Tag Archives: California

“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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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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The Guitar Connection – Venice, CA

Serious guitar collectors are a breed all their own.  Often afflicted by a serious case of G.A.S.  (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), many enthusiasts have gathered collections that could easily be featured on an episode of “Hoarders.”  Constantly buying and selling, always looking for the next piece of equipment, begging you, “no matter what, do not let me buy another guitar,” every guitarist, and their significant other, can relate to the never-ending cycle of guitar collecting.  At The Guitar Connection in Venice, CA, one of the most bizarre and interesting guitar stores in the world, owner Mike Van Voorhees has made his own personal collection the inventory of his small business.

The Guitar Connection is a unique surprise on the up and coming Venice street of Rose Avenue.  Outside, you are instantly drawn to the pleasing vintage aesthetic, which summons you to peek inside and see what gems are hidden within its walls.  After you’ve been buzzed in by Mike, you enter – well, his living room – which has been transformed into the guitar showroom of the Guitar Connection.  See, what makes this shop truly original is that it is half-house-half-store, and everything for sale is part of Mike’s personal collection.

Once you’ve been let in, Mike watches you browse from his kitchen doorway, asking questions and adding personally commentary about certain items.  Although, and I’m sure he would agree, he is not the greatest salesmen (and his odd antics may scare off many customers), it is evident that this store and its collection are his life, and things he values very dearly.  Every instrument and amp has its own history, which Mike will gladly share with you.  A mixture of high quality and lesser instruments, The Guitar Connection inventory has all the peaks and troughs of any life long player’s collection.

Exclusively used and vintage instruments, some highlights include two Gibson “Black Beauty “Les Pauls, some rare Gibson Hollow Bodies, an original 1966 Fender Bassman amp, and some nice vintage Stratocasters – all set up and maintained by Mike.  There also some vintage 80s shredders, like Hamer and Ibanez, and a bunch of novelty curve balls that you are unlikely to see elsewhere.  Mike also buys used instruments, rents, and does repairs and set ups.  And although I can’t speak to his repair quality or expertise, I am sure he is more than capable of fixing up any axe, and has all of the knowledge and passion acquired by a life long enthusiast.

So for a unique, one of a kind guitar shop, be sure to check out The Guitar Connection @ 633 Rose Ave. Venice, CA 90291.

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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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