Though what I write about here is guitar centric, I attempt to present aspects of my journey that may be of interest to those who, like me, are pursuing music late in life. With that in mind, whether you’re early or late to the musical scene, I’ve corralled books, hardware, software, and links into a resource list for those who have just embarked on their own musical journey. In compiling the resource list, I included what has worked for me, so in that respect it’s totally subjective and your individual milage may vary. Where I mention specific products or services, I do so freely and without any fiduciary improprieties. I offer this resource list as if we were talking music in a pub and you asked, “Kenny, what works for you?”Guitars
I spent six months searching for my first electric guitar. The more I learned about electric guitars, the more it behooved me to conduct diligent research. The market place of electric guitars is huge, complex and confusing to the novitiate. From cheap Chinese models to luthier-grade beauties made in America, making a selection can be daunting. I toured the local music stores, but left without drawing my wallet from its holster. I eventually discovered Wildwood Guitars in Louisville, Colorado and found the guitar that would start me on my journey. The staff at Wildwood is knowledgeable and friendly, and their inventory includes some of the most beautifully handcrafted guitars in America. Courtesy of Wildwood, here’s a video of Greg Koch playing the Gibson that was the focus of my search.
After listening to the inventory of amps at a local Guitar Center, I was bewildered that there was little difference in $99 and $399 amps. Being in a “made in America” mood, I set out searching for amps built in the USA and was pointed to Evans Custom Amplifiers by my music teacher. Their line is not inexpensive, but their solid state amps put out exceptionally clean, warm tone and respond wickedly well to pedals and effects processors. Some of my practice takes place in another room, which makes lugging a 33-pound amp around impractical, and for that application I bought a ZT Lunchbox for a practice and travel amp.
Search for guitar pedals on Amazon, read the reviews, and you’ll soon realize pedals are hotly contested among guitar players at all experience levels. I have three pedals—RC Boost, SL Drive, and SP Compressor—manufactured by Xotic Effects. My current signal chain: guitar—>RC Boost—>SL Drive—>SP Compressor—>Evans Amp. I can’t complain about the clean, warm tone but being a tone junkie I’m still searching for my tone.
It was inevitable that my tone addiction would lead me to a preamp/FX processor, specifically an Axe-FX II (designed and built in America by Fractal Audio Systems), and now the search for my tone continues inside this beautiful black box of processor wizardry.
The timbre of an electric guitar is dependent on the quality of materials that went into building the instrument. The type of wood for the body and neck; the type of magnets and wire in the pickups; the bridge and stop tail materials; and the type of strings contribute to the overall timbre of the guitar. I’ve played round and flat wound strings, preferring flat wound 12s on my guitars. Thomastik Infeld strings are world-class and expensive, while D’Addario XL Chromes flat wound strings are more affordable and sound so close to those made by Thomastik. Big, fat, warm, not muddy tone is what appeals to my ears. Your millage will vary, and you’ll just have to try them all out to find which strings highlight the natural timbre of your guitar. I change my strings after every 40 hours of playtime, and flat wound strings typically last longer than round strings. Again, your milage will vary according to your playing style.
Like strings, the type of material and thickness of a plectrum will affect your tone. Do your homework on Amazon to see what’s popular, tried, true and tested. I have a tin can half full with picks that didn’t cut the mustard for me. I use Dunlop Max Grip picks: Jazz III for picking and 1.0 mm standard picks for strumming. Both Dunlop picks have excellent grip.
Cheap instrument cables are a recipe for potential failure. Invest wisely in your instrument and patch cord cables so you can play without worries. My homework brought me to guitar cables manufactured by Spectraflex.
I have a Korg TM50BK and a metronome app for iPhone. The Korg is flexible for an electronic metronome, while some musicians prefer a mechanical one, but the Korg works for me. I thought a metronome app for iPhone would work out for me too, but at the end of the day I was annoyed by its lack of features when compared to the Korg. In either case, you need a metronome that can keep time with duplets, triplets, and quadruplets with and without the center beat in addition to numerical time signature beats, i.e. 0, 1, 2, and etc.
I like the Korg TM50BK because it also doubles as a chromatic tuner, and it has a 1/4 inch phone jack for plugging in your guitar. Since I play through an amp there’s plenty of sustain and the builtin mic is sufficiently sensitive enough for tuning purposes. I also have a clip-on tuner manufactured by Snark and a Peterson strobe tuner with preprogrammed settings for string instruments utilizing different tuning parameters. One of my guitars uses the Buzz Feiten Tuning System which the Peterson strobe tuner supports, and of the three tuners I use, the Korg sees most of the action.
Recording your practice sessions can be a dubious affair for a second-year guitarist in his advanced years, but once you get over the initial embarrassment the recordings provide useful auditory benchmarks of your musical development. Recording your practice sessions can be accomplished with analogue and digital solutions, or a mix of the two methods. You can mike your amp, use a solid state digital recorder, or use an audio-to-computer digital interface (DI). I use a Tascam DR-05 Portable Digital Recorder for quick recording and playback. For recording directly into my Mac from a mike positioned in front of my amp, I use a CEntrance MicPort Pro USB microphone preamp and record my practice sessions in Apple’s Garageband. Now that I’ve got the Axe-FX II, I record directly from it to Garageband.
