Diversify, but don’t suck. Though my primary axe is guitar, I am a multi-instrumentalist and can point specifically to this skill as the door-opener to career opportunities that would have been otherwise unavailable to a uni-picker. For example, to play so-called “society gigs” for the social elite of Manhattan (where I reside), big bands will often hire a singing guitar player who doubles on bass. The way this works is that the doubling six-stringer would be instructed to play bass for all the fox-trots, waltzes, swing dances, Latin tunes, and ballads—in short, most of the evening. But somewhere in the latter half of the third set, this player would put down the bass, pick up the guitar, step on all his pedals, step up to the microphone, and lead the band in the “rock portion” of the show. After enough of that, the leader would nod with a pained smile to the guitarist, which was the signal to stand down and get the hell back on that bass. To work the society racket, you had to play bass in a variety of styles, be able to read charts, and sometimes read single notes in the bass clef. Plus lead the band in Cold Play and Chili Peppers songs.
So if you don’t play bass and guitar, you don’t work. (By the way, you also have to sing while playing guitar—so that’s really a “triple,” not a “double.”) This is a disconnect from what you learn in music school and what goes on in the professional world. Sometimes it’s not enough to be the best on your instrument. In the real world, playing multiple instruments well is a better guarantee for work than being the best at one. In the theater and show world, woodwind players know this, as it’s an absolute pre-requisite for employment. You can make well over six-figures in Broadway pit orchestras if you play flute, clarinet, and sax. But you have to play them all. And well. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most smoking alto saxophonist in the world if you can’t play the flute line and make it lovely-sounding.
The same is now true for string instrument players. No longer can you simply tune a banjo like the top four or five strings of a guitar and strum and arpeggiate your way through familiar chord grips. That’s cheating. If you’re playing tenor banjo for a ragtime score, you had better be tuned in fifths and know the real chords, the real voice-leading moves, and the tremolo picking that constitutes legit tenor banjo playing. Same with the five string bluegrass banjo: You have to know your Scruggs rolls, melodic flourishes, and a whole repertoire of idiomatic licks. Travis picking on a banjo sounds like crap.
The most important gig in my life came because I could play authentic five-string banjo. A production of a bluegrass musical was having trouble finding a banjo player for their pit orchestra. There were good banjoists around, but none could sight read a score or follow a conductor. The experienced pit guitarists could read well, but couldn’t play the banjo authentically enough for the discerning conductor. But I happened to bring the right combination of legit five-string playing and sight-reading chops that landed me the gig.
Now, getting the banjo thing down was no walk in the park. I actually tabled my guitar playing for three years to devote intensive study to the banjo. I had to abandon my guitar-based fingerpicking approach in order to learn to think like a banjo player. Today, nothing makes me madder than to hear a guitarist faking it by Travis-picking a five-string tuned like the top strings of a guitar. It sounds horrible. Oh, and why was this the most important gig in my life? Because I met my future wife, who was in the cast. While not a musical benefit in itself, it has paired me with a patient partner who puts up with my music-making follies. And that’s worth its weight in gold.
My main musical fidelity is to the guitar, but I also love my banjo and my bass. And often skills derived on one will transfer over to other aspects of musicianship. In fact, I got my most recent theater gig because, again, the bass player assigned to the job couldn’t quite keep up with the chart-reading. He was a great bass player, but I was asked to replace him because the gig also called for a musician that didn’t make mistakes. Or step in the holes in the syncopated stop-time section. Or get lost during the conducted rubato passages. The thing is, I acquired most of these smarts as a guitarist, not a bassist. I simply transferred my past pit-guitar experiences over to my present bass-playing role, and got the best of both professional worlds.
Playing multiple instruments ain’t easy. You have to own entirely different setups for each axe, and spend twice or three times as much on things like tuners, strings, straps, effects, and other accessories. But while that all costs money, it’s also part of the fun. It takes me three times longer to get through a Musician’s Friend catalog, because I like reading about gear, and at least three of the categories (four, if you count recording gear) speak directly to my employability. Having the right gear (along with mastering it) is a huge part of it. But it’s worth it. Because I’m living proof that being a multi-instrumentalist can not only expand your professional horizons, it can change your life.—Jon Chappell
(Image courtesy Yuri Macyk.)
|This Week on HC|
Checked out our User Reviews lately? After the Forums, this is our most popular destination on Harmony Central. And it keeps on getting bigger. The unstoppable growth of the User Reviews is due to two related factors: 1) new gear is always being released, which means the database expands to accommodate it all; 2) Your needs are constantly evolving, which means you’re just seeking out new gear and reporting on it. And this doesn’t have to be “new” gear, as in just-released gear. For example, you might suddenly get a hankering for a four-year-old keyboard, or a guitar that was released a decade ago or more. As the old expression for buying used stuff goes, “It might not be new, but it’s new to me.”
