Three ghoulishly good guitarists


In the spirit of Halloween, I wanted to share with you three guitarists who are so good at guitar, it is downright scary. They make me want to put down my guitar and cower in the corner.

Tosin AbasiTosin Abasi

With his stylish attire and distinctive hair style, Tosin Abasi often looks like he belongs on the cover of a fashion magazine rather than a guitar magazine. But don’t let looks fool you. He is a world-class guitar player. Tosin does things on his 8 string guitar that are, simply put, freakishly hard. He invents new techniques to use the massive range of his instrument and continually surprises me with his amazing creativity.

Charlie HunterCharlie Hunter

Like Tosin, Charlie Hunter needs more than six strings to make his particular style of music: fusion. Charlie plays a 7 string, fanned fret guitar in a two piece jazz-fusion band where he simultaneously plays a bass line, a harmony part and a melody line. You just have to see it to believe it. Otherworldly.

Guthrie GovanGuthrie Govan

Legend has it that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, and in return the devil gave him the skills to play and sing the blues like no other. I think Guthrie Govan made a similar deal, but this time he asked for complete guitar mastery. Guthrie has the most comprehensive guitar skill set ever to be found in one human being. There is almost nothing that he can’t play.

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

What the greats have said about practicing.


Summer is almost over and many of us are starting a new routine at work, home or school. Our guitar practice often takes a backseat when our world is thrown into tumult. I could, and do, sound off everyday about the importance of practicing to help you get better. After a while, however, it sounds like white noise. Like nagging. Ugh, I don’t want to be that guy, so I’ll let some of the great guitar players make my case for me.

Joe SatrianiJoe Satriani:
“One day, when I was a teenager, I decided that I was going to learn every chord in a Joe Pass chord book I had. I worked on it every day; there’s no substitute for bonehead repetition.” – Guitar World

“…what’s helped me quite a bit is when I’ve said, ‘What song have I heard my whole life, but I don’t know what the chords are? What solo do I really love, but I’ve never actually played it?'”
– MusicRadar

Tommy EmmanuelTommy Emmanuel:
“Just play every day and sometimes record yourself and listen back. You’ll hear what you need to work on.” – Guitar World

“I always recommend practising songs every day. If you think that playing modes and scales is the answer, well, I believe you will get bored with that fairly quickly, so you must have challenging songs to practise. Songs inspire us and we need to be inspired!” – Acoustic Magazine

Larry CarltonLarry Carlton:
“Practice what you must. Play what you love.”
– Premier Guitar

 

Guthrie GovanGuthrie Govan:
“I think one of the important things is, as a young aspiring player, is to find out what excites them and what motivates them. It’s the music that moves you and excites you that inspires you to practice.” – YouTube

 

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

Five tips from a Valentine’s Day veteran


You love all things guitar. Your significant other, not so much. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I’d thought I’d share some tips I’ve learned from years of marriage on how to make life with a musician tolerable for your significant other.

1. Sound travels.
Yeah, this is obvious. But there’s another thing to remember: when you’re practicing, the sound isn’t so pleasant, especially to the non-musical. If you are practicing, try to do so in a manner in which no one can hear you. Wear headphones or save your practice time for when the house is empty.

2. Play songs that please
You are only be interested in learning music you like. After all, it is your hobby, right? Why should you learn to play anything else? Because your better half wants to enjoy your hobby too. The way to get them involved is to learn a song that they love and play it for them. But remember tip #1. Do not let them hear you practice it. When you’ve learned it, then perform it for them. This is especially true for songs that are near and dear to your significant other’s heart. The last thing you want to do is ruin the song for them forever because you played it terribly 1,000 times in a row while you were working out the kinks. Don’t let them hear you practice. When you are ready, invite them to listen to the finished product.

3. Stay tidy
Guitars and their gear are beautiful things, am I right? Wrong. It is likely that your significant other is not a fan of black tolex boxes or oddly shaped pieces of wood with wires strung across them. To us, they are amps and guitars. To them, they are eyesores. And don’t get me started on guitar cables. Keep your guitar, amp and gear out of sight as much as possible. If they must be on display, treat them that way: a display. Hang your guitar on a nice wall hanger above your amp. Put your cables away after you are done with them. Or best yet, designate a room to be the music room and do whatever you want, knowing that your better half doesn’t have to look at it.

