Tag Archives: Shred

“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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The Ibanez RG350M – Such a JEM . . .

I have a fixation with Ibanez guitars.  The company’s retro styling, commitment to playability, constant innovation, and  iconic neon color schemes make them truly original (which is ironic as they faced law suits in their early years for plagiarism of competitor’s models).  As a result, many of their guitars are works of art, and have become collector’s items.  One of the guitars that helped establish Ibanez as a serious company for the serious player was the JEM.  Introduced in 1987, and co-designed by Steve Vai, the JEM was a Super Strat that came in Shocking Pink, Desert Sun Yellow, and Loch Ness Green.  Probably the most iconic features were the “Monkey Grip” handle cut out and the multicolored disappearing pyramid inlay – cool!

Of course, today these guitars are fairly rare and infinitely more expensive than they were in the late 80s.  I mean, we’re not talking 1954 Stratocaster rare, but a vintage JEM in good condition will definitely take some research and cost upwards of $2700.  Not horrible, but you’re still buying a vintage instrument, which means all of the problems that may come with it.  So in my quest for a JEM, I had to face the reality that it was not in my best financial interest to purchase a real vintage JEM (although they will probably appreciate nicely).  Luckily, Ibanez still produces a guitar that bears resemblance to the mighty JEM – the RG350.

 

So, for roughly $430 I got a new Yellow Ibanez RG – the foundation for the 2011 JEM project.  Now there were a few elements I would never have – the Monkey Grip, the disappearing pyramid inlay, and the pink tremolo bar depression cut out.  I mean I could have gotten these things, but at that point and cost, I might as well have shelled out for the real deal.  So first I scoured the online community of JEM fanatics – Jemsite – until I found a parts supplier, Ibanez RulesFrom Ibanez Rules I ordered authentic neon green (with black writing) Volume and Tone knobs, and a Pink selector switch tip – all to match the original.  Next, it was time for the PUs, which were obviously to be Dimarzios, the only company still producing the late 80s aesthetic.  To sound like the best, Paul Gilbert, I got two PAF Pros for Neck and Bridge, and an  FS-1 for Middle position.  To match the original JEM, I got neon pink PU covers, and one creme/black zebra cover for a personal twist.  Lastly, I installed a neon green Dimarzio ClipLock strap – my late 80s JEM reproduction was complete!

Ultimately, this was a fun project!  Of course, it’s no spitting image of the original JEM, but it’s a modern progeny with the same general character and a much smaller price tag.  The Dimarzios sound killer, and at the very least, the guitar is a great conversation piece that fills the void in my arsenal of a late 80s shred machine.  So if you’ve got a thirst for some rare, vintage axe but lack the funds to obtain – make it yourself!

For more on the Ibanez JEM, check out Jemsite.

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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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Bach: Sonatas and Partitas For the Violin

Since the 1980s, the electric guitar has had a romance with classical music.  From neo-classical shredders, like Yngwie Malmsteen, to Eddie Van Halen’s baroque styled tapping, to Steve Vai playing Paganini’s 5th Caprice in”Crossroads,” electric guitarists have been fascinated by the techniques and harmony used in classical music.  Although written for acoustic instruments, distortion and amplification can breathe new life into classical pieces and add an intensity otherwise unattainable.  Also, many of these pieces are technically demanding, particularly when adapted for electric guitar, an instrument for which they obviously were not intended.  For this reason, almost every accomplished guitar player emphasizes the importance of studying and performing classical music.

Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for the Violin are some of the most popular classical pieces for electric guitarists to learn.  Aside from being great compositions, they’re a good place to start your journey into classical music because all the pieces are written in treble clef and the violin has a comparable range to the guitar.  A collection of six works composed by J.S. Bach, this book is a great introduction to the language of classical music, covering major and minor tonalities, various tempi, different rhythmic meters, and a wide range of keys.  The most famous movement is “Chaconne” from Partita No.2 in D Minor, but you’ll be surprised how many melodies you recognize throughout all of the pieces.

And don’t think this is just applicable to modern guitar shredders!  This book was originally recommended to me by the great Jazz guitarist, Adam Rodgers, who, like many other guitarists, has spent years studying these pieces.  J.S.  Bach has also been a huge influence on Ted Greene, Joe Pass, and Tommy Emmanuel, just to name a few guitar masters.  And let’s not forget about Bach’s massive influence on music in general!  Overall, studying classical music is an amazing way to improve your technique, knowledge of harmony, compositional skills, and sight reading ability – plus, gain exposure to some beautiful music.  So follow in the footsteps of many guitar greats and get yourself a copy of Bach’s Partitas and Sonata’s for the Violin!

And now, enjoy a performance of the “Giga” movement from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor by one of my all time favorite guitarists, the amazing Paul Gilbert!

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The Ibanez RG 350 DX – To shred, or not to shred?

Like many guitar players, when I began, I was all about the classics – Fender and Gibson.  Nothing appealed less to me than a Parker, BC Rich, or even Ibanez.  These companies were associated with a mentality I didn’t like – I didn’t want to sacrifice soul or character for playability or a Floyd Rose.  But as I progressed as a player, and became more interested in “shredding,” it seemed as though my old friends just couldn’t handle the heat.  Single coil PUs with hum, low radius necks, heavy strings – not a recipe to sound like Eddie Van Halen.  Plus, I was ignoring one major factor – I thought that “soul” came from the guitar, when it really comes from the player.  Since then, I have witnessed many character-less solos on classic guitars, and some extremely emotional, original ones on the newer breeds.

Eventually, my interest in the other side prompted me to make a purchase.  I went on eBay and bought a factory second, White Ibanez 350DX for about $350.  It was the first guitar I ever purchased with a locking nut, “Floyd Rose”-esque system.  At first it was weird – the neck was so thin and flat, there were 24 frets, there was a usable whammy bar – but soon it became one of my favorite axes.  I loved the way it felt, but the stock PUs were terrible, so I replaced them.  Knowing I would hardly use the middle single coil PU, I just put a Seymour Duncan Jazz SH-2 at neck position and a Seymour Duncan JB at bridge.  With this change, this guitar became my weapon of choice.

Now, a good guitarist can play on any guitar – but playing with this axe was like using training wheels.  So many techniques – legato, tapping, string skipping – that were previously impossible on my Strat or Tele were suddenly pretty easy – and sounding good!  Using high output humbuckers, I could finally achieve a distorted tone with cleanliness and clarity.  This guitar also became my number one studio axe.  It’s totally silent when not being played, and can create a wide array of sounds, from sparkling cleans to death metal overdrive.  And the best part – after playing on this guitar for a while, I could suddenly do all these complicated techniques on my classic guitars.  It was as if practicing these techniques on a guitar built for them allowed me to better understand their mechanics, and how to implement them on any guitar.  Basically, I am so thankful that I purchased this guitar.  It has taught me so much about my own playing, and how to coax classic charm out of even the most modern beast.

In conclusion, I advise every guitar player to spend a little time with an axe like this.  They are generally foreign made, very inexpensive, and easy to find second hand.  I equate them to “rice rocket” racing cars – they are the perfect blank slate, ready to be modified into the ultimate Rock machine.  You can learn a lot from having 24 frets and a high neck radius, and may be surprised how much “tone” you can actually get from one of these “shredders.”  If you’re into modern guitar playing, yielding a weapon like this is a must.

For more on Ibanez, check out the Ibanez website.

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