Axe Agony! Playing Advice From The Stars... Installment #1: Testament
From technique to tone, from playing styles to holding your own live, TG’s new online axe advice column rocks! Every few months we’ll be inviting some killer guitarists to head it up, beginning with TESTAMENT's Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson!
Testament have been laying down their distinctive blend of thrash metal since the early 80s, honing their chops in the Bay Area and eventually reaching out across the globe with their individual sound.
After releasing their first studio album in nine years with The Formation Of Damnation earlier this year, guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson are back with a vengeance. What’s even better is that the legendary thrash metal duo have agreed to be your online agony uncles for the next few months!
So any playing-related questions or queries you have for the Testament guys, send ’em here: TotalGuitar@futurenet.com
In the meantime, check out the first instalment from Alex…
Q: Alex and Eric, you guys rule! I'd love to be able to shred like my favourite metal players, but whenever I try I find it really difficult to do the hammer-ons and pull-offs that seem to be part of this style. My friend said something about my guitar's action being too high. What does this mean and how can I improve it for shredding?...
The 'action' of the guitar is the distance between the fretboard and the strings. The higher the action, the more challenging it is to play. However, there are many players who like high action, myself included. But if you're just starting to get into 'metal shred' playing, you should bring your guitar to a competent repairman and have it set up for 'low' action.
Hi guys! Last week, while lifting weights, I injured my back and no longer fancy carrying a heavy amp to gigs. I've heard about going direct to a PA, but don't have a clue about how to do it. What are the pros and cons of going direct and can you recommend any gear?
Sorry to hear about your back! Going direct is OK if you're playing a quiet gig, especially without drums. With a full band it's really tough, especially if your bassist and/or other guitarist has an amp. But if you're just backing up a singer for example, it's OK. There are devices, such as the SansAmp, the POD etc, that can give you a decent amp-like tone, but it's best if the rest of your band is running direct too.
Hey Alex and Eric, I recently got into two-hand tapping; inspired by Eddie Van Halen's awesome licks of course! The thing is, whenever I try it I get loads of noise from the strings I'm not playing, as my fingers seem to strike them unintentionally. Is there any gizmo I can use to cut down on this unwanted string noise?
Stan Marsh, Bradford-On-Avon
There is a gizmo you can use to cut down on unwanted string noise – it's called your palm! Try resting the palm of your right hand on the strings that aren't being played when tapping the higher strings. When tapping the lower strings, try resting your left hand on the higher strings while your fingers tap the lower ones.
Yo dudes! When I play certain venues with my band, I get a horrible buzzing sound from my Strat – until I touch the strings or bridge. What the hell is this? Is it dangerous, and what can I do to get rid of the buzz?
That's completely normal. While I'm not as knowledgeable about the technical side of things as I'd like to be, I believe that's known as the 'ground loop' hum and is affected by the light circuitry and other electronic interference in different locations. My guitar does the same thing. As long as the buzz disappears when you touch it, you're OK. If it doesn't, bring the thing into the shop!
TG says: The real danger is in the other equipment you’re using, Dave. If you touch equipment that isn't earthed properly, you’ll get an electric shock. This is usually when your lips touch a microphone while you are touching the strings on your guitar – in effect you’re completing a circuit. That said, most venues these days use circuit-breaking devices to protect bands. To be on the safe side, we’d recommend buying a circuit breaker or RCD device to use with your amps and pedals. These just plug into the wall socket and cost around £15.
Alex, how can I progress with sweep picking? All I seem to be able to do is really simple pick rakes across the top 3 strings but the notes aren't very clear. Help!
I like to start with the strings completely muffled, so it's tough to hear the notes but it sounds very percussive. Once I have a good percussive rake going, I'll progressively lighten up on the muffling and let the notes breath. Eventually, I'm playing them totally open. It's important to start slowly and gradually work up the openness of the strings, as well as the speed and the amount of strings. Start with just two strings, then three, then four, etc.
If you have a question for Alex and Eric, send it here: TotalGuitar@futurenet.com