A Gig Ready Rig For Less Than Five Hundred Quid – Can It Be Done?

One of my students is about to make the leap from “bedroom” guitarist to gigging musician. The only problem is that his gear isn’t really up to the task. He’s playing a Squier Bullet Strat, plugged into a 15W Line 6 Spider amp. In this week’s lesson he asked me what equipment I would recommend he invest in. His budget is £500 for a guitar, amp and all the necessary pedals. He’s playing in a pop/rock covers band doing material by the likes of Oasis, The 1975, Kings Of Leon, The Kinks and Green Day, so he needs a good range of clean & moderately overdriven sounds with all the usual chorus, delay & reverb effects at his disposal.

Can you actually buy an entire rig, including all the necessary pedals, capable of handling semi-pro gigs, for this kind of money? Well, let’s find out…

Firstly we’ll look at the guitar. Having cut his teeth on an S-type instrument, it would seem natural to go with something that feels familiar. Obviously, with a total budget of only £500, for the whole set up, getting something with the word “Fender” written on the headstock just isn’t an option. How about a step up the Squier ladder then?

Well, the next logical step from the Bullet Strat would be the Affinity Strat. Trouble is, these aren’t really that much better than what he already has. A good guitar in the Squier range would be the Squier Standard Stratocaster… it sports decent hardware, including a set of three alnico magnet single coil pickups. This is something to watch out for, by the way: Alnico magnets are generally more desirable than their cheaper ceramic equivalents due to their warmer, sweeter sound. Ceramic magnet pickups tend to sound harsh & brittle by comparison. One of the conundrums of Fender’s pricing structure is the fact that £240 will buy you a Squier Standard Strat with alnico units, but pay £507 for a “genuine” Fender Standard Stratocaster (what used to be called the “Made In Mexico” model), and you get the inferior ceramic pickups… just goes to show that you DON’T always get what you pay for.


The Squier Standard Stratocaster

Anyway… £240 will buy you a great little S-type guitar with decent pickups and a pretty good fit & finish. Let’s have a look at the amp side of the equation…

If you’re going to be playing pub gigs where nothing is mic’d up, you’re going to be relying on your amp’s output to do all the heavy lifting in terms of volume. A high end valve amp of 30W or so would fit the bill (the venerable Vox AC30 springs to mind). But the thing is whilst a valve amp of this output would do the job, the cost would be prohibitive and as the old saying goes “valve watts ARE louder”. Or put another way, for whatever reason, a solid state amp never seems to be as loud as it’s valve counterpart for the same stated output. As many a gigging guitarist will attest, a 30W solid state (transistor) combo is unlikely to be heard over the top of an enthusiastic rock drummer at gig volumes. I’d say you’d need 50W at the very least if you’re looking at gigging a solid state amp.

Given that the guy in question already uses a Line 6 amp, and is happy with the sounds he gets, it would make sense to look at something a little more powerful from the Spider range. As luck would have it, there is a 60W version of the amp he already uses. It also has all of the effects he’d need already built in, so no need for pedals, patch leads & a power supply to drive them all. There is a catch though… the price.

A 60W Line 6 Spider amp costs £280. And that’s WITHOUT the floor controller needed to switch sounds (essential for live work). The cheapest such unit would be the FVB2 which costs about another £30. This unit will only allow you to switch between four different sounds on the amp, but still, that should be enough:

  • A clean sound with a bit of chorus, reverb & delay for general accompaniment.
  • A crunchy mild overdrive sound with a bit of delay for power chords & bluesy lead work.
  • A big fat lead sound for those “rock god” moments.
  • That “special” sound with unusual effects like octave shift, trippy delays or auto-wah that you only need for one song. Every band has one of these songs in their set… unless you’re U2 where EVERY song fits this description.

The Line 6 Spider V60

Still, we’re over budget, though, so we’re going to need to re-visit the guitar side of the rig to see if there’s any money to be saved.

