Music numpty to Rock God
The blog of Alan Dolby and how I am learning to play the electric guitar all the way from zero to Rock God (in my dreams!)
I expect I will be playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order – Thanks to Eric Morecome for that little gem!
Week0 – Chertsey music community stitched me up on air!
In the middle of January 2017, I interviewed three people from Chertsey music community, Kayte, Martin & Claire. A lovely interview ensured and they played their instruments but then Martin suggested I should come along to the rock project in Chertsey and learn to play the guitar. I made my excuses such as I was washing my hair that night and needed to straighten my eyebrows and that was that and they went their separate ways and I went mine.
However during the following weeks it then started to bug me. Why not give it a go? I always fancied being in a rock band playing lead guitar. After all it can’t be that difficult can it? I am an engineer, I can do this, can’t I ? Then the thoughts started going negative, surely guitars cost thousands of pounds? Lessons must cost a fortune? I haven’t got the time to learn an instrument? I am a musical numpty and have never played anything remotely musical before and also tone deaf. The excuses kept coming think and fast.
Well the next step was to contact that nice chap Martin at the Rock Project Chertsey. He said he could help and thought it would be a great idea. I thought so too (for about 5 minutes) before the doubts crept back in again.
Then something fortunate happened at work. I was sitting two seats away from a chap we shall call Richard because that is his name. He actually makes guitars for himself and can actually play them which is a very handy skill to have.
Richard is also an engineer so we can converse in engineer speak so to speak of, which made translating guitar speak a lot easier to do. Then another miracle happened, he sits opposite Pradeep who also plays the guitar. How about that, I was now in the company of two people who knew how to play the guitar so surely some of that knowledge must rub off onto me. Surely? Please?
Backtracking a bit here, you must realise that being a musical numpty I know zero, zilch, nothing at all about guitars whatsoever apart from what is on the TV and what I play on the radio every week. I never gave it a second thought about how you actually play a guitar. Isn’t it just magic how Jimi Hendrix managed to do it?, Eric Clapton stokes his acoustic guitar and deep purple made smoke over the water. Truly magical stuff.
Now I didn’t realise up to this point there were actually two types of electric guitar. Bass and electric so which one is suitable for me? Asking Richard again and he said “it depends on your personality” I was somewhat confused by this statement but then I said “I want to be at the front”, so according to Richard then need an Electric guitar!, bass is for people who just strum and remain at the back.
Richard had patience, and plenty of it, and guided me to what I needed to start me off. A Fender he said (I had actually heard of one of those) but it was a Squier by Fender (A bit like a basics version of a real Fender) and would you believe it rather than 1000’s of pounds it was £115 and well within my numpty budget.
Lo and behold other people started coming out and saying they had a guitar too. Things are looking up in my new found musical career!
Week1 – pressing the button
So here I am in front of the computer with a basket full of guitar related stuff and wondering if I should now press the buy button at the gear4music, Amazon and GAK websites.
Let me first provide you some background on my choice of what went into the basket.
I thought that buying the actual guitar would have been easy, besides Richard had already told me the make. I was so sadly wrong! There are actually six styles of Squier by Fender. The left handed one was quickly discarded but what about the rest? Another chat to Richard narrowed it down to a Stratocaster (in guitar lingo a Strat!) and a Telecaster (not sure what in guitar speak). The others he said are passing fads that haven’t taken off. There are also packages to get. I need to do some more research into this me thinks! Another chat to Richard narrowed it down once again to a Strat (cool!)
So the next step was what type of Strat, once again another 6 different types and all very similar. Back to Richard again and Bullet series it is then. The Affinity series was about £50 more so that also secured it.
However there are two types of Bullet, standard and humbucker. The first has three pickups with the rear most one at an angle (don’t know why yet!) and the other has two columns of pickup in the rear position. Richard said I needed something simple to start with so standard it is then!. I still don’t know why you have three pickups. I am sure it will become clearer the further I get on in this project!
