Tag Archives: Acoustic guitar

“Melodic Expressions: The Art of the Line” by Jon Maclennan

Today, there are endless ways to learn about the guitar.  From traditional teachers, to YouTube, to books, to good old fashioned trial and error, there are so many ways to go about your journey towards guitar mastery and musical nirvana.  But what if there was a new medium that combined the best of all these methods?

My good friend, fellow UCLA alumni, and passionate guitar player Jon Maclennan has just released an iBook titled, “Melodic Expressions: The Art of the Line,” designed specifically for the iPad.  What is an iBook?  It’s a “multi-touch textbook,” an interactive electronic book that integrates audio, video, photos, graphics and more, bringing content to life in ways previously unimaginable.  It’s everything you’d get from a book, and then some.  Plus, it’s digital, so you can store thousands of iBooks in a single iPad, while saving the trees!

Like me, Jon is an avid fan of guitar great Carl Verheyen, and Carl’s approach to improvisation.  In short, this school of playing is based on “lines,” instead of scales and arpeggios.  So often guitarists become trapped by scale shapes and boxes that ultimately inhibit their melodic creativity.  With this new alternative approach, the player practices “lines,” or melodic phrases, that can be used in improvisation.  In the same way a player would use a scale shape or an arpeggio when improvising, they can use these “lines” to create far more interesting and creative phrases, and ultimately more personalized expression.

Jon’s book is divided into three sections – Major, Minor and Dominant expressions.  Each section is filled with various licks, corresponding to the given harmony, that range from Rock to Blues to Jazz and even Country.  With the interactive iBook medium, each lick has multiple audio samples, and the option for you to plug into your own iPad and play along!  There’s also a “general tips” section, where Jon will teach you  how to create your own melodic expression and cultivate your own personal harmonic vocabulary.  Very cool!

Ultimately, I find this approach to improvisation and general music making to be the most fun and effective.  Although it’s important to familiarize oneself with scales and arpeggios in order to understand music in a theoretical way, these tools should not become crutches in developing your melodic voice and improvisational style.  It’s much more fun to create exciting lines and phrases that express your personal style and sound like you.  Although at first it may be difficult to write your own licks, books like Jon’s are a great place to learn the craft and gather inspiration.  So check out Melodic Expressions: The Art of the Line” today on iTunes and take the first step on your journey towards developing your own personal melodic sound!

Check out this promo video on “Melodic Expression: The Art of the Line” for more info, and be sure to check out Jon Maclennan’s website for more about him and his music.

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South Austin Music – Austin, TX

Lamar Boulevard in Austin, Texas is the street for guitar shops, and one of the coolest shops on the block is South Austin Music.  Established in 1986, SAM is now a staple of the Austin Music scene.  With a wide-ranging, unique inventory, SAM will entertain and surprise any guitar player, from novice to life long enthusiast.

One thing that makes a great guitar shop is the vibe.  Coming into a guitar shop can put a customer in a vulnerable state – you feel pressure to play well, talk the talk, buy something – for some, it can be very overwhelming.  That’s one of the reasons why SAM is a such a great shop – the staff create a very positive environment that welcomes all.  From the moment you walk in, you know you are actually allowed to play the guitars, not just stare.

SAM has a great selection of electric and acoustic guitars.  Aside from of all of the usual suspects (Fender, Gibson, Martin), SAM has a large variety of Eastwood, G&L, Danelectro, and Nation Reso-phonic guitars.  Of course, there are also some fantastic classics and lots of vintage pieces that’ll keep any connoisseur busy, all easily accessible and quite playable.

SAM also has a killer amp collection.  A large amount new and vintage Orange, Fender and Marshall amps pepper the shop’s perimeter.  They also carry some extremely hard to find Divided by 13 amps – wow!  And of course, they have many acoustic amplifiers and boutique makers.

Last but not least, SAM has an amazing pedal selection, filled with all the classics and newcomers.  From MXR to Xotic to Ibanez to Fulltone, they have everything you could want – and at very reasonable prices.  And once you’re through with all of this, SAM has every pick, string and accessory you could possibly imagine.  I ended up with a sweet new guitar strap!

