Debunking myths about the Pedal Business

I had a lengthy post regarding all of the things I’ve learned since starting with Wampler over a year ago, but after reaching over 2,000 words, I decided to just condense it into a list of myths about the pedal industry I feel every person should know now that I’ve seen the other side:

  • The builders aren’t any different than any other person. They all put their pants on one leg at a time in the morning. In general, all of the builders I’ve had to honor to meet have been nothing short of amazing, speaking as if they’ve known me forever. The key thing to remember? Most of them usually don’t WANT to be thought of any different. They’re tone chasers just like us. They’ve all just found their niche in the trade, just like skilled workers in other areas. When I met Brian and Jason and Max, I was sweating and nervous as could be. I tried to keep a straight face despite screaming on the insane, but they treated me as equals and like it was another day at work. It was all just a blur at the time, but looking back it drastically changed my perception. They don’t want to be famous, they just happen to be in front of a camera or on social media more than other people!I was nervous the first time I walked up to Robert Keeley, but he came up and gave me a hug and we talked like old friends. The pedal industry is by far one of the friendliest groups I’ve ever seen.
  • Despite pedal costs, there isn’t a load of money in the pedal business. The big thing is that from the process of concept to having the pedal on your board costs a lot of money to create. Research and development, prototyping, PCB changes, mass quantities of parts (we’re talking thousands of a single part per order), building in the United States, paint (thousands of gallons of one particular color, per pedal), printing the graphics, boxes and instructions, and free shipping. All of it cuts off of the bottom-end of the money made. Dealers like to make a little on them as well, so you have to account for that cost too. You’d probably be surprised how little we actually get to take in! That being said, it’s more about the experience and the process than the money. Like Brian told me when I started “If you’re in it to make money, you’re better off outside of the music industry.” It’s a rewarding job though, helping people find the tone that they’ve been hearing in their head.
  • Working NAMM is VERY different than attending NAMM. It’s mind-boggling. I’ve only been to one NAMM (Winter in Anaheim) and it’s a full sensory overload experience.  There’s a noise ordinance at NAMM so vendors and patrons won’t go over a certain dB, and that threshold is usually exceeded as soon as people cut the amps on. If you get too loud, the NAMM police come around and give you warnings. If you get too many warnings for violating the noise level….not good (fines, etc). People are everywhere, where you have to scream over the noise of neighboring booths to talk to tone chasers that walk up to your booth. Working the booth can be very repetitive. You get the same questions over and over again, but luckily if you enjoy it you won’t mind answering them. There’s really no time to sit down, eat, or even go to the bathroom sometimes. At the end of the day when NAMM closes, your ears are clogged like you’ve entered an isolation chamber, and your voice is typically hoarse from talking so loudly all day. Rinse and repeat for the next few days. Some big name guitarists stop by, many of which are just insanely nice people who just excel at their chosen instrument. The same premise applies as the builders; MOST just want to be treated like normal people. It’s a balancing act to meeting your business contacts and creating relationships with new customers, so it’s always hectic. After NAMM is done you break down (several hour job) and head home. There’s one interesting fact I didn’t know existed. Inevitably if you work NAMM, you’ll end up with NAMMthrax. You’re literally shaking hands and talking face-to-face with hundreds of people every day, and everyone ends up catching some kind of head cold or otherkind of sickness that lasts for a few weeks after you get home. In my case, I ended up with a sinus and ear infection, where some people ended up with the full blown flu. It’s just the nature of meeting with so many people in a public space.
  • You’d be amazed how hard it is to find an original name and color for a pedal. This process is often overlooked because the end result is what everyone sees. The process involves checking trademarks, and ensuring that no one has a pedal or music instrument out that already has that name or something extremely close to it. Each name has to be applicable to what the pedal is, and has to be able to have imagery to use along with it. There are loads of names that sound great, but there’s nothing graphically that’s feasible to put onto the small space the graphic takes up on the pedal. The goal is to make all of the pedals flow together visually and stylistically with names, so you have to be wary of that too. To give you an example, the cataPulp was originally going to be called the Pulp Friction…but after some searching it was a 90’s porno. Strike that one off!
  • Social media content isn’t as easy to find as you might think. Being an international company sounds like it would be a breeze to find content to post every day, right? Not so much. With that many viewers, you have to take into account the varying ages, gender, ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, political views, and any other thing that might trigger someone to be angry. With so many varying opinions in the world, your list of content gets whittled down before you know it. Content has to be relatable, provide something to the viewer, not tick anyone off, and still be relevant to the brand. So when you see those pictures and posts, give them an extra like :-)
  • Guitar pedal companies don’t have days off generally. It’s a 24/7 business. We have customers around the globe, so there are constantly messages submitted to the main page at all hours of the day and night. When most people are on their holiday break, we’re working because the load increases due to people being off and having time to send messages. That’s not to say that we don’t relax some, but most days still maintain a consistent level of work at minimum. Closer to the end of the year and the holidays, it gets a bit crazier. I stepped away from my family getting ready to open presents on Christmas so I could take care of a couple of things. But if you love it, you do what you have to do!
  • There’s nowhere near as much guitar playing happening as you’d think there would be. As much as I’d love to say it’s trying prototypes all day and getting to jam on free pedals, it’s not the case. It’s spreadsheets, statistics, insight tracking, blog writing, message responding, email typing, and general businessy stuff. I think we’d all go out on a limb here at Wampler and say that we play guitar LESS because of working, but it’s a tradeoff. We’re not playing, but we’re facilitating other players to play more.  
  • Just because there aren’t a load of steady new releases, it doesn’t mean they’re sitting idly. New releases take a lot of prep work (see 2nd bullet point). There are many pedals that will reach prototype phase and never see the light of day. There are also some pedals that have just been released that have been ready for years and it just didn’t feel like the right time to release until then. Pedal builders are always looking ahead, whether it’s their planned releases for months down the road, or researching new technology for something they have planned for a few years ahead. It’s all a chess game that requires patience and planning on the whole teams’ part to bring something to the public in a cohesive manner.
  • Competitors actually like each other in most cases. Just because various companies are trying to reach the same demographic of players with their pedals, it doesn’t mean that they’re cutthroat and despise each other. Many times builders help each other directly, whether its needing help with a particular issue in a design, or just general chit-chat. The pedal building community is unlike any other I’ve seen. It’s a network of family in a sense, where in most cases they all look out for each other and are friends, and share stories of success and heartbreak. They also discuss customers, ones that are known to have fraudulent activities or sketchy dealings. You’d be surprised what builders have helped out on various releases over the years for other companies as well ;-)

