Ode to a Guild Dreadnought
How a used Guild D25C became the keys to the cosmos—and a better life in music.
I should probably name my acoustic guitar. After all, my dog Dolly has a name, and while she’s an old pup, I’ve known that guitar much longer. And like Dolly, that Guild D25C I got in the mid-’90s has given me many gifts.
I bought the guitar after borrowing it from a friend’s music store to play some acoustic radio gigs. I’d always felt awkward on acoustic before, but this ’80s Guild was an immediate joy to play, with a very electric-like, thin-profiled neck and a surprisingly even and ringing tone hampered by just a bit of boominess via its dreadnought body. When the radio gigs were over, I paid $400 for it.
I installed a pickup and then beat the hell out of the guitar, playing some acoustic shows, but mostly letting the instrument’s comfort and playability take me down a rabbit hole from which I’ve never fully emerged. You see, at the same time as I got my D25C, I began chasing the blues of North Mississippi Hill Country. And after logging many trips to be at the feet of R.L. Burnside, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Junior Kimbrough, and others, the pull was irresistible. Burnside’s style was especially magnetic, and I found myself drawn to fingerpicking, slide, and open tunings.
The summer shortly after I got the guitar, I began spending a few days a week at the beach with my Guild, slowly developing my own Burnside-inspired idiosyncratic fingerstyle approach—really delving into slide and playing in open D and G. It was slow going, and the Guild received no mercy. Whether I was on the fretboard or in the water, the guitar spent six hours or more of every beach day unprotected from the baking sun and hot sand.
We all encounter instruments that play a special role in our lives. They inspire us to become better songwriters and players, and maybe even better people.
I had gigs and a day job, so my conversion from rock plectrist to blues yeti was slow. It took three summers of beachy Guild abuse until I felt like I could play the style in public. But along the way I did learn some of the intricacies of primal slide and how to control dynamics and be fleet and nuanced with my fingers. I emerged a different player, and the Guild became a different guitar. After all that time in the sun, it felt and sounded lighter and airier, with a brighter, more balanced palette. Despite all the warnings about exposing guitars to punishing elements, it had gotten better, and the instrument continues to reward me with its comfort and tone.
My Guild taught me that a guitar doesn’t have to be a special instrument to be a special instrument. It’s a humble model that many players I know dismiss in favor of pricier or more boutique 6-strings, but because of when it arrived in my life, it became the keys to the kingdom of my playing style—a kind of blind cave fish approach built on archaic blues and my instinct for psychedelia and improvisation.
We probably all have an instrument like this—an unfancy guitar that nonetheless helped us grow and become ourselves. For me, the benefit of learning a new approach to the instrument on acoustic and then transferring it to the faster, more sonically flexible world of electric guitar was immensely gratifying. But I still love that Guild for itself, and it still yields songs, compositional ideas, and an endless supply of good vibes. And when I’m cranking a Les Paul through a pair of amps in stereo, I can feel the raw DNA of the Guild in what I’m playing.
Instruments that play a special role in our lives inspire us to become better songwriters and players. Maybe even better people, because in formulating a personal approach as a guitarist, we establish a kind of equilibrium that gives us confidence to play and perform, and confidence in our own place in the world.
Sure, guitars are wood and wires—mostly—but when we work to bond with them and play them for all they’re worth, they can be as rewarding, faithful, and inspiring as a good dog. Or a good friend. They take us on journeys within ourselves and in the real world. They create opportunities for learning, adventure, and joy. And who doesn’t want more joy?
Hopefully you have at least one guitar you love as much as I love my battered Guild D25C. And if you don’t, maybe you’ll adopt that instrument soon. Because every guitar can be a door to the cosmos. All you need to do is open it and, to paraphrase Timothy Leary, tune up and turn on!
Rodrigo y Gabriela’s Brave New World
On their new album, In Between Thoughts… A New World, the acoustic duo goes half-electric, plumbs programmed beats, adds slide guitar, and explores nondualism—following a creative path that opened due to the Covid shutdown.
