Plugging In, Episode 1: The One Where I Pick Up an Electric Guitar
Lord knows, I’m not new to the guitar. I’ve been playing acoustic for more than three decades. So what’s this all about?
I have an embarrassing confession to make: I’ve never played an electric guitar.
What?! How can that be?! In all my years of working with amp brands like Marshall, VOX, Acoustic, Dean Markely and 65amps, and interviewing and writing about great players, I just never felt the inclination to track down an electric guitar and plug in.
Until now. I’ve got the bug, and I’m ready to be LOUD! So join me in my leap into the land of electric!
First, I need a guitar.
Brad Tolinski, the editor-in-chief of Guitar World, sent me to Fender during the 2012 Winter NAMM show, where I tried several very fine guitars. My upper-level criteria was pretty basic: It can’t be too heavy due to a shoulder injury several years ago, AND no sparkles.
My style: Clean with an occasional blues thrown in for good measure. The final picks? A very lovely Classic Series ’72 Telecaster Thinline semi-hollow and a Pawn Shop ’72 Semi Hollow – a funky hybrid of guitar with a semi-hollow Strat body and a Tele neck.
What do you mean it needs to be “set up?”
As Americans, we are used to things working as promised right out of the box. But I was forewarned: If you want your new guitar to sound and feel just right, you should take it to a technician who knows what he is doing and have it set up. Really? So I loaded my two guitars up and visited my friends Rich Lasner and Eric Kirkland at the VOX guitars headquarters.
They checked how straight the necks were, string action, pickup height and more. Kirkland said, “I check the string alignment with the neck because the neck can move, because it’s bolted on. Like how much space you have here to the end of the fret and then how much you have on the side. And if it’s too far one way or the other, you’ll have the string fall off one side. And then you check not only the height of each string, but whether it follows the curve of the fingerboard.”
Yes! Even I could see that the Tele needed a little adjustment.
Next was the action. Lasner chimed in, “Now, see, he’s checking the height at the nut. Actually, this one, in terms of setup, the first four strings are a little high. It’s kind of a taste issue. Some people like ‘em high, some people like ‘em kind of low.”
My knowledge about guitar setups was increasing exponentially.
“People often bring guitars back to the guitar store if they’re not knowledgeable and say, ‘Hey, something’s wrong with the guitar I just bought.’ When really, all it needs is a little adjusting that can take 20 minutes,” Lasner said.
Oh yeah, an amp would be a good idea.
I have several friends at Dean Markley, so I called on them for a practice amp to try out. I met my amp connection one dark night in a butcher shop parking lot for an amp hand-off. My first model to try is the DM30RC 30 Watt combo with spring reverb and two channels. Not too loud. Not too heavy. Solid state but with a nice tone. He gave me a quick once-over of all the features, which I didn’t really need. I do know how amps work…but that’s okay.
Other stuff I need
Well, now that I have two guitars, I needed two stands so that I could pick ‘em up and wail at a moment’s notice. So I popped over to Guitar Center and grabbed one more. Plus a good friend of mine over at Solid Cables gave me an amazing guitar cable (More on what to look for in a cable in another episode). I was ready to rock.
Overcoming my irrational fear of plugging in
At first I was just strumming my electric like I would have done with my Taylor acoustic. But then I started getting into it. Yes, it was easier to work up the neck! Yes, I could practice in front of the TV without disturbing the family. Yes, I could be loud, funky, dirty, sweet. And then it dawned on me. This was the most fun I had had playing guitar in years. Maybe ever. Why had I been afraid to plug in? Just ignorance I guess. And maybe even that as a female player I wasn’t used to being so darned LOUD. But I’m not afraid anymore. In fact, I hope I disturb the neighbors today ;-)
Next episode: I record with my electric guitar for the first time!
Laura B. Whitmore is a singer/songwriter based in the San Francisco bay area. A veteran music industry marketer, she has spent over two decades doing marketing, PR and artist relations for several guitar-related brands including Marshall and VOX. Her company, Mad Sun Marketing, represents 65amps, Acoustic Bass Amps, Agile Partners, Guitar World and many more. Laura was instrumental in the launch of the Guitar World Lick of the Day app. She is the lead singer for the rock band, Summer Music Project. More at mad-sun.com.
There's nothing like that new-guitar smell.
My living room just got 100 times cooler.
Eric Kirkland from VOX measures the action.
Rich Lasner from VOX adjusts the neck. Don't try this at home.
Tele neck needs a slight adjustment Check the center dots
Laura B. Whitmore at practice.