Older player learning on a Blue Ridge Dreadnought - issues?

PassacagliaPassacaglia Madison, WI✭✭✭✭
edited June 2009 in Technique
Hi all -

New to this site, and to playing the style, though I've loved listening to it for years.

Background: I haven't picked up a guitar with any real intent in 35 years, though I played quite a bit as a kid.

I'm nearing 50 now. From a lot of daily practice, and body memory, I'm getting back the ability to more or less smoothly move through at least most of the "Core 26" as described in Mickey Baker's book, and towards handling the rhythm progressions in many of the GJ books I've been studying, pretty assiduously, for about a month now (working Gypsy Picking, S. Wrembel's intro book, JJ's intro book, L'Esprit Manouche, some theory workbooks, in addition to the Baker book). I am spending easily 30 minutes in warmup, and always, I try to ensure as much relaxation as possible, everywhere. I practice about 5-6 hours daily.

To my question: I've got a Blue Ridge BR-40, dreadnought. I've seen varying opinions on this question here - but didn't see anything related to an older player coming to the style. Is there any harm - or, indeed, is there a positive benefit - from training for the style on a "stiff" guitar, relative to a GJ model? Strengthening hands and fingers, making them responsive (esp. when moving to silverwound strings, at a later date) or merely making them stiff and unresponsive? Etc.

Hope the query is clear. My bent is to push too hard, and I really don't want to end up ruing choices made now with a long hiatus from learning this wonderful musical style, due to long-term potential for damage.

Fantastic site. Thanks for any thoughts.

pas encore, j'erre toujours.


  • I can only offer my opinion...

    I'm 57 and have a similar situation, only I've been away from the guitar for about 10 years. I have Gibson guitars, J-200, and a J-40. I used the J-200 for mainly strumming, and fingerpicking in altered tunings. Now, I'm learning GJ, starting with the Gypsy Picking book, and a ton of tutorials found on the web, including many videos, many performance, and some tutorials.

    I was using the J-200, at first, but it has much heavier gauge strings, and it was making my hand quite 'tired' after a bit of practice. I switched to the J-40, which I have strung with lighter gauge strings, and the action is quite low. I find I get a great gypsy tone out of this 'lesser' quality guitar. It's lightweight, and smaller, so it's a bit easier to hold.

    I can't afford a real GJ guitar at the moment, and saving towards one. Now, I understand the biggest difference you may find is in scale length. From what I've been looking at the D holes usually come with shorter scale lengths and wider necks than the 'oval' hole models. Don't know for sure, but that's what I've seen in some reviews. Given that my J-200 has about a 25 1/4 scale length, and wider neck than my J-40, I think practicing on the J-40 is going to be fine. Like all guitars, I find moving from one to the other takes a bit of getting used to but generally is not going to cause problems.

    It's the picking that seems to be the most important aspect in the beginning, and good technique regardless of the guitar, IMO. Then, again I'm a newbie too. Good luck and keep in touch. I just wish I'd never lost those 10 years without playing, so much to catch up with now, but I'm having fun, and that's the point for me at this stage of life.
  • PassacagliaPassacaglia Madison, WI✭✭✭✭
    Thanks, Jazzdawg. Nice to see another player come back later in life!

    Re-stringing the BR is something I also considered, but given the guitar's neck width, I'd have to also toss this in, I guess, into the "transition" mix.

    The Blue Ridge has a very narrow neck, in my opinion - if I had my "re-start" to do over again, I'd opt for a Fender like yourself, or other make with a wider neck as my workhorse acoustic. So, there will be a natural adjustment there when moving over to a GJ guitar. One of the reasons I'm looking at the Gitane DG-300 is because of the specs John Jorgenson put together on the design, to include the wider neck. The scale length on the DG-300 is 26 3/8, just under an inch longer than my BR's length.

    Secondly, given the barbed-wire I've got on the BR, I'm with you, Dawg - I get pretty tired. I'm trying to be very careful that my "tired" is good tired (conditioning), and not moving over to chronic overuse that can lead to damage.