Grammy Award-winning guitar virtuosi Rodrigo y Gabriela started recording what would become their latest album, In Between Thoughts… A New World, in February 2021. At the time, crafting a new album wasn’t the catalyst for making new music. They really just wanted to write, jam, and record without an agenda while locked down during the pandemic.
“It was just something to kill time,” admits Gabriela Quintero, one half of the Mexican guitar duo. “Just to be in the moment and not to think too much about it, even though here in Zihuatanejo it was more like the tropical version of the apocalypse [laughs].”
The other half of the duo, Rodrigo Sánchez, concurs that the pandemic presented a unique set of circumstances that allowed them to be creative without the added pressure of making a record, going on tour, or meeting a deadline. “Musically speaking, it was a very unusual process for us,” he says. “We weren’t really thinking about recording a new Rod and Gab record, and we didn’t really know what was going to happen. It was a really detailed process we never had done before, because we never had this amount of time to record an album.”
Rodrigo y Gabriela - True Nature (Official Audio)"True Nature" is off Rodrigo y Gabriela's first album in 4 years. The album 'In Between Thoughts...A New World’ is available now on limited edition vinyl, CD...
Guided by spiritual practices like Buddhism and nondualism, Rodrigo y Gabriela’s presence-of-mind approach to the guitar has led them on a fantastic, fulfilling journey from their humble heavy metal beginnings in Mexico City, to busking on the streets of Ireland, to performing in front of tens of thousands of people on the world’s biggest stages, opening for Muse and others.
Formed in 1998 out of the ashes of their heavy metal band, Tierra Ácida, Rodrigo y Gabriela left their hometown of Mexico City to pursue their musical ambitions in Dublin, Ireland, where they first began busking with their acoustic guitars on tourist-heavy Grafton Street, mixing elements of flamenco, rock, and heavy metal. In 2002, they released re-Foc, showcasing their virtuosity on guitar and their unique fusion of musical styles—even incorporating elements of the Irish folk music they had immersed themselves in while living abroad. In 2006, the duo released Rodrigo y Gabriela, a mix of original compositions and covers of classic songs by early influences Led Zeppelin and Metallica. The album was a commercial success, reaching the top of the Irish album charts and earning them a nomination for the Mercury Prize, awarded for the best album released in the United Kingdom by a British or Irish act. In 2008, they released 11:11, which featured 11 original compositions—each dedicated to a different musician who had influenced their music. In January 2020, Mettavolution, their fifth album, won Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the Grammy Awards, cementing Rodrigo y Gabriela’s status as one of the most innovative and exciting guitar duos in the world.
“Gab has seven piezos inside her guitar, and everything is very tight. And I have five piezos.”—Rodrigo Sánchez
Gabriela Quintero’s Gear
Lead guitar provides the flash, but Gabriela Quintero’s right hand is what keeps the party jumping, with a driving, uncommon approach drawn more from traditional Irish music than flamenco.
Photo by Jim Bennett
- Yamaha NCX5 Signature Model
- Boss FV-500L Volume Pedal
- Boss OC-3 Super Octave
- Boss TU-3S Chromatic Tuner
- Dunlop Cry Baby Standard Wah
- Dunlop DVP4 Volume (X) Mini Pedal
- Lehle P-Split III Box
- D’Addario Pro-Arté EJ45 Normal Tension
Self-produced by Rodrigo y Gabriela at their studio in the resort city of Ixtapa, Mexico, In Between Thoughts… A New World reasserts their seemingly innate ability for cultivating a musical repertoire that captures the zeitgeist. And while it may have begun without intention, that doesn’t mean In Between Thoughts lacks direction. Like its predecessors, there’s a familiar and explosive display of virtuosic guitar craft, including all of the hallmarks one would expect from Rodrigo y Gabriela. The powerful, percussive playing of Quintero and the deft melodicism of Sánchez remain the duo’s calling cards. But new, unexpected sonic elements abound as well, including the reverb-drenched slide guitar on “Egoland,” the energetic percussion on “Descending to Nowhere,” the kinetic electronic beats on “The Ride of the Mind,” the passionately chanted vocals of “Broken Rage,” and the dreamy mystique of the robotic vocal effects embedded within “Finding Myself Leads Me to You.”
