Hello everyone and welcome to Maddi’s corner! I have been asked by my great friends at Ernie Ball/ Music Man to write a blog about what I do for living and some of the maintenance issues I face on the road. I am deeply honored to take part in this project. I am a firm believer that every musician no matter what instrument you play, should be able to maintain their instrument for playing. But, before we get into that, let me introduce myself and give you some background on me and how I got started in this crazy business.
Most of you may know me as John Petrucci’s guitar tech. John is of course the guitarist extraordinaire of Dream Theater. I first got to know John back in 1998 when I was working for Deep Purple. Dream Theater were one of the support acts on that tour along with Emerson Lake & Palmer. I have been a fan of Dream Theater since I first heard Images and Words. I have always been a huge gearhead and John was always known for having a massive amount of gear. I remember I would purposely walk by his rig everyday on that tour and try to map out how it was all connected, I was so impressed that on each show of that tour I would sit at the front of house during their set. That was a fun tour for me.
The Early Days:
Before I get into the deeper history of my time with John, let me go back even further. One question I get asked frequently is: “How did you get into this?” To which I reply: “Stupidity… I should have listened to my parents and gotten a real job!” The real truth is that from a young age I loved music. The first song I can remember hearing that made me like music was Rhinestone Cowboy by Glenn Campbell. I don’t know why, but that song set me on the road of music. I also remember hearing Manfred Mann’s Earth Band playing Blinded By The Light… I must have been around five years old at the time.
I took to playing tuba in the school band starting in fifth grade and continued on all the way through graduation of high school. The band director we had in elementary school and middle school was really big into jazz music. He was a trumpet player and I would not be surprised if he moonlighted in some dark smoky jazz bar all night playing away.
There were a few of us students that really took to the music program. The band director came up with an after school program for us called Jazz Experience. We started off learning about jazz music and it’s history. We would read charts and play them. I was learning guitar at the time and would take the charts to my weekly lesson and learn the chords and how to interpret the charts.
One day we were jamming away and the director looked at me and said “GUITAR SOLO!” At which point I proceeded to play as many notes as fast as I could. I remember thinking “This is exciting! I’m getting a solo!” He abruptly stopped us and asked me what I was doing. “Playing a solo…” I said. To which he asked “What key are you playing in?” I guess I needed more lessons!
A few weeks later I came to class with a bass guitar I had acquired. The music department had a Conn strobe tuner and I thought I should use it to tune the bass. The band director noticed I had a different instrument and asked if it was a bass? He asked if I wanted to try playing bass during the jazz class. Well, I already knew how to read bass clef music for tuba, so it seemed like an easy transition. He showed me that bass guitar was up an octave on the staff from where the tuba was. Lo and behold I could not only read music, but could play it on a bass guitar! To this day I am still a much better bass player that guitar player. How does this get us to me being a guitar tech? Hang on, I’m getting there…
The Van Halen Effect:
Somewhere around that time I got introduced to a band that totally changed the way I thought about musical instruments. Yep, you guessed it… Van Halen. Holy shit! What did that guy just play and what is that thing he is playing it on??? Being that this was the pre-internet era, I had to do some digging to get information. That consisted of asking guys who were older than me that played guitar. Mostly my two cousins who were older and both insanely good guitar players and knew what this Van Halen guy was doing. That is what led me on the path to working in the music industry and ultimately being a guitar tech.
Because of Eddie and his wild guitars, I learned how to set up a Floyd Rose bridge. I learned how to take pickups apart and put them back together. Every time I got my hands on a new guitar I would take it home and take it apart. Those mid 80’s years were a very interesting time for guitar makers. There were some crazy designs happening back then. It was also because of Eddie that I learned about a little guitar company on the Central Coast called Music Man.
Tech Tips: Tremolo Treatment
As part of my blog series, I want to throw in some tech tips for you. This month I would like to talk about tremolo bridges and specifically floating bridges.
I see lots of people on the Ernie Ball forum talking about the floating tremolo bridge on the guitar leaning forward or pulling back after a string change. The first thing I would look at is if the same gauge of strings was used. If you put heavier strings on, the bridge will start to lean forward (the back of the bridge will be above the guitar top). The same for lighter strings, but in the inverse, the bridge will pull back into the body. To adjust this, you need to adjust the spring claw in the tremolo cavity. This might sound daunting if you have not done this, but believe me, it is not.
First, if you have a guitar with the slots in the tremolo cavity cover, insert a #2 phillips screwdriver and gently twist until the screwdriver tip locks into the claw screw. If you don’t have the slots, you will need to remove the six small screws on the tremolo cavity plate and then remove the plate to expose the claw and screws.
