REVIEW: Yamaha BB234 bass guitar

We reviewed Yamaha’s BB234 bass guitar.

Check out the review here! 

Check out the Yamaha BB234 in our store! 

Here’s a transcript of the review: 

 Hey what’s up everyone, this is Shane from Fret Zealot and right now I’m rocking a Yamaha bas.  This is the Yamaha BB234. 

The BB stands for “broad bass” and this is the 234, which is the classic rendition of the BB Yamaha bass. It’s stripped down and versatile is what I would say. It’s got two pickup selections to choose from – the J pickup on the bridge position and then the P pick up in the middle position, giving you a variety of really nice tonal options. Each pickup is individually controlled by a volume knob, so you can dial back the volume on both of these and run them at the same time, one or the other as well and then the tone knob back here, which when you when you roll that down it pulls back a little bit of the low frequencies and sort of just tightens up the sound of the bass a little bit. It gets a little a little cleaner sounding a little less extra bass I usually like to leave it wide open. 

You definitely get the most brightness when you leave the tone knob up all the way. When you turn it down, it sort of it sounds like outside the club, like a little bit more softer sounding. I think it would be nice for a bit more of a mellow sound. Moving on to the to the features of the guitar itself, the pick guard on the body with the black gloss finish just looks classy and I find it very comfortable feeling as well. This cutaway body the cut on the back of the body which just rests up against you and very ergonomic. Again, the cutaway up here, as well easy fret access up to the 21st fret. There are 21 frets on this guitar but just gives you a nice comfortable scale length to work with. If this is your first bass, I think it’s a really good choice because it’s very very comfortable. And if it’s not your first bass,  you might be interested in the different pickup options that you’re going to get when you try the BB234.

The body wood material is alder, the neck maple, and then on the top of the neck the fretboard itself rosewood. It has a  matching black headstock painted black with the four Yamaha tuners, strap pegs, bolt-on neck construction, and a surface mount bridge back here. Other than that, you get a really nice variety of tones from these ceramic Yamaha pickups.  Again, with the P pickup you get a really sweet sort of heavier sound.  I think it sounds a little darker.

Turn that knob all the way down and then we’ll turn up the J pickup. It definitely gives me a bit more treble. It kind of sounds both of them sound like like a nice woody, sort of clean bass sound, which I really like.  All passive hardware, there’s no battery compartment to run these pickups, so it’s not very temperamental.  It’ll give you an easy playing time, very comfortable and and fun to play with.

 Bass is not really my main instrument so I was picking out some of the options at our shop on frontzealot.com for what I wanted to pick out and review first. This one sort of jumped out at me as approachable, but also kind of versatile, and a fun way for me to sort of learn the ins and outs of bass.  Getting to play with both the J pickup back here and the P pickup, learning about the differences. It’s got a nice pick guard too. I know that I would probably as a guitar player, use a pick to play bass. I  think the combination with the p pickup, the pickguard works really great for rock. If you want to dial it back and play some more mellower tones, you have all the options of doing that.  This bass will really do a good job from anything – hard rock, classic rock, all the way down to jazz and blues.  I believe I can tell from playing the time that I spent with this bass that is very versatile.  I’m definitely a fan of the BB234. It comes in a couple different color options.  We have black and red at fretzealot.com and when you buy an instrument at fretzealot.com, it comes pre-installed with the LED system, so you can get access to our learning tools which show you how to play and light up the way to learning.  You can learn how to play any song you want on bass. 

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Guitarists who started off playing another instrument

Lots of famous guitar players started off playing other instruments. Taking piano lessons at home or any musical instruction in school helps create a good base for learning any instrument! 

Here are some guitarists who started their musical journeys with instruments that aren’t guitars. 


Dave Grohl (drums)

Foo Fighters frontman and guitarist Dave Grohl famously played drums in Nirvana starting in 1990. After Kurt Cobain’s 1994 death, Grohl formed the Foo Fighters, moving to lead vocals and guitar. Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins tragically died in 2022, and Grohl provided the drums on the band’s newest album (coming out June 2). 