In fall 2020, while recovering from Covid, Sánchez stumbled upon an online video on nondualism—the notion that there is a “single, infinite, and indivisible reality, whose nature is pure consciousness, from which all objects and selves derive their apparently independent existence,” as defined by author/teacher Rupert Spira. “Advaita Vedanta, or nonduality, is often called the direct path—accepting what is,” explains Sánchez. “We’re not saying that everything in this structure of the body/mind we live in is right. It is just what is, and we cannot really argue with that.”
“The beauty about music is that it’s always expanding.”—Gabriela Quintero
During the early stages of the pandemic, Rodrigo y Gabriela did what many other artists did: They turned to social media, posting short anecdotal performances from their studio. But when they finally got bored of that, they started to write music based on the concept of nondualism without really thinking it would become their new album. “It was just a project,” emphasizes Sánchez. “We were just here in the studio doing things that we would never dofor Rod and Gab. I started to work with electronics, I left my acoustic guitar [at home] and just took my electric guitars [into the studio]. We started writing the music at the same time as we were writing a story based on this philosophy that we were so much attracted to. If we had known that it was going to become the Rod and Gab album, we probably would’ve limited ourselves in terms of not using electronics, or not using too much electric guitar. But we didn’t really think that way. That’s how the album came about.”
Their new album began as a pandemic songwriting and recording project, and took shape almost by accident as they accumulated tracks and tunes.
As for Quintero, she took a slightly more pragmatic approach to the endeavor, particularly regarding nondualism. “I think me and Rod, we share a lot of things that we like, and we feel attracted to, but we process differently,” she explains. “That’s where the nondualism becomes dual [laughs]. I discovered these teachings through a book called The Power of Now [byEckhart Tolle]. To me, that book was incredibly insightful and practical, and such a ‘no rules’ type of thing. I tried to meditate but there was too much discipline with some of the spiritual teachings. I remember when Rod was into Buddhism, and he was meditating a lot of hours a day and learning some mantras that were very strict. And for me, it was too much of a discipline. When I discovered The Power of Now, it was like, ‘Oh great, you don’t have to basically do anything [laughs].’ And then, when the pandemic came in and Rod discovered these videos about nondualism, the way he presented them to me sounded super confusing and too much like nihilism. So, we were constantly having friendly debates here in the studio. And I was going, ‘This is too crazy.’ It felt to me that it was denying this existence. But then we discovered these are the same teachings as The Power of Now, but in different words, in a different way. Then we stopped the debates.”
Quintero, very late into their writing and recording process, asked Sánchez if they were, in fact, writing their next record. “And then she asked, ‘When are we going to record it?’” says Sánchez. “We’d been recording [what we were writing] from day one with quality, and so I went back to the studio that afternoon and I checked all the recordings and all the levels, and we had produced the album already. We had the record.”
“We love flamenco. My best friend in that scene, Vicente Amigo, is one of the best. But no, we never play flamenco.”—Rodrigo Sánchez
As for how they record, Sánchez says it happens all sorts of ways—sometimes tracking together, sometimes individually. Sánchez says the acoustic guitars get picked up by German-made Schoeps MK 4 mics, recommended to him by his close friend, Spanish guitar maestro Vicente Amigo. They also adopted some of what he calls his “old-school metal techniques” for recording. “Knowing that we were going to have orchestra and electronics and all that, I used room mics for Gabs—and instead of just copying her track, I have her record two guitars exactly the same,” he explains, noting he did not use the copy/paste shortcut many musicians use nowadays. “She would do one guitar rhythm and then she would double that to make it sound bigger. Overdubbing the same rhythms and the same parts actually give her much more presence on top of the electronics. And she’s so good at it.”
