The little victories…

Quick appreciation post:

There’s a reason why Thursday nights are some of my favorite parts of the week. In the midst of good and bad, I’m thankful to have places to worship with friends I love. Also, making great music and loud noises is never a bad feeling. “Loud is more good,” as some might say.

That’s it for the gross stuff, I also wanted to do a quick shoutout to the Line 6 HX Stomp. The reality of my current life stage is that I can’t always blast an overdriven amp whenever I want. Some living spaces/situations just don’t allow for that. To get around this conundrum, I’ve been on a long search for the perfect silent practice/silent stage solution. Don’t worry, I still don’t think anything can beat the feeling of a tube amp turned up hitting you right in the chest, but hey, a weekend rocker’s got to be practical too.

Tonight, I misplaced the power supply for my HX effects, which was a total bummer; I had so many reverbs and delays prepared. I quickly slapped together a patch on the Stomp and knew I needed to have an amp sim, a reverb, and delay of some sort. I hooked up the Stomp to my Macbook and quickly threw together the patch. I even got fancy and did a dual amp setup. Before I knew it, I was up and running with the rest of my pedal board. It didn’t sound terrible, either. I’ll have a full review up at some point, but tonight I can say that I definitely appreciated how fast I was able to set everything up and get playing. Spoiler alert, the amp sims on this little guy are no joke. I need to play this thing more, but stay tuned for the full review, this is sure to be a game-changer for how I make music.

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Tonight’s MVP
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How the completed board should look and function,
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Picking a Plectrum

***Just a quick disclaimer about this post and future posts like this, I’m a firm believer in the cliche saying, “tone is in the fingers.” Expensive instruments and gear can sound good, but it still needs a musician to make music. Granted, I’m only talking about cheap, tiny guitar picks this time, but it’s still worth noting that “stuff” will only get you and me so far in becoming better guitarists!

As a young child, the first guitar pick I ever laid hands on was a large piece of plastic, shaped like a Dorito. In fact, it had the Dorito’s logo on it and I’m fairly certain it was part of some promo that included a pick in every bag of chips. If you held it up to your nose, you could still make out the scent of powdered nacho cheese, which later transferred to some strings. KINDA GROSS.

Later, when I actually started learning guitar, I think my preference was to forgo the pick entirely. I love the natural and direct feeling of strumming with my pointer finger and thumb pinched together, as if holding an invisible pick. Also, in the right setting, fingerstyle affords so much control and flexibility.
However, playing with a pick offers a consistency in attack that using my bare hand can’t replicate. Shoot, for that reason I insist on tuning with a pick. Especially in any setting where a strummed guitar is amplified or captured, I try my best to remove any extraneous hand noise. Where mopping up my own sloppy technique has failed, picks have helped. In addition, I came to learn how the wide variety of sizes, thicknesses, shapes, and materials not only affect the feeling of the pick, but also my sound.
Over the years I’ve been able to try a plethora of different plectrums but here are three that have had significant impact on my playing:
  • I started with Fender 346 celluloid mediums, an ode to the Dorito pick. With celluloid, I got a nice warm tone and with mediums, enough heft for a goldilocks attack, not too hard hitting but not too light. The 346 shape meant that I could use it on any side, perfect for my awkward and inaccurate beginner hands. These picks  were huge, which I reasoned would help me hang on to them. When I started leading worship and my hands would get sweaty, I used a hole punch to make a hole in the center to help even more with grip. Not sure if that’s recommended, but I did it. HA. With these, the fat triangle shape lent themselves to my wild, loosey-goosey strumming but I probably wouldn’t use these much for single note picking or lead lines.
  • Later on I stuck with Fender mediums, but this time opted for the more traditional 351 shape. I was still primarily an acoustic strummer, but I ventured more into single note and electric guitar territory. Also the colors were pretty. I stayed with these for the longest, but only because there was a period of time in college where I didn’t really play much guitar at all so I didn’t try anything new. Whoops. I still stick with this pick when I play acoustic!
  • I’m not sure exactly where I came up with my next pick (pun intended), but I’m pretty sure it was when I got a big dump of random picks when my good friend was moving away and getting rid of stuff. Most of them were thin and light nylons, not something I typically played with, but in the mix I did find a D’Addario Black Ice. This discovery coincided to my reemerging interest in the electric guitar. Perfect timing too. I was getting into more lead-type single note playing, and finding that the Fenders just played a little too nicely. For the duralin-made Black Ice, the 1.10mm thickness gave it some heft and prevented too much flexibility, while the matte finish gave ample grip, both for my fingers on the pick and for the pick on the strings. To my ears, this combo gives off a more aggressive attack: nothing too snarly, but still a good amount of bite without overwhelming pick noise. With the small size, fairly hefty duralin material, and moderate thickness, I love the feel and velocity I can achieve while doing some fast passages or even tremolo picking. Basically, Black Ice – 1.10mm: current fav. Also, extra points because my beloved first car was affectionately nicknamed black ice because it was black and could be dangerous at any moment, just like black ice. (bonus tip: once I accidentally got the .80mm, used a new one at a show and by the end of it, the pick was already permanently bent. Too much flex for my liking)
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Some of the picks I’m currently trying.