As I wrote this list, I hope it didn’t seem negative, because it isn’t intended that way. I’ve been a tone chaser my entire life and my dream has always been to work in the pedal industry (specifically for Brian). These are myths that I had built up in my own head over the years that I had my eyes opened to and learned along the way. It’s an amazing business that requires quite a bit of work, but it’s unbelievably rewarding. Release day for new pedals is like a breath of fresh air, and is exhilarating to see the work that’s been done reach the people it was created for.

The mysteries of setting up your guitar...

I was checking out the wonderful "The Guitar Hour" last week (hosted in part by signature artist Tom Quayle) where the guys went to a luthier and filmed and dissected a full set up on guitar. It's compelling viewing and fascinating to see what happens when a professional does the job perfectly! If, like me (having worked in guitar shops for years and having set up thousands of guitars in my time) you thought you know it all, then this will be a real eye opener for you.

Part 1 - The Fret Dress - The thing that always made me really nervous! 37 minutes.

Part 2 - Taking you through the first part of a standard set up. 35 minutes!

Part 3 - The rest of the standard set up. 36 minutes.

 

Thank you to Tom, Dave, Dan and David for letting us publish on our blog, it's much apprecaited! You can check out The Guitar Hour here.

The basics of powering your pedal board

Power, power, power… This has to be the most asked question we get, well, the many variations of it anyway… I’m not kidding when I say it’s probably a daily event that one of us answers the question! So, I’m going to consolidate the headline points into here so hopefully we can provide you with the one stop place to get all the information! A few weeks ago, our friends over at That Pedal Show produced the ultimate geek-out about power, but running at 37 minutes, many didn’t get to the end so I am consolidating it here to make is easy to grab the basics, with a little of my own perspective to keep it relevant...

What power do your pedals take?

