“Riff Of Wisdom” is written by LA based Guitarist, Songwriter and Producer Justin Scott Lucas.

The RiffWritings, musings and generally lighthearted banter

May
08

“Melodic Expressions: The Art of the Line” by Jon Maclennan

Today, there are endless ways to learn about the guitar.  From traditional teachers, to YouTube, to books, to good old fashioned trial and error, there are so many ways to go about your journey towards guitar mastery and musical nirvana.  But what if there was a new medium that combined the best of all these methods?

My good friend, fellow UCLA alumni, and passionate guitar player Jon Maclennan has just released an iBook titled, “Melodic Expressions: The Art of the Line,” designed specifically for the iPad.  What is an iBook?  It’s a “multi-touch textbook,” an interactive electronic book that integrates audio, video, photos, graphics and more, bringing content to life in ways previously unimaginable.  It’s everything you’d get from a book, and then some.  Plus, it’s digital, so you can store thousands of iBooks in a single iPad, while saving the trees!

Like me, Jon is an avid fan of guitar great Carl Verheyen, and Carl’s approach to improvisation.  In short, this school of playing is based on “lines,” instead of scales and arpeggios.  So often guitarists become trapped by scale shapes and boxes that ultimately inhibit their melodic creativity.  With this new alternative approach, the player practices “lines,” or melodic phrases, that can be used in improvisation.  In the same way a player would use a scale shape or an arpeggio when improvising, they can use these “lines” to create far more interesting and creative phrases, and ultimately more personalized expression.

Jon’s book is divided into three sections – Major, Minor and Dominant expressions.  Each section is filled with various licks, corresponding to the given harmony, that range from Rock to Blues to Jazz and even Country.  With the interactive iBook medium, each lick has multiple audio samples, and the option for you to plug into your own iPad and play along!  There’s also a “general tips” section, where Jon will teach you  how to create your own melodic expression and cultivate your own personal harmonic vocabulary.  Very cool!

Ultimately, I find this approach to improvisation and general music making to be the most fun and effective.  Although it’s important to familiarize oneself with scales and arpeggios in order to understand music in a theoretical way, these tools should not become crutches in developing your melodic voice and improvisational style.  It’s much more fun to create exciting lines and phrases that express your personal style and sound like you.  Although at first it may be difficult to write your own licks, books like Jon’s are a great place to learn the craft and gather inspiration.  So check out Melodic Expressions: The Art of the Line” today on iTunes and take the first step on your journey towards developing your own personal melodic sound!

Check out this promo video on “Melodic Expression: The Art of the Line” for more info, and be sure to check out Jon Maclennan’s website for more about him and his music.

4 Comments

Apr
16

1975 Rickenbacker 4001 Bass

Although this is a guitar-oriented blog, it’s important to show love to our four string brethren.  In fact, I’m sure many of us dabble in bass, or at least consider ourselves decent bassists (it’s just a guitar without the top two strings rights?) given it’s similarity to the guitar.  For me, bass holds a special place in my heart – for many a year it was my primary instrument, before I picked up the guitar.

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During my “bass period” I played in a multitude of various bands, but focused mostly on Rock n’ Roll.  I had a small arsenal of basses – a Fender Jazz Bass and a Musicman Stingray – but was too young to be a serious connoisseur or collector.  My Dad’s good friend Steve lived up the street, and every time we’d go to his house I’d be drawn to this funky looking bass in the corner – his Rickenbacker.  Steve is an avid music enthusiast and hobbyist who has been part of all kinds of bands throughout his life, and his Rickenbacker was some of the last remaining evidence of his younger musical endeavors.

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Originally, Steve was a keyboard player.  He had some wild prog-rock set up that most likely emulated some of his favorites of the day – Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Blue Oyster Cult, Yes, Boston, etc.  At some point, I believe Steve wanted to join a particular band – a group that needed a bass player, not a keyboardist.  In a common twist of fate that has led so many musicians to their true instruments, Steve traded his keyboard rig for the Rickenbacker and an amp.  Now I’m not sure if this was Steve’s true calling, and have no more information on this particular group, but nonetheless, Steve acquired this beautiful bass that many years later, another young musician was admiring.

