Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I'm taking a week pause.  I've had some serious life issues crop up that need dealt with.  I'll be back to a weekly next week.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Matt Warnock

Recently, I've been following along with Matt Warnock's "Play Better Jazz in 30 Days Series" via the forum at jazzguitar.be.  I highly recommend anyone who wants to play better jazz guitar to check them out.  Even if you are just a general guitar player and want to see what jazz guitar can be about, this is a good series for that.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Setting Up

One of the hardest things to get into my head for the first few years of playing was the importance of correct setup of my guitar.  I figured, like most people, that guitars came like most anything else: ready to go.  Unfortunately, that can't be further from the truth.  Guitars, bass guitars, ukuleles, and most instruments need a qualified luthier or technician to do some adjustments to the instrument to make it ready to play.

Most manufacturers will do there best to make them playable out of the box.  But, when you ship an instrument and bump it around a bit, the parts are going to get a little squirrely.  Even more, weather and climate changes can literally change the shape of an instrument.

So, I can't express the importance enough of finding a luthier or tech that you can talk to, develop a relationship with, and keep bringing stuff to.  It is so very, very important.

That said, there are a few things that you can do to setup yourself or at least evaluate the setup of your instrument:
  1. First and foremost, if you don't know what strings are on it or when they were last replaced, get new ones.  If you don't know how to restring a guitar, have a luthier do it (it's not that expensive).
  2. Oil the tuners.  I like sewing machine oil, but it can be messy.  I do this at least once a season on my instruments.
  3. Polish it up, make it shiny.  Grime and gunk not only looks bad, but can potentially harm the longevity of the guitar.  Every restring should get a polished fretboard to boot.  Keep a microfiber cloth in your case or music bag and wipe it down quickly after you are done playing.
  4. Check the frets.  Sometimes they come loose or pop out a bit.  Do this by playing each string at each fret all the way up and down the neck.  Fixing this is usually a luthier duty, but you can at least find the fret and narrow his search.
In the long run, having a qualified repair tech evaluate the instrument is the most important part of getting to know your new guitar.


    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    Good Reminder

    A few nights ago I got together with a group of friends that I get to jam with a lot.  They primarily play bluegrass music (with a little folk rock here and there) and drink beer.  So, as you can imagine, we have a lot of fun.

    It had been a while since I had gone out to play in a setting like this and it really made me feel good about my skills and how they have progressed.  It is always a huge ego boost when you run through a song or two and are not only adding nice rhythms but also lics in the right play along with nice solo lines.

    If you haven't already, find a group of people to jam with.  This should be not a "band" per-say, but more of a group of people who just want to jam.  It's best if there are only about five to ten folks wanting to play and that you have an audience of about the same size.  Just playing in groups like this is a huge boost to not only your ego but also your skills.  You'll figure out real quick what you need to practice on.


    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    Laminate Vs. Solid Woods

    This may be an article better suited for my woodworking blog or a luthier blog... I've read, heard, and weighed in myself on several discussions of what is better: Laminate or Solid Woods for building guitars/ukuleles.  Well, I recently got the chance to make a great comparison between the two.

    My friends at Guitar Syndicate have on their shelf right now a Lanikai solid Koa and a Lanikai laminate Koa ukulele.  Both are concert sized and are spitting images of each other.  They both were strung at the factory/distributor with Aquila strings.  They are pretty much as close as you can get on comparing the two types of wood without actually going out and building two right next to each other.

    There are a few small cosmetic differences.  Finish seems to be the most difference.  Both are matte finish, but you can tell that a little more care was taken with the solid compared to the laminate.  The laminate being just a little lighter brown color.  Bindings and details are approximately the same.  It is also obvious that the solid wood uke is of a slightly higher quality craftsmanship.  Still, very close.


    The real deal that everyone tends to talk about is the sound.  Well, between the two I can honestly say there is a difference (this is contrary to my previous opinion).  The solid seems to have a deeper tone to it compared to the laminate.  There is a surprising amount of contrast between the two on this.  Both sound great. The solid top seems to have a richer tone compared to the laminate.  I would say, though, that the difference is not enough for me to notice if I wasn't really looking.

    Both have a great, rich tone to them.  When I compare them to another uke on the wall, a Lanikai with a glossy black finish, there is tons of difference between the two.  The koa seems to have a much more woody flavor to its tone where the glossy black one seems a bit more plucky.  I've noticed that before comparing glossy finishes to just bare wood finishes.

    Other Concerns

    Arguably, I know a lot about wood (there's a she-said joke there somewhere).  Wood is the only material I know of that will never stop moving.  Tables that are still around from the ancient Egyptians have to be kept in a climate controlled case to keep them from warping so much that they literally fall apart.  It is a combination of temperature, air pressure, and humidity along ever cubic millimeter of the wood along with outside forces such as other pieces of wood and attached components that make wood move (or not move) one way or the other.

    When a luthier (or even a cabinet maker) selects wood for a project, the look very hard a the grain and moisture content to select not a piece of wood that won't move, but one that will move predictably.  That way, they can use that natural movement to strengthen the piece and make it last longer.

    When we talk about laminates in the music/luthier world, we are not talking about the same materials you buy at Lowes like plywood or laminate flooring.  Those materials are made at a far lower grade of uniformity and quality than luthier grade laminate woods are .

    Luthier grade laminate use much thinner, higher quality veneers to create the woods of a certain thickness.  Generally, you will see things like spruce or mahogany laminates witch are top layers of spruce/mahogany backed by other hardwoods.  When the pieces of wood are laid together, they are crisscross the grain and use very specific formulations of glue.  What results is a piece of wood that resists movement.  Since the vibrations that create the sound have to travel through several different medium, this dampens the tone somewhat, but is a lot cheaper than a solid piece of tone wood.

    Final Thought

    So, it's a trade off of sorts.  Laminates are much more stable than solid woods, but you have a slightly different tone.  Here in the mid-west where temperatures can be 107 in the summer and minus 20 in the winter plus you get large changes in humidity, I almost always choose laminates over solid woods.  But, if I was living in an area where the temperature, humidity, and pressure where a bit more stable I would definitely be buying all solid wood instruments.

    Hope this helps you make your decisions in the future.