Here’s How Electric Players Can Prepare a Solo Acoustic Set
EXPERIENCED GUITARISTS know that the acoustic guitar
is a completely different animal
than the electric. The notes
may be in the same place, but
the similarities end there.
Although not quite as different
as the electric bass and its
upright counterpart, the approach
to acoustic guitar is a study in
itself. So if you play a lot of
electric, you’re likely fooling
yourself if you think you can
just grab your flat-top and dash
right off to hit the road for a
series of solo-acoustic concerts.
Hey, I’ll admit it straight
off: I play so much electric that
my acoustic chops run down
after a typical hiatus of a month
or two. Although the acoustic
comes out in the studio on a
regular basis, an entire live
solo acoustic performance is
a real workout requiring strength
and stamina. I like to book
solo acoustic gigs between regular
band tours in an effort to
keep my acoustic chops up.
| It’s one thing to play acoustic occasionally during band tours, and another thing entirely to keep your chops up to perform solo-acoustic concerts.
I don’t make it easy for
myself. For one thing, it’s always
a challenge to come up with
new solo material. In addition,
I don’t use extremely light
strings on my acoustics as some
players do. That’s a sound and
style of playing all its own. I
prefer to use a .011-.052 set of
phosphor bronze strings for a
bigger sound and more volume.
I’m not bending a lot of notes—
I’m going for resonance and
clarity of tone. But with bigger
strings comes a need for stronger
fingers, and a long phase
of playing mostly electrics
strung with much lighter strings
doesn’t exactly beef up finger
The ramping up of acoustic
technique takes time, and, over
the years, I’ve come up with a
surefire way to get in shape for
solo acoustic concerts. Here’s
how I do it:
Two weeks out in front of
the concert, I set up a chart for
myself. Down the left-hand
side column, I write the set list
(shown here as “Song #1, Song
#2, etc.), which is usually about
20 songs including encore material.
Across the top row, I write
the days of the week left until
the day before the first show.
This simple chart containing
the set list and remaining
rehearsal days is all I need to
organize my practice time.
| Here’s a peek at my acoustic-prep chart.
Every day, I play each song,
run down the list, and check
off the appropriate box only
when I’ve performed the song
as close to perfection as possible.
For a 90-minute concert,
it may require three hours in
the early days to get the songs
up to speed. As the days go
by, I’m able to skip the repeated
sections of various tunes
because they’re coming together
easier than other sections. For
instance, with a piece that has
an AABA form, I might only
play the A and B sections, and
then move on to the next song.
As a result, practice time shortens
as I approach the end of
week two, and the beginning
of the tour.
Two weeks is about the right
amount of time for me to prep
for a solo acoustic tour, but you
may be able to shorten that
time depending on your set list,
or the length of your hiatus
from acoustic time. You should
also try this method with any
schedule. It really works!