Book Review: The Guitar Simplified by Neil Santos

Learning about the guitar shouldn't be this easy. But it is. Neil Santos makes sure that it is.

The title alone should prompt any guitarist to pick this book up, but we're always told not to judge a book by its cover. I received Neil Santos' book as part of my birthday gift. It was on my list of "wants" simply because I thought "If his ScaleTrainer website is any indication, this book is going to kick some ass. And maybe if I read it from cover to cover and do all of the alternate picking exercises and memorize a couple of new scales I will finally ascend to the throne of lead guitar player, my life's goal." Yes, that last part is an illusion (or rather a delusion) of grandeur on my part, but hey, Malcolm Gladwell stated that if you practice/do something for 10,000 hours you will become an expert at it, so it is possible. I became an expert at functioning in a sleep deprived state a lot quicker than in 10,000 hours when I became a new mom. That was baptism by napalm, so Neil's book must be able to catapult at least some of my shredding prowess to new levels. I was sure of it.

Once I received my copy of The Guitar Simplified, I was able to start reading and absorbing some of the theory that I had forgotten (or pushed out out of my mind) after putting music aside,foolishly, for years. This time around, however, things were different. This time things made sense. Not only is Neil a Berkelee trained guitarist and private teacher, he is also a graphic designer. This becomes more obvious as you start to delve into his book. For a visual learner like myself, I found it a lot easier to remember particular theoretical concepts because of the way the graphics in this book are laid out. They illustrations of chord and scale theories jump right off the page. As a result, you learn things a little bit faster. That solo to "Beat It" might not be a pipe dream after all! 

Of particular use to me personally was the section on scales and how and when to use them for soloing over chord progressions. Because of the colors Neil uses, I can picture the notes in my head before I play them, which makes it a lot easier to at least fake that I sound like my guitar heroes. At least I know which notes I should be playing. 

Whether you are a beginner or a more seasoned player, this book does a great job of simplifying some of the "secrets" behind learning how to not only play the guitar, but play it well. A lot of us were taught (or self-taught) through guitar tabs or by ear in a very rock'n'roll kind of way, but I'll never forget what my guitar teacher said to me when I first started playing: "It can never hurt to know your theory and be able to play any genre of music." As a professional studio and touring musician, he was in the position to be able to give such prudent advice, and I took it. I'm a hard rock and heavy metal lover, but in my practice repertoire I also fit in some pop and country, because being versatile makes you a better musician. Neil's book provides many opportunities for the reader to learn not only different tonalities, but the harmonies that are essential to truly unlocking the potential that the guitar has as an instrument. He even provides tips for the types of chord changes that can benefit from certain scale patterns or modes, and he will cite specific songs or artists to illustrate his point. 

One of my favorite parts of the book is the 2-page spread on effects and pedals. I'm a bit of a gear head and although I cleaned up my pedalboard after I got some advice from my guitar hero, I still like to play and experiment with sound. Neil lists the most common effects and what they do, what order they generally reside in once in your signal chain, and even how they will effect each other once connected. There are several books that try to do the same thing in an effective way, but not in a two-page info graphic that actually makes sense. I got more clarity from these two pages alone than I have in reading an entire book about the subject. It's a brilliant summary perfect for visual people like me.

If ain't say enough great things about The Guitar Simplified. I am absolutely overwhelmed by some of the information I've come across in the best way possible! I'm re-learning what I had forgotten and Neil's graphics are helping me connect my previous knowledge to the new things I've come across in his book.

Music theory and harmony has always been an intimidating thing for me as a guitarist. As a classically trained saxophone player, it never scared me, because that's how I learned how to play. As a guitar player who learned a lot via the school of rock'n'roll I never thought some of these concepts would become clear to me when I looked at a guitar neck. 

The Guitar Simplified does exactly what it says it will do: simplify the ideas and concepts behind theory and harmony for any guitarist. You owe it to yourself to pick up a copy and keep it close by. Just think of how cool you'll sound when you don't revert to your old safe bet when soloing - the pentatonic scale. Wouldn't it be neat to sound like those virtuosos and say stuff like "well, I used the second inversion of the chord there to give the song a lighter feel in the interlude section." Your band mates will be shocked. They'll pass out when they hear what you've created with your new knowledge. You'll sound almost as obnoxious as a jazz guitarist when you speak about what you've played.Almost. This is still rock'n'roll after all. And I like Mr.Santos' book. Like it, like it, yes I do.

You can get your own copy of The Guitar Simplified at Amazon or through Neil's ScaleTrainer webstore.