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Guitar Musician e-zine     03/22/2006

In This Issue:

  "The life of the arts far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is close to the center of a nation's purpose-and is a test of the quality of a nation's civilization."

                                                                              -John F. Kennedy

Some Humor

  Aging Gracefully

A 70 yr. old nurse walks into a bank and prepares to endorse a check.

She reaches in her pocket and pulls out a rectal thermometer and tries to write with it. She looks up at the teller, pauses for a moment, then realizing her mistake, she says, "Well that's great......just great.....Some asshole's got my pen."


A Lesson For The Learning

Interested in guitar lessons? - Be sure and check out the guitar lessons offered by Andrew Koblick at Amazing Guitar

Click here for all products by Ibanez.

Ibanez Soundgear Basses

Well designed, well made, affordably priced

By Jeff Ballard

SR900 Soundgear 4-String Bass
SRX300 Bass
SRX500 Bass
SRX700 Bass

If you haven't played an Ibanez Soundgear Bass yet, you should. You'll be impressed. Soundgears have quietly become one of the top-selling basses worldwide. The reason is simple: more bass for less money. Even the most affordable 300 level models are quality instruments with the construction, woods, hardware, and electronics you'd expect to cost much more.




The Soundgears have solid wood bodies, all in the same style�sleek, nicely balanced, contoured for comfort, and not too heavy. Ash, maple, mahogany, basswood, or agathis are used for different models, and this variety of woods gives each its own tonal character. Some models have figured maple tops for showtime looks.




Soundgear necks are especially distinctive, very thin in profile (22mm at the 12th fret) and narrow in width (62mm tapering to 38mm at the nut on the 4-string basses). They play fast and are especially easy on the hand. Soundgear necks are laminated, which gives them a strength that allows the thin profile. The number of laminations and the types of woods used vary from model to model, and the mid- to upper-end Soundgear models use neck-thru construction for enhanced resonance and sustain. All models are 34" scale with 24 frets and have a gentle 34" radius.




All Soundgear Basses feature active electronics for high output and tonal flexibility. Most use an Ibanez 2-band EQ system with stacked knobs so you can adjust both treble and bass without moving your hand. Some models feature a three-band Bartolini system with matching Bartolini pickups.




The SRX basses are the wild side of the Soundgear family. They are basically the same as the SR models, with loosely parallel step-up features. The big difference is in the pickups. The SRX models are equipped wtih massive high-output PFR humbuckers with exposed pole pieces. They don't just deliver skull-crushing volume. They do it with tone.


Extensive Selection


The Soundgear Basses featured here are the most popular models but there are many more�23 counting the five-strings�so no matter what your style of music is, what features you especially want, or how much your budget will allow, the Soundgear Series gives you real choices. The lower-level models make great starter basses. They are a popular solution for experienced players seeking a worthy five-string as a second instrument. The upper-level models give pro players ample choices of basses that will more than meet their needs. Essentially there's a Soundgear Bass for every player. Choose yours and get a great deal on a bass you'll love playing.




Lefty or Righty?

James Silverman; Little Rock, AK

Q: I'm a 38 year old student of your DVD's, I have been using them to learn guitar for four years now and love them. I have a 10 year old son that wants to play guitar now too and here is my question. He is left handed in most everything he does how do I know if he should play guitar left handed too? I guess I sort of want him to play right handed because I have six guitars that are right handed and he could use them in the future but I don't want to mess him up either. Thanks.

A: This question has come up many times while teaching my private lessons and here is a quick easy answer.

Have your son sit down in a chair, take one of your guitars and hand it to him with the neck facing straight up towards the ceiling. Notice which way he goes to hold the guitar. If he is a pure lefty he will hold the guitar that way. Definitely don't try to force him to play right handed if he shows left handed tendencies because it will affect his learning process.

One other test you can try that is sort of fun is to put a favorite song of his on, crank it up and tell him to jam air guitar to it. Everyone I know who plays guitar left handed also plays air guitar that way too.

Hope this helps!

