Mark Hopkins is a Student Advisor at Berkleemusic.com. He finished his studies at Berklee College of Music, as a Guitarist/Songwriting Major, in 2009. Mark is a regular gigging musician who has toured extensively and released 6 albums in the past 10 years. You can hear some of Mark’s music at www.markhopkinsmusic.com.
As a regular gigging musician I often get flooded with questions from other guitarists about what amps, effects and guitars I use. As an advisor I get into a lot of the same conversations on the phone with other guitarist (mostly about what guitars I recommend they buy) whether they be seasoned professionals, amateurs or hobbyists. My goal in this blog is to inform you of my 22 year guitar hunt, which I hope will help you find your next perfect instrument.
As a kid you don’t know anything about guitars, pickups, amps, effects etc… So you deal with the hand you are dealt – not to mention you have no income as a 7th grader so you don’t get the right to be picky. I had no intentions to learn the guitar and then on my 10th birthday my parents presented me with a red Yamaha electric. It sat in my room for a year staring me down every day saying “learn me you fool” – so finally, a year later, I started private guitar lessons…. I am so glad I did because it has turned into a life long passion. I digress. That guitar had a cool configuration: 2 single coils (1 in the neck the other in the middle position) and a humbucker in the bridge. I liked that guitar because it gave me the best of both worlds (strat/les paul) although I did not know it at the time. I still have it – yet it has not seen any stage time in decades.
Soon after starting lessons I discovered Jimmy Page and was in awe of his sheer rock mystique. I was totally hypnotized by his old flame top Les Paul’s! I intensely lusted after a Les Paul, so I saved up some money from odd jobs and birthdays and bought a Black Les Paul Studio with chrome hardware in 1993! I loved that guitar; it was pure rock n’ roll and I recorded two albums with it. At that point in my career (if you could even call it that cuz I was still in high school) I didn’t appreciate that guitar enough or understand it’s legacy and tonal capabilities, which leads me to events that would follow. While recording the 2nd record I used one of the studio’s Fender Stratocasters on a tune that I thought needed more spank and twang and I fell in love! Up until that point I had never played a Strat and it was like the instrument was made for my hands. Sadly I sold the Les Paul – but gained an American Standard Strat , which has been with me since my early college years.
After the Strat everything snowballed! My obsession with guitars, amps and tone has only become more potent with my maturing career and currently I have guitars for any occasion: 2 Fender Strats, 1 King Bee Telecaster (they rule, it’s my current #1 www.kingbeeguitars.com, 1 Ibanez Hollowbody for the Jazz stuff, 1 Epiphone SG tuned to open E for slide guitar and a Taylor 714 CE for the acoustic gigs. Here’s some pics of my current six strings:
You might be asking – where is this blog going? Well, I agree with you, but I guess that’s the point. It’s a constant evolution of preferences. Here are a few things I think might prove helpful for those of you on the guitar prowl considering my experience:
1. My first suggestion to any player is this; play 100 guitars before you make a decision. With every guitar I bought, I played countless before I settled on one. As cheesy as it sounds, the guitar will choose you. They are all different so try not to choose one just because you like the color. You will know when the “one” shreds into your life. Make sure the neck feels comfortable and that your arms/wrists don’t feel fatigued or in pain after clanging away for a bit.
2. Don’t feel intimidated when you walk into a guitar shop. Some salesman can be lame and snobby so no matter what guitar you can afford just tell them you will find them if you need help. Take your time and don’t feel rushed – this is an investment and you need to make the decision that is right for you. Oh and it’s okay to leave the shop empty handed.
3. Think about what music you listen to and what type of music you want to play. That will help you choose the right kind of pick up configuration. I am primarily a single coil type dude, but love having a couple other guitars with humbuckers when I need that tone. Keep in mind if you love the feel of a guitar but aren’t blown away by the pickups that you can always swap pickups – that can make all the difference in the world!
4. There are many schools of thought when it comes to finger boards ie Maple vs. Rosewood. Some say Maple is brighter and Rosewood has a warmer/darker sound – honestly I think it just comes down to what feels better to you. There is no reason to get caught up in that debate when purchasing an instrument. I have always preferred rosewood boards to maple because of the way they play, not for how they sound (which is not even that much different if at all). It’s in your hands folks so that’s the best judge as you move from guitar to guitar.
5. Play the guitar through an amp that you think you might be purchasing or already have. That will give you a good indication of how your amp and hands react with the new guitar; which in turn will help make your decision that much easier. If the shop does not carry your particular amplifier – bring yours! It’s your investment, you should be happy with the decision.
I really hope that helps you guys find the axe you’re looking for! As guitarists, we’ll always be buying and selling our instruments.- it’s the nature of the poor musician. I like all of the guitar flavors and hope to explore every option before I leave this earth…it’s just plain fun!
Happy hunting and I hope you find the guitar that melts your face.
Stay Classy Berkleemusic,
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