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. 


Winter Namm 2014

Posted: January 29, 2014 by phanson in Tips & Tricks


WonderWomanWinter NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) is a music gear trade show. This event happens once a year in January at the enormous Anaheim Convention Center in California. It’s fitting that it’s in Anaheim, right next to Disneyland because NAMM is a kind of fantasy land of manufacturers showing gear. Musicians are everywhere, and a good dose of strange people too. Here I am (left) with Wonder Woman and a random guitar Zombie.

This was a different Namm for me; I didn’t work the show like I’ve done so many times before. That’s a hard gig, eight hours a day of demoing a prototype piece of gear that’s usually not completely working yet. But, this year I flew down to LA and spent one day just browsing around. I checked out some lighting that I need for gigs, some cool guitars, pedals, and amps and I just cruised around and met people. I bumped into my old buddy Joey Tafolla, a Shrapnel records shredder and Ashwin Sood, a drummer friend I hadn’t seen for years. (Ash plays for Sarah McLachlan.)

If you’ve never attended a Namm show it’s quite an event. It’s the largest collection of musicians in one general area that you can imagine. Except for Namm’s European counterpart, The Frankfurt Music Mesa, this exists nowhere else. Imagine, in an area about 5 square miles, every restaurant, bar, sidewalk, hotel and parking lot is full of musicians. After the show my phone was dead, so to charge it I went into a bar to find an outlet and have a beer. The guy sitting next to me was a Scotsman wearing a kilt. I told him years ago, while on tour I had met the guys in the Scottish band Nazareth. This guy turned out to be best friends with the Nazareth guys, he’s their gear supplier.

This show is not for the general public, you have to work at a music store or have a connection with an exhibitor to get in. Years back I snuck into the show only to be caught by security and thrown out. You would think that would limit the amout of random musicians but it doesn’t. The first thing I noticed this year was how many people were there! Even with multiple buildings, and large outdoor areas, at lunchtime I had to walk about a mile to find a restaurant without huge lines.Namm Front

60th Aniversary StratThere are American, European and Asian Businessmen in suits; 40-something has-been rockers with mullets and large guts; hot babes in mini skirts and boots; young rockers decked out in leather ala’ Black Veil Brides. You see guys in shorts with long beards looking like Dimebag. There are famous musicians as well, I saw George Lynch and Steve Morse. I saw poser musicians, classical players and there is a huge area with violins, violas, cellos and horns of every kind. One building was full of music software and computer peripherals. But be very afraid of the drum area with hundreds of people hitting things with a stick!

Each of the 4-5 buildings are about a football field size so I covered a lot of area. I must have walked 10 miles!

There was so much gear I was overwhelmed. Boss has a new multi- effects unit, the ME-80, with very cool new rocker pedals that makes the four pedals into eight. Line 6 has a new amp called AMPLIFi, dreamed up by gear guru Marcus Ryle. You control the amp’s effects and amp models via Bluetooth from your iPad or phone. It has a guitar speaker in the center and stereo speakers on each side for playing back stereo jam tracks. Line 6 has even created an online cloud community for sharing presets and jam tracks for AMPLIFi.

FridgeI had seen pictures of the Marshall Fridge (left) in guitar magazines but in real life it rates a ten on my cool factor scale. Yeah it’s gimmicky but I don’t care, I want one! Fender was celebrating it’s 60th anniversary of the strat. I saw a strat that Jimi Hendrix gave to his roadie, I guess that guitar is usually up here at Seattle’s EMP. I saw guitars from so many manufacturers, including Jackson, Charvel, ESP, Martin, BC Rich, Gibson, Gretsch, Ibanez, Rickenbacker, Schecter and on and on. I even saw a guitar in the shape of Mary the mother of Jesus. I think that guitar was respectfully done but I’m not sure exactly who would play it. I hope maybe a worshipSupro band? I saw the new Supro amp (below) that’s a faithful reproduction of the one Jimmy Page used on the early Zeppelin albums. I tried it with a Tele, (Jimmy used a Tele in those early days) it’s scary close!

Bottom line, I was glad I only planned to stay one day. You get fatigued from all that noise, shiny things, lights and glitz. If you want to experience NAMM, maybe just once is enough. I’ll make my next trip to a quiet beach or a ski area!


Free Lick O’ the Week 21

Posted: December 12, 2013 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

LollyPop2Rapid Fire Pentatonic Licks!

The Pentatonic scale is truly a gem because it works well in so many rock, blues and metal situations. For example, Minor Pentatonic sounds great over both Natural Minor and Dorian type progressions. If you choke the minor third a bit it’ll even rock over Mixolydian and Dominant type progressions. 

Here’s a free “Essential Classic” Lick O’ the Week for you from It’ll give you three cool ways to move through Pentatonic fingering patterns!

Click Here for Rapid Fire!

(Btw, If the theory stuff goes over your head, being a full member of gives you about twenty guitar-centric Harmony and Theory chapters to clear all this up.) Below is the Pentatonic page from the ShredGuitarOnline Scale Glossary.

SG_P2Pent copy

Legato for Speed VI

Posted: November 26, 2013 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

64th notes smallHere’s another Legato for Speed, number six! Ascending across the neck, it’s got more hammer-ons and pull-offs than you can shake a stick at. I mistakenly say this is A Blues, I was thinking A Blues but it’s really A Dorian. I just included the flat five, Eb, 4th fret on the B string. That’s the blues note. You could also use this in E minor, just plug it in wherever it works.

A note about the picking. Although there is not much picking, I use mostly economy picking. I don’t really cover it in the video, it just works for me. By all means pick however feels comfortable and works best to you. (I include my economy picking in the tab if you are interested).

As in my other Legato for Speed posts this may be easy or hard for you. I always suggest adjusting material into small manageable sections. Go ahead and disregard parts and incorporate whatever fits your style. Rock on! 

Legato for Speed VI Tab