How Do Guitar Woods Affect Tone?

Courtesy of Jesse Sterling Harrison

We tend to focus on makes, models and color, but what about the different types of wood used for guitars and their role in tone...

The type of wood used to build a guitar has a lot more to do with it's sound than you might think. In the end, the guitars sound and tone is going to be a combination of all the elements of the guitar’s construction – including its; body style, attention to quality and its pickups.

There are many types of woods used in guitar construction, so let’s break down a few of the most common. Our apologies in advance if some of this information is pretty "dry"… haha, get it?

Alder was especially in popular in the ’50s and ’60s and is the body wood of choice for Fender.

Alder bodies tend to produce warm, even-sounding mids and lows, although the highs can be relatively subdued. Alder sustains well without weighing a ton, so it's very efficient for a stage guitar. Basically, its tough to go wrong with a guitar made from alder.

The other main wood favored by Fender is Ash. Guitars with an ash body will have less bite in the mid range, but will have a nice twang and good sustain.

Early Fenders used swamp ash, a softer wood, that produced a much warmer tone, but northern ash is also used and has a bright, singing, high sound. 

Gibson’s wood of choice for the Les Paul, Les Paul Jr., and SG has always been well sourced and well cured mahogany. But, there are also several custom-shop Strats and other Strat-style guitar types produced by hundreds of elite guitar builders globally that are also made from this dense heavy wood.

Mahogany produces a rather nice overall balanced tone – nothing is missing from the highs, mids, or lows, but the spin-off is that nothing stands out either.

It's a wood that’s often chosen for single-cut guitars, i.e. guitars that are constructed out of a single slab of wood, (neck through body, i.e., Gibson Les Paul's). Mahogany is both neutral and powerful. Many mahogany guitars have a maple top, or may even use a maple fret-board, which will bring out the best tonal characteristics of both of these hard-woods.

Maple is most often used for fret-boards and as laminate on steel-string acoustic guitar tops. This wood is often applied in conjunction with other types of wood bodies, as it is heavy.

Sonically, maple is on the bright side of the spectrum, but with great sustain and stability, it remains the wood most often used for Fender-style guitar necks.

Another incredibly popular fret-board wood, rosewood is on the darker end of the tone spectrum, which can add a nice balance to any guitar.

Rosewood necks offer fat lows and warm mids and have been a staple of guitar necks since the very beginning of rock 'n' roll. 

Needless to say, this isn't a comprehensive list of all the woods that are available, (and many guitar manufacturers use woods that aren't on this list for varying reasons – be it tone, visual appearance, or a combination of both).

Gibson even launched a line of guitars essentially made of a kind fiber-board manufactured with sawdust and wax solvents in the late ’60s! That line was discontinued two years later.

That said, these woods listed above are the most common woods associated with electric guitars. With a firm understanding of these woods, you’ll have a solid foundation upon which to gauge any type of wood for your next guitar and how it can shape the tone of the guitar.

Acoustics are made with all these wood types and more, but the aforementioned woods are some of the most resonant and, thus, most widely used in all guitar construction.

Elyadeen Anbar is a guitarist, writer, and educator residing in Los Angeles, CA. He has had the pleasure of contributing music and production to some of his favorite artists, and graced stages the world over.

6 Tricks to Learn Music Quickly for a Last-Minute Gig...

Courtesy of Jesse Sterling Harrison

Live shows are hotbeds for the effects of Murphy’s Law. With all the ingredients that go into playing out, there’s always something setting up ready to go wrong.

For example, we’ve probably all had a musician beg off an already-booked gig. But what about being on the other side? Have you ever been called in as a replacement musician and had to learn a lot of new material with little or no time to spare? These six musician mind tricks will help you get your head around your adopted band’s entire set, and position you to get more of those "emergency gigs" in the future.

1. Know the lyrics
This one might seem stupid or obvious, but it’s amazing how often musicians don’t know the titles or lyrics of their own material. Supporting players who don’t do much writing in the band might hear a song title and ask, "Which one is that?" They’re conditioned to using musical cues, responding to another player’s intro to remember the song. But lyrics are important in performance, even for those who don’t sing in the band. Don’t you want to know the meaning of the song you’re performing?

