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.

Buying Your First Electric Guitar – What to Check Out in a Strat Style Guitar

So, you and a buddy who can play (or your Guitar Teacher) are standing in your local Music Shop.  You have come to take a look at a Strat style guitar – choices, choices, choices! Before you came to the shop you will have done some research to home-in on some makes in your price range. In general the quality of budget guitars is very good today thanks to modern computer based manufacturing however there are still a few points you need to look for.

So which one do I check out first. Well the first thing that will probably catch your eye is the colour. Is the colour important? Well it is to you but it will not make the guitar sound any better (but some say red guitars sound the best!). Colour choice is a personal thing – you may like a sunburst  one because your favourite guitar player has one or it’s the colours of the team you support. As just mentioned colour does not affect the sound but it can affect the re-sale value of the guitar – most budget guitars will be a stepping stone to a higher priced model and often you will need to sell your first guitar to be able to afford the new one. “Safe” colours that generally sell well are black or white. Sunburst or red ones (or other “bright” colours) tend to be polarising – that is, you will either love or hate them. All that said, if it don’t like the colour don’t buy it!

Now the first thing you will notice when you pick up the guitar of your choice is its weight. A typical weight will be around 8 pounds (3.5kg) plus or minus a little. There has been a lot of discussion about whether light or heavy guitars sound the best but I won’t get into that other than saying what matters is how the guitar sounds to you.  What is important however is how comfortable is it to play. My personal preference is for lighter guitars as I find them more comfortable to play both sitting down and standing.

The next thing to look out for is how the neck feels in your hand. Necks can come in all shapes and sizes (as do hands!) – they can be “C” shaped, “V” shaped or “U” shaped, wide or narrow, fat or thin. In the budget category manufacturers do a lot of market research to offer you a neck that, to most people, will feel good – not too wide (a typical width at the nut is around 42mm) and not to big in the hand (the “C” shape is a good compromise).  A good tip is to try a few different necks and compare how they feel. Always buys a guitar with a neck that feels right for you.

Starting at the “pointed end” – called the headstock, point the guitar away from you and look down the neck. What you should see is essentially a straight neck with a very slight under curve (called the neck relief – which if measured should be around 0.010″ at the 8th fret but that’s getting a bit technical!). Also the frets should look even – with no high ones. To an inexperienced eye “sighting” a neck can be difficult so again ask a friend who knows what to look for to check it out for you. As you have gone to you local Music Store, they will have checked all the guitars they stock so it’s unlikely you will get a major problem with a new guitar (buying a used guitar can be a different matter though!).

On the headstock there will be six machine (tuning)heads – check that these turn smoothly and easily. Defective machine heads can be a major source of tuning instability. I am continually surprised that the quality of the machine heads on budget guitars is really very good these days but you can get exceptions so check them out.

Moving down the neck we find the “nut” – usually made of hard plastic (but can be bone or metal) with six slots cut in to it to act a as string guide. A badly cut nut can be a major contributor to poor playability and tuning instability since the strings don’t move smoothly and freely through the grooves (they get “pinched” and can stick). A quick and easy check is to gently lift the string out of its slot – it should lift out without catching or sticking.  As an additional check, play each string open (not fretted) and listen for any “rattles” or “buzzing”  – this can be caused by the nut slots being cut too deep and the string is fretting out on the first fret. Again the Music Store should have checked that all is OK but it does no harm to double check.

In the next instalment I will share tips on what to look out for with the fingerboard & frets, electrics and the Tremolo.

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.

Exam Tips – After the Exam

Well the Exam is over – and you’re still alive!

So what’s next? Well go and relax – have a party, go for run, have a jam session with your buddies. Go and enjoy yourself! After all the hard work you put in it’s important you reward yourself.

Now the first point – stop worrying about the result! It is only human nature to think we did badly – probably a defense mechanism to help soften the blow of failure. But, most likely you haven’t failed. Also, don’t worry about what the grade. Remember, the basic aim of sitting the Exam was to Pass – a Merit or Distinction Grade is just a bonnus.