Eddie Van Halen (piano)

“Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum” by Carl Lender is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The future founders of Van Halen, brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, started taking piano lessons at a young age – Eddie was six when he started playing. He even won first place at multiple piano competitions in Long Beach, Calif. The boys’ parents wanted them to become classical pianists, but they were enamored by rock music. Originally, Eddie was playing the drums while Alex played the guitar, but after he heard Alex play the drums on “Wipeout”, they switched. 

Learn Eddie Van Halen’s signature style with this player study course!

 

Prince (piano) 

“Prince NSJ” by PeterTea is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Prince was known as a multi-instrumentalist, often playing all the instruments on his records, although he’s best remembered for his guitar and vocals. The child of a jazz singer and a pianist/songwriter, Prince Rogers Nelson wrote his first song, “Funk Machine” on his dad’s piano at age seven. 

 

Joni Mitchell (piano) 

Prolific singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell is known for her guitar playing (and her use of alternative tunings), but she started out playing classical piano. When she was older, she wanted to learn guitar to play country music (which was rapidly growing more popular), but her mother discouraged her, so she initially played ukulele. 

 

Mick Mars (bass) 

“Mick Mars” by Casey Hugelfink is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Longtime Motley Crue lead guitarist Mick Mars joined his first band – a Beatles cover band called “The Jades” at age 14, playing bass guitar. 

 

Jeff Beck (vocals) 

“Jeff Beck” by MandyHallMedia is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Before he became one of the most influential guitarists of all time, Beck sang in a church choir at age ten. 

 

Chris Cornell (drums) 

“Chris Cornell” by christopher simon is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Legendary Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell took piano and guitar lessons as a kid, but started his professional career with Soundgarden on drums. The band had another drummer come in a year after their inception to allow Cornell to focus on vocals and rhythm guitar. 


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Great guitarists who learned later in life

Great guitarists who learned later in life

What Ed Sheeran’s court case tells us about four chord songs

You probably have heard Ed Sheeran’s name in the news recently. The English singer-songwriter was named in a copyright infringement case involving a Marvin Gaye song. 

A jury decided that though the chord progressions between the songs are similar, the similarity didn’t constitute copyright infringement. 

If you’re a songwriter, you’re probably wondering what is covered under copyright law and what isn’t – and how to avoid running into a situation like this.

Background

In May 2023, a New York jury decided that singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran didn’t infringe on the classic Marvin Gaye song “Let’s Get It On” with his 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud”, which won the English singer a GRAMMY. 

The family of Ed Townsend, the late co-songwriter of “Let’s Get It On”, alleged in a 2017 lawsuit that Sheeran had taken the rhythm and chord progression from the song for “Thinking Out Loud”, which was released in 2014. 

During the singer’s in-court testimony, Sheeran picked up a guitar and played both songs to demonstrate how similar they are. His lawyer said in her closing remarks that the shared characteristics of the songs were “basic to the tool kit of all songwriters” and “the scaffolding on which all songwriting is built.”

Sheeran had said that he would have “quit music” if he was found guilty of plagiarism during the trial. 

According to the NYT, after the jury cleared him, Sheeran said in a statement that he was happy that he wouldn’t have to quit music, but expressed his frustration that the case, which was about a simple four-chord progression, happened in the first place. 

“We have spent the last eight years talking about two songs with dramatically different lyrics, melodies and four chords which are also different and used by songwriters every day, all over the world,” he said. 

He added that “These chords are common building blocks which were used to create music long before ‘Let’s Get It On’ was written and will be used to make music long after we are all gone.”

 

Here are some other cases involving copyright of songs: 

In 2021, singer/songwriter Olivia Rodrigo gave songwriting credits to members of Paramore and Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff, and St. Vincent for her songs “Good 4 U” and “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back” and “Deja Vu” after the songs had already been released. 

In 2019, a jury decided that Katy Perry’s 2013 song “Dark Horse” sampled a six-note melody from Christian rapper Flame, awarding the rapper $2.78 million. 

In 2015, a jury decided that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had infringed on the copyright of another Marvin Gaye song, “Got To Give It Up” with their 2013 hit “Blurred Lines”. They had to pay the late singer’s estate $5.3 million. 

The attorney who represented Gaye’s estate in that case, music attorney Richard Busch, told Variety that copyright infringement cases are proved two ways. First, the judge listens to expert testimony and decides if there are enough similarities between the works to take the case to a jury trial, and if there are, it goes before a jury trial, where members listen to the song to decide if they’re similar. 