When asked to learn a new set, get a-hold of the lyric sheets. Know the words and titles. That’s the first step to learning the songs and playing them with feeling.

2. Make the band’s recordings the soundtrack to your life
There are savants who can play a complex piece of music after hearing it only once. Everyone owns at least a little piece of that genius. Since it may be tough to get numerous rehearsals in with the band, you’ll want to get recordings of as much of the set as possible and walk into the practice session with a bunch of the material under your belt.

If no recording of a given song exists, make one. Sketch out the chords and record yourself playing through the format. Sound quality doesn’t matter; it’s a memory tool. Those around you may be driven crazy while you spin the same tracks in the car, on your tablet, and in the bathroom while you’re taking a shower, but every moment that you listen, you’re catching up with that genius who can mirror back anything he or she hears. Your brain is always working. If you think about it, you probably know hundreds of songs by heart, some of which you don’t even like, just because you’ve heard them so many times.

3. Reduce the song’s harmonic structure to numbers
This is an old-pro trick used by session cats who are accustomed to supporting vocalists. Since every singer has a different range, players get used to thinking of chords in terms of their degree in the scale, (this is referred to as "Harmonic Analysis").

It’s a lot easier to think about I, IV, and V than the letters of the chord (Gm, Cm, Dm, etc). This way, all you need to know is the key. This approach makes things a lot simpler when learning a song, or when making a sudden key change at a singer’s request.

4. Tackle the hard stuff first
Intelligent apes - like humans - have a weakness for procrastination. If we hate doing the dishes but don’t mind mopping, we start mopping and tell ourselves we’ll do the dishes later. Before long, the floor is immaculate and there are dirty plates stacked to the ceiling. If you put off learning the hardest tracks until the last minute, you’re setting yourself up for a very stressful last few hours of song study time before the gig.

Having a, "worst first" philosophy will get you attacking the most difficult material first, giving you more time to get comfortable with the songs that require the most study time and possibly playing technique. Later on, you can figure out the simpler songs at your leisure.

5. Remember that most mistakes don't matter
let's be realistic, there are always going to be a few minor mistakes in almost every show. Band-mates tend to confer about this after a gig and ask one another, "How’d you play?" Generally, when one confesses to a mistake, one discovers that even the other band members didn’t notice it!

The reality will generally be that the performance probably appeared quite seamless to fans. Even a major gaffe like playing the wrong chord is not going to be what your audience remembers if it’s a fun, groovy show. So cut yourself a little slack if you’re not perfect – that’s life.

6. Make a cheat sheet
Staring at a music stand during the entire set of a top-40 act isn't the best look. But remember, there’s a set-list duct-taped to the stage, right! You’ve been practicing hard for days, so you may feel like you could play all these songs blindfolded, but the reality will be that you'll forget details on-stage. Any seasoned "stand-in" will tell you that it's perfectly okay to write the keys next to the song titles, as well as, any little notes to help you get through the evening.

If you’re a guitarist, two of the hardest things to remember seem to be varied key changes in a piece and how to play detailed intro's to specific songs. It’s not easy to compensate for forgetting that critical key change on a 3rd chorus, or to try to slap together a feeble attempt of the intro for a well known top-40 tune. Make notes to yourself of these song details so you don’t drop the ball while live at the club.

With your brain properly trained, the songs all in your head, and these simple cheats, you and your temporary band won’t miss a beat.

Jesse Sterling Harrison is an author, recording artist, and part-time farmer. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three daughters, and a herd of ducks.

Top 5 Strategies to Master Your Guitar...

Courtesy of Colleen Kinsey

You’re getting ready to walk onstage at a packed house with the familiar buzz of a crowd bleeding with anticipation. Two problems: you’re currently playing in your unfinished basement, and your crowd consists of an ominous spider in the corner of the room.

So, how can we move out from the basement and onto a stage? Here are the top five ways to master your guitar and be the rock star you know you can be.

1. Buy a metronome to connect to your groove
The easiest task on this entire list will be to buy a metronome and actually use it! Even if you play the guitar really well, your skills are worthless if you’re ahead or behind the beat, and it's also a surefire way to irritate your band-mates.

Not only will a metronome help you with maintaining your rhythm, but it'll also improve your technique. You can use it to see how quickly you can run through scales and exercises. It’ll help you nail your guitar solos, and you'll learn "where" you're playing within the measure. The metronome will make the rest of your band happy and make you a far better guitarist.

