Growing as a musician

I have been playing guitar for about 40 years, and have covered a lot of ground in that time. There have been several epochs of my experiences.

In the following text, I will dive into them, and share my experiences.

Epoch One – The Basics

I didn’t begin playing seriously until after I graduated high school. I had friends who played, and one of them “loaned” me a guitar to get started. It was a 1976 vintage Gibson Flying V, and it was far more awesome than I deserved. But it did get me started.

I took lessons. At this time, I was an Atari computer fan, and I ran a BBS, and one of the other local BBS’s (The Rat’s Nest) was run by someone who played guitar, and wanted to start teaching. I wanted to learn, so for $5 a week, I got a 1 hour lesson. I remember my first lesson, I learned how to tune, a few basic chords, what a “power chord” was, and came away with the main riff from the Scorpions “Rock you like a Hurricane”.

Over the next couple of years, I learned several songs, dove into some basic music theory, and learned the basics.

This is also when I was in college, and frankly, I used guitar as an excuse to not study, often spending 2-3 hours a day on the fretboard. If I can say so, I got fairly proficient, and my speed, dexterity, and improvisation got quite good.

During this time, I returned the borrowed Flying V, bought an Ibanez “V” that had a floating, non-locking tremolo (n.b. that fucker was IMPOSSIBLE to tune and keep in tune), bought a Crate 15 watt practice amp, and bought several distortion and other pedals, finally buying a Charvel Model 4 (made in Japan), a Gallien Krueger 250ML amplifier (same as my guitar teacher had), and got semi serious about playing.

Towards the end of this time (1998 or so) my lessons became little more than jam sessions that were worth the money.

Epoch 2: Out in the professional world

After I graduated from college, I began working. A lot. And that really ate in to my practice time. I tried really to keep it up, and throughout the 1990’s I mostly was able to keep at it.

I had bought a second amp, a Fender Super 60, a 60 watt all tube amp that was just amazing to play. But it was LOUD. Unlike most of the earlier Fender amps, that were more warm blues-y sounding boxes (note: that isn’t strictly true in general), this amp had a lot of flexibility. Great warm tones when I wanted to dial it back, a sharp edge when I scooped the mids and wanted to play crunchy heavy metal (and honestly that is where my heart has always resided), and when I fattened the mids, cutting the lows, and playing punchy straight up rock and roll, it could do it all. I still have it, although it is way too loud for my current playing setup. It lives in my garage, and one day I will find someone to donate it to, a rising musician who could use it to gig with.

This period was marked with stagnation. I still played, but I progressed little. I enjoyed playing, but it was second to the career. In this time frame though, I added to the stable. A 12 string acoustic (mainly to play More than a Feeling and the opening riff to Wanted, Dead or Alive (Bon Jovi)) and in the early 2000’s I bought a really good steel string acoustic guitar, a used Taylor 814 C, pre-electronics. Still have that, and it is still an amazing guitar to play.

Epoch 3: the ‘aughts

This is when my playing began to suffer. I started to travel for work. A lot. Averaging 8 weeks on the road out of 12, that makes it very difficult to keep up with the practicing, and my skills suffered. I was probably touching a guitar less than once a week. When I did pick it up, I just lapsed into playing things that were comfortable, familiar, and fun to play. All thoughts of improving my skills were fantasies.

But, this was the sweet spot for my career. Yes, I was traveling a ton. But I was also making good coin, and could afford to splurge on gear. In 2003 or so, I bought a Line 6 POD XT amp modeler “bean”. I think it cost me like $300 or $400 when I bought it, but it was amazing. Want to sound like the Van Halen Brown tone? Dial it up. Some David Gilmour sweet modulation effects? Yep. The classic Steely Dan sound? Sure. A pretty authentic Metallica (MoP era)? It could do it all. I had it plugged into the Super 60 power amp in, and it was a ton of fun.

Also, in 2005 I got a pretty sweet bonus, so I bought a used Tom Anderson (no relations) Guitar Works “Drop Top” guitar. Way better guitar than I was as a player, but it was super cherry to play. I still love that guitar.

When we moved from Tucson to Chandler, I cleared out several of my guitars. I got rid of the Charvel, the 12 string, and a couple others. Leaving me with just the Tom Anderson, the Taylor, and a student grade Takamine classical guitar.

Also, in this time I developed pretty painful arthritis in my left thumb. This made it less pleasant to play, and was yet one more excuse to not be serious in my regimen of practicing. (lame excuse, but it is the truth)

But the one unifying thread through this time was that I didn’t have time to really play, and my skills got ever rustier.

Fast forward to 2020, and the Covid era.

Epoch 4: Reinvigorating the Desire to play

One thing that never flagged was the desire to play. Time or no time, the dream was always there, and while I had forgotten a lot of what I used to know, I really wanted to continue to play.

When Covid hit, and suddenly, I was no longer traveling, and with the lack of commute (a benefit of working at home), I began making time during the day to pick a guitar off the wall, plug into the amp, and get serious about playing again.

Back to basics, scales, arpeggios, picking exercises, and I even cracked out my Guitar Grimoire to refresh my meagre knowledge of music theory.

You know, I learned two things.

  1. The skills do come back. I may not remember all the songs I used to know, but I was able to pick some of them back up by noodling. Others by grabbing the tabs.
  2. Playing regularly helped my arthritis. No, it isn’t gone, but the practice makes the pain less intense, and more tolerable. It is never going to be like it was when I was in my 20’s, but c’est la vie.

Additionally, I made some more changes in my gear. The Super 60 was retired to cold storage, replaced by a super versatile Orange Rocker 15. I wanted to keep int he Tube family, and this is a great little combo, 15 wats with built in attenuation so it get damn good sound at 1.5 watts to the speaker. Perfect for my home “office”.

I also really missed the Charvel. The Anderson is a great guitar, with a killer neck, but I fondly remember the mid 80’s Charvel, and I bought a new one, a SoCal Pro Mod in Robin’s Egg blue. The neck is just amazing. And my fear of the full floating Floyd Rose tremolo was misplaced. With the locking nut, and properly setup, it is almost perfectly stable, needing very little ongoing tuning (and the process of string changing wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated. It is my main guitar now.

Lastly, I am now becoming a pedal snob, building a signal chain that gives me some fun while establishing my “sound”. The PodXT got donated, and I am mostly playing through a reverb, an overdrive, and a distortion pedal. I have a couple of chorus pedals that I switch between, and a few others (delay, modulation, drum machine, and a looper) that keeps me having fun.

Final thoughts

When I began playing I was a gear hound, chasing a sound, the sound of my favorite players of the 80’s. Michael Schenker, Warren DeMartini, Randy Rhoads, EVH, and many more of my idols. I failed to duplicate their sound then, but that was more my lack of skill than the gear.

Now, I have my own sound, and I enjoy exploring with the palette of the tones and sounds that I have.

Who knows where I will go next?

Product Manager in Tech. Guitar player. Bicycle Rider. Dog rescuer. Techie.