Judges and juries are generally not made up of musical experts, so many copyright cases following the “Blurred Lines case” are handled out of court. 

 

What does the law say?

According to EasySong.com, parts of a song that are protected under copyright are lyrics and melody. (Sometimes artists will interpolate the words or melody of another well-known song in their work, usually with a song credit for the other song’s writers). 

Harmony and chord progressions are generally not protected under copyright law – which is good, since most pop songs are built on simple chord progressions.  Rhythm and structure of a song are generally not protected under copyright either. 

If you’re wondering about copyright law, you can find the most up-to-date information on the U.S. Copyright laws here. 

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REVIEW: Epiphone Les Paul Custom Koa

REVIEW: Epiphone Les Paul Custom Koa

Check out the Epiphone Les Paul Custom Koa in our store!

Here’s a transcript of the review:

INTRO

Today I’m reviewing for you one of the higher-end Epiphones that we carry at Fret Zealot. This is the custom Koa, the Les Paul Custom model by Epiphone. The custom Koa is one of the higher-end models offered by Epiphone, going past just the base level, beginner instruments.

FEATURES

This custom Koa offers a lot more of the premium features that you see with the higher-end Epiphones, and even the Gibson guitars. I’ll be talking you through some of the differences that you get when you pick up the custom Les Paul KOA by Epiphone.  This guitar is a mahogany body with the Koa top, which is what you see on the front, but the wood, the main wood of the body, is a rich mahogany, which is a really sought after tone wood. It has a mahogany neck as well, and then the ebony fingerboard. Epiphone is not messing around when it comes to the wood selection. This is a combination that’s favored by many Les Paul enthusiasts.  You get a lot of beautiful attention to detail with this guitar. I would call it classy and curated.

Everything about this guitar is just no-nonsense, all classiness. It’s  really good looking. and no really nothing really that doesn’t sit out of place to me. You got the beautiful natural wood – in my opinion you can’t go wrong, especially with like nice piece that you see on the front. There’s multilayer binding across the body and then binding on the neck and the headstock which really frames the instrument. It has gold hardware, which is a sweet combination, and then some of the black pickup rings and the black pickguard, which sort of just looks consistent with the with the ebony neck. The whole thing just really comes together beautifully. It’s got 22 medium jumbo frets with the block pearl inlays, so you’re really getting that Gibson vibe.  It’s got the  slim taper neck, so it’s really nice and playable without being quite a c-shape. I’m finding it is actually a really nice and easier neck to play on. I prefer a slimmer neck, so this is nice to see from the Epiphone or Gibson brands.   It’s a similar neck but it’s slightly tapered in, so if you’re not familiar with the slim taper neck on the Epiphones, this would be a great guitar to check out.  Shout out to the tuners as well, also really nice gold tuners, and these say “Grovers” on them.  Grover tuners are really nice.

OVERVIEW 

I just think the guitar is super sturdy feeling. I could call it “responsive and snappy”.  Even when I’m not plugged in, I think it sounds good, which is a sign of a great-sounding guitar. It’s just resonant, even when I’m not plugged in, so that’s always something that I look out for.  This guitar really rocks. Some of the things that you get with this guitar that you don’t get in the entry-level Epiphones is the full custom Les Paul shape with the curved top. This is not a flat slab, it’s got the curved model top that you get with the Gibson Customs, it’s got the binding. This is the set neck, so there’s no neck screws here.  This is not a bolt-on neck, this is a set-neck design, which is a really nice construction. It gives it a little bit more resonance and sustain, which is contributed to as well by these really nice tuners. That’s helping you with the tuning stability.  I’m finding this guitar to be really sort of substantial-feeling, responsive but also very like resonant, and it’s kind of a beast, but it’s not too heavy. It’s a little bit heavier than what you would expect for an entry-level Epiphone, but it’s not going to break your back.  I think they did a good job of balancing out the weight, I’m finding it really comfortable to play. It looks awesome, sounds great, and you can’t forget the pro-buckers. We got the pro bucker two and three in the bridge in the neck with the gold plate covers. These are modeled after the old Gibson PAF humbuckers which are the patent applied for humbuckers. These Pro buckers by Epiphone are modeled after that sound of that era the PAF humbuckers from the early Gibson years so you’re getting a lot of classic accoutrements, a lot of classy vibes from the construction, the look and the premium features that come with this guitar.