Now the guitar is sorted ….. Oh hang on a minute what colour should it be? Three choices are presented, sunburst brown, black or white. All three have a white area around the pickups. Surely I don’t need to go back to Richard and ask him about which colour is best? Well this time I didn’t and it was up to me and my personal choice. All three were in stock at gear4music unlike GAK. Several days of agonising about the right colour to get, resulted in the black one being put in the basket.
I thought I was nearly there when I noticed you can get a guitar package which includes a practice amp and a few other bits and pieces. It was a bit unclear what was actually included so I plumped for buying separate items instead and hopefully I can get higher quality seperates by shopping around.
Now a guitar is next to useless if you can’t actually tune it. Back to Richard & Pradeep who suggested getting a clip on tuner. Pradeep pointed out that there are many good & free apps for a smartphone but if it is noisy in the room then it will be a struggle for the microphone in the phone to pickup the correct note. A clip on tuner to the head stock it is then. A quick search revealed one for £9.99 then an own brand one from Gear4music for £5. In the basket it goes and it is new!
These headstock tuners also look very easy to use which is important in my book. I have enough to learn about without making things even more complicated.
If you know me then you will also know I like the colours red and black preferably together. I don’t know why but I did find once that my sons football kit was red and black and the car I had at the time was also red with a black interior and red seat stitching. I already wanted a black guitar so to offset the blackness a red strap is required. A red competition Fender strap and red/black Fender strap blocks also went into the basket. I am in heaven now and now on a roll.
I live in a flat and didn’t want to annoy the neighbours at an early stage in my guitar career so I needed to be able to listen to my creations on headphones.
You can get very simple (and cheap) headphone amplifiers that just plug into the guitar socket but what I actually went for in the end was one by NUX which has a separate gain, volume plus an auxiliary input socket for a iPod to allow you to play along to Deep Purple (I wish!) The separate gain control will go some way towards creating the electric guitar ‘distorted sound’ that a guitar practise amp would hopefully provide. More on this in later weeks.
So the Headphone amp choice was:
It was out of stock so ordered it from Amazon instead.
On a Strat (still a cool name) the output ¼” jack is at an angle on the front face so the headphone amp needs to be able to plug in directly which this one will do. Some plug in amps don’t, so beware!
A guitar is an awkward shape to hold, put down and to lean against things and can easily be broken at the neck if you are not too careful. I therefore, since I am a clumsy numpty, need some sort of stand or wall hook to put it on. There are too many around on eBay, GAK, Gear4Music and Amazon to get any sense for what I actually need. My thought process was that I wanted something for home use, portable to take along to lessons at the Rockproject and for the occasional gig (I am always hopeful!). To stop the guitar falling out of the stand it also needed to be retained at the neck and to be fairly sturdy and oh cheap!
The one I plumped for in the end was this one and for a snip at only £8.99.
I would only find how sturdy it was when it actually arrived.
The next thing I thought I would need is some sort of gig bag or guitar cover to help protect it against scratches and dust at home and about. I was swayed by a good picture and cheap price so I went for the Kinsman electric guitar carry bag for £8
Finally I discovered by online research that I actually needed something to pluck the strings with so I did need a pick (or plectrum in guitar speak ). I was horrified to discover that there were multiple ones to buy, all with different thicknesses, colours and styles. I didn’t want the choice of which one to buy to last as long as buying the guitar so a quick talk in my shell like by Pradeep and concluded I should get an assorted selection from Dunlop plus get a spring loaded pick holder. Both from independent guitar shops on Amazon for less than a fiver, postage included.
Some more good news, I think. Linda from the running club has dusted down her acoustic guitar and has set a target to play something in the summer at run camp as a duet. This is all happening a bit fast for me but being a numpty I am up for the challenge with no thought process whatsoever taking place.
The button was pressed and the various baskets were ordered on Saturday evening at 11pm, and arrived at my nearest sainsburys store on Monday one day later. It has now got very real.