Decades before being the acoustic guitar review guy, I was fully obsessed with hockey. I was in high school and I ate, drank, and…ate hockey. So when the inevitable hockey burn out came I had to replace the all consuming obsession with something new. You guessed it. GUITAR.
My Dad taught me how to play when I was in college and I’ve spent more hours on Frank Ford’s old website frets.com then I care to admit.
My first job teaching guitar was at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, and the first job that exposed me to tonewoods was at Weber Mandolin just outside of Bozeman, Montana.
I’ve spent most of my life thinking I was weird and obsessed until 2011.
2011 was the year I started doing acoustic guitar reviews and putting them on a YouTube channel called “The Acoustic Letter”.
I worked at Music Villa selling guitars and I had around 60 guitar, banjo, dobro, and mando students plus I’d play gigs three or four times per week. I was also a regular call on recording sessions for albums of friends and producers at studios around town.
Looking back I now realize how crazy and awesome my life was. All music, all the time! But I had all the typical symptoms of a person who adopts the “all you can eat” philosophy of life. Pure chaos to say the least:)
In 5 years we did over 500 Acoustic Letter guitar reviews, got over 18 million views on the Acoustic Letter YouTube channel and amassed a huge mailing list of the most loyal and fanatical acoustic guitar geeks on the planet.
I was delighted to discover that there are MANY more people out there just like me – diagnosed with Guitar Acquisition Syndrome, obsessed with knowing everything about guitar anatomy, tonewoods, history, and acoustic guitar culture.
I jumped to the next level of guitar geekdom when we started doing an interview series called “Behind The Acoustic Guitar”. I got to interview basically all of the acoustic guitar industry icons: Tommy Emmanuel, Paul Reed Smith, Bob Taylor and Andy Powers from Taylor Guitars, Ren Ferguson who was the master luthier behind Gibson Acoustic, Chris Martin from Martin Guitars, and the late Pete Huttlinger who’s got literally the most inspiring comeback story I’ve ever heard.
I discovered something within the acoustic guitar community that kept tugging at me. There’s another layer of depth within these fanatical guitar geeks that goes far beyond just the gear.
It’s the joy of playing guitar, sharing music, talking about our newest guitar acquisition or the current guitar we’re pining over. It’s building camaraderie with others who are in our exact same shoes…
It’s our own personal struggle and journey of getting better at guitar so we feel worthy of playing such a finely crafted instrument. Competing against ourselves to overcome mental hurdles, physical hurdles & self limiting beliefs.
This is the world of Tony’s Acoustic Challenge that Levi and I have built over the last 18 months.
We have a genuine community that’s 100% supportive and constructive and most importantly, you have a purpose here. It’s not the typical information dump, instead, it’s a highly focused “minimum effective dose” philosophy because you’re busy and you don’t have the time or the attention span to wade through 1000’s of lessons from 100’s of teachers.
Hehe. Whoa there! Let me get back to the story at hand.
So to bring it back around: Before, I was saying yes to every music opportunity. The gigs, the in-person lessons, recording sessions, you name it. It was far too much for any one person.
I’m happy to say that part of my transition into focusing solely on Tony’s Acoustic Challenge has been applying the “focus” and “minimum effective dose” philosophy to my own life.
In the last nine months or so I’ve quit doing in person lessons and I’m much more selective with the gigs I say yes to.
And yes, now I’m done meeting Levi at 7am on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the basement of Music Villa to film acoustic guitar reviews.
I now have the focus and calm I’ve always craved. I take my dogs, Koda and Argos on a peaceful morning walk and I leave the cell phone at home.
I come into TAC Headquarters at 9am for the daily progress meeting with Levi, then I answer member questions on the site and support email, then I start writing lessons. I film those lessons with Levi two to three times per week in batches.
I focus all of my extra time on writing my own music. I’ve got two instrumental records out, but I’m working on my first album with vocals and perhaps a full band!
In a nutshell – my life is still all music, but I get far more progress from focusing on far fewer things.
A wise man once told me that you can move 8 things an inch or you can move one thing a mile. (Thanks, Levi!)
I’ve chosen to move one thing a mile and I’ve distilled this philosophy into Tony’s Acoustic Challenge.
