I started out as a child…

18 04 2009

I have people ask me how I got started as a guitarist.

After all, to make it big, you have to gain entry into a very small club. I tell them that it’s serendipity at it’s most bizarre application…

Here’s a case in point;

It was probably meant to be…

I started out in Rock ‘n’ Roll early. In fact, my first gig was as a walk (crawl) on in a Rock ‘n’ Roll classic called “World’s Greatest Sinner.” My big brother and I were being tended by my mother’s sister (otherwise referred to as “The Commie Aunt” by my father), while both my mother and father (card carrying killers) were out “hunting,” pillaging the landscape in the US Government’s attempt at making the world safe for Democracy. 🙂

We’d been stationed at El Toro, a US Marine Air base that lived in the middle of orange groves that went on for thousands of acres.

El Toro was a weird place. The base’s logo ( a “Flying Bull”)  was actually designed by Walt Disney. We actually knew Lee Harvey Oswald, who was stationed there from December of 1958, to the spring of ’59. Supposedly there’s a photograph floating around of him holding me as a baby.  We also knew counter-culture guru Kerry Wendell Thornley, who was in the same radar unit as Lee.

My aunt had come to stay with us, due to a “domestic dispute” involving her, her soon-to-be ex, and a butcher knife. Oh yeah, an ambulance and the police were also involved…

But, no charges got pressed, the “ex” healed with a nasty scar, and Ginny came to live with us. She was a 6′ Amazon of a woman allergic to bras, totally caught up in the celebrity of Southern California, and deeply embedded in the surf “Rock” scene. And, as male children, we were enamored by her. (That came later, though…)

She was friends with Frank Zappa, who was a young college kid writing a film music score for Timothy Carey, a Hollywood bad boy turned director, who recorded low-budget films for the masses. Now, we’re talking late 1960 or 61…

I forget, because frankly, I was about 2 or three years old.

One day, she took us to Long Beach, CA, and we got our first taste of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hollywood fame… The cinematographer took one look at us, and stuck us in front of that camera, and our future was revealed… 🙂

I suspect that she did it simply because my parents couldn’t stop her. I suspect that she thought it would give my father an aneurysm. I suspect that she did it because SHE was trying to get in front of that camera. I even suspect that she might have been a “commie.” But, we didn’t care. We loved her anyway.

Why am I bringing this up, after all these years? Because I just watched it again on late night TCM. I wasn’t aware that any copies still existed! 🙂

Damn, I was a cute kid…

We have a photograph in our family archives, of me being held by the young Frank Zappa, who looks like he’s holding a hostile alien…

The film, just in case you haven’t seen it, is a sorry Timothy Carey tale of a demented “Elvis worshipping” insurance salesman who tires of a traditional life, and wakes up deciding he’s God.


It’s undeniably one of the most bizarre movies ever made, and I’ve gotta tell you that even over forty years later, it’s STILL way ahead of its time! It’s a grotesque parable that’s as innovative and subversive as any film ever made. Carey sticks himself in the lead as Clarence Hilliard, a middle-aged insurance agent who goes insane and decides to become the “rockabilly messiah.” Abandoning his normal life, he changes his name to “God” and stands on street corners, handing out flyers, recruiting white-trash greasers to his fire ‘n’ brimstone “Life is Hell” doctrine.

To raise money for his cause, he seduces old ladies for cash, and performs in an Elvis-like silver-lame suit. He even starts his own “Eternal Man” political party, which promises to make everyone a “superhuman being.”  Their creedo is:

“There’s only one God, and that’s Man.”

This is seriously whacked stuff,  folks… Carey pulls off one of the most intense, overwrought performances of all time (putting novice scenery-chewers like Dennis Hopper to shame, sorry Dennis!), ranting, crying, dancing, and looking wasted, his eyelids at half-mast throughout. Eventually, Clarence’s followers begin rioting and vandalizing, but that type of social upheaval has to be expected when a new God emerges–especially one promising “No Death.”

When the political machines get wind of his Rock ‘n’ Roll charisma, they run him as an independent candidate for president, but Clarence is corrupted when his dogma takes on  fascist overtones and he starts seducing cute, 14-year-old volunteers. Though lacking in little things like coherency, Carey packs this volatile tale with venom toward modern politics, the media, dried-up religion, and the entire sorry state of the human race. It’s even narrated by The Devil, represented by a big snake!

You won’t believe Tim’s performances. He just starts shaking and his hair falls down… He must have watched Jerry Lee Lewis or something. He starts rolling around on the stage, he’s just shaking all over. It’s a live performance and he’s just smashing his guitar, he’s really beating on it real loud. This is one of the greatest rockabilliy movies ever made. If you get a chance to see it, it’ll just change your life.

Carey is dead serious with all this craziness (even the heavily religious finale) and his outrageous direction is beyond belief! Most of the extras were simply pulled off the streets (I know, because my brother and I were among them), and the score was provided by a young musician…  Frank Zappa.


See? The post went “full circle.” Remember the “Commie Aunt” connection?  🙂

Even its theme song is hilariously unforgettable:

“As a sinner he’s a winner,
Honey, he’s no beginner!
He’s rotten to the core,
Daddy, you can’t say no more!
He’s the world’s greatest sinner…”

If I ever move to an underground farm, stock it full of big-breasted goth girls, and start a cult… that’s gonna be my theme song… In fact, I should probably have the lawyers start working on the music clearance now, just in case…

There’s more… so stay tuned… because playin off-key really sucks! 😉


‘Cuz Lexx likes Rosewood! Mmmmmm-good!

3 04 2009
I know I told you that I was going to write about Guitar Amplifier Selection today, but something came up. Bear with me, okay? I’ll get to that next time. I think that you’ll find this interesting;

I’m gigging in L.A. this week (sessions stuff for a film project), but I was talking to a pal in New Mexico today…

I know what you’re thinking… Who the heck lives in a place like New Mexico? I mean it’s mostly desert, and the seasons “run wild,” and it’s really, really far from L.A.

Isn’t that the place where all the crazy buggers build “Earthships?” Wait, maybe I’m thinking of Roswell… Wait! That’s New Mexico, too! I rest my case.

You know who lives in New Mexico? Artists live in New Mexico.