It’s good to take a break from study but don’t make it too long or you can get “rusty”. I once taught a Sports Physiotherapist who said that we start to lose our finley honed muscle memory skills in as short a time as 8 days! Nicolo Paganinni, the great virtuoso violinist once said, “If I don’t practice for a day, I notice. If I don’t practice for two days, the orchestra notices. If I don’t practice for three days, the audience notices!”

So take say a week off from study and play – “noodle” around, relax and enjoy playing your favourite pieces. During your week off order your next set of Grade books (stop worrying, most likley you will have passed). When they arrive take a causual look at the new syllabus – surprise, surprise it all looks very familiar. The scales and chords will be often based on, or extensions of, what you learned in previous Grades, that is there will be interconnects to prior learning so the new syllabus shouldn’t look too daunting or difficult. Just take gentle “walk” into the new material – no pressure!

The Exam Result – either you will hear via the Post or from your RGT Teacher. It’s one of the great pleasures a Teacher can have sharing the good news that a student has passed – it’s possibly our greatest reward. It’s even more satisfying is to see their faces when when they receive a Merit or a Distinction. This is the best example a candidate can experience of an Intrinsic Reward – that is the feeling of personal satisfaction that comes from within knowing that you worked hard and achieved success. A great “life lesson”.

Now, horror of horrors – you didn’t make it! Don’t despair sometimes we all experience failure – it’s all part of learning and life. Sit down with your Teacher and review the Exam Feedback Sheet (a very useful map of your strengths and weaknesses). It will not be all gloomy – look for the sections you did well in and then look at the areas that let you down. These are the ones you should focus on for the re-sit. To that end the best postive strategy is to get your re-sit Exam booked for the next available date – don’t focus on the past, look forward to the future!

So, keep moving ahead with your studies and learning and, be successful!


Exam Tips – In the Exam

Well you made it – you’re in the Exam room!

First things first – introduce yourself to the Examiner (and smile – they are human like us!). Try to relax and just take a few moments to get yourself organised. Remember the Exam day is a very busy day for the Examiner (so he or she is under a lot of time pressure to keep things moving along).

A good tip: to double check that you have understood an Examiner’s question – quickly re-state the question. Misunderstandings do happen.

The first section is typically Scales & Arpeggios: take a second or two to get yourself in place on the fingerboard and take a deep breath before you start. Even if you make a slight slip – try to keep going. If you make a real hash of it ask the Examiner if you can repeat it. Stay calm and don’t over focus on a small slip or mistake.

The next section is usually Chords – again take your time and if need be say aloud the name of the chord or arpeggio you have been asked to play (it will help trigger your long term memory – after all you already know all the chords it will be just stress that makes you forget; stay relaxed!).

If you have a set piece to play (for say a Specialism section) remember to take your music with you and if it’s not one suggested by the exam board take a spare copy for the Examiner. Take your time getting started and always try to start & finish well – first & last impressions are important. Again if you make a mistake – keep going!

For a Rhythm Test always take 20 or 30 seconds to scan through the chord chart and make sure you take in what’s required – note the time signature and plan what rhythm patterns you will use, the format (repeats etc), playing descriptor (With a Blues Feel, Lively etc) plus the dynamics. Don’t worry about the actual chords as you should know these from the hours of practice you have put in!

Lead playing – the main point is to identify which scale (or scales) and arpeggios to use for your improvised solo over the presented chord chart. The first chord is the “key chord” and will tell you which scale (or scales) to use. Remember – “like goes with like”. So if the first chord is an Am then you can use an A minor scale of some kind – for example, A natural minor or A pentatonic minor, or both. Use phrases you have pre learned and keep it simple. Try to leave some “space” and don’t just go all out for “pace” – let your solo “breathe” and make it sound musical (not just a series of scale based runs).