So if you’re in Austin, TX, South Austin Music is a must!  Visit them @ 1402 South Lamar Blvd, Austin, Texas 78704 or on the SAM website

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Andy’s Guitar Shop – San Diego, CA

Some may be surprised to hear that San Diego harbors a thriving and ever-expanding music community.  A mandatory Southern California destination on any tour, San Diego has as many local musical acts as it does big time visitors, keeping it lively on any given night.  Of course, the greatest by-product of a thriving music scene – guitar shops!  And one of the coolest shops in San Diego is Andy’s Guitar Shop.

Formerly known as El Rayo Guitarworks, current owner Andy Greenberg changed the name to Andy’s Guitar Shop after his old partner left the business.  A no-nonsense, little shop, Andy’s is a truly professional store, specializing in repairs and set-ups.  Essentially one giant repair room, split into an entrance/guitar showroom and full on “employee’s only” repair shop, Andy’s makes no pretense about its purpose.  Stocking a small supply of acoustic and electric guitars and a good selection of picks and strings, Andy’s Guitar Shop is predominantly a world-class guitar repair shop.

I waltzed into Andy’s on one of those rare rainy San Diego days.  Andy himself was in the repair side of the room, fiddling with a guitar.  I glanced over the small collection of axes dangling on the wall, and was drawn to a modified Epiphone hollow body.  I asked if I may noodle, and an employee granted my wish, even offering to change the strings if they felt too dead.  After a short bit of playing, Andy invited me to the repair half of the room to plug into a stellar Dr. Z amp.  He explained how he had modified this guitar, put in a Piezo PU and a stereo/mono switch – no easy feat!  Although I was just browsing, I was surprised by how he had transformed a seemingly middle of the road guitar into a professional, tonally diverse axe that played great.  One thing’s for sure, Andy definitely knows what he’s doing – I look forward to having him set-up some of my axes in the near future.

So if you’re in San Diego and want to check out a great shop, breathe life into an old, neglected  guitar, or just get a great set-up, visit Andy’s Guitar Shop @ 3043 Adam’s Ave. San Diego, CA 92116

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Stevie Ray Vaughan

I recently visited the “live music capital of the world” –  Austin, Texas – a city drenched in American culture.  Although its roots date back to the mid 19th century, in the last 50 years Austin has become well-known as a hotbed for musical artists.  From country blues to Texas swing to “South by Southwest,” Austin is a city on the pulse of American music culture.

One of the greatest musical treasures and cultural icons to emerge out of Austin was Stevie Ray Vaughan.  From local guitar hero to international blues ambassador, Vaughan is now a legend.  Achieving great success with his group, Double Trouble, Vaughan pioneered the sound of modern blues guitar, evolving what Albert King, Buddy Guy, and Jimi Hendrix had previously made contributions to.  But more than just a blues artist, Vaughan crossed over into pop culture.  His debut album Texas Flood went double-platinum, and he was a featured musician on David Bowie’s infamous Let’s Dance.  SRV continued to make groundbreaking records and give inspirational performances until his early death in a tragic helicopter accident following a show with Eric Clapton.  At age 35, SRV made an early departure, leaving behind a legacy that is still shaping the music world today.

Aside from his amazingly innovative and identifiable playing style, SRV is known for his guitar tone.  Although he used other guitars, Vaughan is almost exclusively depicted using Fender Stratocasters, most often a 1962/63 model called “Number One” – his favorite.  He used “heavy” .12 gauge strings which, like many other blues greats, he tuned down a half step, thus allowing greater flexibility when bending strings.  Another crucial element to his distinctive tone was a 40-watt Fender Vibroverb amp, which he often blended with other amps, most notably a 150-watt Dumble.  SRV was also a huge proponent of the infamous Ibanez Tube Screamer overdrive pedal, which became a staple of his dirty sound.  Fascinated by the endless combinations of all elements of guitar tone, Vaughan created many iconic tones that enthusiasts everywhere are still trying to emulate!

