Shredding 6 Strings

The Black Keys: Brothers

Where did the driving, heavy electric guitar riffs of the 70s go? Where are Jimi’s pervasive, explosive solos? What happened to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s bluesy rhythmic masterpieces? Well don’t look now but a revival is afoot and The Black Keys with instruments ablaze will take you back to when rock really, well … rocked.

The album Brothers hits like a sledgehammer from the beginning. This two man band’s music will wash over you like spring’s ocean waves and refresh your memory of what rock music is supposed to sound like. On the first track “Everlasting Light,” Dan Auerbach belts an almost Prince-esque falsetto melody while drummer Patrick Carney pounds the bass drum relentlessly, keeping the forceful beat.  A simple, yet powerful riff oozes from Auerbach’s guitar and hits like something from The Doors debut album.

There are clearly elements of early, more blues-like rock, which adds to the cool, laid back feel of the album. The drumming and guitar playing on the track “Howling for You” sounds similar to The Trogg’s “Wild Thing,” and Auerbach adds a chorus that is just as catchy as the famous one-hit wonder.

Towards the middle of the album the mood changes to a more eerie and haunting sound, oddly familiar but spooky none the less. It’s like walking into your favorite dinner late on Halloween night, the setting is commonplace, yet when the door slams closed behind you, the ghoulish eyes become fixed and they add a new dimension to your beloved breakfast haven. Auerbach’s mystical licks mirror the sorrowful contemplation and longing of his lyrics.

The last few songs on the record head toward a slower paced slickness saturated in smooth. A smoky dive bar is where you find yourself now, sipping whiskey in a plaid chair with the stuffing bashfully emerging from the seams.  “Unknown Brother” has two distinct guitar sounds within the same song. The glossy, sleek solo style cuts through the rough, unpolished rhythm guitar sound and create a dynamic contrast.

If you love rock music, you need to add Brothers to your collection. To quote a sample from producer Jake One, “Hear this, steal money from your grandmother’s brazier, from your grandfather’s underwear, from your mother’s purse and from your father’s pants pocket. Take the money and buy the damn record.” Do whatever you can, within reason, and go buy the album. It’s just that simple.

Guitar Slideshow

Here is a slide show of different parts of guitars. There are four guitars that are used, a Martin Custom six-string, a Mitchell 12-string, a Indiana Scout six-string and a Gibson Les Paul Studio electric guitar. Two of the guitars are unfinished while the other two have a glossy finish. All of the guitars have unique tones which makes each of the guitars sound very different from the others.

Blues Guitar


            Many modern genres must tip their hats to the blues. Since the start of blues music, jazz, rock n’ roll and alternative music have come to fruition. If you want to start playing the blues there are certain characteristics in a guitar to look out for.

           “Most blues music requires a lot of bending or pulling the strings to add that soulful vibrato sound,” Ken Strittmatter said, who builds his own guitars. “Larger radius necks make string bending easier.” Chris Baney, a guitarist and worship leader at Basic Truth Church said that he finds semi-hollow bodied guitars to be the best for the blues. He said that Gibson and Gretsch provide a full, rich and deep tone that is perfect for the blues. Baney also noted that many blues greats used a solid body Fender American Stratocaster because it can provide a raw cut through solo sound. In his opinion the Strat has the fastest fret board around the guitar world.

           “With blues music there is a really raw sound that is made from the guitar itself whereas other genres use multiple amp effects to sculpt their sound,” Baney said.

            No matter the style played or the level of skill, finding the right guitar does not have to be a daunting experience. Find out what you want to use your guitar for and what kind of music you will be playing. Pay close attention to the wood used to make the guitar and how it is set up. And the first few times you play get a bunch of buddies to play along with you so you cannot tell the mistakes you are making.

            “If a lead guitarist is on stage with a drummer, percussionist, keyboard player, rhythm guitarist, four horn players, three backup singers, and a lead singer, you really cannot tell if he is playing a $189 Fender Squire or a $2,000 Fender American Stratocaster,” Corky Ballard, a longtime guitarist said half joking.  “The important thing is that you are playing man, experiencing music.”

Setting Up Your Guitar

Electric guitar pickups

So once you have your guitar, what is next in the process? Setting up the guitar is vital once you have the model or body style that you like.

Lowering the action is an easy way to make the guitar easier to play. The action of a guitar is the amount of space between the fret board and the strings on the guitar. You usually want a lower action if you want the playability to increase. If you go to any guitar store that does set ups and ask to lower the action, the guitar technician can usually do it for relatively cheap. What they do is file down the bridge of the guitar, so that the strings sit lower, making it easier to press down on the strings.

Chris Baney, a local musician, said that once you have the desired electric guitar, the first thing you should do is get new pickups. Pickups send an electronic signal to an amplifier to create the sound we associate with electric guitars and give it a distinctly different sound than an acoustic.

“New pickups are relatively inexpensive and can enhance the sound of a guitar tremendously,” Baney said.

Making sure the action of the guitar, the bridge, the pickups and electronics are all set up correctly is huge according to Ken Strittmatter, who has been building his own guitars and amps. “Many beginners give up because the guitar is set up wrong and they cannot figure out why their guitar sounds bad,” Strittmatter said, “You have to make sure that your guitar is mechanically solid.”

Keb’ Mo’

Keb’ Mo’ playing “Am I Wrong” live. Here he is using a steel electric guitar which is very uncommon and a slide on one of his fingers. A slide is placed upon the strings to vary the pitch of the notes. This slide can be moved along the strings without the guitarist having to lift up his hand, creating continuous changes in pitch.

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