Playing your first chords
When you first pick up the electric guitar and are unsure exactly what to do with it, one of the first things you will generally learn are some simple chords.
So, just what is a chord, anyway?
Technically, a chord is a set of harmonically related notes, played simultaneously. To be less academic about it, a chord is what happens when you strum several strings together to create a pleasing sound.
The first chords you will learn here are known as Open Chords. These chords take advantage of the open strings.
There is another type of chord known as a Barre Chord. These chords involve pressing one or more fingers down across several strings. Because barre chords involve no open strings, the same shapes can be moved up and down the neck to create a chord in any key. In theory they are not any more complex to play than an open chord. However, they do require more strength in the fingering hand, which can make them frustrating for very new guitarists. This is only a problem for beginner guitarists, after a brief time learning electric guitar you will quickly have enough strength not to be bothered by having to barre a chord.
Chords are named after their root note. The root note is just what musicians the note around which the chord is built. They come in two basic varieties, major and minor. A major chord can be said to have a “strong”, “bright” and “happy” sound, while a minor chord has a comparitively “darker” or more “melancholy” sound.
To start with here, for your first chords, we will play 3 different major open chords. For help reading the chord charts, see my post on how to read chord charts. And now, without any further ado, here are the chords:
To play an Open E, place your index finger on the G string at the first fret, place your middle finger on the A string at the second fret, and place your ring finger on the D string at the second fret. Then play every string and let the chord ring out. You’ve just played an open E!
To play an Open A, place your middle finger on the D string at the second fret, place your ring finger on the G string at the second fret, and place your pinky on B string at the second fret. Then play every string except for the low E.
To play an Open D, place your index finger on the G string at the second fret, place your middle finger on the high E string at the second fret, and place your ring finger on the B string at the third fret. Then sound the 4 high strings, leaving the low E and the A strings unplayed.
That’s it, you now know three chords on the electric guitar! If they feel a bit awkward at first, that’s okay. Keep playing through them so that they feel a bit more natural, and stay tuned for more posts on how to use these three chords to play a song.
Gibson’s Top 50 guitarists of all time – 50 to 41
The Gibson guitar company is compiling a list of the top 50 guitarists of all time. They’ve got their list from some fairly inscrutable process involving votes from their website’s readers, and from their own team of judges. They are releasing their results ten at a time, so here are guitarists #50 to #41- I’ve included a little bit of information about each guitarist.
49. (tie) Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow, Blackmore’s night)
One of the most influential guitarists of all time, who managed to combine raucous blues-rock riffing with european classical inspired phrases in a way that nobody had attempted before. His raw panache, affinity for the harmonic minor scale and love for the Fender Stratocaster inspired many guitarists throughout the years, including a young Yngwie Malmsteen. A truly prolific and prodigious performer, he is probably most widely known for writing the instantly recognisable riff to Smoke on the Water, as well as for his much-publicised disputes with his bandmates.
49. (tie) Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
Though not a master technician by any stretch, and an extremely unlikely guitar hero, for a brief time in the early 1990s this guy probably did more to prompt young kids to learn guitar than anybody else on the planet. His band Nirvana was the flagship band of the grunge movement, which combined punk and alternative attitude with much of the riffmanship of hard rock and early heavy metal. He was known for playing heavily modified, discontinued Fender guitars, and an ever changing variety of amps and effects.
47. (tie) Robert Fripp (King Crimson, solo)
Robert Fripp is not the pioneer of progressive rock guitar, but over the years he has probably become it’s principal exponent. A left-hander who plays right-handed guitars, he is notable for being one of the few famous guitarists to emerge from the late 60s and early 70s without a significant blues influence in his playing. His crossing of avant-garde jazz and european classical ideas with rock instrumentation became a key part of progressive rock and jazz fusion.
47. (tie) Andrés Segovia
A spanish classical guitarist born in the nineteenth century, he influenced classical guitar both as a performer and as a transcriptionist, teacher and arranger. The video recording of him playing live at the Alhambra are an excellent introduction to his work.
42. (tie) Hubert Sumlin (Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters)
A blues guitarist and singer from Arkansas, whose work with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters managed to influence Jimmy Page, Robbie Robertson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards and Joe Perry. At 78 years old, and despite health complications, he is still touring.
