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!)

Week3 – Simon says

Isn’t YouTube wonderful. Millions of videos are on there from how to fix a tap to Katy Perry’s latest. I also hear that some advertisers are not happy that they are put alongside dubious content. Even more will be clambering for the exit when I put my rifts on there!

One video that stood out this week was someone playing  100 of the greatest guitar rifts of all time, one after another. Superb skill to be able to do that. Nowadays rather than just listening I also look at where the hands and fingers are going onto the strings and what controls are being adjusted during the track. Last Saturday evening I went to a charity gig for Shooting star chase and just watched what the lead guitar and bass guitar players were doing to create the sound. Just maybe I am biased but the bass guitarist was just plucking one string all the time. Amazingly I am getting into this. Maybe it is my investigative engineering brain trying to find out how it all works or maybe just sheer panic that I now have a deadline to work too!

Simon Smith, of 1.1m YouTube fame, says only practice for 2 minutes at a time. He goes on that 2 minutes is actually quite a long time to do the same thing repetitively. Anything more and you get bored and start strumming badly. Guess what I caught myself doing? Simon also says it is to better to practise slowly and get it correct than to get into bad habits. That is why golf career never took off then!

My first exercise  was to place four fingers of my left hand one by one onto the high E string (the thinnest one) starting at the top fret and working down while alternatively plucking the same string with my right hand every time I moved a finger. Hmmm that is difficult . I need more practice. I actually got it right but only once during the week but something I can now build on. Small beginnings as they say. I also need some exercises to allow my fingers to be more flexible than they are currently. Try this one from YouTube

I expect I will be playing with all the right fingers but not necessarily in the right order – Alan Dolby



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!)

Week2 – the guitar has arrived and now to tune it !

The first thing to note was that there was no instruction manual that came with the guitar. I am so used to receiving some electronic gadget that comes with a four page instruction booklet that is subjected to a single read then slid into the nearest recycling vessel. There were more controls on the guitar than I was expecting i.e more than zero!

Firstly there are three rotary controls marked as volume, tone & tone (so good they named it twice). I guessed the first, the other two are either for the high notes or the low notes. Then there is the 5-way blade control. A quick strum with the fingers in each position didn’t seem to make any difference to my ear. I have had to admit defeat and succumbed to Google it. My first assumptions were wrong “On a three-knob setup as on a Stratocaster, there are two tone knobs, one for the neck pickup, and one for the middle and bridge pickups, and one volume control to modify all three.” The 5-way blade switch selects the pickup outputs in this fashion:

Position 1: Bridge pickup only. (nearest to bottom)
Position 2: Bridge pickup and middle pickup together.
Position 3: Middle pickup only.
Position 4. Middle pickup and neck pickup together.
Position 5: Neck pickup only. (closest to guitar neck)

This diagram, from Fender, makes it a little bit clearer but still not sure what the effects actually are.

I am sure more will be revealed once I get more into the hang of the thing.

Also found online “The tremolo bar, sometimes called the whammy bar, allows the guitarist to easily alter the pitch or all strings, up or down… slowly or quickly. It’s easy to identify: it’s a thin silver bar attached just below the saddle of the guitar, and normally hangs just below your strumming hand”. Not all guitars have one but my one does. Pradeep says don’t bother and take it off you won’t need it ever again!

What do all those strings do!

Another Google reveals EADGBE going from the thickest string to the thinnest or you can simply remember Eat All Day, Go to Bed Early. Right then I will!

Next day and Tuning the guitar

Now I know what strings are supposed to be, I need to do some twanging to get it in tune. Add on the clip-on tuner and the thick E was nearly already on tune. A slight tweak and it was bang on. I thought this is easy, I’ll try the next. 1 hour later and 5 of the 6 were in tune. The middle ‘D’ or ‘Day’ took another hour to get sorted even with the Fender smartphone app as an additional guide. I then took the unprecedented step (for a beginner) to loosen all of the strings then retune the lot again just in case I was lucky the first time around. A further hour and I was bang on tune again, with a little more practice I reckon I could get this down to a sensible time.

Another top tip I picked up from a guitar friend of Katie the hasher was to pull all of the strings away from the guitar body which will then stretch them and stop them going out of tune so quickly and make it easier the next time around to tune it back up again. This was one bit of advice I didn’t take as I was so so scared of breaking a string. Maybe later after I have had the pain of retuning a few times I will take the advice and pluck up the courage.

Having a guitar with a floating ‘bridge’ (for the ‘whammy bar’ also apparently makes things worse to tune which I can understand being an engineer. If the bridge (the shiny bit that holds the strings in place) can move then the tension of the strings will change and then affect the tune.

Also in the news…..

The guitar cover was a bit thin and the handle on one of the Zips broke the second time I used it so not that impressed by it.

The pick I chose from my assorted set had a thickness of 0.6mm but it is just personal taste what suits you best. I may change my mind at some point later.

My thoughts are now graduating towards what I am going to do with this here guitar so I checked out YouTube and amongst all the hairy monsters and people telling you what to do I found this chap at https://youtu.be4xLcRQcUY3k

He doesn’t look or for that matter sound very inspiring but Simon Smith has had 1.1million views so he can’t be all that bad. More on how I got on next week.

To cap the end of the week, Mandy, the RadioWey PR gury conjured up this photo and shared it on facebook. Oh I wish I had hair like that now. The pic also fooled my brother who thought it was a picture from way back when!

One of the comments on the post was from Kayte at the Chertsey Music community. She has written me into the programme in November for the gradathon – gulp!!!!

I expect I will be playing all the right strings but not necessarily in the right order – Alan Dolby

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.

Chertey Music Community

Chertey Music Community

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.