ALL of our pedals are designed to run at 9v DC, center pin negative (The DC and center pin negative is essential). Some of them can be run at 18v (you can see a list of those in our FAQ section here). So, most power adaptors will be just fine. We don’t recommend specific ones, but any one made by a reputable company should be good. If you need to double check, or a second opinion, you can ask us or any gear forum, or your local store! There’s always a load of people willing to discuss power... 9v is the amount of power (voltage) the pedal takes to work under standard operating conditions so if you want to hear it like Brian hears it, run it at 9v. However, Tom Quayle uses his Dual Fusion at 18v and I find it works best for me at around 15v. 

What are mA?

Well, basically, this is how much juice your pedal is taking from the supply. This is the current. So, if your pedal takes 30mA, a 700mA adapter will be just fine. Anything up to the amount listed on the adapter theoretically will be good. You won’t melt a 30mA pedal down by putting a 700mA adapter in it, the pedal will just take what it’s needs and the rest is just not used. So, if you have 3 drive pedals; one at 30mA, one at 15mA and one at 25mA, your total draw will be 70mA which in theory still leaves 630mA ‘headroom’.

A simple way of putting it is that the voltage is the strength of the current and the mA is how much of it is used. Most plugs here in the UK have a 5A – 13A fuse in them, the US usually has 15A, so even if you are chain up a lot of 50mA pedals, you can draw tons of them at 9V until you start to run out of “headroom” from that plug. Hope that makes sense... 

*One thing though, I wouldn’t try to push the adapter to the limits, leave some room. I’ve heard it say that if you draw over 60-70% of the adaptors power, you might see a drop in basic voltage which will affect the way the pedal sounds.

What is center pin negative?

Well, the tip of the plug (barrel type, usually 2.1mm) that goes into the pedal has two connectors, one on the inside and one on the outside, the one on the inside is the negative and the outside is positive. Who ever thought this up was clearly insane, it would be better to have the hot part on the inside out the way, but there you go. All of our pedals take DC, if you put AC into it smoke will appear, you will hear a pop and then you’ll have to send it back to us to be fixed – and the smell… it’s horrible. Remember, it's the magic smoke in the pedal that makes it sound so cool, so if you put the wrong power in and the magic smoke is released then it won't work anymore!  We ensure there is protection inside each pedal if AC is put in, but all it does is limit the damage, it doesn’t resist it. So, please please please please do not put AC into the pedal! It’s highly unlikely that a warranty claim can be made due to incorrect power being applied.

What is isolated power?

Basically, it’s the process of separating the power from each circuit from others present in the signal chain. Some pedals disrupt others (especially if you mix up analogue and digital) so the best thing you can do is completely isolate them from each other. Now, I could talk for hours and hours and we’d just scratch the surface, but I’ll keep it simple. If you are running pedals that are friendly to each other (modern overdrives/distortions) you should be fine to daisy chain them together (providing the above criteria is met). However, if you stick a digital pedal in the chain noise can be picked up and amplified by the ‘gain’ pedals. During the episode of That Pedal Show, Dan said that this is because digital pedals dump a lot of noise on to the ground (I didn’t know this) – isolation will take that away and doesn’t allow a pedal to disrupt another across the ground. Some people call this clock noise, some digital noise… it has many names but the only thing you need to know it’s just not a nice noise at all and you don’t want it. The more you isolate, the quieter your board will be!

So, there are the basics of the power conundrum. This is just scratching the surface but it should give you enough information to keep you ticking over (but not with clock noise) and have a happy, yet quiet, pedalboard!

 

Breaking Out The Pentatonic - Pt 5

Lesson 5: Chromatic Scale

Breaking out of the pentatonic boxes doesn’t mean that you have to totally change the way you play guitar and start all over again, in fact, it’s very much the opposite! It simply means that you use your pentatonic knowledge as the foundation to build a more varied library of ideas.

In this lesson we look at applying the chromatic scale to the minor pentatonic scale. The chromatic scale is playing all 12 available notes, one by one, back to back! As you can probably guess, this isn’t the most beautiful sound out there and kind of sounds like the first thing a 5 year old does when they first pick up a guitar! However, in the right context, chromatics can sound great! Have a look at this diagram: 

In this fretboard we show the A minor pentatonic shape 1 with a few chromatic notes on the top two strings. The pentatonic notes are our safety notes, and the chromatic notes work out as ‘out notes or ‘tension notes’ that can be quickly resolved to the pentatonic notes. This is a good example of how to take a chromatic scale and break it into small, effective chunks. Have some fun with these ideas over any backing track, and you’ll quickly get the idea and be able to apply this to your own solos!

