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Rockschool Club

the experts help

This month we start the Rockschool Club where your music and instrument enquiries are answered by the experts of BBC's top musicians' programme. If you've got any questions for Deirdre Cartwright (guitar), Geoff Nicholls (drums) or Henry Thomas (bass) on anything to do with playing or performing in a modern band, write to them care of:

Rockschool Club, (Contact Details).


I would like to know more about the Blues Scale which was featured on one of the Rockschool programmes. Thank you.
Phil Cottrel
Torquay, South Devon

I was casually watching Rockschool when the Blues Scale came up, but I didn't have much time to write it down. Could you please help by laying out the Blues Scale two octaves for me?
T. D. Durbin
London NWS.

Several people wrote and asked about the Blues Scale which I showed in programme four. Here it is again — a source of inspiration for guitarists from Muddy Waters to Eddie Van Halen and used for both riffs and solos. (The numbers refer to the fingers you use to play the notes, not the order in which you play them.) This is a pentatonic (five note) minor scale and this shape can be used anywhere on the guitar fingerboard. The root note determines the key you're in. If you began with the note of A (sixth string, fifth fret), you would be playing in A minor.

You should also spend time listening to different styles of music. Learn and copy passages from records/tapes and go to see as many live bands as you can. Listen to what the other instruments are doing and how the guitar fits in with them. Train your ear to pick out different things — the bass pattern, the keyboard part, even the hi-hat. D.C.


Playing rhythm guitar I have a problem fretting the strings on the fingerboard. I've been trying to master it for two months, but I've got nowhere. I have tried playing with my left hand well forward and the ball of the thumb placed against the back of the neck so that the fingers are in a position above the fingerboard. But this does not help me as I keep touching the open strings of a chord. Could you give me a few tips please?
Mervyn Julian
Address not supplied.

If you could afford to have lessons with a local electric guitar teacher, this would really help your basic technique. Unfortunately it's hard to deal with this sort of question without seeing you play. There's no mention of whether you get this problem playing open or barre chords, but I would guess it is the former. In which case, sometimes it helps to bring the thumb slightly round the neck towards you for some chord positions. You should relax your hand a little, don't keep such a stiff position. It would help for chords like an open A, to bring your hand round. You shouldn't hold your hand sideways, but approach the neck of the guitar with your hand coming down from the headstock and your first finger almost pointing along the strings.

Also, right hand technique is just as important in developing smooth rhythm playing and in selecting which string to play. D.C.


I'd like to ask Henry about his bass, the Sabre, as I've been looking for this bass for the last couple of months. Unfortunately no one seems to stock it, just the usuals. Can you tell me something about it, how much it would cost new, and where I could get further information?
Simon England
West Derby, Liverpool 12

I think you're referring to my G and L bass which does look quite similar to a Sabre, and it's the bass guitar I used in the first programme of the series. For the rest of the time I use a Westone.

In fact that bass guitar was made by Leo Fender who invented Fender guitars, of course, and it's his latest design, as far as I know. After he left Fender he went on to make the Music Man bass and then he set up business with an old partner of his called George Fullerton (that's what the G and L stands for, George and Leo).

My particular model is a G and L 2000 series E. Now I bought this in America for 660 dollars about three years ago so heaven knows how much it would cost now... anything from £500 to £600. And to be honest I've never seen one of these basses in this country.

It's got a maple neck with an adjustable truss rod and maple bodywork. It's got two pickups that look very similar to the Music Man pickups — they've got black casing with adjustable pole pieces. They've got three controls that handle volume, bass to low mid and high mid to treble. They've also got three switches. The last one has three positions — passive, a mix of passive and active, and active boost. The middle switch seems to add a middle or low bass, and the last switch is the pickup selector.

As to where you could get hold of one of these guitars you'd do best to look through the ad's at the back of Melody Maker or maybe in some of the American magazines. Or you could write to G and L's British agents at Everbimes, (Contact Details).

