Review: Kid Andersen’s Blues Refinery

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire has exchanged access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

My apologies for the long break in lesson reviews. I last left off discussing Oz Noy’s incredibly hip take on the blues by getting a non-traditional sound. Today I get to discuss Kid Andersen’s incredibly hip take on the blues by getting a very traditional sound. Specifically Kid Adersen is most known for playing with Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, when the recently departed Little Charlie Baty retired and the band changed it’s name from Little Charlie and the Nightcats. Huge shoes to fill, but his command of the “West Coast Swing Blues” style of guitar in the vein of Little Charlie and Hollywood Fats landed the gig, and is on full display in Kid Andersen’s Blues Refinery.

Kid has a fine sense of humor and an incredibly useful mix of straight concepts like building your melodies off chord shapes, techniques like bending and raking, and some easy to remember tricks based off of solid concepts that he calls “shortcuts to sophistication.” – As a theory fan, I had to stop a few times and go, oh yeah that’s based on… that works and is totally a cool take on that. No spoilers, but that section alone is worth the price of admission.

But there is the biggest section of taking those ideas and concepts, plus being able to see his licks tabbed out, on display over a Boogaloo, Box Shuffle, Slow Minor, etc. I don’t know what else to say other than this another unique collection of great lessons for blues guitar playing.

Review: Sean McGowan’s Pentatonic Palettes for Jazz Guitar

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire does exchange access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

Yup, it’s another course on pentatonic scales, this time offered by jazz guitarist Sean McGowan, and taking some creative steps to applying these ideas to more traditional sounding jazz. The courses start into the familiar territory with pentatonic scales, move quickly into more advanced applications like chromatic sidestepping, and then start applying more unconventional five note scales like the minor six/Kumoi scale, the dominant pentatonic, and the Hirajoshi. I’m still working in this section and am having fun.

From there it breaks into some form exercises with ii – V – Is, to applying some standard changes like for “Autumn Leaves.”

There were a few moments during the breakdowns were I was asking “Yes, that’s a nice sounding lick, Sean, but what are you applying that from?” Overall, though, this is a great set of concepts, and Sean lays them out very clearly.

Review: Frank Vignola’s Jazzin’ the Blues Vol. 1 & Vol.2

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire does exchange access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

I am known around town as a blues player, and I’ve been to music school and studied under some greats; so I love injecting some jazz traits to my electric blues solos. So, I wanted to take a look at Frank Vignola’s Jazzin’ the Blues Vol.1 for this month’s review. While I was working with it during the month, Jazzing the Blues Vol.2 was released. So, let’s take a look at both volumes. 

As with nearly all TrueFire lesson groups, you get video of Frank playing his examples and tab. These lessons feature Soundslice, so that a student can set a variable speed, follow the tab playback which is really handy for playing along with fast or tricky passages. You see it exactly as played from half speed to faster than performed.

This is a focus on adding “jazzy” ideas to blues lead lines on guitar. Frank Vignola is a master player and has a basic format for both volumes: focus on one idea at a time and play two different choruses of solos that illustrate that idea. Each is melodic and state the idea well, and don’t get particularly challenging to play for an intermediate player until getting into Volume 2. 

My only complaint to his approach and teaching style in these volumes is his speaking style can come across as a grade school instructor telling a student that “very important new word” when going to each new idea, like major 2nds, or the Super Locrian or whole tone scale; but if he is approaching these concepts as new, there are no additional materials demonstrating what a major 2nd is and where it is on the neck, or any grids or descriptions of new scales. There is some description of the ideas during the Breakdown sections, but seem explained as though the player who previously hears the words “Super Locrian scale” then should know how that concept relates to the licks being demonstrated. 

If the student has a strong grasp of theory, they may chuckle at the vocal delivery but get a wealth of knowledge and some great ideas for playing. A student  not familiar with the concepts should have access to some sort of supplemental information covering the concepts to fully “get” the information presented. 

The concepts in Volume 1 cover using the major 6th, the diminished scale, the bebop scale, the whole tone scale, octaves, the major 2nd, the Mixolydian mode, and the Super Locrian mode. Volume 2 covers the major 9, (this time relating to the other chord tones and within each chord, opposed to the major 2nd in Vol.1) the chromatic scale, double stops, the Dorian mode, implying the ii V, neighboring tones, and the harmonic minor scale. If the student gets the concepts beyond just the riffs… this is a BIG bag of tricks for blues playing.