    So, I guess I'm asking a general principle - is it a good thing to "workout" on a guitar not intended for the GJ style, or is one - particularly an older -player - prone to doing more harm than good, doing it this way?

    In other words, in terms of this, even if I keep my current BR for practice (in lieu of getting that GJ guitar now), I'm wondering whether I can continue to strengthen if I keep the stiff strings on board, or whether this will lead to bad habits and I really should move to lighter strings now (or just commit to getting the GJ guitar) to make the better training choice.

    Anyway, many thanks, Dawg, and to others chiming in, thanks for all your thoughts.
    pas encore, j'erre toujours.
  • In my case the scale length going from my J-40 to that model, is going to cause me to stretch a bit more for some things, but don't think it's going to be a real issue after a bit playing. Looks like your current instrument is probably not going to cause you much of a problem when you do switch, though. As I said, I'm a newbie too, and other things I've read indicate this not to be a big problem. As far as switching, I find going from the actual technique used playing my classical with a short scale length and 2"' nut much more of an issue. I'm just concentrating on playing GJ on the J-40 and J-200 at this point while I get the picking hand under control What's surprising is the tone I can get out of just changing to pluctrum downstrokes. Even my J-200 sounds better!

    Drop me a line, if you want to discuss things, I'm learning a lot, and don't mind sharing info. BTW - I think the Gypsy Picking book was a great investment. Just practicing the patterns about 30-60 minutes a day since Saturday has given me better control. I'm not perfect at it, but without a teacher to learn from here, the book is a great substitute.

    ;-) (Edited after I reread your measurements. The info I found on the BR showed it to be the same as the DG-300, but your post says it's shorter by about an inch, so you probably will have to stretch a bit too, but still, don't think that's going to cause any great problem with a bit of practice after you change.)
  • PassacagliaPassacaglia Madison, WI✭✭✭✭
    Dawg - that's funny, I completely spaced how close the BR-40 and DG-300 are in terms of nut width and scale length. The BR just feels really thin to me, but I guess I have to chalk it up to a lot of years away.

    Thanks for your thoughts - looking forward to a chat soon.

    pas encore, j'erre toujours.
  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    you can play on any guitar, it's fine... however, you should make sure that the guitar is relatively comfortable!
  • HereticHeretic In the Pond✭✭✭
    I'm an old geezer - older than you. When I took up this music, I hadn't played a guitar for 30 years. I must say that I'd recommend getting the DG-300. I have one. It's a fine instrument, especially for the money.

    It's feel and sound is quite different from any flat top guitar. You'll be training your ears as you learn this form of music. I don't think that any flat top would be acceptable in this genre. This music is unique, and it's guitars are unique.

    The prices of the Gitane guitars with cases and shipping are excellent through this site. So is the service. Go for the new instrument.
  • PassacagliaPassacaglia Madison, WI✭✭✭✭
    Thanks all - as luck would have it, I just acquired a DG-300 at an unbelievable price, and it will arrive Friday. That said, I intend on continuing with my BR-40 until I get myself back in shape, to whatever extent. I do enjoy playing it, and things are starting to gel.

    Although that is all probably going out the door the second the Gitane arrives, and I'll be playing it from then on out. :o
    pas encore, j'erre toujours.
  • Tele295Tele295 San Buenaventura (Latcho Drom), CA✭✭✭ Gitane DG300, D500
    I haven't put my DG300 down in the four months that I've had it. It is a fantastic instrument
    Jill Martini Soiree - Gypsy Swing & Cocktail Jazz
  • PassacagliaPassacaglia Madison, WI✭✭✭✭
    Tele295 wrote:
    I haven't put my DG300 down in the four months that I've had it. It is a fantastic instrument

    I love it. It's in a Chicago luthier's shop for tweaking/setup now, so I'm relegated back to my BR-40, but I absolutely love the DG-300, and don't imagine I'll be playing much else, at least not for a long time to come.
    pas encore, j'erre toujours.
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