The easiest pop songs to learn on guitar

You can take your guitar skills to the top of the charts with these easy-to-play pop songs! They’re based on simple chord progressions, and our lessons will take you through how to play them step-by-step. 


Photograph – Ed Sheeran

With a simple four-chord structure, this is an easy one to learn if you want to accompany yourself or someone else singing! 


I’m Yours – Jason Mraz 

Mraz’s 2008 hit uses only a handful of chords and a simple strum pattern. It also sounds great played on ukulele.


Stronger – Kelly Clarkson

This fun-to-sing song mostly features a four-chord structure, only switching up during the bridge. 


Hey Brother – Avicii

American bluegrass music inspired this 2013 hit from Swedish producer Avicii, and that inspiration is reflected in the simple chord progressions.


With or Without You – U2

You only need to know a handful of chords to play this U2 hit.


Love Story  – Taylor Swift 

One of Taylor Swift’s earliest hits can be played with almost all open chords.

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REVIEW: Dean MDX and Dean Thoroughbred X

Check out the Dean MDX and Dean Thoroughbred X in our store! 

 

Here’s a transcript of the review:

Intro: 

 

So the Dean X Series is slightly – I don’t want to say beginner,  because this feels like a more of an intermediate or more entry-level price range, but these guitars really pack a lot and they’re at a more intermediate range.  

Dean Thoroughbred X

The two different models from the X Series that we’re looking at are the Thoroughbred which you see here is the single cutaway style guitar; it kind of looks like the Les Paul style. I think it’s got some key differences that make it look really unique and then there’s also the MD which the X version of that is somewhat like the Strat style guitar; it comes in a hardtail version as well as a floating Bridge version with the Floyd Rose. Two different finishes to choose one to choose from the Blue Burst as well as the solid matte black, two really striking looks. These guitars have some really high-end features that you don’t necessarily expect from guitars in this price range. As you can see this one has a quilt Maple top underneath the blue finish, but it’s just like beautiful.  Also the black Hardware throughout the guitar, both on the bridge and this pickup selector. The straps, the strap buttons as well as the tuners, all feature nice-looking black hardware.  I think these guitars have a really nice look with them, as well as with the black headstock through and through.  I think they’re packing a lot of interesting looks and features as well as construction that you don’t always see from guitars in this price range. I also wanted to shout out the binding, nice white binding on the body as well as the neck and the headstock.  Dean is doing a very good job of charming me with some nice-looking guitar features here, and it doesn’t stop there.  These guitars have a really great construction.  They’re made out of mahogany in the body, which is a fantastic wood for a guitar body.  It’s definitely substantial, it’s not too heavy but it’s definitely got a little bit more weight because mahogany is just a slightly denser wood. It gives you some great tonal properties.  I think these guitars have great sustain. This is a maple neck which is great.  I love Maple for the neck and then Indian Rose Wood on the fretboard and a mahogany body.  There are two different styles to choose from and you’re ready to rock with the Dean X Series so let’s give it a lesson and see what these guitars are all about. 

 

Dean MDX 

So here you can see the brother of the Thoroughbred in the X Series which is the MD guitar. This is the double cutaway style, a bit more of a strat again, like the Thoroughbred is not quite like an Epiphone, the MD not quite like a strat. I think they really stand sort of on their own playing field. Dean has a real serious Legacy in rock and roll instruments so I think that character really comes through in a unique way.  These guitars are really built to rock.  They’ve got zebra humbuckers featured throughout the entire X line.  These are DMT designed humbucking pickups and they sound really nice.  I think they’ve got a bit more output.  They sound pretty hot and they’re ready to rock in my opinion. They’re super nice and have a broad range. 