4. Avoid getting gas
No, we’re not talking about what happens to your lower intestine the day after eating Mexican food. We’re talking about G.A.S.: Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Every couple handles their money differently, so I won’t give advice on that here. But trust me, if you come home with a $3,5oo Paul Reed Smith guitar without talking to your significant other first, you’ll be in trouble.

5. Guitar stores = worst place in the world
Never, ever utter this sentence: “Hey sweetie. Can we stop by the guitar store on our way home?” If you want to find a place on Earth that has multiple simultaneous examples of all of the sins listed above, it would be the guitar store. Brain melting sound from all directions? Check. Five people playing five different songs, none of which are your significant other’s personal favorites? Check. Guitar, amp and cable clutter as far as the eye can see? Check. Lot’s of temptations to buy that $2,000 Marshall amp you’ve always wanted. Check. You might as well say “Hey sweetie, can we hang out in a hoarder’s home and listen to five different radio stations at the same time.” ‘Cause that’s what it’s like if you’re not a guitar player.

Instead, just drive on past the guitar store, go to your significant other’s favorite restaurant, have a nice meal and pretend the thought never occurred to you.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Rather, the sentence you should say is “Hey sweetie. Can we drive past the guitar store and straight home so that we may keep our relationship intact?” That’ll be much safer.

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

TBT: “Surfin’ Bird”


Today, I’m wrapping my summer series of articles about songs that remind me of my past. I’ve saved the best for last.

Time: May 23rd, 2003.
Place: Route 40 near Cumberland, MD.
Setting: Stuck in horrendous traffic with my mom.

 

Every year, my family spends time at my grandfather’s cabin in rural West Virginia during Memorial Day weekend. It’s a great opportunity for all of us relax and catch up. My mother usually doesn’t go because space is limited, sleeping accommodations are less than ideal and, most importantly, there are bugs. But this year, she decided to make the trip with me. Big mistake.

The journey from Baltimore out west began wonderfully. I was driving and my mom was my only passenger. We chatted and listened to music and occasionally we’d remark on the every increasing amount of fog shrouding the road ahead. We were having a great road trip. That is, until we hit traffic east of Cumberland on I-68.

When I say traffic, I really mean parking lot. We were barely moving. That was very unusual out in western Maryland. I turned on the radio to try to find a station giving traffic reports. Turns out that people out in that part of Maryland are more concerned with scripture than with traffic because I found at least 4 different AM stations broadcasting christian sermons and not one giving traffic updates. What about a smartphone, you ask? No such luck. They haven’t been invented yet. Wow, I feel old.

Anyways, we decided to bail onto Rt. 40. Apparently, so did everyone else. Rt. 40 was also jammed up, but at least the traffic was moving. Still searching for a traffic report on the radio, we instead found an emergency bulletin: 85 car pileup west of Cumberland on I-68. Two killed and many more injured. All lanes on I-68 were closed in both directions. Holy smokes!

At that moment, it occurred to my mom that my 16 year old sister Jaime and her friend Rosie had left for West Virginia about an hour before we did. Was she okay? We needed to find out immediately. We tried to call Jaime with our cell phones, but the signal was too weak or non-existent. We pulled into a motel and asked to use their LAN line to make a call. This time Jaime’s phone rang, but no answer. We tried calling a half a dozen times with the same results. Perhaps she was in an area with no signal too. Or not. We didn’t want to think about the possibility that Jaime and Rosie were involved in the pileup. We were worried. Totally stressed.

As I was leaning against the window in the lobby of the motel, someone smacked the glass behind me. I jumped out of my shoes and spun around to see my cousin Bonnie and her husband Chuck laughing hysterically at me through the window. Man, I was boiling. Really pissed. Of course, Bonnie and Chuck had no way of knowing that mom and I were not in the mood for jokes. They just happened to see us from Rt. 40 as they were crawling through town on their way to the cabin. Once we explained what was going on, they offered to let us use their cell phone to try calling Jaime again. This time it worked. Jaime was okay. She was up the road a bit, also on Route 40. Relieved, my mother and I jumped back in the car and restarted our journed.

Now, all we had to do was drive past the accident and jump back on I-68. Easier said than done. The traffic was awful and our nerves were shot. We had already been in the car for 6 hours and we’ve only gotten about a third of the way to the cabin. We were primed for bickering and flaring tempers. But we kept our cool. We even laughed until we cried. Why? Because of one song from an oldies compilation CD that my mom brought with her: “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen.

