Despite the obvious nature of a tip like “you have to take care of your muscles” when playing a musical instrument like the guitar, I’ve recently been forced to really examine what my playing time to care time ratio has been like, and make some necessary changes.
Lately, and not for the first time, I’ve been dealing with a flare up of carpal tunnel syndrome, a situation where either genetic or environmental factors cause the median nerve in the wrist to get compressed, which causes numbness, pain, and is generally a gigantic pain in the butt to a working guitar player! Now, genetics we can’t do much about at home, but environmental factors we guitar players can certainly look at to prevent or deal with injuries, and so I write this with the aim of telling you how I’ve been managing my own muscle care in the hope that you’ll come up with a daily preventative action plan for your own guitar-playing muscles.
1. Fore-arm oil massages
It was only when going to a remedial massage therapist recently that I realised how much tension I carry in my forearms every day of the week. Now, I’ve been playing guitar a long time and if anyone has learned to refine and relax their muscles when playing, it’s me. But even still, the therapist took to my arms like a couple of thick steaks that needed some serious tenderising. She told me that usually the only people with forearms worked this hard are people in her own industry.
Using a little oil (cooking oil, massage oil, anything to lube up the hands and fore arm), you can tenderise the meat in your own arms by using your thumbs to really stretch out those outer and inner muscles of your forearm, honing in on any particular pressure points. Alternate between hands so that you don’t do further damage as massaging can be quite tiring. Work the wrists, the fingers of both hands, and spend at least 10 minutes in total. You don’t need to be a specialist to look after your own body, but if in doubt, see a massage therapist and take note of the areas they work on.
2. Shoulder, tricep, neck and back care
Stretching all of these areas before a practice session is essential. If you don’t know what to do to prepare these parts of your body, consult a professional, or even look up some stretching routines on YouTube. The problem is, we usually don’t make positive change until something goes wrong, or the time we spend stretching a little is disproportionate to the time spent playing.
Put together a little routine for yourself, and if your practice is going to be happening for extended periods of time, make sure you stand up and repeat some stretches or shake off any tension whenever you feel the need.
3. Maintain good posture
Years ago I learned this one the hard way by practising obsessively until I was so tired and hunched over the guitar that the neglect of my neck and back caused a painful tendonitis around my picking arm tricep.
4. Drink water in your practice sessions
It can be easy to get carried away and let the hours fly. Make sure you stay hydrated, eat properly and keep a snack nearby to keep you fuelled!
5. Use sports braces when injury strikes
Immobilising my wrists at night with some properly splinted braces has been a God-send for my carpal tunnel syndrome, so if you do need to take some time out for injury, heal those muscles properly with complete rest.
6. See a professional about injuries promptly
Chances are the odd thing will come up and it will pass with time and the right advice, but it’s best not to push things and assume that everything will go away.
Go to a doctor, not a guitar forum. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen guitar players asking a forum what’s wrong with their hands. A doctor doesn’t come and teach my students, so why would I treat their patients? ;)
If you’re a working guitar player, your arms are your income, and if you’re a hobbyist, your arms are your passion. Make sure the amount of care you give them is proportionate to the enjoyment they bring playing the guitar!
Chris Brooks is a Wampler Artist, working guitar player, educator and recording artist from Sydney Australia.
Five Things Your Pedals Wish You Knew About Power:
1. Your pedals don’t really know if they are running on a power supply or a battery. Every once in a while I get wind of a thread on some forum where somebody is waxing on eloquently about how pedals sound best running off a battery, as God intended. Some even go so far as to say that vintage pedals only reach their full potential on plain old-school carbon batteries … because, hey, those fancy-smancy alkaline types weren’t even around when the pedal was originally designed. Now, it may be true that a pedal knows how much voltage it’s running on, and weather there is enough amperage being supplied, but that’s about it.
2. Speaking of batteries, your pedals want you to know that a brand-new, fresh alkaline “9-volt” battery actually clocks in at an average of about 9.6 volts. If by chance you ARE running your pedals off of batteries, you should try to keep tabs on the batteries ACTUAL condition by checking it’s voltage with a multi-meter. A battery that checks at 9 volts is NOT “brand new”, and one at 8 volts is certainly NOT “nearly new” … more like on death’s doorstep.
