Back to the Future… B or Bb?

Posted: March 21, 2016 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 2.42.42 PMOne of the highlights of my career in Hollywood was being a guitar coach to various movie and TV stars, one of which was Michael J. Fox for the first and second Back to the Future movies. Because the first movie’s 30th anniversary was last year I was asked to do several interviews. One was for a book: “We Don’t Need Roads” The Making of the Back To The Future Trilogy, by Caseen Gains. If you’re interested in these movies it’s a great book, I enjoyed it and even though I was part of the crew I learned a lot.

(Left) A pic of Michael and I jamming at a party at my house from those days. Michael parked his Ferrari on my lawn. That was so cool.

Another interview I did was with Emily Rome from She was writing an article, which you can read here, about Back to the Future’s iconic Johnny B Goode scene. After the interview we had some email correspondence and I thought it might make for some interesting guitar trivia to post for you. Below is her question and my response. 

Hi Paul,

…Thanks again for talking with me for my article about the Johnny B. Goode scene in Back to the Future. We’re hoping to publish that story later this week.

One thing I wanted to clarify with you — this is about the B vs. B flat thing. Though you taught Michael J. Fox to play the song in B, the recording with Tim May is in B flat, right?

If the recording is in B flat, can you help me understand one thing? Forgive my ignorance about music here, but how did it work out that audiences (or audiences familiar with guitar-playing, at least) can’t tell Michael’s playing the song in a different key than what they’re hearing? I know you and Michael worked hard to make it look like he’s really playing the song on screen. Does the fingering of B and B flat just look that similar?


Emily Rome, Associate Editor,

Hi Emily,

Tim May played Johnny B.Goode in Bb because Bones Howe (the music supervisor) wanted to be as accurate as possible and Bb was the key Chuck Berry often played the song in.

The fingering for the keys of Bb and B are very close, only one fret apart. There are big, visible position markers on the neck of the guitar Michael used, a Gibson ES-345. Position markers are the mother of pearl inlays that you can see on the fingerboard.

(Btw, here’s some trivia. That ES-345, that Michael plays in the film had not been invented when the movie takes place in 1955. Bob Zemeckis (the director) just thought the ES guitar would look more realistic because in most pictures or videos of Chuck, he’s playing an ES-345 or ES-335.)

Back to the position markers. When playing in Bb, a guitarist’s fingers fall in between the position markers. Since the position markers are so visible, it makes Bb pretty obvious. No 80’s guitarist would ever play Johnny B Goode in Bb so Michael and I thought Bb would look fake. Even in the 60s Jimi Hendrix played it in B. As a 80s guitarist, I played Johnny B Goode hundreds of times, but never in Bb. So, we moved Michael’s hands up 1 fret, now it looks like he’s playing in B. 

Keys such as Bb are favored by horn players. In and before the 50s, horn players were the band leaders, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller etc. Band leaders usually choose the key. Chuck probably chose Bb because he started playing back in the horn player’s era. By the 80s, guitar players had become the band leaders and we guitarists don’t like flat keys. The main reason is that, if the guitar’s open strings ring out while playing in Bb, it will usually sound bad. We guitarists like open strings, if they ring out in B, no problem. Virtually, there is not a single, Van Halen, AC/DC, Boston, Foreigner, Bad Company, Rush, etc. 80’s rock song where the guitarist played in a Bb fingering.

What even makes this more confusing is that many 80s guitarists tuned down a fret. If a guitar is tuned down this way, and the a guitarist uses a B fingering, the result will be Bb. His hands will still be on the position markers, he will be thinking B, but the end result is Bb. Sorry, this is very confusing. But add in different tunings to the picture and it shows that it’s hard anyway, for guitarists to tell keys from another guitarist’s hand position.

Now to answer your question, the only people who would notice that Michael’s hands are in B and the song was recorded in Bb, would be a guitarist with perfect pitch. But I’m not sure, even guitarists with perfect pitch would notice, because the keys of B and Bb are so close. I read at a website that 1 in every 10,000 people have perfect pitch. I have met very few guitarists over the years with perfect pitch, and I’ve known thousands of guitarists because I taught at Musicians Institute in Hollywood for 15 years.

So, there you go. 