If your bridge is leaning forward, turn the screws clockwise so they go into the body. You only need to do small adjustments(1/4 to ½ turn). Retune the guitar(it should be sharp) and repeat until the bridge is level with the body.
Do the opposite move if the bridge is pulling back. Loosen the screws counter-clockwise and retune the tuning should be flat after this adjustment. Keep repeating these moves until the bridge is level. This is a super easy adjustment that will have your guitar playing great in no time.
Another adjustment you will need to make (especially if you change string gauges) is intonation. This is what allows the guitar to be in tune with itself. Let’s go over the basics of setting intonation:
Step one is to see where the intonation is. Always do this with the guitar in playing position! I check this by tuning the guitar fully across all strings. Once that is done, I start with the Low E string and tune it. Then I hit the harmonic on the 12 th fret and adjust the tuning. Once tuned, I press the string down on the 12 th fret and see where the tuning is. It is important to use normal finger pressure when fretting the note at the 12th fret. If you push down too hard, you will cause the note to go sharp which will give you a false reading on the tuner.
There are two ways the string could be: Sharp or Flat. If the string is Sharp, it means it is too short and needs to be lengthened. Flat is the opposite and means the string is too long and needs to be shortened. I remember it like this: FLAT moves forward, SHARP moves back.
So now you might be asking yourself: “Where do I adjust?” If you look at the backside of the bridge, you will see six screws or in the case of the Majesty, six small holes along the backside. Most guitars use either a Phillips head screw for the intonation adjustment. The Majesty uses a 5/64″ allen wrench. Always detune the string a bit before making an adjustment. This will reduce the tension and friction of the string and saddle. Make small adjustments and retune every time. Keep repeating the process until you have it intonated.
The first gig:
Fast forward a few years, and I am working in the shop for a sound and light company. I am the shop rat who sits at a bench and fixes cables and cleans the duct tape off of them. My best friend Mik got a gig playing bass for Pat Travers. He called me up one day and says “Hey, Pat just fired his guitar tech… Are you interested?” I thought sure, I’ve never done that before, but what the hell? I’ll give it a shot. That was my first gig as a guitar tech on a professional level. I worked for Pat for several years, and can’t thank him enough for allowing me to hone my craft. He took a chance on me and it was a true learning experience. I also need to mention Bill and Doug from the Guitar Factory in Orlando. I used to hang around in their shop and try to learn as much as I could. They got me set up with my first Peterson strobe tuner. Bill told me that if I wanted to do this for a living, I needed a professional grade tuner.
While working for Pat, we ended up playing a noon slot on a festival in Scandinavia called Sweden Rock Festival. Some of you may have heard of this festival or even attended it at some point. It is one of the premier summer festivals to play. Back then it was much smaller that it is today. The day we played, Black Sabbath (during the Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, Neil Murry and Cozy Powell incarnation) were headlining. While I was setting up in the morning, one of the crew guys for them and I started chatting. He was a nice guy called Charlie. Turns out we both lived in Orlando, Florida. By the end of the night I was taking on the entire Sabbath crew in a drinking contest to which I lost, but held in there till the bitter end. To be young again…
I heard from Charlie a few weeks later. He was setting up for Deep Purple in a studio in Orlando. He said he might need a guitar tech for Steve Morse (who had just joined Deep Purple) and was I interested? Of course I was! Well, I didn’t get the gig at that time, but did end up a few years later being the bass tech. Hopefully through all of the long windedness of this you are starting to see the snowball effect. Every gig I have ever gotten has been because I have known someone or someone knew me. The old saying goes ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’.
The Present Day:
So how did we get to today? Earlier I mentioned Dream Theater supporting Deep Purple. Sometime after that tour I received a phone call from Deep Purple’s office asking if I was interested in going on tour with this band Dream Theater they were representing. Deep Purple was taking some time off, so sure, I need to pay the bills! That was in 2000 and my first tour with Dream Theater was Scenes From A Memory. I actually started off as the bass and keyboard tech on that tour. I didn’t start teching for JP until 2004 on the Train Of Thought tour. I have been John’s tech full time from 2009.
Being a guitar tech for me in an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding job and career. I have gotten to not only work for but learn from some of the best players out there. My goal is to make sure that when my guy walks out on stage, all they have to do is play. That is a pretty lofty goal to reach on some days as not all days on the road are sunny and roses.
The last piece of the puzzle for me being able to do what I do is the Ernie Ball/ Music Man family. Without their commitment to making the best guitars out there, I could not do what I do. Thank you EBMM and thank you everyone reading this. I look forward to writing the next blog and hearing your thoughts.