2. Envision yourself as a future success
It’s incredibly important to set short- and long-term goals for yourself. Make sure they’re specific and you have a plan to attain them. Some short-term goal ideas include writing your first song or booking a gig at your favorite bar. Your short-term goals should align with your long-term goals, or what you want to achieve in the next couple years.

These goals can consist of what type of musician you want to be down the road, getting your band signed, or maybe it’s opening for certain bands you admire.

The easiest way to measure your progress is to write down your goals and check them off when you complete them and re-evaluate periodically. Make sure you’ve created an efficient and effective practice routine that aligns with these goals.And, it's also important to review these goals with another more experienced musician. Ask your guitar teacher, or a guitar guru online about what seems realistic. There's nothing worse than creating "Unrealistic Goals." They almost always are unattainable.

3. Find your inspiration
It’s difficult to find creativeness in your daily routine: driving to work, sitting in traffic, and spilling your coffee on yourself is a little lackluster. Spice it up by going to concerts and finding as much live music as possible.

Take lessons with a top guitar instructor. Work with a mentor. Meet with producers. You can talk to almost anyone anywhere these days over Skype. And, it's quite affordable to Skype call some pretty big names in the industry. You'd be surprised at how open and easy many of these top industry musicians are.

Try exploring outside your genre as well. This gives you material to write your big hit or learn techniques you hadn’t thought about incorporating before.Learn a Jazz piece, or a Soul number. Learn how to play Latin grooves and some Classical Guitar. It's amazing what will come of this work!

Seeing really awesome guitarists live is also very inspiring, so be on the lookout for your "guitar idol." Many players have multiple guitar idols based on different techniques, styles and skills.

4. Think beyond "basic" guitar-specific skills (Learn Theory)
Musicians who have mastered the guitar aren’t great at just playing one set of songs in one style; they’re great because they’re well-rounded musicians. Having a good understanding of music theory will help you master your guitar.

Theory can help you play by ear, so when you hear a really groovy guitar lick on the radio, or if you’re listening to your guitar idol, you can copy it on your instrument. This is where creativity happens. You can play around with new stuff and maybe you'll hear yourself on the radio one day!

Without theory, you’ll get stuck. You will only be able to re-create that rhythm or melody, but you won’t be able to transfer it over to your guitar or down on paper. Theory may sound boring, and in the early days it might feel confusing, but in reality, it helps foster creativity far faster and more interestingly than if you don't "get" how theory really works!

5. Jam with musicians who are better than you
To really master your guitar, you need to challenge yourself! Find people to play with who are both a little bit better than you, as well as, a LOT better. If you have a competitive side, or want to skirt away from embarrassment, you’ll try pretty hard to keep up.

This is also where finding an excellent guitar teacher comes in. And, let me stress this one, "An EXCELLENT Teacher." Never go to a guitar teacher because they're close to your house or because they fees are the cheapest. You want the "Guru." the guy in town who's taught for decades and is known as the local "King" of guitar teachers. There's usually a few people like this in every large city. Find them, book classes and go. They will make a HUGE difference in your ability, and your outlook for what is possible.

Playing with very skilled musicians (and even those just above your skill level), will help you learn new; rhythms, grooves, and techniques that you haven’t thought of yet. You can even find different ways to voice chords, play scales, licks arpeggios and intervals. The opportunities are endless! What’s really exciting is when you surpass your jamming buddies and have to find a new group to practice with.

If you aren’t able to find a group that challenges you, start with technology. the internet and various software programs can do the work for you in the early days. The internet is full of software and computer programs to create virtual backing bands. A good free option is They have tons of different instruments mixed with different loops and beats to play around with.

Whether your goal is to land a gig at the local coffee shop or open for Jack White, these tips will help get you out of the unfinished basement with the ominous spider and onto a real-life stage.But, you'll need to get going with these directions. Nothing happens if you sit idle.

Colleen Kinsey has a passion for guitars and ukuleles. She enjoys jamming, teaching, and getting others involved in music. Her website focuses specifically on guitars and ukes.

