Christmas Gift Ideas for Musicians

Every year at Christmas, I look forward to getting some new music equipment. I give my wife a detailed list with part numbers, websites and prices so she knows exactly what to get me. I also price stuff from $1 to $200, just to be realistic.

Some ideas to get the musician in your life would be:

:: Guitar Picks
:: Guitar Strings
:: Effects Pedals
:: Guitar Straps
:: Tuner
:: Cables
:: Microphone
:: Drum Machine
:: Headphone Amp
:: Mic Stands
:: Ebow
:: Flat screen monitor
:: Headphones
:: Guitar
:: Drum equipment
:: Tamborine/other percussion stuff
:: Software plugins
:: PC equipment
:: Outboard gear
:: Guitar stand
:: Keyboard/synth stuff
:: Cool lamps and stuff to decorate the studio

These are just a few of the things I’m asking Santa to bring me. I’m sure there are more than I forgot, post some in the comments if you have any good ones.…

10 Steps To Changing Guitar Strings

If it is your first time changing all your guitar strings at once, you might feel a little overwhelmed. Once you’ve done it a few times though you will be an old pro.
steps to changing guitar strings. This is how I personally change my strings every time. Note the trick I use to keep from having to re-tune my guitar over and over again after changing my strings.

Here Are The Basic Steps To Changing Guitar Strings:

1. Gather All Needed Supplies

This will usually include: anew set of guitar strings (duh!), something to trim the strings with, a rag to clean with, a string winder and a comfortable chair (or a carpeted floor if you are a bit of a klutz like me).

2. Put Your Guitar In A Secure Position

Make sure you aren’t going to drop or scratch the guitar while changing the strings. Laps can be good if you are steady but often it is easier to do on the couch, a carpeted floor or even if you have a leftover piece of carpet or a thick blanket to pad it, the kitchen table.

3. Remove all of the old strings

Remove all the old strings from the guitar and throw them out. My wife hates finding old strings laying around the house cause I forgot to throw them away. Do your wife, or mom or sister a favor and get rid of those rusty old things.

4. Clean The Guitar Before Putting On The New Strings

Now is a great time to clean all that grime from the fretboard and to get into places that you can’t normally when the strings are on. Try to get as much dust, dirt, and crud out now.

5. Put On The Strings

Put on the new strings one at a time. Make sure they are laying in the saddle and nut properly.

6. Tighten To Half Tension And Pull! (This Is A Personal Trick That Keeps New Strings In Tune The First Time You Tune Them Up)

Only tighten the strings to roughly half tension for now. Now put one finger across the nut to keep the strings from popping out and grab one string with your other hand right around where you would strum it. Pull away from the body. Do this up and down the string a few times. Do each string individually. Stretching the strings like this will keep them from having to be turned over and over again when you start playing. Don’t be shy, you can tug pretty hard without hurting them.

7. Tune Up!

Now tune up to regular tuning

8. Rock Out!

Play something with lots of hard strumming and bending, this should put the guitar a little out of tune and get the rest of the slack out of the strings.

9. TuneUp Again

Tune up one last time

10. You’re Done!

That’s it. Now instead of having to re-tune 3 or 4 times within the next hour, your guitar should stay in tune pretty well.…

Guitar Picks

I liked this site a lot. Really fun looking stuff. Anyway, they had a few guitar pick sites that I thought were pretty interesting. Wow, I’ve sunk to a new low…I’m finding guitar picks interesting now.

The first was Hot Picks. They had some “scary” looking skull picks. Which I thought were pretty lame. I did, however, like their motion picks. They change images when you move them. Like pogs. Remember Pogs? Hot Picks had designs like the alien head breaking open, the shark attack, burning skull, etc. You get the jist. I also like their website.

The second was the Pickard. Captain Pickard? No, it’s a credit card with four picks cut out. You’re supposed to carry it in your wallet for an “emergency.” What? Just in case the last minute, late night, back alley, guitar showdown breaks out?

You can even put the picks back after use. That’s not a bad idea. There are a few different designs to choose from. Skulls, flags, panther, hamburger, rising sun, Jesus, Canadian flag, etc. Their site doesn’t ever give the price…which leads me to believe they’re overpriced.

Pickard’s website kinda cracks me up, there is a “Look Who’s Talking” section with band testimonials. They have such legendary bands as Crunchy Frog, Another Man’s Trash, and The Morsels talking about how Pikcard rescued them with an emergency pick. Classic.

Check out Pickard and Hot Picks, they are both worth the surf over.…

How to Record Better Vocals

Here are a few tips for recording vocals:

  • Make sure you have a quiet isolated room. Make sure you don’t hear the computer, air conditioning, heater, traffic, family noises, etc.
  • Put the mic stand on the carpet and cover your music stand with a towel to avoid reflections.
  • Use a shock mount. Don’t let the singer touch the mic or mic stand while recording.
  • Have the singer maintain a consistent distance from the mic while singing.
  • Make sure there is no bleed from monitors in the control room.
  • Make sure the singer is in a comfortable, private singing environment.
  • If your room is very live, put up some carpet, rug or towels on opposing walls to create diffusion.
  • Find the mic that works best for your voice. Test all of the mics you have to find your favorite.
  • Make sure you have decent lighting. You don’t want too much natural light. You want enough to be able to read the lyrics, but you also want to create a comfortable mood.
  • Have your lyrics and a pen handy for the singer to jot notes.
  • Check the headphone mix, make sure the music and the vocals mix well to create excitement for the take.
  • Be familiar with the song, so you know exactly where the parts go.
  • Keep notes on the session. You want to know what tracks are keepers, etc.
  • Have the singer record a scratch track so you know where everything goes.
  • Have the singer listen back to everything on the monitors so he can get an idea of what things “really” sound like.
  • Sometimes you might need one side of the headphones off so they can hear themselves. Sometimes different headphones may help.
  • Make sure the mix in the headphones is dry and not too loud.
  • Use a tiny bit of compression when recording vocals.
  • Have some water or tea to keep the singer’s voice from drying up. Never beer, pop or anything carbonated.
  • No smoking while recording vocals.
  • Keep things fun and upbeat.
  • Move on if something is taking more than 4 or 5 takes. You don’t want the singer to get tired.
  • Use a pop filter.
  • Chop everything up into small parts. Don’t expect the singer to record the entire song. Break it up into manageable sections.
  • Punch in as necessary to fix parts.