Due in large part to Quintero’s right-hand technique, which Sánchez recorded so well on In Between Thoughts, “heavy metal flamenco” is a label often applied to the duo. “Ah, the ‘F’ word,” laughs Sánchez. “We love flamenco. My best friend in that scene, Vicente Amigo, is one of the best. But no, we never play flamenco. I understand some people are confused because of Gab’s rasgueado[gesture to invoke her right-hand technique], but actually she’s not doing the flamenco technique at all. She learned most of these techniques from an Irish bodhrán player, Robbie Harris.”
Rodrigo Sánchez’s Gear
Rodrigo Sánchez wears his musical roots on his chest,
in a t-shirt proclaiming his fan status for the Bay Area metal band Testament.
Photo by Dan Locke/Frank White Photo Agency
- Yamaha NTX5 Signature Model
- Fender Jaguar
- Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II XL+
- Marshall JCM900 4100 Hi Gain Dual Reverb
- Boss DD-3 Digital Delay
- Boss FV-500L Volume Pedal
- Boss OC-3 Super Octave
- Ibanez WH10 V3 Wah Pedal
- Lehle P-Split III DI Box
- MXR M133 Micro Amp
- MXR M234 Analog Chorus
- One Control Minimal Series AB Box
- TC Electronic Ditto X2 Looper
- Truetone 1 Spot Pro CS7 Power Supply
- TWA WR-03 Wah Rocker
Strings & Picks
- D’Addario EXL115 (.011–.049
- D’Addario Pro-Arté EJ46 Hard Tension
- Jim Dunlop Jazz III Black Stiffo
The bodhrán is a frame drum used in traditional Irish music that Quintero learned about when they moved to Ireland. “At the time, I was trying to imagine how flamenco players played their rhythms,” she explains. “I couldn’t figure it out, because back then there was not YouTube—there was nothing. Nowadays, you can go and say, ‘How to play rasgueado flamenco, how to play rhumba,’ and you’ll find something, but not back then. And I always got it wrong. And then I discovered the bodhrán.”
In the old days, the bodhrán was played with hands, not with a stick, as is often seen presently, and she says the Irish kept telling her she actually exhibited the movements of a bodhrán player, but on guitar. “They encouraged me to do certain rhythms. So, just watching them, it was easy to emulate a lot of the movements—it just came organically. The beauty about music is that it’s always expanding.”
“If I came back to a solo bit or something, there was not that beat—people were not jumping anymore, and it was like, ‘Ah, we’re losing the audience,’ so I tried to become more the drummer of the band.”—Gabriela Quintero
After weaning his guitar craft on West Coast thrash metal bands Testament, Megadeth, and Slayer, and New Yorkers Anthrax, Sánchez’s nylon-string style was originally grounded in a lot of the palm-muting he carried over from that style of electric playing. “First of all, I had to translate my palm muting [from electric to nylon string],” he explains. “Then, I used a little bit more of Al Di Meola’s technique, but he was playing steel-strings, right? So, I was like, ‘Okay, how can I translate this into nylon?’ And then I started to listen to Strunz & Farah, and they are incredible. I listened to the way they played, especially Jorge Strunz, who is so clean and so fast. And I started to learn some of his licks here and there, so I was in that zone already.”
They want a whole lotta folk! Rodrigo y Gabriela get down on the Newport Folk Festival’s Harbor Stage in 2014.
Photo by Tim Bugbee/Tinnitus Photography
It’s worth noting that the nylon-string guitars Rodrigo y Gabriela play live are the result of years of practical research and application in collaboration with Yamaha and are not models or designs your average nylon-string player would use, nor are they commercially available. “It’s not like any nylon-string guitar can just go and play in the middle of a festival of 40,000 people,” explains Sánchez. Originally, they were using guitars made by Irish luthier Frank Tate, which they still use at home and in the studio. But the guitars they now use live were specially designed over a 14-year period by Yamaha’s Japan-based Custom Shop for arena-concert environments. “These guitars have a very special system for us to sound the way they sound live,” he says. “Gab has seven piezos inside her guitar, and everything is very tight. And I have five piezos, which is really important for those kinds of shows.”