Figure it Out Friday: Lesson 001 - Part One

Figure it Out Friday's: Lesson One - Part One

Welcome to the first, "Figure it Out Friday," Ear Training Guitar Lesson. 

The focus of these lessons will be to study how to transcribe, (learn by ear), a new guitar melody or a chord progression every week... 

Musical ideas are released on Tuesday, with the Music and TAB's released that same week on Friday. Do your best on the days in between to learn the musical parts. Then, be sure to check out the "Part Two" video to learn exactly how the musical idea operates. Enjoy the new series!

Figure it Out Friday: Lesson 001 - Part One

Guitar Chord Mapping Study...

GuitarBlog: Guitar Chord Mapping Study...

Chord practice, (developing chord shapes), tends to be an often overlooked area for a lot of guitar players. It's kind of funny, in a way, since rhythm guitar makes up at least 80% (or more), of what we do when we're playing guitar in a band setting. 

Due to this glaring fact, you'd figure guitarists would work on chords a lot more than they do, however that's generally not the case. And, due to this reality, the practicing guitarist desperately needs some style of "learning system" to help them get to perform any new chord shapes on the neck. 

SEVENTH CHORDS: Most players will quickly learn the open position chords and a few of the barre-chord /moveable chord types. Unfortunately, after this point, many players stop learning advanced chord shapes. 

But, if your band plays a few jazzy numbers, or maybe has some soul music in the mix, or perhaps you want to add some R and B into your set-list, you will need to be well prepared on playing the 7th-Quality chord shapes.  These shapes can be a challenge to the guitarist, and that's where a system for learning them comes in handy.

NECK MAPPING: The neck mapping strategy and the additional rhythm studies I cover in this lesson can really pay off for you. So, be sure to think of how any new chord types sit on the fret-board in respect of the "3 main areas of the neck." Learn new chords along each neck region, (with a goal of being able to play at least three shapes of the chord type. 

APPLICATION PROGRESSIONS: After mapping the neck for your new chord types, apply each new chord that you're practicing within a short practical chord study exercise. Generally four measures will do. Add in some appropriate rhythm and groove strumming patterns once the chords become easier to perform. Over time, this type of work will really pay off for you. Enjoy the lesson!

Guitar Chord Mapping Study

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Acoustic Power: How to Enhance Your Plugged-In Tone

Courtesy of Teja Gerken

For many guitarists, bliss is playing a great acoustic with nothing but strings, wood, and fingers generating a beautiful tone. But it also can be fun to amplify your instrument — not only to make the guitar louder, but to shape its tone in myriad ways.

Even if plugging in is something you do mostly because you have to, learning what processors achieve the biggest, fattest, and most pleasing tone will allow you to enjoy playing through an amp or PA that much more.

Before considering the following options for pedals and processors, don’t forget the elephant in the room: Your most crucial asset in getting a big amplified sound is your guitar and its pickup. If your guitar doesn’t already sound good without any processors, your money may be better spent upgrading, rather than adding.

Here are four general processor categories available as individual pedals or floor units, and included in many amps and multi-effect units.

The Fishman Platinum Pro EQ Analog Preamp 

The Fishman Platinum Pro EQ Analog Preamp

Whether you plan to further process your sound with effects, it’s a good idea to run your signal through one of the many multi-function boxes that include a preamp, DI, and EQ. Say you want to boost a low signal, match a pickup’s high-impedance output with the low-impedance input of a PA, dial out problem frequencies, or shape the sound in a way that emphasizes certain tonal ranges—stand-alone units such as the L.R. Baggs Venue, Fishman Pro-EQ Platinum, Headway EDB-2, or D-Tar Solstice have become ubiquitous in achieving these tasks.

Units that include some kind of sweepable midrange control, in particular, can be real problem-solvers when it comes to either compensating for a pickup’s weak spot or dealing with a difficult room. Some units, such as Fishman’s new TONEDEQ and Zoom’s A3, even include built-in effects.

TC Electronics Hall of Fame Reverb pedal 

TC Electronics Hall of Fame Reverb pedal

Without a doubt, the most popular effect used by acoustic guitarists is reverb. Simulating the sound of a lively room or performance hall, reverb can fatten up your tone, add sustain, make your sound “breathe” a bit more, and even add a touch of forgiveness to players whose technique is less than ultra-clean. Reverb is so common that it is included in most amps, and even if you’re playing though microphones at a venue with a sound engineer, it likely will be added from the mixing board.

