Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tired of Guitar Hero?

Congratulations to DAVID MACDONALD, winner of our May Guitar Gear Give-Away!
Get a real guitar!
PHOTO: Dr. M and her North American made Fender Standard Stratocaster in Chrome Red. Guitar Cable by SnapJack.

Haven't you had enough? You see these poor kids and even worse, adults buying video guitar games, trying to play like Slash. Well, if you are like me and would rather play a real instrument, don't despair. Here is our down and dirty list of what you need to get for a younger player or even yourself without selling your firstborn. In fact, buying a musical instrument will be a much better investment than any video game purchase. We're even going to recommend some great DVD's to go with that new guitar in case you're a little rusty.

What's a Good "First" Guitar for a Child?

If you want to get a child their first guitar, unless they are as big as an adult, a small sized body instrument will often work better. The child will have a easier time holding the instrument and that extra comfort level may be enough to help him or her stick with it when the going gets tough. Fender Stratocasters, namely the Squires are reasonably priced, easy to play and often come as a package which includes a small practice amp. The Strat, by design, is very easy to play and the body shape makes it quite comfortable to hold.

If you prefer not to worry about purchasing an amp, consider purchasing a Little Martin (LX Series) or small body acoustic guitar. Again, these are scaled down in size for smaller hands and are much more comfortable for a child to hold than say a full sized Dreadnought. The sound is still very good so no sacrifice there. Acoustics are a bit more delicate but you will not have to worry about amp issues as these types of guitars can go anywhere.

Get the child involved in choosing the color or style of their guitar. That way they will bond with the instrument and want to spend more time playing it. Children are generally very sensitive about colors and shapes. They may surprise you about what colors appeal to them so keep an open mind. Martin's small body LX Series come in many bright colors such as the purple shown below. Let them play the guitar first and pick the color they personally like. This way, they are part of the decision process and invested in playing that particular guitar. No one is going to benefit by having a guitar sit in the case growing old.

PHOTO: Martin LX in Purple

A lot of the appeal of the Guitar Hero games is due to the bright colors of the guitars and computer graphics. What may seem outlandish or garish to us often comes across as fun and exciting to a child. This acoustic, small bodied guitar also comes in natural, red, black, blue, pink or even decorated with cartoon themes.

The point is, real guitars aren't boring anymore! These instruments are just as attractive as their video-game counterparts. Better still, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you've made an investment in the child learning to play a real instrument. Musicians, especially those who go on to read notation often also excel in math. Learning time signatures, quarter, half and whole notes are all math related skills and can crossover to help your child in these areas. Can a guitar video game do that? In this tight economy, it is wise to keep a check on our investments. Most video games have a very short shelf life. Game manufacturers often discontinue game systems after about two years or less. This means that the software or game cartridges you've purchased at about $75 a pop are no longer going to work on the upgrade. Just look at the evolution of GameBoy and you'll know what I mean.

How About a Good "First" Guitar for Me?

Really, if you are just starting out or returning to playing after a number of years, you might look into purchasing a second hand instrument. North American made C.F. Martins, Taylors and Fenders are all good choices and often hold their resale value well. If you insist on new, Martin has reintroduced production of the 1-Series Dreadnought, (see it in the banner ad section). Satin finished all around it retails for under $900. The Fender Standard Stratocaster shown above is made in North America and is under $700.00 even with Fender's recent price increases.

PHOTO: Taylor 410ce acoustic/electric

If you want a more than an entry level guitar but comfort and versatility are also important, you might consider a C.F. Martin cut-away or this Taylor 410ce acoustic / electric with a Venetian cutaway as shown here. I've played this Taylor model and while I prefer the wider body and sound of a C.F. Martin, it's neck had a modern feel with the cut-away offering greater access to the frets closer to the sound hole. Now this is not going to be as comfortable as a Stratocaster but you can see how the body is more contoured to fit yours. Better still, these models, (both C.F. Martin and Taylor make acoustic / electrics with Venetian cut-aways), give you the choice to play acoustically or with an amp. This means you may only need one guitar for everything. Play it acoustically at jams and informal gatherings. Play it with an amp onstage. The choice is yours! Visit C.F. Martin Guitars online at: and Taylor Guitars online at:

What About an Amp?

One caveat here. A lot of companies are doing double-speak with their amps these days. They will say something like, "Designed in the U.S.A. - Manufactured in China". Guess what? Its a Chinese amp, chums. My recent experiences with Fender's line of China imports has been less than stellar. I tried one of their China-tone tube amps last summer, (Super Champ XD-something). It wouldn't even fire up on the showroom floor. It was brand new and hadn't even left the store! Real smooth. Another Fender amp I had only lasted 18 months before the power source blew up, (during a concert actually). Needless to say I'm not thrilled with them any longer. The good news is that you can still buy quality American made amps at very affordable prices.

