Frequent Questions

 
General
How long have you been playing guitar?

Since September 1984. I started on acoustic three months before electric guitar and still do both. I also started writing the first month, by accident, by experimenting with chords and stumbling into new ways of playing and music. This has a lot to do with my somewhat unusual way of playing. See my riffs to see what I mean.

I played classical guitar for two years to get the Bachelors of Music in classical guitar but otherwise never had much interest in that, and tendonitis took that away.

What instruments do you play?

Guitar, bass, drums, percussion, and piano.  In college I also briefly played violin, flute, and performed as a bass in the chorus (including at the Kennedy Center in D.C.).

How many guitars do you have?

Seven: three electrics I built, two Alvarez 6-string acoustics, an Alvarez 12-string, and a Yamaha classical guitar. I also have one Jackson bass and an Alvarez acoustic bass. Since building the first two electric guitars around 1985-87, I haven’t played a manufactured electric since and may not even know what I’m missing, but I love these guitars.

For pictures, including the construction of the newest one in stages, see the gear page.

Do you perform?

Not anymore. The Mid-Atlantic isn’t very supportive of local instrumental rock so the live band disbanded in 2007. I played with an Iron Maiden tribute band after that but we were all surprised by how few opportunities there were to perform and the band broke up by 2009. I haven’t performed since and don’t expect to again.

Instead, I’ll be doing music videos for YouTube, where I can “perform” for people all over the world. The time spent rehearsing and gigging has instead gone to this, which has the advantage of being permanent. You can actually see what I’m playing much better anyway.

Have you fully recovered from tendonitis?

Pretty much, yes. It doesn’t affect my life much anymore. That said, I still play guitar only two days in a row before a day off so my arms get rest. Being a busy adult inhibits much more anyway.  With guitar, I can play everything I could before the injury (except classical) and am actually better physically than before. I get away with 2-6 hours of playing at once, depending on how demanding the music is.  I also played softball (as a pitcher no less) from 2008-2010 and started golfing in 2013, though I have to be careful, not overdo it, and not do those too often.

Why did you record 'Dee' by Randy Rhoads?

At the time (2009), I was rehearsing a similar finger picking piece of my own, “Menagerie”, and needed something else to practice, so I relearned “Dee”, having not played it in 20 years, back when I wrote “Menagerie”, as it turns out. When I finally recorded mine, I decided to record “Dee”, too, just because I could.

I didn’t intend to release “Dee”, but during mixing I walked into the studio late one morning and the engineer had it blasting from the speakers. I didn’t recognize it at first and thought it sounded great and wondered who it was. At about the same moment Jeff (the drummer) remarked, “I forgot you said you recorded this”, I realized what it was. That’s when I first thought to include it.

My performance is different from Randy’s in that he used two guitars with some harmony overdubs and I used one, a nylon string guitar. I also added rubato (a slowing down) in several places, which I first did on accident but then decided I liked, so I looked for other places to do that. It’s hard to create variations from the original performance when the song is so short and written for one guitar, and there’s no point in duplicating Randy’s exactly.

What does the 'firebard' mean?

It’s a spoof on the myth of the phoenix, which is a bird made of fire that grew so hot it burned itself to ashes, and was then reborn. This is where the expression “rising from your ashes” comes from. Another name for the phoenix is “the firebird”. Since my guitar playing was once taken away by tendonitis and I regained it and “rose from my ashes”, this was an obvious symbol to reference, and people do this all the time.

Medieval and renaissance bards were musicians who played a lute and sometimes sang. A lute is similar enough to a guitar that it could be said that bards are predecessors of guitarists.  So we have a guitarist (“bard”) who was destroyed and then reborn like the firebird, so I changed one letter in a play on words to create “The Firebard“. Like a bad joke, I thought this was clever until I had to explain it a million times. Many people have never heard of the firebird OR phoenix, and never heard the word “bard” either.

Are you related to David Ellefson (of Megadeth)?

No. Strangely, the Artist Relations guy at Peavey who gave me the endorsement also has that uncommon name.

Do you still play classical guitar?

No. I haven’t done it since August 1996 when I first got tendonitis, and don’t intend to. I can only do so much with my arms and have other priorities. I’m also more a creator than a performer and classical guitar was all the music of others.

Do you still play piano?

Only a little for recordings as backing parts. I used to play heavily before tendonitis took this away. I had two years of private lessons at college and this may have contributed to the injury. I miss doing it and wish I had the time and capacity from my arms to handle it regularly but don’t for now.

Serenade of Strings and The Lost Art
Is the guitar on The Lost Art cover the one heard on the album?

Yes, all performances of classical (nylon-stringed) guitar on either The Lost Art or Serenade of Strings are the guitar pictured on The Lost Art’s cover. It’s the only one I’ve owned and is also the one on which I did all of my classical guitar work for the degree. You could almost call it the “tendonitis guitar”.

