary fix (the parts really need to be replaced with quality units – which is not cheap if you include getting a guitar tech to fit them for you).
  6. Sound: how does it sound to you? There are what may be considered classic Strat tones – does the guitar you’re checking out capture these to a lesser or greater extend? Again, I’ve been surprised at how good some budget guitars sound. In the final analysis – use your ears and personal judgment. Pickups can be upgraded – but they are not cheap!
  7. Playability: what is the action like? I’m not a huge fan of ultra low actions, measured at the 12th fret – 3/64’s top E and 4/64’s bottom E (usually only easily achievable of a flat radius neck). I prefer the original 7.25 inch fingerboard radius and an medium low action – of 4/64’s top E and 5/56’th bottom E – I like to be able to get hold of the strings and “feel” them when string bending. The down side of many budget guitars that I see my students bring along to lessons is that they are basically good guitars but that they’ve been set up properly. Again fixable but is an extra cost. If you buy from your local music store (who perhaps know you and your buddies – or your teacher), they may set it up for you prior to selling it (which I believe they should do any way – but margins are tight for retailers in these tough economic times and time is money). Always worth smiling and asking though! If they are nice to you, you will go back – two-way loyalty is always worth building up: you never know when you might need help (to change that pesky top E string that’s just snapped for example).
  8. Finally: try to include in your budget a gig bag. You don’t want your shinny new guitar getting “relic-ed” on the way home (or perhaps you do!).

Well I hope I’ve been of help pointing you the right direction – enjoy your new guitar and your playing.  A guitar is not just for Christmas – it’s for life!

Buying Your First Electric Guitar – Necks & Tremolos on a Strat Style Guitar

Hello again. So you’ve picked your guitar based on your favourite colour (as I’ve said previously it doesn’t affect how it plays but it has to look cool!) and it feels good – comfortable to hold and a nice weight (not too heavy). You and your guitar playing buddy have done all the previous checks I’ve suggested so now it time to look at the neck, fingerboard and frets.

Well you have checked that the neck is essentially straight (with just a small under bow – called the neck relief) so now it’s time to take a closer look at the neck. Most manufacturers use maple as the wood of choice for their necks on Strat styled guitars and profile their neck shapes to be a medium depth “C” shape as this is considered by most folks to be a comfortable and manageable shape. Other shapes can be found such as “V” shapes, shinny “C” shapes – all sorts in fact so check out a range and see what you like. Experience has taught me that whilst a “skinny” neck might initially appear the right choice a slightly thicker neck is often more comfortable  over extended playing times but again I stress that the neck has to feel right for you – let it “speak to you!”

Now the next choice is fingerboard material. The two common options are rosewood (dark coloured wood)or maple (light coloured). A rosewood fingerboard is glued on to the underlying maple of the neck. With a maple fingerboard is can be a separate glued on fingerboard or it can be part of the neck (a so called “one piece” neck). Apart from how they look does the fingerboard wood make any difference to the sound? Well common belief says is that it does. From my own experiences, particularly playing live and at a reasonable volume, rosewood necks tend to sound a bit warmer with more mid range. Maple necks have a little more brightness and “snap” – it can be quite subtle but these are the general rules. That said I saw in a video put out by Fender that pointed out that if the rosewood is actually very thin (more like a veneer) and the fret goes right the way through to maple underneath then the sound will be more “maple like”. The earlier Fenders (and a number of the re-issues) have what is called a slab rosewood fingerboard which is quite thick and the fret never gets to touch the underlying maple of the actual neck. These necks to my ears sound warmer when compared to a one piece maple neck viagra efficace. You can spot a slab board by looking at the area just above the nut – if the rosewood curves away in a “hump” then it’s a slab board. So which is best? Over the life of a guitar rosewood fingerboards are easier to maintain (you simply rub in some lemon oil from time to time) and they don’t show fingernail marks as much but once again I come back to the point that it’s all about how the guitar sounds and looks like to you.

Another point to consider is the fingerboard radius. What’s that? Well it’s how curved the fingerboard is. Classical guitars have a virtually flat fingerboard whilst Fenders from the 1950’s and 1960’s had a curved fingerboard with a radius of 7.25″. The general rule is, the lower the radius number the more curved is the fingerboard. Typical ranges are from 7.25″ to around 14″ – with the 14″ radius fingerboard feeling very much flatter than the 7.25″. Which is best? It all depends on what style you play really – a curved 7.25″ radius is very comfortable for playing barre chords and a flatter radius is easier to string bend on (and to get a lower action – the distance between the bottom of the string and the fret that determines the ease of fretting). A good compromise is a radius of between 9.5″ and 12″. Now you know what I’m going to say – try out a number of different necks and see what feels right for you.