Within the duo, both players are very melodic and very rhythmical, but Quintero did gravitate to doing more of the beats, simply out of necessity, once they started playing bigger shows. “At the beginning when we used to play together, we swapped all the time—solos, arpeggios, and all of this,” she explains. “Eventually, when we started playing rock festivals, because I was the one who played the chords and the beat, if I came back to a solo bit or something, there was not that beat—people were not jumping anymore, and it was like, ‘Ah, we’re losing the audience,’ so I tried to become more the drummer of the band.”
Jumping from a metal band in Mexico City to an acoustic guitar duo busking the streets of Ireland seems quite serendipitous and grounded in the kind of ideology they eventually discovered via nondualism. Circling back to Quintero’s The Power of Now-influenced, pragmatic approach, she jokes that the decision was really quite simple. “Eventually, we were so internationally non-famous and miserable, we decided we’re going to quit the band,” she chuckles. “But we’re not going to quit music. We wanted to travel the world. So, our new goal was to travel and play guitar.”
While this live performance doesn’t capture the duo’s current blend of acoustic and electric sounds, it does afford a close-up look at their playing technique. In particular, check out Gabriela’s right-hand approach, which is based on the traditional Irish instrument called the bodhrán.
Thank You, Andy Gill
Small acts of kindness can go a long way. Embrace them. Perform them.
This is a story about a small act of kindness. It occurred in 1995 at a club gig, but the tale is rooted a dozen years earlier, when I started to develop my guitar playing in earnest. My bookend idols then were Roy Buchanan and Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill—a roots and blues icon and a conflagrant punk-rock innovator. It might seem they had nothing in common, but listening reveals a shared love of taking risks, unpredictable turns in their playing, and a determination to push the envelopes of angularity and tone. Roy played a Tele and Andy had a Stratocaster, and when I initially took to stages, I had one of each.
I’d first heard Andy when Gang of Four’s blistering, brilliant 1979 debut album, Entertainment!, came out. Absolutely nothing sounded like Andy, with his piercing tone and atonal bombs, and his intention to screw with the conventional architecture of rock. Then there were the songs: salty, wise, withering social commentary in three-and-a-half-minute bursts. I instantly loved Gang of Four!
So, in 1995, during the run of my alternative-rock band, Vision Thing, I got a call from a Boston-area promoter—who I’d been begging for a gig, since he booked all the best joints in town—offering an opening slot for Gang of Four at a club called Axis. I was thrilled, but I was also conflicted, because I wanted us to be our best in front of my heroes and their audience, but Vision Thing was imploding, and that rarely makes for good work.
Moments later, in walks Andy Gill and Jon King, Gang of Four’s singer.
Maybe anyone who’s been in a band that’s a democracy can relate? As usual in such situations, everyone had a voice, but one person—me—did 90 percent of the work, including most of the songwriting. For months there had been constant arguments over direction, arrangements, gigs, attire, producers, the record label, and the beat goes on. Some members were fond of frequently proclaiming how much better they were than most of us, including me. Holding the band together for the cycle of our just-released album was exhausting and depressing, and I thought that perhaps after this “dream gig” with Gang of Four, I should just quit performing. Who needs the BS?
As it turned out, we were great on that gig—colorful, rocking, raw, emotional, and even inspired. But as soon as we got offstage, the rhythm section and Vision Thing’s other guitar player abruptly split without conversation, leaving the rest of us in our dressing room, feeling happy but awkward.
Moments later, in walks Andy Gill and Jon King, Gang of Four’s singer. They introduced themselves, thanked us for opening, and started talking about how much they liked our performance. When Andy complimented my tone and approach, I could barely stammer a “thank you.” And then, after perhaps five minutes, they split to get ready to annihilate the house.
I felt as if I’d been anointed. If Andy thought I was onto something, well, dammit, I was! Just a few words restored my belief in myself as an artist and buoyed me through that band until it died some months later. His simple act of kindness encouraged me to keep writing songs and playing, and to navigate a path that would take me to places like the original Knitting Factory and Bonnaroo, France’s Cognac Blues Passions and Switzerland’s Blue Rules, and 20 more years of clubs, festivals, theaters, and studios. Heck, maybe even to this gig.