At 1:08 into the song, there is the most ridiculous breakdown of any song I’ve ever heard and it saved our 12 hour road trip, a trip that should’ve taken 5 hours. We replayed that song countless times and everytime it made us laugh.

Everyone made it to the cabin safely that year, but my mom and I are the only ones who made it there with a smile.

In case you missed them, here are the previous articles:

TBT-1: “Epic”
TBT-2: “Baby Got Back”
TBT-3: “Sultans of Swing”
TBT-4: “Barbie Girl”
TBT-5: “Symphony of Destruction”
TBT-6: “Right Here Right Now”
TBT-7: “Crush”

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

Flying with a guitar


In 2013, My wife Pam and I spent a week on Water Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was amazing! Beautiful beach, crystal clear water, refreshing breeze and lots of sunshine. What more could a man want? Well, that’s easy: a guitar.

I missed my guitar. I was surrounded by beauty and yet I kept thinking about how nice it would be have a guitar with me. I didn’t bring one with me in 2013 because I’ve heard the nightmares about how airlines treat guitars. Since Pam and I aren’t well travelled, airports and their staff can be very intimidating.

Nevertheless, the regret was still there. So when Pam and I decided to return to Water Island in 2014, we vowed to bring a guitar too. This is the story of my first attempt to fly with a guitar.

The Preparation

Early on, I had some decisions to make. First of all, I had to decide whether I would bag check the guitar (as in, let it be stowed below deck with the other luggage) or try to carry it on with me in the cabin and store it in the overhead bin. After seeing what can happen to guitars when they are mixed with general luggage, I decided to try to carry it on. Besides, I didn’t want to spend the hundreds of dollars for an airline ready case.

Which guitar would I bring? Well, based on information that I found around the web, the smaller the guitar the better. I immediately thought of a Taylor GS Mini. In fact, when we were in an airport on our way to Water Island in 2013 I saw a guy with GS Mini walking through the terminal and kicked myself. So this year, I decided to purchase a GS Mini.

As luck would have it, Guitar Center had a used GS Mini in perfect condition for $300. They retail new for about $500. I couldn’t get the wallet out of my pocket fast enough. When I called Pam to tell her that I had just purchased a GS Mini, she laughed and told me that she was going to buy one for me as a surprise. Good thing she didn’t! We saved $200!

The GS Mini came with a nice gig bag. It would be my one carry-on item. Pam would be carrying on a small bookbag that is considered a personal item and can be stored under the seat. My guitar would be going in the overhead compartment. I hoped, anyway.

I printed out a US Airways policy for musical instruments and placed that in the GS Mini case. Their policy is clearly in my favor. My guitar should be allowed as carry-on.

I put extra strings, picks and the string winder/cutter in a Ziplock bag and put those things in our checked luggage. I didn’t want any hassles at the TSA checkpoint, so I kept any items that might confuse non-musicians out of the guitar case. Besides, the string winder/cutter would definitely be confiscated because it could be used as a weapon. That would be a terrible way to die, eh? Death by string winder!

First Flight

Pam and I had to take two US Airways flights to St. Thomas, U.S Virgin Islands and two flights back home. Our first flight took us from BWI Airport in Baltimore to Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina on a Boeing 737.

We got through the TSA screen with no problems. The GS Mini fit in the x-ray machine comfortably. We made our way to the gate and waited for boarding time.

Pam and I were boarding with the last group, zone 5. Trouble right from the start. If we’re last to board the plane, there may not be space in the overhead bins. Anyways, I tried not to worry about it.

Just before boarding was about to begin, a lady from US Airways announced that the flight was overbooked and that she needs volunteers to take a later flight and/or check their carry-on luggage. No way, not me sista! My guitar is staying right here with me!

The boarding began with, as my wife jokes, the Diamond Platinum Gold Encrusted Dividend Priority Package Members Union Club. After that, First Class, then Zone 1, 2, 3, and 4. Just before the called zone 5, our zone, they announced that the overhead bins were full and all carry-on luggage will be gate-checked. That is, the luggage will be carried down the jetway onto the tarmac and loaded manually on to the plane. Damn it! That meant my guitar too!

A gate agent came by and unceremoniously placed a tag (henceforth, this tag Tag of deathwill be called the “tag of death”) on my guitar bag as I stood in line waiting to board. Another gate agent told me to place the guitar at the end of the jetway. It would be stowed in the cargo hold of the plane and I could pick up the guitar when we landed in Charlotte on the jetway.