Wrap up thoughts:

To my ears, I’ve found that a different pick (or no pick at all!) can be one of the easiest and most inexpensive gear changes to alter my tone. How a pick feels in my hand and on my strings is so important in connecting me to the instrument. I’m glad I found the D’Addario Black Ice, which introduced me to the Jazz III style pick. I’m currently going through a sample pack of Dunlop Jazz III’s that included different sizes and materials. I’m looking for one with the same feel and thickness but a tad less pick noise. Also trying the Ernie Ball Prodigy. Very similar to the Black Ice/Jazz III, but with a sharpened edge for even faster, more aggressive picking. I’ll report back if something knocks off the Black Ice to take the crown as my favorite. Keep in mind that these are just my own personal tastes! For anyone out there also still looking for their preferred plectrum, don’t be afraid to try something new; you never know what you’ll find that will sound and feel great! If you’ve already got a favorite, leave some recommendations!
PS I’ve also been experimenting with a Gravity pick that came with a JHS pedal. Big red Dorito, unpolished, sharpened edge, JHS logo. Everyone is raving over them but I’m not finding them to be anything to write home about. Am I missing something?!?!

 

New Year, New Tone

Do you remember the movie, School of Rock? Jack Black poses as a substitute teacher and turns his classroom of kids into a rock band. I remember it dropped when I was either in late elementary or middle school, and I along with many other little twerps like me, thought it was the coolest thing ever. I nagged my parents incessantly for a bass guitar until they acquiesced, but with the stipulation that I needed to learn how to play a six string first. Fine by me. I learned some chords, cool little riffs, and even started playing a basic 12-bar blues! Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about bass, but more on that later. Once I hit college, I still played and even led worship for the campus fellowship I was a part of, but definitely didn’t make time to hone my skills and learn something new.

Fast forward to 2018, I started to take guitar much more seriously. I had been in talks with the worship pastor at my church (shout out to Matt & Grace Ann Arbor) about playing electric guitar on the worship team, but I wanted to start with rhythm parts, since I didn’t feel confident about playing any lead type lines. I was excited but also a quite nervous about this, and knew I had to prepare well. I dug in and got to work. Constant practice and listening helped of course, but for me, what really got the ball rolling was the willingness of so many people around me to give advice on playing, dialing in appropriate tone, and choosing gear. I also borrowed A LOT of people’s pedals. In fact, I still have a lot of those borrowed pedals, so if you’re reading this and you need something back, my bad, just let me know and I’ll get it right back to you. HA.

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Seriously, if something’s yours and you and want it back, pls take it. I promise I’m not a hoarder.

Nowadays, my skills are still developing and I’m continuing to play at church, but also with other worship teams, bands, solo artists, etc. that previously I would have never even dreamed of meeting. There’s a wealth of knowledge, hacks, and of course, gear out there left for me to try, and I’ll keep working toward my goal of becoming a better musician and guitarist. I’ve had boat loads of fun emulating others’ tones and techniques, but I think it’s high time for me to also craft my own sounds. I’d like to document some of my experiences here because I’m incredibly grateful at how much others have shared with me to aid in my improvement. I’ll probably start off with more written blog posts, but eventually I’ll start posting some sound clips and videos too, since that might be more helpful. Perhaps more aspiring weekend rockers will benefit from this info, just as I did a year ago. Also, I guess I have too much time on my hands.

If you’re like me, know some basics and just want to learn as much as you can but don’t always know where to look, maybe this might help! If you’re already a hotshot pro banging out screaming solos, maybe you’ll just get a kick out of how long it took me to figure some of this stuff out. Either way, thanks for giving this a glance, enjoy!