3. Speaking of voltage … I also hear a lot about the benefits of running pedals at higher or lower voltages than what they are designed for. If the pedal in question is a digital pedal, then grab your hip-waders folks, cause you’re possibly stepping in some deep doo-doo. A voltage higher or lower than the design specs can fry the puppy! Now, if we are talking true fully analog pedals, sure voltage will change the sound. But, is that a good thing? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. A higher voltage on an old bucket-brigade analog delay, for example, may increase the signal to noise ratio a smidgen, while also boosting and cleaning up the output just a teeny bit. But the down-side is that you will probably be hastening the demise of your pedal. In exchange for about a 1% change in tone. In my opinion, not worth it! How about the other way around; less voltage? Here there MAY be a tiny bit of truth, but only in the case of a fully analog “dirt” box. Yes, if this were 1972 and you were using, say a Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face, the old carbon-zinc battery would be sweating bullets just trying to power the sucker. Remember that 9.6-volt figure I mentioned in #2? In the pre-alkaline days, that wasn’t the case. Walking into your local Ben Franklin’s five & Dime store to get your Eveready battery (the one featuring the cat with 9-lives), you would blow the dust off a “9-volt” with anywhere from about 6 volts to 9.6 volts. The designers of those old pedals knew this, and they usually designed accordingly. They would design a circuit that could tolerate up to, say, 10-volts, but something like 8-volts was the design spec. So, in the case of one of these effects, sure, a decent argument can be made for “browning” down the power supply to maybe 8 volts or so. Most any pedal designed from the 80’s onward though, no way! All you’re going to do by browning out your new reverb pedal is decrease headroom and you'll experience some signal clipping (usually, the unpleasant kind).
4. Again, speaking of batteries. Please, please remove the batteries from your pedals when not in use. If you haven’t experienced the destructive force of battery acid inside the closed environment of an effect pedal, consider yourself very lucky. It ain’t pretty. Nuff said.
5. So, I’m kind of not-so-secretly hoping that I’ve dissuaded you from using batteries in your pedals by now. Seriously, all it takes is one show ruined by a dead battery, or one pedal ruined by a leaking battery and you quickly join the battery-hater club! BUT! All power supplies are NOT equal. That bears repeating: All power supplies are not equal. Often, if someone is anti-power supply (pro-battery) it is because they have plugged their pedal into a power supply and experienced hum or other noise that was not present when operated on a battery. That’s because you can’t just go to the local electronics store and buy a generic “9-volt DC” power supply. Nor can you simply steal the power supply from your kid’s mickey-mouse sing along tape player to power your new dirt pedal. You MUST choose a fully shielded (filtered) and regulated supply that has been specifically designed for use in powering audio devices (pedals).
On behalf of every pedal you currently own, or will ever own, thanks for reading!
We are delighted that the Velvet Fuzz has been released today exclusively to PGS... I could sit here for hours and try to describe it's tone, but I think the best thing you would do is let Andy from PGS tell you everything you need to know in this amazing demo!!
You can order the Velvet Fuzz from here!
As musicians, most of us are naturally a little quirky and our pre-show rituals/warm ups can be anywhere from mild to extreme. Some swear by playing scales over and over for hours on end, soaking your hands in warm water, only walking backwards to the stage (I seriously used to have a drummer that did this). But, outside of the superstitious and weird pre-gig rituals – there are some very simple/ quick things you can do to make sure you kick off your gig with ease.
Warming up: So why do you need to warm up? I often tease Brian and Travis on the podcast or around the office – When asked about warming up - I reply: “Does a lion stretch before he takes down a gazelle?” While I might be hilarious..... The truth is – I do have my own warm up routine. The more I have played out professionally – the less strenuous my warm up routine has become. I used to warm up my hands with scales and finger stretches for an hour plus before the show, do some last second studying/ cramming of songs right before the gig – trying to pick up on those subtle nuances of the song that I might have missed.
The truth is – while hand stretches before the gig is a great idea – over stretching, or playing too much before the show can lead to hand fatigue later in the show. You definitely don’t want your finger/ hand strength to fail you in those last big string bends of your final song of the night. Today, I just make a good habit of doing some light finger stretching (maybe 5-10 minutes tops) right before a gig – just to make sure the old digits are good to go.
Know your stuff: Okay, time for real talk here - studying/ cramming for a song right before a gig is just no good. If you don’t know the song before the gig – you probably won’t know it during the gig. So – study/ practice harder at home. Practice makes perfect, perfect builds confidence – and confidence allows you to give the best performance you can give at your gig.
Tuning and Levels: This should be rule number one with any set up – but TUNE YOUR GUITAR!
I can’t stress it enough! TUNE TUNE TUNE! There is nothing more that fellow band mates and audience members hate more than an out of tune guitar. Your audience might not always be able to tell a run of the mill pedal from a high dollar boutique pedal – but most all of them can point out an out of tune guitar right off the bat. I usually check my tuning as soon as soon as I take my guitars our of the case, after I get my amp and pedal settings dialed in, and right before my band takes the stage. On pedal/ amps settings – make sure your levels are all set on your pedals and amp(s) before your first song. Usually – a quick sound check will help with this – but I’ve been in some bars were patrons are eating and club owners do not want to disturb them before show time. I keep a small log of settings for my gear at each place I play – so when I come back to that venue I can quickly adjust my settings.
So whatever your pre-gig ritual is – make sure, you at least – loosen those fingers a little, know the material, and makes sure your guitar is in tune! The rest of the gig you just have to make sure the drummer keeps decent time, the bass player shows up, and the lead singer stays semi-sober enough. What are some pre-gig rituals you do before a show?
Today would have been Les Paul's 100th Birthday. Les sadly left us on August 12, 2009. However the amazing legacy that he left behind, which is his famous Gibson guitar bearing his name, is still creating music that is enjoyed- the world over. Happy Birthday Les!!!