Well, that was sort of a relief. At least the guitar would be one of the last pieces of luggage in the cargo hold, which means it would sitting on top of all the other luggage. And it means it would be first to get off the plane. The less time the guitar spends down there the better.

But it also meant that when we land in Charlotte the guitar would be sitting on the jetway for about 10 mins for anyone to steal. At that point I just crossed my fingers and tried to relax.

Inspect the guitarAs I walked to my seat, one thing was clear, there was no room left for any type of luggage in the overhead bins. In this case, I understand why my guitar had to be gate-checked.

After we landed and I steppped off the plane, I immediately saw my guitar. With a smudge on the case! Oh no! What happened. I tried to act cool as I walked off the jetway. I opened the case immediately and inspected the guitar. Double oh no! There was a smudge on the guitar too, in the same place! Heart dropped. I wiped it with my thumb and the smudge wiped off easily. After inspecting the rest of the guitar, there was no damage. Phew! One flight down, three to go.

Second Flight

The second flight was on a Boeing 767 taking Pam and I from Charlotte, NC to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. We were boarding zone 4. A bit better than the first flight and the gate personnel didn’t mention being overbooked, so I thought things might be looking up!

Guitar in the overheadWhen our zone was called, I walked through the gate with my guitar and no one gave me a second look. As I walked down the aisle to my seat, a flight attendant jokingly asked if I was a “guitar man in a rock and roll band.” I said “you know it!” and tucked my GS Mini into an overhead bind. It fit easily. I plopped down into my chair and sighed with relief. Mission accomplished. For that flight at least. I knew we had two more to go, but no worries. All that lay ahead at that point was a week of fun in the sun.

My Guitar in Paradise

Having my guitar with me was amazing. I played it for a few hours on the only rainy day we had. I also took it to the beach a few times. I was sure to keep it dry and sand-free. It was nice knowing that I could pick it up any time I wanted. Pam even seemed to enjoy the aural dance of crashing waves and strummed strings. Bliss.



Third Flight

After a glorious week in paradise, Pam and I took a taxi to the airport and began our journey home. Just like our second flight, we’d be flying on a Boeing 767 between St. Thomas and Charlotte, NC. But this time we were clever: I purchased for $26 a perk called Priority Access. This allows me to board just before Zone 1 for both flights home. That means I’ll be one of the first passengers on the plane and most of the bins will be empty. I hoped it would guarantee that I’d be able to board with my guitar and place it in the overhead bin.

The boarding agent called the Priority Access passengers to the gate and I sailed on through, no problems. I stowed my guitar in the overhead bin and sat down. I high-fived Pam and settled in for the 3.5 hour flight to Charlotte.

Fourth Flight

Remember how clever I thought I was with that Priority Access thing? Yeah, total waste of money. Just after first class passengers boarded, the gate agent called Priority Access customers up to gate. With the confidence gained from the third flight, I walked up to the gate with a little extra bounce in my stride. But as I handed the boarding pass to the gate agent, I knew immediately that my guitar was going to be checked. With the scanning eyes of a Terminator, the gate agent immediately spotted the guitar and without hesitation told me that I have to gate check it.

As the gate agent put the tag of death on my guitar, I pondered my predicament. Firstly, I knew I was about to walk on to an almost empty plane. There would be tons of empty storage on board. Secondly, US Airways policy states specifically that musical instruments should be allowed to be carried on as long as the instrument meets certain physical criteria and there is space in the overhead bins. Check and Check. This should be an open and shut case, right? Well, no. I gate checked my bag without a word of protest.

Why? Because of a little wrinkle in my personality. I can be confrontational when I need to be. Certain specific factors, however, take precedence over my need to be understood. One of those factors is I don’t like to inconvenience others, especially strangers. So as I stood at the gate knowing that I had a right to take my guitar on board, I didn’t want to annoy the crowd of people that were standing behind me to get onto the plane. Simple as that.

empty binPerhaps next time I’ll be a little more comfortable with airport personnel and speak up, but not this time. I placed my guitar at the end of the jetway and made my way to my seat, passing one empty bin after another along the way. As more passengers got on the plane, I fumed at the thought of my fragile guitar sitting below in the cargo hold while more durable luggage was placed in the overhead bins. Not fair. Not fair at all.