There’s a lot of low end in there. Even in a fairly clean amp setup you just really hear a lot of broad full sound coming out of these pickups. They’ve got a little bit more of a higher output, so I think they’re really nice. I think they sound great with distortion, they’re super good for rock and also clean up really well. But you’re definitely going with a more of a souped-up humbucker style guitar with the Dean line here, and I think these guitars really do a good job of building on the Vendetta line which is their entry point into the Deans.  This guitar features some really great improvements.  We talked about the wood types.  I find the wood combination to be right on for this guitar, and then especially with with the two blue ones,  the Trans Burst, I mean these finishes look great and the quilt Maple top is also just coming out. Awesome simple setups both of these guitar.  This guitar has got just the one volume knob, one knob to rule them all. I think it’s about, it does pretty much everything you need and roll it off a little bit if you want to you know get a little bit of the tone cut too.  It’s just one knob that you don’t want to underestimate. I also love that this is knurled metal, I think that’s my favorite knob type.  These Dome knobs with the knurling on the side for the good grip, and then the three-way selector switch which gives you the bridge pickup then both the neck and the bridge together and then finally the up position which gives you just the neck. 

Comparing that to the Thoroughbred, the Thoroughbred has got sort of the classic four knob configuration, where each humbucker has its own set of tone and volume knobs. So it’s kind of an interesting choice between the two because you’re going from one guitar which has four different knobs to this one which is more of a minimalist, but definitely very effective knob configuration.  I think they were kind of smart to go for this. I personally do like the single volume knob setup with these kinds of guitars too. I think it does a great fit for more of a rock and metal style guitar like these.  Speaking of this guitar also comes with a version that has the Floyd Rose. Let’s grab that and take a look. 

The X Series gives you the option of getting into a guitar with the Floyd Rose-licensed floating bridge. It’s pretty smooth.  I think it’s a pretty nice floating bridge, and it gives you a lot of different fun things that you can learn with the guitar whether or not you’re a floating bridge person.  I think it’s awesome that Dean put this option in this price range because having this sort of bridge is something that is sought after for a lot of different genres. It’s definitely something that I personally um you know and familiar with from the Dean line.  I know they have a long history of really cool guitars and guitar players that make great use of the Floyd Rose tremolo and so this can be a nice way to get into a guitar that’s got a Floyd Rose from Dean. Also, these guitars are 22 frets with jumbo frets, and I think that’s just another thing that’s a shout out to all those kinds of guitar heads and people who really like rock music like jumbo frets.  These different features that they put in here are sort of catered to awesome rock instruments and sort of that legacy of rock and roll metal guitar playing that Dean was one of the leaders in. So this is an awesome guitar series that gives you a lot of that spirit at a nice price range, some great features that are awesome. You’re not going to be compromising on the look. I think the finish types that were chosen will be suited to a lot of different tastes.  You got the beauty of the transparent blue with the quilt Maple, but also a more refined or mysterious look with the matte black.  I really like the matte on this finish. It is easy on the eyes and it doesn’t pick up fingerprints the way that gloss finishes do.  I think this is a fantastic matte.  I think it might be a little bit of an underdog compared to the blue but this is a really classy look and a bit of a dark horse vibe all the way up to the headstock again with the alternate looking headstock this is more of like the standard six on one side with the tuning tags compared to the Thoroughbred which has the three and three. 

I wanted to talk really quickly about the two different bridge options.  Side by side, you’ve got on one end the Floyd Rose, which is your whammy bar option, and then on the other end you’ve got the tried and true Tune-O-matic bridge, which is your hard tail.  The Floyd Rose is a unique design because it’s a floating bridge, which means that if you can run this you can bend this bad boy down or back to give you drops or dives. 

So if you’re into that, you’re definitely looking to get the Floyd Rose.  It also comes standard with the locking bridge, which is definitely a necessity for a Floyd Rose guitar with all that extra string tension. They put the locking bridge on the guitars that come with the Floyd Rose once you lock your bridge down with these hex nuts, then you’re good to go crazy with the whammy bar and you can also use these fine tuners while your bridge is locked to get the guitar into tune with the fine tuning adjustments. It’s a bit more meat to chew when it comes to the Floyd Rose.  You know for me, I really enjoy it, but it comes with a little bit of extra work in terms of maintaining the guitar changing your strings and things like that. But I’m really happy that you know Floyd that the Floyd Rose is available on these Dean guitars in this range taking a look you know here this guitar is going to be a little less fussy. You can slam on this guitar and it won’t fall out of tune quite as easily. You’re sort of weighing two different options. It depends on the kind of style you want to play. In some ways maybe Dean meant one version to be more of a rhythm style, the other one to be more lead,  but I really think you know the Floyd Rose bridge is used in either style and so the option is just there for you no matter which way you want to go. I think that’s what’s awesome about the X Series, that you’re kind of getting all of your rock arsenal in a concise little lineup by Dean.  Between the Thoroughbred and the MDX, which one would you choose? Which finish choice would you go after? lLet us know in the comments. Let us know what you think about these guitars.  They’re available on FretZealot.com and we’re super stoked to have them in stock.  So check us out and let us know what you think about the Dean offerings.