More about Your Guitar Academy!

Your Guitar Academy is the UK’s central hub for learning guitar. They offer an online subscription-based range guitar lessons called “YGA Pro”, as well as private guitar tuition in several parts of the UK including London. They welcome students of all ages and abilities looking to learn and improve, from complete beginners to experienced players. They’d love to hear from you!

From tone chaser to employee... Part 1.

I started out as a pedal addict from the time I started playing guitar at age 14, listening to Mike Einziger of Incubus, and his massive pedalboard made me intrigued at the number of sounds someone could produce just clicking on a little box on the floor. The pedal addiction lasted on through the years, starting with cheap pedals and slowly upgrading over time. I loved how with a relatively cheap (compared to amps or guitars) investment could radically change my sound on the fly. My first introduction into the boutique world was a modified Boss TR-2 tremolo from Robert Keeley. Getting that pedal made me realize that there were more choices out there than the standard Digitech, Boss, Electro Harmonix’s of the world. This lead to a spiral and me driving my girlfriend (now wife) crazy.

I learned about Wampler in early 2010 when I was on a hardcore Brad Paisley kick, dedicating all of my free time to learning his guitar tricks and solos. I stumbled on a thread from TDPRI that said something about a Paisley signature overdrive, and I immediately looked up the website. It was going to be a few months before its release, but I literally checked back to the Wampler site every day for months hoping to glean some more information on the tones it could produce and what features it had. I decided to go the Christmas route and ask for it from my Wife, who again is very patient with my pedal addiction. The minute I plugged into the Paisley Drive I fell in love. It was precisely what I had been looking for, and it covered way more than just Brad’s tone. At the time I was playing through a Marshall AVT150 or through a Hot Rod Deluxe. I found with the Hot Rod Deluxe paired with the Paisley Drive that I could get closer to the tone I was looking for, and quickly moved on from the AVT150. That was the tipping point for a long relationship with Wampler that is still ongoing today.

As mentioned above, I was highly active on TDPRI (the Telecaster forum) at the time, and somehow or another I made a cheesy graphic that expressed my love for the Paisley Drive, and I was recommending it to everyone under the sun because it was just my end-all be-all favorite OD. I received a message from someone, and at the time I didn’t know it was Jason Wilding, head marketing and graphics guy for Wampler Pedals asking what my favorite parts of the Paisley Drive were, and discussing graphics and all other sorts of nonsense. It turns out that the Paisley Drive was his first graphic design for Wampler, so there was a kindred connection metaphorically because the Paisley Drive was both our first introduction to Wampler and what created our friendship.  We chatted back and forth pretty regularly, and eventually became friends on Facebook a few weeks later. We talked occasionally, and he quickly became my source of GAS for all things Wampler. After getting the Paisley Drive, I had to get the Faux Analog Echo (come on, BP was using one!). After that came the Pinnacle and the Ego Compressor. The addiction just grew from there, and any spare money I had would be diverted to getting whatever new Wampler was coming out at the time, or one that I hadn’t acquired yet. The best way to describe it was that Brian was creating pedals that produced the tone that I heard in my head, and the controls were easy to dial in and self-explanatory, so I could find a useable tone within seconds of plugging in.

I became a true addict, eventually having an all-Wampler board, and still waiting and lusting for the next release. I frequented TDPRI still, and discovered The Gear Page in late 2011, early 2012. That’s what did it for me. I went into a trading and flipping frenzy that was borderline insane, at one point having one pedal going out and another coming in on the same day. I enjoyed the flipping and learning about each pedal and the trends brands took and what tonal secrets were enclosed in each box. My wife and I had just had a new baby, so time was limited playing so I spent most of my time learning and reading TGP and the ins-and-outs of various pedals. What worked, what doesn’t work. How pedal X was similar or different than pedal Y. I was on dialysis at that time (20+ years total, long story for another day). Essentially I had 5 hours of dedicated time where I was tied to a machine with needles in my arm that prevented playing guitar, so the next best thing was learning and absorbing everything pedal and amp related. I would scour the web for hours just reading and absorbing everything I could find. During this whole time however, I still maintained my love of Wampler, and I was the first person to suggest one of Brian’s pedals to any thread I could contribute to. Over time I got to know Jason better and even talked to Brian some on Facebook messenger, along with making friends with some Wampler artists along the way. My intent was that if I couldn’t work for them (only a faraway dream at the time) that I’d do everything I could to help and facilitate building the brand that I love so much.

