On July 31, I hit the studio to start work on a three song instrumental rock EP, which is being recording with friend Dave Sykut at Seton Hill University. Joining me on the recordings are George Elliott (bass) and Gino Maione (drums). The songs that we're working on are called The Alchemist, Irwin Vibe, and Search and Rescue.
Dave has a few different rooms to choose to record from at the Seton Hill Performing Arts Center. We set up in the "black box," and the drums really came alive. We successfully tracked the drums and bass parts. I am particularly thrilled about how crisp the drum sound are that Dave captured, especially on Gino's playing on Irwin Vibe (it's also worth noting that Gino built his own kit, as he's co-owner of Louson Drums - see http://www.lousondrums.com). George is a fantastic bassist, and wonderful to work with. I really dig the vibe that George and Gino created. Later this month I am scheduled to continue to work on the guitar tracks. I've learned that it's silly to set deadlines when recording, but I'm hoping that I can finish tracking during the next session.
I'm really excited about going into the studio and going about the process the right way. Dave does a fantastic job of getting great sounds, George and Gino created great grooves for the songs, and I'm touching up the arrangements (guitar parts/layer). I'll keep you posted on the progress. I can't wait to share the music with you!
Book Review: Tone Wizards: Inteviews With Top Guitarists and Gear Gurus On Quest for the Ultimate Sound, by Curtis Fornadley
As a guitarist on the quest for the ultimate sound, I thoroughly enjoyed Tone Wizards. Curtis Fornadley interviews several guitarists and builders -- both guitar and amp -- to put this book together. Some of the subjects were people that I was familiar with, and some were not.
Putting together a list of people to interview about guitar tone must have been a daunting task. No matter how many people were selected, there would be people missing. Fornadley does an excellent job picking people. He has a set of questions that he asks each person in the book, but the conversations go to amazing places in between. I only have two critcisisms. One is that it, sometimes while reading, I got the sense that the people interviewed were in all in the same circle of players. The other is that the interviews of Peter Frampton and Eric Johnson were too short, but I could read any of these guys talk about gear all day.
From the players side, I was expecting great insights from Carl Verheyen, Steve Vai, Satch, and Bonamassa -- and the delivered! Jay Graydon is someone who I should have been familiar with, but was not. I really enjoyed getting to read his perspective about sound and guitar. There were some great tips from things he picked up from sessions (the story about nailing the Peg solo was particularly delightful!).
All of the builders provided great insight as well. They are all as meticulous as can be, which is how they achieved their success. Whether it was guitar builders discussing fret size and materials to sale length, woods and everything in between, or the amp builders telling tales of experimenting with different tubes or speakers, I learned A LOT about gear. My favorite, though, was the interview with Cliff Chase, owner of Fractal Audio. Reading about the development of amp modeling was very captivating. It's going to be interesting to see how products like Axe-FX and Kemper Profiling Amplifier impact the music industry.
The conversations in Tone Wizard address just about every aspect of sound. Fornadley asks questions about live sound, capturing great tones in studios, makeup of instruments and amplifiers. It truly was a joy to read. I happily recommend it to guitar players and fans everywhere!
- Joe Bonamassa
- Bob Bradshaw
- John Carathers
- Cliff Chase
- Peter Frampton
- David Friedman
- Jay Graydon
- Scott Henderson
- Eric Johnson
- Jim Kelley
- Jeff Kollman
- Ronan Chris Murphy
- Joe Satriani
- John Suhr
- Pete Thorn
- Steve Vai
- Carl Verheyen
As a guitar instructor, I am always looking for books to become a better player and teacher. Below are some of my favorite books to have my students work through:
Modern Guitar Method, Mel Bay; Guitar Volume 1, Hal Leonard
These two books are the most popular books for beginner guitar students. Mel Bay has been the go to book since 1948. Not only does it introduce the notes in the first position, but it also exposes students to playing solo arrangements of songs. After going through single notes on all six strings, students learn to how to read and play chords that are written on the staff. Hal Leonard introduces the notes, but does not get into solo arrangements. I think that both books work well together. It's important to be able to read single notes as well as chordal arrangements. When used together, the books compliment each other well.
A Common Sense Approach to Improvisation, Joe Negri
Mr. Negri's book focuses on playing triads on the D, G, and B string. He goes through all twelve major, minor, and dominant chords in root position, first inversion, and second inversion. Going through this book helps students to become very familiar with the fretboard and all chord voicings. Exercises are included to help students to connect the triads in a melodic manner.
Mickey Baker's Complete Course in Jazz Guitar: Book 1, Mickey Baker
Mickey Baker put this book together with the goal of getting the student able to play "hot" jazz guitar in one year. There are 52 lessons, which Mr. Baker suggests that the student practice an hour a day for a week. The first half of the book focuses on rhythm playing. Students are introduced to common jazz chords and chord voicings. The second half of the book focuses on soloing and the "hot guitar" vocabulary. Students are first introduced to some scales, then work through several guitar licks that are transcribed for the student to play.
