It’s time to hydrate your guitar.

It’s November. The leaves are falling, the days are shorter and, much to the dismay of your acoustic guitars, the air is crisp. That’s right, your guitars hate the fall and winter. Why? They can die of thirst.

Your acoustic guitar needs about 45% to 55% relative humidity to remain healthy and free from potential harm. Fall and winter weather here in Maryland brings drier air. To make matters worse, the heat from our furnaces sap the most of the remaining moisture out of the air. Unless you have a household humidification system, chances are the humidity levels inside your home will drop to below 20% during the fall and winter months.

So, what happens when your guitar dries out? Wood is an organic material that needs to be hydrated. When it dries out, it shrinks and becomes brittle and prone to cracking. Repairing a cracked guitar is a complicated and expensive process that rarely brings the guitar back to its original condition.

Your best bet is to avoid letting your guitar dry out in the first place. Here are some tips to help keep your acoustic guitar healthy and happy:

  • Install a hydrometer (a device that measures relative humidity) in your guitar room. When it consistently drops below 45%, it is time to take action.
  • When that time comes, buy an Oasis or D’Addario guitar humidifier and use as directed. Each of these products releases moisture into the air in a manner that is safe for the guitar. The guitar will happily drink the moisture that is released.
  • Keep your acoustic guitar along with its humidifier in the guitar’s case. The humidifier works much more efficiently in the enclosed space of the guitar case than it does sitting on a stand.
  • When you are playing the guitar, keep the lid closed on the guitar case. That will help keep the humid air in the case from escaping.
  • If you suspect your guitar is severely dehydrated, consider bringing it into the bathroom with you as you shower for a week. The steam from the shower will help rehydrate the guitar. Immediately return the guitar to the case after your shower.
  • When spring/early summer rolls around, start monitoring the hydrometer. When it consistently reads humidity levels above 45%, you can release the guitar from its prison and keep it on a stand for the rest of the summer.

Here are some additional resources:

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Learn a new way to play an A chord

Learn a new way to play the trusty old A-major chord in this video.

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Best place to find backing tracks

Sometimes it’s hard to get a group of musicians together and play as band. Well, it’s darn near impossible. But if you want to play in a band setting, what do you do? Well, you get some backing tracks. They are like karaoke for guitar

Backing tracks are great for so many reasons. Generic jam tracks are useful for practicing your improvisational skills and backing tracks for real songs help you fine tune your playing over a favorite tune. I use backing tracks every day, and here’s where I get them:

Free Guitar Backing Tracks
This is a great site for finding free, user-created backing tracks for your favorite tunes. There are often several versions of each tune to choose from and the quality ranges from iffy to fantastic. The library of backing tracks covers most of the standards, but don’t expect to find deep cuts or obscure bands here.

Guitar Center’s King of the Blues
I stumbled upon this treasure trove of blues backing tracks a few years ago. Guitar Center hosts a contest to find the next blues guitar hero and they provide links to a few dozen free backing tracks so contestants can practice before the competition. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to be a contestant to download them.

Jam Track Central
The backing tracks you find here aren’t free, but you get a lot of mileage out of your dollar. You get a high quality backing track, another mp3 of a pro player — like Guthrie Govan — improvising over the backing track, and a transcription of that solo. Often times you also get a video of the pro player’s performance so you can really get a good look. Jam Track Central is a very good site.

Justin Guitar
Justin Sandercoe of not only delivers quality guitar lessons from across the pond in England, he makes some damn good backing tracks too. His backing tracks are often titled in a very descriptive way, including key and genre. You can buy his backing tracks on iTunes.

If ownership of the backing track isn’t important to you, just access to it, you can use YouTube. There are lots of backing tracks for a variety of keys and genres.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

5 tips for playing barre chords

If you’re a beginner, there’s no denying it: barre chords suck. They are hard to play and worse yet, they’re everywhere. Barre chords stand between you and countless songs that you’re dying to play but can’t.

But don’t — wait for it — fret. I’m here to help. Check out these five tips for playing barre chords.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

Question: How hard should I be pressing the string against the fret?

Here’s a question that I was asked today from my student Paul:

“How hard do you press on the strings? When I watch you play chords, it seems like you are barely exerting any force at all, and I seem to be mashing the strings?”

To me, it feels like I’m barely exerting any force to get the chords to ring out nicely. That’s because, after years of practice, my hands are especially conditioned to play guitar. Since my hands are more conditioned to play guitar, it takes less effort for me to play chords than it does for a beginner.

As a beginner, you probably feel like you have to press pretty hard to get a clean sound. Beware, however, that sometimes beginners press harder than they need to. Try backing off on the pressure a little bit. If the strings start to buzz, than apply slightly more pressure until the buzz goes away.

You should continually monitor your finger pressure and relax as much as possible until the buzzes start to creep in. You’ll find that as you mature as a player, you’ll need to exert yourself less and less.

Why is it so important to press the string only as hard as you need to eliminate the buzzing? Here’s why:

  • It helps you move quicker. Guitar playing requires moving fluidly from one note to another. You can’t do that effectively if you’re tense.
  • It helps you sound better. The harder you press a string, the sharper the note gets. That makes you sound out of tune and that’s makes you sound bad in a hurry.
  • It helps you play longer. If you over-exert, your hand will cramp or fatigue faster than it should.

One more note: keep your fingers as close to frets as possible. The closer the fingers are to the frets, the less pressure it takes to make the notes ring true.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

Slash chords

Recently, I’ve had several students ask about slash chords. The question usually sounds like this: “What the heck does this chord mean: C/G?”

That is a slash chord. Before I answer the main question, let me point out something we all take for granted. When we see a chord, C for example, we correctly assume that the root of the chord will be used as the bass note. In this case, a C will be the bass note in the C chord as outlined in black:

C chord

Now, lets look at the slash chord C/G. The note to the left of the slash is the chord’s central tonality, in this case a C chord. The note to the right of the slash is the note that will be used as the alternate bass note, in this case G. That means we have to use find a G that is lower than the C that we’d normally use for the bass note. The alternate bass note can also replace the root if a lower-pitched alternative can’t be found. The C/G chord would look like this. Notice the G is now the bass note in the C chord:

C chord with G in the bass: C/G

So there you have it. A slash chord is used when you are playing something other than the root in the bass. Simple as that!

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

How to change strings on an acoustic guitar

Learn how to change strings on an acoustic guitar by watching this video:

A special thanks goes out to my wife Pam for shooting the video. I think she did a fantastic job!

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit


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