For the past five years I have barely picked up a guitar let alone played one for any significant amount of time or with any real consistency. In just those short five years, from lack of use, my skills have degraded significantly. I don’t remember how to play any full songs, just bits and pieces, my speed has slowed to a first year guitar student crawl (I don’t even want to talk about my sweeping ability which wasn’t that great to begin with), and the ability to piece together a cohesive melody or even decent riff has seemed to have left me.
With that realization, I’ve decided to attempt to revive my guitar playing skills. I’d say I was at my peak around late 2010 when I was prolifically creating killer riffs, composing some decent solos and so forth. However, a divorce, a job lay off and two relocations put a pretty sizable dent in those accomplishments. So, I’ve developed a plan to get my guitar playing back on track. It will take some time and some cash but I think it will work.
Before I even embark on this guitar skills revival, I have to get my gear in order. Much of what I have is gone – sold out of necessity during those previously mentioned hard times. I am left with two items – a Washburn X-16 Flaming Skull graphic strat-style guitar and a Takamine acoustic.
For the electric, I would need an amp if I want to start working on things like writing some killer riffs or composing some actual songs. Yes, I could do it without the amp but where’s the fun in that? So, I’ve decided to take the cheap route initially and I will eventually purchase a cool little practice tool made by Vox called the amplug2 metal edition. It plugs directly into the guitar and I can hear it through headphones or by plugging in a small speaker. Vox makes several different types but they all sell for about $40. That will keep me practicing until I can afford the next item on the list, the amplifier I want – a Fender Mustang IV version 2. Similar to the GDECs and other modeling amplifiers like Line6 and Peavey’s Vypyr series, the Fender amp has lots of presets and an online community where people submit tones they’ve created. What sold me on this amp is the great 80’s style tone it can created through the right guitar – unfortunately, my current guitar is not that guitar. More on that in a bit. The Fender amp has a USB connection ready to go for connection to a PC. With their Fuse software you can create your own custom tones to load onto the amp. The amp also comes with a lite version of Ableton Live 8 for recording which makes it easier than going through an input device, having software for compatibility and then trying to find recording software that works with that device as well and that actually has decent recording capability. However, I will give the Ableton a try although I have also downloaded the free version of ProTools as well to see which works better. I plan to eventually order the amp from Zzounds using their payment plan option.
My old Washburn is, well, old. I bought it in 2005 and it’s been through a lot. It was a fairly cheap guitar to begin with – not bottom of the barrel but nowhere near top of the line. It’s an X-16 (which they don’t make anymore), has string through body (no tremolo) and pretty much basic everything. It came with two no name brand humbuckers which are pretty lousy. However, I’m not tossing this guitar, I’m keeping it. My plan for the Washburn is to hot rod it with some new electronics, some new hardware and make it sound as awesome as the paint job looks. I plan on outfitting it with a Seymour Duncan Black Winter bridge pickup and a Dimarzio Humbucker from Hell in the neck position. I plan on replacing the tuners with Grover locking tuners (black hardware) and replacing the old, crusty tune-o-matic bridge with a new Graph Tech Resomax tune-o-matic bridge. I may also replace the input jack as well and add straplocks on there. After that’s all replaced and the guitar is cleaned up, oiled down and restrung with some Dunlop Heavy Core strings, it’ll be ready to rock again. It will be my go to guitar for the more aggressive, heavier playing.
But what about that sweet 80’s sound I mentioned? Well, I originally had narrowed my guitar wants down to a few guitars – a Charvel (San Dimas or So-Cal), a Schecter (Hellraiser), a Kramer (SM-1), or a Carvin (JB24). While my first pick overall would be the Carvin Jason Becker Numbers guitar, it runs about $1600 needed up front. So, I decided to go with ones I could get through Zzounds. That limited me to either the Schecter or the Charvel. The Schecter is a beautiful guitar, no doubt about it and the active pickups would guarantee some powerful tones. However, I had to go back to my want of that sweet 80’s style tone and I decided to go with the Charvel San Dimas which lists for about $899 at Zzounds.
So, why the 80’s sound you may ask? Well, along with getting my chops back and grabbing this awesome new gear over time. I’ve set a tentative timeline of roughly 4 years (arbitrarily picked the year 2020 because it’s an even number) to get the gear, get my playing back up to speed, find some like-minded folks and put together an 80’s style band to play at dive bars, weddings, bar mitzvahs…the usual places where you often get paid in beer or food. Why? Because I think it offers a nice contrast to the saturation of the live music scene in all things metalcore or pop country. And before you ask, yes, most of the songs I plan on playing in the band will be covers, no they won’t all be the top 40 from the 80’s. Instead of tossing out another tired rendition of Poison’s Talk Dirty to Me, I have a working list of a bunch of great songs from bands past and present that aren’t in the public consciousness of 80’s music. The songs are stuff from bands like Harem Scarem, Loudness, Midnight Blue, Y&T, Southgang, Crazy Lixx and some others. I do plan or writing originals too but it won’t be the majority of the playlist.
So how do I plan to bring my skills up to speed? Well, I plan to allot specific times to guitar practice – no less than 30 minutes twice a week. You may think that isn’t very much time but I work full time, go to grad school part time (don’t currently have any classes for the summer) and a lot of other things that require my time and attention. So I think a good 30 minutes twice a week is good option – remember, I’m giving myself 4 years from rusty, crap player to shredder in an 80’s style band. Along with that 30 minutes during the week I also plan to allot at least one hour of practice on the weekends.
What will I do in those times? Well, for speed I figured on doing some chromatic and legato runs. For composition purposes I will work on re-learning specific modes and scales such as the the major scale, the minor scale, Phrygian mode, pentatonic scales and so forth. I also plan to create a list of songs to work on learning to play proficiently which would be mostly the songs I’d like to play in the band and ones I see as challenges to push the limits of my playing such as Cacophony’s Concerto, Andy Timmons’ Cry For You, In Flames’ Zombie Inc., and Jason Becker’s End of the Beginning.
And of course I always want to keep up on my tricks of the trade – slides, bends, vibrato, palm muting, pinch harmonics, string skipping, sweep picking, trills, tapping, et cetera.
Anyhow, that’s the plan. Let’s see if I can make it work.