42. (tie) Clarence White (Nashville West, Muleskinner, The Kentucky Colonels, The Byrds)
Clarence White was a bluegrass guitarist who moved to Los Angeles to find work as a session player. By joining The Byrds he became one of the key influences in marrying country music to rock.
42. (tie) Rory Gallagher (Taste, solo)
An Irish blues-rock guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, who formed the band Taste in the 1960s and performed solo for decades after. Along with Van Morrison and Phil Lynott, he was among the first Irish musicians to become famous by performing blues-based rock. Such was his influence on the genre that David Coverdale invited him to replace Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple, although he chose instead to pursue his solo career.
42. (tie) John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
After replacing Hilel Slovak as the guitarist for funk-rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, he found himself launched into mainstream celebrity after their breakthrough album Blood Sugar Sex Magic. Drug problems saw him replaced for some years by Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro, though he has since returned to the band.
42. (tie) Richard Thompson
An electric folk player from the 60s who still performs today. A performer in his own right, he has also written songs for artists as diverse as Dave Gilmour, Bonnie Raitt and The Corrs.
41. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd, solo)
A progressive rock guitarist who has influenced players for decades ever since joining Pink Floyd in the early days of the band when led by fellow guitarist Syd Barrett. While he is often cited for his innovative use of effects and adventurous song ideas, the lead guitar playing which he is most noted for is deeply rooted in the blues.
So why learn to play guitar?
For many of us, our decision to learn guitar is not something we ever thought about too hard. It was almost as though it was made for us.. we just knew that it was something we had to do. For other people though, it’s something they will need to find some logical reasons to do it. Here are some of the best reasons why you would want to learn to play electric guitar.
It will make you smarter
Studies have shown that kids who learn musical instruments do better in school. An interview with over 1000 CEOs and congressmen found that over 90% said that playing a musical instrument helped them “develop character and leadership skills”. It’s not to see why.. learning a musical instrument will improve your concentration, your hand eye coordination, and makes you think for yourself.
It’s a good way to connect with other people
Playing guitar can seem like it might be a solitary activity.. and when you just feel like chilling out on your own, it can be. But it also provides so many chances to meet new people, and make friends that last a lifetime! Playing in a band, jamming at jam sessions, having a bash at an open mic night all get you out of the house, socialising and having fun. Even when you leave the guitar at home, simply being a guitar player will give you something in common with other guitarists, and players of other instruments besides. I don’t know of a single guitarist who doesn’t owe some of their strongest friendships to the instrument.
A guitar is an excellent songwriting tool
If you want to write your own music, you will find it much easier to do if you have the grasp of an instrument. And the best instruments for this are guitar, and piano/keyboards. Both instruments allow you to play both chords, riffs, and single note melodies. They also let you easily sing over the top of what you are playing.
It’s a great way to blow off steam
Playing guitar can relax you – in those times when you are too tense or angry to relax, it can also be extremely cathartic. Way back in the 17th century (some 250 years before Leo Fender built his first guitar amplifier) the poet/playwright William Congreve knew this already, writing that “Musick has charms to soothe a savage Breast, To soften rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.”
Learning Electric Guitar will help you play acoustic and bass guitar
The electric guitar and acoustic guitar are basically the same instrument. There are differences, of course. Acoustic guitars tend to have heavier strings, and less upper fret access. They also don’t really get the same sweet singing tone of an electric guitar plugged into an overdriven amp. However, you can play the same notes and chords on the same strings and frets, provided they’re both tuned the same. A bass guitar is also similar to an electric guitar. Basically, if you take the bottom 4 strings of an electric guitar, tune them an octave down, and put them on a much longer neck, then you will have a bass guitar. The left hand technique is much the same. Bass guitarists often use fingers instead of a pick, however knowing the guitar will make the bass easy to approach.
It will challenge you
Playing guitar is difficult. Even when you become good, there is always something new to tackle. Learning to play guitar involves finger strength, wrist strength, a great deal of coordination, a good ear, a little bit of reading, and a head for what you’re playing. And somehow you have to combine all of those things to create something that communicates a thought or a feeling, and that speaks to people. Every new chord, every new song, every new piece of theory and every new approach to constructing melodies and phrases that you master is a real and substantial achievement. This is part of what makes playing guitar such a deeply rewarding pursuit – the satisfaction that you feel when the work you put in turns into results.
