Getting Into Musical Restoration

It was around four years ago now, when I decided to make an electric guitar for a course I was studying on. It was not a great feat of musical and design genius, but it inspired me to continue working with musical instruments.

The restoration of guitars in particular is not as hard as one may think. Once you have basic woodwork skills, the specialist skills required for instrument restoration are easily picked up. I think, by the time I had worked on my fourth parlour guitar I understood the methods sufficiently well.

I began my restoration projects by firstly identifying and writing down every small detail about the instrument I was to work on. I began with guitars because I am a classical guitarist. Once I had identified the jobs I needed to look over or correct I got started.

Usually the first thing I did was to either remove or replenish (by sanding and re-applying) the coat of varnish or lacquer. Quite often I would entirely remove it and replace it with a French polish finish. Next I would attempt to fill and re-glue any cracks in the bodywork. With these old guitars there are often many hairline cracks that need to be dealt with sooner than later. The next thing to do was to check the bridge and top-nut and if the either was broken beyond repair, it would have to be replaced. I replaced them with a handmade bridge of my own (design based on an original, of course). Once the actual body of the guitar was in good order, and the action of the strings had been checked (and lowered if necessary). Between 3-4mm is ideal. The guitar often just needed a good clean before selling it on.

Occasionally with some jobs, the fretboard would have groves in – these can be filled with ordinary wood-filler. As long as they are coloured to look like the original wood used. If you happen to have a large problem, i.e. the neck has warped and needs replacing, you can either sell the guitar with a warped neck and declare it to be so, or replace and rebuild the entire neck (including frets I’m afraid). Now for an amateur restorer that is perhaps not advisable without a lot of practice. In which case you could also buy a pre-built neck from a registered luthier, if you like.

Otherwise, simple problems like ‘bad tuning pegs’ can easily be replaced with the use of a screwdriver.

The most important thing to remember when restoring instruments is their sound! If you loose the sound, the instrument has no value other than the wood it is made of. I cannot stress that point enough. Many people restore these instruments as they would a chair. The most important thing to do whilst restoring it is to play it and check that what you are doing isn’t damaging the fundamental sonority of the instrument.
Happy restoring!

Tips on How to Choose the Right Music Course for a Career in the Music Industry

Selection of the correct music course is crucial. For some, the aim is to get into the music industry as a recording artist at a label or other connected role, others to play in a band or orchestra or become music teachers. The choices are wide and it can be daunting, knowing you will invest a good chunk of your life and money in something where you’re not certain of the outcome. It can feel like a gamble.

Apart from talent (this is a must) getting a job in the music industry requires skill and experience (if you are lucky enough to get a work placement or internship) in addition to a qualification. Budget is also an important factor while choosing a music course. If you play an instrument, some (like brass and wind) can be very expensive. There may well be continuous investment in your instrument as well as the private lessons while studying. If you intent to apply to a top institution which has links to the industry, be aware of the high fees charged.

Generally, most institutions look for a certain standard of performance of vocal and instrumental skills and sometimes composition ability.

Below are some ideas for how to proceed with choosing the best music course:

1. Decide which area of the music industry you are interested in and passionate about.

Is it teaching/education, performance, production / technology or business related? Look at educational and industry directories that provide an overview of different sectors, job specifications etc. Also, view at any advice and guidance pages. If you plan to do a degree, the 2 main ones are a Music BA and BMus. You might find that some universities offer both a BA and a BMus course. While both of them are general music courses, the BA course normally follows a broader range of subjects, including more academic subjects like music history or analysis.

BMus courses, on the other hand,are more practical-oriented. They usually contain more performance and composition elements. You should compare the course details at individual universities for an exact comparison.

2. If applying to a University or College, understand that they want the best candidates as much as you want to study there.

Therefore, do your research. When considering a University/college, consider:

– if you want to stay near your family or move as far away as possible
– big city or small town? What’s the social life like?
– look at how long the course have been established
– what are the entry requirement needed to be accepted?
– do they get visits by people working in the industry?
– are the current students happy with their courses there?
– what was the feedback from previous graduates to the course? How many of them got good jobs when they left?

3. You can help yourself by applying to as many relevant ones as possible.

Be aware that competition for places means many music courses are over-subscribed. Also, there a large number of different music courses available at universities. If you’ve already decided your career path, it is worth considering a specialised music course. If you want to keep your options open, choose a general music course.

