Sunday, April 3, 2011

Guitar Repair and Re-stringing-for students

by Greg Shelley

Recently, I have had many students inquire about guitar repair and re-stringing. Not long ago virtually any music store was prepared to do minor and even major repairs on guitars. However, recently many stores have stopped doing such things as re-stringing guitars and minor fixes.

REPAIRS: The stores I have talked to cite difficulties in handling the volume of repairs and a lack of financial incentive. Most of the guitars people bring in for repair have a value that is near or is less than the actual cost of requested repairs.

Guitars are made of wood products, usually, and so repairs to fine finishes that are factory mass produced can take time and so be costly. Customers are becoming increasingly disgruntled by the cost of a repair as
compared to the cost of buying a new instrument altogether. And so the desired effect of providing a positive service is lost.

This problem is further compounded by the increase of high quality, but low cost guitars which have flooded the market in recent years. Here again, why do repairs when simply buying a new guitar would not cost much more?

The last difficulty for Music Stores in providing repairs has become the liability factor. If a customer feels that there is a mistake in the repair, or that damage was done during the repair, the music store then faces the messy business of rectifying this new problem.

WHAT TO DO ? ? It is still worth a try to contact music stores or even your guitar instructor--me for instance.  However, you may not always get the response you wish for.  When it comes to repairs, you may want to contact a Luthier. In the yellow pages under Musical Instrument Repair, you may find a variety of guitar repair and manufacturing experts.

FOR MY PERSONAL REPAIRS I have always utilized Jack Pimentel of JP GUITARS. His phone number is 841-2954. Jack is an accomplished Luthier and guitar repair expert. He hand makes his own line of guitars and has done work on guitars owned by a host of well known celebrity guitarists.

Jack has customized three of my guitar necks and repaired a lacquer chip or two for me. I once saw a guitar brought to him as a pile of wood and when he was done reconstructing it—well—it looked like it was ready for the showroom floor.  A good Luthier like Jack is worth the cost.

Today, guitars come with a wide variety of tuning and bridge mechanisms. Finding employees that can keep up with the skills and information needed can be difficult or impossible. With such a new wide variety of guitars, tuning machines, nuts and bridges, it is a daunting task to affordably retrain new employees.
Considering the strings for most guitars cost less than $15.00 per set, and re-stringing the guitar can take a half hour or so, re-stringing guitars can detract from the music store’s other business. Time is taken away from a music store’s ability to be selling products that would produce far more income for them—even if they have employees able to keep up with the latest guitar innovations.

For my guitar students I suggest that we take a lesson during which I will show you how to install a string or two. I will have you do most of the work.

First, you need to get a good set of strings at a local music store--Or, I carry strings for my students and they can buy them from me as well.  Second, you have to come prepared to work on your own guitar.
During the lesson, I will talk you through changing a string and let you get the feel of it. Then after one or two tries you can take the rest home and give it a go. Or, you can bring the guitar back to the next lesson and I will talk you through the remaining strings.

Copyright Ó 2010 Greg Shelley,  all rights reserved

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mushy Timing Disorder: The Psychology of Bad Rhythm

