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a musical example of turning a minus into a plus..

June 16, 2018

So.. recently I was diagnosed with having minor osteo-arthritis in my right wrist and hand. I am, of course, right-handed.

Some days, for daily tasks, such as chopping vegetables, and holding my dog’s leash as I walk him, I wear a wrist wrap. The pain isn’t bad, but does get annoying. The wrist wrap helps a little. I like the feel of it.

Other days, no pain, but I still have to be careful what I do – no more hitting a punching bag at my brother’s house for instance, and having to be careful about what yoga poses I attempt. My Docs suggested Pilates instead.. I’ll look into that.

Ome thing the arthritis keeps me from doing is attempting to play metal on guitar. This, I have to admit, is very frustrating. I am not a skilled musician, but can play some metal riffs well. Impassioned, fast, and hard.

This.. is fun.

I listen to a lot of very creative metal – prog mixed with power metal mixed with.. all sorts of things.. such groups as Devin Townsend Project, Prospekt, Sarah Longfield, Animals As Leaders, Earthside, TesseracT, Skyharbor, Lacuna Coil..

I LOVE this stuff. And I want to play it – even a few basic riffs. I can manage the more simple parts of the music.

However, I can no longer aggressively play guitar in this way. Too rough on my wrist and hand. Even when wearing the wrist wrap.

A few weeks ago, I bought a 4 string cigar box guitar (hence forth referred to as a CBG) – NOT an instrument ideally suited to playing metal – although, if I retune the instrument in certain ways, it is possible.

The CBG is not very loud. The builder only put one sound hole in the box, and the box is smaller than those he often uses for the 4 string instruments he builds. Bigger the box, the bigger the sound, I’m guessing. Typically, the 3 string models are built with smaller boxes. But I found the smaller box 4 string to be more comfortable, so I bought that one.  I already knew a big box CBG would be less comfortable, because I bought one in 2015, but later sold it. I paid $88, including shipping for my current CBG, and for the previous one.

I still wear a wrist wrap when playing, not so much because of the arthritis, but because it feels better having a bit of padding between my wrist and the 90 degree angled edge of the box. I’d wear a wrist wrap for this reason even without the arthritis.

Since my CBG is not as loud as a regular acoustic guitar, and I can’t hear it as well when I am practicing, I went amp shopping. I was thinking of getting a very cheap, used, basic amp, with just a clean setting, overdrive channel, and two effects built in – a reverb and chorus. That would have been fine. And would have cost me as little as $50.

But, my favorite amp is a Peavey Vypyr 1, which is one of many modeling amps on the market. Modeling amps have LOADS of effects and amp models and misc. sounds built in. This amp sells for $129.99.

A modeling amp is an unconventional choice to pair with my CBG, a primitive instrument, even with its very basic electronics built in so that I can plug it into an amp. CBG purists would not be pleased with me buying this amp. Oh well.

The amp does such amazing things! It is rather ironic, that, after all these years of playing, buying, and selling electric guitars, amps, and other gear, I finally bought this awesome amp.. and don’t utilize all of its features because to do so.. to reach the amp’s full potential, I’d need a regular electric guitar, and play the heavy stuff.

Yeah.. weird timing.

But I have resisted the urge to buy yet another electric guitar (I donated the last one I purchased, and either sold or donated the others I previously owned), since I can’t play the style of music I want to without pain.

Even without a standard electric guitar, I can create amazing sounds with the amp and CBG – even plug the amp into my computer, via USB port.

There’s a major downside to using the CBG with this amp though – I have to be VERY careful with feedback – that ear-splitting sound you’ve likely heard – blasting out of amps and P.A. systems when the sound mix is not right.

The CBG has electronics that are different than on regular electric guitars. Some CBG’s come with standard electronics, and those don’t create a feedback problem with amps, but those CBG’s are, as you might guess, more expensive. To buy one with standard electronics, for example, a mini-or full size humbucker pickup installed – that might cost another $100.

When I have the amp on a setting that sounds like hard rock or metal, I first have to dial back the volume quite a bit on the amp, or I get that horrible noise. And when I switch to an acoustic (clean) setting, I need to turn the volume back up on the amp. No big deal, as long as I don’t forget. If I do forget.. OUCH! My ears, for awhile, are not happy.

Here is the CBG and amp. The single knob on the CBG is the volume control. The wrist wrap and coricidin bottle slide are on top of the amp.

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So I’ll just be an odd CBG player, who likes to use such effects as a phaser (one of Eddie Van Halen’s favorite effects, if I remember correctly), or a reverse delay, which are built into the amp.

So how is having arthritis a minus turned into a plus?

Since I can’t play what I most want to play, but still feel the urge to teach myself guitar,  I am focusing on different right hand techniques than I would use for metal and most rock.

I’ve been playing finger style on my aunt’s 1965 Gibson classical guitar for awhile,

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and have decided to adopt a mostly finger style way of playing the CBG, even when I am using an old fashioned glass bottle slide.

I’m also working on different forms of music besides metal. I’m teaching myself to use a slide to play blues on the CBG (and plan on using the slide to play more than just blues – it is very useful), and am working on a bit of Celtic music. I even figured out part of “Redemption Song,” by Bob Marley. Reggae performed on a CBG – why not.

Some limitations can be a positive thing. I’m gradually creating unconventional music on the CBG – at least partially by using uncommon techniques. Most people are likely using a pick., not play finger style.

I’m even thinking of getting some banjo picks to use with the CBG – banjo picks allow musicians to play finger style, and pluck the strings more strongly without having to grow their finger nails long on their picking hand.  (For people who are right-handed, their right hand is their strumming/picking hand, for lefties, the opposite).

And I’ll be using many functions on the amp to create sounds not at all associated with cigar box guitar playing.

And this is good.

Turning a minus into a plus.

If you can’t do something you like, get creative.. this might take you in an unplanned but positive direction.

What are some ways you’ve turned a minus into a plus?

Thanks for reading.


Post script:

I don’t make any money endorsing products. I don’t like being a sell-out. I’m not being compensated for mentioning the gear listed and demonstrated below.

More info on cigar box guitar – provided by the youtube guru of this instrument, Justin Johnson:

 

Here is the only instruction book I’m aware of for 4 string CBG. I found it on amazon. It might sold on other sites though.

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There are many tutorials on youtube, even though 4 string CBG’s are far less common than 3 string CBG’s. I got a 4 string because it is better for finger style playing, has a fuller sound, more tuning possibilities, and I can play more songs and varieties of music on it than I can on a 3 string. I tried a 3 string over a year ago, and didn’t care for it.

The builder of the CBG I bought is called Weeklyhouse. He is on eBay. He sells mostly 3 stringed CBG’s, but some 4 strings as well. He does not sell any CBG’s with standard electric guitar electronics. He sets the string height (action) on his guitars low enough that they can be played with either fingers fretting the strings of the instrument (what the left hand does if one is right-handed) or using a slide.

Some builders make their CBG’s with high action, so that only a slide can be used. Ask a vendor if you are not sure about what sort of playing their CBG’s are intended for.

Here’s a demo of the Peavey Vypyr 1 (I’ve been a fan of Peavey guitar and bass amps for many years). This is a very complex amp, and tricky to program. I’ll just be using the stock settings for now, instead of learning how to program my own. It sounds awesome right out of the box.

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