I have recently become a convert to Harley Benton guitars, owning an excellent LP-style instrument by them, and a dreadnought style acoustic. Both of these guitars were ridiculously low in price & are proper, full-on, excellent, pro-standard instruments. Let’s have a look at their S-type guitars then…

We’re in luck: according to Thomann’s website, you can buy a Harley Benton ST-62 MN SB Vintage Series S-type guitar for £100 (I told you they were great value, didn’t I?) It has a basswood body (perfectly fine – many boutique guitar builders favour this timber for it’s balanced tonal characteristics); a Canadian maple neck & (drum roll, please…) Wilkinson ALNICO MAGNET pickups! Even if you have to factor in the price of a set-up, that still gives you a stonking good guitar for around £150-£160. If my experience with Harley Benton guitars is anything to go by though, it’ll be pretty much perfectly set-up out of the box, anyway.


Harley Benton S-type

I think we’re about there… we have the guitar; we have the amp; we have the effects (built into the amp) and we have the foot controller. Let’s have a look at what we’ve spent:

Harley Benton ST-62 MN SB Vintage Series:

Line 6 Spider V60:

Line 6 FBV2 Foot Controller:

5.6m Whirlwind Guitar Cable:








There’s even enough in the budget for a gig bag (if he didn’t already have one) or a bit of a set-up for the guitar (if it needs one). And there you have it… a giggable rig for less than £500.

Until next time…

Have fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

The Power Of Polyrhythms

Often, when the topic of “lead guitar” trickery is raised, what follows is a discussion on how to add exotic jazzy licks into a solo or how to play blindingly fast licks with the minimum of effort. But one aspect of playing a great solo is usually overlooked – that of timing. What I’m going to show you today is a great little method of making an otherwise mundane repetitive lick sound a little more interesting, and all you have to be able to do is count… no scary technique!

Let’s begin by defining what a polyrhythm is. It’s easiest to describe it by looking at a lick with just three notes. Something like this for example:


You could play this repetitively, once per beat which would sound like this:


Whilst this sounds OK, it does get a little bit boring after a few repeats. Simply by messing with the timing, it can sound that little bit more interesting. How you could do this would be by grouping this repeating cycle of three notes into groups of four. Instead of going:


It would now go:


You can see that it’s still the same notes in the same order, but we’re now playing four notes per beat rather than three.

And here is the TAB:


And this is how it would sound:


You can do the same thing, in reverse, if you start with a four note lick… like this, for example:


Played with four notes per beat, it sounds like this:


But, once again,we can rearrange the timing so that instead of going:


It would be grouped into bunches of three notes per beat, like this:


Once again, here is the TAB:


And here is how it would sound:


These are examples of the kind of polyrhythms found everywhere in popular music. With a little bit of practice you can make use of them too. Here’s a couple of handy hints for counting groups of notes:

  • If you want to know what four notes per beat sounds like, just say “PepsiCola” on each beat & that will give you the correct rhythm to fit your notes into.
  • If you want to hear three notes per beat, say the word “Evenly” on each metronome click or beat, and that will give you the sound of three notes per beat (or a “triplet” as it is known).

I hope you found this useful & until next time…


Have fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist


How To Figure Out What Chords Are In A Song

One of the problems that students bring to me on a regular basis goes something like this…

I got this TAB off the internet & when I play it, it just doesn’t sound right. What am I doing wrong?” In most cases the answer to this is “believing the internet.” Just because something is typed up nice & neat and has a description saying “100% accurate” or similar, it doesn’t mean it’s right, and frankly quite often it isn’t. Wouldn’t it be much better to be be able to listen to a song and figure out, with rock-solid certainty, what’s going on? Here’s how I do exactly that…

Of course there are some songs that take no working out at all once you’re familiar with a few basic standard chord progressions. The 12 bar blues, or the tried & tested I VI IV V (like G Em C D, for example) which everyone from The Everly Brothers to John Legend via The Police have used at some point. But what about something which isn’t instantly familiar like that? How do you figure out chord progressions which are unfamiliar to you? Well, a little bit of music theory helps, but if that scares you off, then here’s a method guaranteed to work:

First of all, you’ll need a free piece of software called Audacity. If you don’t already have it, you can get it from HERE. What you’re going to be using this for is to isolate one chord at a time so you can figure them out one-by-one. To illustrate how to do this, I’m going to be using a section from a tune I recently did a cover version of, an instrumental called “Sylvia” by the Dutch progressive rock band, Focus. The section in question is the 2 bar organ break which happens after the 2nd verse, and across this 2 bar segment, there are six chords in total. If you can work something as densely packed as this out, you should be fine for pretty much anything! Click HERE to hear it & let’s load this into Audacity, here’s how it looks:


OK, so let’s isolate the first chord in this little section of music. Listen for where the chords change & watch the cursor as it moves across the screen. Make a note of where the chord begins & ends using the time markings across the top of the screen. You can even slow the music down using the “Change Tempo” option in the “Effects” menu if this will make it easier – just select the whole thing and use the option described. Make sure you change the TEMPO, not the SPEED, as this will affect the pitch, which we obviously don’t want to do. Then you should highlight (select) that portion of the music that you want to figure out – just that chord. Here’s what this looks like:


Now, here’s the clever bit… Hold down the shift key & press the space bar. That 1st chord you’ve selected with loop round & round infinitely. This will give you time to ascertain what it is.

How do you do that? Guesswork? Well… not really! Here’s a foolproof method. Begin by playing an open string on your guitar as the loop plays. Any string – it doesn’t matter, although I prefer to use one of the top 3 strings as it just sounds clearer to me. After playing the open string a few times, go to the 1st fet, then the 2nd, 3rd & so-on. What we’re listening for is a note which sounds “in tune” with the chord being looped. Click HERE to hear me doing this on the 2nd (B) string. You should be able to hear that the final note, found at the 3rd fret, sounds pretty good when played over the chord. What this means is that I’ve identified a note which is actually part of the chord. Any note which sounds “in tune” with a chord will sound that way because it is already there in the chord: an important point to remember. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Right… we’ve identified that the chord in question has a D note in it (because the note at the 3rd fret on the 2nd string is a D). Where do we go from here? Well, we now need to know which chords contain a D note. Some of these are obvious… A D chord has a D note in it, for example. As does D minor, but what others are there? Well, there are fixed relationships that govern chords and the notes they are made up of & if you know these, then it becomes a simple matter to figure it out. If this isn’t something you’re sure of though, don’t worry… here’s a list that might help you:

  • You will have a major chord based on the “in tune” note
  • You will have a minor chord based on the “in tune” note
  • You will have a major chord 5 semitones (frets) above the “in tune” note
  • You will have a minor chord 5 semitones (frets) above the “in tune” note
  • You will have a major chord 4 semitones (frets) below the “in tune” note
  • You will have a minor chord 3 semitones (frets) below the “in tune” note

In the case of a D note, this would give us these possible chords:

  • D major (a major chord based on the “in tune” note)
  • D minor (a minor chord based on the “in tune” note)
  • G major (a major chord 5 semitones above the “in tune” note)
  • G minor (a minor chord 5 semitones above the “in tune” note)
  • Bb major (a major chord 4 semitones below the “in tune” note)
  • B minor (a minor chord 3 semitones below the “in tune” note)

Now, simply try out each of these chords over the same loop as you used earlier & you can easily determine which is the correct one. Click HERE to hear me doing this. It seems pretty obvious to me that the correct chord is the second one… D minor & I repeat this at the end to make absolutely certain.

By using this method, I identified all six chord in the section of music. It goes like this:

















And HERE is how it sounds played on the guitar. This sounds pretty good when played along with the original, but on it’s own it sounds a little disjointed when compared to what we hear on the track. It’s not that any of the chords are wrong, it just somehow lacks the ascending “sense of direction” that the original possesses. This is where we start to investigate the bass-line…

If we look at the notes present in each chord (and you can do this by figuring out what notes you’re actually holding down as you pay each chord shape, or by knowing a little chord theory), you will be able to see the following:

  • Dm = D +F + A
  • C = C + E + G
  • Fm = F + Ab + C
  • Eb = Eb + G + Bb
  • Ab = Ab + C + Eb
  • Bb = Bb + D + F
  • C = C + E + G

Look closely and you should be able to spot an ascending line of notes running through these chords which goes: D to E to F to G to Ab to Bb to C. Let’s hear what that chord sequence sounds like if we put that ascending line of notes in the bass. Click HERE to hear it being played. And there you have it! This is the chord sequence from the organ break of Sylvia by Focus. I deliberately chose quite a tricky little chord conundrum for this example just to show how something which could be intimidating can be broken down into chunks and worked through using simple techniques. As long as you can hear if a note sounds in tune with a chord or not, then you have all the skills you need. You’ll never be at the mercy of the internet ever again when it comes to finding out what the chords are for that song you’re trying to learn. You can also see (hopefully) that a basic understanding of a few simple music theory fundamentals will cut down on the amount of work you need to do. You might just want to investigate those!