Fast-forward to April 15th of 2014, my life changed more than words can express. That morning as I was heading out for work I received the call that there was a deceased donor that arrived at the hospital and and his kidney was the closest match they could find after me being on the transplant list for 14 years (and having 2 previous kidney transplants). I got the call, we dropped what we were doing and rushed to the hospital. Within 24 hours I had a brand new kidney, and I had been given a new medicine designed to treat my blood disease specifically (which to this day, has proven it works). April 17th of 2014 was my last dialysis to date. I preface this because it was the start of a shift in life towards the positive in every way.

Starting in late 2014, I had contacted Brian about a “Wampler Fan Club” on Instagram, and luckily he was open to the idea. I started posting pictures of players pedalboards featuring Wampler gear, basic GAS-inducing stuff that came to mind and just overall showcasing my love of the brand. During this time Brad Paisley had received a lo-fi delay prototype (The Wheelhouse) that I saw on Facebook and other social media outlets along with The Gear Page, and of course I bugged Jason to death with questions, including trying to bribe and bargain and being a general pain in the ass. I finally got the hint that it was still a prototype and that Brian wasn’t a fan of giving out protos because he prefers the pedal going to the players to be perfect. Luckily Jason had a tremendous amount of patience and knew I was just an over-excited tonechaser with a tendency towards addiction, haha. I continued growing the “Wampler Pedals Street Team” fan club Instagram account, and was attempting to coordinate with Jason to help the best I could (learning later on the other side that it was a double-edged sword, more on that later).

On my birthday in April, I woke up that morning and my wife had a surprise for me, and had my 3 year old little boy bring me a box. I had been asking for a Clarksdale (after having one and foolishly lending it out to someone and never getting it back) and I thought that’s what was waiting inside. The outer box looked familiar, and as soon as I opened it that familiar white cardboard box was staring me in the face. At the same time my wife pulled out her phone and started filming me opening the box, and I had no idea what was going on. I was shaking and nervous as could be (I have a love/hate relationship with surprises). I opened it up and lo and behold it was my very own personalized Lo-Fi delay, identical to the one custom made just for Brad Paisley, with the words “Special limited edition lo-fi delay prototype for Alex Clay”. On the inside was a handwritten note from Brian thanking me for all that I have done for the brand, and his signature on the bottom. I was speechless, and could feel my face getting redder and hotter by the minute as all of these emotions started bubbling to the surface. I somehow choked out a “Thank You” as I started tearing up a little bit, and luckily my wife stopped filming before I burst into tears of elation. I was beyond floored and couldn’t focus the rest of the day. I found out later after talking to Jason that he reached out to my wife and wanted to do it as a thank you and to celebrate my kidney making it to one year post-transplant. I think I told Brian and Jason and the team “Thank You” at least 1,000 times, and it still doesn’t seem like enough to this day. I plugged the proto in and it was EXACTLY what I was hearing on the Wheelhouse album. I’m still in shock thinking about it, and it is one of the kindest and heartwarming gifts I’ve ever received, and I’m eternally grateful to call Jason and Brian and everyone at Wampler close friends.

As the year carried on, I continued working with Jason, with him allowing me to help “reveal” some new product photos for new releases and helping to share the news of impending releases. Mid-June came along and with it a conversation with Brian that would set into motion things I had only dreamt about...

Gain Stacking – 101

When it comes to pedals, there are endless possibilities of combinations to create the perfect tone for the scenario that you’re in, whether it’s just jamming at home with a jam track or in a live band setting in front of a packed venue.