Over the yearsI did a couple other posts about my Back to the Future experience. Tips on Auditioning, and Luck is where Preparation Meets Opportunity.


Future Shock – Guitar Technology!

Posted: February 12, 2016 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

AtlantisThe 2016 NAMM show was very interesting. I demoed an amazing new guitar, the Willcox Atlantis (left). Also, in between Willcox performances, I got a chance to roam the show and see what was out there.

Let me first tell you about the Atlantis guitar. It’s equipped with what Willcox calls the Lightwave Optical Pickup. This pickup lives in the guitar’s bridge and it shoots a beam of light across each string. The vibrating string creates a shadow that is picked up by a photo sensor charged with a small voltage. The shadow affects the voltage and out of this sensor comes a pure, clean, analog, guitar tone. How’s that for high tech! 

Since the Atlantis has a separite optical pickup on each string, it’s perfect for 13-pin synths like the Roland GR-55 or modelers like the Roland VG-99. (Btw, the VG-99 is my favorite guitar processor of all time!) One reason the Atlantis lightwave pickup works so well with 13 pin devices is that there is no crosstalk between the strings. With a traditional Roland GK pickup you have 6 mini humbuckers, one for each string and there is a little bleed between strings. I really had fun demoing this cool hi-tech guitar.

Small pedalsTiny PedalsWhile roaming the show I saw tons of pedals, amps and guitars but two things jumped out. There were lots of very small pedals, and I saw guitars with very weird frets.

First, check out the pictures (left and right). I held my hand next to these pedals so you could tell how small they are. The small size is great for pedalboard real estate. Using these I could fit two pedals in the space I currently have only one!

Second, look at the guitars with the weird frets below. The acoustic is a Riversong guitar. The green electric is made by an Australian company called Ornsby. These fret layouts are called by different names: multi-scale, fanned-fret or graduated scale. Ralph Novak patented this design in 1989 but the patent has run out and now several companies are building guitars like this.

FretsThey work like a piano or a harp. The bass strings are longer than the treble strings. Imagine a larger guitar, like a baritone guitar. The frets are farther apart, right? Well, these multi-scale guitars have different scale lengths for each string. The high strings are shorter, so the frets are closer together. The low strings are longer so the frets are farther apart to compensate for the string Frets?length. I think the original idea of different string lengths is for tone, the low strings will have a deeper, richer tone than the high strings.

It looks like a multi-scale guitar would be hard to play, but this Ornsby guitar blew my mind, it played great! Perry from Ornsby explained the frets in the slanted position fit your hand better than traditional frets. I only played the guitar for a about five minutes, I think I want a longer try. You may want to check these out, especially if you have any tendonitis or carpal tunnel issues, or just want a more comfortable playing experience.

Well, the rest of the show was as usual, crazy. When you put about 100,000 musicians from all over the world into a small area, roughly five blocks by five blocks, it gets loud and weird!



Pedal Switchers and my Pedalboard

Posted: January 8, 2016 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 1.20.04 PMI just put together a new pedal board so I thought I would tell you about it.

If you want to use one pedal click to do multiple pedal switches, in the past you had to get a very expensive Bob Bradshaw, CAE system. But nowadays Boss and other companies make switchers that do it for much less money. They work very simply, you insert each of your pedals or rack effects into the switcher’s separate loops, then program which loops you want activated for your different preset patches. (Don’t confuse this with looper pedals, those are for making audio loops. These switchers loops are just individual sends and returns.)

Boss’s new ES-8 switcher, on my pedalboard (above) is the one I use. It competes with the CAE switchers and others like Voodoo Labs GCX and Ground Control. The CAE and Voodoo Labs units come in two pieces, a rack box that you plug your pedals into, and then a midi-floorboard where you do the switching. Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, Steve Lukather and other pros run systems like this. Their pedals live in drawers in a rack, then the floor unit is either run by the player or their tech. A rig I’ll never forget is Vivian Campbell’s of Def Leppard. Viv’s rack is insane, check it out at the links.

Companies including Boss, One Control, RJM and Rocktron make “all-in-one” switchers and can sit on the floor along with your other pedals. I do contract work for Boss so it’s easy for me to try out their products prior to purchasing. The only catch is that I have to give the product back to Boss after a year… or pony up the dough and buy it.