Of course, there are other chord types too… as well as the majors & minors we’ve looked at here. But the thing with more complex chords is that they all have quite a distinctive sound & once you learn to recognise what a diminished, augmented, or sus4 chord sounds like (to pick a few examples at random) you’ll soon find there are no chord progressions you cannot figure out. It just takes practice! It was my good fortune to find myself playing in a professional cabaret band when I was only a fledgling guitarist & I had to learn lots of diverse songs… and learn them ACCURATELY. Back then I didn’t have Audacity, but I had a CD player with a loop function & before that, I used to use a twin-tape deck to record the same chord over & over from one cassette onto another: Record > Pause > Rewind > Record > Pause > Rewind… over & over again.

It’s never been easier, with a little bit of free software, to get to grips with learning songs for yourself. And as your experience builds, you quickly gain more confidence & begin to recognise the same basic chord progressions being used again and again which, in turn, cuts down on the number of songs that need to be tackled like this. That little snippet of Sylvia, for example, will remain locked in my memory, and I’ll have no problem identifying it (or anything similar) the next time I come across a song which uses it.  This description may seem a little long winded, but that’s because I’ve gone into a lot of detail. Working out this segment of the chord sequence took me no more than about five minutes in reality. The point is, though, that you have to start somewhere or you’ll always be at the mercy of someone else showing you how to play the songs you want to play. Don’t be intimidated… give it a go! What have you got to lose?

I hope this has been helpful & until next time… HAVE FUN!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

Lick of the Week – Number 2: An Ascending Polyrhythm Pattern

This week’s lick takes the form of a polyrhythm idea. So, what exactly IS a polyrhythm, then? Well, it’s what you get when you repeat a group of notes in a rhythm which is different to the number of notes in the lick, essentially. For this lick we’ll be playing four notes per beat (known as semiquavers or sixteenth notes), but the lick being played has five notes in it. As you’ll see when you look at the TAB, the first bar contains the notes A G F# E & D which are then repeated. Playing this group of notes across a four-note-per-beat rhythm results in this distribution of notes (in this lick the final segment of Beat 4 has no note played on it):

Beat 1

Beat 2

Beat 3

Beat 4
















Because each beat begins on a different note in the group of five, it has the effect of placing the accent, or emphasis, at different points within the repeating lick each time.

The lick then ascends the neck by moving each note up to the next one in the scale (in this case, the G major scale), so the next bar consists of the same idea but based around the notes of B A G F# & E. Then the 3rd bar does the same thing again, but moving each note up another scale degree to C B A G & F#, before finally ending up on D C B A & G. I end the lick on an A note which kind of gives the whole thing an A Dorian mode feel (the A Dorian mode is simply a G major scale with it’s emphasis placed on the 2nd note – A). However, you could easily make the lick work with any of the modes by simply changing the note on which it ends. If modes aren’t your strong suit, then you can get a little help by looking at one of my previous posts HERE.

And here is this week’s lick being demonstrated:

As ever, don’t just learn the lick – see what you can learn FROM it by understanding the principles involved and putting them to work yourself. Many great licks use this, or similar, polyrhythm ideas – check out the arpeggio section from the end of The Eagles “Hotel California” or Gary Moore’s “Walking By Myself” solo, both of which use polyrhythms to great effect.

Until next time… Have Fun!


John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

Music… Who Cares If It’s Cool?

