A few weeks ago, I introduced Rocket Yard readers to my new goal – to learn to play electric guitar. If you read the linked article, you know "why" for my new hobby. In today's article, I will outline "how" – in other words, the equipment and methods that I use to achieve my goal of learning guitar.
I could have made a surprising number of novice guitarists in my age group (60s) like to do, which is spending a lot of money on a guitar that rocks their idol. Who doesn't want a custom Fender Stratocaster or a 60th 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard? Between limited funds and the idea that it is probably better to get something that reflects my skill level, I started searching for a beginner guitar.
An article I found had a list of the top 10 electric guitars for beginners in 2019, so I read it from end to end (after also picking up some electric guitar types) from other sites. There was a wide range of novice guitars, so I finally focused on what Music Critic chose as the best value for beginners – the Yamaha Pacifica Series PAC112V. It has the classic Stratocaster look and impressive sound (at least for my ears), and in a deep raspberry red it looks like it's ready to rock a roll!
No electric guitar is complete without an amplifier, so I started looking for an amplifier that would go with my ax. I knew I didn't need much in terms of power, since I'm certainly not going to perform at this time – in fact, my wife said early on that she wouldn't hear me exercising for hours, so I needed something with headphone jack.
As a technical reviewer, I am quite familiar with the products of IK Multimedia. Known for their apps, which digitally reproduce the classic sounds of many guitar and amp combinations, they create a lot of interface equipment for musicians using Macs, iPhones and iPads, and they also create some small amplifiers that can connect to a large speaker. Thanks to IK Multimedia, I use an iRig Micro Amp, which is a small 15 W (when using AC) amplifier that works with many of their apps to produce a wide range of classic sounds.
Currently I'm not using any of these apps; I have to learn to play guitar before I can play with effects. The amplifier works very well for my purposes, and my quiet practice is to keep the house safe.
The Other Guitar
Wait, huh? I don't even know how to play and do I have two guitars? Well, I travel a lot and am not going to bring Pacifica and me with me on the road – not until I have the roadies to move the equipment! I wanted something light that I could practice while on vacation, maybe a guitar that could easily fit into a suitcase or backpack.
It was here that Jamstik 7 came into the picture. This is actually not a guitar – it is a MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) that looks like an abbreviated guitar, but needs a computer to actually produce sound. Jamstik 7 works with many iOS apps, including its own Jamstik and JamTutor apps. While in the next section finding what I use as my primary guitar teacher, Jamstik connected to my iPad Pro or iPhone makes a very decent portable training setup.
The small size of the Jamstik layout also gives me the incentive to take pauses from writing to practicing minutes every hour. Pacifica and amp are in my basement where I have to make an overall effort to head down and set up.
Originally, I had trouble connecting Jamstik 7 to my iPad Pro. Manufacturers say the "best" solution is to use a Jamstik wired connection to the iOS device and headphones to listen in. Well, there is no headphone jack on the iPad Pro and it was difficult to find a USB-C for the microphone. USB cable in the length I wanted. I was able to use a Bluetooth connection between Jamstik 7 and iPad Pro with a Satechi Type C to 3.5mm headphone jack to listen to the output.
Thank you very much to the team at Zivix (the manufacturers of Jamstik) for delivering a Jamstik 7 for this series of articles and to Satechi to hurry up USB-C to the headphone card.
All the equipment in the world doesn't help me if I can't learn to play guitar, and what started the whole journey was to receive a press release from Fender Guitars about Fender Play. It is an online and app-based training course that uses video and exercises to take a non-player to a higher level of capacity.
I chose Rock Electric Guitar Path for my training. There are also trails for the Pop, Folk, Country and Blues Electric Guitar, or the acoustic guitar versions of each of these genres. There is a lot of commonality between the different paths, so when you move on to the chosen path, you are actually moving down the other paths as well.
Each course is divided into courses you need to complete, and each of them consists of a variety of lessons. There are also skills to learn (such as choosing a string or a guitar), and full songs and riffs. At this time, the riffs I have learned are intro to Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, and Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2 by Pink Floyd. Only a whole song has been hammered into my brain; Waiting in Vain by Bob Marley & The Wailers. It's quite simple; just two simple chords.
Within each path there are five levels. As a beginner I am currently at level 1 and will probably stay there for a while until I have mastered all the skills. Once done, I still have four levels to challenge me.
The instructors and videos in Fender Play is amazing. If I feel that an explanation went a little too fast or a demonstration of performing a specific task passed in a blur, I just back up and look at it again and again until I understand.
Why use an app and web-based course like this rather than just taking live lessons from an instructor or watching free videos on YouTube? A few things: getting a human instructor is relatively expensive, linking me to his or her schedule of sessions, and requiring me to run somewhere to take the lesson. It's also the human factor – I'd rather fool around and learn at my own pace than having someone judge my progress by my own experience. Then there are many videos out there that are good, but I'd rather use them as a supplement to Fender Play when I just don't understand a particular point.
I actually feel pretty good about my progress so far. I am 68% of the way through level one of fender games in less than a month, I train almost every day, and surprise myself when I have a particularly good sound. Sure, I will eventually come to a point where I'm "stuck" in terms of progress, but I think what I've found so far is that diligent practice certainly helps you work through the tough points – and that's probably best incentive To continue exercising.
As I move on in this musical journey, I will share several notes on my progress, along with hints and tips for others who can be inspired to learn guitar.