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Just my $0.02 on a couple of recent topics...


I have six different electrics ranging from cheap-o clones I'd rather not name for embarrasment to an ES-335, Stratocaster and Les Paul. The two most important things to a good guitar sound are a quality guitar and a quality all-tube amp.

If you talk to most serious guitar players, you'll hear near-religious comments about the tone from a tube amp that you cannot get from solid state amps. You can ignore the religious fervor but I am telling you the physics don't lie. You don't need (in fact, you probably can't USE) a giant 100 watt Marshall stack or Fender Twin. Get something in the 40 to 60 watt range that's small enough where you can crank it up without pasting yourself or any nearby listeners against the wall and still get the nice distortion that tube amps provide.

Solid state amps can't duplicate key aspects of tube amp behavior, namely:

* clean, bell-like tone at low volumes (think Mark Knopfler's
Strat sound in Why Worry Now)
* subtle compression and warm overdrive at moderate volumes
(single coil Telecasters sound great in this mid range)
* great sustain and searing distortion without overly brittle
high overtones at high volume (think Santa playing Black
Magic Woman)

The power amp section of solid state amps is too perfect to produce these behaviors and the human ear suprisingly doesn't like "perfect" audio response for individual instruments. Also, if you play the same guitar through a tube amp and a solid state side by side, you'll be amazed at the sonic difference. Even non-afficianados can immediately spot the difference.

Before buying my tube amp (a 60 watt Marshall JTM 600 with 4x10 speaker cabinet -- no longer available in exactly this form), I tried buying an ART SGX-2000 Express tube pre-amp / effects processor, thinking that would give me true tube-amp sound while still using my old Crate 60 solid state amp. No way, Jose. It provided a lot of good digital delay and reverb effects but when I finally got the Marshall and played straight into with no effects, nothing from the ART ever came close to it.

On the guitar side, personal taste will vary so even if you know you want a single coil style guitar (Strat or Tele) or humbucker (Les Paul, ES-335, etc.), you need to shop a bit at a store that has a variety of guitars AND a good tube amp. When you start shopping, pick ONE tube amp then play all of the guitars through the one amp so you don't get confused about what is changing the sound from guitar to guitar.

Even if you can't afford $1000, $1500 or $2000 for a guitar, pay attention to the electronics and pickups of the one you DO buy. And don't feel obligated to keep the stock pickups. A new set might cost $90 to $200 bucks but it may get you closer in tone to a guitar costing twice as much.


I think the key to being able to memorize songs is mastery of some of the building blocks on your instrument. There are certain physical shapes that your muscle memory starts to internalize after you play enough. Once internalized, your brain is simply remembering the start points when those building blocks kick in rather than every individual muscle movement within them.

One key to getting over the initial learning curve of the "rudiments" is finding enough songs in the genre you want to play that feature your instrument that you already like and have memorized. This lets you focus on the instrument rather than "learning the song". If you are learning guitar and you like classic rock, this is easy - go get Led Zeppelin II on CD, go to your room for a year and voila! - you emerge as Jimmy Page, Jr. (smile). For violin, I'm afraid I'm out of my league.

Another suggestion. Record yourself playing along with stuff then listen to the recording without playing along. There are enough brain cells occupied PLAYING to prevent you from HEARING everything you are doing. Listening to yourself on tape can help you find techniques you need to improve and will confirm if your timing and sense of rythm are progressing.

Good luck!


"Just listen for a minute, to the sustain." -- "I'm not hearing anything." -- "You would if it was playing."
-- from "Spinal Tap"
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