Using these tips when recording vocals will ensure a decent vocal track and a happy singer.…

Home Studio Building Blocks

These are the building blocks of your home studio. The following should be your main focus when you begin.

Your Room

The main thing to focus on when building your home studio is your room. Do you have a nice quiet place that that doesn’t echo or emphasize certain frequencies? You don’t want to record everything in a bathroom or concrete basement. You want a dead room. You can always add reverb later, but if your room is too live, you will end up with unwanted frequencies that you can’t remove. Put up some carpeting or blankets if you have to.

Microphone

Next you’ll need a decent microphone. Luckily the prices of mics have dropped considerably. You can get decent mics now for around $100. You can even get by with one microphone if you have to. Although, a stereo pair would be better.

Mixer

You need to plug your mics into something like a mixer or an audio interface. The mixer will provide power to your microphones and lets you adjust levels, pan, and EQ. Make sure you get a mixer with at least 4 inputs. Even if you only have one mic now, you will probably need to plug in multiple things at one time in the future.

Audio Interface

Once you’ve got your mics set up with your mixer, you can adjust levels and make a great mix, but you still need a way to get the sound into the computer. You’ll want to get a professional audio interface. The audio interface lets you connect your mixer to your computer, and it handles the conversion from analog audio signals to the digital signals that your computer needs. Don’t rely on the soundcard that came with your machine. Spend some money here.

Computer

You’ll need a decent computer to record with. I’m not a Mac guy so I’ve always used PCs. They are much cheaper and can be just as good as an expensive Mac. Get something with at least 80 gigs of hard disc space. You’ll want as much memory as you can get. And something with a fast processor. Nothing else really matters.

Monitors

Don’t rely on your crappy computer speakers for monitors. You’ll need to spend a little money here as well. Get something that is designed for monitoring. Stereo speakers may emphasize certain frequencies and make your mix inaccurate. Make sure you listen closely and test any monitors before purchasing. Monitors may sound different to your ear. Find something you like.

Headphones

Get a decent pair of headphones. You will be wearing these a lot, so make sure you find something that is comfortable. Something that covers the entire ear. Also, make sure that they sound good. Test a few out, find what sounds best for you.

Software

Last but not least, you will need some sort of software for recording. If you ask other home studio guys what they use, everyone will tell you something different. Everyone has their own preference. There are some for under $100 and there are some for much more. Try a few demos, find what’s easiest for you to use.

The first things you should buy are a decent mic, mixer, audio interface, monitors, software, headphones, and a computer. With just these items it is possible to make professional sounding recordings, depending on how your room sounds. Don’t skimp on any of these items, these are the main tools you’ll be using on all of your recordings. You can always add more stuff as you go.

A home studio is a work in progress, but if you start with decent equipment, making great sounding recordings should be a breeze.…

Keep Your Guitar Clean

When recording in the home studio one of the most overlooked things is keeping your clean guitar. This will help reduce fret buzzing and any other extra noises created by bad strings and a gunky fretboard.

It is very important to clean your strings and your fretboard often. This will make your strings last longer and you won’t need to change them as often. Plus it will feel a lot better when playing.

Something as simple as wiping your strings down after playing your guitar could make a huge difference. There are also a ton of products made for extending the life of your strings, but some of these can get a bit expensive and personally I’ve never had to use any of them.

Look at your guitar, are your strings really dirty, caked with gunk? You might have to look on the underside to see all the icky stuff that has built up on them. If your guitar strings are built up with gunk, change them immediately. Once you have the new strings on your guitar, be conscious about wiping them down after playing. You’ll be surprised how much longer your new strings will last.

Another thing to avoid is playing your guitar after working on your car or digging in the garden. If you have dirty hands, your strings and your fretboard will get dirtier faster. I know it sounds like first grade, but make sure you keep your hands clean before you play.

Check your fretboard. Is there gunk and dirt built up? I recommend cleaning the fretboard everytime you change your strings. I also clean the gunk around my frets every time I change the strings as well. Just use a damp cloth or a guitar cleaner to clean the fretboard. Don’t ever use steel wool or anything that will damage the finish of your fretboard.

I also use a dry cloth to clean around my pickups every time I change my strings. I don’t like any extra stuff on my pickups, strings or fretboard. After I change my strings, I give it the “white glove test.” If I have time, I also give the body of my guitar a good polishing. I hate fingerprints!

Anyway, by now you think I’m completely anal about keeping my guitar clean. I am. It is pretty simple. Basically, just wipe down your guitar after playing and clean the fretboard when you changing your strings. Doing this will prolong the life of your strings as well as keep your fretboard from building up gunk.

A clean guitar is a happy guitar.…