Very often there is a Spoken Test which involves knowledge of the fingerboard. As a musicican it’s important to know what notes you are playing so you can effectively communicate with other non guitar playing musicians – a key board player will not know that the 3rd fret on the 3rd string is a Bb. This section is usually straight forward – just read the book and learn the facts (simples!).

The final section is normally the Aural Test and is often looked upon with anxiety by Candidates. The best advice here is to relax and go with your 1st answer – once you start dithering as to what you think the rhythm or interval is you will more than likley get it wrong. Also, remember even if you if do badly in the Aural section as long you have done well with all the other sections you will still Pass – which is after all the basic aim; getting a Distinction or a Merit is fantastic but a Pass is still a Pass.

So stay calm, keep focussed and do your best!

Exam Tips – On the Day

So, what’s the best way to prepare for your Exam? Well it starts the day before – make sure your get a good night’s sleep (save the party until after the Exam!). Also, plan how to get to the Exam (Google maps are helpful). Work out how you are going to get there, check on parking if you drive and estimate how long it will take you to get there (and if need be allow for the unexpected – like traffic!). A good piece of advice is to get all you need for the Exam ready the day before to avoid the last minute panic – check your guitar is OK (get it restrung if necessary), tune it up, pack your tuner and a lead, check you have supply of picks, take a some spare strings and pack your Grade Handbook. Finally, fill out the admin paperwork you were sent.

On the day make sure you get up in plenty of time and take some light exercise – a relaxed run or even just a walk; get some fresh air and blow the cobwebs away. If you want to have a light guitar work out session – just to get your finger working. Remember you already know the material inside out so there’s no need to stress your self out by last minute cramming.

If your exam is in the morning have a light breakfast of slow release carbohydrate – cereal is perfect. Avoid fresh orange juice (you don’t want to have to dash to the loo) and strong coffee (avoid the caffeine shakes) pilule viagra prix. Drink at least two glasses of water – to hydrate yourself (rememeber the human brain is over 90% water – and you want it to function at it’s best). If it’s in the afternoon then have a light lunch of slow release carbohydrate – pasta is ideal.

Leaving for the Exam – obvious statement but go to loo! Give yourself plently of time. If you think it will take 45 minutes allow 90 minutes – don’t get yourself stressed out becuase you think you are going to be late. Take some water with you and also a glucose based drink (like Lucozade) – take some sips of both but don’t drink the lot!

When you arrive at the Exam Centre find out where you have to go – it will usually be sign posted but you may have to ask at reception if it’s in a univeristy campus or large school. Once in the waiting room you’ll probably meet other candidates – relax and say hello (they’re just a nervous as you!). Get your guitar out, get tuned up and run through your scales (which is the always the first section in an RGT Exam – or most exams in fact). Relax and have few more sips of the glucose drink but again not too much – you don’t want to be hyper on sugar, just nicely fuelled.

Next time I’ll share some tips for During the Exam.

Keep practising!


Exam Tips

June is a busy month for everyone sitting their RGT Grade Exams. I have had over 450 students all pass their Grades – about 80% setting Distinctions (so far no failures!). What’s the secret? The “Three P’s” – Practice, Patience & Perseverence viagra a. In fact there is a fourth “P” – Preparation.

Practice – the key is structured practice. Start with an aim (“polishing” scales or working out Lead Playing fills etc) and focus on your weaker areas. For beginners 20 – 30 minutes will do but for more advanced students you obviously need to put in more time (say around 45 – 60 minutes). Too long? Well you enjoy playing don’t you?

Patience – give your self some time! Take things slowly at first and let speed come naturally.

Perseverence – keep at it! Don’t get stressed if you don’t pick it up first (or second) pass. It has been said that to learn any complex skill takes 10,000 hours! Remember – guitar is for life!

Preparation – look after the simple things…….Tune your guitar, don’t loose your pick or study books, change your strings regularly (about every 4 – 6 weeks). Plus, “Read the Book”! Take time to go through your study books – they are full of tips (and the’ve been written by Examiners).

Also, talk to your RGT Teacher – we’re here to fix problems and keep you moving forward.

Good luck and be successful!