Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Everything A Non-Guitarist Ever Needed To Know About Guitar, Part I

There are plenty of things that are good to know about, even if you don't do them yourself. Take banking for instance. If your bank goes under as part of the current real estate mess won't you want to know how it was so exposed to real estate problems? Probably, but not because you want to be a banker. You want to choose a more careful bank in the future.

So what do you need to know about guitars if you record guitars, play some other instrument in a band with guitars?

You need to understand what your guitarist is talking about. You need to understand what the guitar does and does not do. Specifically:

  • How high and low the guitar goes: range/register
  • Types of guitar sounds: acoustic nylon, acoustic steel, electric clean, electric distorted
  • Common guitar problems
  • Common variations on the standard guitar

Part I

Register


For starters it's a good idea to know what pitch range the guitar plays in so you can keep the guitar and other instruments out of each others' way.


What many people don't realize is that there is only one octave between the lowest note on a standard guitar and a standard four-string bass guitar. Most five and six string bass guitars start one octave plus a fifth (seven half steps) below the low E on a standard guitar. This means that everything above the E on the D string on a bass overlaps with the guitar and may compete with the guitar in a mix.

A standard tuned six string guitar plays from E3 to E6 (IPN), with the lowest open string sounding E3, the highest open string sounding E5 and notes up to E6 being available on frets up the neck. This can compete with
  • Anything above the E2-E3 octave of a standard bass
  • Three octaves in the middle of a piano or other keyboard
  • Toms
  • Cymbals
  • Sax
  • Banjo
  • Most other classical and folk string instruments, except the lower end of a double bass
Of course guitars perform with these other instruments all the time and they sound great together. In many cases this is because a musician is holding back or laying out entirely. Other times sonic density is the goal and what could be competition of a position in the mix is two or more instruments working together to make a bigger sound.

That's the best case scenario. Anybody who has ever heard a live band who's sound was so muddled none of the instruments could be picked out knows what I mean about the other cases.

Next post I will discuss compression and distortion as it pertains to the guitar.

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