Guitar Tips

Latest Update: linking to a step by step guide on how to change the strings.

A collection of tips for those keen strummers out there.

Playing Guitar

  • Guitar Noise think they have the Best Way to Learn Guitar. They mix in real music notation along with the tab, which I always find a little offputting, and there doesn’t seem to be much on scales, but there are some very good lessons in the form of learning actual songs. If you want to be able to play a song or two reasonably quickly, or you’re more interested in rhythm guitar than lead, there’s plenty here. (Via Lifehacker, and as usual, there’s more tips from their readers in the comments.)
  • ActoGuitar – a whole mass of online lessons. Nicely written, and includes some videos too. Could do with a few more diagrams, but a bit of searching can soon fill in that sort of thing elsewhere. Great stuff. Yes, obviously it was thanks to Gary again.
  • Guitar Solo – Scales, Licks etc – A good resource of tutorials. Thanks again to Gary!
  • Fingerpicking Guitar Lessons from Eltjo Haselhoff – Starting from the basics, like not cutting your fingers, but soon moves on. You’d probably want to suplement this with some other stuff, but there’s certainly quite a bit of useful info here. Thanks to Gary for finding this one.
  • Guitar GAS – Things every beginner guitarist should have – Essential basic equipment for anyone starting out. The last one on their list is often the hardest one to find. 😉
  • GuitarGAS Tips and Cheats #1 – Barre Chord Avoidance. Perfect for those of us not blessed with long, slender, neck-friendly fingers.
  • GuitarGAS Tips and Cheats #2 – Chord Sequences for Songwriters. Good advice on what chords work well together.
  • GuitarGAS Tips and Cheats #3 – Knowing the whole neck. A guide to the CAGED system.
  • GuitarGAS Tips and Cheats #4 – Another easy visual way of remembering chord shapes.
  • The Zen Guitar Dojo – Learning and jamming with a zen approach. Thanks, Blue!

Modifying Guitars

Guitar Maintenance

  • Changing Strings – it’s a stinker of a job but every guitar player has to do it (unless, of course, you have a guy to do it for you). Here Simon Lees offers a step by step photo guide on how to change strings. Thanks to Black River Blues guitar legend Gary for spotting that!

Guitar Accessories

Fun Stuff

  • God of Guitar’s Guide to Poses – How to pose when playing guitar. Follow these tips and you might just make next year’s Men With Guitars List – though you’ll need better wigs than these guys. Thanks go to the God of Steel Wheels, Darren Beniston, for this corker.

Tips from Sam’s favourite Man With Guitar.

>RULE 3 >Invest in a good, big hat. Wear it.

>…A Les Paul Standard will sting you for a good £2,200, while a couple of Alnico II Pro humbuckers will cost about £90 apiece. Admittedly, Slash did have a signature model created for him – but only 5- were ever made, of which Slash had two (one of which was nicked) and another recently went for $7000 at auction. Stop daydreaming, pal – it ain’t gonna happen.

Giving More Engaging Presentations

Latest Update: A link to Merlin Mann’s various presentation tips.

Giving a presentation can be a great way to use a bit more creativity at work than you might usually be able to do – or it can be a chance to drone on at the front of a room full of people, reading from the slides on the screen, that they’ve just read slightly ahead of you.

You choose.


  • Listen to Merlin – Good advice generally. Check out his article on how he made his presentations better.
  • Don’t make your slides too ‘wordy’ – if they contain the full text of what you want to say, you’ll be tempted to just read from them, rather than communicating with the people in the room, and most of your audience will be reading them instead of listening to you.
  • Move about – standing in one spot for the whole presentation is dull – wander around a bit – if nothing else, it keeps people awake because they have to keep turning to face you. Strike a balance, though – don’t make them dizzy.
  • Make eye contact – it’s easy to slip into avoiding it, but it really helps to engage people.
  • Involve people where relevant – even if it’s just little things like “…I know this is a problem that Bill has run into a few times…” – hopefully the person indicated will at least nod to people and confirm what you’re saying. This might not work in a large crowd, and could be tricky if you don’t know the people concerned, but could work wonders if you’re presenting to your colleagues.
  • Use props if possible. Gary at Thumbrella likes to put toys in the middle of the table for people to play with, but even a few sweets might get people interacting a little – even if it’s only to ask someone to pass them the Haribo.
  • Give out handouts at the end – that way people can’t sit and read them instead of listening to you.
  • Use humour – not too much, but a few jokes can keep the mood light. The best part is that in the middle of a presentation, people will laugh at almost anything, so the jokes don’t even have to be good.