We focus only on the three key things that will make you a well rounded player and get you the most enjoyment for the time you invest.
To keep you engaged and hold your attention for weeks and months at a time, we wrap it all up in a gamified, “challenge” format with achievements, goals, and of course, the reward. These rewards typically come in the form of guitar give-aways, which always keep things exciting around here!
1. Build skills by doing the daily practice challenge that rotates through the four main areas of improvement.
2. Build repertoire by learning a song every month. This sounds a little scary until you see that we’ve got 10 starter songs that are simpler than “easy” songs so anyone can learn one song per month.
3. Build confidence to play for others by earning one performance badge per month. It’s simple: record a video of you playing a song you just learned, then submit the YouTube link on that song’s performance submission page.
Check all three off your list in a given month and automatically get entered to win a guitar or something similarly awesome.
The end result? You’ll have more fun with your acoustic guitar than you ever thought possible:)
Thanks again for your enthusiasm for acoustic guitars. You’re in good company!
I wasn't convinced at first that TAC would give me the inspiration I needed.
I realized within a few days that TAC was different. I was actually eager to see the next day's lesson and get on with it.
After quite a few months of TAC I am passionate about the guitar again and really feel like I am learning new stuff all the time which is keeping me engaged.
The format of daily lessons with 2 on Friday is perfect for me. It fits around my work and gives me a reason to pick up my guitar every day.
TAC inspires me to play and learn and I really feel like I am making progress after years of playing the same old stuff. I also love the monthly hangouts.
I would definitely recommend TAC to my friends and have done already. Keep up the good work guys, I'm loving it!
I was concerned that an online guitar-teaching tool would not be tailored to my level...
...and that I would not end up learning anything valuable, or at least that the techniques/formula would become "old hat" and I would lose interest.
I've tried a lot of interactive tools over the years, because they are so much more convenient and cost-effective, but ultimately I found that I was best-off self-directing, and I'd eventually run out of ideas and plateau. I worried that TAC would fall into that model but TAC did not fall into that model. With Tony's broad scope of topics (chord progressions, finger aerobics, finger picking, flat picking, scales / solos, and songs) played at different speeds, Tony allows me to advance, and there's always something new to learn.
I'm not overwhelmed, and I'm not plateauing. I can't tell you how much I enjoy it.
The specific feature I like is the diversity of content, and the fact that there is always something new. I never get bored. I'm always learning. And Tony's ridiculous jokes keep the videos entertaining.
I also like the mentality of the daily challenge, and the guitar give-aways are both great motivators. I'm excited at the chance to win this month's GS Mini - and I'm going to work my butt off on the guitar to try!
I would absolutely recommend TAC! I'm actually trying to find a way to buy my girlfriend a membership for Valentine's Day!
I was worried about whether or not TAC would be too difficult for a newer guitar player.
At the time I signed up (I think last May), I really considered myself a beginner. I only knew basic cords and basic strumming patterns. I had no concept of finger picking or flat picking, but really wanted to learn. The only thing I was worried about was whether or not TAC would be too difficult for a newer guitar player.
I found that focusing on one practice exercise a day for 20 to 30 minutes has been really effective for me.
I realize that learning guitar is not going to happen overnight and its a journey. The daily exercises makes it easier to enjoy that journey and not get overwhelmed with the process. Some days it sounds good and others not so much. But I keep moving forward.
I specifically like how there is a theme to each week's Practice Plan. I really feel like it's helping me play better and remember the concepts better.
I also really enjoy the Wednesday Improv lessons. It's a lot of fun to noodle around and actually sound like a guitar player.
The TAC community is awesome. Everyone is here to simply learn and play better. Super supportive.
Also, all you guys at TAC Headquarters are really responsive and are here to help. I have never felt alone sitting here in California, and I really feel part of a community of players who really want to improve. It's been great to see all the updates to the site and practice plan over the last month or so, and I really really think that the new guitar wizard badge will push me to learn songs and recording myself playing.
Just about any one can take 15 to 30 minutes a day to practice something new here. Tony does a good job at explaining the exercises, the tabs are easy to access, and it's super fun!