Difficulty is an elusive shapeshifter. What seems hard for some may feel like second nature to others. Oftentimes, mastering a task or skill may seem like an insurmountable hurdle at the outset, but as we slowly acquire the knowledge and experience required, we may suddenly find ourselves accomplishing far more than we even dreamed possible only a short time before.
Take the guitar, for instance: many readers of this fine periodical are not only fans of music, but are musicians themselves and since there’s an editorial lean toward alternative country, Americana, roots, folk, blues, gospel, jazz and bluegrass… well, let’s just say it’s a safe bet that stringed instruments figure prominently as the weapons of choice among them.
Without exaggeration, I have worked with literally thousands of musicians over the years and I don’t recall ever meeting anyone who said that learning to play the guitar was easy. Certainly not at first. I mean, contorting your fingers into just the right places (that feel so very wrong), with the precise amount of pressure, without interfering with other strings, and doing it all in time with the other hand that’s dealing with a whole other world of things like strumming, muting, fingerpicking and God knows what else is. It’s a lot. But we work on it. We go to the proverbial woodshed and labor over it, fueled by the love of music and creation. As we do, we become inspired by those magic little moments, the glimmering slivers of tuneful beauty that flash and sparkle like sunlight through shallow waters.
Is it all worth it? Absolutely.
That’s really just the beginning though. For those adventurous souls that dare venture onward into the mysterious and often complex waters of electric guitar, it may seem like a vast ocean of possibilities. On one hand dark and unyielding, a bitter cold chasm bent toward swallowing us whole, while the other hand beckons us further into the unknown with the promise of undiscovered sonic panoramas yet unheard. The realm of the electric guitar is a tempest of electrons crashing against magnets as waveforms rise and fall, mutated, stretched, distorted and twisted into unrecognizable forms by tubes, transistors, circuits, computer chips and all forms of audio effects, from reverbs and delays to choruses and harmonizers. The purity of wood and steel is both randomly and systematically fouled, tarnished and otherwise stripped of its innocence in ways that can yield an entirely different beast of exquisite splendor; one that defies easy description or explanation of origin. These sounds are simply arrived at, through a combination of artistic rendering and inventive signal chaining.
I remember watching a friend of mine’s son playing electric guitar in a rock band, with a palette of extraordinary tones at his command. I asked how he’d come to be so accomplished at finding them all. He said, “I went out on tour for a couple of months and when I came back, he had every guitar effects pedal I’d ever owned spread out over the entire garage floor and connected together. He just tried out every conceivable combination.”
There’s so much more, though. Playing technique. Pinching harmonics. Manipulating whammy bars. Volume. Feedback. Amp tones. Single- coil pickups. Humbuckers. Guitar synths!! Oy, vey.
I’ll tell you what’s difficult, though. Trying to describe the GeoShred Pro v. 3.0 musical instrument (iPhone/ iPad, $24.99) from Wizdom Music. I mean I’ve had this thing for about a year and a half now and I absolutely love it, but I have not been able to put what it is and what it does into words that adequately describe it. I can tell you what it sounds like, which is a great electric guitar that rarely hits a wrong note. But sometimes it’s more of a sitar. You know what? I’m going to quote the company here. Not from laziness but more the pursuit of clarity. Please forgive me.
“GeoShred is a unique, expressive musical instrument, which models the physics of a real guitar and makes it possible for everyone to shred… using the diatonic playing surface! You can Shred the Blues and never hit a wrong note. Slide your finger in any direction and let the magic happen using a scale that fits perfectly against a backing track.”
There are a lot of graphic layouts of chords and or notes that fit within a key or mode. You simply touch the corresponding letter to sound the chord or note and bend to the next one by dragging your finger. Yngvie Malmsteen-like tapping is easily replicatable, with no bad notes! Goopy delay-drenched bends are arrived at with ease. Alternative tunings pair with sitar-like textures for incredibly authentic world music settings. You can pull some great vibratos with just a finger wobble. Fret scraping sounds are easily added. There’s a built-in arpeggiator to go in an even more synthesizer sounding direction.
In play mode, there’s easy access to and control over: Octaves, an X/Y pad that can affect tone, wah, vibrato depth, filter and more. A whammy bar. Vibrato+Filter. Palm muting. Stiffness/ Material/Filter settings which all affect harmonics in unique ways. There’s also full MIDI implementation, so integrating this thing into a professional studio environment is an excellent option as well.
I literally could go on and on, but the best recommendation I can give is that if you have an iPhone or an IPad, buy this thing and pore through the hundreds of presets available. For $25, you’re never going to run out of ideas, cool sounds or new directions. And glass is smooth, so no callouses!
Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent producer and recording artist (www.kaspro.com)