Category Archives: Instruments and Equipment

Finding Good Quality Pianos

Most good music is the product of the right skill and the right tools. Piano players recognize this fact: beginners may have to settle for cheap equipment in their first few years, but most will invest in a high-quality piece later in their careers. The challenge for most is finding a piano for sale in Los Angeles that offers good sound quality at a reasonable price.

Steinway, a piano maker established in 1853, has become synonymous with quality and practicality in music circles. Their pianos are made in New York and Hamburg, Germany and each boast a number of patented features unique to the brand. One such feature is the middle sostenuto pedal, which allows one note to stretch out as other notes are played at the same time, and an 18-layer timber body that offers unparalleled resonation and richness.

Steinway dealers can be found throughout the U.S.; these include music stores, schools, and rental companies. Prices obviously depend on the model: a basic one with limited features can go for about $6,000, while a full-size grand piano can fetch close to $200,000. Of course, these correspond to different needs: the higher end of the scale is usually limited to established musicians with bigger budgets, and the low to middle end caters to beginners and up-and-coming performers.

Renting Steinway pianos is a popular alternative, especially in Los Angeles where demand is high but not everyone has the money to spare. This can be a good idea if you or a family member is just starting out, and you’re not sure whether it’s worth the investment. If you’re more committed, a secondhand piano is also a good alternative. Steinway pianos are built to last, and it’s fairly easy to find a used one in good condition. You may want to bring in a more experienced person to check for quality, especially if you’re new to piano playing.

Whatever you choose, it’s important to choose a good dealer as much as a good brand. You want to work with an established company with a steady track record of satisfied customers. Many experts also recommend buying from an accessible dealer, one that you can easily reach in case you need repairs or replacements. After all, even for a used piece or a rental, you’re shelling out a good sum of money, and you want to make sure you get what it’s worth.

Jazz Guitars

You wouldn’t know it from listening to today’s jazz music, or for that matter, the bulk of modern guitar music. But jazz and guitars work surprisingly well together, and more than a few musicians have blended them with remarkable results. Although many would argue that it’s more about the skill than the instrument, it can’t be denied that jazz has a distinct sound that can’t be achieved with just any set of strings—at least not if you’re after an authentic sound.

Jazz guitars are a fairly new term, as there aren’t many that are specifically made for the genre. In jazz, guitars tend to have a clean, dry sound with little to no reverb, and often no other effects. The charm comes from the clear sound that allows you to pick up every detail, from the plucking to the vibration of every string.

The best instruments for jazz are hollow-body semi-acoustic guitars, although you’ll find more than a few that break away from the rule. One of the most famous jazz guitars is the Gibson ES150, probably best known to jazz enthusiasts as Charlie Christian’s signature instrument. Its famous warm, mellow tone is made possible by a single-coil pickup at the neck, and the f-holes in the acoustic-style body.

Two other Gibson guitars are considered jazz classics: the L5 and the ES175. The L5 has been around for decades and hasn’t changed much from its original design, which includes a large body offering excellent resonance. The ES175 is largely recognizable from its uncharacteristic Florentine design, but offers the same sound quality and personality as the rest of the line.

If you want a real classic, of course, the Fender Telecaster is your best choice. Arguably the most famous guitar in the market in any genre, it has a sweet, mellow tone that goes just as well in jazz as in country music, where it’s better known. What’s great about it is that you can experiment with styles, given its versatility. Indeed, you probably wouldn’t want to use it solely for jazz, as you’ll be missing out on creative opportunities.

The Gretsch Country Gentleman, although obviously more a country guitar, also lends itself very well to jazz playing. This is made possible with the various controls that allow you to change the tone, and the proprietary pickups that give it a unique sound. A similar model, the Nashville, offers the same features with a slightly different look.

Rent A Piano

Renting a PianoWhether you’re a hobbyist or an aspiring musician on a budget, your first piano is no small investment. Even a small, beginner-level one can set you back several hundred dollars, at least if you’re after a certain level of quality. But rather than sacrifice performance and go for a cheap piano, you could rent one instead—it’s just as affordable, more low-maintenance, and offers a wider range of options.

You can usually rent a piano from music shops or rental agencies (which are usually associated with the former). One thing you’ll notice with rental shops is their large selection of pianos, often larger than the typical store’s brand-new range. You’ll find consoles, grand pianos, baby grands, and even digital pianos and keyboards. Of course, you can test them beforehand and see which one works best for you.