(Man, I’ve said “New Mexico” so many times, that the State Tourist board should send me a check!) 🙂

And some of those artists build guitars. Artists who build guitars, are called “Luthiers.” Now, when I hear that word, I immediately think of some European looking guy clad all in green felt, with those crazy shoes that curled up and the end and had bells on ’em… Wait… Maybe that’s an elf, or was that a “minstrel?”  Geez, I gotta get outta L.A.! It’s starting to affect my brain… again.

According to Wiki:

A luthier (IPA: /ˈluːtɪə(r)/) is someone who makes or repairs stringed instruments. The word luthier comes from the French word luth which is French for “lute“.

The craft of lutherie is commonly divided into two main categories: stringed instruments that are plucked or strummed (like a banjo, a guitar, or a harp), and stringed instruments that are bowed (like a  cello, a violin, or a double bass).

According to ME… A  Luthier is a guy who has dedicated most of his life to:

  • the study of fine exotic woods,
  • doing math calculations that make me think of  “the Rain Man…”,
  • drawing schematics that look like they belong in a nuclear powerplant,
  • and decades spent sniffing glue fumes and eating wood dust.

Although I like working with wood, I’ll stick to building popsicle stick birdhouses with my son.

Real Men build guitars. Great Guitars. Guitars that can make you cry and beg for the chance to caress their necks, to fondle their bodies, and… um… er… never mind. If I’m not careful, this’ll turn into “guitar porn!”

Where was I? Oh yeah…

Enter Rick Canton. Rick is to guitars, what Henry Ford was to production lines.  That means; he’s a visionary bent on progress. Now, unfortunately, Henry Ford’s contribution to the Industrial revolution led to things like the “massed produce Hell” where “modern guitars” have ended up. Places like China, and Korea, and even Japan have become the number one importers of guitars into America. Blah! 😦

But Rick… man, Rick is a purist. Luckily for us, he “sees” guitars as something other than just wood and plastic. He sees them as something ethereal,  mystical icons that sooth the souls of mortal men. Rick doesn’t just build guitars one at a time, he breathes life into them… Just being around him makes you want to hock your car, to beg a chance at owning one of his “children.”

Now, I always say that; “You shouldn’t cry over a guitar that won’t cry over you…” Rick’s guitars will make you weep. Uncontrollably.

But, this post isn’t solely about Rick, although it could be. When it comes to guitar lore, Rick is as deep as the Pacific Ocean.

It’s also about Rosewood. Brazilian Rosewood, to be exact. Now everybody that knows anything about guitars knows that the best ones are made out of this stuff. But Brazilian Rosewood is a rare commodity. Since the 70’s, it’s been illegal to bring it into the US, because of embargoes. They have this CITE litigation in place, to make certain that Luthier’s cry.

And that brings me to the POINT of this post.

I  have this big tabletop. It’s a behemoth of a slab of wood, that used to be a really nice “rustic” dining room table, before some neanderthal dropped it off the back of a freight truck. Now, it’s just a slab, and some broken legs and spreaders.

The guy I got it from swore up and down that it was just “oiled redwood,” but even a cursory glance told me that it was more. Much more. I know guys who make their living dealing in exotic hardwoods. And a few of them lately, have been offering me a pretty fair amount of cash, for this slab of wood. Why?


First, it looks like this.

Because it’s a hunk of 50+ year old Rosewood. Brazilian Rosewood, to boot! How do I know? Well, it’s like this;

The family that I got it from brought it back from South America in the 70’s.

(Now, I didn’t get it directly from them, but that’s another long story, filled with 8″x10″ glossy pictures, with circles and arrows draw all over them.)

Here’s the “Reader’s Digest Condensed Version:” The people that brought the “slab” back were working for “United Foods” offshore,   they got tired of Brazil, and they headed back to sunny Southern California. And naturally, they brought their stuff back with them.

And then, they died. And, their greedy kids, who grew up with the furniture, hated it. So they sold it to a consignment guy, and HE’s the idiot I got it from.

(I’m not telling you THAT story, there’s far too much profanity, threats of physical violence, and attempted calls to “911” involved!) 🙂

Anyway, like I said, I verified my suspicions by calling in “exotic wood experts.” (Ever seen a “wood broker” cry? I saw them do just that, and even salivate, too!) It’s Rosewood. Brazilian Rosewood, legally imported into the United States, in the early 1970’s. How do I know that? Well, because it came into the country as “furniture in a crate.” that’s how. In the 70’s. Duh! Were you not you paying attention?

When I first saw the tabletop, I though it was” bullnosed.” That’s when a craftsman puts a big piece of molding on the edge of a surface, to make it look thicker. But, I was wrong. It’s a solid slab, almost 5″ thick. Actually, it was a solid 10″ slab, cut in half, an then glued together, to make a “wider” slab.

There is a strip of Ebony inlayed into the middle of the table, to hide the “joint.”

It measures as follows;

The tabletop is 8′- 1 1/2 inches long x 3′ 7 1/4″ wide x 4.75 inches thick. Remember it’s “rustic” so the measurements vary by about 1/8th to 1/4th inch, throughout. It has a rough edge.

According to my calculations, that means I have … lemme see… carry the three, multiply by the square root of Alien Tech, and divide by the circumference of my cranium (at the point) and you get;

139.098 board feet of Brazilian Rosewood.

In 1960, you could buy Rosewood for 10$ a foot, I’m told. Today, if you can find it, it goes for over $100 a board foot.

The (2) “spreaders” that held the legs to the table measure;

90″ long x 6″ wide, and they go from 2″ to 3″ thick in a slow taper. There’s a tenon at each end, and two holes drilled into each center, presumably to secure the middle legs to the table. That yields about;

18.75 board feet of Brazilian Rosewood.

Remember that there are two of them.

I’d forgotten that there are also (2) short spreaders, that spanned the width of the table. They measure:

31″ long x 6″ wide x and 2″ thick, with a tenon on each end..

5.166 board feet of Brazilian Rosewood.

That means that the table will yield;

163.014 board feet of Brazilian Rosewood.

The (3) legs that we salvaged, unfortunately are NOT Rosewood. The grain is quite cool, and the wood is noticeably darker. The inlay strip in the middle of the table married the whole thing together…They appear to be Brazilian Ebony, as near as we can figure. They measure;

5″ x 5″ at the top, 3″ x 3″ at the bottom, with a slight flute to them… Height is 28 1/2″, with a 3/4″ deep mortise in 2 sides to accept the spreader tenons.