The only other tiny quibble is that the intro invokes names like Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, and Oz Noy… yet these licks don’t invoke the playing of any of them, more stock “Soul Jazz” riffs. THIS IS NOT A BAD THING… especially if you can internalize the concepts more than the licks from the lesson plan (and make your own sound)… which again raises my stressing for having better access to the concepts for folks not familiar.

So, if I’m in any way critical, it’s only because there’s really, really good stuff here to be had.

Review: Robbie Calvo’s Double Stop Chops

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire does exchange access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

Let’s talk double stops, those little two note jabs or lines on the guitar. Many guitarists get get tied up in single note melodic lines, and chordal playing and overlook this essential technique. In Double Stop Chops Robbie Calvo covers all the essentials Major and Minor thirds and sixths, fourths, octaves; and then lets you wet your toes into some r&b and blues toward the end. One critique: Robbie is a Nashville cat and most of the examples (including the r7b and blues) sound like modern country. The good news is that he spends a lot of time on concepts and encourages the student to wrap their head and fingers around them to make their own sounds.

This subject and set of lessons may not be as flashy as other offerings, but it is a great approach to teaching an essential and often neglected guitar technique. I use double stops all over my contemporary blues, rock, and even zydeco shows currently. This is good stuff, bravo Robbie Calvo.

Review: Sheryl Bailey’s Essentials: Bebop Blues Etudes

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire does exchange access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

Oh my! Sheryl Bailey is both a master of bop guitar and a stellar teacher, and this is a great package of lessons. First off, I love the format: Sheryl takes a collection of changes from essential bop blues tunes and standards (Summertime, Blues for Alice, Watermelon Man, Billie’s Bounce, All Blues, Confirmation, West Coast Blues, etc.) and does a model solo as an etude for each of the tunes. What really impressed me was that each etude found a sweet spot of not being too difficult to play, but “sounded like jazz”; they are all great licks and lines. (most jazz lessons I’ve encountered fall short in one of those ways or the other, most frequently being finger twisters that frustrate… and as a pro for decades, I realize there will be some difficulty in learning new styles, but I frequently find ones that just make me want to quit in frustration. No worries here!)

Each lesson features a play-through of the etude, and then an in depth breakdown of the licks and concepts.  Most are single note, melodic development off of the original head. But, I found the introductory lesson contained some chordal approaches that were new to me, hip, and easy enough to comprehend and implement on the bandstand right away. This to me is the gold standard of any book, video, or lesson series purchase. Just give me something cool that I will be happy to add to my “trick bag.” There are a few points where I’d hoped Sheryl would get more in depth about some more difficult ideas (Thinking in particular about how she came up with choices for, say, chromatic ii-Vs on Parker blues… and more specifically how I could make my own) That said, what she does cover, she does very well and shows the joy of sharing discoveries to her students.

If you are interested in bop, jazz guitar, and the jazzier side of blues playing, unless you are already well versed in this particular niche, this is an excellent collection of lessons that I would highly recommend.

 

Review: TrueFire – Jeff Scheetz’s Street Theory for Guitarists

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire does exchange access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

Many times listening to beginners trying to advance you’ll hear comments like “I wish I understood music theory” as if it’s something exotic or a fix-all to understanding and writing music, or improvising. Or sometimes you’ll hear a player describe it as a stumbling block, or unnecessary for making music that’s “real”. I tell students it’s neither one, but it is extremely helpful to either communicate with other musicians and to understand how things work, which not just coincidentally gives you a better understanding of what you may be playing and/or creating.

Jeff Scheetz’s Street Theory for Guitarists does that superbly for guitarists of all ability levels. Even if you’re a beginner that can’t yet play the examples, you should still be able to learn the concepts. Jeff is a relaxed, easy-going, and confident instructor and the videos have some nice touches including attention grabbing pop-up text summarizing important points (similar to the “for Dummies” or variation instruction books, some more jaded or intellectual people might find them cheesy, but they are a great way to highlight and memorize the best of the information) Jeff breaks the videos into four sections in a thoughtful way, and etc of the concepts are presented in a natural progression, leading up to working the ideas using the popular CAGED system for guitarists.

