Saturday, September 30, 2017

5 tips to write a better guitar solo

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we will talk about writing a good guitar solo, using as example some of the most famous ones.

Let's start with some pill of music history: guitar solos had during the 20th century an evolution, that starts with the blues/jazz guitarists of the '20/'30s, in which the improvisation was the key element of the whole performance, evolving in the '50s/'60s with the advent of rock n'roll and becoming more studied, often as a variation for the part of the song in which the audience was supposed to dance, until the '70s and '80s, the golden age of the guitar heroes, in which the solo became the focus of the whole song, often replacing completely to the vocal part.
From the '90s on we have then witnessed a slow decline of the importance of the guitar solo, and today it has become in modern music more of an optional part than a must.

Nevertheless a good instrumental part is fundamental in a song, not only to let the singer to rest for some second but also to introduce a variation element and some depth to the composition, and it doesn't necessarily need to be as technical as Van Halen; what matters is that it has something interesting to say and that it says it in a pleasant way, as for the vocals.
In my article about HOW TO MIX A GUITAR SOLO I have said that it should be treated like a vocal part, and indeed this is the point: it takes the place of the vocal part in that moment, it must become the focus of the listener, therefore it needs to be developed like a lead vocal part.

Here are 5 tips on how to write a better guitar solo:

1) Sing your solo: the first tip is a technique used by several great guitarists, like David Gilmour of Pink Floyd; when he writes a solo he sings it first, so he is sure the melody will be meaningful and effective, and sometimes he sings it live in real time while playing, as it can be heard in some live version of "Wish you were Here". The instrumental part shoul tell a story, like talking: you should start from a point a and getting to a point b, construct the phrase with a pleasant grammar, add something to the conversation: a solo that is not meaningful, if it is just a bored fiddling around the keyboard because it has to be there, doesn't deserves to be listened. A good example of guitar solo that tells a story is November Rain by Guns'n Roses. Singing means also knowing our way on the rhytmical side: we can play with 8ths, 16ths, switching to triplets, changing time signature, anticipate the beat, or (even better) slow the notes slightly to lean to the beat, and so on.

2) Don't overdo technically: it's better to know our strong points and stick to them rather than wanting to put in our solo at all costs something we are not good enough to deliver. Better to simplify it and practice more, until we are confident that we can play that part smoothly without looking goofy and ridiculous.

3) Bendings, slides, legatos, vibratos...: these techniques are your friends when developing a solo language, in facts they are some of the tools that expands our expressivity and that differentiate a guitar from the other instruments. Use these tools to make your solo flow richer and more expressive, by adding a benindg that slowly gets to the target note with emphasis (but beware about the pitch!), or by adding to the long notes a nice vibrato that follows the beat of the song or lazily leans to it.
Also, legato and slide are a great way to not having to robotically pick every note, but to make the guitar sing, and a great example about this is Bijoux, by Brian May for Queen.

4) Know your way around your fretboard: let's not fool ourselves, we can have the perfect ear, we can have the perfect melodies in our head, but anyone that says that learning scales puts us into a prison and that we shouldn't do it to let our melodic creativity to flow is just a lazy doofus in search for an excuse to not study. Scales and modes (wich are variations on the scales) are just other tools we need to know to expand our vocabulary. We don't have to know all of them, but indeed choosing some of them and learning them creating muscolar memory in our hand will be extremely useful, especially when improvising. Today there are also several online scale generators, that once we dial in the key of the song and the mode we want to try can suggest us a scale. This can be a very good starting point from where to begin building our solo, or to find the right variation to create interest, for example by adding some exotic scale note in our solo, technique in which Marty Friedman is a master.