Even if you cut them down to 3″x3″ … that’s over 5 board feet of really nice wood.  They’d probably make cool guitar necks… and those “slices” you took off to square them up… well, I bet that they’d make a pretty good looking fingerboard or three… Or, you could use them as “accent” wood, inlayed into the Rosewood…

But it’s the Rosewood that’s important, here.

If I sold the slab to those “wood brokers” they’d cut it up into really thin slabs called “veneers.” That stuff is used to make cabinetry, decorated boxes, and even (gasp!) flooring. And, they’d pay me a pretty penny for the pleasure of doing  exactly that.

SACRILEGE! A Pox on them! Hawwwk! Patoo-ie!

This Brazilian Rosewood is gonna get a new life,  just like G_d intended when he made those heavenly trees. Rosewood was meant for guitars. Beautiful, dark sounding babies with sustain time that rivals Michael Jordan’s “hang time”  on his best day! And although I already have children, I think I’m about to have a few more… A pair of beautiful daughters not directly affected by my lousy genes. A six-stringed and twelve-stringed pair of  semi-hollow bodied “Goth Prom Queen” sisters with voices so dark that you’d swear you were hearing Africa cry…

Ready, Rick?

lexx-sigAnd there will definitely be some Redwood left over, for Rick and I to get to other great guitar builders!  Great “green” projects that will help pay for all my electronics! Can you say: It’s all good!?!

Whaaaaa? I can’t hear you!

31 03 2009

I’m sorry I’ve been away for a while. Besides gigging my butt off, I’m in the middle of a new project.

It’s a project that every musician dreams about. It’s a project my family and I have always aspired to. And it’s happening as we speak.

We’re finally building our own Recording Studio!

Take two chunky little warehouses, build a box to connect them together, and add about all the money you ever saved (plus all the money that you can borrow), and voila! Instant “land of dreams.”

Well, not exactly “instant.” More like a YEAR from now. Man, these babies take a long time. After I figured out hard it is to build a studio, I finally bit the bullet and placed the call.

wes_lachotYou know the one where get down on your hands and knees and grovel at the feet of the “Sound Box Gods” and beg for attention... I mean, you can play in the forums, but sooner or later, you’ll just start going crazy.

But, the music gawds were smiling, and I got the help I needed! Praise the powers that be! I mean, I don’t want to learn how Steven Hawkin does ‘rithmatic! I just wanna play!  So… I have an acoustical designer on the team, now! Finally, I have  somebody to share those “Excedrin headaches” with! 🙂

Where was? Oh yeah…

I was going to start “teaching lessons” this week, but I have another idea. It came to me on the plane back from Miami, in the form of a little boy who wandered up to my seat, and asked me what kind of guitar and amplifier I was playing. Seems that he and his mom were seated a few rows back, and they overheard me talking to my partner about the next gig, in LA. And that little tyke told me that he’s always wanted to play the guitar, and end up on VH1. He said;

“I’m not a Guitar Zero, man! I’m a Guitar Hero!”

If he’d have said “MTV,” I’d a ignored him. But, since it’s “VH1…” His birthday is coming up, and I know a kid who’s gonna get a guitar in the mail.  I’ve got this Yamaha  APX500 FM Thinline Electric Acoustic in the back of a closet I picked up for free, at NAMM. He’ll have to grow into it, but it should just about do the trick. Whaaa? You thought I’d send him a Taylor Koa? Nope. You wish.

I get asked all the time about which guitar is the best. There really isn’t a “right” answer for that. Guitars are like girls, when you find the right one, you’ll know. Everybody is different, and we all have desires of a different color. I mean, I love Japanese, but  I wouldn’t want to eat it every night…

Now, amplifiers. That’s an entirely different matter. Although there are tons of good amps out there, some just stand out, doing what they do, better than the rest. And, you have to pick them by category. There’s no such thing as a Rock/Jazz/Heavy Metal amp…

For instance, I just got back from Miami, where we spent a few days recording some serious Jazz licks, with a little “Mikosukee” flair. Sounds odd, I know, but it’s a project that will make you sit up and take notice, I promise. Tasty licks, and rich enough to let you close your eyes and feel it wash thru you!

Recording studios make it a point to have just about any amp they need, but no Studio can have everything. So, you call ahead and tell them what you want, and they make sure they have it.

We’ll start this out by talking about Amps for Jazz guitarists, since my favorite 335 is sitting right here.

Guitar amps are really about “tone.” Making your jazz guitar sound “so sweet and tasty” obviously requires more than the right amplifier and guitar.

It requires you to make a choice.  And that first choice is between tubes, or electronics.

tube-ecc83sBefore you go anywhere near that music store to buy your new amp, you need to know the answer to this question;

  • “To tube or not to tube?” That is the question Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of noisy tubes and capacitors, or… … um… never mind… Suffice to say, you’re gonna be forced to choose between an all tube amp, a hybrid tube/solid state amp,  or a solid-state amp.

Here’s the “Pros” of choosing that tube amp:

  • Tubes rule! The sound cannot be equaled by solid-state  amps. Period! That said;

If you’ve attended events like NAMM, you already know that great strides have been taken in incorporating recent technology innovations to make it possible to emulate the sound of a tube amplifier in a solid state amp. (The Roland Cube 60 and its Cosm amp emulation are real good examples).

  • The overdriven sounds are more far more “musical” compared to hybrids, and solid-state amps.
  • Tube amps have that great “High” dynamic range you’re looking for!

tube-holygrailBut, Tube Amps have “Cons” too:

  • Your roadies will hate your guts! Tube Amps are heavy! And you need a spare!
  • And tube amps have “valves” that need to be replaced yearly. Tis a pain in the butt, that is!
  • Tube Amps are noisier than their solid-state amp brothers and sisters.
  • Tube amps are more expensive. Way more. But worth the cash, I tell you now!

Here’s the ABC’s of amp selection (plus or minus a few)…

Combo or head and cabinet? That separate head and amp look and sound great, but combination amps are way easier to haul around. If you’re still gigging out of a van, you choice is made. If you have a tractor-trailer… well… it’s on! Who cares if the roadies howl? 🙂

Are you a control freak? If you’re like me, you like to tweak and shape your sound, so a control panel with a lot of knobs and “dohickey’s” is exactly what you want. If you don’t like fiddling with knobs (you’re not a “real” guitarist :)), go look for a simple control panel.