I hope you'll be able to get hold of one because it's a fine instrument with a punchy, meaty sound which is absolutely fantastic for funk and rock. H.T.


Dear Henry, I'm interested in learning bass guitar but have had some difficulty in obtaining an understandable book. Are there any that you can recommend?
David Mulcahy,
Hayes, Middlesex.

Funny you should ask this question because in my years of delving through the book shelves in various music shops, I've found there's a distinct lack of suitable material for the electric bass guitar. Most of the books are either highly theory orientated, or are riff-based with no back-up in terms of basic theory. They nearly all assume that the student has a reasonable amount of background knowledge and tend to skip from topic to topic without going into any real depth. Fortunately there are a few I can recommend.

There's one by Dan Dean and it's called his 'Electric Bass Method', books One Two and Three, I think there's a flexi disc that comes with them. Lawrence Canty has written one called 'Electric Bass', and there's a book by Warren Nunes which is actually described as a jazz method but it's got all the basics for learning simple bass lines as well. You might see a Carol Kaye series of books and tapes. These aren't suitable for a beginner, really, they're best for someone who has been playing for a while, understands what they're doing and wants to play some interesting riffs.

And... ahem... I've also written a bass course which is called the Henry Thomas bass course (what else? —Ed) which comprises cassettes and a booklet designed to start you off from the beginning and continue through all the styles. H.T.


On one of the Rockschool programmes the drummer used something that made an electric noise. Could you please tell me what made the noise and how much they are as I would like to buy one?
Stephen Inyon
Wellingborough, Northants.

Syn drums, that's the answer. They used to be very popular a few years ago on reggae and disco records. They're not quite so popular now so you might be able to get them cheap secondhand. They come in pairs. I don't actually know how much they cost, but I don't think they're that expensive on their own, though obviously they have to go through an amp, so that's extra. On the last programme I used a set of Cactus Electronic tom toms. They were in a state of development at the time though they are now on the market. But that's another area of synth percussion. I actually quite like the Syn Drum 'pew-pew' noise, but it's a bit redundant now because there are so many other things you can do. G.N.


I have heard other drummers talking about filling a kit's nut boxes with cotton wool, and painting the insides of wooden shells with lacquers and so on. Could you explain what these are and what they do?
Mr Thompson
Co Antrim, Northern Ireland.

There are two areas that you're dealing with here — one is to cut down any rattles or squeaks and the other is to improve the actual sound of the drums. To start with the first one, people have used all sorts of ideas from stuffing the nut boxes with cotton wool to filling them with axle grease. When you buy a kit, there are so many bits and pieces on it, you often get squeaks and rattles. Anything you can do to cut them down will help, especially when recording.

When you first get your drum kit, the best thing to do is to go all the way around, tightening every nut and bolt with a Philips screwdriver, usually. Modern kits are actually pretty good. Manufacturers have taken to using nylon inserts and pieces of rubber. The nylon inserts on all the stands cut down the possibility of squeaks quite a lot. The other place where you can get unwanted noise is around the cymbals. You should always make sure the little nylon washers, where the cymbals fit the stand are firm enough to stop rattles.

On the second question, the idea of lacquering the shells... On most kits the inside of the shell is lacquered anyway. Different manufacturers have tried different ideas. Sometimes you'll find different finishes such as the silver paint on the inside of Gretsch drums. Occasionally you'll see a white coating inside, or fibre glass, it's all an attempt to get a more resonant shell.

With lacquer, the more coats that you put on, the more it will harden the surface which will, correspondingly, effect the sound. If you've got an old shell that's in a bad condition, you could very carefully try taking everything off it then sand down the inside to get it as smooth as you possibly can, and then put one or two layers of lacquer on.

I think most people would advise against too many layers because the harder it gets, the brighter the sound becomes and you move away from the warmth of the wood. It's not a good idea to mess around with a new kit as the manufacturer's will already have experimented to get it right. This messing around with lacquer is the sort of thing people used to do a few years ago when you found yourself with an old Ludwig from the 60's. G.N.

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One Two Testing - Jul 1984

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