A curious thing happened the other day. Well, I thought it was curious, anyway. I was having a cuppa with a mate who’d popped round for a natter & I had my mp3 player plugged into the speaker system in the living room. I had it set to random shuffle, so my entire music collection of 500 or so albums was being regurgitated in a manner which paid no heed to age, genre or artist. A little Metallica followed by some Frank Sinatra or Beethoven, then Nina Simone or Status Quo leading into Green Day… that sort of thing.

Anyway, there we were, two middle aged blokes bemoaning the state of the world (as you do), when he suddenly stopped mid-sentence. It seems that the track which had suddenly burst forth from the speakers had put him off his stroke a little. The song in question was an old Euro-pop hit from the ’70s – “Movie Star” by Harpo. “Oh my God” he said (neither of us are of the generation that would actually say “OMG”). “I remember this tune! This brings back some memories, doesn’t it?” And it’s true, it’s one of many tracks which take me back to the long hot halcyon summer days of my childhood when it never rained, there was endless fun to be had from riding a Raleigh Chopper & climbing trees and the most you had to worry about was whether to spend your pocket money on a bag of sweets or The Beano. This is why I have an entire compilation of about a hundred tunes from the mid-70s permanently loaded onto my mp3 player. Nostalgia, pure & simple… one of the joys of hitting of middle age.

What’s curious about any of that then? Well, what shocked me was his next reaction when I’d told him about my 70s compilation. “Oh, that sounds brilliant, can you do me a copy? I can listen to it when there’s no-one else around.” When I enquired about his plans to enjoy the soundtrack to his childhood with the curtains drawn & the doors locked, he told me that whilst he would get much pleasure from reminiscing along to this music, he wouldn’t want anyone to know of his “guilty pleasure” as he called it. What’s more, the way he put it was as if he thought it was obvious… “Well, you wouldn’t want anybody to catch you listening to that kind of stuff would you?

His reticence puzzled me but without making a bigger deal of this than I wanted to, I couldn’t pick at it any more. However when the She-Boss got home, I told her about the exchange & she looked at me as if I were enquiring about why someone would not want to be caught sleepwalking naked down the High Street. “Well, perhaps he’d be embarrassed.” She said. “Maybe he doesn’t want people to know that he listens to all that old stuff”. It was at that point that I realised there was an entire phenomenon that I’d managed to live nearly 50 years without knowledge of… the aforementioned “guilty pleasure” of enjoying music which would somehow embarrass you if people found out you enjoyed it. Seriously, I’ve bumbled along throughout my entire adult life blissfully unaware that music could have this effect. How many times has someone cast an eye over my music collection and had a little snigger to themselves & thought “Oh… Really? You forgot you’d left THAT one on show hadn’t you?” Has the world always been this way? Or did I blink and miss the moment when it stopped being OK to just like what you like and not worry what people thought?

Maybe I genuinely don’t give a hoot about what other folks think of my tastes, but I find it truly bizarre that a person’s taste in music should be a source of red-faced embarrassment to them. Granted, I would find it a bit odd to come across a middle aged person listening to One Dimension or some other teenybopper act – let’s face it, once you’re past 24 years of age, you’re not part of the target demographic for that kind of stuff. However, the cheesy pop that was in the hit parade (as it was called in those days) when I was a callow youth made a big impression of me and every now and then I enjoy a trip down memory lane. This does not cause me any sense of shame whatsoever. Why should it? Will the teenagers of today be mortified in twenty-five years time to be caught listening to the likes of Katy Perry? They will have all sorts of happy memories associated with this kind of music so why should they deny themselves that pleasure in years to come. Likewise, why should I feel any sense of discomfiture when I enjoy a hit of Showaddywaddy every now & then?

Perhaps the biggest chart act of my formative years was ABBA. Upon investigation (ie asking a few mates) they all admitted to loving ABBA songs when they were growing up but were a bit cagey about whether or not any ABBA songs resided on their iPods these days. Take any ABBA song apart & you will find well crafted, clever chord progressions; stunning production values; memorable hooks; rhyming schemes which manage to avoid tired cliches; and superb vocal harmonies. Why aren’t these songs judged on these merits? Especially when they may hold all sorts of happy memories for the person listening? Why is it that many people who spent their childhood in the 1970s will be uneasy at having an ABBA track blasting from their car window, and will only listen to it one headphones? It seems the answer is that ABBA, along with many other bands I love listening to (Dire Straits spring to mind) are simply not “cool” now.