Another advantage to renting a piano besides the large selection is that it doesn’t require any serious commitment. If you’re a beginner and just want to see if you like it, there’s no point spending thousands of dollars on what may end up being an unwieldy piece of furniture. You can keep it as long or as little as you want, or even keep renting while you save up for your own. Or if you decide you’d rather play baseball, you can turn it back in with no strings attached.

Most piano rentals work on a monthly basis, meaning they charge a flat fee every month. These range from $30 for a beginner-level piano to $150 for a grand, usually with moving fees and periodic tuning added to the cost. If you’ve been playing for a while and expect to buy your own eventually, try looking for a rent-to-own deal—these allow you to rent the piano until you’ve paid enough to cover the cost of the instrument, at which point it becomes yours. The only risk with this arrangement is that you risk losing money if you change your mind midway, and may even have to pay penalties.

Start looking for piano rentals in your area. Even if you find better rates online, dealing with people face to face is a lot safer—at the very least you’ll know where to go for repairs or refunds if necessary. You may need to undergo a credit check and place a deposit. Once that’s done, all you have to do is choose your instrument and start making music!

Lindo Guitars

Lindo is a UK company that specializes in musical instruments and accessories, with acoustic and electric guitars among its primary products. Although not as popular as Fender and not as well-known for quality as Gibson, it is gaining ground as a cheaper alternative to big-ticket brands with a minimal difference in performance. Young guitarists and amateurs looking for a first instrument often choose Lindo guitars for their excellent price-quality trade-off.

Although small, Lindo’s guitar lineup is fairly varied, with selections for acoustic, electric, electric-acoustic, and bass guitars. They also have a line of travel guitars, which are smaller, more compact, and designed for easy transport. Prices range from £50 (US$82) for a basic travel guitar to £150 (US$245) for their higher-end electric guitars. The company regularly adds to its collection and holds regular specials, so you may even be able to get one for less.

Lindo guitars come with various colors and finishes, so there’s one to catch every user’s fancy. For instance, the Lindo (i) Series, its bass guitar line, features a natural wood finish, an eye-catching red, and a polished black. All come with a basswood body and a maple neck, as well as chrome hardware and die-cast machine heads.

Two of its more popular electro-acoustic guitars are the Black Fire and Dreadnought, which are made with roomy, ergonomic bodies to ensure playing comfort. The fingerboards are rosewood and the body is natural spruce. The necks are made with maple, a popular “tonewood,” which means it carries sound well and makes for excellent acoustic play. As the name implies, it also plugs into an amp and can be used as an electric guitar.

One of its newer products is the Tribal electro-acoustic guitar, set apart mainly by its glossy tiger-stripe design. Featuring the same solid construction as the rest of the lineup, it boasts some of Lindo’s new features such as a scratch-plate design, matte tuning pegs for added style and finger comfort, and a smart headstock design.

Lindo also offers a wide range of guitar accessories, including picks, strings, and straps. Beginners may also be interested in the Complete Rock Guitarist six-lesson DVD for electric guitars or the Complete Fingerstyle Guitarist for acoustic guitars. Tuners, amplifiers, amp cables, and guitar stands are also available for those in the professional league. There’s even an accessory pack for electric-acoustic guitar owners that includes a gig bag, spare steel strings, shoulder straps, plectrums, and a pitch pipe.

A Review of Stagg Guitars

To most musicians, Stagg doesn’t ring as loud a bell as Fender, Gibson or Ibanez. But to newbies, or to those who are more price-conscious than brand-conscious, the Belgian company is a viable alternative to pricey guitars. While a good brand-name instrument can start at $300 for an entry-level piece and can go well over the thousands, Stagg guitars range in price from $200 to $500, a reasonable enough investment for young beginners or casual players.

Stagg Music Company was founded in 1995 and is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. Its product line includes acoustic, electric, and bass guitars, other string instruments (mandolins, banjos, ukuleles), drums and cymbals, wind instruments, and professional audio equipment. Percussion has come to be its most popular offering, however—its cymbals have had a growing fan base since the launch of its hand-hammered Furia and Myra series.

The company’s guitar line, although not its flagship product, offers a good price-to-quality ratio. This is especially true for those who don’t want to pour too much into a first instrument or spend thousands of dollars on a hobby. Both electric and acoustic ranges are handmade and built for excellent sound quality. The round-back models and the James Neligan series are especially popular and get good reviews on sound and craftsmanship. Most guitar teachers consider it a good learning guitar, although guitarists usually move to more expensive brands once they start playing more seriously.

