For Those About to Rock
In the following list, keep in mind that all
the don’ts refer to things I actually did.
BY PAUL GILBERT
Paul Gilbert purposefully began playing guitar
at age 9, formed the guitar-driven bands Racer
X and Mr. Big, and then accidentally had a No.
1 hit with an acoustic song called “To Be with
You.” Paul began teaching at GIT at the age of
18, has released countless albums and guitar
instructional DVDs, and will be remembered as
“the guy who got the drill stuck in his hair.” For
more information, visit paulgilbert.com
• Don’t put your ear right up against your
4x12 cabinet while it’s blasting loud, no
matter how much you love the sound.
• Don’t crank up your headphones to concert volume while air-drumming to Rush
albums every night before you go to bed.
• Don’t crank up your car stereo to concert volume every time you drive.
• Don’t angle your 4x12 cabinet sideways onstage to spare the audience but
instead slam yourself with volume.
• Don’t insist that your drummer play
with an Alex Van Halen-style washy
ride cymbal and a sloshy open hi-hat
on every song.
• Don’t sleep with headphones plugged
into a cassette player set on “loop” in
order to internalize classical music.
• Don’t spend 14-hour days recording with a loud click track in your
headphones. Instead, record live with
the entire band, so you can listen and
adjust to everyone’s natural tempo
without the DINK DONK DINK
DONK DINK DONK of that ear-wrecking cowbell.
• Don’t spend 14-hour days editing
instruments and vocals. Hire an engineer who can do it quicker and better.
• Don’t spend hours messing around
with microphones, pre-amps, and
EQs in the studio. Spend the time
practicing to get a great performance.
This will always beat any editing,
tweaking, or mixing.
• Don’t build a home studio without
treating the rooms with acoustic paneling. Foam and carpets are ineffectual.
You need thick bass traps made from
compressed fiberglass. Trying to mix
in an untreated room will just confuse
your ears and the tendency to solve
the problem by turning up the volume
doesn’t help. Treat the walls and ceiling
with bass traps—lots of them!
• Don’t stick your head into the side-fill
monitor to try to figure out the key of
an unfamiliar song during the chaos of
a multi-guitar NAMM jam. Just mute
your strings and go chicka-chicka.
That works in any key.
• Don’t be “cool” during situations
where the music is too loud. Put your
fingers in your ears or leave the room.
• Don’t perform music that is constantly
loud. Choose or write music that
contains dynamic changes in volume.
These volume changes will actually
make the loud parts more musically
effective via the contrast to the quieter
parts. And your ears will fare much
better due to the rests.
This is a long list of don’ts, and I should
rephrase at least the last one (which I think
is the most useful) in the positive:
CHOPS: Advanced Beginner
• Understand the dangers
of hearing loss and how
to prevent it.
• Prepare to survive a multi-guitar NAMM jam.
• Learn the advantages of
tracking live in the studio.
Click here to hear
sound clips of
• Do play music with dynamics. You can
still be loud. But include some holes
and quieter sections in your songs.
Listen to the opening riffs of “Highway
to Hell” and “Back in Black” by AC/
DC. There are big gaping holes of
silence in those riffs, yet they remain
some of the most powerful in existence. “Stairway to Heaven” begins
with over four minutes of clean guitar
before the drums enter, and then goes
nearly two minutes more before a distorted guitar enters. Even most early
Van Halen songs have quiet breakdowns in the middle. These dynamic
techniques will not only save your ears,
but they are also just musically good.
In case you haven’t heard (all puns intend- ed), I have significant hearing loss and
the constant accompanying ring of tinnitus.
First of all, don’t worry, I’m not going to
spend this whole column whining or complaining about it. My goal here is to give
you practical ideas on how to keep your ears
in good condition and also how to deal with
any hearing loss you may already have.
If I could go back in time and visit my
teenage self, I would certainly have some
important advice to give. I’d begin with hairstyles. “Don’t get a perm. Let Def Leppard
be Def Leppard. Let yourself be yourself
and cut it short if it starts getting all strag-gly.” Then I would discuss Spandex pants.
“They’re a bit … anatomical. Either change
to jeans or invest in a cucumber.” I would
then have a discussion about relating to the
opposite sex that is too lengthy to include
here, and finally I’d get around to the ears.
For me, it has always been difficult to resist
the “more is more” philosophy. When I play
quietly I feel sonically naked. My instinct is to
beat the audience over the head with volume,
power, and speed. If I play quietly, subtly, and
slowly, will they throw a tomato at me? I don’t
know. I’ve never tried it. At least not until
recently. So far, there have been no tomatoes.
I should have tried this a long time ago.
At this point, I should mention the headphones that I’ve been wearing onstage for
the last few years. What is going on there?
Why don’t I wear custom-molded in-ear
monitors like everyone else does? All right,
here is my explanation. The purpose of my
headphones is the same as the more common ear molds: to block out the stage volume while giving me a controlled mix and
volume from the monitor desk. I’ve tried the
ear molds and I just prefer the headphones.