I can’t imagine how complicated it must be to have to live your life by factoring the “cool” element into everything you do. I mean I know it applies to clothes (not that I take any notice), and now I learn that it applies to the music you’re “allowed” to enjoy too. Does it also come into any decision you make about what to eat? I imagine it probably does… “Oh, I love a cottage pie… but that’s SO last year, isn’t it?” There are undoubtedly people out there who think like this – if they regard their musical tastes in this manner why would they be any different with their other likes & dislikes including food, after all?

Well, stuff it. I’m not cool and I don’t try to be. I like what I like and I don’t care a tuppeny damn what the fashion police think. So there! To round off, here are the 1st ten tracks that came up when I shuffled my mp3 player & I’m not ashamed of a single one of them:

  1. Every Time You Go Away – Paul Young
  2. Patricia – Art Pepper
  3. The Beatles – Love Me Do
  4. The Feeling – Never Be Lonely
  5. The Jarrow Song – Alan Price
  6. Positively 4th Street – Bob Dylan
  7. Some Girls – Racey
  8. Piano Sonata No.8 in C minor – Beethoven
  9. Hysteria – Muse
  10. Blues To Elvin – John Coltrane

Until next time, have fun!


John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

Being In A Band

A while ago, I posted a blog about the economics of being in a band. I came to the conclusion that there was little chance of making a living from gigging & that you really had to do it just for the love of it. As I stated at the time, the reason I gave up live work some time ago, is because I have no real affection for going out and playing live. I received quite a bit of criticism for this… “How can you call yourself a real musician if you don’t get out & do some gigs?” was the general thrust of it. So, now I think it’s time to explain myself.

Being in a band: getting together with a bunch of people who are all as committed to music as you are; playing music that you love; enjoying the warm glow of an appreciative audience & even getting a few quid for your trouble… what’s not to like? Well, if that were the case, then I’d still be treading the boards. Sadly, in my experience (and this is just my experience) the reality of it is more like this…

You meet up with a bunch of folks who’ve all answered the same ad as you. You go out for a beer or two, maybe even a curry, and discuss the type of music you’re all into, what songs you want to include in the set, perhaps even a band name. A first rehearsal is set up & you all agree on a list of about half a dozen songs that you’ll all learn for that initial band practice.

Next, you spend the week or so before the agreed rehearsal learning the songs; working on that tricky solo; making sure that you have all your parts ready so you can hit the ground running in the practice room. Sure, there are always going to be some things that have to be left to the actual night of the rehearsal… how to divide up any harmony vocals between you; coming up with an ending for songs which fade out on the recording etc. But, by and large, you know the songs inside out and you’re ready to rock.

Come the evening of the rehearsal, you turn up to find…

The drummer hasn’t learned any of the songs. This is a given. Drummers do not learn songs. They may insist that they have done so, but this usually equates to listening to the track in the car and familiarising themselves with it in a somewhat vague fashion. Rarely have I ever played with a drummer who will set up his kit at home and play along with the track to learn where the accents & fills should go, or what the dynamics of the tune are. In the rehearsal room, they simply count off the tempo (too fast, usually) and busk along with the rest of you in a “dum-chicka, dum-chicka” manner until they’ve got their head around what they should be doing. This can take weeks.

The singer needs two of the three songs (from the list of six) that he’s actually learned to be transposed into new keys. He could have phoned or emailed the bass player & guitarist to let them know this in plenty of time for the first practice but didn’t. So you find yourself having to transpose on the fly, usually it’ll be a song which depends on open strings for the riff or solo which are now unavailable in the new key, making the song nigh-on impossible to play without re-tuning for that one song. Rest assured he really DOES know the songs though… as long as he has his lyric sheets… “Oh bugger, lads – I’ve left the folder at home, can we do that one next week?”

Then the bass player… he’s been on a course or been doing overtime at work & only learned three of the songs as well. Unfortunately, it’s not the same three as the singer, so he’s desperately looking over at the guitarist’s fingers on the fretboard to see what the chord sequence is and come up with a bass part to fit. A peculiar form of “sight reading”.

