NOTHING slaps on a smile on a guitar or bass player’s face quite like a well-primed instrument that’s comfy in the hands, razor sharp in its intonation and voices tones straight from the heavens.
But getting an instrument into such high gear should largely be left in the hands of the pros, and few embrace art, science and soul quite like guitar professor Greg Tan. If that name has yet to ring a bell, it should sound a gong for all guitarists and bassists looking to extract the best out of their instruments.
Tan, 68, vaunts experience that harkens back to the glory years of the electric guitar in the 1970s, when, as a Penang-based musician, he served as a consultant to American guitar-making giant Gibson, while also registering his own inventions and designs with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Sure, many set-up scribes can straighten a guitar neck, tweak its action and mod the hell out of it, but once an instrument goes through Tan’s hands, it comes out pulling all the stops with its full potential.
While playing music remains a pride of passion, having backed the likes of international hit machines The Drifters and even Johnny Tillotson, Tan’s ace up his sleeve is his understanding of the physics, chemistry and biology of guitar-making, which make him the go-to guy for Malaysia’s very top musicians and tone hounds serious about their instruments.
Here, he shares some of the fundamentals in his approach and provides a guide of what to do and not to do with your beloved stringed instrument.
What are some of the most basic repairs you handle, and why these tasks?
People come to me when their guitars don’t play right, whether it’s the action being too high, frets having worn out or their instrument generally not sounding great. Remember, guitars are made at the mercy of the makers, so, if a factory worker didn’t have a good day, that emotion can appear in the guitar. Of course, when I approach a job, I always want to know what tone a person likes and what music they listen to, so I know the player’s preference.
What can users do to maintain their instruments?
Firstly, send your guitar to a good and dedicated tech who will do the best for your instrument, so he can get its full potential out of it. Make sure the guitar is stored in a cool, dry place because our climate is hot and humid, which isn’t great for guitars. And avoid subjecting the guitar to knocks or falls.
Can you provide some do’s and don’ts of handling guitars?
Always acclimatise your guitar to your body and hand heat before performing. Warm up with your instrument for at least half an hour, so that when your strings are tuned up, they stay in tune. For electric guitars, be prepared to make some final tweaks with the amp’s level and tone, so that it blends with your band perfectly.
Never place your guitar near a moisture or heat source, like a bathroom or stove. Also, don’t put chemicals on the strings to extend their life… we must accept that strings have a finite life, and they will eventually die.
What should be the basic understanding of how a guitar and amp work?
That’s a million-dollar question. Sound should be in a musician’s head – they should know what they’re going for and realise that sound before trying to find it. It’s all about searching, trials and errors … before a person finds that magical tone, which is how a band like The Eagles became a reference point. The song will dictate the choice of guitar and amp, so make it interesting by choosing the right gear to get the right blend.
Can you provide a basic checklist of how you go through your repairs and set-up work?
I will look at the situation in its entirety to figure out how it can be done in the best and simplest way, so I can solve the problem with minimum complications. Preparation is 90% of the repair job. At the end of the day, I want to make sure owners enjoy their guitar.
Greg can be reached at +6013-7060431/+6018-6374515.
Greg Tan will be conducting a masterclass guitar/bass set-up clinic titled Preparation For A Special Performance, at The Stage 33 in the premises of The Guitar Store (33 Jalan Manis 3, Taman Segar, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur 56100) this Sunday, Oct 13 at 3pm. The event is organised by The Guitar Store.
Entry is RM28, and seats are limited – there’s space for only 60 people. So don’t miss this special session with the guitar guru.
To get a place, contact +603-9133 9922.