In early 2019, while interviewing Andy for PG, I got to thank him for his kindness, and let him know he’d inspired me to continue making music. He was gracious, of course, although I’m sure he didn’t recall that night. For all I knew, he said that to every guitarist who ever played in a band that opened a Gang of Four show.
But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that he simply said it. And I try to carry that lesson with me today. If you like what another musician you see is doing, say it. And if you’re mezzo-mezzo, offer a compliment anyway—on gear, on a certain song, on a vocal inflection or a lick. Find something pleasant and encouraging to say, because you might be saving someone’s musical life. Also, this does not only apply to music. If somebody made you a great sandwich, compliment them. Hell, tell the bagger at your local grocery store that you appreciate them. It doesn’t cost anything, and can lift the spirits of that person.
When Andy died a year later, I was sad, but still grateful for his words, and grateful for a simple reminder that can be a buoy for yourself and others in the sometimes turbulent river of life: Be kind.
Go Out, Go Indie
Support your local independent venues. They are citadels of community and creativity. And they need your help.
An important part of my music education started when I began sneaking into clubs when I was 16. I was a tall kid, and usually had no trouble walking in. It’s not surprising these venues were lax about checking IDs, since back then more than a few tolerated weed-smoking and other shenanigans. But I was there for the music, where it was raw and unproven and just a few feet away, and I quickly learned you didn’t have to be on TV or play arenas to be great. Connecticut-area outfits from the Scratch Band (featuring a pre-fame G.E. Smith) to the Simms Brothers Band to Saucers became my new heroes.
In college, New York City was a short train ride away, and the first time I stumbled into the dark, beer-stinking cavern of CBGB, I felt that I had gone to both another planet and home. I also discovered it was more than a club. It was a community where originality was uncaged and embraced, where bands and bonds were formed, and where, clearly, some pretty wild stuff went down.
As I got older and started to play there and other indie venues, my appreciation for all of them grew. Sure, if you turned the corner behind the stage, to the stairs leading down to CB’s restrooms, you might see somebody sitting on the doorless men’s room’s toilet, or you might have to step over a dude on the way to the urinal. One night, onstage there, one of my newish $100 custom earplugs plopped out and fell into a grayish puddle. I immediately chose not to retrieve it. But every moment I was there, I knew I was somewhere important and that just being present, where so much great music ignited and was allowed to flourish, was a privilege.
“The first time I stumbled into the dark, beer-stinking cavern of CBGB, I felt that I had gone to both another planet and home.”
We are losing that privilege at an alarming rate. Urban upscaling, insurance costs, fallout from Covid, and scores of other reasons are costing us independent venues across the country. I recently read about the closing of Dobbs, formerly J.C. Dobbs, on Philly’s South Street, where Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and more played while they were getting their wings. One night, when my band Vision Thing gigged there in the ’90s, we shared the dressing room with a “family” of self-proclaimed vampires—an experience both priceless and uncomfortable.
But my point is, independent music venues are the bloodstream of live rock, jazz, pop, improv, and many other styles. And if we do not support them, these unruly citadels of incubation and joy are going to go away. I have nothing against chain venues and larger corporate enterprises. Honestly, that’s not true. I dislike that big companies block rising-star artists from playing the indie venues that nourished them and control the concert business in ways that result in $1,000-and-up ticket prices. They don’t give a damn about the soul of music.
Photo courtesy of Adicarlo/English Wikipedia
But many indie venue owners do. They have to. They understand that emerging artists are their viscera, and that by nurturing these artists and their fans, they are also sustaining themselves. And many of the indie-room owners I’ve known were also willing to take the risks inherent in providing a proving ground for unproven talent because they actually believe in supporting the art and evolution of music-making. But unlike corporate-owned venues, they do so at more risk, handling all the costs and complexities of running their rooms on their own.
