Happy New Year, everyone. Here are some resolutions for guitarists (reblog for 2022)

Advice & Tips

Hi all and welcome to 2022! You may have noticed that things have been a little quiet on this blog for the last few months. This is for a number of reasons, but don’t panic – I’m fine, just incredibly busy! Expect more posts in this new year, as well as updates on exciting new projects I’ve been working on. In the meantime, here’s a slightly rejigged post on New Year’s resolutions from a few years back. I hope you enjoy it! Until next time...

As a general rule, I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. My philosophy is that changes can be made at any time, so why wait until January?

However, there is something about the end of a year which causes us all to reflect on the previous twelve months and start focusing on our plans for the next twelve. For us working musicians, this would usually mean that we have reached the end of one of our peak times, the ‘Christmas Party Season’. For over a decade (pre-pandemic), I ended the year with a NYE gig. However, for obvious reasons, things have been a little quieter by comparison, which gives us time to ponder on the gigs we’ve enjoyed, what we didn’t enjoy, and what we hope to change for the new year.

So, with that in mind, here are a few of my suggestions for guitar-related resolutions for musicians looking to grow as better musicians in the coming year:

Learn a new style

Always wanted to start learning those jazz chord voicings? Perhaps you keep meaning to work on your reggae & ska rhythm playing? Or your country picking? Blues slide? The list goes on…

Take the time to work on these new genres & styles of playing. We are very fortunate to live in a time where we can access a world of free tutorials on the Internet, or videos in YouTube. However, don’t rule out the possibility of taking lessons to focus on specific areas – working one to one with an experienced guitar tutor does wonders for improving your playing!

Mix things up

Learning a style doesn’t mean you have to abandon all you know & travel the world playing strictly Django/gypsy jazz for the rest of your life (though I imagine there are plenty of worse ways to live)!

Have you found that the majority if your playing has been on acoustic guitar? Trying swapping to electric more often (or vice versa). Do you always practise at the same time of day? If possible, can you change to a different time? Your brain operates differently throughout the day – you may well find yourself going down very different musical avenues simply by switching from a morning to an afternoon practice session.

Sometimes learning to play a song you are very familiar with in a new style works brilliantly in helping your playing. Not only do you freshen up material which might be getting a bit stale, but you’ll have a safer means of exploring new options in your guitar playing.

One area of guitar playing I can’t recommend highly enough is solo performance. By this, I don’t mean the lead guitar solo in a song, but playing the melody, harmony, rhythms, etc on one unaccompanied guitar. It’s something a piano player wouldn’t think twice about, but I’m frequently amazed at how many guitarists simply haven’t tried it properly! If you’re unsure about how to start doing this, there are several books, online tutorials (like this blog!), and of course YouTube videos to help inspire you. Which brings us nicely in to…

Widen your horizons

Music is a language. Even when playing on your own, you are creating sounds for yourself to hear, effectively taking to yourself. But there’s only so long you can do that before you end up going round in circles, or going crazy!

Set yourself the following challenge for the year: discover a new artist each month. Learn from what you hear. Take examples of their playing & try to incorporate it into your own. It can only make you a better guitarist! The beauty of this is that you don’t have to focus on other guitar players. In fact, it might be better not to! Many of the jazz & Blues guitarists I admire take inspiration for their improvisational playing from horn players, translating their melodies & ideas into their own instrument. Try it!

It also helps to get out amongst other musicians, jam, join or start a new band, particularly in a new style. It also goes further than this – always wanted to sing while playing? Start! Learning a new instrument? Do it! The best way out of a rut is to climb upwards!

Get your music ‘out there’

…And if you’re meeting new musicians & launching new projects, you’re already doing this. Go to more live gigs and make sure you perform live yourself more often (when you can), especially new and original music. I know all too well how easy it is to get stuck in one ‘world’ for longer than you might like, finding it hard to make the time to do other things, but I promise it’s worth the effort.

Remember to have fun while you’re out there expanding your guitar playing horizons!