I got over it, though. After all, my guitar was fine on the first flight, right? Just 80 minutes until I’d see my guitar again. And sure enough, it was unharmed when we landed in Baltimore.

Conclusion

I hoped that the only factor to my success was how early I boarded. But clearly, that is not the case. The other factor is an ever-present one: different people behave differently. Policies are made to create consistent responses to specific scenarios by which all employees should follow. But employees are just people, and people make mistakes or have other agendas that make them deviate from the policy. All US Airways employees treated me kindly, but the execution of their own policy was inconsistent.

After all of this, I say fly with your guitar, but do so at your guitar’s own risk. In some cases, like mine, the opportunity to play guitar on the beach was too good to pass up. And I’ll do it again.

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

TBT: “Crush”


Today, I’m continuing my summer series of articles about songs that remind me of my past. In case you missed them, here are the previous articles:

TBT-1: “Epic”
TBT-2: “Baby Got Back”
TBT-3: “Sultans of Swing”
TBT-4: “Barbie Girl”
TBT-5: “Symphony of Destruction”
TBT-6: “Right Here Right Now”



Time: March 1999.
Place: My dorm room in college.
Setting: Hanging out with my roommate Eric and my future wife Pam.

My wife Pam and I have been married almost 12 years. July 27th is our wedding anniversary. I remember that because it is 7/27. Or, 727, which is an airplane. I kid you not. I remember the date of our wedding anniversary because it is also the model number for a famous Boeing jet. If our anniversary was on, say, 6/21, I’d have no hope of remembering it. There’s no Boeing 621! Thank goodness for coincidences.

So yay for me. I can remember my anniversary. That’s one marital landmine that I won’t be stepping on. Unfortunately, there’s a whole minefield out there. And one landmine in particular is troubling me. I know it’s out there, waiting to blow my leg off, so to speak (I hope!). I just don’t where it is.

That landmine is “Crush” by Dave Matthews Band. I know it is our song. I just can’t remember why it is our song. I even emailed my wife and asked her “How did “Crush” end up being our song?” Upon reflection, I should have also said “I love you. Please don’t hate me for failing to remember important details about our marriage. You’re smart and pretty. And merciful. Yeah, definitely merciful. That’s what I really love about you: your mercifulness.”

Hopefully she tells me without detonating the landmine.

UPDATE: Here’s Pam’s response to my email: “Is it really our song? I feel like we don’t really have a song. I like Crush and I think you do too, but I can’t pin that song to a special moment or anything.”

So I guess neither of us are very clear on this matter. “Crush” is our song, sort of, but we don’t know why. Okay….

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

TBT: “Right Here Right Now”


Today, I’m continuing my summer series of articles about songs that remind me of my past. In case you missed them, here are the previous articles:

TBT-1: “Epic”
TBT-2: “Baby Got Back”
TBT-3: “Sultans of Swing”
TBT-4: “Barbie Girl”
TBT-5: “Symphony of Destruction”



Time: Sometime in 1991
Place: My bedroom shared with my brother.
Setting: Listening to the radio while in bed.

1150271_10201304813918341_1963011711_nThere was a time when my brother Ed and I were inseparable. As kids we’d do everything together, as brothers born 15 months apart are prone to do. Fishing, riding bikes, playing with our action figures, building forts — you name it, we did it. We were best friends. Then something curious happened: I went through puberty.

At 13, I suddenly became interested in girls and sports. Action figures and forts didn’t have a place in my life anymore. So, sadly, I left my little brother behind in pursuit of the ladies. I know I shouldn’t, but I still feel bad about that to this day.

581082_4159453020607_328742200_nBut before all of that happened, Ed and I would listen to the radio as we fell asleep. We shared a little 10′ x 12′ bedroom with twin mattresses on the floor. After breaking many box springs doing what boys do, my parents simply stopped replacing them. We’d lay in our beds and listen to 98rock as we fell asleep. I still remember the boombox. It was a ghastly eggplant color. One of the hit songs that year was “Right Here Right Now” by Jesus Jones. It was on every night that year, sometimes the DJ played it several times. We heard it so much that it became sort of a lullaby.

Shortly after that, my relationship with my brother changed. It changed because I changed. It’s the natural way of things I guess, but we haven’t ever been as close as adults as we were as boys. This song reminds me of the waning moments of that era and it makes me smile. And sad. Love you Ed.

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