Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I have noticed a couple of things at the jam sessions I attend that could stand a little improvement. First, it seems that almost all of us tend to play our songs a bit faster than the original versions. I'm not sure why that is, but it doesn't allow for some of the special qualities of the song to be brought out in the jam session performances. Second, it seems that there are participants who can't detect that their instrument is out of tune. That seems like it should be easily corrected with the availability of the electronic tuners that most guitar players use. In a jam session environment one poorly tuned instrument can make it sound like someone is playing poorly, or it can make the whole performance sound like a train wreck.

One thing I started doing when I bought my first electronic tuner was to check the tuning on my guitar every day before I begin practicing. It doesn't take much change in the ambient temperature and humidity to change the tuning on your guitar. There are some days when the tuning has not changed from one day to the next, but there are a lot of days when there is more than one string slightly out of tune. Since I like to sing as I play my guitar, I consider it extremely important for my guitar to be totally in tune. Otherwise I might actually be singing slightly off-key to adapt to my out of tune guitar.

If your guitar becomes difficult to tune, or if it still doesn't sound quite right even when the tuner says it is in tune, it is time to change the strings. I know that changing strings is not the most fun thing to do with a guitar, but if you practice every day your strings will wear out and they will not produce the quality of sound your guitar is capable of. I have found that using a soft cloth to wipe off the strings after I practice seems to add a bit of longevity to my strings. I know some strings do wear better than others and the best strings are not typically cheap. However, when I hear players say it has been 6 months or more since they changed strings, I know their guitars would sound much better if they would change the strings more often.

I alternate my practice between 2 guitars and sometimes a 3rd, and I have found that my strings sound great for about 2 months and OK for about another month. By the end of the 3rd month the strings have worn to the point where the sound they produce has deteriorated enough that I don't enjoy practicing. Then I know it is time to put on new strings, and I clean and polish the guitars at the same time. Now I'm just talking about acoustic guitars in this article. I think you can probably get away with using older strings on your solid body electric because your electronics will probably compensate for the loss of tonal quality in the older strings. If you use strings too long they will wear enough that they might break while you're playing.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer 2010

A sad note to start this blog. A special old guitar playing friend, Dan Brodhead, died in May this year. I met Dan in 2003 when I decided I wanted to take guitar lessons again. I say again because I had my first guitar lessons over 50 years before. Dan had run an ad in the local shopper offering guitar lessons for $10 for a half hour. I thought that seemed reasonable so I began taking lessons with Dan. We developed a weekly routine where we would spend a half hour on my lesson and then we would have a cup of coffee and talk for an hour or so after the lesson. From these talks I learned a great deal about Dan, and I learned that we had something in common. Back in 1963 and 1964 we were both attending Yale University. Dan had actually completed his PHD in Physics at Yale, while I was only there courtesy of the US Air Force language training program to learn Mandarin Chinese.

Unfortunately for Dan, he developed a mental illness that prevented him from reaching the great potential he had as a physicist. His illness was severe enough that he was able to qualify for Social Security Disability, but with medication Dan was able to function pretty well in most situations.
After a year or so of guitar lessons Dan told me that he had taken me as far as he could and that I would have to find a more experienced teacher to help me develop futher skills on the guitar.
By this time our friendship had developed to the point where we decided we would continue to get together once a week and practice together and learn some new songs.

We continued our weekly visits until last November when Dan's chemotherapy for cancer made him too sick and too tired to be able to practice on his various musical instruments. Dan suffered from lung cancer which was diagnosed almost 2 years before it finally took him.
Needless to say, I really miss Dan and the weekly visits that we kept up for nearly 7 years.

That's all I'm going to put in this post.