The User Reviews section is like some crazy old cat lady: it never throws anything away. That’s because thee new gear doesn’t push out the old gear; older gear remains there in perpetuity and is kept vital and relevant through the reactions and commentary of “recent acquirers.” It doesn’t matter that the some keyboard workstation came out in 2007. You may not have been in a position to buy one then. But you can still buy it new, or if it’s discontinued, it will certainly be enjoying a “long tail” through Amazon, eBay, and Craig’s List. And you can do your research in the User Reviews, which is far better than trusting the “reviews” of auction sites.And if you do get that vintage 1955 Gretsch 6120 or that 1985 Mesa/Boogie Mark III or that 2010 Anniversary Les Paul, make sure you pay a visit to the User Reviews and let us know what you think. You can bet that someone will be hanging on your every word.
By Craig Anderton
By Jon Chappell
This DVD from Dethklok bassist Bryan Beller offers comprehensive instruction on all styles of bass playing, including detailed gear rundowns
So you decided to re-visit that older piece of digital gear you had sitting around, plugged it in, and—ooops, nothing! Although this could mean you’ll have to cough up the bucks to get it serviced, if it’s out of warranty anyway, there are a few tricks you might try to get it working again.
First, you have to unplug the unit (seriously, some people forget to do this!) and disassemble it. You may get lucky and find a service manual online, but be careful—you want to fix any damage, not create more. Use your cell phone to take pictures of what went where so you won’t have any trouble putting everything back together again. Get a small plastic container or cup to hold any screws; if it seems you can’t get the bottom off because of a hidden screw, check to see if it’s under a sticker or label on the unit’s underside. And please—if you don’t have the right size screwdriver, get one that fits. Stripping the head of a Philips head screw before it’s out completely means you probably won’t be able to remove it at all.
Second, very carefully unplug and re-plug any ribbon connectors, ICs, and Molex connectors. You don’t have to take the plugs all the way out; just take them out far enough so that pushing them back in will wipe the contacts of oxidation. You may need to do this a couple of times if there’s any serious oxidation or even corrosion, and remember, some connectors may have tabs that have be pried away from the connector in order to remove it. With socketed integrated circuits, it’s worth getting an IC puller and gently rocking the IC back and forth to move the pin contacts within the socket (they don’t need to move much). If you pull the IC out, be extremely careful when re-inserting it so you don’t bend any pins, or end up bending a pin underneath the IC.
After doing this, reassemble the device, plug it in, cross your fingers, and prepare for the “smoke test.” These procedures aren’t always the solution, but you might be surprised at just how often you’ll end up with a working unit—and not have to send it in for servicing after all.
|Featured Industry News|
This week's pick hits from our News section
A few of this week's top discussions from our Forums
With over 400 replies in four days, floating bridge systems seem to be a hot topic. Read about the difference between the two mechanisms, the write-in votes for the Kahler solution (not mentioned in the opening poster’s question), and people’s experience using both systems in a wide variety of situations. Passions run high in this thread, but it’s not without humor, either.
There are many ways to damage a speaker—like torn cones. This useful thread gives instructions for how to repair a tear or cut in your speaker’s cone using basic materials you can find in just about any craft store.
It’s an incredibly anticipated product—having a first-class audio interface that includes the DSP needed to run Universal Audio’s plug-ins in near-real time would seem to be a winning combination. But is it? And is it worth the bucks? This pro review puts Apollo under the Harmony Central microscope.
Active, passive—what’s the difference? Will a higher-quality DI box make an audible difference in your recordings? What about active direct boxes versus passive ones? Tune in for the answers!
The folks in the acoustic guitar forum give some valuable and practical advice on copyrighting, protecting, and proving ownership of your creative work. Included are examples of simple protection procedures, fees, and links to PROs (performing rights organizations, like ASCAP and BMI) and the Electronic Copyright Office. Essential reading for all songwriters.
The obsession guitar players have with their amps may seem extreme, but there are some really—un, "sound" reasons—why this is so, starting with the interaction between the guitar output and amp input.
What setlists are the forumites in the world of Solo and Duo Acts taking to the stage? Check these out, and you just might get inspired to add some of these songs to yours.
Can Jango help you understand more about what music your fans like, what they don’t like, their other favorites, and more? And can you make any money off of it? Our own intrepid Mr. Knobs, Moderator Extraordinaire of Open Jam, checks it out—and reports back on the results.
If you play keys, you gotta have an expression pedal. But which ones are durable, practical, and work with a wide variety of keyboards? There’s no better place to ask than the Keys, Synths, and Samplers forum.
Is there any benefit to Eqing sub-woofers? Opinions vary considerably, but there’s a lot to be learned from the experts in the Live Sound and Production forum.
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Editorial Craig Anderton, Editor in Chief • Jon Chappell, Senior Editor • Phil O’Keefe, Associate Editor • Chris Loeffler, Reviews Editor