Yours in Music,
John McCarthy
Rock House

Trad Trailblazer
By Kenny Berkowitz
Whether playing bluegrass standards, Irish fiddle tunes, eclectic original songs, or "House of the Rising Sun," Tim O'Brien brings his own distinctive voice to the music. The wide-ranging multi-instrumentalist shares his keys to finding a personal sound and explains how playing fiddle and mandolin sharpens his guitar skills.
Photo Credit: Senor McGuire
FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS, Tim O�Brien has been weaving bluegrass, blues, country, gospel, singer-songwriter folk, and traditional Irish music into a rich, deeply personal tapestry of Americana. On his latest CDs, the simultaneously released Cornbread Nation and Fiddler�s Green, old Anglo-Irish ballads like �The Foggy Foggy Dew� and �Pretty Fair Maid in the Garden� fit alongside country classics (�Long Black Veil�), gospel standards (�Keep Your Hands on the Plow�), work songs (�Walkin� Boss�), and folk chestnuts (�Early Morning Rain�). It�s hard to imagine a more diverse collection but easier to grasp how O�Brien manages to make each of these songs his own.

O�Brien, who grew up in Wheeling, West Virginia, began playing guitar at 12. Before long, he picked up fiddle, banjo, and mandolin, as well. After a year at Colby College in Maine, he drifted across the country with little more than those four instruments, finding his way to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and then Boulder, Colorado. By 1974, he was working in a music store and playing acoustic swing in the Ophelia String Band; a year later, he was playing fiddle and mandolin with banjo player Pete Wernick and guitarist Charles Sawtelle. Over the next few years, they performed as the Drifting Ramblers (or Rambling Drifters, depending on the gig), parted ways, came back together, and�with the addition of bassist Nick Forster�evolved into Hot Rize, which would become one of the most popular bluegrass bands of the �80s.

O�Brien�s 12 years in Hot Rize served as a kind of ultimate finishing school, and the lessons he learned laid the foundation for everything he�s done since. As Hot Rize became a mainstay of the progressive bluegrass world (along with its comic alter-ego western-swing band, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers), O�Brien increasingly took center stage as the group�s lead singer, songwriter, fiddler, and mandolin player.

O�Brien went solo in 1990, hoping for mainstream country success but finding only major-label disappointment. Dropped by RCA after completing one never-released album, O�Brien found a home for his eclectic solo career at Sugar Hill Records, where his recordings have veered through singer-songwriter folk with the O�Boys (teamed with guitarist Scott Nygaard and bassist Mark Schatz), classic country duets with his sister Mollie O�Brien, and Irish neotrad fusion with Frankie Gavin, Seamus Egan, and Altan. Along the way, his songs have been recorded by Kathy Mattea (�Walk the Way the Wind Blows�), Dixie Chicks (�More Love�), Garth Brooks (�When No One�s Around�), and many others.

Far from being a preservationist, O�Brien is a restless, wide-ranging innovator, and on Cornbread Nation and Fiddler�s Green (featuring such collaborators as bassists Dennis Crouch and Dirk Powell, percussionist Kenny Malone, guitarists Kenny Vaughan and John Doyle, fiddlers Casey Driessen and Stuart Duncan, and banjo players Powell and Charlie Cushman) he builds upon rich Americana traditions to create some of the best music of his career, with songs that are variously somber and spirited�and perfectly timeless.

Reached by telephone from his Nashville home shortly before Fiddler�s Green was nominated for a Grammy as the Best Traditional Folk Album of the year, O�Brien talked about recording two albums at once; growing as a musician by playing guitar, fiddle, and mandolin; and putting his original stamp on traditional tunes.

Whether playing bluegrass standards, Irish fiddle tunes, eclectic original songs, or "House of the Rising Sun," Tim O'Brien brings his own distinctive voice to the music. The wide-ranging multi-instrumentalist shares his keys to finding a personal sound and explains how playing fiddle and mandolin sharpens his guitar skills.

When did you realize you were recording two different albums?

