Aging Guitar Enthusiast

As noted in the recent post Manchild with Guitar, I’ve taken up the guitar again after about 45 years. I’m now pleased to report that I know more about what I’m doing with it than I did when I was 13 going on Eric Clapton.

I am really benefiting from the wealth of guitar instructional material now available, in book-form, on DVDs, CDs and on the web. I’m also taking lessons, which is something I couldn’t afford when a youngster.

But the work I put in as a lanky teenager of sad disposition has also really helped my current learning curve a lot. All the common open chords came back quickly, and the changes one to another. I knew one pentatonic box, without knowing what to do with it. But now after learning the other four up the fretboard, I’m thankful for the little bit of a base my younger self bequeathed me.

I’ve found that I’m not quite as tone-deaf as I assumed, and that helps as I now learn to jam along with blues tracks in different keys using one useful book-CD combination I’ve come across. I still haven’t recovered the little bit of fingerpicking skill I managed back then, but I’ll be coming back to that too eventually.

Although I was a pretty bad and limited guitar player back then, and remain so largely today, I now see avenues of practice and enthusiasm where I can improve more than I thought possible.

At 58, where do I want to go with playing a guitar? Firstly, I want to pick up my electric guitar, plug it into the amp, turn it up loud and begin to rock. Secondly, and more to the point, I want to learn to improvise, playing lead over a chord structure. My fantasy is to get to the level where I could play a small set for my family and friends, and they’d be duly impressed… (and not feeling, oh my god, he wants to play the guitar for us again)… don’t know if I’ll ever get there.

2453212659 e7b993cef3I’m interested in playing solo instrumental electric guitar, since unless I can talk my wife into banging out a few piano chords with me, I anticipate playing by myself almost all the time. Although I could relearn my halting way with reading regular musical notation, I find guitar tab so much more natural to pick up, although lacking in time information. I can’t motivate myself to learn note sightreading, given the relative shortness of my time.

But I want to play the song, the melody, with such other rhythm and lead accents as may fit in. Most popular tab music, though, disappointingly omits the part sung by the voice. It’s as though playing the guitar as a rock/pop instrument amounts to rhythmic background with occasional lead fills. That’s not what I’m interested in. I want to play the whole thing (or at least a simulation of it).

I’ve read this same lament on one website or another, where somebody asked a group of electric guitarists if anybody could play a song. The group was quite accomplished with either good rhythmic chops or lead skills, but nobody could produce a whole song on their own.

So I anticipate eventually arranging, in some sense, my own instrumental versions of songs I like. This is not so farfetched with some of the software available today. I’ve also become quite interested in the whole chord melody style, although it’s often jazz-oriented and at its technical extremes out of my league or interest. But the idea of using alternate chords, or adding additional chords, to spice up a song has whetted my interest, and does not necessarily require fingerpicking.

For the benefit of anybody else in roughly the same guitar position as I am, here’s a list of some of the learning aids, websites and blogs I’ve come across:


My technical and theory sourcebook for the moment, and which I can really recommend, is The Everything Rock & Blues Guitar Book, by Marc Schonbrun. This is clearly and logically laid out, and the diagrams are plentiful and well-done. It comes with a CD which is a marvelous aid with most guitar books these days. This book has taken me through all five forms or boxes of the pentatonic scales, and discussed the additional note that makes them blues scales. I’m now working on learning the major and minor scales from this book.

(One wonderful feature of the guitar as an instrument is how moveable along the fretboard in the same position such aspects as the pentatonic, major and minor scales can be.)

3330422477 2237f07a6f oAnother book, which I’ve only gone through a little bit although it promises to be good, is Blues Guitar for Dummies by Jon Chappell. I really dislike the attitude implicit in the series’ name, that they have to insult the reader, but nevertheless, the Dummies books are often quite good.

Chappell has a related book called Rock Guitar for Dummies which also looks to have potentially useful info for a tyro such as me.

My other favorite book of the moment is Blues Jam Trax for Guitar by Ralph Agresta. Jam Trax are a series of similar books. These are slim volumes, but include an important CD. The CD has professional backing tracks in different keys and moods, and this blues one is a lot of fun for learning how to jam with the pentatonic/blues scales. Dial up the fuzz and sustain on the amp, and I’m enjoying the noise I make.

The pieces repeat long enough for me to putter around learning the different positions on the neck for whichever key they’re playing, and allows me to move up and down with all five “boxes.” The book includes the diagrams for the pentatonic scales, although they’ve condensed them into four slightly extended ones.

I’ve got some other books I’ve bought waiting in the wings… There’s Total Rock Guitar by Troy Stetina, which promises more detailed study of lead guitar.

I’ve got Chord-Tone Soloing: A Guitarist’s Guide to Melodic Improvising in Any Style by Barrett Taliarino, which comes highly recommended. It appears approachable by one of my skills.

There’s Fingerboard Theory for Guitar by Mike Christiansen and Guitar Fretboard Workbook: A Complete System for Understanding the Fretboard , again by Barrett Tagliarino. I’ve started the Christiansen book, trying to learn scales and basic theory.

One I want to work on soon, since I seem to be in a blues phase, is Blues By the Bar by Chris Hunt which goes into some detail about blues improvisation.

For music-to-play books, I’ve been working out of The Ventures — Pipeline: 25 Surfin’ Hits for Solo Guitar, transcribed by Dan Libertino. I’m getting a good grip on Walk Don’t Run and the Ventures version of Del Shannon’s Runaway, and I’ll probably continue on to learn Bulldog, Beethoven Five-Oh and Telstar. Eventually, though, I have to move on from the 1960s… I’ve got my eye on a great tab version of Steely Dan’s Reeling in the Years. And I’d really love to learn how to play something of Joe Walsh’s, either Rocky Mountain Way or Meadow .

