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Archive for September, 2009

How to effectively boost the volume of your guitar for solos?

Monday, September 21st, 2009

 This question was posted on the sputnik music form



I want to increase the volume of my guitar during guitar solos and maybe add or change effects for the solo. What is the best way to do this?  Are there different ways to do this?  I am looking at the Boss ME20.  What is the best unit for this purpose?


Any multi-effects units could do what you want and most will probably give you more than one way to do it.  I have the same need for boost and effect changes for solos.   Typically for solos I want a little more delay, maybe a little compression, and definitely more volume!  You can’t always rely on the sound tech to know when you are going to play a solo. It is often necessary to take matters into your own hands in these situations.  I accomplish this using a very old BOSS GT3.  This is certainly NOT the greatest pedal ever, and I am not a BOSS endorser.  I just happened to have this unit, and therefore it’s what I use.


Like I said there is usually more than one way to do this with an effect unit. First of all the set up is very important to get the desired result of a volume boost and effect change for a solo.  You will want to connect your unit to your amplifiers effects loop.  Connect the input of your device the amplifier’s “Send” jack and the output of the device to the jack marked “Return”.  This provides a more efficient “clean boost” than simply connecting to the front of the amplifier.  This will boost the volume after the distortion or overdrive, yielding a true increase in the sound level. If the unit is connected before the distortion in the signal chain you will just increase the amount of distortion and not the volume.   If your amp does not have an effects loop connect the unit after your distortion pedal.  You will have to be careful when boosting not to overdrive your amp.  This will increase distortion with little or no effect on the volume level. This is not what we want!


Once you have the unit properly connected your amplifier’s loop you will want to program it to do the task of boosting and “effecting” your sound.  First of all program the foot pedal to increase the volume 30 to 50 percent.  This means that even when the pedal is in its lowest position (heel toward the floor) you will still hear your guitar clearly. You will program this position between 50 and 70 or 5 and 7 depending on how your unit measures volume increments.  When you press the pedal to the maximum position (toe to the floor) the volume should go from 5 or 7 up to 10.  You will find this set up to be very convenient for quickly boosting your volume for solos without adding any additional effects or distortion.


To have effect changes happen when you boost you will need to program your unit a little differently.  You will need to create a patch or program with the effects that you like for solos. If your unit does not provide a separate overall volume control for each patch or program you can program an increase in volume using the unit’s pre-amp settings, eq , amp modeling, compressor, or even distortion.  If you use an amp modeler or distortion for boosting be careful to set the distortion settings as low as possible or you may end up with unwanted distortion.  When you want to play a solo press the button on your unit that you have assigned to be your boost patch and you should hear a definite volume increase along with the effect changes that you programmed.  You may have to go back and make adjustments to the eq and volume settings to get the amount of boost that you need.  It is also helpful to name your patches; “ Normal” for rhythm work and “Lead” or “Boost” for your solo work.


On a final note be aware that what works when you’re programming your unit in your basement or garage may not work when your playing with your band.  Use your full gigging set up for rehearsals until your have any all bugs worked out. Practice pressing the buttons for the patch changes for your solos while you’re playing.  Mastering your effects at rehearsal could save you a lot of embarrassment at the gig.


Happy Jammin’!


Songwriting tips

Monday, September 14th, 2009

This question was posted on the Harmony Central forum ( 

I see songwriting courses advertising all over the place and always wonder if you can actually be taught to write good songs or is it something you either can or can’t do. I’m sure none of the great songwriters ever took a course on how to write songs. 

This is a great question!  Songwriting can most certainly be learned.  Most people even, “the great ones” were not born with songs spewing from their pens, lips and guitars.  Actually most of the great songwriters DID take a course in songwriting.  They studied the songs of the artists that came before them.  If you want to be a great writer read lots of books…not only read but devour them, re-read them, memorize parts of your favorites. Learn where the author got his ideas. Dig up all the references.  Learn who your favorite authors read and read those books too!  The next step is to write, write, write!  In time you will become a good writer.  That doesn’t mean you’ll be rich and famous but you will master this craft.  This process can be applied to songwriting. You may start by learning the songs of your hero’s.  For instance if you love the music of John Lennon, learn as much of it as you can.  Learn the words and the music.  Pluck out the melodies and learn to strum along with the chords.  Copy down the lyrics and learn to sing the songs the best that you can.  When you see a reference to something specific in the lyrics look it up.  This will help you to further get inside his head. Then learn Chuck Berry because he influenced John Lennon.  If you really want to dig down deep learn some Robert Johnson. Since he influence Chuck Berry and probably just about everyone else.   Do this same process for other artists that you like.  If you feel competent on your instrument give some lessons and teach songs to students.  This will further solidify your understand.  Join a cover band and learn lots of other people’s songs. 