I have never tried the other switchers but the ES-8 works excellent. I’ve carried Boss gear all over the US and it rarely breaks. As a in-store demo, I used to take a Boss GT-8, drop it on the floor, then stand on top of the knobs! Then I’d plug in and play and I never, ever had a problem with it. I don’t mean this to sound like a Boss commercial but I am sold on Boss’s reliability and durability. There are lots of other great brands out there too.

In my last post “Reality Distortion” I describe my DS-1X Distortion, (the orange distortion pedal in the middle) it’s revolutionary. I also really like the RE-20 Space Echo, if you notice it’s on a platform. That’s because I use the RE’s right pedal to tap in the delay rate and I don’t want my foot to bump into the ES-8′s switches.

Even though people know me as a gear expert because of my years of doing gear profiles for Guitar World Magazine, I really like simple setups. A quote from Scotty (Star Trek): “the more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.” So, at the moment I’m using only five of the eight ES-8′s pedal loops.

My pedals at the moment are: DS-1X for full-on distortion. A Keeley mod-ed Boss SD-1 for a milder tone. My V-Wah for either Univibe or Wah (I use the V-Wah’s heel switch to toggle between a Wah and the Univibe effects). I like both Univibe and wah before distortion. Pretty sure that’s how Robin Trower runs his. I’m a huge Trower fan! The V-Wah is discontinued but you can usually find them on eBay. My last two pedals are a CE-5 for clean chorused tones and the Space Echo for a vintage tape delay. The Space Echo really makes a tape-type sound, I love it! A tape-delay is not as perfect as a digital delay so it gets out of the way of my main guitar tone and adds a warmth. I ran Echoplexes for years and always missed them until I got my Space Echo.

Out of the pedalboard I run into a Peavey 5150 set to a clean sound, this way I don’t have to use the amp’s effects loop. This makes a very clean and simple setup. Also if I have to fly to a gig I can just bring the pedalboard and my guitar, then plug into any clean amp. Though it’s running clean the 5150 adds a cool tone. I also run the 5150 into both open back and a closed back 1×12 cabinets, so I get the best of both worlds. I mic the closed back for extra thump.

One more thing, if you notice in the pic above I inserted my TU-3 Tuner first in the chain before the ES-8. This allows me to mute my guitar to tune, or switch guitars. Also my TU-3 provides power for all my other pedals except the ES-8.

The ES-8 can do a lot of pedal switches and amp channel switching, but most of my presets on the ES-8 are set to turn off one pedal and turn on another. This would normally require at least two pedal taps, but by eliminating even one pedal tap, it makes my life so much easier! I’m singing, playing, remembering lyrics and cueing the other band members… the ES-8 pedal switcher is well worth it! I guess I’ll have to buy it. 

Reality Distortion

Posted: August 5, 2015 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 8.47.52 AMGear is a big part of rock music and let’s face it, gear is cool! When I was a kid over at my friends house I first saw real Fender amps with their shiny silver grill cloth. I dreamt about those amps. I’d ride the bus into downtown Seattle and just hang around music stores with all the gear. I’d go to concerts and marvel at all the gear being set up, walls of Marshalls, Rows of SVTs, nothing was more impressive! Later on I proudly played the Hollywood club circuit with my two Marshall stacks. Then later, in Andy Taylor’s band I used four Marshall heads along with eight Mesa Boogie 4×12 cabs loaded with EVs. Awesome power! (Between you and me I only played through two cabs at a time.)

Now it’s 2015 and amp size is not as important as it used to be, it’s more about tone, and pedals rule. When I was a kid in the ’70s there were only a few pedals by MXR, Maestro, Boss, Electro Harmonix, Thomas Organ, and a few others. But now, open a Sweetwater catalog to the pedals section, there must be thousands.

A few years back, in this blog I showcased my Yamaha/Soldano combo rig. Sadly, that amp died. I kept having problems with it so I put it out of it’s misery. I took the tubes out, put the amp on my table saw and cut the head section off and threw it in the trash. I attached a new piece of plywood on top of the speaker cabinet, covered it with tolex and metal corners from MojoTone and voila, an open back 1×12 cab. A few years back I built a 1×12 cabinet from scratch so now I have two. The cabs match except the old one has a closed back. It’s the best of both worlds. I get punch, projection and low end from the closed back and I get my sound spread around by the softer, open back tone. 