I have to commend Jeff especially on nailing one concept that I’ve seen so many other guitar and jazz instructors presenting “practical” or “street” theory veer into bad theory: he nails the presentation of the 7 fundamental modes by understanding it’s not just the scale, but the progression that defines modal playing.

If you are a guitarist, and have no understanding of theory. I would highly recommend this series of videos. If you are like most guitarists and know a few points of theory, this can fill in most of everything that you need to understand about theory as a guitar player. If you studied theory in college and can apply what you learned already… there’s nothing here to see. If you learned theory in a traditional manner, but didn’t get applying it to your instrument, this will be rudimentary theory-wise but should apply lots of idea lightbulbs and a-ha moments.

I’ve seen a lot of “street theory”, “guitar theory” or “practical theory” books, articles, and videos out there over decades as a player and private teacher. This is probably the best I’ve seen, and almost certainly the best presentation. Bravo Jeff Sheetz.

Review: 50 Hard Bop Blues Licks You MUST Know by Tom Wolfe

Full Disclosure: I am not a paid blogger, but TrueFire does exchange access to their lessons to me for a review per month.

My favorite jazz era for guitar is hard bop. Hard bop was used as a label to describe a new current in jazz in the 1950’s from artists whose influences not only were from the bebop era of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, but from blues, r&B, and gospel. Some critics also talk about it being, in part, an east coast answer to the cool jazz/west coast.

In part because of the influence of more “guitaristic” music, a greater number of guitarists; like Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, Jimmy Raney, and especially Wes Montgomery, would emerge as prominent jazz soloists.

Not only is having a base of blues licks from this era a great starting point or supplement to jazz playing (there probably is an argument still going somewhere about whether Wes or Charlie Christian is the most “essential” guitar influence to study jazz [note: please do not continue that argument on my page]) but having some of those chops is a fantastic addition to straight electric blues.

While this is a collection of licks, it teaches concepts gradually. One example: while there are influences from many guitarists of the era, it does progress through the first 45 licks using the Wes Montgomery “three tier” approach: Single note lines, then octaves, and finally chord solo licks. They start easy and add more ideas and complexity as you go. While there will be some finger twisters, many of these should be no trouble to an intermediate level student. Being able to slow down licks in SoundSlice view makes things even easier.

Even though this isn’t theory based lessons, taking these lessons I had a very satisfying “aha!” moment with a lick with a maj7th arpeggio on the blues (Theory aside: the theory being playing a lick on the arpeggio of a 7th chord from the b7, example over a G7 play an Fmaj7 arppeggio lick [F, A, C, E all are the upper “extensions” that bebop players like Charlie Parker added to the mix])

I got to the point where I can play all of these, but I’m still going back until I memorize more. There are a lot of good bits of melody to add to your improv “trick bag”. Tom Wolfe has made an excellent lesson pack and I look forward to more from him. (maybe a more in depth focus on Wes Montgomery?)

 

50 Hard Bop Blues Licks You MUST Know by Tom Wolfe on TrueFire.

 

Review: TrueFire

Full disclosure: I have been a subscriber to TrueFire’s all access lesson plan for about a year. This month, I begin writing a review per month in exchange for my usual monthly access. I have been very fortunate in my musical career, in that so far the only few products that I’ve demonstrated or reviewed for any exchange or consideration are ones that I’ve either already been using for a while, or thoroughly delighted to discover. I’ll be writing a review per month for TrueFire for as long as they’ll let me, starting with a spiffy set of Hard Bop blues licks very soon, but on my own I wanted to do an overview of TrueFire on my own. i.e. I’m writing this article on my own, but it will be a prelude to some sponsored review.

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(This is my own recollection and possibly not true company history, I’m sure they would correct me on anything grievously wrong) I think my first introduction to TrueFire was back in the 90’s, they were doing some AV things in association with Guitar Player magazine, and also offering some lesson packs. I got a few sets of lessons in the mail with paper bound booklets and cassette tapes(!) Yes, different era. Now I can get just about anything I would want at my computer (Or for you pesky kids and up to date types, your mobile thingamajig… hey, get off my lawn)

I wanted to focus on both some “back-to-basics” in my technique and expand my skill set style-wise (I’ve always loved and studied jazz, and always respected the virtuosity of country players, even if the popular stuff of that genre is definitely not my taste in music) and I found them at www.truefire.com and they offered a thirty day free trial of their all access plan. You can choose individual lesson sets, a la carte, and get some premium jam tracks, but I’ve been stuck in the lessons section… and there are a whole LOT of them.