The next step is to start writing.  You will want to jump into this as quickly as possible.  That means don’t wait until you’ve learned the entire John Lennon song book before you sit down to write something.  

Here are a few tips to get you started: 

  1. If you can’t think of anything to write take a song that you like and write different lyrics to it.  Conversely you could take the lyrics and write a different tune.  This just an exercise to stimulate creativity.  If you rewrite someone else’s song you’ll have to credit them.
  2. Start out by sitting down with the intention to write a song.  Be quiet and “listen” to what comes to your mind. Do this daily.  Give it at least 10 minutes.
  3. Set aside the same time each day to write.  This will condition the mind to turn on the creativity and make it easier in time to write on a consistent basis.
  4. If you get an idea during the day, in the shower, while driving, in a dream, etc… do what ever you have to do to capture it.  Call your voice mail and sing or say the lyrics. Pull over and write it down…whatever you have to do!
  5. If you feel really blocked relax and enjoy playing and singing some of your favorite songs.  Very often you will find yourself inspired to write your own song while doing this.  Also be aware of mistakes you “accidentally” play while doing this.  These “mistakes” can often be disguised inspiration.  Keith Richards once remarked that when the Stones sit down to write they’ll often start with playing the Buddy Holly songbook and wait for some one to make a mistake.
  6. Don’t be too worried if sometimes you write songs that are very close copies of other people’s songs.  That is just part of the process.
  7. You may find yourself going through a phase where you feel like all your songs sound the same.  There are a couple of things that you can try when this happens.  You may simply need to write that song out of your consciousness. Your mind may just be trying to get it out of your head.  The theory is to keep writing it and in time you will come up with something new. If you don’t have the patience for that go back to one of the other techniques.  Keep trying until you find what works for you.  However, keep in mind that creativity doesn’t usually thrive when forced.
  8. Don’t stress out if you feel like your songs suck.  Just stick with it.  A lot of the “greats” have written their fair share of shitty songs.  Most never see the light of day.  Just keep writing.
  9. Live your life!  Get a girl friend, take a vacation, go on business trips, make lots of friends, learn a sport, have hobbies, get divorced, change jobs, read more books, see more films… The greatest songs communicate real life in some way.  Get out and live!



Song writing is a skill; a craft that you will develop like your singing or guitar playing.  It takes practice and time for most people to develop.  Take your time. Work on it and you’ll be writing cool jams before you know it. 


Help! My hand hurts when I play barre chords.

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Another one from


I’ve been playing guitar for about 2.5 years now and I’ve noticed that my wrists still ache for a while after playing for extended periods of times, especially when I barre, but I was wondering if you guys have any exercises you do to build up finger/wrist strength to prevent such aching?

My response:

First of all be careful.  If you are getting cramps while practicing, stop immediately.  Rub your wrist starting at the elbow and rub downward toward the wrist.  Gently shake your wrist then resume practicing. Do this EVERY TIME your wrist starts to feel cramped or strained.  This is serious business. NEVER play thru a cramp!  

You may want to re-evaluate your hand position when playing barres.  I have this problem with barres at the lower frets (near the nut).  I do everything that I can to not play full barre chords in this position.


If this happens more when you’re playing standing up try raising the strap, yeah it doesn’t look as “cool”, but it’s worth it to avoid tendonitis.


Look at your string gauge and the over all action.  Heavy strings and high action can also be a factor.


Try thinking about the strength or “energy” as coming from the bicep as opposed to the forearm or wrist.  The bicep is much stronger that those other two muscle areas.  This has helped me as well.


If you are inclined to start a weight training program make sure that you do wrist curls, both underhand and over hand.  This will help to strengthen the forearm and reduce the chance of strain or other injury.


Hand size is also factor.  I taught lessons for many years and all my students with small hands had more issues with cramping than those with large hands and long fingers. (As you may have guessed I have relatively small hands.)  They eventually found ways to overcome or get around the cramping and discomfort, just like you will.  Playing scales, and other hand and finger exercises definitely helped as well.


Keep practicing but remember, DON’T PLAY THRU A CRAMP.  Follow the above guidelines and in time you should be able to play barres with less discomfort.


Lou Lombardi

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