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Steve was always a huge supporter of my music – from jam sessions with him and my Dad to my own bands, he was always a positive presence.  So one lucky Christmas day (or maybe it was my birthday) Steve and my Dad decided it was time to bestow the great power of the Rickenbacker upon me.  Alas, I was the proud owner of one of the coolest and most iconic instruments of all time.

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This particular Rickenbacker is a 4001 model that was made in January of 1975 (indicated by the serial number “OA499″ on the jack plate).  It has all of the classic Rickenbacker features – neck-through construction, triangle inlays, wave-crest headstock, and iconic body shape.  But beyond its aesthetic, there are some really unique features of the Rickenbacker.  Firstly, Rickenbackers have dual truss rods as opposed to the standard single truss rod.  This allows greater control of neck concave, specific to each side of the neck.  Second, Rickenbackers are famous for their stereo output jack.  Yes, as opposed to a single mono output jack, as seen on most electric instruments, Rickenbacker has two outputs, giving the player an option for stereo output.  As written on the jack plate, one output is “standard” and together they create the “Rick-o-sound.”  Basically, this makes each output jack correspond with one pick up, so with two cables  you can run them into separate amps or into the Rick-o-sound DI box that allows you to blend the two.  There are many varying opinions about the practicality of this option, but nevertheless, it makes the Rick unique.  Lastly, the neck-through construction gives the Rickenbacker its instantly identifiable tone that has become associated with the likes Paul McCartney, Geddy Lee, Lemmy, and many others.  The 4001 is a truly innovative and unique instrument that has undoubtedly earned its placed in music history.

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So overall, this is a very special, classic axe that I am so grateful to have in my collection.  Although now I mainly play the six string, I always come back to my roots and slapa-da-bass with the Rick.  From some random shop, to Steve’s prog-rock bands, to my own musical escapades, this bass has seen quite a bit in its almost 40 year life span.  See, vintage instruments are special not only for their tone, but for their history, history that can give a particular instrument tone unachievable by any physical material – tone only achievable through its own unique experience.  I can only imagine what this bass will have to say in another 50 years!

6 Comments

Apr
10

South Austin Music – Austin, TX

Lamar Boulevard in Austin, Texas is the street for guitar shops, and one of the coolest shops on the block is South Austin Music.  Established in 1986, SAM is now a staple of the Austin Music scene.  With a wide-ranging, unique inventory, SAM will entertain and surprise any guitar player, from novice to life long enthusiast.

One thing that makes a great guitar shop is the vibe.  Coming into a guitar shop can put a customer in a vulnerable state – you feel pressure to play well, talk the talk, buy something – for some, it can be very overwhelming.  That’s one of the reasons why SAM is a such a great shop - the staff create a very positive environment that welcomes all.  From the moment you walk in, you know you are actually allowed to play the guitars, not just stare.

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SAM has a great selection of electric and acoustic guitars.  Aside from of all of the usual suspects (Fender, Gibson, Martin), SAM has a large variety of Eastwood, G&L, Danelectro, and Nation Reso-phonic guitars.  Of course, there are also some fantastic classics and lots of vintage pieces that’ll keep any connoisseur busy, all easily accessible and quite playable.

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SAM also has a killer amp collection.  A large amount new and vintage Orange, Fender and Marshall amps pepper the shop’s perimeter.  They also carry some extremely hard to find Divided by 13 amps – wow!  And of course, they have many acoustic amplifiers and boutique makers.

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Last but not least, SAM has an amazing pedal selection, filled with all the classics and newcomers.  From MXR to Xotic to Ibanez to Fulltone, they have everything you could want – and at very reasonable prices.  And once you’re through with all of this, SAM has every pick, string and accessory you could possibly imagine.  I ended up with a sweet new guitar strap!

So if you’re in Austin, TX, South Austin Music is a must!  Visit them @ 1402 South Lamar Blvd, Austin, Texas 78704 or on the SAM website

2 Comments