O�BRIEN It wasn�t until I got about 19 tracks started. I was trying out all these different things, and they were all coming out great. Rather than make a double disc, we split them in two. Cornbread Nation turned out to be more electric, more southern, with a little more country and rockabilly, and Fiddler�s Green became a little more Appalachian, with some Celtic, old-timey, and bluegrass. Even though it�s got more gospel, Cornbread Nation is actually lighter in tone, more light-hearted, whereas Fiddler�s Green is much weightier, with songs about death and war and hard times. I�m not sure why, but I�m definitely at a more reflective stage in my life, and the writing is more about that. In �Look Down That Lonesome Road,� one of the few originals here, a guy is looking back at the end of his life and realizing where he went and what he did.

What styles of music did you play at first?

O�BRIEN When I was starting out, I wanted to be like Bill Monroe. I wanted to invent some kind of sound that was my own, putting all these different elements into my own stew. But first I had to apprentice, and the years with Hot Rize were like college for me, until I needed to go figure out what kind of music I really wanted to play. Back in 1990, when I went out on my own, the way to get a record deal was to be either a traditional bluegrass artist or a commercial country artist, and I didn�t really want to be either one. I wanted to find something that was freer, more my own.

Luckily, the bluegrass audience gave me the benefit of the doubt while I experimented, and while some of the records have been better than others, they�re all kind of eclectic. Yet, if you look at them together, they�ve all been headed towards a certain place�bringing the past up to date, covering the various roots forms from this country and a few others, and letting them cook down.

What first drew you to guitar?

O�BRIEN In the early �60s, people started playing guitars, at least in my crowd, because it was a very social instrument. You could carry it around and play with other people. It was like a common language. Music was something I could do, and it helped my self-esteem to hear myself improving, so it fed the fire. Guitar was a safe place for me, and I got lost in it really easily, just sat down with it and hours would go by before I�d look up again. After a while, if you let it, that becomes the definition of a career. You just keep doing something you like doing and the time flies by.

My oldest brother was in Vietnam, and before he was killed there in �68, he encouraged me to continue with music. When he died, my sister and I inherited his record collection, and he left some money to each of his surviving siblings. I used my potion to buy a Martin D-28. I was only 14 years old and I had a Martin D-28! I remember going down to the music store, looking at all the Martins, and the guys there didn�t think I was serious enough to play it. But I bought that thing, and it was like getting the Holy Grail. I thought I was the coolest guy in the world, and I was going to do my brother right.

How long had you been playing guitar before you decided to learn another instrument, and then another and another?

O�BRIEN When I was about 16, I�d been playing guitar for about four years. Country-rock was starting out, and my aunt gave me a fiddle that had been sitting in the attic for 25 years. I couldn�t make much sense of it, but I learned a few licks to play in the band I was with, because we already had another guitarist. And even though I was really bad at it, I realized that other instruments would be really good for the band. It�s all about being valuable to the group, so you can add the right color, vary the textures. Then the banjo and the mandolin and the bouzouki came along, and it was all-consuming. At that point, I wasn�t thinking about being the singer, I was thinking about being the instrumental guy.

How does playing the mandolin affect the way you play guitar?

O�BRIEN You can�t play chords as complex on the mandolin, because there are only four pitches. One way to expand your sound is to sing the note you�re not playing, so if you have two or three notes on the mandolin along with one note on vocals, it fills out the chord. You don�t have as many notes to choose from, so you�ve got to pick them wisely. It carries over when I get back to the guitar�I�m not playing all the way across the fingerboard, I�m playing three or four notes at a time, and filling out the sound with my voice.

What have you learned from working with Irish musicians?

O�BRIEN The first thing is that the chords to a tune are arbitrary. There�s a melody and there are chords, and there are just as many chords that can go to a given melody as there are melodies that can go to a given set of chords. A lot of times, when you ask Irish players, �What are the chords to this song?� they don�t know. They may not even know what key it�s in, they just play and it sounds great. Another thing I learned is that you don�t need a lot of chords. You can play 16 bars on one chord in Irish tunes, and it works fine. Then, when you get back to those same 16 bars, you can do a whole different thing and nobody minds. It becomes really liberating, because it�s up to you to invent something, and as long as it�s in the same key, anything works. That�s very different from bluegrass, where, for example, there�s an unwritten rule that the chords to �Old Joe Clark� start from the root chord and drop down a step to the first change. Playing Irish tunes, you have more responsibility, but you have the freedom that goes with it, and that�s a wonderful thing.