It will give you a creative outlet
Playing guitar lets you express creative energy and emotion. It gives you a way to share it with an audience – or not, if you’d rather not. Either way, it’s a wonderful tool for self expression, and for creative experimentation and for pursuing musical ideas.
A guitar is easy to transport
You can carry a guitar with one hand. An electric guitar fits easily in even a small car, in either the back seat, the passenger seat or the boot, with plenty of room to spare. It can be packed in a case with all the cables and accesories you need packed in there as well. You can walk down the street with it, or catch public transport with one. There are even guys who strap them to their back and ride a motorcycle with one. Try that with your piano or your drumkit!
It’s so much fun!
A friend of mine likes to remark that playing guitar “is the most fun you can have with your clothes on” – although, I guess, that’s not always strictly necessary. It’s hard to explain just what it is about playing guitar that can make you feel so damn great. But it’s a great activity that you can enjoy throughout your life, and that will comfort you in the bad times and keep you happy in the good. There’s something about it that just puts a smile on your face. Give it a try!
Buying a gift for a guitarist
Birthdays, anniversaries, christmas time – these are all times when you might need or want to buy a gift for someone. What better thing to get a guitarist than a guitar related gift? It’s a good idea, but there’s just so much out there you could choose from. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Picks and strings: These make a great gift idea, for a number of reasons. Firstly, because they’re fairly affordable. And secondly, because guitarists can always use more of them! Even the guitarist who has everything will wear out his picks and strings and need to replace them periodically. Make sure you get the right type though! Strings need to be replaced by strings of the same gauge, otherwise the guitar will need a new setup for a new string gauge. Picks will also need to be a similar material and thickness to what the guitarist is used to. If you don’t want to ruin the surprise of the gift by asking what they use currently, you can always ask their partner or somebody who lives with the guitarist to see if they can have a look at the packaging of the strings or set of picks that they last bought
Tuning a Guitar – What should you tune to?
An electric guitar really does sound a lot better when it’s in tune. Even the nicest, priciest, most gorgeous fourteen thousand dollar special edition Les Paul will sound terrible if the tuning is out. If you’re not sure exactly what you should tune to, here’s a guide.
Standard tuning on a guitar is – going from the lowest pitch strings to the highest – E, A, D, G, B, E. This is the “normal” way to tune a guitar, and if you see a song written with no guide for what to tune to, this is what you should assume you tune to. Refer to the picture on the left for a guide.
You will often hear of tunings referred to as “C standard”, “E flat standard” etc. This means that every string has been lowered from standard tuning by the same number of steps, so that the low string is set to the note in the name of the tuning. Because each string has been lowered by the same amount, the guitar can be played exactly the same as a standard tuning guitar, it will just sound at a lower pitch.
Open tunings are tunings that will play a chord when you simply strike all the open strings. They are popular with slide players, because you can get a new chord just by moving.
Drop tunings are guitars tuned to standard tuning, with the lowest string “dropped” an extra whole step. “Drop D” is a standard tuning except with the lowest string tuned down to D. Drop C is a standard tuning with every string lowered a whole step, except for the lowest string which is lowered two whole steps to C, etc. Drop tunings are popular with a lot of guitarists, who like how they allow you to play a power chord by playing the bottom three strings all on the same fret.
Tuning to Concert Pitch
Until a little over a century ago, there was no standard in western music for the correct pitch for each note. Different instruments could be perfectly in tune with themselves, and then be woefully out of tune when played together. To allow instruments to play together, some standards of pitch were introduced over the centuries, however these could vary wildly between region to region, and even in the same city.
In 1939, an international conference set a standard that the A above Middle C should be set at 440 Hz, and this is now known as Concert Pitch.
So what does this mean for you as a guitarist? Well, if you’re just going to be playing alone, not a lot actually; it will be enough that your guitar is in tune with itself. But if you are going to be playing along with a band, or with a recording, then you will want your guitar to be in tune not just with itself, but with everyone else too. If you are using an electronic tuner then you can pretty much rely on it to tune you to concert pitch. If you are tuning by ear to another instrument, be aware that it might not be in concert pitch! Some pianos are tuned slightly flat, not being able to be take the strain of being tuned all the way to concert pitch, due to age or design. If you tune to one of these, and then try to jam with some dudes who have tuned using an electronic tuner then things might sound a little sour. You have to be just as careful if you are tuning by ear to a recording. Many recordings are not in concert pitch too – bands like Pantera often tuned slightly flat of the notes on purpose because they liked the sound – many older bands often didn’t have an electronic tuner available, and just tuned to a note from an electronic organ or from the bass guitar. Some even had the pitch of the recording changed by altering the speed of the magnetic tape they recorded to, sometimes by accident, and sometimes on purpose. Chuck Berry was famously sped up a great deal, because the record company wanted to “make him sound younger”.