One secret to finding that elusive perfect tone is to use two dirt pedals stacked together to cascade your gain structure instead of just running a single drive pedal with the gain all of the way up, or running a dirt pedal into a cranked amp. There are several advantages to doing this, including extra control of the nuances of your EQ to how the gain reacts in terms of the bloom of the notes. Here are a few tips when configuring your stacking setup to maximize tone:

  • When stacking 2 dirt pedals together, the key thing to remember is that the 2ndpedal in the chain dictates the overall tone of the stack. What does this mean? Let’s use a tubescreamer and the Plexi Drive (JTM-45 style overdrive) as examples. If you run the TS before the Plexi Drive, whatever signal is leaving the TS is going to use the Plexi as a “gateway” of sorts. This means that the EQ and the clipping on the Plexi Drive will change the way the TS sounds. By nature the TS is mid-heavy, which is great for cutting through the mix. Once it reaches the Plexi Drive, the circuit itself will take that signal and adjust the frequencies it sees according to the knob position treble and gain positions. So if you have the mid hump from the TS, but have the natural light mid-cut from the Plexi Drive, that mid-hump will be less pronounced and the gain will just add to the overall level of saturation. This will give your gain a larger, “wall of sound” effect, while placing the TS AFTER the Plexi Drive, the TS will impart that more noticeable inherent mid-hump. If you have a favorite pedal that you like as your “base tone”, you’lll either want to put that last, or put a very transparent boost (even just a clean boost) after it.
  • Cranking the volume on the first pedal in the stack will not raise the volume, but will increase the clipping (gain) in the second pedal. When stacking 2 pedals, remember that volume before dirt = more gain, where volume after dirt = more volume. Again, the 2nd pedal acts as a “gate” and dictates the overall volume. Cranking the output of the first pedal will push the input higher and clip the signal harder. This will make a big difference, because if you want a volume boost for a solo, you’ll want to put it 2nd in the stack.
  • Using an EQ pedal after your drives can help better sculpt your dirt tones. When you add an EQ pedal into the stacking equation, your options open up tremendously, especially based on what EQ pedal you’re using. We live in the golden age of effects pedals, so there are loads of great EQ’s out there, some that just adjust basic 3-band EQ (Bass, Mids, Treble) and there are some that let you fine tune the exact frequency of the signal to add or cut whatever you want in your tone. Getting lost in the mix using a big muff? Crank up the mids a bit. Want a little bit of added depth in a smaller venue? Adjust up the bass frequencies to fill out the sonic canvas. This also applies when using the amp for dirt, by sticking the EQ pedal into the FX loop of your amp, then you have access to a boost and can adjust your amps gain tone to the closest detail to get that perfect tone.
  • Stacking dirt pedals into an already distorted amp can add a depth and level of saturation to your tone only capable from stacking. Players have been using this method for decades to achieve their signature tones on classic records. A favorite of many people has always been a Plexi paired with a TS, which is used to boost the mids for solos. Another stack that happens often is using a Fender amp on the edge of break-up, and a Klon-style boost/OD to kick it into the stratosphere. One of the most popular and widely known stacks revolves around running a cranked fuzz face into most any type of amp (especially Plexi-style amps). The fuzz face provides a thick, wall of sound that’s great for fat sustaining leads or for chunky rhythms.

The main thing to remember is there are no wrong ways to stack your gain! Some of the most surprising stacks may lead to the coolest tones. Don’t be afraid to experiment and create unique combinations that can fit any scenario you need, from two low-gain drives to provide a base tone that you can stack on more gain for solos, or a boost hitting a distortion for sustain and saturation galore.

A few fun Wampler-related stacks that work really well together:

  • Tumnus into the Pinnacle Distortion. It adds a low-mid presence that just punches through the mix and sustains for days.
  • Clarksdale into the Plexi Drive. Reminiscent of cranked Plexi tones that have an added presence and depth from the EQ shape on the Clarksdale
  • Velvet Fuzz into Plexi Deluxe.From tube driver-esque tones to full on Hendrix, this is the go-to combo for great classic fuzzy blues.
  • Tumnus into the Euphoria. The perfect yin and yang. The Euphoria sounds like your amps natural OD with a D-style amp feel, and the Tumnus’s low-mid presence and warmth creates a 3D tone that works for a plethora of styles of music.

There are a lot more out there. What are some of your favorite stacks?

Breaking out the Pentatonic, Pt 4

Lesson 3: The Harmonic Minor Pentatonic

Breaking out of the pentatonic boxes doesn’t mean that you have to totally change the way you play guitar and start all over again, in fact, it’s very much the opposite! It simply means that you use your pentatonic knowledge as the foundation to build a more varied library of ideas.