Gary expands on the matter of toys and sweets a bit further…

I also like to give prizes as part of icebreakers – sometimes this is a bag of special sweets – Cadbury’s Chocolate Eclairs are favourites (if I already have sweets on the table, which I usually do), or a nice pen, or an unused version of one of the toys on the tables. Three times I have actually sent people toys after the events, as I have noticed how much fun they had with them. This has lead to good feedback, and in one case the guy has asked me to be involved in a high level project because he remembered my training, the toy I sent him, (which he keeps on his desk) and me (though I’m not sure what order they came in!) Another good idea instead of sweets is to have fresh fruit on the tables – grapes are favourites – in fact I’ll be doing that tomorrow at a training session.

Gary’s Top Tips

Along with giving presentations and training sessions himself, Gary has also delivered training on giving presentations – here’s his top presentation tips…

  1. Powerpoint slides are not a presentation – if they were you could just mail everybody the presentation and save their time and yours
  2. Great content is important – know your stuff – but…
  3. Great content is useless without great delivery – Practice, practice and practice again
  4. Have a Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D, for when things go wrong – and they always will.
  5. Be “in the room” – a little new-age, but if you are thinking about the other work you need to do, the meeting you cancelled, the next presentation you are going to make, you will not be giving your best.
  6. Be flexible – if you can tell that the audience is glazing over or losing interest, ditch the bit you were doing and move on to something else – get people active and moving.

The idea of having plans B through to D seems like an especially good idea, knowing how our technology loves to let us down. Remember that your laptop can fail at any moment, and it might just pick the moment when you’re about to present – it’s worth knowing what you’ll do if that does happen – do you have a spare available at two minutes notice? Will your presentation carry itself without any slides?

One last quote from Gary…

I have a style which is “no-style” – I am just me, and people seem to like it

Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

Gary also pointed me to this excellent article from Guy Kawasaki, explaining why you shouldn’t have more than ten slides. His advice is specifically about pitching to venture capitalists, but the rules should hold true for anyone…

It’s quite simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.

Specifically, the reason there should be only ten slides…

Ten is the optimal number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation because a normal human being cannot comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting

Unusual Tactics

  • Josh was at Gnomedex 2006, and witnessed an unusual presentation from Tara Hunt and Chris Messina – they didn’t speak at all. He says “It was powerful.” You can see for yourself – there’s a video of the ‘talk’.

Other Resources

  • Presentation Zen compare the presentation tactics of Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki and Tom Peters. They’re known as some of the best, but all have very different styles, showing Gary’s point that it’s important to be yourself. There is video footage of each of them in action, to give you a real idea of how they work. (Thanks to Open Loops.)

More Presentation Tips and Tricks

It has to be said – we don’t know much about presenting ourselves – we’ve learned from some of these people, and they’ll give you better advice than we could…

  • Lifehacker tells of a trick used by Leisa Reichelt – she made the presentation out of Post-it notes, photographed them, and turned them into the presentation. It was all still computer-driven, but looked natural and hand-made.
  • Cory Doctorow is best known as a science fiction writer, but he does a lot of speeches and presentations to different audiences. He has shared some tips with Wired – see the Rock the Podium section.
  • Chris Brogan – Chris has written a lot about presentations, and it’s all been great – this page started out as a link to just one of his posts, and there’s a wealth of information and ideas in his writings…
    • Considering Presentations, where Chris goes through is thoughts when preparing to give a presentation at Bar Camp Boston. “Be genuine about that. Don’t pretend to love these people. For the duration of the presentation and the follow-up, LOVE these people. Give them every bit of your fiber in this presentation.”
    • My Best Presentation Tricks – a great collection of tips and tricks that Chris posted over at
    • Give Presentations like David Lee Roth – where Chris argues that a good presentation should be about unleashing your inner rock star. If you have an inner rock star. I tried to unleash mine once, but it turned out he was just another geek.
    • Present Zebra Style – Chris suggests sticking to black and white slides, with nothing but a few words on them. Nothing else. Keeping the focus on the message and on you. Also great for annoying the hell out of your marketing people, which is always fun 😉
    • Present Without Being There – some tips on how to give a presentation when you can’t all get together – using presentation-style tricks in a message delivered other ways.
  • Lifehacker
  • Presentation Blogs – sites where you can keep up to date with more ideas…
    • Presentation Zen – seems to be highly rated by just about everybody.
    • Maniactive – another great blog of tips and tricks, with some original ideas.

