It’s time to hydrate your guitar.

It’s December. The leaves have fallen, 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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Guitar String Sounds Out of Tune with Itself: SOLVED!

Ever play a note on one string and it sounds like two out of tune notes played together? This video teaches you how to resolve it.

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My Gear

I occasionally get asked about my rig and why I chose the gear that I have so, here’s a video to help explain it all:

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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!

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Rocksmith review for beginning guitar players.

There have been lots of reviews that analyze the pros and cons of Rocksmith as a game. You can find those collected on But how effective is Rocksmith as a learning tool? What can Rocksmith teach a beginning guitar player? That’s what I’m going to answer in this article.

Before I break down what you, the beginner, will learn from Rocksmith, let me give you some general pros and cons that aren’t specific to Rocksmith’s educational effectiveness.

Rocksmith’s general pros and cons.


  • The supplied cable is well-made and easy to connect to both your guitar and to the console.
  • The interface is clean and clear. Navigating through the menus is easy and intuitive.
  • The note tracking is remarkably good, especially for individual notes.
  • The sound quality of the emulated amplifiers and effects is excellent.
  • There are lots of tutorials explaining exactly what you should do and how to do it. These tutorials appear in-game as you encounter new gameplay elements.
  • The mini-games are fun.
  • Most importantly, there are lots of great, licensed songs to play along with.


  • The graphics are dull. They do little to add to the excitement of playing on stage in a band.
  • Rocksmith doesn’t always hear the chords you play properly. There will be times when you play the chord correctly and the game does not register it.
  • There is a short delay between your physical attack on the string and the resulting guitar sound coming from the speakers. This lag can be minimized by using analog connections to your TV and speakers rather than HDMI. That can be a huge inconvenience for some and it doesn’t resolve the lag completely.
  • The tutorials occur too often after you’ve learned the concepts they teach. For example, the tutorial for the Bending Technique Challenge will appear before the challenge every time you try it, even if you retry the challenge back to back. That gets old quick.
  • You are forced to check your tuning constantly. I understand that proper tuning is key to tracking the notes you’re playing, but I wish Rocksmith would monitor the tuning during the songs and only prompt you to re-tune when it detects notes that have gone out of tune.

Beginners: what you’ll learn from Rocksmith.

Rocksmith tries to appeal to several audiences at once. It wants to be relevant to intermediate players but still be accessible to beginners. Although it is fun and educational for beginners who know the basics, unfortunately it leaves behind players who have never picked up a guitar before.

Basic essentials like how to tune your guitar, how to hold the guitar, how to hold the pick, how to pluck a string, alternate picking and how to fret notes are glossed over in a series of brief tutorials. There are nuances to all of these concepts that need to be fleshed out for the beginner to feel comfortable.

Also, technical details are left out. It is never made clear that your guitar’s volume knob needs to be turned all the way up for the game to “hear” what you’re playing.

Overall, I feel like absolute beginners will feel overwhelmed with this game. If you are an absolute beginner, I recommend learning some basics before jumping in to Rocksmith. But if you are comfortable with the essential concepts listed above, you’ll have fun and learn a lot.

You’ll learn:

  • How to tune your guitar. You tune up so much in this game you’ll be a tuning expert!
  • How to play positionally, that is, keeping your hand stationary and using each of your fingers to to find the notes. The game encourages you use one finger per fret and tells you when to move your hand to a new position
  • Lots of techniques, including slides, bends, hammer-ons, pull-offs, trills, tremolo picking, etc. Rocksmith has lots of special technique challenges that focus on each technique to help you hone your skills. There are also mini- arcade style-games that make the learning even more fun.
  • Lots of songs! Rocksmith is all about performing complete songs during shows in increasingly more posh venues in front of a virtual crowd. You’ll spend time between shows learning the songs needed in the upcoming show, as well as any techniques that are specific to those songs. There are more than 50 songs to learn, not including any downloadable songs that will be available after launch.
  • How to practice. Rocksmith gets you to practice songs before performing them. It sounds obvious, but a big part of learning guitar is learning set aside time to practice. Rocksmith’s story mode encourages you to practice each song in the upcoming show beforehand rather than trial by fire during the show itself.
  • Good timing. You’ll learn that hitting the right note isn’t the only requirement for playing well. You also have to hit the right note at the right time and hold it for the correct duration.
  • Chords. As you get better, the game will automatically increase the difficulty and have you play chords instead of single notes in many places. You’ll learn the name of the chords and how to play them.

You won’t learn:

  • The nuances of the basics. There’s specific subtleties to every technique that just aren’t covered. For example, Rocksmith never tells you to keep your fretting fingers low for single notes and high for chords.
  • How to read music. Heck, you won’t even learn how to read TAB, the ubiquitous and easy-to-read form of guitar notation. You just learn how to identify colored blocks with strings and frets. That means that you’ll have to learn TAB or standard notation in order to learn songs outside of Rocksmith.
  • Note names. Rocksmith never introduces you to any note names whatsoever. Knowing note names on your guitar is essential to becoming a complete musician, but Rocksmith avoids note naming altogether. Clearly Rocksmith remembers that this is a game after all and note memorization is about as fun as learning to play the glockenspiel.
  • How to get your gear to sound like it does inside of Rocksmith. There are a lot of cool tones in Rocksmith but there aren’t any tips for recreating that sound with real gear.

Rocksmith does an excellent job of helping you move from the beginner phase into the deepest stages of intermediate-level guitar playing. You’ll be comfortable with all of the essential techniques and you’ll learn lots of songs. Most importantly, you’ll have fun during the learning process. But absolute novices beware. If you don’t know the basics, you’ll get frustrated quickly. For the rest of you, Rocksmith is a fun and highly educational game that will teach you how to play the guitar at a level much higher than you are now.