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These are the most unusual Fret Zealot courses

Fret Zealot has courses for every skill level and interest, from complete beginners to pros. We also have some unique lessons that will teach you skills outside of the box. 


Rockabilly Guitar for Beginners

If you want to play 1950s Rockabilly and Rock ‘n’ Roll the right way, then this course is perfect for you. It will take you through the Nashville Number System, teach you to recognize the key of a song, and help you through chord progressions.


How to Solder for Guitar Repair

Take guitar repair into your own hands with this beginners’ guide.

 

Diminished Lightning – Gypsy Jazz Guitar

Diminished harmony creates tension in music. This course will teach you the diminished chords and how to use them in your own playing. This joins about five other Gypsy Jazz courses we offer, so lots to continue with if you enjoy this unique style!


Flamenco Guitar

If you’re looking for a challenge, why not try flamenco guitar? This course breaks the style down by component so that you can utilize it in your own music. There’s also a course for Flamenco Ukulele!


Musical Meditations

Need to relax? This course uses beginner guitar techniques to help you reach a space of meditative peace. It’s a well known fact that music is good for you. Embrace that and give these “meditations” a try!

 

Ultimate Guitar Maintenance Guide

It’s not necessarily a unique course in general, but it’s a neat course we offer! Being a guitarist goes beyond just playing well. This course will teach you how to keep your instrument in perfect condition. 

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REVIEW: Elmore Pedal

We reviewed the Elmore Pedal, which makes it possible to start, pause, and go back five seconds in Fret Zealot lessons without taking your hands off of the guitar.

Watch the review here:

Read the review below:

“So right now I’m using the Elmore pedal to control the Fret Zealot guitar lessons and it’s doing two things for me – it’s playing and pausing my video, but it’s also playing and pausing the LED segments on my Fret Zealot system.

So what’s really cool about this is when I’m playing and pausing my my Fret Zealot course, it’s also playing and pausing the LED strip on the guitar.  So this button is play and pause and then this button on the left side is your rewind and it just does it you go back in five seconds increments. 

I can just pause and I got my chord right here and then when I’m ready to move on I just tap the pedal. 

It makes all the difference – you can pause it and it’s like the difference between a minor and a major chord you could play pause go back and check out the different parts of your Fret Zealot lesson. You can go at the pace that you want to go and I have it up here on the desk but you can put it on the floor and it’s just an easy, two buttons so you can play and pause and rewind your video. I paused it, I’ve got my minor chord playing on the guitar and then when I’m ready to go to the major chord that I’m learning here I’ll just press the play button again and then boom, pause. 

I’ve got my major chord playing on the guitar now I just use the pedal deposit so I can just rock on that on that major chord as long as I want now until I’m ready to press play again and continue the lesson just like that. 

You can use the Elmore pedal with any Fret Zealot course, there’s hundreds of different topics and genres specific songs that you want to learn you could play and pause those song courses as well all with this pedal.  It’s a really sweet sync up with the Fred Zealot system you’ve got two devices talking with your computer with the web browser version of the Fret Zealot app you can go full screen and just watch all of those courses while having the individual notes and phrases light up on your guitar and then it all connects back so you can play and pause with the Elmore pedal and that that just kicks up the learning another level or it’s just another way to navigate the ecosystem and learn how to play.”

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Want to learn to play guitar like B.B. King?

Want to learn to play guitar like the King of the Blues, B.B. King?

The B.B. King Player Study will teach you the key aspects of King’s legendary playing style, including his phrasing, use of vibrato, and incredible tone. 