So in a nutshell, Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of the most innovative guitarists and musicians of his era – a true American musical icon.  As you walk the streets of Austin, Texas today, you can hear Stevie Ray Vaughan everywhere – in every club, band, and musician contributing to this musical hub.  The echos of his legacy still ring loudly, and his playing continues to inspire generations.  Next time you’re in Austin, be sure to visit the Stevie Ray Vaughan memorial statue to pay tribute to one of America’s greatest cultural icons, SRV.

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Taylor Guitars Factory Tour – El Cajon, CA

Although many of us view guitars as works of art, few of us know anything about the creation process.  Great playability, sonic characteristics, aesthetic beauty, and price are just some of the factors that guitar luthiers have to consider when creating their masterpieces.  From raw wood to completion, the nuances and attention to detail that go into the final product are mind-boggling.  I’m just glad I’m on the playing end of this arrangement!

Taylor Guitars is an American guitar company based in El Cajon, CA.  Started in 1976 by Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug, the company has become one of the most successful acoustic guitar manufacturers in the world, rivaling Martin and Gibson.  Today, Taylor production ranges from mid-level acoustics to professional quality six strings, and has even expanded to electric solid, hollow, and semi-hollow body guitars.  Some of their endorsers include Leo Kottke, Dave Matthews, Jason Mraz, Taylor Swift, Zac Brown, and Peter Sprague, and Taylor guitars have become the gold standard in modern country, folk, and bluegrass music.

One of the coolest things about Taylor Guitars is their free, daily tours of their factory.  Located in El Cajon, an inner region of San Diego County, these tours cover the entire process of the acoustic sector of production.  You start by viewing their extensive lumber collection, consisting of exotic woods like Hawaiian koa, Indian rosewood, big leaf maple and tropical mahogany.  Then, you view the shaping process, a mixture of machine and man effort to craft necks and bodies from slabs of wood.  There is a specific neck area, where fretting and sanding occur, and a specific room for inlay work on headstocks, necks and sound holes.  You also get to see the wood bending process that creates the sides of body, and the binding station, where the body parts are attached.  And of course, you get to the see the finish room, where different wood stains and varnishes are applied, followed by a final set up station.  Ultimately, you get to see the entire process of creating an acoustic Taylor guitar.  Plus, the tour ends right where it started – in the TaylorWare store and showroom, stocked with the entire array of Taylor products, ready for immediate noodling.

Probably the most different, progressive, and desirable aspect of Taylor guitars is their patented bolt-on neck technology.  To put it simply, most acoustic guitar manufacturers use a strong glue adhesive to attach necks to guitar bodies.  Over time, due to string tension, climate, and sound vibrations, the angle at which this neck was glued becomes warped, altering the intonation and action.  Because the neck is strongly glued, the only way to fix this problem is to take it to a professional and get a “neck reset,” a very expensive repair.  Aside from this inconvenience, glued necks run a high risk of snapping, and give the player little freedom in altering the playability of their guitar.  Taylor solved these issues with their bolt-on neck technology.  Instead of gluing their necks, they use a specialized neck joint and bolt system to attach necks and bodies.  This system uses special spacers to establish the perfect neck angle.  Over time, when the neck angle becomes warped, the repair procedure is greatly simplified – you just need to unscrew the neck bolt and insert bigger spacers.  Furthermore, if the player ever wants to change the neck angle or replace the neck altogether, it’s as simple as unscrewing the bolts and making the change.  A very practical and innovative solution to an age-old problem. 

Lastly, although hugely successful, Taylor is still run like a small business.  Bob Taylor is almost always present at the factory, and the faculty are very friendly and knowledgeable.  Taylor is also greatly concerned with sustainability and environmental protection.  In a business that often misuses lumber and disregards the scarcity of resources, Taylor has stepped up with the creation of non-profit organizations supporting responsible foresting, and have pledged to use responsible business and manufacturing practices.   Right on!

So if you’re in San Diego be sure to check out the Taylor Guitar Factory @ 1980 Gillespie Way  El Cajon, CA.  For more info on tours, check the the Taylor Factory Tour website and for more on Taylor Guitars, their products, and sustainability, check out the Taylor Guitar Website.

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