Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Learning To Play (Surf) Guitar

I've been struggling recently with learning a new instrument - the guitar. I've played in bands in the past, playing bass guitar, then later organ. I got out of music for a few years, but a couple of years ago I decided I really wanted a hollowbody electric guitar (a Gretsch), despite the fact that I didn't know how to play it. Music lessons are an option, of course, but other than playing in the school band in junior high and high school (the only formal music instruction I've had), I've mostly taught myself (and it shows!). I've been thinking about taking guitar lessons, but am not really sure who to go with.

Which leads me to my final dilemma - what kind of music do I want to play. Surf guitar is obvious - I run a surf rock label, and if I could ever come up with something decent, playing and recording solo or with other musicians, I'd have an outlet for it. But I didn't buy a surf guitar - yes, with the right amp, reverb and pedals you can get it to sound pretty "surfy", but it's not the ideal surf guitar. The thing is, I like other kinds of music too - indie rock, electronic, and Brit pop - I can't learn how to play guitar in all of these genres.

I'd love to hear some feedback from other musicians. When you started to play guitar, what made you decide to play the kind of music you play? Do you play more than one style of music? Have you sunk a bunch of money into pedals and amps to get a certain sound, only to decide later that you wanted to go for a different sound?


Anonymous said...

Beginner guitar should be your foundation for any future style of guitar you want to learn. Don't over analyze your approach, just have fun!

MilkManX said...

I have a pretty versitile setup. I love Surf but I also love Rockabilly and Punk.

I have 2 guitars.

1.) Fender Jagmaster with some Hagstrom Humbuckers that I have a coil tap on so I can get a Single Coil sound too. It is setup with 11 gauge strings. It has a Strat like Tremolo. I can play just about any kind of music on here.

2.) Eastwood JR Elite which is a copy of Johnny Ramone's Mosrite guitar. Mostly just good for punk.

Amp wise I have a Crate V50 Tube amp that has decent reverb. I still want an outboard tank.

Other than that I have a distortion pedal and a chorus pedal.

Pretty Simple but I can do alot of different sounds with this stuff.

The Secret Samurai said...

When I first started playing guitar I mainly just tried to sound like all my heros. Once I got a "toolbox" put together I joined a Surf Band mainly because I was asked and thought it would be fun. I really didn't know anything about surf music back then ('93). The cool thing about instro surf that worked for me is that I could bring in all of my influences from lots of genres (metal, middle-eastern, asian, jazz, country, blooze, heavy rock, psychedelia, etc.) and it all seemed to work. Not sure that is true with all genres and is something I've always loved about surf music.

As far as gear goes, it all depends on how dogmatic you allow yourself to be. Personally, I don't think the type of guitar you play means a whole lot. As long as you are inspired by the sound you are creating, that is what people walk away with. 99.99% of people at a show can't tell the tonal difference between a strat and a Gretsch. Starting with a transparent foundation would allow you to be as flexible as possible. If you can get a good tone out of your guitar going straight through your amp, you can color your tone with whatever effects you're into.

I always really dug Nels Cline's take on this topic: "Tech Checklist:
1. Guitar (any brand.) Has number of strings you desire and is plugged in.
2. Amp (any brand.) Is plugged in and knob settings please you
3. Guitar is plugged into amp and volume knob is up
4. Your brain/heart/hands are working... You're all set!

Note: To avoid some some of these headaches, use an acoustic instrument. And, if you want to play w/normal people, you'll have to tune up conventionally. "

Good luck! Nice guitar by the way!

Anonymous said...

OK, I reckon this is kind of late, but anyway: Don't worry too much about what style to learn. Once you notice the guitar lessons are helping to improve your playing you'll see you get better at most styles, and, more importantly, you will enjoy playing so much more regardless of style (mostly).

I'm in very much the same situation as you, and I've started taking lessons three months ago. The first thing my teacher did was make me practice jazzy '50s R&B tunes until my fingers hurt. You cannot imagine how much this has helped my surf guitar playing!

By now you have probably found that out yourself, but if you haven't - go ahead! You won't regret it!

Anonymous said...

Just concentrate on learning how to play. Styles are much easier to pick up if you already have a strong foundation in playing.