There are lessons covering technique and theory and covering styles including blues, rock, jazz, country, acoustic, flamenco& world, and too many sub-genres of these for me to track and list. Dozens of celebrity teachers like Robben Ford, Pat Martino, Tommy Emmanuel, etc. to long time print and video educators like Andy Aledort, to a few folks I know… I’ve gotten to share the stage a few times with Robbie Laws, and two of my favorite Portland guitar teachers, John Stowell and Mark Stefani (whose http://www.visionmusic.com is also a pioneer in online lessons) are here as well.

These are all laid out in bite sized “lessons” of videos with related material (averaging probably 5 minutes each) in an overall package, like Robbie’s 30 Penta Sonic Blues Licks You Must Know which gives an overall package of minor pentatonic licks over all five standard positions, with one video per lick. Another ultra-spiffy feature of this is that many of these offer Soundslice, which gives a “follow the tab” rolling feature, plus a variable speed playback from half speed to faster than the original. Very helpful for fast or precise riffs.

One more favorite for me is their Learning Paths series, which is a gradual overview of selected beginning to advanced lessons as a path to learning for Blues, Rock, Jazz, Country, and Acoustic. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year working through the Jazz section and this “old dog”, music school grad, and near 30 year professional musician has had many “a-ha!” moments following this series. And I’m still only somewhere in the Intermediate level.

Yes, there are “free” lessons on the internet, and yes, nothing replaces private instruction for immediate feedback and individual guidance… but after approximately a year, I believe there is no better “bang for the buck” offerings for guitar education available online, particularly for anyone who enjoys learning by guitar videos.

Review: Quilter 101 Mini Head

Full disclosure before beginning, I am a “Quilter artist”, which means I am on their webpage as a player and have been mentioned in their social media. I am not an employee of Quilter or involved in any marketing or advertising company. The “free stuff” endorsement deals of yesteryear don’t exist anywhere anymore. In other words, I use and like their product. but they’re not paying me to do that. But….

They did send me one of their 101 Mini heads to beta test for them. I was not allowed to discuss, photograph, or video the little beast until the product was announced. Which just happened a few days ago. Alas, if I’d only made a video before sending it back. *sigh*

Quilter 101 Mini Head Review

So, one day I get a big box from Quilter delivered to me. I open it up, and there’s a little box inside; no, wait, that’s the amp.

Quilter official product photo. May be actual size depending on your monitor.
Quilter official product photo. May be actual size depending on your monitor.

This little guy weighs two pounds, which considering that it’s a metal enclosure, made me wonder if there was anything inside. My point of reference is my Quilter MicroPro Head, a 200 watt monster that weighs a back breaking (OK, pinky bending) 7 lbs. Quilter’s other tiny head, the Tone Block seemed tiny enough at 4 lbs, and I considered it basically the stripped down engine of the 200 watt MicroPro and Aviator lines. And where I had thought of the Tone Block as primarily intended to be a power amp, with it’s gain and EQ controls, some users look to it as a neutral mini-head to put stompbox signals into.

Anyone using or thinking of using the Tone Block as a mini head owes it to themselves to check out the features the the 101 Mini has to offer. First the gain is there, but there are more tone shaping controls on the 101. While I’m a traditional amp guy, and prefer the three knob EQ plus Presence of many amps, the Tri-Q and Hi-Cut allow for a lot of options using only two knobs; absolutely necessary for the tiny amount of space to mount full size knobs. A sweep of the Tri-Q all the way counterclockwise gives scooped mids (not my favorite for most) at noon the frequencies are flat and all the way clockwise cuts the bass (my preferred for many of the sounds on this rig had a bit of bass cut). Likewise, the Hi-cut is just what you’d imagine, a sort of anti-presence or anti-bright switch for possible ice-pick frequencies.