Reverb types are typically named for the room size they simulate (i.e. “Small Room,” “Medium Hall,” “Cathedral,” etc.). Most acoustic guitarists prefer studio-like digital reverb to the grittier spring reverb found on many electric guitar amps (and simulated on some pedals); fortunately, there are many high-quality and easy-to-use compact pedals, including the Boss RV-5, TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb, DigiTech Supernatural, and Hardwire RV-7.

Behringer US200 Ultra Chorus 

Behringer US200 Ultra Chorus

Once you’ve processed your signal in such a way that it sounds as organic as possible, you’re ready to add some effects that will make your guitar sound larger. Chances are, chorus will be your first choice. Chorus adds a shimmering quality to your tone that, when used sparingly, can sound a bit like a 12-string.

From a technical standpoint, the chorus effect is accomplished by doubling the input signal, with the processor adding a slight amount of delay and modulation to one side, while leaving the other side dry. Ideally, chorus is run in stereo, with each signal receiving its own speaker (Roland’s classic Jazz Chorus and AC-series amps function this way), but even when it’s run as part of a common mono setup, this effect can be used for anything from fattening up your sound with a slight shimmer to simulating an organ’s Leslie cabinet.

Popular chorus pedals include the Behringer US200 Ultra Chorus, Boss CE-5, Fender Competition Chorus, and TC Electronic Corona.

MXR Carbon Copy delay 

MXR Carbon Copy delay

Even though using a heavy dose of delay may lead to a tone that has more in common with a spaceship than a flattop, when used in moderation it can be an effective tool in beefing up a basic sound. Adding just a few milliseconds of delay will have a similar quality as a short reverb, and even longer settings with repeats can be used to fatten up guitar parts. U2’s The Edge is a master of using delay in a way that doesn’t so much alter the instrument’s tone, but adds a highly musical and rhythmic addition.

Delay can come in analog and digital varieties, with the Boss DD-3, DigiTech Digidelay, and MXR Carbon Copy being popular choices.

Plug In and Twist Some Knobs!
Whether you use one simple stompbox or a pedal board the size of a coffee table, processing your guitar’s pickup signal can be a lot of fun. Used judiciously, these effects can take your natural tone to new heights. Who knows, even hard-core acoustic-only types may find themselves embracing the electric in “acoustic-electric”!

Learn JS Bach’s “Bourrée in E Minor” for Guitar

Video Courtesy of Per-Olov Kindgren

For many classical-guitar students, tackling the Bourrée in E minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) is a rite of passage from playing mere exercises to playing music that many non-musicians will recognize and appreciate...

Bach wrote the Bourrée sometime after 1712 (the exact date is unknown) as part of his Lute Suite No. 1, and it was adapted for guitar in the 20th century, after the instrument earned acceptance in classical circles. Andrés Segovia recorded a version of it in 1947.

Since then, the piece has made its way onto countless classical guitar recordings, and it has a firm place in the repertoire.

An excellent Performance by Per-Olov Kindgren:

Chart Below:

Classical guitarists aren’t the only ones to cut their teeth on the Bourrée. British rockers Jethro Tull included a jazzed-up band version on their 1969 album Stand Up. Their decidedly nonclassical performance provided the blueprint for an arrangement often performed live (but never officially released) by Michael Hedges—playing flute!—and electric bass virtuoso Michael Manring.

Thanks to its popularity outside the classical realm, referring to the piece merely as “the Bach Bourrée” will generally allow people to recall the correct tune, but you’ll probably want to be more specific when trying to impress your classically trained friends. This is because “Bourrée” actually refers to a dance popular in France’s Auvergne region during the 17th century, and the name has been used for countless compositions of the Baroque period.

If you’ve never played or studied any of Bach’s music, the Bourrée in E minor makes for an excellent introduction. Even though it isn’t overly complex or difficult to play, it is a beautiful representation of Bach’s sense of harmony and counterpoint, with distinct bass and melody lines moving so perfectly against each other that it may give you the chills as you play the piece.

If you’re having difficulty with the independence of the movements, try learning the melody and bass line separately, one at a time, fusing them together after you’re comfortable with each. Pay special attention to the fingering in bars 17 and 22, as it’s easy to get your fingers tied up in knots if you’re not careful.