Digital modeling: Can you believe it? They haveStar Wars Amps,” now.  Some amplifiers can actually switch from say… a Fender to a Marshall type amp with the flick of a knob. And some of these amps are loaded with “goodies!” Some of these boxes have just about every classic and modern guitar amp that you ever heard of, already built in. If that wasn’t enough, they have a ton of  effects, a veritible “who’s who” of speaker cabinets and even a few microphones.

Now, these  amp models don’t sound exactly like the originals, but they come pretty darn close in my opinion. Some guitarists go “ga-ga” over digital modeling, and some like the real thing. I’m kind of a “purist,” so I’m not impressed by ’em. Your mileage may vary.

Headphone connection: Look, if you have roommates or “in-laws” that share a wall, you’ll probably need this. I never did. I actually liked making them mad! It was “sport.”  There’s nothing quite like “Eruption” played full tilt, at 4am! 🙂

Low volume: This is the alternative to “wearing headphones.” Does that amp you’ve been lusting after sound good at low volumes? I think that this is a real important point to consider, as you may end up playing little intimate gigs, where that low volume clarity is a huge plus. Plus, it will double as a practice amp! That’s a “two-fer…”


Get the right amp the first time, and you don’t need a practice amp like this! That’s more bucks for pedals! 🙂

Portability: Look, unless you’re “the Incredible Hulk,” size and weight becomes an issue if you’re gigging all over town.

Power: Duh! Your amp needs enough volume to be heard during concerts. I don’t touch one that can’t be heard all the way to the International Space Station, but that’s just me…

Reverb: Okay, it’s test time. Do you prefer spring reverb or digital reverb? Spring reverb sounds way more natural, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. If you’re really a Jazz musician, you can tell. For you rock guys with “buzzing eardrums,” that may pose a challenge! 🙂

Tone: what kind of tone are you looking for? Some guitar amps are more suitable to producing the darker tones sought out in traditional Jazz recording. And if you listen to Pat Metheny (in fact, I’m listening to Pat’s album; “TRIO 99–>00” right now) you want to look for amplifiers that produce brighter tones. Of course, some amps claim that they can double up and do both, but they  rarely deliver. You may find yourself with both “light and dark meat…” , to make sure you get a good vibe when you need it…

XLR connection: Look, if you’re really a pro, you need an XLR connection on your guitar amp to run through the PA. It’s just part of playing “big gigs.”


Next time, we’ll look at some of the more popular amps, and pick a winner or two…

Stay tuned!


6 Strings Worth of Classical Ecstacy!

3 03 2009

Okay, we’ve been talking…

Well, not exactly… I’ve been talking, and you’ve been listening. We’ve been talking about guitars and education, and the perils of just trying to “wing it” without learning the fundamentals.

Lot’s of people just pick up the guitar, watch a few videos and buy a few songbooks… And they cheat themselves out of a “learning base” that might have allowed them to explore “new frontiers” way earlier! Hey, you’re a smart guy, and you can learn everything you ever wanted to know, just by watching MTV and YouTube, right?

Well, you just keep thinking that! It’s guys like you, that I buy “hardly used guitars” from, for almost nothing… 😉


Incidentally, I don’t resell them. I donate them to one of a few guitar schools I sponsor, both here in the US, and overseas… So don’t ask.

When you’re buying your first guitar, you really have no idea how it’s supposed to feel, or sound (or even smell), for that matter. You’re just another “rube in the woods” trying to  look cool, as you sit there on that stool, and try to look like you know what you’re doing. I call this “the poser period.”

If you’re smart, you find a mentor and take him/her along with you, to guide your steps as you start to grow. After all, a sponge won’t swell up in the desert... 😉

I don’t care how you do it… Bribe them, promise them dinner, or even your first child… whatever… just make sure that they’re there to keep you from being ripped off!

Have them test drive that guitar for you. While they’re doing it, pay attention! If they can make it cry, so can you, eventually.

Then, once you get it home… pick up the Yellow Pages, and look for a teacher.

Call the local guitar shops, and ask them who teaches. And then, ask those teachers to give you a demo, on YOUR guitar. If they play your guitar, they’ll know what tools you have to work with! Because once that teacher knows where you’re starting from, they’ll be able to make sure that you learn the fundamentals, and THAT will insure your success as a guitarist!

Me, I opt for the guy that beats it into your head that learning “classical guitar” will make you a “rock star…”

Why? Well, here’s a tip for all you “thrasher wanna-be”  kiddies out there!

He’s the guy your parents will gladly pony up the cash for! After all, when they’re playing bridge next weekend, bragging about “their prodigy of a kid who’s learning to play classical guitar…” you’ll be worshiping a “bridge” of your own. And it will happen with your parents blessing (and financial support), I might add!


And I thought it might help you, to hear what a “Classical education” can do for your fretwork…

If you practice, practice, practice… And IF you play it right, it’ll sound like this…

See? That wasn’t so bad!

Now then… “Old Guys” aren’t so dumb, are they? Hmmm?

100lft_guitar_ava1Okay… “Old Guys” ARE dumb enough not to be able to figure out how to embed an MP3 in the WordPress blog post. So, sorry for the “off-link!” I’ll figure it out sooner or later. I’m a guitarist, not a computer programmer! ‘Till then, it’ll be worth your while to follow those links… and then… come right back! 😉

Waiting for delivery… your first new baby… and it’s ELECTRIC!

28 02 2009

Everything you ever wanted to know about buying your first Electric guitar…

57lespaulcustomOkay, last time, we talked about buying that first acoustic guitar.

Now, I know I gave you hell about considering an acoustic first, but some of you are just hard headed and you just wanna rock… 😉

We’ve talked about stuff… Hey we’ve even insinuated that many people are reluctant to invest too much money on a “first” instrument, because frankly, some people don’t have faith in themselves. It’s because of this that there is a very large market for inexpensive (read “cheap!”) guitars. It’s the place those damned “packages” come from! Companies are in business to make money, and one of the fastest sources of income, is “disposable products.”

So, music manufacturers and suppliers are eager to fill the market with cheap guitars, usually built out on the edge of the radar, in places like Korea and China. Labor and materials are cheap there, and it’s easy for the manufacturers to meet demand.