4. Visit the institution offering the course and meet the staff and see the facilities.

Understand the nature of the courses you are considering by asking questions, particularly when applying for a specific course. Make sure you ask the following questions:

– How connected to the music industry is the course (e.g. industry guest lectures, work placement opportunities, etc)?
– Do lecturers and staff have industry backgrounds?
– What are the course facilities like (e.g studios, rehearsal rooms, concert hall, teaching areas, libraries, research and development centre)?
– Are there performing opportunities e.g. bands, chamber and full orchestras at special events etc
– What are the opportunities for progression to higher level courses on completion of the qualification/training?
– Do students have freedom to specialise in within the course, e.g. take performance/composition/business as major parts of it? Can students work on their own extended projects under staff direction?
– Does the course teach business skills? anyone entering the music industry must understand the business side. Sales, marketing, people and project management, finance and promotional skills are particularly valuable.
– What is the teaching like? Are the classes small and intimate where everybody has a personal tutor in case something goes wrong?
– What careers have past students gone on to have after completing the course? Is the qualification held in high regard when seen by prospective employers in the music industry?

If possible, it is also worth speaking with a professional musician or music teacher you know because they will be able to identify the possibilities available. Not only this, they will also be able to give you some insight into what to expect when you complete your course and start job hunting.

Turn Your Computer Into a Recording Studio For a Home Made Music Demo

It is amazing what we can do with a computer nowadays, gone are the days when you were doing your home recording on a 4 track machine. Don’t get me wrong you can produce a nice sounding demo on a 4 tracks machine, but now with the software sequencer selling like hot cakes and very powerful and versatile you can achieve a quality home demo.

You have now the capacity to record as much as 60 tracks or more and create a full blown band sound by playing all the instruments yourself, doing all the vocals, lead and background, playing guitar rhythm, power chords, lead guitar solos, drums, base, piano and keyboard, recording your tracks one at the time.

In order to get you going these are the items you must have.

You first need:

-A powerful computer:
Anything equivalent to a Pentium 4- 2.0 GHz and up with a minimum of 1 GB to 2 GB of DDR memory, a 160 GB hard disk or larger, a nice monitor 17”, 19” or 22” LCD if possible. A good and quiet CPU ventilator is a must to achieve a spotless recording without background noise. The more tracks you intend to create in your music projects, the more powerful your computer needs to be.

-A recording sound card:
A good choice of recording card would be audiophile 2496 PCI card 24 bit by m-audio.

– A basic mixing board:
A basic board of 2 channels mixing board, behringer eurorack UB502 by BehRinger connected to the sound card.

-A basic preamp: (tube if possible) connected to the 2 channel mixing board:
A nice choice is the Tube MP studio by ART.

-A stereo receiver: (your home receiver is fine) connected to the sound card and the studio monitors connected to it.

-Studio monitors (speakers): Again this is up to you as far as the type and models, anything with a good quality sound with good woofers and tweeters.

-A music sequencer: (like cakewalk, protools or samplitude)

-Good decent low price microphones:
A good choice for vocal recording at a low price of about $100.00 is the AKG perception 100, large-diaphragm condenser mic. The AKG Perception 100 is a rugged cardioid condenser microphone. The 1″ diaphragm bring AKG-quality sound to recording, live sound and broadcasting applications.

For guitars and instruments you can use a sure SM57 dynamic microphone.

Of course you also need your instruments, if you have the basic it is fine, I have a nice epiphone (Gibson AJ) acoustic guitar witch retails for less than $200.00, I use a Fender Stratocaster and Kramer electric guitars for all the heavy stuff along with a small fender amplifier, for the base and drums I use a Yamaha keyboard that I got for about $300.00 that gives me a satisfactory result.

Please bare in mind that recording sound is a skill that you can acquire with time and studies, just browse the internet and find some good articles about sound recording and mixing. There is one simple rule when you want to achieve a good sounding demo, (first it has to sound nice and right coming in to the microphones), no matter how much mixing you will do once you recorded all your tracks, you will never achieve a reasonable sounding demo if what goes in is crap like; buzzing instruments, bad positioning of your microphones, peak levels and so on.

Once the recording is done and comes the time to mix it down, bare in mind that it is always better to remove then to add, what I mean by that is simply use your common sense when listening to your tracks, if you notice that one of your guitar tracks a little low in volumes, don’t raise that track’s volume but rather lower the volumes of the other guitar tracks and instruments, you don’t want to hear distortions but you are looking for a balance sound where you hear all the instruments and track well during the mixing. You can apply the same strategy for the EQs settings it is also better to remove then to add.

Try to keep in mind when working on your home music demo, that the A&R people are far more interested in the song’s potential, and the artist’s appeal than they are about the quality of the recording. Nearly every act signed to a major label will be recording their entire album over again with a professional engineer and producer. The demo is only a demo!