Swing Guitar

Dedicated to pre-bebop jazz guitar.

Friday, December 30, 2005

New Background, New Gear

So you might have noticed the new background image. That is Al Casey from the mid-40's playing with drummer Denzil Best. He appears to be playing a Epiphone Deluxe with a DeArmond FHC Guitar Mic.

Oh, and I was pretty bad on ebay the last couple of weeks. So I got two things: 1) a DeArmond FHC Guitar Mic - I'm guessing its mid-40's based on the black bakealite volume knob, and 2) an 1937 Gibson EH-150 amp - the earliest version with square corners all around and a 10" speaker.

And speaking of a 10" speaker, the one in the amp is shot! If anyone has any leads on getting a replacement 10" field coil speaker, let me know!!!

The guitar mic is really awesome. I was getting tired of an electric tone that was just too modern sounding, and I was considering the crazy step of getting another Eastman and putting a Charlie Christian pickup in it. I was also looking at the Kent Armstrong single coil pickup on archtop.com, or the Tom Short Western Swing Pickup. The problem for me, at least, was that the Tom Short could not be used with Bronze strings, and the Kent Armstrong needed to mounted to a pickguard. Moreover, I released that vintage gear gets vintage sounds a lot easier, and that it was the modern pickup that I didn't like in the first place.

The guitar mic is great - its gets that vintage sound because it is really vintage. Plus, I can move it from guitar to guitar really easily. I put flats on my 810CE so I could get a more vintage sound, and the guitar mic sounds great on it. Sometimes, however, I just want to bring one guitar to a gig, and in that case I can put the pick up on my 805.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Bb Blues - simple and variations

Here's the first in a series of lessons on classic rhythm guitar songs and patterns. We'll start at the beginning and go over a Bb Blues.

Simple Blues
First is a simple pattern with no frills. It works well for playing fast, and as a good starting point for the beginning swing guitarist. All of these voicings are classic and can be found in Charleton Johnston's Swing and Big Band Rhythm Guitar. And this time, I've included some sound samples - because the ones in the Johnston book are terrible.

Bb Blues - simple - pdf
Bb Blues - simple - mp3

Blues Variations
Here is much more complicated chorus. Bear in mind that I crammed as many moves into this one as I could. You probably wouldn't bother to play all of these moves all the time, but you can use any of these moves to spice up a regular chorus.

Bb Blues - variations - pdf
Bb Blues - variations - mp3

Bar 1-2: Rather than play a simple I-IV-I, we put a I7 into the IV, and then a #IVdim leading back to the I.
Bar 4: This is another classic voice leading move that I learned from John Reynolds. I often also play this move two beats per chord over two bars.
Bar 5-6: This is a little more unusual move that I came up with looking for some kind of descending voice leading move.
Bar 7-8-9-10: The C#dim into the Cm7 is another classic chromatic movement. You can use the dim for beat or two or whole bar before moving to the ii7 chord.
Bar 11-12: Just a classic turnaround. You will use this everywhere.

*** Sound Clip Notes: I just got a M-audio Fast Track USB, which is a handy and simple audio interface, so I can finally record decent sounding sound samples. I used my RODE NT-3 for both. The simple changes were recorded with my Eastman 810CE (now strung with flatwounds - I can still hardly bring myself to say it) and the variations were played on my Eastman 805. Both were using the new Wegen 7mm.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Picks and Strings

Last week I received a nice big order from bigcitystrings.com, so I've some nice post fodder.

I'm a firm believer in Wegen picks - giant, massive, gargantuan picks. I have been using the 5mm Fatone or FatTone for 3 years and I could never go back to using regular picks. It took a little while to get used to, but the volume, projection and body are unparalleled. At $15 a pick, they aren't cheap, and you have to get used to always keeping tabs on your pick, but they are totally worth it.

My newest acquisitions are the "Button" and the "7". The 5mm button is fashioned after an old button which would have been whittled down to use as a pick - very old school, ala Django. This one is bit harder to us, but after a few minutes it became much more natural. This is the pick of choice for a lot of the djangobooks.com guys. But the real story is the "7". This is the mother of all picks - 7mm! I found this to be only a small change from the fattone and it created absolutely amazing volume. I'm stuck on this pick!

String Type
I think phospor bronze sounds to bright and tinny, so use 80/20 bronze. When I received my Eastman 805, it came with nickel 12's, and the only thing I could find to replace them at the time were Martin SP's. I had never used Martin strings and boy was I surprised at how great they sounded. I've tried a couple other brands, but kept coming back to the Martins. Also, I did try Martin Marquis and regular Martin 80/20's but neither sounded as good as the SP's. The Martin SP's just sound great, and, as advertized, have great longevity.
I can't believe I'm saying this, but I just put flatwounds on my Eastman 810CE. Shudder. Ok, I'm over it. After talking to a couple people lately, I realized that back in the 30's and 40's people like Charlie Christian probably used flats. I got sick of having crappy string balance from bronze strings, and crappy acoustic tone from nickel. Since I have an Eastman 805 non-cutaway, that is now exclusively electric, I figured I could skimp a little on the acoustic tone of my electric guitar. Honestly, the acoustic tone isn't that bad. I could only find Thomastik Swing Flat 13's, and they are pretty good, but I really like D'Aquisto Flats. I've used those for years and they sound really good. Just stay away from "ground-wound" strings like D'Addario Chromes. The difference is that ground wound strings are normal round wound strings, except they are shaved flat. Real flatwounds are tape wound, and the wrap is a flat tape.
According to archtop.com, "Even the oldest archtop guitars are remarkably sturdy for the most part, having been built to accommodate high E strings of .014 or higher." Now I don't generally go that big, but I have 13's on both my Eastman's. I think anything less than a 12 is worthless.
If your treble strings are a bit thin sounding, you can try to go up a guage on the E and B strings - for quite a while I was using a 13 set but switching out for a 14 and 18 on the top two strings. Also, pay attention to the G, D and A string guages. I noticed that the "Medium" guage Martin SP 80/20's are 13/17/26/35/45/56, instead of the usual 26/36/46/56, which they use in the "Bluegrass" gauge. The D and A strings have the greatest volume and projection on an archtop guitar, and by using bigger guages you can increase the power and projection of the whole guitar. I made the move from the slightly lighter Medium to the slighter heavier Bluegrass, and the guitar sounds even bigger, especially for rhythm.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


So I've been tossing up posts whenever I get an idea. Plus, I've got several mega post lessons that are in the works.

But I have no idea what you guys my actually like to see. So write back with what you'd like to see more of...lessons?...gear ideas?...style and genre commentaries?...sound clips?

Let me know. Thanks!