To finish off, allow me to wish you all the very best of health & happiness for the New Year! Let’s make 2022 – like every year – a great year for music, for the guitar, and for you!

Please do get in touch to tell me what your own guitar/music new year resolutions are, and stay in touch to let me know how you’re getting on with them! Tim xx

Back in the studio (part 1)

Music

Last Thursday & Friday, I was back in the studio with the Nick Gladdish Band, as we finally started work on his new album Last One Get The Lights.

In normal times, this would have taken place in April, and by now, we’d be on another tour supporting the finished product. In fact, we already released the lead single Blurry Lines last last year (listen to it here). However, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have held everything up. More recently, we’ve been able to get back on track.

The process

To start with, Nick shared demos of the songs, and we started listening and thinking of suitable parts. A few weeks ago, we held two days of rehearsals where we tried out different things to see what worked. These were recorded as draft ‘rough cuts’ and the best arrangement shared amongst ourselves, so we could refine our parts further. It also gave me time to consider the best way to record the guitars, and which instruments to use.

Here’s a few pictures from the two eight-hour days at Traxx Studios in North Tyneside. We spent these days recording the main backing tracks of drums, bass, most rhythm guitars, keys and guide vocals. The credits belong to everyone in the band (I’m not sure exactly who took which picture in some cases):

The whole recording process came together really quickly. In two days, we manged to get all the backing for the eight ‘full band’ tracks down, as well as additional rhythm guitar parts. Having rehearsed and arranged this set of songs in a live room setting, the guitar parts were quite simple to arrange and organise for tracking.

What happens next?

The initial plan was for John (Timney, drummer and engineer for this LP) to crew te rough mixes from what we had before we started on overdubs. However, the government’s announcement at the weekend, telling us we’ll be back in lockdown from Thursday, prompted a change of tack.

Instead, I will be going back into the studio with John to lay down all the guitar overdubs and solos tonight.

Tomorrow, Nick will record all of his vocals and a few additional piano & acoustic guitar parts. Shannon Powell, our backing singer at the live shows, will add her final parts remotely in the next week or so. That way, John has the whole period of lockdown to mix and master the record, and we can have the entire album finished in time for release at the start of 2021.

The Nick Gladdish Band. L-R: John Timney (drums, production), Adam Cornell (bass), Nick Gladdish (lead vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitar) and myself (guitars, lapsteel).

I’ll post some more pictures from tonight’s session, as well as further updates, in due course. Until next time…

Elderwood Guitar review: my custom-made semi-hollow

Guitars & Gear

I have never owned a semi-hollow guitar before, despite having played 335 style and ‘thinline’ guitars on several occasions. This year, I had the budget to rectify this, but with so many great options out there, I was undecided on where to invest my hard-earned money.

Enter Elderwood Guitars, a one-man operation based in Carlisle, in the north of Cumbria. I had seen a few Elderwood models for sale in a guitar shop in Newcastle, and a couple of players I know spoke highly of these instruments. Barrie, the man behind Elderwood Guitars, makes it his mission to create the guitar of your dreams at a more affordable price. You are involved in all aspects of the layout and design of your instrument, which is largely made up from recycled wood.

You may remember another guitar built for me, a nylon-strung classical guitar, which was also crafted by a solo luthier in Cumbria and made form recycled wood (and if not, you can read about that guitar by clicking here).

The two main principles of making something beautiful from old wood, as well as being able to design the guitar to my own specifications, was something which greatly appealed to me. To that end, I found myself in conversation with Barrie near the start of lockdown, and soon we went back-and-forth with ideas and draft designs. Rather than going for a more straightforward 335-style design, I was inspired by some of the beautiful high-end creations of small guitar companies such as Kauer. In the end, the final design looked like this:

The fifth & final draft of my custom design. Picture courtesy of Elderwood Guitars

My guitar would be an offset semi-hollow with a serious vintage feel to it. The two humbuckers and sound hole on the upper half would be covered in a gold foil/mesh, and the neck would feature block markers. For the finish, I requested as close to British Racing Green as he could manage, with cream for the pickguard, binding and truss rod cover, likening the overall colouring style to that of a classic Mini Cooper. You don’t see many green guitars and I have always wanted one. Now I just had to wait for it to be completed (although since lockdown meant that I wasn’t gigging, I was in no hurry).