And it’s this condition that becomes the minefield for the inexperienced player. You get what you pay for in the guitar realm, folks. If you only fork over pennies, that’s exactly what you’re gonna get. That cheap guitar you just bought may look decent, but  cheap guitars aren’t very playable, they don’t adjust well, and they’ll just slow you down.  Nothing frustrates a new music student more than not being able to achieve success, because of shoddy, low quality instruments. Wanna quit before you even get started? Buy a “package deal,” and get a cheap guitar, and fulfill your dreams of failure!

I know this sounds harsh, but remember two things;

(1) I’m not trying to sell you guitars. I ain’t in the guitar selling business.

(2) I’m trying to keep you from making the mistake that 75% of all new guitarists make. And it’s a mistake that very few of them recover from.

A new guitarist can’t tell that the tone isn’t “quite right.” And they can’t tell you why they’re frustrated, because they lack the experience to know what to expect.  That’s why it’s really important to take someone with you that knows the difference between a good guitar and a BAD one.

And it’s why you need to pony up some real cash to buy that first “axe.”

A good to high quality guitar will carry you through as you learn to play.

And kids, if you need to, PRINT THIS OUT and give it to your parents, as “proof” when you’re begging for that Les Paul…

If your parents are “helping” you learn to play the guitar, they need to understand that a cheap guitar is just like a Yugo. It’s trash before you even get it home and “it’ll be broken, before it’s broken in…”

Before buying a guitar it is important that you find out what has been done to ensure that the instrument is playable. How can you know that you are not getting a bad guitar?

A good guitar store will go out of it’s way to insure that you get what you need to succeed in developing your skills and enjoying  a lifetime of music making on your electric guitar. It’s more than just getting your cash, folks. The music business is very competitive. Shops close every single day! So, it’s about getting you as a guitar customer for life. If they can guide you along, they can stay in your pockets and that’s gonna affect their bottom line. So, it’s in their best interest to help you get that great guitar you crave.

One of the things that they will do is inspect your guitar, to make sure that it’s in good shape, and playable.

Your guitar will be set up and adjusted, to make sure that it performs the way it was designed to. Even in the guitar “mid-range,” this is the “norm,” for guitar businesses.  And, “mid-range” is “at least” where you’re gonna start, if I have anything to say about it.

Here’s a checklist of things you need to do, in order to insure that you’re getting a good deal;

1. Unpack and visually inspect guitar for shipping damage


2. Inspect guitar for unacceptable finish blemishes


3. Tune guitar to standard pitch.

4. Check tuning machines for proper operation


5. Check to be sure strings are properly wound around tuning post to maximize tone and insure less wear on tuning machines.

6. Check ring nut on each tuning machine to make sure they are secure.

7. Check neck bolts to be sure they are secure.

8. Do a preliminary inspection of action and overall playability.


9. Check to see if bridge/tremolo system is properly adjusted and is not pulled forward from string tension

You’re gonna come across a few different types of Bridges/tremolos. Here’s the three main types;

1. The Gibson type is the easiest of the three to use as it is just a curved piece of metal with the saddles on it, which can only be adjusted up and down by two screws, one on each side.

2. The Fender type is a bit more complicated to use. It is like the Gibson as it can only be moved up and down by adjusting two screws (one on each side), but the saddles are individual and can be moved one at a time to get a better sound and for easier tuning.

3. The Floyd rose type is different to both the other types as it is not attached to the body, it rests on two grooved screws, these screws help to make the bridge move up and down. A Floyd rose can be adjusted like the Fender and the saddles are “individual.” Floyd roses also have fine tuning which helps create a better sound, and much more precise tuning.


Gratuitous “righty” photo!

10. Play the guitar acoustically to check for unwanted vibrations or noises.


11. Plug in guitar and check input jack


12. Check pick-up selection switch in all positions


13. Check volume and tone controls


14. Inspect the string height or action at the nut. Get that ruler back out!

15. Inspect the string height or action at the bridge and saddles.

16. Inspect the truss rod adjustment:

There are a few different types of truss rods you may come across;

1. The Fender type
As you tighten the truss rod the neck will bend and give you a smaller action, and you slacken the truss rod your neck will loosen, giving you a bigger action.

2. The Cheap aluminium type
This is just a cheap version of the Fender type cased in a rectangle metal case. It’s not as good as a Fender, no matter what the salesman says. It’s a “knock-off!” Because of that, it’s junk! Hello? It’s CHEAP! Avoid this like the plague!

3. The Gibson type
Instead of bending the wood like the Fender type, the Gibson type of truss rod squeezes the wood making it bend in or out.

4. The Ibanez type
This works in the same way as the Gibson, it is just made in a different way. It is two rods welded at one end and the end of one end is welded to a collar, which is screwed onto the bottom rod.

Have someone who knows what they are doing perform the following work as necessary:

trussrodWARNING! If you screw this up, you’ll ruin your guitar! If you over-adjust this, you might as well just burn that guitar on stage!

(At least it will entertain the audience!)

17. Adjust truss rod for overall playability or action.

Okay, now that we have “that” out of the way… Get that guitar tech to do the following;

18. Adjust the bridge and/or bridge saddles of each string for ease of playing.


19. Check intonation of each string and adjust as necessary.

20. Cut string nut slots deeper to adjust the height of each string appropriately above the first fret. This is for ease of playing in first position.

21. File nut slot back angle to keep the string from buzzing inside the nut and help insure proper intonation and tone.

22. Hone frets if they are uneven and affect playability.


23. Apply fingerboard oil to fingerboard if the wood appears or feels dry.

24. Re-tune the guitar to pitch and check overall playability.

25. Polish your axe as necessary. Hey! I know what you’re thinking… and that’s NOT what they’re calling it nowadays! I was talking about the guitar! A shiny guitar is a happy guitar!

If you’re not buying your guitar from a guitar business, then you still need these steps performed, or you’re going to get ripped off!

A guitar tech may take a quick look at that prospective purchase for free, but… once you’ve paid for it, a good guitar tech is gonna charge you between $40 – $70 bucks to do this walk-thru of your guitar. Stop whining! It’s the best money you can spend on your guitar! Trust me!

And I cannot suggest strongly enough that you enlist one, to insure that you have a good, adjusted, playable guitar.

Here’s the last rule for buying a new guitar;

Cherish it, covet it, and gloat… You’re not a MUSICIAN… You’re becoming a GUITARIST!!

Now git! Go on… Git!


A Guitarist’s First Steps

25 02 2009

People ask me stuff…

You know, stuff like;

“Dude… Did all those amps make your hair fall out early, or was it the drugs?”