Stagg also makes a wide range of children’s guitars, built to half or quarter sizes. There are classical wood designs, but some models have whimsical, child-friendly motifs such as dinosaurs (the 1/4 size Dino Guitar is ideal for children aged 3 to 5). These guitars are made with nylon strings, which are gentler on young fingers, and are comfortably light. Larger guitars also carry well (especially with Stagg’s line of artsy straps), although older models tend to be heavy, according to some experienced players.

Most musicians agree that Stagg guitars are well-made—some have compared it to more established brands like Yamaha and Epiphone. The sleek and often creative designs are also a plus. In terms of sound quality, it gets a little subjective. Some find the pitch ideal for metal and the strain perfect for blues and jazz, so it can do a little of everything. If you don’t have a specific musical style and just want a good practice guitar, Stagg is definitely worth a look.

Choosing A Budget Guitar

It’s an all-too-common scenario: a young musician sets his heart on becoming the next George Harrison, only to have his spirit dampened by the steep price tags on today’s gear. But there’s a whole gamut of budget guitars out there—it’s just that stores make it a point to put their “signature” pieces on the front.

In most cases, you do get what you pay for. There’s an obvious difference between a $3,000 guitar and a $200 one. But if you’re just learning your first notes, the former would be overkill. Your decision should be based not on what’s available, but on what you need.

Most experts agree that knowing your style is essential. Believe it or not, different guitars favor different musical styles. Sure, you can make a “jack of all trades” out of any guitar, but the best musicians always choose their style and build their equipment around it.

For example, the Ibanez GRG170DX, which was recently named Best Budget Electric Guitar by BestCovery, is really more suited for shredders—two octaves, easy tuning, great range—than anything else. So it serves its purpose well, but it won’t be your first choice if you’re going for, say, soft rock or acoustic ballads.

Many people shy away from buying “specialty” guitars, those that do just one or two things really well and do just a decent job on others. Often, they think it limits their creative options. But most experts disagree. If you haven’t nailed down a style yet, start with a beginner’s guitar and stick to it until you’ve honed your own sound. Other than that, you’d be wasting your money on a pricey electric guitar you’re not sure what to do with.

The Squier Affinity Series Telecaster Special Butterscotch Blonde came in second on the BestCovery survey. Like the Ibanez, it’s a specialty guitar, lending itself particularly well to old-school R&B and country music. While not on par with the Telecaster, it’s got excellent sound for its price.

The same rule applies to buying budget guitars as any other piece of equipment: try before you buy. Many people buy online in a rush, thinking they don’t have a lot to lose since “it’s just a budget guitar.” But no matter how safe online buying is, there’s something to be said about feeling an instrument in your hands and plucking the strings with your own fingers. If there’s a better deal online, go to a local store and try out the instrument before ordering.

Garageband: The Music App for Non-Musicians

To write good music, you have to play good music. At least, that was the prevailing idea for decades, before a slew of music authoring apps came into the market. Nowadays, one can play composer without ever having plucked a guitar string or sat in front of a piano.

Garageband, Apple’s popular music writing program, has recently been made available for the iPad. And while the work of amateurs will probably still sound very much so, it allows them to crank out decent clips of more than acceptable quality for presentations, school assignments, and personal projects.

The app, which has retained most of the features from its original Mac version (part of the iLife package), uses virtual instruments but will accept input from real ones. This probably accounts for its appeal both to professionals and amateurs. It also functions as a multi-purpose synthesizer, incorporating an entire library of guitar, keyboard, and percussion media with a mixing board and recording studio.

Virtual instruments can be played through changing interfaces, so there’s no need to plug in a separate device. If you want to put in a keyboard track, for example, just pull up the option and a digital keyboard appears, essentially transforming your iPad into your instrument of choice.

That last technology isn’t exactly groundbreaking, of course—it was preceded for at least a decade by touch-sensitive drum machines, on-screen pianos, and virtual guitars. But several things put it a notch above its predecessors. Besides superior sound quality and a user-friendly interface, it also offers a wide range of creative options, appealing even to the most inexperienced without pandering, losing depth, or coming across as too elementary.

In fact, what it does is serve two different markets simultaneously, according to musician Robby Grossman. The first is that of beginners or casual musicians, who just want to make something decent without much fuss—the program’s built-in correctors keep the output in key and maintain a standard rhythm. The second is serious musicians who, although they might find the program limiting, can use it as a sketchpad of sorts. Garageband works very well for rough demos, or for jotting down ideas in seconds.