The other music book I’ve learned songs out of is From Liverpool to Abbey Road, by Ron Manus and LC Harnsberger, which has beginner and up tab arrangements of Beatles songs which aren’t too simplistic.

Guitar blogs

I’ve come across some guitar blogs you may enjoy.

Guitar Boomers is subtitled: “Tips and tricks for aging wannabe rockers who need to make up for lost time.” Yeah! VintageP began the guitar at age 50, and seems to be going strong. He’s pretty serious about his equipment. He has some good advice in posts like “Rock ‘N’ Roll is My Golf” and “Aging Rockers: You’re Not Alone.”

teisco leftieIf you find the guitar beautiful, as I do, a great blog is Guitarz. The writer loves to investigate and display old and odd guitars. For instance, there’s a post on a Teiscos Leftie, from 1964. And one on the Roberts Roto-Neck Guitar, which has two fingerboards on one neck…

A Guitar Teacher’s Lesson Notebook has, among other things, what looks like a useful lesson on beginning fingerpicking.

The Mad Stratter has posts of interest for more than just Stratocaster players.

Guitar Tips typically offers free “mini-lessons” as inducements to buy lessons, CDs and DVDs but there’s some good info there.

The blogs Guitar Hunter and My Life With Guitar may also be of interest.

Actually, there’s quite a large guitar blog scene. You can access many from this post on The Guitar Blog Collective!

Web-based lessons and tutorials

There are some greatly instructive web sites with free lessons, tutorials and articles. One such find is Guitar Noise. There are lessons, for instance, on solo arrangements for Neil Young’s The Needle and the Damage Done and the Who’s Behind Blue Eyes.

Another is iBreatheMusic with lessons and tutorials on Melodic Minor Modes, New Ways to Use Pentatonic Scales, Slash Chords and more.

There’s WholeNote: The On-Line Guitar Community, which has 2853 published guitar lessons on its site… although many are quite short, that should hold most of us for awhile.

Playing the guitar, I’ve found, is addictive. I might get tired practicing some song or phrase after awhile. Bah, humbug, I think, this guitar stuff is getting old… I put it down. And not 10 minutes later something is calling me back to throw that strap over my shoulder and start pluggin’ away again.



Notes on images:

The unlikely guitar at the top is from this Flickr site…

The Bigfoot guitar looks like fun, from the site.

And the guitar at the bottom is the Teiscos left-handed model mentioned on the Guitarz blog .

Explore posts in the same categories: Art, Culture, Guitar, Music

10 Comments on “Aging Guitar Enthusiast”

  1. suburbanlife Says:

    Fencer – it is great to read your renewed enthusiasm for playing the guitar. Also, it is good of you to share your resource material. My husband took up the guitar after a 40+ years hiatus about 18 years ago. He has taken lessons for the past years with Brian, from Flat 5 Music in Burnaby and has switched to the bass. Music is such a staple of our recent lives. He noodles around, i sing in the background or simply listen to him struggle to master new stuff. And he plays so well these days, it is a pleasure to see him committed to the craft and the ongoing learning.
    I wish you many moments and years of pleasure. G

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi suburbanlife,

    Interesting that your husband switched to bass… he must have people to play with… or not? (other than yourself of course)

    I’m sure struggling with an instrument exercises other parts of our brains and being than the usual…


  3. forestrat Says:

    Although I love music in all its many forms (well maybe not rap), I have never played an instrument. I often wish that I could play something. Maybe if I win the lottery and can quit my job, I’ll have time to pick something up.

    As they say on Spongebob – Rock on freaky bro!


  4. fencer Says:

    Hi forestrat,

    My fallback instrument if the guitar becomes too frustrating in the end and I must make music, is the harmonica… My brother tells me it’s not that hard to play.

    I probably have too many hobbies, but then I figure it’s good to be interested in many things…


  5. Juan Duque Says:

    Hey! Thanks for all the great links. I am currently 38 and have been playing haphazardly since i was 14. I am self taught and never studied, but am now starting to make the effort to learn basic music theory and fingerstyle blues etc. I downloaded the book you recommended (The Everything – Rock & Blues Guitar Book) and will give it a shot. I own three guitars.. two DeArmond electrics and one really nice acoustic guitar (classical) that i bought here in Colombia, where i live.. Anyway, thanks and keep plugging away!

  6. fencer Says:

    Hi Juan,

    Thanks for dropping by…

    Good luck with that book and learning music theory.

    I find for myself that if I work from two ends I keep myself interested and practicing. One end is learning a song or two that I like, the other is working on learning the fretboard, harmony and musical theory in general.

    I hadn’t heard of DeArmonds before but I looked up on the internet and they sound like great guitars…


  7. hey! I was once in your article, that I forgot karna time reading your article, thank you. good luck..

  8. fencer Says:

    Hi there…

    Not sure what “karna time” is, but thanks for stopping by…


  9. Hi, I am very inspired that you picked up playing the guitar after many years. That is awesome! Since I am an avid guitar player I have been blogging about guitar lessons and it’s helped me rekindle my love for music. I am also not a “young un” and am trying to make more time in my life for my music and playing guitar. Kudos to you for posting such a thorough list of resources, too.

  10. fencer Says:

    Hi Guitar Player,

    Thanks for stopping by. I realize this is a link to help promote your own commercial site, which seems to be devoted to selling guitar instruction. That’s OK, you actually seemed to read what I wrote… but I do wish your site also provided more useful free material.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: