your questions answered by the BBC television experts
More expert assistance from TV's top musician advisers – Rockschool's Deirdre Cartwright (guitar), Henry Thomas (bass) and Geoff Nicholls (drums). If you've got any playing problems write to: The Rockschool Club, One Two Testing, (Contact Details).
Please could you give me some advice on buying a good guitar at a fair price – for example, a Gibson, Yamaha, Fender?
You should think about buying secondhand. You could probably pick up a 1970s Fender for about £200, maybe a little under. Anything which is a bit older, then you're starting to get into the collector's market where they become more expensive. It doesn't mean that the guitars are any better, just that there are fewer of them around.
If you want to buy a secondhand Gibson, they tend to come a bit more expensive. The first good guitar I bought was a Fender, and that was because it was the cheapest good guitar I could get. People usually ask 'If I want a Fender or a Gibson, what could I afford?' and at that time I got a Strat.
A fair price... difficult... I think before you buy one you should hang around plenty of music shops on Saturday and try a few of them out. Don't just go out and buy one but try them out for a while. Test other makes as well, not just the two favourites... you could find that neither of these will suit you and you might enjoy playing another make of guitar more, and that's really what counts. D.C.
I'm looking for a 100W amplifier and speaker, but I'm not sure which is best – a lead combo or a stack. Also, what does reverb do? My second question is, do you know any solo books – I can play quite a few chords and several tunes but I don't know any solo patterns and can't seem to pick them up from records.
Reverb should sound a bit like room ambience, though you can get the in-a-railway-tunnel effect by turning up the control, if desired. It gives your playing a lift and fills out the sound. Most players use some sort of reverb or echo.
(Technical note: the reverb you hear from a large room is the result of many thousands of short echoes which are repeats of the original signal, bouncing off different sections of the walls at different times. They merge into one blur that sounds as if the notes are still hanging around in the room, even a second after you've played them. In some combo amps you'll find what's known as a reverb spring, which is literally that – two or three long springs inside a metal box. These are mechanical equivalents of the room. If you imagine striking one end of a stretched, horizontal spring, it will keep bouncing around for some time. The notes that you play are what hit the spring – they're converted into movement in a similar way to how a loudspeaker works – and the bounces are reproduced as reverb.)
I find that modern combos with, say, one 12in speaker are light to carry and versatile, but if you're playing at higher volumes and want to protect your sound, only a larger cabinet will give you this. I think it's a personal decision. Try a lot of different set-ups and see what you like – neither combo nor stack is theoretically best.
The Rockschool book, which came out in June, should help you for solos as it shows the most usual patterns used in solos, and ways of developing scales and riffs to help you build up your playing style. D.C.
Please could you answer these questions. Which would be the best electric guitar I could get as a beginner? I now play a classical guitar. Is this good for me, or should I practice more chords? Do you and a lot more guitarists know a little bit about playing classical guitar, or is this not necessary?
Karen Strutt Ashton,
There is a wide range of guitars and amps to choose from, which is great but can be very confusing! If you're a beginner, or if you're not sure which gear to choose, try to get someone more experienced to go to a music shop with you. Magazines like One Two Testing often have very thorough reviews of all sorts of equipment from the latest guitar synth to the best budget-price guitar around, and I've often found these very useful.
If you've only got a little bit of money to spend, you should explore the second hand market. Exchange and Mart and Melody Maker are both good sources. A word of warning about second hand gear, though. Always test it out as thoroughly as you can, and try to get that second opinion from your more experienced friend. If you buy a lemon, the chances of getting your money back are very slim indeed.
If you have to choose between getting a good guitar and getting a good amp, go for the guitar. You can, after all, use a cheap practice amp, or even a hi-fi system (at LOW volume), while you're working on your playing technique. Get something louder once you've joined a band. But a cheap guitar will hinder your playing and does not sound better through louder gear.
Many Japanese guitars now offer good value for money, e.g. Westone or Seiwa. Second hand valve combos like the Vox AC 30 are good and versatile, although there are many recent additions to the market here too, like the Roland 'Spirit' range.
You also get certain guitars and amps associated with particular styles of music. In Heavy Rock/HM for example, people tend to use the Gibson Les Paul, Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Flying V, Gibson or Yamaha SG through a stack of Marshall amps and speakers, while Fender Telecasters through a Fender combo are used for country blues sounds, and Gretsch semi-acoustics are used for Rockabilly.
Let me stress, however, that a lot of your sound comes from you and your technique. Two guitarists using exactly the same gear, can sound completely different. In the end, as everybody keeps saying, the choice is up to you, given the money you can afford to spend.
Speaking personally, I prefer guitars with slim necks, and I like having a tremolo arm. Consequently, I've played mainly Fender Strats (for the last nine years) and Schecter guitars (for the last four years).
Is classical guitar good for you? Well, I don't know because I've never played any. It certainly should develop your left hand technique, but really pop and rock guitar is quite a different style. I never thought that my classical piano lessons were good for me at the time, though I'm glad now because they've taught me a bit about theory. I think you should just play the kind of guitar you want to play, and don't worry about what anybody else says. D.C.
Does Henry give lessons, if not can he recommend anybody?
Harrow Weald, Middlesex.
I do, but at the moment we're so busy working on Rockschool there's just no time. There are a few people I know personally that I consider to be very good – Lawrence Canty, Bill Katts, Joe Hubbard and Eric Richards.
There are quite a few good teachers around. Some of them advertise in the small ads at the back of Melody Maker under 'tuition'. If you don't have any luck there, your best best is to get hold of the Musicians' Union Directory and go through the bass players, because some of them list their abilities as being teachers. Most of the people in the directory will be able to put you on to some very good teachers, either in the classical vein or contemporary.
Also there's a workshop that's held at Goldsmith's College which is open to all standards of players. Goldsmith's number is (Contact Details). H.T.
Could you tell me whether different kinds of drum kits are used for different types of music?
You'll notice that drummers playing very different styles of music often use the same make of drums – it's the way that you play that is probably the most distinctive factor, followed by the heads and the type of tuning you use – the name on the front of the drums doesn't matter so much. Your choice of cymbals and damping, all those personal things make a difference as well.
But again I'd say that manufacturers of drums do tend to fall into two categories – those making thick heavy shells and those making thinner resonant shells. For example, Sonor, a German company, and Ludwig, an American company, make quite thick shells which give a deep, warm sound, whereas, for example, Gretsch and Yamaha are well known for their thinner resonant shells that have a livelier response.
For instance, Yamaha endorsees range from Steve Gadd to Cozy Powell, so on the one hand you've got a very tight session player and then someone specialising in a big, lively sound. Gretsch have been around for a long while and their shells are very well thought of – there are quite a lot of plys in them, but they're thin and very resonant, and traditionally a lot of jazz players have used them. Charlie Watts has used a Gretsch kit for the whole of his career because he always wanted to be a jazz drummer.
It's true to say that the size of the drums makes a difference. To quote the obvious, a heavy metal band usually has a very large drum kit made up of very large drums. A jazz player will normally use a smaller kit.
But then a lot of heavy players will use Remo CS Batter heads which are hard wearing but still responsive, or they may even use the Evans hydraulic heads (so called because of the film of oil between skins) which are very damped and take one hell of a lot of beating to get any sound out. Then again, you'll find funk players also using these heads, or they might try Remo Pinstripes which are still quite heavily damped, but a bit more responsive than the Evans. They still get a funky sound from them.
The amount of damping that you put on the head affects the sound drastically and there's a great difference between single headed and double headed drums. I would say the ultimate in damping is the reggae style of using single heads plus maximum damping. G.N.
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