After cannibalizing my combo amp I dusted off my vintage 5150, 100 watt head that I demoed at the Frankfurt Music Mesa back in the ’90s. I re-tubed it with the new tubes from my combo amp and it just sounds great! Even though the 5150 has more power than I need, it works great running my two 1X12 cabs. Fyi, a hundred watt tube head is not really twice as loud as a fifty watt, but it’s a bit fatter and has more bottom end, and I like that.

Some posts back I wrote about young, high level guitarists I’ve interviewed for Boss Tone Radio and to my surprise their willingness to run their amps clean and get overdrive and distortion from pedals. Until now I’ve been in the old school camp where I demanded my distortion come from the tubes and the amp being overdriven. Well, this last year I was blown away by a new, digital, Boss DS-1X distortion pedal. After demoing it at shows and stores I was amazed at the tone! What the heck, I tried the new school style of running the 5150 clean and using the DS-1X for my distortion. I’ve determined overall the DS-1X actually sounds better than the 5150′s amp distortion! The DS-1X even cleans up when I turn my guitar volume down. 

The DS-1X pedal uses digital technology to treat high notes different than low notes. The result is fat high notes and tight low notes that is just not possible with pure amp distortion. Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.53.40 PMThis pedal is so good, Boss will have to pry it out my my cold, dead hands before I give it back. I would have never guessed this pedal is digital, it sounds so warm and rich.

This blog is not here to praise Boss but those gurus in Japan got this pedal right! Another pedal they got really right is the Boss RE-20 Space Echo. It’s a replication of the old tape delays I used in the 80s. The left pedal turns it on and off, and the right pedal is used to tap in the tempo of the delay. Delay in-rhythm always sounds better. Also I think a tape delay can be run louder than a standard digital delay because the tape echo just doesn’t step on my tone as much as a digital echo. Check out my delay post.

Back to distortion, a further advantage of using a distortion pedal is that I don’t have to use my amp’s effects loop. This will make my new pedalboard simple. I just place my chorus and delay pedals after the distortion, and I’ll have the same result as using the amp’s effects loop along with amp distortion. I just taped the pedals to this piece of plywood, but now I am building a more permanent board so I’ll need a bigger piece of plywood.

One thing I should let you know that I noticed about the DS-1X. Maybe because it’s digital, sometimes there is a short delay when clicking it on. I’ve demoed so many prototypes that don’t really work yet, I’ve gotten used to this. I just click the DS-1X pedal a half second or so before the downbeat and I’m okay. I just love the tone so much this doesn’t bother me.

Btw, “The Reality Distortion Field” is a reference to Steve Jobs’ amazing ability to alter reality, not unlike the Talosiens from Star Trek’s, The Cage and The Menagerie. But us guitarists get to create our own distortion, in reality.


Rock on!


Ice in Your Veins!

Posted: March 22, 2015 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 2.54.36 PMI just finished editing a new Boss Tone Radio interview with Brendon Small. Brendon is a really good guitar player who also happens to be a stand-up comic and TV show creator. His current show is Metalocalypse. Brendon co-writes the show, does voiceovers for some of the characters, and creates all the music. If you haven’t seen Metalocalypse you can check out a few episodes at youtube.

Brendon’s a funny guy but he’s also really smart about guitar. He told me a story of when he was 15 and he did his first performance at a talent show. He blew it bad. After the show, Brendon went home, unpacked his guitar, then looked down at his hands and his guitar and had a conversation with them. He told them, “we are not going to do that again”. This reminded me of what Howard Roberts once told me.

Howard was the great jazz guitarist who played on those big TV and movie recording sessions in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Have you ever heard the iconic guitar riff for the Twilight Zone? That was Howard. You’ve heard Howard a lot, you just don’t know it. Here’s a short list of TV themes Howard played: The Munsters, Bonanza, Green Acers, Get Smart, Batman, The Beverly Hillbillies, Wild Wild West and on and on. Here’s a link to wikipedia if you want a bigger list. Howard also started a music school in Hollywood called Musicians Institute. I went there in 1980 and was very lucky to have Howard as one of my teachers.