by Greg Shelley
     Often, I meet a new student who comes to me and says something like this: “I’ve never played guitar, and I really want to learn to play only the songs I want. I don’t want to waste my time learning a bunch of songs that I’ll never play.” This happens frequently and I find myself explaining why I won’t teach that way—at least in the beginning.
     When a student who knows nothing about the guitar starts by learning part of, say, “Stairway to Heaven,” or “What it’s Like,” by Everlast, he or she is usually learning in a linear fashion. That is, the learning takes place in a “connect the dots” manner. The student learns to put a finger there, then there, then there, then pick that string then those strings and on and on etc. As the student learns in this linear fashion little attention is usually paid to such things as timing, rhythm and meter. So the student learns to play the song with an arbitrary or random sort of beat to it.  Although learning this way has value, if learning takes place from the beginning in this fashion, it can actually slow down the overall development of the student.
     Because meter and timing are learned without specific attention to exact detail as provided by understanding written music, the student learns to have what I would call “mushy timing.” Mushy timing results in an inability to play with others very well, since the student has learned to play to his or her own internal clock only and not to sync up with some other person or timing device. So anything the student plays may sound something like it is supposed to, but he or she especially would have trouble playing it along with a steady beat or with other musicians.
     Additionally, mushy timing tends to lead a student to quit when the rhythm or syncopation gets too complex in the song, since he or she has neither the discipline nor the understanding to work through difficult music passages. In psychological terms it could be stated: “The student becomes lethargic when confronted with complex external rhythmic stimuli due to a dependence on internal and esoteric arbitrary meter determination.”  But don't fret if this happens to you--though fretting is what we do. 
     I often tell a tale of how my timing was once so mushy that I could not stay enough on the beat to play a guitar part on one of my own songs.  I was very young, and the other band members helped me get through it.  After that I sat myself down and worked hard on curing my own mushy timing disorder.
     The cure is to stick with the basics. Learn to read enough to understand timing from perspectives other than just your own “feel.” Tap your foot in time and in meter with the song. Use a metronome, drum machine or rhythm device when learning songs and stick to the proper meter (4/4, 3/4, 6/8 time etc.) These are the most important basic do’s if you want to develop what we call “tight” rhythm and get rid of “mushy timing.”
     Ideally, students would avoid trying to learn songs too far above their skill levels in the beginning. This can cause a student to utilize right-brain or creative-only type of learning tools and thus contributes to the tendency toward self-defined timing and rhythm. Stick to these guidelines and in time, your timing will change from mushy, to tight and firm.

Copyright Ó 2010 Greg Shelley,  all rights reserved

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Guit-Starting At the Top

By Greg Shelley

So the student keeps playing the same lick from his favorite band.  He plays it very poorly because it is beyond his ability.  He stumbles over the notes.  Then he plays the wrong notes with the wrong rhythm.  He generally destroys any meaning or feel of the lick.  What's worse, he keeps practicing it wrong so he is sure to learn all of the poor technique and habits to apply to anything else he might try.  It is clear.  He wants to start at the top.

Just imagine you suddenly wanted to learn to ski and you skip the beginner slopes.  You go right to the high, steep suicide slopes.  People watch as you come rolling and bouncing down the hill. And they think: "Hmm, he is not much of a skier, maybe he should try to stand up on his skis first." But you just keep riding that lift up there, and crashing down again.  You get injured.  Eventually, you give up and go back to your bicycle or something; or, you learn that you should try the bunny slope for a while and work your way up over time.

But with guitar, unlike skiing, you don't get injured if you stink at it--unless somebody hits you on the head and tells you to quit playing.  But really, you can sit in your bedroom playing terribly for years and not realize it.  I get students in my studio all the time who have actually done this for 20 years.  They tell me they have realized this after half of a lifetime.  Then they tell me they need to start at the bottom and work their way up--as if I didn't know this.  In just a few months of step by step lessons and practice, they are amazed at what they can play.  They often say: "I should have done this years ago."

Everybody would like to skip right to the hit songs and hot licks of the day.  Sometimes the songs or licks can be worked into the lesson nicely--because some hit songs are very easy--but most of the time they are something they are not ready for.  It's okay to have dreams and aspirations as long as you understand the steps it takes to get there.

If a young girl wants to play the fast rhythm guitar parts of Taylor Swift, it is always good to be able to play a few chords first and strum them at a steady 2 or 4 beat.  You might be surprised how many people do not understand that in order to strum a fast subdivided chord song you actually have to be able to play a chord first.  Really, people often can't make that connection.  I was actually the same way when I was a beginning guitarist.  I wanted to play the Beatles song, Revolution, but I couldn't even make a couple of chords.  I actually had to learn that--I HAD TO LEARN.  My teacher was patient and kept re-directing me back to the lesson at hand.

This "I want it now" mentality can be attributed to the age we live in.  Computers give us what we want at the click of a mouse.  We hit a button and the music plays.  We watch MTV and it looks so easy.  We see American Idol and they make it all look spontaneous and sudden, without seeing the years of practice and study it may have taken.

But I keep re-directing students onto a steady, methodical approach.  Learn the chords, learn the notes, play songs you CAN play first.  It is truly a joy to watch the student develop this way.  More importantly, the knowledge and skills they learn last a lifetime.

Copyright Ó 2010 Greg Shelley,  all rights reserved