In this lesson we will be taking the minor pentatonic shape 1 and changing one simple element to create a whole new sound and scale shape. We draw inspiration from the darker sounding harmonic minor scale and replace the flattened 7th we normally use with the natural seventh. Before we get deep into theory, the scale shape looks like this:

The Theory

To create this scale we firstly worked out the harmonic minor scale, which looks like this

Harmonic Minor 

1st, 2nd, b3rd, 4th, 5th, b6th, 7th

The key difference between this scale and the natural minor scale is the 7th (which is b7th in the natural minor). Therefore, our concept is to take the minor pentatonic and replace the b7th with the 7th to create the ‘harmonic minor pentatonic!’<

Harmonic minor pentatonic 

1st, b3rd, 5th, b6th, 7th

This scale can be used over basic minor progressions, but be careful to use the 7th degree as a tension note, resolving quickly to the root or b6th. You can also use the scale over a harmonic minor backing track, which uses the notes of the harmonic minor scale to harmonise the chords. Basic examples of this would be to use a major chord on the 5 chord, rather than minor. For example, you could play Am to E major and use your A harmonic minor pentatonic perfectly over that. Have some fun experimenting with it!

More about Your Guitar Academy!

Your Guitar Academy is the UK’s central hub for learning guitar. They offer an online subscription-based range guitar lessons called “YGA Pro”, as well as private guitar tuition in several parts of the UK including London. They welcome students of all ages and abilities looking to learn and improve, from complete beginners to experienced players. They’d love to hear from you!

Breaking out the Pentatonic - Pt 3

Lesson 3: One String Pentatonic

Breaking out of the pentatonic boxes doesn’t mean that you have to totally change the way you play guitar and start all over again, in fact, it’s very much the opposite! It simply means that you use your pentatonic knowledge as the foundation to build a more varied library of ideas.

In this lesson we come at the idea from a different angle altogether! This time we are not altering notes or adding arpeggios, we are sticking with the same 5 note pentatonic scale as always, except playing it on one string! This idea opens up a totally different, more vocal, sound to the scale. To begin with here is the A minor pentatonic scale on the G string...

Your first task is to get to know this across the neck. Remember to try and visualise the 5 pentatonic shapes as you flow through them on this one string. A great exercise is to get someone to shout ‘stop’ as you go through the notes… wherever you land you should be able to play up and down the pentatonic full box, wether it’s box 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5! Once you’ve got that you can work on the technique.

 

Slides and Vibrato

To get the notes sounding almost vocal like, you need to apply some simple techniques. Start by using grace note slides. This is simply where you quickly slide from note to note, so that the note covers one beat, not two (see the video for more help). If you then apply some wide vibrato you will immediately have this more fluid, vocal sound. Here is a cool exercise to practice this:

This can take a while to perfect, but once you’ve nailed it on one string try to do it on another string in the same key, followed by actually changing key. Good luck!

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Lesson 2: The Major / Minor Pentatonic

Breaking out of the pentatonic boxes doesn’t mean that you have to totally change the way you play guitar and start all over again, in fact, it’s very much the opposite! It simply means that you use your pentatonic knowledge as the foundation to build a more varied library of ideas. 

In this lesson we will be taking the minor pentatonic shape 1 and changing one simple element to create a whole new sound and scale shape. We take the b3rd of the scale and sharpen to create a natural third instead. This essentially means that we have brought in a major element to the minor pentatonic scale, hence the name major / minor pentatonic. There are two ways to play this shape, which you can see here:

The Theory

In terms of how to use this scale, we need to understand a simple bit of theory. This scale uses the following notes:

Scale Construction

1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, b7th 

Within these notes we have major and minor elements. The root, 4th and 5th are all good in both major and minor, but the 3rd is major and the b7th is minor. Therefore the ideal chord and sound to use this scale is shape is a dominant chord. If you look at the chord construction of a dominant 7th chord you get this:

Dominant 7th chord

1st, 3rd, 5th, b7th

 So this works perfectly! As it works so well over the dominant 7th chord this scale is perfect for blues and funk, so jam away to those style backing tracks. If you are playing over a 12 bar blues, remember that this scale fits perfectly over the root chord, but not as well over the there chords… so just tread lightly as the track progresses!

More about Your Guitar Academy!

Your Guitar Academy is the UK’s central hub for learning guitar. They offer an online subscription-based range guitar lessons called “YGA Pro”, as well as private guitar tuition in several parts of the UK including London. They welcome students of all ages and abilities looking to learn and improve, from complete beginners to experienced players. They’d love to hear from you!