Not surprisingly, reactions to Garageband are mixed. There are the highbrows who think it’s making art too accessible, and the let-it-be ones who appreciate its user-friendliness. Garageband music probably won’t be ruling the airwaves soon, but at the very least it nurtures the interest of people who eventually will.

Acoustic Guitar Amps

When people begin learning to play the guitar most of their focus is centred on the guitar itself with sometimes little consideration given to how important it is to have good acoustic guitar amps.  This is a big mistake for guitarists that are looking for a thick, rich sound from their guitar.  It should also be noted that a great amp can give you a great result however an excellent guitar plugged into a bad amp will sound terrible no matter how good you are.

When considering buying your first acoustic guitar amplifier there are a few things that you should think about before you commit to a particular brand or type.  These things include the cost of the amp, what size amp suits your situation, what features does the amp have and it is important to go to the music shop and plug in some amps and play to see how they sound.

The cost or budget that you have for an amp is going to be significantly less than you would spend on the guitar however there are a great range of amps for around the $100 mark which are great for beginners. These amps are generally ok if the guitarist is practising by themselves but are limited when it comes to playing with other guitarists and other musicians as they cannot be heard well over other larger and more powerful amps.

The size of the amp as I have just mentioned does matter as playing with a smaller amp is generally not suitable for jamming with friends especially if there are multiple guitarists and a drummer for example.  Depending on the situation that you will be playing, the size and power of an amp should increase especially if you are going to be spending a lot of time playing in a group.

Some of the features that mid range acoustic guitar amps will have include an equalizer with three bands – high, medium and low, an overdrive button, reverberation control, headphone input and a master volume dial.  As well as considering these features it is also important to know that amps come in two main types tube and transistor with the tube amps being more expensive.  Deciding which one will depend on how much you wish to spend as well as how good the sound of the amp is when you give both acoustic guitar amps a try in the store.

Cordless Microphones

Cordless microphone, which are also referred to as wireless microphones, are widely used by performers from rock bands to musical groups.  The cordless feature has many advantages over its corded predecessor but still contains the same basic technology of the original microphones.  A microphone consists of two main components which includes the transmitter and the receiver.  The microphone has the transmitter part which picks up what is said or played and sends it to the receiver which then broadcasts the voice or music.

With the introduction of the cordless microphone many performers where then able to move freely around the stage without having to worry about getting tangled in cords all over the stage.  Cordless microphones are available in two main types which includes the self contained microphone which is hand held and has a transmitter built into the handle and the lapel wireless microphone.  The main differences between the two microphones is that the hand held microphone has the transmitter built into the handle of the microphone while the lapel cordless microphone has a small lead that runs to a small battery powered transmitter which is usually clipped on the waist.

Bands that perform at live venues often use a variety of cordless and lapel microphones to allow them to easily move around the stage (or the audience) during their performance.  In a majority of cases the hand held cordless microphones are used by the singer and other members of the band who also sing with the lapel microphone adapted and used as a pickup from the guitar wirelessly to the amp.  The various guitar players have a pickup near the strings of the guitar which picks up the sound and transmits it to the amp from a small battery powered transmitter which normally clips on the back of your guitar strap.

If you are looking to buy a cordless microphone it pays to look around and try some of the different brands available at various stores.  The quality of the sound will differ from the cheaper brands to the more expensive so it will generally come down to how much you are prepared to pay.

Cordless Microphones

Left Handed Electric Guitar

Just as there are left handed scissors and left handed tools, guitars to are available for left-handed people.  In many cases left handed people who wanted to learn to play the guitar were often persuaded to learn on a right-handed guitar which made some of the chords and chord progression very difficult to play.  The answer to this was to either search for and purchase a guitar that has been specially designed for a left-handed player or use a right handed guitar turned upside down.

Today left handed electric guitars are readily available in most music stores as the demand for these types of guitars especially left handed electric guitars has been increased by the popularity of famous left handed guitar players.  Iggy Pop, Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney are all famous guitarists that played left-handed on specially made guitars.

To determine whether or not a left handed electric guitar is right for you the best way is to try both a right handed and a left-handed guitar next time you are at the music store.  Play each of the guitars and note which one feels the most comfortable in terms of strumming, fingering of chords and practising chord progressions.  You should be able to tell quite quickly which guitar feels the most natural when you are playing.

Apart from the difficulties that a left-handed person faces when choosing and playing a left-handed guitar it is also a challenge to find teaching and learning material for this type of guitar playing.  The increase in the amount of online material for electric guitar players has provided some much needed resources for left-handed guitar players who have been searching for information on guitar basics and left-handed guitar techniques