Background

Riley B. King grew up singing in the gospel choir in his Mississippi hometown. The minister there played guitar during services, and taught King his first three chords. King bought his first guitar for $15, a month of his salary at that time. He joined a gospel group to play at area churches before following Delta blues musician Bukka White to Memphis for nearly a year. He performed on local radio programs and had regular gigs at a club in West Memphis. 

King’s nickname “B.B.” came from his nickname at a radio station, where he was a DJ and singer – “Beale Street Blues Boy”, shortened to “Blues Boy” and later, “B.B.”. He was a fixture of the Beale Street blues scene by the late 1940s and 1950s, playing in a group called The Beale Streeters. He was signed to RPM records, and began touring across the U.S. with his band, The B.B. King Review. 

King became one of the biggest names in R&B in the 1950s with hits like “3 O’Clock Blues”, “You Know I Love You”, and “Every Day I Have the Blues”. He started booking major venues like New York’s Apollo Theater, and in 1956 alone, he booked 342 concerts and three recording sessions. 

King and other Black American blues artists inspired a crop of young musicians in the United Kingdom, including Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. King opened for the Stones’ 1969 American Tour. 

Style 

King prioritized quality over quantity in his playing, using his expressive phrasing to give his guitar a voice. “When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille,” King famously said. (Lucille was the name given to all of King’s guitars). 

He utilized a style that became known as the “B.B. Box”, using a pentatonic minor shape down the neck of the guitar and focusing on ⅘ notes. He also stepped outside of the traditional minor pentatonic scale and use microtonal bending – bending notes less than a semi-tone for a subtle effect. 

Lucille 

King famously named all of his guitars – usually Gibson ES-355 or variants – Lucille. King said the name originated in the late 1940s, when he was playing a show in Arkansas. A fight broke out in the venue, causing a fire and forcing King and the crowd to evacuate. King returned to rescue his guitar and found out that the men were fighting over a woman named Lucille. As a reminder not to fight over women or tempt fate by entering any more burning buildings, he named the guitar (and all the subsequent guitars) Lucille. 

Legacy 

King was inducted into the Blues all of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He won the international Polar Music Prize in 2014. King, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 1990, was a spokesperson for the fight against the disease. He also supported Little Kid Rock, an organization that provides instruments and instruction for kids in underprivileged areas of the U.S. In 2011, Rolling Stone ranked King #6 on their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. 

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Power chords and barre chords for guitar – how and when to use them

Power chords and barre chords will both add power and dimension to your guitar playing, especially when playing with a group. There are a few differences between these two heavy hitters and when you should use them.

Power Chords

Think of the unforgettable riff of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. The distinctively grungy sound is achieved through a series of power chords (and plenty of distortion). 

A power chord includes the root note and the fifth of the root note, with the option to add the octave of the root note. On a guitar, this forms a specific shape, which is easy to move up and down the guitar neck to create different chord progressions. 

You can find the “fifth” of a root note by counting five notes up the scale from the root. So if you’re playing a “C” power chord, the power chord will contain C (the root note), G (five notes up from C), and C one octave above the root. 

Since power chords don’t contain a third note, they’re neither major nor minor. Power chords are usually written with a “5”, i.e. A5, C5, etc. 

Power chords aren’t solely the  purview of rock music – they can be found in all genres, including pop. They can also be played on piano. 

You can master power chords with this Power Chord Workout for Guitar. 

Barre Chords 

Barre chords are a little more complex than power chords. To play a barre chord, you’ll need to press your index finger along a fret, holding down five or six strings at once. Some chord positions may call for you to barre just two or three strings, which you can do with the tip of your index finger.

“A♯ minor chord on guitar with barre” by Lucian Popescu is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Doing this essentially shortens the guitar’s strings, allowing you to play a chord without being restricted by the tones of the open strings. This helps create chords with different tonalities, like minor, sharp, flat, and 7th chords. 

Most barre chords are “moveable”, meaning you can play them up and down the neck to play different chord progressions. 

If you’re just starting out playing barre chords and having a hard time, don’t stress! Properly barring a fret is one of the trickiest tasks for a new guitar player, but your fingers will gain strength the more you practice. 

Try this course to learn some easy barre chords for guitar! 

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