Howard had ice in his veins. (A good excuse to use my Marshall fridge picture, above.) Howard could go into a Hollywood session crowded the best musicians in the world and virtually, instantly translate a chart of notes into what the composer had imagined the guitar part should be. All while surrounded by the best musicians, composers and producers of the day, a full-on pressure cooker situation. When the record light came on, it required the ultimate confidence and concentration, not to mention Howard’s uncanny ability to never make a mistake. If he made a mistake they would have to stop the session and all the musicians would have stop and fix it. After a couple of mistakes you would never be called back.

Howard told me a simple way to avoid mistakes. He said you can always reduce music to single notes, one at a time, strung together. He said, whenever you make a mistake, find the wrong note, play it, visualize it, and say NO! Now play the right note, visualize it and say YES! Make a mental note of the right note, concentrate.

I told this to Brendon and he said, yes! That’s it! You’re raising a puppy! You are training your playing like you train a puppy. Don’t let it get away with anything. Off the couch! Down boy! Brendon also said be honest with yourself, record yourself and if you hear a problem figure out how to fix it.

That talk Brendon had with his hands paid off. Check out his playing on Dethklok’s, Doomstar Requiem and his solo albums.

I’ve Got Mail

Posted: December 9, 2014 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 2.23.33 PM Hey Paul,

… I have been playing for a long time but have never had any formal training. Self taught as they say. I’ve learned through hearing mostly, not seeing or understanding. I’m finding myself somewhat at a crossroads in my playing. I want to play more technically and understand what I’m playing, but lack the foundation to do so. Figuring out scales and remembering them seems to be challenge. If I had a more rudimentary walk through of them I might understand them better. Do you have anything like this?


Thanks for the question Jay. STELAR is full of rudimentary walk-throughs. It’s the Rock, Blues and Metal improvisation program here at, you can read about it a few posts down below this one in the list on the left of this page. STELAR stands for: Scales, Timing, Expression, Licks, Apply and Repeat. Also ShredGuitarOnline’s, H & T (harmony and theory) section will clear up a lot on scales and the technical side for you.

For those of you who are “Free Tips and Tricks” members I added STELAR’s Slow Blues Segment to the free lessons section. At the link you can watch the videos, and download tabs and jam tracks for this segment. If you are not a Free Tips and Tricks member you can sign up here

For you Jay, since you’re a full member:

1. Follow the STELAR ten-week course. Check out the videos, download the jams and tabs. Keep the tabs in a binder. Be sure to check out the “Expression” videos from each segment. These give you tips about playing with feeling and vibrato. Also check out the Essential Classic Licks sections. If we compare soloing to speaking, we all use the same words but we sound different because we are different! When we play, we all use the same classic licks, but they sound like us too. Everybody, BB King, Steve Vai, Brad Paisley, virtually all guitarists use the Essential Classic licks covered in these sections. These are rudimentary!

Choose a few licks from each segment and practice them over the jams. The jams are at different tempos, pick the tempo you like. Don’t choose licks that are real difficult. Highlight your new licks in the binder with a highlighter pen, so when you go back through you’ll easily remember what you are working on. Something that helped me build my vocabulary is naming each lick I was working on, for example: “C-Shape Arpeggios” or “Dorian/Blues Hammers”, and I kept the list of the names on a sheet of paper. Any name is okay, it’s just to help you remember the lick. This way, when you are improvising and you run out of ideas you can scan the list and spark your memory.

2. Follow the H & T ten-week course above. Even if you don’t totally understand something, push on through anyway, it’ll probably clear up later. Or, ask another musician, or email me with your question, I love to answer questions. At the end of 10 weeks, things will be much clearer and you will be a better player. I promise!

One more thing, don’t ever think you need to learn every scale or chord. Most of the greatest classic rock players only play in a few places on the neck!

Check out these posts on learning:

Grass Growing


Pizza or Sushi Theory:

Rock On!




Posted: September 18, 2014 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 1.23.14 PMTime is an inescapable fact. Einstien called it the fourth dimension. Time is what we live in, can you imagine life without it? Nope, you can’t because we never experience a second without it. Music occurs in time. A musician’s ability to play in time, and what we call his feel, is as important as melody and harmony. In fact, melody and harmony can’t exist without time! Time is the fabric we weave our music through.