This goes on for months before the band is anywhere near ready to get out and play some shows. Then, just as you think you’re getting somewhere, one of the guys reveals that he’s fed up with everything taking too long and that he’s jumping ship & going back to the band he was in beforehand. He knows their set like the back of his hand and can slot straight in… plus they have gigs ready & lined up. So, what next? Is it worth placing an ad for his replacement? Or should you just call it quits? You’re all heartily sick of the set by now & you’re not even gigging it yet but you soldier on and recruit a replacement. The new guy sticks around for a month or so, but you’ve all had a few weeks off from rehearsing whilst looking for a new band-mate, you’re all a bit rusty on the nine or ten songs that you actually know by this point. He soon picks up on the general wave of apathy and departs the fold.

If you’re really, really committed to making it work though you may start over, and maybe a year after the initial band meeting you might just be ready to gig. Time to start contacting some agents then.

Agents are liars. Fact. “Yes, lads… I can get you the work. Just spend a few quid on recording a pro-quality demo, getting some photos done, putting up a website, getting a stage backdrop made and doing a showcase gig then get yourselves a few hundred Twitter followers & leave the rest to me.” (Erm… what exactly does that mean? Oh… you’re going to write out the posters… well, that justifies you 25% cut doesn’t it?)

Weeks after the showcase gig (which the agent probably didn’t turn up to) there’s still no work in the diary. He eventually does come through with your first gig though, if you’re lucky. The venue is some bleak social club in the kind of remote village where the local newsagent sells cards that read “Happy Birthday Uncle Dad!” The kind of “close knit community” where the village school has forty kids but only two surnames on the register. The place you’re going to play has a car park which recently held the world record attempt for the most amount of broken glass per square inch of tarmac, and a concert room on the 3rd floor, only accessible by a rusty, rickety outdoor fire escape. Dressing rooms (or “cupboards” as they should be called) can usually be divided into two types – those which smell faintly of urine, and those which absolutely reek of it.

So you do the gig & it goes OK (let’s assume). There are two types of gig on the circuit up here: “pick-ups” and “no pick-ups”. A pick-up is where you get the money on the night from the venue. A no pick-up is where the venue pays the agent who then gives you a cheque at the end of the month minus any commission owing from all the shows you’ve played. Many is the time that we’ve limped the van to the gig on the last remaining thimble full of diesel, thinking “it’s OK, tonight is a pick-up so we can fill up on the way home.” You know what happens next, don’t you? Track down the club’s concert chairman and ask for the money at the end of the night and be told “No, lads… this club hasn’t been a pick up in years – you need to get the money from your agent.” Anyone got any room left on their credit card for fuel?

Every month or thereabouts you’ll get a cheque from the agent & when it actually doesn’t bounce on you, you might get a couple of hundred quid or so. Result! The trouble is that if you think about it too much, and take off the expenses you’ve incurred (a years worth of rehearsal room costs, for a start) you realise you’ve earned less per hour than a parking metre.

I apologise to any bass players, singers and drummers who may feel slighted by this account of my experience on the live music circuit in the north east of England. I’m sure there are many guitar players out there who have committed all of the sins I describe & driven their band mates to distraction. I’m also the first to admit that I’ve dropped clangers and made howlers both in the practice room and on stage – human beings make human errors, after all and no-one is perfect. But I will always hold my hands up and admit my f**k ups, then go away and burn the midnight oil, practising away to a ticking metronome into the wee small hours if necessary, to remedy them. Also, I’m sure that there are drummers, singers and bass players who are conscientious and professional in their outlook – it’s just that I’ve never been in a band with any of them.

Please don’t take this as anything more than a personal account of my decades of playing live. To paraphrase Bill Hicks “I don’t mean to come across as jaded, cynical and bitter… but I am, so I do.”

Until next time,

Have Fun (or at least try, anyway) 🙂


John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

Five Easy Fast Guitar Licks

A little video lesson this time. Here are my favourite five fast guitar licks…

Hope you find it useful & until next time,

Have Fun!


John Robson Music

John Robson Guitar Tuition