SongXpress has produced an entire series of instructional DVDs for guitar. Because the DVDs are nearly identical in sound and picture quality and contain some common additional features some portions of the reviews are identical. For further review of the DVD series, please refer back to the review of "Austin Blues For Guitar Volume I"
After an examination of various blues guitar styles in earlier volumes, "Classic Surf for Guitar, Volume 1" takes the viewer into the new realm of surf guitar. Popularized first in the 50's and 60's and later resurrected by the inclusion of Dick Dale's version of "Miserlou" at the beginning of "Pulp Fiction" (along with a number of other surf guitar classics), surf guitar often involves fast tremolo picking and simple recurring patterns. The songs included on the DVD are the aforementioned "Miserlou," a lesser-known song called "Penetration," the song "Pipeline" (a song later covered by the band Anthrax) and the classic "Tequila." All four songs are taught by the same instructor, Dan Warner. Again for each song, Warner takes the viewer through tuning, the intro of the song, the main riffs and, because surf guitar is characterized by its instrumental nature without accompanying lyrics, the guitar parts that seem to serve as the verses of the song. The DVD uses onscreen tablature to supplement Warner's instruction and again his incremental approach to the songs, breaking them into parts, prevents the viewer from feeling too overwhelmed by the songs. The viewer is further aided by Warner's willingness to go back and run through what has been learned.
As with other volumes, once again the big question: does this DVD work? Again, the answer is both yes and no. The songs run from fairly simplistic (one will have the intro to "Tequila" down in a mere minute or two) to the complex (not being too familiar with the song "Penetration," it proved an easy song in which to get lost). Unlike the Blues DVD, however, there are significant impediments for the casual guitar player to learn to play the song well- namely the speed at which the picking is done. While Warner certainly explains to the viewer the need for patience, and the problems are attributable solely to the style of music and not to Warner's instruction, one might not master these songs for several days. For someone who has barely touched a guitar before, this DVD may very well be a bit too advanced. Nevertheless, as with the other DVDs, if one is willing to go through the video (in this case more than a few different times), this DVD puts these songs within the range of comprehension and competence in a way that is superior to simply using tablature. To that end, while personally, I was picking on a couple of the songs at a speed way below the tempo of the song, I began to notice that while I had somewhat learned Miserlou previously out of guitar magazines, learning the song along with the instructional DVD truly helped me learn to play the song using the right fingering techniques rather than what is easy or convenient. Overall, such development can and does inevitably carry over to other styles of guitar playing as well.
Like the other DVDs of this series, one of the best features of this DVD is that it offers, in effect, an instructor with infinite patience, as a viewer can go back again and again until they feel comfortable that they have gotten it right. The viewer is also aided by a DVD that is quite easy to navigate, as the viewer can go directly to the song of their choice and then to the opening, the intro, the main riff, and the performance section just by advancing the chapter. This was something of which I frequently took advantage. While the DVD might not be enough to turn the viewer into a surf guitar virtuoso overnight, this DVD is certainly a big step in the right direction for anyone who is interested in learning how to play surf guitar or is simply looking to broaden their horizons.
Perhaps the least important feature of this DVD, the picture is presented in full screen projection. Neither the colors and texture of the picture nor the tablature on screen appears sharp and well defined, but this should not present any sort of impediment for the viewer who is simply seeking to learn a bit of surf guitar. There is some shimmer which occasionally occurs on screen and pixelation may be perceived as well.
The sound transfer on this DVD is in Dolby Digital 2.0. While one never feels surrounded by the music with which one is playing, the sound quality is sufficient to clearly hear the notes and any distinctions between them, along with the use of tremelo, trills, etc. While the sound quality of the DVD makes this a poor DVD to use to show off the clarity of one's home theater system, the sound is more than adequate to get the job done, and there is no need for adjustment of volume throughout the DVD, unless one wishes to turn down the song to hear their own playing.
The DVD does have a decent amount of supplemental materials, most of which are fairly useful. There is a separate tuning section amongst the Special Features which contains a standard tuning of a guitar in which each properly tuned string is struck, allowing the viewer to adjust his strings until they sound identical. While this may not be the easiest way to tune one's guitar, (I recommend a small electric tuner), it does as good a job as can reasonably be expected, and can be helpful for anyone who simply wants to tune up their guitar. The DVD also contains a listing of additional instructional titles which are available, showcasing many different styles of guitar. In addition, the DVD contains drawn out chord patterns and tablature for each of the four songs as a ready reference for someone who simply wants a refresher or to practice proper chord formation. While these are nice to have, the chords and tablature appear so small on the screen that they can be difficult to rely upon.
There are two added instructional features on this DVD- the first being a run through of barre chords (running through the 96 available barre chords on the guitar, the instructor demonstrates how to do major chords minor chords diminished chords and seventh chords up and down the neck of the guitar); and the second, a very short introduction to the world of power chords. Both of these features serve to expend the repertoire of the guitar novice well, and are somewhat easy to follow.
The DVD also contains an additional section referred to as Licks and Tips. The section begins with instruction from Warner on how one accomplishes the bending of notes while playing. He actually does a great job in his instruction here, really allowing even beginners the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of bending, as well as vibrato, the next lesson. He even takes the viewer into the worlds of finger-tapping, a style of play that Eddie Van Halen made popular, and tremelo picking, both of which are rather difficult techniques to learn. Nevertheless, Warner provides a comprehensible explanation of the technique before breaking out into a more complex style which even some intermediate players might have difficulty playing. By the time Warner makes it through the intricacies of surf guitar, trills, and the whammy bars, it seems somewhat disconcerting that this instructional section was hidden in the bonus features section.
While the speed picking of surf guitar may be a bit troubling for some, viewers and guitar players who are able to be patient and practice the techniques contained in this DVD will be richly rewarded. Beyond impressing one's friends that you can play the song from Pulp Fiction, surf guitar is a fun style of music to learn, and this DVD does all that it can to encourage that fun.