Once you decide to record a song like �House of the Rising Sun� (on Cornbread Nation), how do you start arranging it?

O�BRIEN I sang that song when I was in bad rock bands in high school. Then, for the album, I was looking for something I could put a bluegrass sound on, so that�s where Dan Tyminski comes in. He adds the harmony vocal, which is really lonesome, and that makes it different. With a song like �House of the Rising Sun,� you really can�t mess it up, because it�s too good. But you have to find something that will stamp it as yours. There are a lot of songs out there, but you have to find a way to make them your own.

How do you do that?

O�BRIEN What works for me is first to take the melody and figure out the right key to sing it in, the one where my voice fits most naturally. Then, to make it my own, I have to learn it, forget it, and learn it again. Because there�s usually something else I have to learn before I�m ready to perform it. Maybe it�s a chord form, or a picking pattern, or even just a tempo. With a traditional song, you don�t need to play the chords somebody else played, and you don�t really need to sing the same melody. But you should start from the melody and go from there. The good thing about forgetting it is that when you learn it again, you�re really learning it from memory. A lot of times, when you check the original source, you find you�ve gone in another direction. And that�s actually what you�re after: to come up with your own sound.

If you�re going to write a song, what instrument do you reach for?

O�BRIEN The guitar. Sometimes it helps to tune it in a funny chord, so you don�t know what the heck you�re doing. That has the same effect as taking up another instrument. I used to use the bouzouki that way, but I got to know the bouzouki too well, so if I�m going to write on it, I tune that differently, too. It�s all about getting away from the normal state of things. Retuning your instrument draws you back to making a simple melody and a simple rhythm.

Writing has so much to do with the instrument you play, but it�s also rooted in where you are in life, what you�ve been thinking about. But it takes awhile to get in that zone where everything you�ve been thinking about can finally come out. I gave up on the idea that I could come up with something completely new. I realized I wasn�t going to do anything that hadn�t been done before, but along with that came the realization that even if I tried to do something exactly like somebody else, it would still sound different. That liberated me to just let music come out, and there�s really nothing more exciting than that�when the music is pouring out of you.

You might not become a triple or quadruple threat as an instrumentalist like TIM O�BRIEN, but making an effort in that direction, practicing frequently, and having fun while doing it can pay big dividends, he advises.
� �If you play guitar, get a cheap mandolin and learn the way the melodies play in a different tuning on a different instrument.�
� �If you�re going to play more than one instrument on a gig, play each of them a little bit every day to keep your technique up.�
� �Don�t keep your instrument in its case. Leave it out on a table, and every time you walk by, play 32 bars of a tune.�
� �Even if it�s just for a few minutes, practice a little bit every day�it really builds up a feel for your instrument. Four hours of practice one day can�t replace 15 minutes every day.�
� �Find any way you can to enjoy making music, and you�ll keep getting better, because you�re doing something you love.�

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Recommended Listening - A Must For Your Collection!

Dominic Frasca, Deviations
By Julia Crowe
Guitarist Dominic Frasca�s solo debut features works by minimalist composers Marc Mellits and Philip Glass, as well as a number of original pieces, all played with mesmerizing and propulsive intensity on six- and ten-string guitars, strung with nylon or steel. In addition to electronically processing each string through individual pickups, Frasca employs some decidedly untechnical gear, such as a pair of popsicle sticks (taped to the soundboard) that he taps as he picks the strings. The resulting complex textures �achieved without overdubbing�amplify the dark, edgy qualities of the pieces. Of Mellits� pieces, �Dark Age Machinery� evokes the industrial churning of pistons and cogs; �Metaclopramide� sounds like a melodic dialogue between firing synapses; and �Dometude,� co-written with Frasca, is a dazzling guitar race over a heady pulse of trancelike electronica. Philip Glass� �Two Pages� features a tolling bell-like harmonic series; Frasca�s �Forced Entry� combines an athletic pulse, an unrelenting bass drone, and tapped rhythms; and the original title piece is a majestic 22-minute kaleidoscope of primal rhythms and unpredictable, gorgeous melodic turns. Throughout, Frasca�s innovative polyrhythms give these powerful performances an otherworldly quality. (Cantaloupe,


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