Nope, it was the women…


“Can you recommend a guitar for my kid? He’s a real good player! He plays almost as good as you!”

To which I usually respond;

“I’d recommend you go home and break his fingers. The music biz is full of  “ponytails” that want to pick his pocket!”

Actually, a lot of the mail I get asks the same question;

“Can you recommend a good starter guitar?”

And here’s where years of playing (both studio and stage) and all that expertise jump right off my foot, and end up right in my mouth!

We’re gonna take this first trip together, aimed at a place called “generality.” Later on, as the road trip progresses, we’ll delve deeper into what makes a guitar work, and what you should learn to look for.

Picking a first guitar is like kissing your first girl. You tremble when you touch her, your mouth starts to salivate, and then, you drool like a kid fresh out of the dentists office! 🙂

There are as many “first guitars,” as there are cars, or bikes, or even blonds. The way I see it, it’s all about “feel.”

You have to reach out and pick her up, and then let your fingers walk all over her, just to test the fit. You’ve got to hold her close, just to see it she squirms, and then, you need to strum her a few times, just to hear her coo!

I’ve heard a lot of guys tell students that a “first guitar” doesn’t need to be expensive. I’ve heard guitar salesmen tell a new guitarist wanna-be that the “first guitar” will set the pace for every guitar that follows…

And, I think that the truth lies somewhere inbetween…

That first guitar is going to be the one that either lead you to the door that opens up on your life as a guitarist, or it’s gonna break your heart.

A lot of guys will disagree with me, but I’m “old school” when it comes to learning your licks…

I tell new guitarists that it’s essential to consider the acoustic, before you pick up an electric. That acoustic will teach you fundamentals about fingering and technique, and you’ll be able to practice, practice, practice, anywhere you happen to be, no matter where it is.

Obviously, there’s a difference between playing an electric and an acoustic. The technical approaches are indeed different. The approach to chords, notes, and scales is different. But the theory and skills you learn with that acoustic will pay off, in spades.

It used to be that “real guitarists” played electric, and the “other guys” played acoustics. Now, it’s pretty common to see that Guitar God you idolize reach over and grab an acoustic dreadnaught from a tech…  And the sound that comes off those strings is amazing! Don’t believe me?

“Real Men” don’t play Acoustic Guitar, right? Bull!

Steve Morse Classical Lesson – Northern Lights

A little bit of investigation will reveal that a LOT of those Metal Gods you worship, have Acoustic “Classical training…” And, even saddled by those “uncool acoustic boxes…” They totally rock!

Some of us (even though we’re OLD) actually know our way around that hunk of maple that you call a guitar neck!

Hey, I know that it’s cool to rush out and buy a hot electric guitar, an amp, and a pedal or two, but most new guitarists aren’t flush with cash. That’s why guitar shops are jammed to the rafters with “packages.” Avoid these like a Madonna album!!! The salesman will talk you into a compromise, and you’ll end up with a mediocre guitar, a crappy amp, and some electronics that you’ll replace, as soon as you figure out what you’re doing!

(Hey, that gives me an idea! I’m pretty good with hand tools… Maybe I’ll teach you how to build a lamp out of that crap-assed Chinese guitar you just bought! No sense in letting it go into a landfill. That wouldn’t be “green.”)

If you start with an acoustic, you can buy a really nice guitar (for much less than that “electric rig”), a quality guitar that you can grow with… one that won’t end up disappointing you later.

Oh just stop it, you bunch of “whining guitar-shredder wanna-be’s!”  PSYCH!

I know that some of you would rather cut your own hands off with a dull steak knife, than touch an acoustic. So…

This post, I’m gonna talk about Acoustics. Next post… I’ll talk about your damned Electric Guitars…

Why? ‘Cuz that’s how I roll… That’s why!

Here’s a few “rules” for you to consider;

Buy your guitar from somebody that you trust, that knows guitars. Your guitar should be inspected and adjusted, not “infected and neglected.” A cheap guitar in a pawn shop is usually trouble unless you know what you’re looking at!

Brand names don’t mean anything. Just because it says (insert your favorite brand here) on the headstock doesn’t mean it’s a sweetheart! It could still be assembled in a factory by somebody who doesn’t care about anything but a paycheck.

Choose a guitar that fits your body. Trying to play the wrong size guitar makes everything that much harder. And frustration equals failure.

There is no such thing as a “good” cheap guitar. You get what you pay for!

Choose a guitar finish that really makes you smile! A happy guitar is a well-played guitar! If you really like looking at it, you’ll like playing it even more!

And, buy an electronic tuner. It looks cool to tune by ear, but you aren’t ready for that, yet. That tuner will train your ear.

Would you like “paper or plastic?”

The next mountain to conquer is this;

Do you want nylon or steel strings?

Acoustics come a bunch of ways, but the most fundamental differences are “Nylon,”or “Steel” strings.

Nylon String Guitars Are Typically Used for Classical and Folk Music, but the mellow tone and responsiveness of the nylon strings can be enjoyed for folk or any other style of music.

Steel String Guitars are for Rock, Country and Most Other Styles. Steel string guitars are used for rock, country and many other styles of music, but it is a matter of personal choice. You can hear the difference, because steel string guitars produce a crisp, bright tone as compared to nylon string guitars.

Your best bet is to listen to different recording artists that perform on nylon and steel string guitars. This will help you find the sound that is the most appealing to you.

You’re going to get sore fingers, no matter which path you decide to follow.

Initially, playing on either nylon or steel strings will make the fingertips a little tender and sore, but with a little time and practice, the pain will go away.

Nylon strings are made of a softer, less dense material and are under less tension than steel strings. As a result, they are slightly easier to push down, provided the instrument is properly adjusted.

As a result, those nylon strings need to be tuned more frequently. But, that’s a good thing, too. Over time, it allows you to hear the “differences” and it teaches you to tune. It’s all good!

Steel string guitars are under a higher amount of tension and therefore the strings  are somewhat harder to push down than nylon strings, but the difference is not great as long as the guitars are correctly adjusted for easy playability.

But don’t let anyone tell you that it doesn’t matter which strings go where! You can’t exchange steel for nylon! The guitars are actually built for specific strings, and switching up will make your guitar sound like crap. Steel string guitars are designed and manufactured for steel strings and using them will provide you with the most playability, intonation and sound possible. And, using steel strings on a nylon guitar will damage the guitar. That Nylon Guitar isn’t built or braced for steel strings and the tension they require!!