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

Dr. Z Brake Lite Attenuator review

I am really pleased with the sound of my Blues Junior after performing my sweet BillM mods this summer. It has improved bass response, punch, and clarity, yet it still has one flaw. It’s too damn loud.

For me, the optimum sound, or sweet-spot, has the master knob at 12 and the volume knob around 4.5, with the fat switch off. At that setting, the Blues Junior pushes aver 116 decibels of volume. My ears can’t handle that much volume in my little 12′ x 16′ studio. I needed to find a solution.

Initially, I dismissed the idea of an attenuator because I’ve heard horror stories about their terrible sound. In the guitar world, an attenuator is a device that soaks up some of the power to be sent to the speaker so that it doesn’t sound quite as loud. Conventional wisdom says that attenuators invariably leach the quality from the tone. Consequently, I was resigned to buy a new amp for day-to-day use, relegating the Blues Junior to gigs.

But a new amp is expensive and it sounds different than my beloved Blues Junior. So, I decided to find out for myself, once and for all, if attenuators were the evil tone-mosquitoes that they’re made out to be. After doing some research, I found Dr. Z’s Brake Lite. Many forum posts claimed that it was the most transparent attenuator around. For $170, that’s way cheaper than a new amp, so I gave it a try.  The results are impressive. The video below will make you a believer too:

The fully-attenuated sound is very much identical to the unattenuated sound. For this particular attenuator, I can safely declare that the notion that attenuators are tone-killers is a myth. My amp is way quieter and sounds just as good. If your amp is too loud, attenuate it!

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Blues Junior Billm Mod with Audio Samples

I love my Fender Blues Junior. My parents gave it to me as a Christmas gift back in 1999 and became my first tube-driven amplifier. It has a beautiful clean to slightly overdriven tone that I’ve never tired of. But….

…despite its glassy yet smooth tone perfect for classic rock and blues, the Blues Junior isn’t without its flaws. After playing other amps of equivalent size, I started to notice that the Blues Junior didn’t have enough low-end punch. Although it features a 12″ speaker, it didn’t produce the bass that I thought it could. I didn’t know that there was any way to fix this flaw, so I lived with it. Until now, that is.

I found Bill Machrone’s Blues Junior Modification website. Known simply as Billm by many of his fans and customers, Mr. Machrone offers modification kits to anyone savvy enough with a soldering iron. The kits include electronic components such as capacitors, resistors, potentiometers and the like, as well as instructions on how to install them in your Blues Junior. Mr. Machrone’s site promised improved bass response. That’s what I wanted, so I performed the modifications found in Billm’s basic mods kit with the help of my father.

I couldn’t just perform the mods and let my memory of the old sound compete against the high expectations of the new sound. I’m too much of a nerd for that. I wanted to capture the sound of the Blues Junior before and after the modifications were completed.

I used my loop station to record a 20 second guitar riff used it to record 5 different amp settings before I modded the amp. By doing so, I removed performance differences from the equation. Then, I performed the modifications and re-recorded that same riff with each of the five amp settings. Here’s what I recorded:

Test 1 – Before the modifications:

Test 1 – After the modifications:

I started with the treble, bass and middle knobs set to exactly midway through their sweeps. I felt this setup would give us enough gain to sound good and also allow plenty of room to crank the knobs for later tests. Notice that the master and volume knobs are set to a modest level. I’m not interested in a high-gain distorted sound until the very last test. As you can hear, the bass in the “before” example is weak, while the bass in the “after” example is very strong. I could hear the difference immediately.

Test 2 – Before the modifications:

Test 2 – After the modifications:

For test two, I turned the bass all the way up. Yes, the knobs do go to 12. That’s two higher! Anyways, even with the bass cranked, the “before” example sounds like a little guy trying to sound like a big guy. The “after” example is strong and probably too powerful for my tastes, but it is nice to know that I have that kind of extension in the bass now.

Test 3

Test 3 – Before the modifications:

Test 3 – After the modifications:

In test three, I cranked the treble all the way up. I wasn’t expecting to hear much of a difference since Billm’s mod kit didn’t say anything about the treble side of things. Earlier in this article, I used the term glassy to describe the Blues Junior’s un-modded high-end and I’m glad to hear that the added bass in the “after” example has buffed the jagged burrs right off the treble. The highs are now crisp and smooth.

Test 4

Test 4 – Before the modifications:

Test 4 – After the modifications:

For test four, I cranked the mids all the way. Of all of the before-and-after comparisons, this is the least noticeable.  Although the “after” clearly sounds better because of the bass, the mid-range has that same nasal sound in both examples.

Test 5 – Before the modifications:

Test 5 – After the modifications:

Test five shows why there can always be too much of a good thing. I cranked the volume, which saturates the preamp stage with gain, and left the treble, bass and middle knows at 12. I also backed off on the master know so I could keep roughly the same output volume as the other tests. The distortion in the “before” example has a clear articulation to it, while improved bass in the “after” example simply muddies the sound up. In this case, the “before” example is better but I could easier get a more focused distortion sound by rolling back on the bass and mids a bit.

The modifications improved the amp’s sound much more than I could have hoped. What fascinates me is that the modifications were purely electronic. I still have the same speaker and cabinet, just different capacitors and resisters in a few places. Amazing.

I enjoyed performing the mods so much that I ordered a presence control and a new input jack. I can’t wait! Thanks Mr. Machrone, you rock.

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