I'm just a caveman. Your modern guitar tech frightens and confuses me.
September 6, 2014 12:37 PM   Subscribe

The electric guitar switch in my brain recently flipped itself back to 'On' after 18 years of hibernation, and I'm feeling like Rip Van Winkle. Where and how do the cool kids learn how to shred these days?

A bit of background: When I took up guitar circa 1988, learning resources were: My teacher (who tabbed out 70s and 80s rock classics for me, gave me a decent foundation of basic mechanics, a few scales, and some hazy theory fundamentals,) a crappy Led Zeppelin tab book and the occasional issue of Guitar Player magazine. Being a jobless high school kid I never really had much kit to speak of; my cheesy little practice amp had gain, tone, reverb, and overdrive. I had a couple of pedals that were novel but kind of useless. Mostly I just paged through the Musicians Friend catalog, and would feel totally helpless whenever I walked into a music store to browse. I never really learned amp electronic basics (theory and terminology) or how to process a guitar's output to achieve a particular sound.

I played in a few bands throughout high school and college, and never really progressed above a 'competent' level; mostly I think because I stopped taking lessons and didn't really know where to go next or how to get there on my own. I had a lot of fun playing my favorite tunes and jamming with others, but I plateaued and after college my guitar went into a closet and has been there more or less ever since; until a couple of weeks ago I'd get it out once a year, fiddle around for half an hour, feel old and wistful and put it back. The last couple of weeks I'll get my guitar out, plug it into GarageBand, noodle around and get excited and totally overwhelmed, and put it back. It's a good kind of overwhelmed, but I need to figure out how to get back on the horse. My faithful old guitar seems to be in great shape, but I'm treating myself to a new-to-me Stratocaster. Partly because my old guitar intimidates me a bit (it's a pretty nice, fairly rare and somewhat jazzy instrument that I lucked into early on) and partly because I want that old Strat tone and feel; I traded my Squier bullet in decades ago and a new classic rock guitar feels like the right way to kick this off.

I have been playing various banjo styles with brief detours into mandolin and acoustic guitar in the last dozen years, so fortunately my general fretted instrument motor skills are fine, and I've been using software like GarageBand, Audacity and 4-Track to record acoustic stuff, so it's not totally foreign to me. I've learned a whole lot more about music theory in general since my early guitar days. YouTube has been an invaluable resource for learning various old-time, minstrel, and classic style banjo tunes and techniques but 5 string banjo is a smaller world, and 19th century banjo is a much smaller world. You could probably watch the entirety of available video lessons on Minstrel or Classic style banjo in an evening or two. It's mostly repertoire based, so theory, improvisation and licks aren't really a thing. It's fun and fascinating, but I think I've rediscovered electric guitar because I need a parallel, broader and looser outlet.

When you go looking for guitar lessons on YouTube, there are hundreds (thousands?) of hours of free stuff, covering just about every aspect of theory, technique, or just good old how-to-play-this-riff lessons. And the software! Even the amps and effects in GarageBand are pretty overwhelming, much less stuff like Guitar Rig or Midi Guitar. I've already spent a couple of evenings lost in a click vortex of theory lessons, fooling around with software effects, and browsing tablature. Which is great! I love being excited about electric guitar again. But I'm just spinning my wheels at this point, and I need some traction.

So, fellow amateur guitarists of MetaFilter, I'm hoping that you can steer me towards some specific web sites or YouTube channels with a progressive approach; lessons that start with fundamental technique and theory and build in difficulty from there. Bonus points for a classic/hard rock focus. Free is good, but I don't mind paying for quality.

Similarly, I'd love to find a Digital guitar processing for dummies type resource that might catch me up a bit in terms of amp modeling/digital effects. I may well find myself lusting after actual physical amps and effects if I stick with this, but in the meantime I'm a little bit giddy with the possibilities of even a free app like GarageBand.

TL;DR: Help a rusty guitarist shake off the rust, learn new stuff, and get caught up on the state of guitar audio. Thanks!
posted by usonian to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Check out this video from Nail Guitar Skills. They have a website too. It seems to be geared toward the intermediate player. It might be a good starting point.

I started playing in my 30s, and I stumbled across a private teacher playing at an arts festival. I think there's no substitute for someone to guide you one-on-one. You can also check your local college or university. Just make sure your teacher is far more advanced than you are. Mine plays in all styles and has been playing for 45 years and teaching almost that long.

It sounds like you already have a good start on things. It will feel less overwhelming when you start running across information online that just seems repetitive. It also helps to have some specific goals. As an example, my current goals include learning to read sheet music, composing in modes, and learning a variety of strumming and picking patterns. I'm already a competent rhythm guitarist who knows basic chord progressions, but another goal is to go beyond that and learn chord voicings and extensions. And of course, to get faster and more nimble. My instructor says the best way to do that is to practice scales. All of them. For 5-10 minutes every day, do some scale work. Get a practice schedule in which you work on all your goals. Feel free to MeFiMail me if you like.
posted by sucky_poppet at 2:50 PM on September 6, 2014

Best answer: Justinguitar and Marty Schwartz's stuff (1) (2) (3)
posted by puritycontrol at 6:28 PM on September 6, 2014

Just some tips on being a better player.

