The Blaggers Guide to: Talking to Musicians

I don’t know about you, but I find myself in rooms full of musicians all the time. Now I like to play music, I like to sing, but I don’t actually know anything about it. And I certainly don’t know anything about guitars. So I decided it was time to put together a short guide so you can blag your way through any muso-dominated situation.**

**Disclaimer: Explanations may not be true definitions. But they should be enough to get you through. Please ensure you excuse yourself and get another drink immediately after using any of these lines, to avoid more in-depth questioning.

Situation: A friend is showing off his new ‘axe’, much to the admiration of the gathered crowds.
You say: “Nice action?”
They reply: Some bullshit response, generally in the affirmative.
But what does it all mean? 
The ‘action’ is the distance between the strings and the fretboard (the long thin bit of the guitar). Most people prefer a low action where the strings are close to the frets, so you do not need to apply too much pressure with your finger to get a clean note. However, if the action is too low, the string will vibrate against the metal lines of the frets and cause a buzzing noise.

They say: “So I’m getting my sweep-picking arpeggios down now.”
You reply: “Nice – you’re turning into a real shredder now then, eh?”
But what does it all mean?
“I’ve been practicing a technique where I can play an up or down sequence of single notes really quickly on my guitar, and it makes me sound really ace.”
“Oh really, well done – so you’re getting to be a very fast guitar player now then, are you not?”

Warning: Pretend musicians are everywhere

They say: “This whammy just knocks everything out of tune.”
You reply: “You should put a Floyd Rose on it.”
But what does it all mean?
The whammy, or vibrato bar, is the metal stick that sticks out from the strings on the main body of the guitar. When the guitarist wibbles it, it makes the note wibble like Mariah Carey. Or Britney Spears. Or Whitney Houston. You know, people who can’t just hold a solid long note and have to have it wibble all over the place. So, somehow, possibly by magic, the whammy bar is attached to the strings and when you wobble it, you wobble the strings. Now because the length of the strings is what makes each specific note, when you wobble it about you might change the length a bit. That would make the guitar out of tune. But with a Floyd Rose (a type of locking whammy bar), the strings are locked so that you can wibble it all you want, without losing your tuning. Simples.

 The situation: Someone hands you their new guitar, for your approval. What do you do?
Hold the guitar with the fat end away from you and peer intently all the way along the strings. Then you say “Nice neck.”
But what does it all mean?
Absolutely nothing. The neck of a new guitar should be pretty much straight. An older guitar might not be. Some styles of guitarists deliberately bow their guitar necks a little bit cos that’s how they roll and actually, unless you play the guitar and you know what you’re doing, you won’t know how the construction of the neck affects the sound. But they all do it. And now you can do it too.

The situation: A friend’s band is playing. Afterwards, the drummer asked what you thought.
You reply: “I liked your sound, it really held things together. And your toms were tuned really nicely.”
But what does it all mean?
Weirdly, you can tune drums. They have little screws at the side that make the skin on the top more taught (or not), which will change the pitch. A drum kit will sound better when properly tuned, and certain jazz musicians will play in a certain key throughout the set so that they complement the drum tuning all the way through. I think. Anyway, you’ll be giving a nice little technical compliment. And you won’t look like a dufus, providing they don’t ask you anymore questions.


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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