PHOTO: Tech21 Trademark 30

If you are going to choose the Fender Strat, acoustic / electric C.F. Martin or Taylor Venetian Cutaway you'll need a decent practice amp. One that will more than do the job, won't break the bank and is proudly designed and manufactured in the good 'ol U.S.A. You should definitely look into Tech21's Trademark 30 shown in the photo.

Tech21's Trademark 30 boasts 30 watts, a 10 inch Celestion speaker, true spring reverb, and like its big brother, the Trademark 60, allows direct recording via a XLR out. The Trademark 30 is actually based on Tech21's legendary SansAmp GT2 Pedal. So the sounds you can achieve are quite similar to the Trademark 60 which we are currently using in the recording studio. The best news is it that you don't have to sacrifice tone as the Tech 21 has all the warmth of a tube amp but is a much more reliable and road worthy due to its solid state construction. Check them out at Tech21:

DVD Lessons to Get You Going

Greg Douglass Lead Guitar DVD If you've played before, even a little, what you don't need now is to go back to square one with lessons. Oh it sounds like a good idea but believe me, the tediousness will drive you crazy and you won't stick with it. At this point you want to play your guitar already. Greg Douglass is extremely versatile and as a platinum artist, has toured with Steve Miller, Van Morrison and Eddie Money. His approach is fresh, not tedious in that you can really play what he does. My favorite section is the one on the Em Pentatonic Scale Licks. You can quickly expand your lead repertoire with this DVD. Chapters are numbered for easy access and include scale patterns, slide techniques, alternate positions, phrasing and much more. Website password included with the DVD allows you to download and print all of the lessons or just parts that you need. Sweet! Douglass also has a Fingerstyle Guitar DVD available from Icons of Rock.

Tommy Bolan Metal Primer DVD I love Tommy and after speaking with him personally, I can tell you he is a committed instructor and musician. Bolan is also a vibrant player and a passionate performer but what he unleashes in this DVD is awe inspiring. He covers speed techniques, harmonics, scales, string skipping, pendulum picking, arpeggios, tremolo tricks with live gear demos.
I think anyone will benefit from Tommy's techniques and lessons, even if you are not a metal-head. His DVD helps build speed with accuracy. You will enjoy lessons as never before with these two DVD's. See if your local music store or college offers guitar lessons or find a musician's guild that you can play with regularly. Try a style not too familiar if you really want to stretch out and expand your technique. This DVD came with a free offer for set of GHS Strings, who is also participating in our FREE May Give-Away. A really great little extra!
Both these DVD Guitar Lessons and more are available online from Icons of Rock:

MAY GIVE-AWAY ENDS May 31st 2009!: Oh Yeah! It's our FREE May Guitar Gear Give-Away!!! Your chance to win more free goodies from C.F. Martin, GHS Strings and Planet Waves. Our happy winner will receive a gift bag of premium guitar (electric & acoustic), banjo or mandolin strings and a Planet Waves Acoustic Quick Release Padded Guitar Strap. Simply include your email address & leave a COMMENT by clicking the link below and tell us: "What was your first guitar (or stringed instrument) and do you still have it today?"


Ana said...

Enter me please! My first (I think) was an Aria Pro guitar which ended up being given away to my sibling.

This is such a great article! So many are trying to get back to their real guitar roots and this gives all the needed info.

Anonymous said...

My first instrument was A 3/4 size electric bass that A friend of mine loaned me. He had it laying around since he was A kid and never used it. If it wasn't for him letting me use it I don't know if I would of ever learned to play. He still has it complete with the 30 year old strings!!!

Dr. M. said...

Hi Ana!

I like your comment about "real guitar roots"! I agree and have to think 5 years from now will these computer toys still be around or will they be in the garbage? Thanks for your entry!

Dr. "M" says.... said...

Hello Anonymous,

That is too funny! Well if you win, you can show off how good your new strings sound on your guitar! Remember to leave us your EMAIL address. We have no way of knowing how to contact you otherwise if you win.
Thanks for entering!

Dr. M. said...

CONGRATULATIONS to David MacDonald for winning our May Guitar Gear Give-Away! David's prizes have been shipped and we hope he puts them to good use.

Look for more prizes and gear to win right here at Eclectic Sound.

Bless you all!

Dr. M.