So does this mean you will always want to tune to concert pitch? Most of the time you will probably want to. But when you are going to be playing along to recordings or with instruments that are tuned to a different pitch, then you will want to be in tune with them. Some electronic tuners can be set to a pitch sharp or flat from concert pitch.. otherwise you can tune by ear to a note from the recording, or to one of the other instruments. If there is a fixed-tune instrument in the band, such as a piano or keyboard, then tune to a note from that.
I’m a big fan of Charvel and Jackson guitars myself. I first became interested in them when finding out that a lot of my favourite players, such as Eddie Van Halen, Warren Demartini, Randy Rhoads, Vinnie Vincent, Richie Sambora, George Lynch, Jake E. Lee and even Billy Gibbons were, and often still are, players of the brand.
Charvel are one of the most important and influential innovators in the history of guitar making. Starting off as a repair, parts and customisation shop, Wayne Charvel was one of the first luthiers to provide exotic and adventurous finishes for guitarists not satisfied with the plain sunbursts and solid colours offered by the major manufacturers at the time. Wayne Charvel was a hotrod enthusiast, and brought the hotrod flames over to guitars, customising some of ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons’ fender guitars with a hotrod flame finish. The original charvel shop also sold high quality parts, at a time when the big makers had definitely let their standards drop.
But it’s as the originators of the “superstrat” that Charvel really had their biggest impact on the electric guitar. A young Eddie Van Halen bought a stratocaster style neck and body from the Charvel guitar shop, and put a humbucker in the bridge, using a nail to fix it to the body, and painting it white with black stripes. When, under Grover Jackson, Charvel started making their own guitars, this guitar was the template that they took for their superstrat. This guitar had a similar body shape to a Fender Stratocaster, but had a humbucker in the bridge, and very soon were made with Kahler and Floyd Rose tremolo systems, allowing for excellent tuning stability. The necks were made especially well, allowing fast playing and excellent access to the upper frets. They also featured rear routed electronics cavities, instead of the pickguards contained on the traditional stratocaster, making for a better tone with no plastic right underneath the strings, not to mention a more tasteful and streamlined appearance.
Charvel also introduced the compound radius neck. This is a neck that with a lower radius near the headstock than near the body.. meaning that the neck felt rouder at the nut, making chord work and riffs much easier to play. Up high though, the neck was flat and wide, making it easier to play leads and to bend notes.
The original Charvels are known as “San Dimas” Charvels, named for the neck plates which contained the words San Dimas, though only the companies PO Box was in San Dimas, while the actual production was in Glendora, California. The first runs of japanese Charvels were also exceptional quality instruments.. these being known as the “model” series guitars because they were named Charvel Model 1, Charvel Model 5 etc. These are some of the most original and innovative guitars made, offering superb tone and breathtaking styling, along with extremely high quality parts and manufacture.
Unfortunately, while the original non-american guitars were as good as the San Dimas Charvels, the company started cutting costs aggressively and making some absolutely abysmal instruments. By the end of the eighties, Charvel had gone from being a custom luthiery workshop into an extremely well recognised brand, with their guitars featured on the album covers and in the music videos of many of the defining bands of the era. As happens way too often, once a guitar brand becomes well known and sought after, it becomes possible for them to produce substandard instruments and sell them purely on the strength of the name on the headstock. This certainly happened with Charvel.. by the time the grunge revolution hit music and superstrats were no longer fashionable, the brand no longer had its reputation for quality to rely on. Charvel guitars are now owned by the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, and are produced in the USA again, with many of the original Charvel employees working on them. The original 80s instruments are also still available on the second hand market, and more than 20 years later remain excellent instruments.
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Learn electric guitar
Lyrics – He plays the sweetest melody. When I hear, it takes over me. And I feel every strum of the strings. It reminds me of all the things we used to be. Can’t breathe at all cause you’re coming. Coming through my speaker, speaker got me trying to reach ya, reach ya. My…
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