New toys always help with motivation. My birthday will be tomorrow (yes yes, I know, ‘happy birthday, Shelby.’ ‘Why, thank you.’ Now, moving right along), but we celebrated this weekend.

Friday night, I went out with my dad.  He basically gave me cash, but had also given me the option of, instead of cash, getting me a guitar. The Guitar Center by his house actually had several lefties, and he is very into me learning guitar. I think he’s living vicariously through me a little. He apparently always wanted to learn. Back at the very beginning when I’d decided to start on my guitar journey, he told me my grandfather was teaching him and my uncle when they were teenagers, but my father was also a football player, and ended up damaging his finger badly enough that that became sort of ancient history.  My uncle did learn though, and I suppose taught his son, because my cousin is actually a rather good guitarist.

So, when dad and I last spoke, he asked if my guitar was any good, and at the time I was using the castlerock and the rogue, so I said ‘not really, but it’s a good student-level guitar’.  Since then, anyone following this blog knows I’ve sold them on for various reasons and replaced them with guitars I expect to have for a very long time. So, while something like a dreadnought acoustic might be a nice addition eventually, when I’m more competent, my hellcat and my exit 22 are plenty for me for now.

Still, since I’ve never been into a Guitar Center, he wanted me to get to look around. There are no large music shops in my immediate area. Sam Ash is about half an hour away, and turning in and out of their lot is a nightmare.  Guitar Center is about 40 minutes.  There are a few smaller shops that I know of closer to home, in Keyport and Red Bank, but to varying degrees, the selection is very limited. I wasn’t about to turn down the ability to wander around a guitar shop that I don’t exactly have local access to when I’m 10 minutes away from it. Besides, I could tell Dad really wanted to see me leave our birthday get together with a physical thing.

We did wander and look at all the guitars and they actually had multiple options for lefties, which I have not seen at other stores yet. Wandering, and not looking very closely since I wasn’t planning on another guitar, I saw at least 2 electric lefties (neither of which was the stereotypical black strat, but I one was a tele), and I saw 3 acoustics, though I know there was a 4th I somehow missed. Dad apparently called ahead, and was told about a Fender, a Martin, and a Taylor. While there, I saw the fender, taylor, and an Ibanez but somehow missed the Martin. They also told him about a Yamaha they could order in a lefty, which makes that the store with the most lefties I’ve seen in my area, and probably one I’m going to end up at if/when I decide on growing my collection.

They had a fair ukulele section, though really nothing particularly exciting, and I got to see an acoustic-electric Luna up close that was not a lefty, but I know is made in a lefty.

I did not, however, notice even a single left-handed bass. They may have had one, but I didn’t see any in my browsing. I did see my bass, in a righty, hanging on the rack for $30 more than I paid for my lefty, which makes me kind of happy because it means I got a good deal.

Still, I knew I was going to get something, since we’d made a special trip, and I knew Dad wanted to see me with an actual, physical present, so I picked the VOX headphone amp for guitar. (They were sold out of the one for bass), and I’m putting the rest of the money aside,for my next big purchase, which will either be a ‘fancy, grown up’ bass, or to feed my art hobby and finally get myself a good tablet. I’m currently undecided.

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I’m not going to review the Vox, because really, who hasn’t? Sufficed to say, I’m happy with it. It serves it’s function quite well. There’s a faint static noise that irks me when the knobs are adjusted too high, but so far I haven’t heard an amp that I can’t say that about. I don’t need the knobs adjusted high on a practice device regardless, so I’m quite happy with it. Sometimes I can be up until odd hours of the evening practicing.  Other times I just don’t feel like bothering to move my practice amp to plug it in (unavoidable until I get rid of the dresser that takes up half of my bedroom), but want to get used to the sound of my electric guitar being electric.

Funny thing, when I got together with Mom the following day, she’d bought me the same one. It’s unavoidable really, since I had to pick something at a time when I don’t really need much. She’s going to exchange it for the bass one, so whether I get that once she gets to the store, or for Christmas, I can mark it off my list.   I’m kind of curious if the guitar headphone amp would work for an ukulele, too. Not that I need it to really but, in the name of science, you know.

Also, from mom, I got a Marshall Practice Amp to replace my $20 Rogue.  I have nothing specifically against the Rogue. For $20, it’s awesome, but in overdrive, the static is pretty epic. I’ll likely list it for sale and pass it on to another student. I can’t think of any reason I need to 10W practice amps.