1. Try and play at least some, every day.

2.When you practice, play slowly and cleanly, until you've got a segment down.

3. Learn songs so you can play them from beginning to end, and play them without mistakes. Don't waste your time endlessly sitting there playing riffs and pieces of riffs you already know, over and over. If someone asks you to play something, you should be able to play a song from start to finish, polished. And it's just as easy to do on electric as acoustic. So start building a repertoire, you'll be glad you did.

4. If you don't know them already, learn the notes on the fret board. It makes things so much easier as you progress, and plain and simple, you don't know the instrument if you don't know where the notes are. Start with open strings, then do the across at the dots.

5. Learn triads. Start with the 3 highest strings and play major triads going up the neck in root, 1st, and 2nd inversons, so a major triad, starting at root, is 1-3-5, 3-5-1 and 5-1-3. Stay on those strings and do the 3 minor inversions, then diminished, and augmented. Then move over to the next string. May sound like a lot but it's really quite easy, and you'll learn the fret board. I can't tell you how helpful this will be. So much playing, especially electric, is playing pieces of chords all over the neck.
posted by PaulBGoode at 7:54 PM on September 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm, sadly, more of a guitar collector than a player, so I'm not much help with your main question (although I'll be going through the answers!)

I'm not too sure of a good "dummies guide" for digital modelling, and I certainly agree it can seem confusing, as there is a lot out there.

I'd say the main two types are software and hardware modelling. Within each there is a big range of options at different price points.

Software, you've got free options like Garageband and various VST plugins (which require a host recording package like Reaper, Audacity or ProTools to work within). If you google "VST Amp Model" you'll find loads. I like LePou (amps), TSE Audio (effects) and La Revolution Deux (cabs).

On a slightly more expensive level, if you've got an iPad there is Bias, AmpKit and Amplitude. Bias in particular is awesome, you'll need an adaptor like the iRig to get your guitar into the iPad, but its a great portable 'amp'.

Bias is also coming out on PC and Mac.

Hardware covers a huge range, from the now 'classic' Line 6 Pod, to the AxeFX. You can get a second hand Line 6 Pod 2 for about £50 second hand now, and it's still a great piece of kit, with good amp models and some solid (but not particulary exciting) effects.

If you're more interested in effects, then maybe checkout the Zoom G3. It's an odd thing, because it's a digital pedalboard, an amp modeller, a looper, a drum machine and a USB soundcard all rolled into one. It'd be a great thing to work out what you really want in a rig, and it's good enough you certainly won't 'have' to upgrade unless you want to.
posted by chrispy108 at 12:34 AM on September 8, 2014

Nthing Justin Guitar. If you are willing to spend a little money, I have really enjoyed Paul Gilbert's AritistWorks school. Paul's teaching style reminds me a lot of what it would have been like to learn from Mr. Miyagi (if Mr. Miyagi's lessons would have been fun), at least through the beginner course. Often times you learn a cool riff or lick that teaches a fundamental, which he than builds upon in later lessons. I can't image what more you would need if you combined the two, although Justin's course is comprehensive. Six String Recess isn't an organized guitar course per se, but I follow his Twitter feed and have purchased two of his "premium lessons." I think they were worth it for what I learned.

If you have an iPad/iPhone, Bias and JamUp are a pretty cool combo. You just need to pick an interface. There are a lot of different options so don't get bogged down in the details. I have had good luck with the Apogee products. If you don't have an iPad/iPhone or you prefer working on a computer, you can give S-Gear a try. I am constantly amazed at how good the sounds are out of these options.

Or, if you want the pinnacle of modeling, you could try either an Axe-Fx II or a Kemper. My Axe-Fx II replaced two very nice tube amps. It is an amazing piece of equipment. I am sure the Kemper is equally good, but I don't have any personal experience with it. I have read good things about this class although I have no idea if it would be useful for something other than an Axe-Fx.

I am not really familiar with the lower end of modeling gear. Chrispy108's advice seems spot on, from what I have read.

You might find Guitar Tone interesting for learning about different guitar sounds.

I am no means a great or even a good guitar player, by the way. I am, however, an obsessive consumer of music information so if there is something specific that hasn't been answered, please feel free to ask.
posted by Silvertree at 8:48 AM on September 8, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Not long after posting this I scored a stupid-cheap Craigslist deal on a Fender Mustang II amp, which is an interesting bit of solid-state modeling equipment - it comes with some OK presets that run the gamut from fairly clean to quite heavy, and the capability to create much more fine-tuned presets with desktop software and a USB cable (which also provides an audio interface for DAW recording.) It's definitely helpful to be able to play with those sounds through an actual amp compared to computer speakers or headphones, but it would be easy to get distracted by endless tone-tinkering!

As for goals and direction... I'm slowly discovering that learning and playing along with rock tunes is just as fun as it ever was. After seeing King Crimson last week I've gotten a prog rock bug under my skin and may wind up getting this book ("Progressive Rock Guitar" by Glenn Riley) if only to block out the paralyzing firehose of online guitar information for a while.
posted by usonian at 6:45 PM on September 23, 2014

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