A Session Guitarist's Secrets and Secret Weapons: Tips on Amps, Mics, iPhones and More

It's been a while, so Happy New Year!

This week, I'd like to discuss a few secret weapons and secrets that make my life as a guitarist a bit better than yours!

1. MATCH THE RIGHT GUITAR WITH THE RIGHT AMP! Have you ever picked up a guitar, plugged it in, and the magic just wasn't there? Maybe it's because the combination wasn't there! A basic rule: Buy the best gear you can afford. Buy the best guitars, the best amps. Then plug them into each other in different combinations and listen. Listen hard. Sometimes I like to believe that when we buy a new guitar, we should also buy an amp it sounds great through! Here's something I've discovered: A Fender Guitar ALWAYS sounds good through a Fender amp. (Big surprise!) And EVERYTHING sounds great through a good old Marshall!

Side note: Match the right head with the right cabinet! The sonic difference is staggering from cab to cab!

2. HAVE YOUR GUITARS SETUP BY A MASTER! I could have just said to have it setup. String height, intonation, fret job. But I have had mine done by masters and by people who just claim to know how to do a setup. The difference is staggering. Example: My Les Paul. One of the finest gifts my beautiful wife ever gave me. It was love at first sight (guitar and wife). However, unlike my wife, the guitar needed some work. My guitar guy took the guitar and realized the neck was twisted and the frets were obscenely uneven in height and the shape of the frets was like railroad tracks! He knows what I like. He knows how I play. He knows I use 9 gauge strings. He knows how I like my nut filed. He makes it all work. When he retires, I will be a very sad guitar guy.

Side note: I'm not going to get into it here because of all the modeling amps and boxes, but tube amps need the same attention as guitars. Bias adjustment. Swap out the tubes, etc.)

3. PRACTICE SECRET WEAPON! Last year I discovered a piece of gear that changed my rehearsal time forever. The Fender G DEC 3! This little 30-watt gem makes me want to practice. It has backing tracks played by real musicians and you can even add your own! The amp modeling is wonderful once it is tweeked! (I HATE most presets on amp modelers. I believe in digging in and making it suit YOUR playing style. DON"T SETTLE! Your efforts will be rewarded!) Some of the sound's are so good I have used them on recent recordings!

4. RECORDING SECRET WEAPON! The HEIL PR-30 MICROPHONE. This mic has become a favorite of mine when I am recording loud guitars. It is front address. It looks like a broadcast mic, and I believe it would work well in that application. But the real reasons I love this mic are ... It can handle high SPL's, is built like a tank, is dynamic, but has the sonic characteristics of a good ribbon microphone. A steal for $249.

5. LIFE SECRET WEAPON! THE IPHONE! Totally worth the investment in all aspects of my musical and everyday life. From scheduling to reminders. From taking pictures to watching YouTube videos. From Face Time to SKYPE. Lick of the Day! Virtual amps. Instructions. Tuners. Recording. An endless supply of guitar-oriented apps! Read GuitarWorld.com whenever you want! Just get one and watch it take over your life!

Till next time…

Ron Zabrocki on Ron Zabrocki: I’m a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just believed everyone started that way! I could pretty much sight read anything within a few years, and that aided me in becoming a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could and was fortunate enough to have some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played many jingle sessions, and even now I not only play them but have written a few. I’ve “ghosted” for a few people that shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I got the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.

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