I’m writing this on a plane from Charlotte to Seattle coming home from a guitar show. At the show yesterday several people came up and tried out gear at the Roland and Boss booth. There were maybe, seventy booths with various guitarists trying out vintage, rare and some not-so-rare guitars. 

This brings me to an axiom I learned years ago: “The worse the guitar player, the louder and longer he will play.” Probably the main reason he’s so bad is that he doesn’t know it. At least, if he knew he was that bad he wouldn’t broadcast it to everybody at the show. Here’s an example, a guy came up to our booth, plugged in and played fast. At first I thought, he’s pretty good. Then, as he continued to play I noticed his fault, he had a terrible sense of time. It was awful to listen to!

When I was a kindergarten, about age 5, my report card read: “Paul plays nice with the other kids, he is good at art, but in music he has a terrible sense of time!” Because I became a professional musician my Dad kept that report card as a joke. But it was true. I had to work hard at developing and perfecting my sense of time. If you feel like you could use some work in this area I have a couple tips involving counting and picking.

First understand, in music, time is the process of subdividing the bar, and individual beats. Drummers learn this right away, they don’t really deal with melody so they are all about subdividing.

At GIT, I knew guitarists who would buy drum books full of rhythms and learn them. For me, I’d learn music off recordings and figure out how to play the rhythm perfectly. A song with a tricky rhythm that pops into my mind is “Mean Street” by Van Halen. Eddie’s guitar parts are single notes and chords in a syncopated 16th note type rhythm. Syncopated means: accenting notes on weak beats. 

In music, the best way I know how to divide time is to count. In 4/4, when playing sixteenth note rhythms, we divide each beat into 4 separate notes. Since there are four beats, we have a total of sixteen notes available per bar. When counting through the bar any note must fall on one of these counts. If not, the note is late or early, and it will sound wrong. Count the bar like this:

 “one-e-and-a two-e-and-a three-e-and-a four-e-and-a”. 

Furthermore synchronizing your picking to this counting will force your picking motion to keep you in time. Maintain “one” as a down stroke, “e” an upstroke, “and” a down, “a” is up. Following the rule: down strokes on strong beats, upstrokes on weak beats. 

 Below I underlined where the notes or chords occur in the first bar of the main Mean Street riff:

 one e and a two e and a three e and a four e and a”.

If you maintain the down-up picking for the Mean Street riff it will be: down-up-up-up-down-up-up-up-down-down-up. Maybe it’s easier to just follow the picking:

 ∩  V  V  V  ∩  V  V  V  ∩  ∩ V

Try this on one note, or a chord. It may be hard, but if you maintain the picking this way you’ll very likely subdivide well and play this syncopated rhythm “in good time”. This is because physics makes your hand want to move: down-up-down-up all the time. When you have three ups in a row, the act of bringing your hand back into position for another upstroke will force the time to be correct!

This “downstrokes on strong beats and upstrokes on weak beats” is not carved in stone. I see a lot of great players who don’t always follow this principle, but then again those guys are usually great players with great time! I was born with less that perfect time and that’s why I know how to subdivide the beats by counting and I use my picking direction to help too. This way I can compete with the guy who was born with great time!

Don’t forget a poor sense of time is as painful to listen to as being out of tune. Some of the guys I heard at the show yesterday actually hurt me to listen to them, ouch, no kidding! Ahh, but the opposite is true too! When a musician plays a rhythm “in time” so perfect, like Van Halen or Steve Lukather, everything sounds great. That’s when people ask: what pickups is he using? What tubes? What pedals? You just can’t always put your finger on it, but it sounds and feels good!

Time makes the tone!!

Guitar Shows and a Multiple Effects Unit

Posted: June 2, 2014 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

Paul at ShowThis month I attended a couple of guitar shows for Boss and Roland, one in Dallas and one in Chicago. These event’s usually happen once a year. The promoter secures a location, in Dallas this year the show was held in a couple buildings next to the Cotton Bowl, and in Chicago it was the same location as last year, in a hall about 45 minutes from O’Hare airport in an area called St. Charles. The shows are usually on a Saturday and Sunday.