And you can still buy that amp, if you have cash burning a hole in your pockets!

Acoustics come in both “Acoustic,” and “Electric Acoustic” models. You can buy an acoustic that plugs into an amp, if you’re looking for a “big” sound. Again, it depends on what you have to spend.

I usually steer new guitarists at guitars by figuring out what they have jingling in their pockets. And, surprisingly, it’s usually about $500.00

So, just for the sake of starting an argument, here’s a good looking, great sounding, versatile, “high quality entry level guitar” (left-handed of course) that can be bought  brand new for less than 5 Bills, including bag…

Wechter Pathmaker 3135 Left-Handed Guitar


I have one. And, I play it all the time, even though I’ve got a pair of Martins (a D-28 and a D-18 1934) sitting right here. Okay, so I take the Wechter camping, and it goes along when I go out in the RV to find fish or look at girls…

In fact, I own several Wechter guitars;

Wechter USA Florentine Cutaway Model 9303c 6 String Guitar – Nylon
Wechter Scheerhorn Model 6530-F  Dobro, and;

My own pair of Wechter Pathmaker 3135s

I found several of these through a pal who watched the “trades.” It’s been discontinued, but they’re still out there, for cheap. I bought (5) of them, and I spent $1500.00  (I sent 3 of them to a music school I sponsor in Israel.)

I just jumped out on the ‘net, and I found 12 of them for sale… all in the $300-$500 range (new).

This guitar has a patented double cutaway headblock design that gives you 19 frets clear of the body and the most stable neck to body joint found on any acoustic guitar today. It feels great in your hands, too! It feels like a solid body neck on an acoustic body. Hand scalloped bracing and a quality thin finish allows the soundboard to respond to the lightest touch for clear and balanced acoustic tone.

Here’s some of the “good stuff;”

  • Spruce top
  • Lacewood back and sides
  • Mahogany neck
  • Natural Finish
  • Tortoise shell binding and abalone trim
  • Rosewood bridge and fingerboard
  • Reinforced adjustable truss-rod assembly for stable neck action
  • Die-cast chrome tuners
  • Bound top, back, neck and fingerboard
  • Dot position markers on both top and side of fingerboard at 3, 5, 7, 9, 12 (2), 15,17, 19, 21
  • Pro quality amplification – the versatile 3-pickup system
  • Final setup with Plek Pro and electronics installation
  • Super heavy-duty padded gig bag included
  • Life-time warranty

Here’s one reason why I like it;

Wechter Pathmaker 3000 Series wins Guitar Player Editors’ Pick Award

“Offering outstanding playability and super-flexible electronics, the Wechter Pathmaker is a smart choice for hardworking pickers and songsmiths who need an all-in-one writing, recording, and gigging tool. It sounds particularly wicked plugged in, and it’s currently the only acoustic-electric in its price range with three points of amplification. Innovative and affordable, the Pathmaker nabs an Editors’ Pick Award.”

September 22, 2003 – Guitar Player magazine honored Wechter Pathmaker™ 3000

Series with its distinguished Editors’ Pick Award in the November 2003 issue. These awards recognize those products that the Guitar Player editors deem “innovative, technologically advanced, and exquisitely rendered.”

In order to qualify for this prestigious award, a product must be evaluated in a Guitar Player Bench Test and receive at least one top score in the review’s overall rating categories. Once the product qualifies, Guitar Player editors meet to discuss its merits and vote on whether it gets an award. Approval must be unanimous. The Wechter Pathmaker™ has met all of Guitar Player’s strict standards and earned top honors from the magazine’s editorial board.

Excerpts from the review

Guitar Player Senior Editor Andy Ellis writes: “Most budget acoustics are knockoffs of instruments pioneered decades ago by Martin and Gibson. It’s cheaper to emulate than innovate, which explains why the world is long on wannabe D-28s and J-45s, and short on low-priced original designs. It’s this reality that makes the Wechter Pathmaker ($399 street, deluxe gig bag included [right-handed]) such a standout. Created by noted luthier Abe Wechter, built in China to his specifications, and set up in his Michigan workshop, the acoustic-electric Pathmaker combines decent materials and construction with radical engineering, cool electronics, and remarkable playability.

The result is a bold, versatile 6-string that performs far above its price class.”

Construction Details

“The Pathmaker’s most innovative feature is its patented neck joint, a clever design that yields two huge dividends—unimpeded access to the 19th fret, and an uncommonly stable union between the neck and body. At the heart of this junction is a curved, wooden block. Nearly 3/4″ thick and laminated for strength, this crosspiece runs from the tip of one cutaway to the other, defining the cutaway contours and 81/2″ span, and establishing the body’s 4″ upper-bout depth. The neck is fitted and glued to the center of this block using three wooden dowels.

Together, the neck and block form an inverted T—a rigid frame that prevents lateral neck twisting, and allows the instrument to be lightly braced. In terms of fretboard access, the Pathmaker lies somewhere between a Gibson Barney Kessel archtop and an SG—unreal for a flat-top.”

Wechter has taken two steps to maximize the Pathmaker’s resonance. First, using violinmaker’s planes, workers scallop the braces to let the top and back vibrate   more freely. Second, the finish is applied sparingly—just enough to seal the wood, but not imprison it. On our test Pathmaker, the wood grain showed through the high-gloss finish, the way it does on many boutique flat-tops. These two procedures are worth the effort.”

“Sporting sealed, diecast tuners, the curvy headstock lets the strings fan out gently after they cross the bone nut. Coupled with a moderate downward headstock angle, this spread keeps the strings firmly in their slots without causing undue binding.

The tuners turn smoothly, and the nut slots are carefully cut so the open-string height tracks the fretboard radius—a detail often overlooked on mass-produced instruments.”

“The neck has a moderate, rounded profile that stays at a uniform depth until you reach the 14th fret, where the heel begins its downward journey. Boasting a generous 251/2″ scale length, a gentle 12″ radius, and well-crowned medium fretwire, the rosewood fretboard offers an inviting playing surface. Some fret ends are awkwardly cut, but they’ve all been filed smooth, and there are no sharp edges.”

Totally Wired

The Pathmaker’s sexiest feature is its electronic package, which comprises a preamp/mixer, a condenser mini-mic on a flexible stem, a single-coil magnetic soundhole pickup with adjustable polepieces, and an undersaddle piezo transducer.