Is the guitar on the Serenade of Strings cover used on the album?

Yes, it’s one of two steel-string acoustics used, mostly on the newer pieces that were written on it, by coincidence. Which steel string guitar was used on a song was determined solely by which had newer strings at the time. Both are by Alvarez and sound pretty much the same, though I tend to like the older, black one’s sound better while playing; I can’t tell which is which on recordings.

Why did you release Serenade of Strings and The Lost Art together?

The albums were released on the same day because both were ready and to consolidate mixing, mastering, photography, artwork, website updates, manufacturing and distribution, licensing, and promotion. I also can’t play classical guitar anymore, making The Lost Art a kind of bonus disc, not one I’d release on it’s own because that would give the impression of not only newness (it was recorded in 1995) but continued releases along those lines. It’s a “one-off” album.

The Lost Art came about when I recorded Serenade of Strings in 2009 and wanted to include my original “Fantasia Etude”, recorded in 1995 with 18 other classical pieces. I wasn’t sure of the recording quality, but my mixing engineer thought well of it, so I decided to release the other 18 pieces together as The Lost Art.

You might notice that on the back of The Lost Art, the sheet music from “Fantasia Etude” is visible even though the song itself is not on that album, but on Serenade of Strings. Call it “the ghost” of the missing etude that was also recorded with those pieces. This artwork fit the classical guitar album better.

Why didn't you use your logo on Serenade of Strings and The Lost Art?

The logo was designed for my career but that is generally hard rock/metal. It didn’t seem appropriate on the softer acoustic guitar and classical guitar albums and might give the wrong impression of what kind of music is on those discs, especially to people unfamiliar with my music.

Technical Stuff
What is a guitar lick?

A guitar lick is always a lead guitar thing, even if someone like Eddie Van Halen is playing rhythm and throws in a lead guitar lick at the end of a phrase. Licks are note-patterns or finger-patterns a guitarist has played before and knows will sound good. They are “safe” when improvising lead guitar live, and many players like EVH springboard off of these into more freeform playing, and then back again. There are even standard licks most players use and which characterize lead guitar in general.

They are generally fast and therefore impressive. Some people are better at inventing them, using them, and incorporating them into their style, but relying on them too much can also make solos sound similar. This is why some players are said to have “run out of licks.” In trying to avoid using the same licks in similar ways, album after album, they avoid previous ones and may not come up with enough new ones.

What is a guitar riff?

A guitar riff occurs in the rhythm guitar part, not the lead, and is a chord-based melody with a rhythm to it. In other words, it’s not simply a melody, nor just held chords. It is a melodic idea played along with several notes of a chord on a single instrument. The chords can change with the riff. All riffs are distinctive, but great ones are famous. Most hard rock and metal bands generally alternate between riffs, strummed or held/sustained chords, or a single line melody in the rhythm part.

Acoustic vs. classical guitar. What's the difference?

There are two basic types of guitars: acoustic and electric. Acoustic guitars are divided into two types: classical and acoustic, though what is really meant by this is nylon strings vs. steel strings. In other words, there are “nylon string classical acoustic guitars”, and “steel string acoustic guitars”. Since this is a mouthful, people call the first “classical” (or sometimes “nylon”) and the second just “acoustic” (or sometimes “steel string acoustic”, still a mouthful).

What’s the difference? Classical music is always performed on classical guitars (hence the name). Most other non-electric guitar music you hear is performed on a steel string acoustic, though this is not a rule. In fact, Latin music is often done on classical guitar, while country and rock ballads are frequently on a steel string. For recordings, the two sounds can be layered (the same music performed on each). There is a difference in timbre. Classical is softer, perhaps more romantic. Steel strings are brighter, ring out more, and sound more aggressive. Classical guitars do not have steel strings, nor can steel string acoustic guitars have nylon strings. The guitars are not designed for variation, and the structure of the bodies and guitar necks and related equipment (such as tuners, bridges, nuts, truss rods) are specific to the string type. In many cases, it’s impossible to put on the wrong type.

Classical guitars have three nylon strings wrapped in steel (making them look like steel strings) on the three lowest pitch strings, and nylon strings on the top three, highest pitched strings. Plain nylon looks like plastic. There’s no such thing as a classical guitar with all plain nylon. On an acoustic, steel strings are generally wound for the bottom four pitched strings, while the highest two are not wound and appear to be a bright silver steel.

Classical music, on classical guitar, is always sounded with the fingers of the right hand, while other styles, regardless of instruments, are generally played with a pick, except flamenco.

Incidentally, when a classical or acoustic guitar has a pickup attached to it, thereby making it an “electric acoustic or classical” guitar, it is still fundamentally a classical or acoustic guitar and should be referred to as one, not as an electric guitar. Acoustics are always hollow body guitars, while most electrics are solid bodies, though there are other differences.

 Posted by on February 14, 2015

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