Guitar stores, guitar collectors, manufacturers, guitar builders, accessories and parts dealers, anybody trying to sell anything to guitarists, will rent table space and set up a booth. (That’s me at the Roland/Boss booth in Chicago above). For an admission fee the public can walk around and look at all the cool stuff and wheel and deal if they want to buy something. At the Chicago show I saw a ’97 Gibson Flying V that I want to buy. At Dallas I saw a white strat (below) that was made the year I was born, if you look close, the price tag was $49,000.57 Strat

Boss and Roland figure having a booth and a couple of gear experts at these shows is a great way to market their newest pedals, multi-effects, guitar-synths, amps, etc.. So we set it up and folks can try out the gear with headphones, or they can watch me do real-time demos and answer questions.

One product, I was demoing I have to tell you about is a new Boss multiple effects unit for $299, the Boss ME-80. My friend Steve Lynch just bought one. With his band Autograph, he’ll fly to a gig with his guitar and a multi effects unit containing his preset tones. The promoter provides amps, drums and everything else for the band. 

This ME-80 (pic below) is a floor unit with eight pedals built-in. It also sports an expression pedal for wah and whammy etc. It can be run in one of two modes. In “manual mode” each pedal can be assigned to a different effect and then operated like a pedal board. In “memory mode” you can save your presets then scroll up and down banks to access your preset tones.

This ME-80 also operates with free Boss Tone Studio software USB’d to your computer. With the software you can access all the ME’s effects and knobs from a computer’s screen. I tried it, the software is pretty cool. Since I’ve been involved with Boss for a while I’m familiar with the ME-80s predecessors. For quality of tone, ease of use, and price this one takes the cake!

ME-80Like regular pedals the ME is designed to plug into an amp, but you can also take the headphone jack out and go direct into a mixing console. The headphone out engages a speaker simulator.

One reason the ME-80 is better than the ME-70, the previous model, is that the ’80 has eight pedals compared to the ‘70’s four pedals. If you look at the picture (above) each pedal is actually two pedals. I noticed no difficulty in pressing the top or bottom pedals separately.

The ME-80 runs on batteries and comes with no power cable, but a standard Boss PSA adapter that powers regular Boss pedals is all you need. Boss also created a website where you can download custom “patches”. For some reason Boss and Roland still call a preset, a “patch”. Left over from synth days when you actually had to use patch cables to set up a sound on a synth. If you’ve ever thought about a multi fx unit this might be a good one to look at. Check it out.


Posted: April 14, 2014 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 10.49.10 AMSTELAR is here! For paid subscribers we have upgraded the Improv section with STELAR, a Comprehensive System for the Rock, Metal and Blues Soloist! If you’re a Tips and Tricks member you can check out a free, full STELAR segment at the Free Lessons tab above right.

STELAR is a system that will help you play better solos! After teaching and playing for 40 years, I’ve determined six areas; Scales, Timing, Expression, Licks, Apply and Repeat: “STELAR”. These principals will help you play better, refine your own signature tone, improve your all-around musicianship and just plain have more fun!

-Scales are a road map of notes available in any given soloing situation. It’s a fact, you could play any note any time you want, but having a map helps you negotiate over the fingerboard and gives you reference points.

-Timing is the way you fit those notes into the music. Being aware of all your basic timing options helps you decide how you want to play the notes.

-Expression gives what you play meaning! What makes a melody so compelling, or a performance? It’s the human quality you add. Expression is unique to every individual. 

-Licks are the vocabulary in the language of rock, metal and blues. From BB King to Eddie Van Halen, we all use many of the same basic, essential, classic vocabulary. Like speaking, although we all use the same words and phrases, we each have our own individual style. 

Apply the scales, timing, expression and licks over jam tracks at different speeds. This sounds simple but it’s the most powerful thing you can do to build your skill. Like going to a foreign country being forced to speak the language. You get better at something by doing it.

Repeat. Repetition is the secret weapon of mastering anything from martial arts to cooking. If you repeat the principals above regularly, you will become a master!

The Improv section at was the first part of this site that I created. The time has come for an upgrade. I’ve been working hard on STELAR, the Improv section’s replacement for about six months and it’s here! It includes about thirty videos and hundreds of pages of tabs. There are five segments, each including three jam tracks at different speeds and tabs. STELAR roughly follows the original improv section and each segment includes about six new, short, hi-def videos. Each video is based on one of STELAR’s principals: scales, timing, expression and licks.