The sidemount preamp allows you to manipulate the level and tone of all three signal sources using a minimum number of controls.”

The Pathmaker has two outputs—a low-impedance XLR jack and a high-impedance 1/4″ jack—mounted on a plate near the endpin. These jacks carry identical mono signals, so you can’t split the pickup and mic outputs. But what you can do is feed your sound simultaneously to a P.A. and stage amp, and then wrangle the results independently. In the studio, the dual outs suggest creative options like recording a clean signal from the XLR jack, while connecting the 1/4″ jack to an effects unit and then bussing the processed tones to a second track. If you gig a lot, you’ll really appreciate how the system runs happily on 48-volt phantom power supplied from a mixer via the XLR cable—slick! A dedicated LED indicates when the phantom juice is flowing.”

“Plugged in, the Pathmaker has a huge repertoire of blended mic and pickup sounds. Whether you’re after crunchy chord riffs or warm lead lines, you’re bound to find what you need—plus variations thereof. The guitar’s mag and saddle pickups sound clean and robust, but it’s the hot mic that provides the magic. Some claim that a mic placed inside an acoustic picks up more sonic garbage than useful timbres. However, I found that by pulling the capsule out of the soundhole—so it hovers between the soundboard and the bass strings, angled toward the treble strings—the Pathmaker delivered a very credible miked tone. This proved especially useful in a studio setting, where I’d often let the mic do most of the work. Onstage,  the mic is forced to play a more subservient role to avoid feedback. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much mic signal to animate the direct pickup tones.”

But don’t just take MY word for it… Here’s what other people said about it:

Overall     quality: 9
Experience w/product     I own it
Features     Features: 10
Reviewer’s Background     Professional Musician
Quality     quality: 9
Reviewer’s Play Style     Worship, Folk, Rock, Britpop
Value     quality: 9

I purchased this guitar two years ago for live playing. The smaller body, flexible electronics were big plusses. Now, two years in, here is what you need to know. – This guitar is made to be played live, plugged in. I play different guitars jamming or on the couch. – The action came set up lower/better than any other acoustic I have ever played, including pro setups. I’ve never made an adjustment. It comes with D’Addario lights, which work better than others I have tried. – The look of the double cutaway will grow on you, and a custom pickguard from terrapin really put behind me any concerns about looks. – The sound is more than anything balanced. Not lots of character… pleasingly balanced, lending itself to amplification. – This will blow your mind. I recently upgraded the magnetic pickup to a L.R.Baggs M1 passive. As easy as unplugging an 1/8″ jack and plugging the next in to the onboard Artec preamp. Seriously 3 minutes. It is ASTOUNDING in combination with the mic and the piezo, through a L.R.Baggs Para DI. Think Taylor expression system good.

I love this guitar.

Posted by wechtermongoose from Tucson, AZ on Jul 8, 2008

Overall     quality: 10
Experience w/product     I own it
Features     Features: 10
Reviewer’s Background     Active Musician
Quality     quality: 10
Reviewer’s Play Style     Blues, Rock
Value     quality: 10

I just got thing guitar today and i am very happy with it. The natural wood finish is beautiful, along with the accent around the edges just adds to the beauty. After tuning it up, it played great straight out of the box and i haven’t put it down since. The acoustic sound alone is very good, but the three pickup system is amazing. It gives you a huge variety of sounds through the amp. This is a great quality acoustic-electric guitar for a decent price. Buy this guitar!

Posted by Frosty_Legacy from Virginia on Feb 2, 2008

Overall     quality: 10
Experience w/product     I own it
Features     Features: 10
Reviewer’s Background     Active Musician
Quality     quality: 10
Reviewer’s Play Style     Solo Acoustic
Value     quality: 10

I’ve had my Pathmaker for a year & a half, & I have to say I couldn’t be happier with it. It sounds great, plays great, & looks great. I perform a solo acoustic act & get nothing but compliments on every front. You can spend more money on other guitars, but you won’t find many that sound better. If you buy it, you’ll find that you spent your money well.

Posted by J.P.H. from Winchester, VA on Dec 9, 2007

Overall     quality: 10
Experience w/product     I own it
Features     Features: 10
Reviewer’s Background     Professional
Quality     quality: 10
Reviewer’s Play Style     Jazz
Value     quality: 10

Three pickup system! Bridge,Mic,pickup. Plugged in this guitar sings, sustains very well. Good for Andy Mckee, Tommy Emmanuel type stuff! The neck is much like an Ibanez electric, this is not a your every day “kills my hands” acoustic. I got it, didnt have to touch a thing, tuned it and was ready to go. The double cutaway allows access to all the frets up the neck. Tone,intonation right on target. Frets are smooth as glass, flat neck,no sharp edges (PLECKED!). Has a 1/4 inch and XLR jack. Beautifull guitar to look at, shell binding with abalone inlays. Fret markers are cool too…just enough to be unique. Headstock shape sets off the axe. This thing plays like a professionally setup electic guitar. My hands are averaged size and I can fly. Great for DI also.

Posted by I’ve been Plecked by Wechter from Illinois on Oct 11, 2007

Overall     quality: 10
Experience w/product     I own it
Features     Features: 10
Reviewer’s Background     Active Musician
Quality     quality: 10
Reviewer’s Play Style     Contemporary Christian
Value     quality: 10

This is a wonderful guitar. The $$’s, the quality, the value, the feature’s are all great. But the best thing about this guitar is the backup from the company. After a couple of years I needed an adjustment. Communicating with the company, Abe Wechter himself, and the people that backup this instrument was simple. This is a great instrument with some great people behind it.

Posted by dgstjohn from Greenwood, MS on Jan 23, 2007

As you can see, I’m not the only one who loves it.

Note: I don’t work for Wechter, nor am I endorsing their guitar for a consideration, fee, or even product. I’m passing this on, because they are available, and they’re great guitars. Of course, if they have a spare “lefty” laying around collecting dust that they want to send my way, I’ll make sure it gets played! 😉

Next time, we’ll talk about what makes a great Electric Guitar!

See ya!

100lft_guitar_ava1Sorry about the out-link to the MP3 file. I’ve yet to figure out how to embed music into the blog, without having to move mountains! Bear with me while I discover how to treat your ears, while I teach your fingers! 😉