Sources of ClipArt

Personally, I think photos work better than all those little cartoon pictures you got with MS Office, but it’s all a matter of choice – here’s some good sources Gary suggests for finding more clip art…

Slimming World Week 17 – Keep to the path, young slimmer…

It’s been another sod of a week, with most of it being spent wondering what the hell was really going on with my mum. As she told me more about her operation and what tests were being done, I just wanted to ditch everything, get up there and hug her for as long as I could as hard as I could. Under the circumstances, however, that would have been a very bad idea indeed.

So instead I stayed down here and fretted myself silly. The test results were due back on Thursday, but Mum didn’t manage to wrestle them out of the hospital until yesterday, and it was good news. Yes, there was cancer there, but they’ve got it all, and that should be the end of that pending a scan and another bloody big op to reverse what they did to her the other week.

During this time the Slimming World plan never actually tried to fly of the window. I’ve been doing it for long enough to know it is fairly easy to do when life insists on interfering and attempting to bugger it all up for you. The trick is to stick to Green on those harder days. There’s so much free food that can be ready in the time it takes to boil a kettle – like couscous, noodles or those little ‘mug shot’ snack meals. My favourite meal during the rougher days was Quorn burgers, mushy peas and super noodles. I guess there was a comfort food element there that helped too. And, of course, now it’s possible to have the best of both worlds in one day with Mix2Max, when you choose Original and Green by the meal. That’s been a big help this week. Along with listening to All You Need Is Love over and over again. :)

Having said all of this, I didn’t hold out much hope for a loss last night. Not after last week’s massive loss. I’d had a few Syns more than the previous week and hadn’t really done much in the way of exercise. And there was that little phenomenon known as Star Week to be taken into account. However, Mr Scale was once again feeling charitable and showed another loss of 3lb (1.3kg) which took my weight loss to four and a half stones or 63lb or 28.5kg.

If I can get through weeks like these, I can get through anything. Bring it on! The journey continues…

Notebook Review – Paperblanks French Ornate Wrap

Paperblanks French Ornate Wrap

I have been fascinated with the Paperblanks range of notebooks ever since Simon at Cult Pens sent me a copy of their catalogue a couple of years ago. Their notebooks are made to stand out in a crowd – with lush, colourful covers and bindings that set them apart from the usual spiral or case bound offerings.

I have two paperblanks books – a diary, and the book I’m reviewing here. The diary is a gorgeous, aged-leather effect compact book – a little smaller than A5. It has fallen in and out of use over the year, but I find I’m wanting to use it more often simply for the love of it. This bode well for the notebooks, and once I spotted them on sale in Glastonbury last weekend, I knew I had to bring one home. So I did.

Paperblanks French Ornate Wrap - inside


This particular book is known as the Noir-Cuivre Wrap Midi, and its design is inspired by the fabrics of the Jacquard loom silk weaving tradition of France. The earthy tones and bright jewel colours of the cover certainly give the luxurious appearance of silk, but with the feel of a good, sturdy cover. Inside is just as pretty, with the inside covers a simple, sophisticated black which shows the paper off nicely.

Paperblanks French Ornate Wrap - pocket


It has a large pocket at the back for mementos, a ribbon page marker, and nice snappy magnetic closure.

Paperblanks French Ornate Wrap - back


The book is smythe sewn bound, a method of casebinding which involves stitching the signatures to the cover board rather than gluing. Although the book doesn’t sit perfectly flat like a spiral bound book would, it’s certainly more hardwearing than the usual glue binding. The black ‘straps’ on the spine add an interesting extra effect, too.


So, after all the pretty coverings and binding, how does the most important bit hold up? Is the paper up to scratch? I think it is. A smooth, off-white paper just slightly heavier than the paper you’d find in a standard Moleskine. It’s friendly towards fountain pens, with no bleed-through, but I did notice a bit of feathering on the broader, wetter pens.


It’s beautiful. Everything about this journal is lovely. The look, the feel… so, um, I daren’t use it. New, pretty notebooks can cause dreadful performance anxiety, and this one is no exception. If I can get past the hurdle of thinking that a notebook this lovely deserves only my most eloquent prose and neatest handwriting, I’m sure I’ll have great fun with it.