Gear demo: Fender Seafood green rosewood Telecaster

Recently purchased a new guitar direct from Fender at the Cornoa factory. Here is my first gear demo of this very guitar. In time I will put up a blog about my guitar related sightseeing in California, I’d certainly recommend it!

Here is the demo, how do you think it sounds?

Book review: Talent is Overrated

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I recently finished reading a book by Geoff Colvin that tried to explain what enables someone to become world class in their field, whether it be music, business or sport. Written by Geoff Colvin, I was initially put off by a quote from Donald Trump on the front cover! Seeing beyond this, what followed was an interesting take on how to excel on your instrument. Looking  at successful people from all areas of society, the main premise was that talent wasn’t the factor, but that hard work was the key to achieving in any field.  With studies in relation to musicians it was how much they practiced, with examples from studies on how on average it took twelve hundred hours of practice to reach grade 5.

Colvin dispels the idea that factors we can’t change determine our ability or future ability in a domain. Whether it be genetic or our memory or IQ, he argues that people are not born with a gift, that it is instead hard work and practicing in the correct way that results in high levels of performance.

In relation to music this raises the question of if you are going to work really hard at practicing, what do you practice and how do you approach it? This is where deliberate practice comes in, the idea of tailoring your practice routine to your specific needs. This could be as simple as a guitar player being aware that they struggle with playing in time and that they then devise a specific plan of exercises to work improve this element of their musicianship. This goes back to something I blogged about last year; focussing on your mistakes and practicing what you are weak at, rather than doing more of what you can already do. Colvin summed up deliberate practice as:

‘Deliberate practice is characterised by several elements, each worth examining. It is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it is highly demanding mentally…and it isn’t much fun’

Whether it is fun is open to debate! I find repetitive practice fun and always vary how I practice things to ensure this. For me the most important aspect is how specific a practice session is at addressing a player’s areas for improvement.  He goes on to add how the greatest performers are able to ‘isolate remarkably specific aspects of what they do and focus on just those things until they are improved; then it’s onto the next aspect’.  In relation to the guitar this could be something as small as how you hold your plectrum, how you fret notes that cross strings or how you pick scales. Once an area is identified it then comes down to a lot of repetition with a specific focus on those weaknesses. This is only useful if you are observing what you are doing, rather than just merely repeating something.  Recording yourself or asking for your teacher’s or another musician’s opinion could help here.  Mindless repetition isn’t what we’re after, the deliberate element of the practice is focusing on specific ways of doing something. This kind of practice requires a tremendous amount of concentration. Colvin found that top violinists could only sustain 3.5 hrs a day of this kind of practice. With the guitar, muscle memory is a blessing and pain, it can lead us into mindless practice and repetition of an exercise.

Colvin goes onto add that ‘ultimately the performance is always conscious and controlled, not automatic’. This is where the word deliberate is important, mindless repetition isn’t guaranteed to help, as you might be repeating something incorrectly! Instead, repetition should be done with constant adjustments and feedback to yourself on the technique/ passage you are trying to learn. With music this might be something physical like the angle of your wrist, or the timing or a new technique. Recording yourself or filming yourself practicing could be a good option here. Colvin argues that those that go onto perform at exception levels have a a stronger sense of perception and make finer discriminations to improve on the finer details. This a presumably a result of habitually practicing in this way.

How could you employ deliberate practice?

  • Identify practice goals (this could be improving specific weaknesses or an achievement like a grade or performance).
  • Work these goals backwards e.g. what practice activities will you need to achieve them?
  • Work on what you can’t do. Practice things in different ways.
  • Practice consciously, giving yourself constant feedback/ self observation(try not to let the feedback be overly positive or negative, instead, be objective/factual)
  • Continue to develop your knowledge of the instrument (this could be harmony, repertoire/ listening/watching other guitar players).
  • Remember that any top players within the field will have put in the same kind of hard work that you’re going to have to do.

Overall, I agree with Colvin’s stance on practice, it is comforting for a beginner to know that sheer hard work and will power can put them on the right track to being accomplished at their instrument.  This one quote really stood out to me:

Auer: ‘Pracitice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in one and a half hours’.

This links back to the argument of quality over quantity. For me practicing with a high level of conscious self observation/feedback is essential.  Is it time to spring clean your practice routine?  I better get back to my own practice…..