Blues Guitar; Country Guitar, Hal Leonard
Hal Leonard has an excellent series on playing different styles of guitar, and the Blues and Country books are my favorite two. The books go through varies techniques of each style, for playing both rhythm and soloing, having the student work through songs. There are licks transcribed "in the style of" different guitarists of the genre. These books really give a student a feel for the language of each style of music.
Classic Guitar Technique, Volume 1, Aaron Shearer
When I was in college, I took some Classical guitar lessons, and this is the book that the instructor used. In this book, students gain the necessary technique for playing Classical guitar. I believe that it is important for guitarists to have the ability to play with a pick, play finger style, and hybrid pick. I use the exercises in this book for finger style and hybrid picking.
I hope that these recommendations help you on your journey as a guitarist. Please feel free to comment on what books you have found useful on your path!
Book Review: Brian Mays Red Special: The Story of the Home-made Guitar That Rocked Queen and the World by Brian May and Simon Bradley
Whether you're a fan of queen, a guitar gear nerd, or just looking for a good rock 'n' roll read, you will find Brian May's Red Special to be an interesting book. Brian May takes the reader through a brief history of playing in his youth through playing with Freddie Mercury and beyond, playing for the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee celebration in London.
The book begins as Brian May starts playing guitar. He has an old acoustic, but he quickly grows out of it. When he asked for an electric guitar, he is told that they are too expensive. May tries to install pickups on the acoustic, but that doesn't work. May's father then agrees to help build the electric.
Everything about the guitar comes from their home. May's father kept a work space in their garage and would often work on random projects. He seemed to have a little bit of everything around. In the book, May details how they used wood from an old mantel for the body, mother of pearl buttons his mom had with her sewing supplies for the fret markers, and many discusses many aspects of the guitar. He talks about how he made things his own, doing things like having 24 frets on the neck -- something that was not a common feature of guitars of that time. It is fascinating that the Red Special sounded so good with parts so common.
The book also includes pictures and a few stories of shows and travels with the guitar. There is also a section on many of the different versions that manufactures have made, their copies of the Red Special. In addition to May's insight, there are two interviews with former guitar techs who had hands on experience working with the Red Special.
Brian May's Red Special is a light but entertaining read. It will appeal to music fans, queen fans, and guitar fans of all ages.
On Saturday, August 29th, I had an opportunity to attend the Falls Rock Guitar Building Workshop. It provided me with a chance for some hands on learning about the construction of the guitar. I was one of four people who participated in the class. Even though the class was in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, everyone in the class was from Pittsburgh. Each of us selected a body (strat or tele), body color, neck (maple or rosewood), pickups (made by Rock Falls Guitar School), and hardware color (gold or black).
For my guitar, I selected a tele body (as did everyone in the class) with its natural wood color, a rosewood neck, the Rock Falls blues pickups, and gold hardware. The first thing we worked on in the class was the frets. The necks came with jumbo frets on, which needed to be leveled, crowned, and sanded/polished. First we taped the fret boards as not to damage in between the frets as we worked. We used a leveling beam, moving it in a "zig-zag" pattern across the neck, to level the beams. Once that was finished, we crowded the frets by using a rotary tool. Then we polished the fret, first with a fine steel wool then with sand paper, and removed the sand paper.
The next was to install the tuners. The neck did have some holes pre-drilled. The big holes on the headstock, for the tuners, were already drilled. We lined up the tuners, drilled the necessary holes to attach the tuners, and fascined the tuning pegs in place.
Once the tuners were on, we attached the saddle. We lined them up in the slot, and sanded it to fit, if necessary. The saddle was then glued in place.
As the glue dried, we went to work on the wiring. I had read about potentiometers and capacitors, but had not worked with them before. The class really helped me to gain an understanding of what pots and caps do, and how to connect everything. The tele is has a fairly simple (or the simplest of guitars) wiring configuration, but I feel much more comfortable moving forward with more difficult wiring configurations. At the moment, my plan is to build a guitar with humbuckers that are wired for coil tapping and in/out of phase.
Once we soldered the wires to the volume and tone nobs, the capacitor, and the 3-way toggle switch things moved pretty quickly. We dry fit and taped the rest of the parts in place. This included the pickups, pick guard, bridge, and input jack. We then attached the pickups, grounded the bridge, and soldered the pickups to the volume and tone pots. The strap knobs were added, and drilled holes and attached all of the pieces to the body. Next we bolted on the necks, strung up the guitars, tuned them, attached the string trees (to guide the high E and B strings from the tuners to the appropriate saddle slots), and learned how the set up our guitars. We used a notched straight edge and feeler gauge to make sure the neck had the appropriate relief, measured the strings to the appropriate height, intonated our guitars, learned to adjust the pickup height to get whatever sound we're going for, and plugged in the guitars. I was pleasantly surprised that my guitar worked -- and it sounded great!
The guitar building class was a lot of fun. I definitely recommend it to anybody who is interested in learning how a guitar works. Being able to set properly set up the guitar is a huge benefit in of itself. The class gives one the knowledge to modify their own guitars. You also leave with a pretty nice instrument, on par with American made Fenders.