Even if you’re not a classical player, mastering pieces such as this offers a great learning experience for any fingerstyle guitarist, because it not only teaches picking-hand techniques that are independent of set patterns but also demonstrates excellent form and structure.

5 Things Every Hit Song Has in Common...

Courtesy of Jesse Sterling Harrison

What are those magic elements that all hit songs seem to have in common?

You’ve been working hard on your sound, composing music in the shower, practicing your arpeggios, and checking out your stage moves in the mirror. You’ve perfected your recordings, magnifying your tracks on your DAW to fix mistakes that only you can hear. And you’ve listened to your favorite artists a million times to figure out what makes their material so good. 

With all that work, it can be disheartening to hear the same awful ballad played three times an hour on your local radio station. Isn’t your single a lot better than that one? That guy is playing halftime shows and making $10,000 a week in royalties, so why aren’t you? 

#1). Hits connect with their audience (whoever that might be)
Musicians often complain about diversity on the radio, assuming that "their kind of music" doesn’t get airplay. It’s true that Top 40 stations have a really short playlist at any given time, and you’ll probably hate a good portion of that material – especially after you’ve heard it in every elevator, retail store, and coffee shop. But like it or not, there’s a reason those songs get airplay: they connect with their listeners. Music lovers vote with their wallets, page clicks, and downloads. The results are stylistically quite varied: big hits run the gamut from country to hard rock, rap to swing, rockabilly to rhythm and blues.

#2). Hits have vocals mixed out front
When local musicians play their demos for people, listeners often complain that the vocals are too quiet. Musicians tend to have an "artist’s complex" about mixing, feeling that every performer should have a fair shake in the mix. But popular music comes together around a strong vocal performance. That means that instrumental performances – however strong or critical to the composition – need to take a back seat to the vocal. A compelling vocal is the first thing that audiences click with.

#3). Hit singers enunciate
The second complaint that listeners have about DIY musicians? "I can’t understand the lyrics." Offering to email the lyric sheet is not a viable solution! To connect with a singer, listeners need to comprehend what the singer is going through. Here and there in pop music, you’ll find lyrics that seem completely meaningless, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. Even very obscure lyrics, or fast-paced raps that are too busy to keep up with, will generally have a very accessible chorus with memorable lines that set the scene (or at least the theme and mood) or the song. If your vocals are mixed clearly and the words are still hard to grasp, your singer may want to consider working on enunciation. People can hear your passion; they want to know what you’re passionate about!

#4). Hit songs are a little bit unpredictable
Bob Dylan was such an amazing lyricist that people barely noticed how boring his song forms were. He relied on the simplest folk music structure: verse alternating with chorus over and over. But his hooks and poetry were so strong that it didn’t matter. Today’s songs offer a lot more variation in format, and our easily bored ears expect it. Your song structures should have a couple of left turns in them. If you have a repeated chorus, vary the lyrics a little to move the song along instead of repeating the same refrain. Throw in a change in rhythm or a change in key. To accentuate key lyrics, let some of the instruments sit out for a moment. Maybe vocals and drums are all you need!

#5). The "best" singers are not always the best singers
If you look at the history of popular music, the most famous singers are not the ones who possess the best technique. They are the ones who are the most distinctive. Mick Jagger. Busta Rhymes. Amy Winehouse. Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Courtney Love. These singers are instantly recognizable. They focused their efforts on creating a strong, unique style. Their personalities come to the forefront. Like actors in a movie, these performers make us feel like we know them. That means that we have a context for whatever they are going through in their songs. It gives us empathy. When it comes to a lead vocal, make sure you value charisma and inspiration more than a perfect take.

Derivative artists have short careers. It may sound trite, but being yourself is absolutely critical in music. Learn from your influences but don’t try to sound just like them. Furthermore, have lots of influences. There’s so much great music on this planet that it’s a shame to base your sound on two or three bands. Genius occurs at the intersection of two bright ideas. Keep being an active listener and seek new sounds continuously to increase your chances at brilliance. Your fans will thank you… and they’ll multiply.

Jesse Sterling Harrison is an author, recording artist, and part-time farmer. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three daughters, and a herd of ducks.