Running through the amp voicings: Those familiar with the Quilter Full-Q sound (the sound of the Aviator line and the default setting for the MicroPro voicings) will not be surprised or disappointed, it is the full bodied Quilter sound. On my demo (serial number 101Demo02, I believe) the setting now called Tweed was then named “Blues”. This was also a familiar setting, though I felt a bit of difference between it and my MicroPro Tweed setting, but both remind me of 5E3 Deluxes. I’m not a huge Neil Young fan, but I can’t help crank the gain and play the opening to “Cinnamon Girl” on this setting.

The Jazz setting was something new to me, and of course made a bit more “dark” and “mellow” of a tone, even rounding out the sound of my single coils to play some tasty Telecaster jazz. The other clean sound is Surf, which I imagine to be shaped after some Fender Blackface sound… it had a bit more bottom end for my taste for that sound, but after adjusting the EQ, became a toss-up between it and the Full-Q for my most used sound.

Initially the most confusing one for me was called “Metal” on my demo but now called Lead. Like “Blues” to Tweed, this name change is a very good call, as the first thing I did when I saw the name Metal was to set it to the scoop setting and crank the gain. Not at all satisfying… while you can get a nice gritty sound, no Quilter amp yet made is “high gain” by any stretch. Putting some distortion in front (in my case a VFE Dark Horse) Changed that dramatically. I tuned the guitar down to baritone range and had a good amount of fun going “chugga-chugga-djent-djent” for awhile. While you can get those sounds, you have to use a good stompbox. “So why did they call it Metal?” I thought to myself. Taking the Tri-Q settings out of scoopville and playing open chords and some lead lines, I got it. This was classic rock land very similar to my old ’78 Marshall 50 watt master volume. Using just a bit of overdrive got some nice sustainy leads of the late 70’s to 80’s hard rock variety. So Lead is a better name; but just like an old Marshall, you can play all kinds of heavier music through it if you know what pedal you like.

Some of the first people to see this have said “where’s the reverb”. 1) There’s no more room on the face for knobs. 2) it’s a huge sounding head that weighs less than 2 pounds. 3) The suggested retail price is just under 300 bucks. 4) If you gotta have reverb, get a pedal and use the effects loop. Wait.. what’s that? Yeah, that’s right, this also has an effects loop.

Since this was such a tiny beast, I strapped it to a Pedaltrain Mini, then put a tc electronics HOF mini reverb and a Flashback mini delay in the effects loop. I set the reverb toneprint to a nice spring reverb amp sound and switched between some slapback and some spacious delay sounds. It just plain worked. It gave me great sounds out of each voicing and at a variety of gain settings. Likewise, putting a Fly5 rig or an Ethos preamp into just the return turned the 101 mini into a power amp (though if I remember correctly, it was more than the Hi-cut… I think the voicings, which still affected the tone, which I found surprising. Best to set to Full Q and leave the rest neutral for your pre-amps or modelers, I presume).

Power? Rated at 50 watts and up to 100 on the clean (Jazz and Surf) settings. How loud? Plenty enough for club shows, blues jams, and a pair of outdoor shows. The only time I opened it up all the way was at one of the outdoor settings where the band before us invited me to do an Allman Brothers tune, and the guy had two (!) Dr. Zs onstage and was playing way, way louder than I prefer. Loud as the MicroPro through the same speakers? Let’s just say no. I’ve never come near opening up the MicroPro all the way.

I was sent this amp to try out, because I was asking Chris at Quilter about the Tone Block. I think there are a few people who were considering Tone Block and now seeing this new device are wondering what to get. My suggestion is, if you’re looking for something to power pre-amps the Tone Block still may be what you want, and does still make a good, if bare bones, guitar head. But, if what you’re looking for is a mini head, especially if you have stompboxes, you might prefer 101.

What does the ToneBlock do that the 101 can’t? 200 watts class D and a DI out.

What’s different about the 101 Mini from ToneBlock? 5 amp voicings, Hi-Cut (more tone shaping), effects loop, headphone out, smaller and lighter.

So how did they pry it out of my hands? Well, after all, it was a demo, and not mine. I did notice a tiny amount of noise at zero volume and reported it as any good tester should. Quilter immediately asked to check it out at their facility, they followed up to me that they confirmed the issue already corrected in the production run.

I still wish that I’d gotten video before I returned it. And once I get past my current condition known as “poverty”, I’m still balancing which Quilter device I’ll get next, but at the $300 range, this is an astonishing deal.