Here in Nashville, we’ve lost great indie venues in recent years, including Douglas Corner, after 33 years of shows, and, in 2022, the 20-year-old Mercy Lounge/High Watt/Cannery Ballroom complex, but we are lucky to still have wonderful examples. Among the prominent are the 5 Spot, the Bluebird Cafe, the Station Inn, Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge, Eastside Bowl, the Basement and Basement East, DRKMTTR, the Underdog, Rudy’s Jazz Room, 3rd & Lindsley, and Springwater. And each is the nucleus of a creative community.
We need to begin looking at indie venues as the sacred places they are—where magic can be made, and, on the flip side, even a terrible band can get the occasional gig, because they’re part of the community, too. And we need to sustain them. Because if these places disappear, we lose all of the good things they provide.
So, even if you’re not the biggest fan of what’s on the musical menu, I’m asking you as a friend and fellow music lover to support your local indie venue. It’s worth stopping by for the occasional beer to help keep these businesses alive. Netflix and your couch will be there—at least for a while. Indie venues might not, and every time a place like CBGB, J.C. Dobbs, or the Mercy Lounge closes, another door shuts on both musical opportunities and history. And we need to keep those doors open.
Play a Gig!
For affirmation, education, and socialization, there may be nothing better than performing live.
Play a gig! That’s my advice on how to become a better player, and maybe even a happier and better human. Sure, plenty of us have played plenty of gigs, but I know a lot of people with a room full of gear who have never taken any of it out of the house, save for maybe the beach or around a fire. And honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that, but why deny yourself the experiences that come with performing live in front of strangers through a PA? Take your acoustic to an open mic in a basement or local watering hole, or sit in with a friend’s cover band for a few songs. Maybe even sing, too. Just take any opportunity to get on any stage that you can, and let it rip.
Why? Because practicing at home is not the same as actually performing. And performing, which, to put it bluntly, lights a fire under your ass, has unlimited benefits. If you have some stage fright or general shyness, what better way to get over it than learning the techniques to cope that come naturally after a couple performances? To say nothing of the confidence that you’ll enjoy after you’re survived a few gigs. You learn to breathe differently (with your instrument), attack the guitar differently, to sing and play into a mic and sound system and grasp how it can be used for dynamic effect or to underscore a lyric, or how your guitar sounds amplified in a larger space when you pick or strum at various places along the strings or flip the pickup selector or roll back the volume.
Perhaps the best benefit of gigging is how it broadens your world.
For me, playing solo and in bands has been great therapy, as well as a ticket to adventure. The confidence I’ve grown into standing in front of strangers and even talking to them during performances is one of the greatest gifts I’ve received. I was a shy, odd kid, and performing has taught me how to engage with others in a deeper and personal way, and lessen my fears about, well … everything! Also, the desire to be good and to entertain is a strong motivator for musical improvement. (That fire, again!)
But perhaps the best benefit of gigging is how it broadens your world. You meet other musicians, and invariably some of them become friends. Who doesn’t like making new friends? Plus, if you deliver a song or a set with a modicum of confidence and engagement, strangers will connect with that and want to offer you praise or commiseration or even their own stories if, say, something you sang or said resonated with them. That kind of sharing is a beautiful thing.
If you play a gig, and play more gigs, and keep getting better, and people start coming to see you on a regular basis, the connections deepen. I’ve had people tell me my music has helped them feel like they’re “at home”—a home they’d left years ago and long for. A few have told me that my recordings have brought solace to a dying loved one, or become a joyful bond of listening shared with a difficult parent. That has touched me deeply and made me feel better about choosing to travel a road that, at times, has been quite difficult.
If I hadn’t first stepped on a stage at a diner (that served cheap beer) in the woods outside of Worcester, Massachusetts, and kept pushing through the first 50 gigs that gave me the terrors, all that and more would never have happened. I am grateful that I did.
So, go play a gig. Then maybe another, and another. Each gig becomes a flagstone on the path of musical pursuit and, more important, life. They can lead to wonderful places and things.