 

Review: Fender Deluxe Reverb

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Thought I’d review one of my amps, a Blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb ’65 reissue. I bought this second hand from World Guitars (Stonehouse). It features include:

  • 2 channels
  • Several inputs, so two people can play through it at the same time
  • Reverb
  • Vibrato

I was sold on this amp because of the fantastic clean tone. It has also been an industry standard since it’s conception and has been used by many favourite artists of mine (from Wes Montgomery to The Bealtes & Johnny Marr). The strange thing about this amp is people seldom use the first channel as it doesn’t allow access to the reverb or vibrato. Going back to the clean tone, it is stunning. At 22.5 watts, home use won’t allow me to crank it enough for it to break up, so I have to use pedals at home for gain.

The clean sound gives you bell like, crisp tones and it’s very versatile, I use it for mainly jazz and blues though. One thing that has slightly disappointed me is that it can be very fizzy sounding with overdrive pedals. I’ve been through a few to find one that works with it and have settled on the the Hardwire Tube Distortion and the Spark from TC Electronics. Other pedals I tried just sounded too bright. There is a treble cap mod that you can do to solve this, but I didn’t want to compromise the clean tone at all. Overall it’s a keeper and whilst I can’t get it to break up at home, having a great clean tone is always a good starting point. If you are after gain, then go for the Blues Junior.

 

Book Review: The Jazz Standards

A few months ago I stumbled across a review for a book that provided background information to a wealth of jazz standards. Written by Ted Gioia and published by Oxford University Press – I had high hopes for this book and I’ve not been disappointed.

Finding out information behind jazz compositions can be hard sometimes. There is often confusion over who wrote a piece e.g. Miles Davis’ claim to have written ‘Donna Lee’ and ‘Caravan’ being mistaken as a Duke Ellington composition. The book looks at this type of background information for 250 jazz standards. Background is often linked to the songs meaning, key versions and how the song developed through performance and recording. My main  reason for buying it was to look at gaps in my own repertoire and to have more knowledge about the tunes that I perform. Little facts that Ted has included will certainly prove useful when talking to audiences at gigs! A good example is the background to ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’. The song about a dance-hall in New York that was so popular they had to replace the floor every three years.

So far I’ve found the book to be a good starting point when learning a new song. The recommended listening is very helpful and good way to familiarize yourself with the changes. The only improvement I would make is perhaps having the changes and melody for reference. This isn’t a book you will pick up and read in one go, but more of a reference book. There is very little harmonic analysis, which is a shame, as this book is more like a biography of each tune. Gioia shows the reader how a song has developed, with the original composer having no control over how their tune is re-worked. I think musicians and fans alike would appreciate this book, it’s well researched and I’m sure it will be a regular point of reference for me.

Product Review: Fender Blues Junior iii

Fender Blues Junior iii Review

 

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I recently purchased a Fender Blues Junior iii from World Guitars in Stonehouse. I had been searching for a tube amp for some time and after a disaster with a Laney VC-15 I opted for the Fender.  The model that I purchased is in two tone wine red and tan with a wheat coloured grill.

Sound

Although the amp is only 15 watts; I have to say it is incredibly loud! I think I could certainly do small gigs with it and it would even compete with a drummer. The amp only has one channel with controls for volume, bass, mid, treble, master and reverb. The simplicity of the controls is the genius of this amp. The clean sound is excellent – as you would expect from a Fender amp. If you’re looking for high gain then this amp isn’t for you. Instead, you get warm valve distortion. The clean headroom is pretty good, and like any good valve amp the crunch will depend on how you articulate notes.  Only negative is that the reverb is a little over the top even set at three (all knobs go to 12). In addition to the controls mentioned, there is a ‘fat’ switch that adds crunch when you’ve cranked the amp. The volume required to get an overdrive sound does present a problem for bedroom use. Although, with such a good clean sound I think this amp would take pedals very well. I’m currently mulling over a few distortion pedals.

Looks

If you like retro then this amp is hard not to like! The two tone ‘50s styling appealed to me instantly and was probably one of the reasons I ended up buying it.

Use

I think this amp could be used for a number of styles. My main use will be for jazz, blues and rock. It simply wouldn’t work for metal or high gain stuff or big gigs (unless you mic it). From other reviews, I’ve heard it takes pedals very well, so I can’t wait to test it out. Having only ever owned solid state Marshalls and Fender amps, I am really appreciating being able to create that warm valve tone. So I’ve found it easy to emulate sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Les Paul and Jimmy page to name a few.

Overall 9/10

Sound 9/10 It doesn’t have high gain that I sometimes need – but a pedal will fix that.

Looks 10/10 Its vintage look is right up my street.

Build 7/10 The amp feels like it is solidly constructed. Given it a 7 purely as I haven’t gigged it or moved it yet.