I get a lot of emails on how upgrades on ways to upgrade a Strat. Where I usually always like to start is the tremolo block. Most of the time – these blocks are thin and made out of zinc. The main issues with a block like this is that is thin and has very little mass to it – which often times puts a hamper on your string’s sustain.
In replacement a tremolo block – you have a couple of options for block materials. The 2 big ones are Steel and Brass. Steel blocks in my experience can brighten up a darker guitar and add sustain. Brass Blocks can actually do the opposite and darken up an overly bright guitar. I set my amps up kind of dark and I use the neck pickup a lot – so I typically favor steel blocks. Here is an example of the 3 types of Tremolo blocks. (Example: Brass on the left, Steel center, and stock Zinc on the right)
There are a lot of great companies that make fantastic replacement/ drop in tremolo blocks. I’ve used several – you can do your research and find out which one works best for you. My personal favorite is Callaham. Great parts – and I use a lot of them in my Strats! They can be pricey though – and if you are on a budget - Guitar Fetish makes a great one that is super budget friendly.
After you install the block you just need to reinstall your bridge/ saddles, springs, re-intonate/ setup your guitar – and let the tone begin! This is a fairly simple project for those of us who take a DIY approach to our guitars.
Note: Different Strats have different string spacing – make sure you order the correct block with the proper spacing for your guitar. If you feel uncomfortable contact your local luthier to install your tremolo block for you.
Circuits to Cure Cancer is a group of guitar pedal builders, retailers, reviewers, and musicians who have donated either their products or their time to help raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Please take a minute to look around the website to see some of the fantastic people/companies that have been involved in making this event possible.
From May 30th-June 7th, a series of guitar effects pedals will be auctioned off with 100% of the proceeds going to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Last year they raised over $30,000, and this year is looking even more promising already. You know you want to purchase guitar pedals, so why not help children in need at the same time?
This year we are honored to contribute 3 pedals for auction. Check them out! https://reverb.com/shop/circuitstocurecancer/effects-pedals?id=circuitstocurecancer&product_type=effects-pedals&make=wampler&ships_to=#
Ok ok – I’m not that smart – but seriously - Strings!! Which ones are the best and which ones should you play? This is a subject that is just about as diverse as how to pick your pick…. While there is no right or wrong answer parse – I just wanted to share with you my two cents – and hopefully it helps a little. If not – I’m sorry?
Gauge: So the bigger the gauge the better right?! Coming from the school of Stevie Ray Vaughn – I always thought big strings = big tone. When I tried to make the jump from .11 gauge strings (a respectable heaviness) to the mighty .13s – I learned a stiff lesson (pun intended.) My bends weren’t quite what they used to be and after 1 set – my fingertips resembled something that looked a lot like hamburger. (not the delicious kind either.)
Quickly I found out that thick strings aren’t for everybody. As I delved deeper in in to the metaphoric rabbit hole- I also learned that great tone could be achieved with much lighter gauge strings. Guys like B.B. King and Billy Gibbons were using much lighter gauge strings and still getting their tonal point across. (A great guitar set up helps a ton!) So what is right and what is wrong? Only you can decide that one. While bigger strings can produce a bigger tone – play the gauge of string that is comfortable and makes you want to play everyday and won’t murder your fingers after the show.
Coated vs. Uncoated: Aside from the cost, coated usually being way more expensive, what’s the big deal? Lots! Because of the coating on coated strings – dirt and grime usually doesn’t build up on your strings – increasing the longevity of life of the strings. Coated strings usually sound “fresher” for longer periods of time. Some players would beg to differ – saying the coating prevents the string from ringing as true as an uncoated string. I see both sides of the coin – but my personal preference is a coated string between 10 and 11.
I’m a big guy and sweat a lot on stage and usually after a long set – my fresh, uncoated strings are shot. They also feel harder under my fingers after a full 4-hour gig. With coated strings, I can get a couple more gigs with them before I feel the need to change them. In my personal opinion they also feel a little softer under my finger and ring just as true as an uncoated string.
So which string is best for you? Whether it is a light – medium- or heavy gauge string – coated or uncoated – this manufacturer or that manufacturer – only you can really decide what is best. I encourage you to try out different brands of strings of different thicknesses and see which one feels and sounds the best for your rig.
Today is a day of remembrance and mourning for blues players and music lovers the world over - as we have lost yet another music Legend.
Riley King was born on a cotton plantation near Indianola, Mississippi in 1925. He received his first guitar when he was 12 – and the rest as they say – is history.
The impact of his soulful voice and his powerful playing has been a true inspiration for generations of musicians across all genres of music. With just one, stinging, vibrato filled note -B.B. could touch his audience’s heart – and they would know exactly how he was feeling – happy or sad. It’s because with every performance and every carefully selected note – B.B. King bared his soul and passion for his craft - and we were lucky enough to have witnessed it. The World was lucky enough to have him for 89 fantastic years – and for that I am truly thankful.
Rest in peace B.B. King – music would have been a lot different without you.