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Marshall MG10CF

This one wasn’t really a surprise. Mom had me at Sam Ash last month some time since we were in the area, and told me to pick things out. I’ll be the first to admit that i know fuck all about amps. I know I don’t need anything big or fancy at this stage, though, so assumed a budget in the ballpark of $100 would be more than enough for someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing. I also know Marshall is a reputable brand. I was bouncing between the Marshall and a small Orange amp, and I’ll admit that in the end I chose the Marshall based on pragmatism alone: it was on sale – the last one, and a floor model. That made it a good deal when compared to the Orange, which was being sold at full retail value. I don’t see a reason to spend more money than I need to, even when it’s not mine.  Did I make the right choice for me? Who knows? If I’m honest, it seems that most of the bands I love favor Orange amps, and I know I like the sound of them. But, Marshall is a good brand, and for a practice amp I really don’t think there’s any reason to be picky unless there’s something about the amp you inherently dislike. So, I doubt that, at this point in time, it’s really possible to make a wrong decision. Between Marshall and Orange, both seem like good choices especially when most of the time they’re just going to be hanging out on the bedroom floor. I’ve tested it a bit, and it seems to work out just fine, and gets more than enough volume for my needs.  Static on overdrive? Yes, but I’m starting to think that’s just the nature of the beast with guitar amps (I also have weirdly sensitive ears, so if you don’t hear static on your guitar amps, you likely won’t hear it here.)  It’s less noisy than the rogue, which is really all I wanted for now.  I’ve only had it since yesterday afternoon, so have not developed any detailed opinions yet. I was fiddling with the headphone amp more yesterday. I like the sound deafening effect headphones have, since roomie has the TV going just about 24/7.

So, I have some new guitar toys, and have decided to finally get my butt in gear in guitar-land and actually learn a full song. I sat down for a while last night with old faithful (Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door).  It’s funny, because everyone says this is an easy song, but I sort of feel like it’s a song that can be made as easy or as complex as you want it to be. If you listen to the orignal Dylan recording, there’s a lot of empty space, the pacing is nice and slow.  But, there are a countless number of versions of the song, and there is plenty of room to play with the strumming. That’s where a beginner can get hung up, because you can hunt the internet for ages before you can figure out what strum pattern is the original strum pattern.

This is the best lesson I’ve found if you’re looking for one that stays true to the original:

It’s acutally a really good, easy to follow lesson…that my hands seem dead set on ignoring.  It’s the pauses. I wonder if this happens to all beginners – playing slow is actually harder. I keep adding extra strums because my hand wants to keep moving. I’m certainly not staying true to the original yet.

But, even so, as I was working on the song, the roomie walks by and goes ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door?’  I won’t lie – I did an internal dance of joy that he named the right song. It means that whatever insanity I’m up to, at least it’s recognizable.

(Note: the guitar in the recording is the Fender Hellcat. The strings are absolutely in need of replacing, which I will be doing as soon as I finish writing this post. That said, the screw ups in the clip are pretty horrible. Full disclosure.)

The last time I was trying to play something and he asked what it was he THOUGHT he was being really helpful like “hey, ‘They Saints Go Marching In!’ (I don’t actually remember the song. He was trying to be positive, though….), and I kind of drooped. “It’s ‘O Sole Mio’, badly, with me missing half of the notes, granted.’ So, my guitar playing must be improving if he’s actually recognizing what I’m working on, right? Right.  I’ve decided to be optimistic.

But, I’ve also decided, as much as my beginner brain says ‘I want to learn the original. I can get creative once I have that starting point.’  The reality is that the reason more advanced players give really useless advice on the subject of strum patterns is because there’s a point at which the brain just turns off on worrying about the minutiae. That you hit a point where you realize there are a TON of strum patterns you can use and still have a recognizable song, because, really, the only people who will notice you’re not playing the original pattern are other musicians. More casual listeners honestly don’t seem to notice.  So, I think there’s the beginning of a mental shift happening, but I don’t know whether or not I should try to delay it or not. I’m clearly just improving on the places where the original recording has a hesitation. On the one hand, I just want to do whatever, as long as the song sounds like itself, so I can finally say ‘I know a full song for the guitar!’ But, on the other hand, there is a pacing in this strum pattern that I am clearly missing, that I should obviously be working on because I can’t replicate it precisely.  I just don’t know at what point fussing about precision is not useful to moving forward. Do you choose to focus on the details to master them, or do you just push forward and trust the universe to give you those epiphanies when you’re ready? The line between those two things is pretty gray. I haven’t decided where I am in that gray zone just yet.

Until Next Time, I’m pushing forward…with new toys to fuel my passion.

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