Sweaty Spice, the other Spice Girl

More on the music theme. By the time I was in my early teens, I had become infatuated with music. This was the mid to late 1970's and I skipped the trendy Disco era (dafuq was up with that?) and went straight to the classic and album oriented rock direction.

I listened to a lot of radio, and growing up in the SF Bay Area, we had several titans of the airwaves battling it out daily. KOME, KSJO in San Jose, and a slightly less edgy player in San Francisco KFOG. All three of them played the greatest music.

Late in my High School life, I decided to take up Guitar. This was circa 1982, and back then it was a lot tougher, for a variety of reasons.

Reason 1 - Starter instruments, well SUCKED

Most kids were lucky to get the Montgomery Wards, or Sears "starter" package. That was a lousy guitar, with terrible action, the cheesiest pickups, and a bargain basement amp. These cost probably $450 or so at the time, and it was a price that parents might be willing to spend on a lark for their kids to test the waters.

The problem is that they sucked so bad, that many kids gave up before they really got into it. High action of strings, low output of the pickups, and a muddled amp with just horrible response can make it impossible to just groove.

The highest quality...

Fortunately, today life is tons better for those just getting started. Both Fender and Gibson have budget lines, the Squire, and Epiphone sub-brands that even at the cheapest are pretty decent quality of build, and more importantly, they play well, and sound decent. Sure, there are some compromises, and they are made in southeast Asian factories, but they are good.

Add in a $60 - $70 guitar tech setup (any decent music store can do this) and it will be an outstanding platform to start on.

Additionally, while the majors have low priced introductory amps, there are some really great, cost-effective options out there. Check out the Line 6 Spider practice amps. For a couple of Benjamins', you get a lot of tonal variety, modeled effects, and a sound that can make playing "fun".

When I started, I had to buy plenty of stomp boxes (pedals) to get an acceptable sound out of my mediocre Crate practice amp. That was hit and (mostly) miss, and a huge waste of time and money.

Kids today have it so much better. And that is a good thing.

Reason 2 - Where (how) to learn

I began just as the leading edge of home video technology was the VHS tape. Sure, there were some videos, but the standard definition quality coupled with the fuzzy VHS format, well, that really wasn't a good avenue.

To learn, you really needed an instructor. Someone to teach you how to tune, how to fret the basic chords, how to do simple, common scale, and exercises.

This meant finding a teacher, and traveling to their site weekly, and in between a lot of practice.

If you wanted to learn a song, you brought your teacher a cassette and they would figure it out for you.

Or, if you wanted to learn a song, you bought a book. A book of songs. I have lots of them. Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Ozzy Osbourne, Michael Schenker, and many many more. You wanted a single song? You bought the whole book. Sorta like buying an album. Most rock albums at the time had one great song, one ok song, and the rest was schlock.

A songbook to learn from

You learned to read tablature (string/fret notation) to get riffs. If you were classy, you bought a book or two on music theory (I had a couple of the Grimoire tomes) to understand the structure. But mostly you just played, learning to fake the parts that were beyond your skills, and had a great time.

Today, you have the internet, GuitarPro, online, HIGH QUALITY tabs, Youtube for lessons, and literally boatloads of ultra high quality DVD's to teach you anything from the very basic to the most advanced, in just about any genre.

It is so much better today than it was. I am jealous, but not resentful.

Reason 3 - Recording

Back when I was growing up, you could record on a boom box or a simple Panasonic cassette recorder with the condenser mic, and all the headspace of a cassette.

If you were rich and fancy, you might have bought a Tascam 4 track (that recorded 4 independent tracks on a single cassette tape) with microphone in and a simple mixing board.

The mighty Tascam Porto 02

To make the next step back then cost mega $$$$ and it was truly out of the reach of hobbyists.

Today, your phone, plus an app, and an audio input hardware dongle (or a laptop) and you can get 8 or 16 independent channels, software driven plug-in effects, and a huge library of sampled beat and instrument tracks to play against.

It is possible for almost no money today to record a demo that sounds amazing.

It is truly revolutionary. Hell, the bundled Garage Band app on the cheapest Apple Mac computer is worlds better than anything that was available even at the high end 40 years ago.

Reason 4 - The Effects

The 1960's saw the birth of electronic analog effects, with wah, phasers, and some simple circuits that the innovative players of the time leveraged to great effect. The tape loop of the echoplex, the octavia that Hendrix used, the leslie cabinets that were used to great effect by Jimmy Page all come to mind.

In the 1970's they all became smaller, and more reliable. Brands like Boss, Digitech, DOD, and Ibanez all produced some iconic stomp boxes. In the early 1980's rack mounted effects became a thing, and players like Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen had racks and pedal boards to route and shape their signals and sounds. This was the era of digital effects, in its infancy.

In the late 1990's the advent of fast DSP (digital signal processing) technology and great software began, and the modeled effects processor was born. Dominated by Line6, there are plenty of other players, and they all provide amazing flexibility, great sounds, and very cost effective ways of shaping your sound to your style.


I have a Line6 PodXT "Bean" and I have to admit that the plate metal setting just touches all my inner hair-metal god desires.

Ironically, the old 70's and 80's "vintage" stomp boxes are making a comeback, and are fetching pretty high prices on eBay. Too bad I sold, donated, or gave away all mine long ago.

Summary

If you are looking to learn a bit of guitar, there is no better time to get into it. $500 will get you nicely situated with a decent entry level (and very playable) guitar, and the free sources of learning and instruction are at your fingertips. Whether you want to emulate your childhood heroes, or blaze a new trail, there has never been a better time than the present.

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