For more information on the Falls Rock Guitar Building Workshop, visit http://www.fallsrockshop.com/
I often find myself reading biographies. There's something inspiring reading about other people's journeys towards success. During a recent trip to the local library, this one grabbed my attention. When I picked it up, I didn't initially realize that it was written by Jimi's brother. Jimi had jumped out at me, and I checked out the book.
Not knowing much about Leon Hendrix, my hope was that his intentions of writing this book were pure -- that it wasn't written to make money off of Jimi's name. While I didn't do a lot of fact checking, I found Leon's book interesting. I believe it is an honest story.
I would divide the book into three sections of Leon and Jimi's lives. The first section dealt with their childhood. Leon goes into stories, sharing how poor they were and how Jimi looked after him. The second part is their adulthood. Jimi joins the army, then starts having success playing in bands. Leon doesn't make up stories; he's honest about seeing Jimi only on occasion. Because of their limited time together, Leon is not able to provide a lot of rock 'n' roll stories, but the ones that he has are are interesting and enjoyable. The third section is after Jimi's death. Leon goes into detail about Jimi's estate, how it was mishandled --- the family didn't get it in is entirety -- and the Leon was left off the will as. Since the book is Leon's story, he takes some time to bring closure to his life story. He had serious issues with drug use, and dealing, but was able to eventually overcome his addictinos
My favorite section was the first part which included a number some fun stories about childhood adventures. Other interesting stories, from the adult years, include hearing Jimi's music on the radio for the first time, and some adventures during extended stays at Jimi's place in Los Angeles.
I enjoyed reading Leon's Jimi Hendrix biography. Getting the perspective of Jimi's brother was interesting. If you're looking for stories on gear and recording sessions, then Leon's book will leave you wanting more. If you're okay with a good read from an interesting perspective, then you'll enjoy Jimi Hendrix: a Brother's Story.
When my folks had some trees chopped down last year, I joked that the wood pieces were big enough to make into a guitar. The trees were mostly cherry, with a few walnut. I decided that it'd be fun to try to build a guitar out of trees that I grew up seeing daily, so I grabbed some of the cherry wood.
Two of my uncles are very good with wood working. They were able to cut and split the wood so that I could take a few of the pieces. Currently, I'm letting the wood dry out. Soon I'll take a good look at the wood to see how much wood I'll have to work with. In the meantime, it's been fun looking at various guitars and taking all of the elements into consideration. Here are some of my thoughts and considerations. Please let me know what you look for in a guitar:
Acoustic or electric.
Since I'm not a woodworker, I'm going to start with building an electric. Building a guitar is hard enough, but making a solid body guitar seems to be slightly more straight forward than building an acoustic. If I continue to build, I would enjoy eventually taking a shot at building an acoustic guitar.
My strat is the standard 25.5" and my D'Angelico EX-DC is 24.75." I liked the latter. Then I played a few Gretsch guitars that have a scale length of 24.6." The Gretsch guitars were so easy to play. My biggest concern with the 24.6" is making sure I can get the neck and frets correct. Because the neck needs to be perfect, I will likely order a custom one, instead of trying to do it myself.
I'm a big fan of the neck on my strat. It's a 2012 Fender American Standard Stratocaster. The neck is maple with a gloss finish. It's a comfortable "contemporary C-shape." I'll likely look to get something similar. I need to do more research to see how a maple neck interacts with a cherry body.
I'm a big fan of humbuckers. I'm also a big fan of versatility. As a result, I'm planning on installing humbuckers and coil tapping them. It's nice when you can play one guitar for an entire show.
Should it be inspired by a classic, such as a strat, Les Paul, tele, 335, or should it be something completely new? At the moment, I'm leaning towards a body that is made up of a D and an R combined. The D is backwards, and at the back of the guitar. (see picture below).
To help me with designing a blueprint, I am using "Electric Guitar and Bass Design: the guitar or bass of your dreams, from first draft to complete plan" by Leonardo Lospennato. It's a fantastic read, and it really goes into detail about everything important to consider while designing a guitar. Coming up with a blueprint is one thing, wood working is another. I plan on ordering wood planks to do a test run (or two) before I get to work on my cherry wood. This past week, a friend informed me that there's a place in Ohio, just outside of Akron, that teachers people how to build electric guitars. Falls Rock Guitar Shop overs classes a few times a year, so I hope to take the class soon (or before I use my cherry wood).
Updates will be posted on my blog, but it'll likely be a slow process.
Thanks for reading!
My name is Dante Romito, and I'm an instrumental guitarist from Pittsburgh, PA. I am a rock, blues, and jazz guitarist who, over the past few years, has gravitated to instrumental music. Currently, I am working to put together a CD of 10 or 11 songs. My writing falls somewhere between Jeff Golub and Neil Zaza. I have a session scheduled in June to finish working on my first single. In addition to my original material, I play lead guitar for AE Honick.
I hope this is the first of a series of regular blog posts. The blog will be about music, gear, guitar building - I'm hoping to build a guitar out of wood from trees that my parents had cut down last year - and more.
Thanks for reading!