Over the next few months, I received occasional updates from Barrie which always got me salivating:

Barrie checked back to confirm my preferences for pickups, tremelo, control layout, as well as general updates on progress. He seemed to be having a busy summer but as each guitar was finished and presented on his Facebook page, they continued to look and sound as high quality as I had been told they’d be.

At last it was ready to collect in early October, and it did not disappoint…

Specifications

  • Offset semi-hollow body, made from recycled pine
  • Maple neck, with rosewood fingerboard featuring block position markers
  • 3-a-side headstock
  • Bigsby-style vibrato system and ‘roller saddle’ bridge
  • 2 x Vanson ’57 Alnico II humbuckers
  • 1 x volume & 1 x tone control
  • 3-way pickup selector switch, plus mini-switch for coil-tapping
  • Push button to bypass volume control (see below)
  • Side-mounted jack socket (secured by four screws for greater stability)

This guitar certainly looks the part. The green finish contrasts beautifully with the pickguard and copper coloured control knobs. After sharing the images above on my Facebook page, I was inundated with questions and compliments about the it. It’ll certainly make a visual impact at gigs (whenever they start back up again).

Sounds

Acoustically, this guitar is much louder than my other electrics. It’s interesting just how much difference the resonance of a semi-hollow together with the sound hole, can make. The matched PAF-style humbuckers give you all the tones you would expect from an early Les Paul, but with more airiness due to the mainly hollow body. These humbuckers are made by Vanson, a budget brand readily available on websites such as Amazon. Barrie shares my sentiment that one shouldn’t have to, and doesn’t need to, pay over the odds for a combination of magnets and copper wiring. I had said early on in the design process that I was happy with ‘budget’ pickups on this guitar, and they certainly sound as good as anything the big name brands churn out!

The bridge pickup provides everything I need, from classic rock crunch to an almost rockabilly style twang – the Bigsby certainly comes to the fore here. The neck pickup gives up warm jazz tones on a clean amp with the tone rolled back, and splitting the humbucker into ‘single coil mode’, I’m able to get a sound remarkably similar to a Strat or Tele in this position, which is no bad thing as far as I’m concerned. With both pickups engaged, I’m in my beloved funk and soul territory, great for rhythm playing and bluesy licks. Not only that, but it feels like BB King’s trademark singing lead tone is virtually built-in to this instrument.

Is it any good?

Oh yes, it’s very good. I love it! I’ve certainty enjoyed playing it so far, both through my amps and unplugged. It sits perfectly on a strap and the neck is comfortably chucky, like a true vintage instrument (which is exactly how I like it).

My only hurdle so far has been getting used to the Bigsby-style vibratio. I don’t use the vibratio arms on my Stratocasters, but as well as the right hand aspect, Bigsby units are notoriously tricky to keep in tune. However, this is something that can only be changed through practice and getting used to using it, rather than anything wrong with the guitar itself. Nonetheless, Barrie’s aftermarket service has been top drawer, offering all sorts of advice on how to get the most from the unit, as well as tips on maximisng tuning stability.

Finally collecting the new axe. Picture courtesy of Elderwood Guitars

I expect to be in the studio again in the coming weeks, recording a new LP with the Nick Gladdish Band, and this guitar will be coming along with me. I’ll share links to sounds and videos of this guitar in that (or any) setting as and when they become available…

If you are interested in your own custom-made guitar, Barrie can be contacted directly through Elderwood Guitar’s Facebook page. I’d recommend that you take a look through the numerous creations he has made, and make sure you have a good idea of what you are looking for when you drop him a line. Once you do, you will meet an affable and courteous man dedicated to making the best instruments he can, at a price point open to all of us – and that, like his guitars, is truly something to be admired.