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September 2007 DVD Roundup

Sure, it’s the middle of the summer, and you’re probably busy mowing the lawn when you’re not picking. But there are still those nights where you need to curl

Sure, it’s the middle of the summer, and you’re probably busy mowing the lawn when you’re not picking. But there are still those nights where you need to curl up with a good DVD and pass out from the PBR. We check out three videos you can sink your teeth into.

DVD ReviewHow to Relic a Guitar
It would seem that guitars are a lot like blue jeans – they feel much better when they’re worn in. And while these days you can pay a premium to have a custom shop expert turn your brand new Strat into a well-loved vintage facsimile, where’s the fun in that? Being the notoriously hands-on people that we are, there’s just something artistic and cathartic about taking a variety of power tools and abrasive surfaces to the top of your guitar.

But before you plug in that power sander with #40 grit sandpaper, you need to make that aging process authentic, or suffer the barbed insults of your fellow players. Enter How to Relic a Guitar, with your host Steve Soest, an accomplished guitar tech and luthier who guides us through the various stages of creating an aged axe. Everything from natural wear patterns to fading plastic is covered, giving amateur relic’ers all the info they should need to recreate years of bar gigs and road travel.

Of course, tearing apart a new axe isn’t for the faint of heart. How to Relic a Guitar opens with a prolonged screen informing viewers that all activities undertaken as a result of watching the DVD are done, “at your own risk, and at the risk of total loss to your instrument,” perfectly illustrating just how crazy this whole business of messing up a perfectly good guitar can be. Throughout the video, we watch as Steve assails a shimmering blue Strat with a variety of workshop implements. It’s a masochistic tour, fast paced and riveting, but it may not be for those who can’t stand to see a nitro finish dinged.

The video, while genuinely well produced, does have its few downfalls. Early in the video, Steve gives a lecture on the importance of wearing hand and eye protection while working, and yet you never see him using either in the video, sending mixed messages to workshop warriors everywhere. There are a few mishaps – at one point Steve goes to refresh the stain on his paper towel and ends up dumping it on the table with pronounced “Whoops!” – but it’s all generally forgivable once you see the results.

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DVD ReviewWired for Sound: A Guitar Odyssey
When it comes to pop culture, few things are as ingrained in our collective consciousness as the guitar. Axes like the ES-335 and the Les Paul literally changed how we look at modern music, and Wired for Sound: a Guitar Odyssey charts the meteoric rise of these instruments throughout the years.

Wired for Sound admittedly brings a Gibson bias to the proceedings, beginning the story with a man named Orville Gibson and a factory in Kalamazoo. Through a series of both documentary footage and musician interviews – all with shiny Gibsons in hand – this DVD paints both the evolution of the instrument and the musical genres it contributed to. The interviews are varied and constantly interesting, from old school pioneers like Scotty Moore to new school rockers like Slash, and there are plenty of hilarious road stories to go aroun

It should be noted that this documentary takes an interesting approach to modern history; instead of charting the evolution of the electrified guitar in terms of technological breakthroughs, this documentary ties the instrument’s growth to the idea of the “recording artist,” that class of professional musicians that expanded alongside the phonograph and vinyl records. It’s an entertaining concept, providing the producers a chance to shoehorn a lot of artists into the show, but diehard history buffs may be a bit disappointed in the lack of concrete details.

There’s a lot to digest here, and it’s a truly entertaining – if not abbreviated – ride through the worlds of blues, rock and country. There isn’t much jazz to be found, and astute viewers will notice the lack of Fender (meaning there’s no Buddy Holly and no Hendrix) and Rickenbacker (meaning no Beatles, no Byrds) from Wired for Sound’s history of electrified wood. But in the end, it remains a convincing, solid remembrance of how this thing called rock n’ roll came to be.

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DVD ReviewI Am the Blues Lead Guitarist
Even if you’re a technophobe, there’s no denying that the advent of accessible multimedia has done wonders for guitarists. There’s no shortage of ways to learn your craft now, and what began with cheesy backing tracks and looped MIDI progressions has been taken to the next, most obvious step: a (semi) live band brought to you by DVD.

I Am the Blues Lead Guitarist, hosted by Oscar Jordan and the Mighty Sons of Hercules, provides an opportunity for all you burgeoning lead players to blow your pentatonic wad all over the place. The surprisingly robust DVD features eight different tracks in a variety of different styles to jam along to (slo blues, shuffle, rockin’ blues and even a bit of a Latin groove), and each track is available in both a traditional song form and as a looped version if you feel like playing until your fingers bleed.

The band itself is tight, with Oscar and company laying down rock solid grooves to play over. For players using the DVD to improve their ensemble skills, they’ll appreciate the use of visual cues to signal changes in the track, and much like band practice, you’ll improve with each repetition. It really beats a computerized backing track any day.

There’s also a raft of extra features on the disc, some useful and some a bit overindulgent. “Tuning Up with Oscar Jordan” is an interesting idea, with Oscar playing each note and allowing you match his pitch (although his facial expressions can be hilarious at times – watch for the dramatic low E), while the band’s biography and music videos seem to be solely comprised of photographs and hastily edited together. While the extras can be a bit of a mixed bag, the concept of the DVD is a novel and useful one. Now you don’t need to convince your friends to lug their gear over every week.

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