For songwriting I find Rhyme Genie & TuneSmith by Idolumic to be sophisticated software with intelligent algorithms to find words that rhyme—literally—30 ways to Sunday. Much more than a rhyming dictionary, Rhyme Genie dives deep into phonetic references where you can choose from 30 types of rhymes. Before using Rhyme Genie I had no idea that so many different types of rhymes existed.
- The Hal Leonard Beginning Guitar Superbook (Hal Leonard Guitar Method) [Paperback] by Hal Leonard Corp. (Creator)
Possessing a basic foundation in music theory will propel your musicianship, providing you with the knowledge and tools necessary to analyze music, decompose songs, and understand musical forms. There’s a plethora of books covering this category, and the ones that were not dry and academic received good reviews.
- Music Theory For Dummies, with Audio CD [Paperback] by Michael Pilhofer (Author), Holly Day
- The Everything Music Theory Book with CD: Take your understanding of music to the next level (Everything Series) [Paperback] by Marc Schonbrun
- Music Theory for Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask (Guitar Method) [Paperback] by Tom Kolb (Author)
- Guitar Wheel Music Theory Educational Tool by Music Master Publishing
Guitar-specific workbooks are practical study guides in learning how to apply some of the elements of music theory to guitar, such as major and minor scales, chords, reading music notation, and guitar technique.
- Guitar Reading Workbook [Paperback] by Barrett Tagliarino
- The Everything Guitar Scales Book with CD: Over 700 scale patterns for every style of music (Everything (Music)) [Paperback] by Marc Schonbrun
- The Book of Six Strings (Book & CD) (National Guitar Workshop) [Paperback] – April 1, 2007 by Philip Toshio Sudo (Author), Tobias Hurwitz (Author), Burgess Speed (Editor)
Song Writing/Music Composition
Song writing and music composition are part of my overall musical goals. The titles mentioned here received excellent reviews and they exceeded my expectations, especially Tunesmith by Jimmy Webb.
- Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting [Hardcover] by Jimmy Webb (Author)
- How To Write Songs On Guitar – Revised [Paperback] by Rikky Rooksby
- Chord Progressions For Songwriters [Paperback] by Richard Scott
- Songwriters Playground: Innovative Exercises In Creative Songwriting [Kindle Edition] by Barbara L. Jordan (Author), Molly Brandenburg (Illustrator)
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Composition [Paperback] by Michael Miller
Fake Books/Sheet Music
Fake books are a great way to explore playing music in different genres, and they provide an abundant source of material for sight reading.
- The Easy Country Fake Book Melody, Lyrics, and Simplified Chords for 100 Songs [Paperback] by Hal Leonard Corp. (Creator)
- The Easy Classical Fake Book: Melody, Lyrics & Simplified Chords in the Key of C [Paperback] – May 1, 2006 by Hal Leonard Corp. (Creator)
- The Easy Jazz Standards Fake Book: 100 Songs in the Key of C [Paperback] – May 1, 2013 by Hal Leonard Corp. (Creator)
- The Easy Christmas Fake Book: 100 Songs in the Key of C (Fake Books) [Paperback] by Hal Leonard Corp. (Creator)
- Blues You Can Use (Blues You Can Use) Sheet music by John Ganapes (Author), John N Ganapes (Author)
How did music evolve? When did the rules of music get established? Who invented Jazz? Who put the twang in country? Answers to these and many more questions are covered here.
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music History [Paperback] by Michael Miller
- The History of Jazz [Paperback] by Ted Gioia
- Country Music, U.S.A.: Third Revised Edition [Paperback] by Bill C. Malone (Author), Jocelyn R. Neal (Author)
Establishing an effective practice regime, discovering how the human mind acquires musical knowledge and instrument skills (as an older adult), and applying a philosophical approach to guitar practice is time worth spent outside the practice room.
- The Musician’s Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness [Paperback] by Gerald Klickstein (Author)
- Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning [Hardcover] by Gary Marcus (Author)
- Zen Guitar [Hardcover] by Philip Toshio Sudo
Music training isn’t confined to the practice room. Active listening, documentaries, and instructional video can entertain and educate at the same time.
- Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology [Box Set] Various Artists (Artist) | Format: Audio CD
- Jazz (TV Series) by Ken Burns
- Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads (1990) by Robert Palmer (Actor), David A. Stewart (Actor), Robert Mugge (Director) | Rated: NR | Format: DVD
- Understanding the Formula of Music by Dan Huckabee (Actor), Dan Huckabee (Director) | Rated: NR | Format: DVD
- How to Figure Out Music from Recordings for Guitar, Piano, and All Instruments (2004) by Dan Huckabee (Actor), Dan Huckabee (Director) | Rated: NR | Format: DVD
Practice strategies, performance tips, general music discussion, guitar instruction, and many more musical topics are the focus of these sites.