Moving on to frets – most “traditional” style necks have 21 small to medium height frets. Most “modern” Strat style necks have 22 medium height frets (very occasionally a “super Strat” may have 24 frets).  Is the fret height important? Well with a smaller fret (say 0.025″ to 0.030″ tall) the action will feel lower – as the string is closer to the fingerboard (this of course is not the “true” action as that’s the height of the string from the fret). The net effect is that it feels easier to hold down chords. The downside is that it can be more difficult to bend strings.  A high fret height could be around 0.050″ and at this height string bending is a lot easier (simply because your fingers have less contact. and therefore less drag, with the actual wood of the fingerboard). Of course the ease of string bending is also affected by string gauge – the thinner the string the less tension is needed to bring it up to pitch so the easier it is to bend. One down side of high frets is that beginners often squeeze hard on the string to fret it and tend to pull the note sharp – making chords sound out of tune. On entry level guitars manufacturers generally offer necks and frets that are a good practical compromise and feel fine to most people so again it’s down to what suits you.

I just mentioned string gauge – what’s the best string gauge to use? Well there’s no right or wrong answer but here are a few things to consider. The traditional scale length on a Strat style guitar is 25.5″ and the laws of physics tell us that the longer the scale length the more tension is required to bring a given string gauge up to pitch. So a set of 10 to 46 gauge strings will feel “tighter” on a 25.5″ scale length than on a shorter scale length (say around 24.75″ as found on many Gibson style guitars). As a teacher my philosophy is simple – anything that makes playing the guitar easier for a beginner has to be a good thing so I would say fit 9 – 42 gauge strings initially on a Strat style guitar. Now as your hands get stronger at some point in the future you may want to switch over to 10 – 46 gauge strings (generally taken to be the “standard” gauge – if there is such a thing!) as thicker strings give a “thicker” the tone but it’s all about personal choice.

Moving on to the Tremolo – this is a great device on a Strat style guitar and can give hours of fun (or perhaps I’m just easily pleased!). You can produce 60’s type Surf “wobbles” right through to “dive bomber” squeals. Now with all pleasure there is usually a price to pay and for a trem fitted guitar that usually means a loss of tuning stability compared to a “hard tailed” non-trem guitar. If a traditional six-screw Fender style trem is properly set up (now that’s another article for another day) the tuning in my experience is acceptable – as long as you don’t do massive drive bomb effects. The original recommended Fender set up was to have the bridge plate “floating” about 3/32″ above the body of the guitar so as to give up & down movement. A lot of manufacturers ship guitars with the bridge plate “flat” to the body – this only gives downwards movement but does aid tuning stability so it’s a good compromise. Once again your local music store should be able to adjust the trem to how you want it but my advice is to initially leave the bridge plate set flat t to the body – you can always try it “floating” later. One point to mention is that a number of guitars have re- designed tremolo units fitted with two pivot points (not six screws) that help iron out tuning stability issues. Trem units from Wilkinson and Floyd Rose are names to look out for.

Well in my next article I’ll tie up all the loose ends and give you a summary of what to look for in choosing your first electric guitar.

Getting Started – Buying Your First Electric Guitar

Right – so you’ve decided to learn to play guitar! A good decision, one small problem – no guitar!

There is now a world of choice for people starting out so which guitar do I buy?

How much will it cost? Well let’s help out with some tips.

First off – set yourself a budget. How much? Well a good “starter guitar” will cost around £120 to £200 (approximately $200 to $300). Yes you can probably find something cheaper but generally with guitars you get what you pay for – it’s an old saying but “buy cheap, buy twice”.

So where to buy? The Internet has some good prices but my own personal preference is to go to your local friendly Music Shop. My logic is that choosing a guitar is very personal decision. The feel, the weight, the sound, the colour are all best evaluated via a hands-on test drive. Also, you local Music Shop will have a range of guitars for you to try and also give you advice on what best suits you, plus if it goes wrong, and they sometimes do, they will be able to quickly fix it for you.

Another good tip – if you don’t know your Strat from your Les Paul, take a friend along who already plays so that they can help you make the right choice. Also, your Music Teacher can help out too.

Decisions, decisions – what do I buy? Where do I start? The most popular guitar since its launch in the 1950’s is the Fender Stratocaster. The Strat, or one of its many clones (which should fall into my suggested budget guidelines), is a very comfortable and versatile guitar. It’s body is chamfered so there are no hard edges and it also has good upper fret access. The versatility of sounds comes from three single coil pick-ups, which impart a bright and punchy tone. Strats have been used in nearly every musical genre – rock, blues, country, jazz even folk. They also have a wonderfully fun device called the Tremolo Arm (or whammy bar). This can give hours of pleasure from simple little whammy dips to out and out drive bombing effects acheter viagra en tunisie.

What if the Strat is not for you? Then my next other “check out” guitar for folks getting started is the Gibson SG or, one its many copies (again lower in price than an original) . They are generally lighter in weight and have possibly the best upper fret access of any guitar. The pickups are usually humbuckers which are visually bigger than single coil type and have a warmer darker tone.

So what does it feel like to you? Any guitar should feel comfortable to hold, after all you are going to spend a lot of time together. Check that the neck is not too wide or thick – not everyone has big hands or long fingers so make sure it feels right for you. To be fair most manufacturers do a great job of making guitars these days and offer really good high quality products.

In the next instalment I will talk you through other things to check out when you buy your first guitar. Keep reading the reviews – getting opinions of current users has got to help in narrowing down your options and will go a long way to helping make the right choice.