Here is some idea for the modes, taken from the Guitar Tricks Forum:

"In metal, the only modes you pretty much need are Aeolian, Dorian, and Phrygian. But here are all of them:

Ionian - The basic major sound. Think 'happy' or 'triumphant'.
Dorian - The all-in-one blues, rock, and metal scale. This one's great for a jam in minor.
Phrygian - The exotic diatonic mode. Sound a little middle-eastern/Egyptian. Used frequently in riffs.
Lydian - The Vai mode. Creates a dreamy atmospere. Very hard to master.
Mixolydian - The Satch mode. Used in acoustic blues a lot, and good for guitar rock instrumentals.
Aeolian - Straight minor; think 'sad' or 'depressing'. Used in classical.
Locrian - Used a lot in metal riffs for that really EVIL feeling. I don't think I've ever heard it in a solo."
5) Mix improvisation with the theme of the instrumental part: all we have written so far can lead to the conclusion that we don't suggest to improvise. This is not true: I love improvisation, as long as it is meaningful, it is tastefully constructed, and probably one of the best ways to master a solo is by mixing some written parts to other improvised, as some of the greatest guitarists in the world has always done (for example the guitarists of Iron Maiden). Anyway there is no fixed rule about this, it's your solo, you decide how much to improvise, how much to write or whether to choose only one of the two solutions!

Enjoy and let us know if you have any other good tipo to write a better guitar solo!

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

5 tips on how to record a band rehearsal with a smartphone or a tablet

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article! 
Have you ever needed to record your own band's rehearsals but you did not have a recording device ready for the task? 
The solution is probably in your pocket.
A smartphone, if used with some criteria, is capable of recording a decent take that can be used later to analyze that riff you were jamming together, or to not forget an idea.

This small guide is for those of you who want to record their jam and doesn't have any periphereal, obviously keeping in mind that the quality of the phone makes a lot of difference, and that the final file will be a single track, usually mono, that will leave us little room for adjustments (although we will surely be able to use an eq to tame some resonance or apply some hi pass or low pass filter).

The main thing, that will make the difference between a muffled, clipping fart and an audible, usable audio take is to get the gain and the positioning right, and this varies on the loudness of the instruments (eg. if there is a drumset or not), and the size and shape of the room.

For the gain staging we will have to do some trial and error: record a take and see if it's clipping, or if it's too low. According to the case we can adjust the input gain or move the phone in another point of the room. For the balance instead is trickier, because we need to find a position that is farther from the louder instruments in order to attenuate them, and closer to the quieter ones, to make them audible. 
Don't rush and take your time, you'll probably need to adjust the position of the phone several times before finding the optimal placement.

Here are 5 tips that can be useful when recording with a smartphone: 

1) The band must have a balanced mix, as much as possible. this means that the vocals, the guitar and the bass must not cover each other, and none of these must cover the drums or be covered by them. Place yourself somewhere in the room that is at the same distance from all instruments and find out whether any of them needs to be a bit louder or quieter. 

2) Put your phone in airplane mode! Any incoming call, vibration, game notification, will ruin the recording.

3) Set the phone on the ground or on a chair, not too high because the higher it is, the more is the chance it will only get the cymbals. We need to attenuate the cymbals, that are usually very loud. Usually the lower we put it, the more emphasis will be on bass and kick drum.

4) If possible, try to find an app in which the input gain is adjustable, so you will be sure the sound will never clip (if it does, just turn the input gain down). Another good feature for a recording app would be to record in Wav, instead of Mp3.

5) If it is impossible to turn down the input volume and the sound is clipping and distorting all the time try to put the phone further away from the sound sources or apply styrofoam/duct tape or other sound obstructing materials in front of the phone's mike, or try to place the phone behind a layer of cloth/a pillow. 

Hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

5 tips on how to set the correct pickup height

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about the last step of our guide on how to make the perfect setup for our guitar, which has other 2 steps before: how to set the guitar action and how to set the string intonation
Bear in mind that this is not a technical article but more of a pragmatic guide on how to avoid it to be in the absolutely wrong position, rather than to give a fixed, perfect height, because it varies according to the taste of the player.

Let's start with a short recap: a pickup is a magnet that takes the vibration of the strings (or better the movement happening within the magnetic field around it) and turns it into a signal that, once sent to an amplifier, turns into sound.
The more the magnet is near to the strings the louder the signal will be, and therefore it will be more rich, saturated and with more bass frequencies content.
The farther it is from the strings, the more the guitar will sound acoustic, clean, trebly: these are the characteristics of a lower output.

How do we rise or lower the pickup? 
By turning the screws  on its sides: they touch the wood beneath and allow us to pull the pickup higher or lower. Keep in mind that if you know what you are doing, it can happen that the sound you are looking for is also with the pickup not 100% horizontal (if you want to add some output on a side or lower it on the other), and that some pickups offer also the possibility to adjust the single polepieces one by one. 
My suggestion is to do this only when strictly necessary or you will risk to lose the output balance among the strings.