The Licks videos and tabs are very extensive because guitarists come in so many levels and styles. Something brand new is a lick category that you’re going to love, “Essential Classics” or “EC”. These are phrases that are universal to rock, metal and blues. They are not hard to play but they are ubiquitous. Virtually all soloists use EC licks, they will make you sound authentic and pro! In addition, each segment contains a video on timing and a video on expression. Rhythmic phrasing, vibrato, raking, sliding, harmonics, bends, and putting emotion into your playing.

Here is the Scales video from STELAR’s Phrygian Scales segment. Rock on!



More Than a Feeling

Posted: February 10, 2014 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

Boston3I recently researched the recording of the first Boston album for a Guitar World issue. What an amazing story. Boston’s guitarist, Tom Scholz is a very smart guy! He has a Masters degree from MIT and back in the ’70s he had a pretty senior job at Polaroid. If you’re my age you’ll remember the coolness of the Polaroid camera. Put the film canister in, snap a photo and the camera would spit out your picture! Magic! Compare that to now. We take unlimited instant pictures, carry around a huge record collection, navigate with GPS, do video calls, check email, all with just our cell phones! 

Back to Tom. In the meantime, while working at Polaroid, he was recording the first Boston demos and then finally the album, all in his basement. But this was the ‘70s, back then, unless your were Paul McCartney, nobody had a home studio in their basement, or any other part of their house! Multi-track recording gear was very expensive, needed regular maintenance, complex wiring, expensive recording tape, a complex mixing console, and all kinds of tricky stuff.

Tom’s job at Polaroid gave him the resources to purchase a used 12-track tape machine from a local studio that was upgrading to 24-track. Tom cobbled together a ton of gear in that infamous basement. He built a power-soak so he could use his Marshall amp at full volume without it being too loud. He built a chorus effect into a cigar box and a tape delay unit he called a space echo, he bought a bunch of equalizers and everything he needed.

Tom’s drummer friend, Jim Masdea, came over and they recorded the drums. Then, Tom went to work playing and overdubbing all the other instruments including bass and organ. Tom also recorded his very patient singer, Brad Delp, who multi-tracked all the Harmonies and double-tracked most of the lead vocals.

In the early ’70s, Tom submitted tapes to record companies and he was turned down by label after label. But one day, upon hearing the demo of “More than a Feeling,” Epic Records decided to offer Tom and Brad a deal, but, they had no band.

Tom quickly found some other musicians and then flew them out to LA to record the album. But, the guys in LA were just a diversion for the record label. Really, Tom was back in his Boston neighborhood basement, recording all the parts himself. Meanwhile, the guys in LA pretended to record in a big expensive Hollywood studio. Of course in the ’70s, Epic Records, or any other self respecting label, would never approve of a new artist recording in a basement. They would need the big expensive studio, so the ruse continued with Tom back in Boston recording everything. Only the record producer John Moylan knew what was going on.

Now days, most musicians have a home studio, the thing that Tom had was the brains and the ability to work long and hard and produce amazing results. I read Tom worked on the song “More than a Feeling” for five years. If you listen close to that first Boston album, it stands up against any record from those days or for that matter any record today.

Tom’s brains, talent, perfectionism and stick-to-itiveness all add up to his genius. When recording you’re constantly making decisions, asking yourself, does that vocal sound in tune? Does that guitar chord sound in tune? Was the time rushing or dragging? Are the drums in the pocket? Does it groove? How was that bend in the solo? Shall I do it over? I just did 15 takes already, shall I really do it over?

Furthermore, since Tom had to bounce tracks to open up more tracks, he couldn’t click “undo” like we can today, he had to commit to a performance. He had to focus like a laser. If you ever have a feeling that maybe that take isn’t good enough, that feeling is probably correct. Or, then again, it might not be. That’s why recording is so hard. Especially when you’re on your own like Tom. On my latest instrumental guitar album “Mindscanner” I played everything but the drums. I know how hard it is. Most of my mixing decisions were made listening on my Subaru’s stock stereo.

The rewarding part is when you really nail a solo, rhythm or a vocal, or get a mix just right. Not all of us are smart enough to graduate from MIT, but I think a recording lesson we can take from Tom is “do it over until it’s right” and trust your instincts. Also, you don’t need that big expensive studio.