What we are looking after is, when strumming the guitar with a clean sound, a tone that has on its tail a ring, like a slight tremolo/vibrato effect. If we are too close to the string the vibrato will disappear because it will be so fast that it will be inaudible, if we are too far it will be inaudible the same for the opposite reason, so we are aiming to the position in which the ringing is most audible, and this will mean that the sustain is optimal.  

Let's see the 5 basic tips on how to set the correct pickup height:

1) Avoid putting the pickup too close to the strings, first off because the strings can end up touching it (it happens especially with the neck pickup: try to play on the higher frets and see if you need to lower it a bit).

2) Another signal that our pickup is too high is when it is so bassy that it sounds muddy. We must lower it in order to increase the definition.  

3) Avoid keeping the pickup too low, because the guitar will sound just weak, and the sound will lose  its body.

4) The sweet spot lies somewhere in the middle between "too low" and too high, and it is usually found if you strum the guitar with a clean sound: the tail of the sound must ring, like a slight tremolo/vibrato effect. This means the pickup is on the optimal position.

5) This "sweet spot" of point 4 is actually not a spot but a range, and within this range you can move slightly up or down in order to increase or decrease the output until you find the tone you prefer (more clean or more aggressive).

I hope this helps!

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Harley Benton SG Kit Building Diary 3/3 (Harley Benton SG Kit VS Epiphone Les Paul VIDEO)

Thanks to our friend Daniel for playing in our video shootout!



Welcome to the third and last part of our building diary!
After taking care of the body and of the electronic part of the guitar it was time to mount the bridge.
The Tune o'matic bridge is composed by 2 parts: the Tune o'matic itself, which is the part with the saddles, and the tailpiece. Both these parts are anchored to the body with two big pieces of metal that needs to be literally hammered into the body, using the pre-created holes. be careful when hammering these pieces because any mistake is not revertible, so make sure they go down straight (and without damaging the body).

Once they are all the way in we can mount the Tune o'matic and the stop tail.

Meanwhile I have also screwed in the strap buttons, those parts in which you attach the strap. In this guitar one of the two buttons is set actually in the neck, to balance it a bit better.

Now it was time to make the fretboard nice and smooth, and for this task I have used the Dunlop Deep conditioner oil. This oil makes the fingerboard of a nice dark colour and the wood smooth and shiny, very pleasant to play. 

After applying the oil, letting it be absorbed and removing the excess part with a paper cloth I have mounted the strings.

Now it was time to set the action, I have adjusted the Tune o'matic bridge until I have found the right height of each string, which for me is the lowest one before hearing fret buzz when picking a string.

Once the strings were in place I have made sure the neck was straight, by playing all the strings in all the frets, looking for parts in which there was some "dead note", or in which some bending was muted. Luckily everything was playing fine, sign that the fretwork was impeccable and that the neck was perfectly straight.
Then I proceed with the perfect intonation of the guitar, adjusting the saddles according to the technique explained in this article until everything was perfectly in tune.

Finally, I have set the right pickup height using the two screws on the sides of each pickup: I have raised them until I heard the perfect ringing tail of the note, which is the sign the pickup is at the optimal distance from the strings and ready to rock.

Here is with the strap attached (and yes, I haven't yet removed the protective plastic foil from the electronics chamber cover).

There is still some work to do: as you can see the pickguard is attached to the body only with one screw because the holes for the other screws were not perfectly aligned (anyway this way is already very stable), and the pickup selector is not perfectly vertical but slightly horizontal. I still need to tighten some bolt and adjust it here and there, and maybe someday I will try a new bridge pickup too, but for the moment I am quite happy with this guitar: it is surprisingly playable, the neck is comfortable, it is in tune and the tone is pleasant, although as you can hear from the video quite treble-oriented. Maybe with a darker sounding pickup I can balance the thing a bit, but the wood is very light, so obviously I am not expecting any miracle.
All in all it was extremely fun and pleasant to build, and it is also quite fun to play!
Another sample played with this guitar can be heard in this article.

I hope this was helpful!



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