Guitar players now have a sanctuary in McKinney

Guitar players now have a sanctuary
By J.B. Blocker, Viewpoint
You don’t have to die to go to Guitar Heaven!
In the heart of Collin County lies Adriatica, a 45-acre Mediterranean village reproduction. Go to West Virginia and Stonebridge on the west side of McKinney.

Music from above

If you happen to be strolling around the stonework streets of Adriatica, while you are admiring the architecture and landscape of the inner urban community, you might hear the sounds of a guitar coming from the bell tower. That would be George Fuller the builder/contractor up there trying out some of his newest guitar discoveries.

When he is not building or participating in community development, George answers to a higher power. He plays lead guitar for a band named for his wife, the Maylee Thomas Band. The higher power is a devotion to God, Family, and Guitars.

GuitArch Angels

There are guitar prodigies all over the world. There might be one under your roof. I’ve known people who can pick up just about any musical instrument and instantly make a connection. Don’t be surprised if it’s your son or daughter who is just waiting for the opportunity and inspiration to become the next Taylor Swift or even John Lennon.

But it takes more than talent to make it as a musician. The difference in instruments can change everything! The way it fits your body, your hands, and your personality all come together when you sit down with the right guitar. Knowing equipment and accessories is a must, and associating with better musicians is the catalyst to improving your art.

The first time I visited the Guitar Sanctuary, I was greeted by an old acquaintance Quinten Hope. He’s the kind of guitar player that makes my fingers ache. If you are a guitar player, and you watch somebody really good, you automatically try to air guitar along. When their talent is out of your league, your fingers get tangled in knots trying to copy the riffs and make the transitions.

Guys like Quinten, George and a host of other local guitar talent work, hang around, and teach at the Sanctuary. They can show you how to play that chord that has the 5 spots arranged in some ridiculous pattern on the guitar tablature.

The tablature is music copy with those little boxes with black spots that appear above the lines of sheet music and show chord transitions and how to make that chord. The problem for beginners is figuring out how you make five fingers move around the neck and cover those black spots. And if you don’t have the tablature for the music, how do you transition from a Bb7 to an Eb7sus. How do you even make an Eb7sus?

The really talented and seasoned pros had someone to teach them the tricks along the way. For the lucky beginners who have access to the pros, the learning curve changes dramatically.

Kiss the Girls

Two things have to happen to turn the tide for a budding guitarist.

First of all, finding the instrument that fits you is like finding a lover. To find that connection, you really need to play the field. You know, kiss a lot of girls! It will be worth it.

When you find that guitar and take her home with you, you will fall asleep with her in your lap. You will have her strategically resting within arms length of your favorite chair. You will talk to her with your fingers, and she will magically talk back with sounds that started somewhere between your head and your heart. Those sounds are finally spoken from the hollow depths of wood and electronics.

Expert dating advise

I walked in to the Guitar Sanctuary and behold! Beautiful variations of a woman’s form in a full range of colors and embellishments cover the walls. I am looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging on Georges custom made racks like wall flowers at a debutants ball.

I greet Quinten who is the store manager, and I instantly know I have a new guitar resource always at the ready. He can’t run, he can’t hide, he works there!

I haven’t had a real Guitar haven since the days of Earl Swinford’s studio/guitar shop in Lubbock, Texas.

It was a place where the elite of Lubbock’s guitar world hung out. It was my entry into the world of 6 strings. Oh, I was already playing little steak house gigs for tuition, but I didn’t have much range past Neil Diamond, Gordon Lightfoot, and others noted for easy 3 chord progressions. I couldn’t transpose and I stumbled mightily with the chord complexities of many of the Beatles, John Denver, and the Eagles songs that were in my vocal wheel house.

I can thank a dozen or more players who showed me the way while I was discovering new guitar models and new electronic gizmos.

I can’t abide the big super music stores. Piano players are selling flutes and guitars they have never played. The chance of someone knowing how to use different effects boxes is slim and bad information is as rampant as lack of knowledge. They sell Wal-mart versions and knock off accessories because sales are more important than customer satisfaction.

If you were to find a competent sales associate, they probably wouldn’t still be working there the next time you stop by. I quit stopping by those big boxes years ago.

As George Fuller promises, “Everything in here is here for a reason, and we know the reasons. Every new guitar and effect gets played with because we can’t help it! It is our own candy store.”

Guitarist like Quinten and George love to share their knowledge and will happily strap you in and turn you on to the world of guitars and effects.

Just Flirting

I spied a Martin acoustic and strapped in. Behind me, a Takamini much like my own kept staring at me until I had to change partners. Next to the Takamini was a Collins special edition flirting with me. I am so fickle!

But while I’m playing the Collins, two ladies kept winking at me from across the room. They were Paul Reed Smith custom acoustics. Beautiful works of art with details of fine rare woods, intricate inlays, and custom hardware. I shyly put away the Collins with her clean clear tones, and I tentatively reached for one of the PRSmith girls.

Once she was safely in my embrace, she began to talk back to me! With tones that were astonishingly deep and rich! She sang a new song. One that I had heard in my head but it was music that had gotten lost in the translation through my own guitar.

Uh oh! My love for my Takamini just changed. I instantly realize that I might have been dating the wrong girl. No wonder my music seemed flat and lifeless.

I looked up at Quinten and his always sheepish grin. I held the PR Smith sister away from me and said to Quinten, “I’m not sure I’m worthy!” He looked back and knowingly responded, “I know what you mean!”

This is Guitar Heaven!

There is a lot more to this story but I said there were 2 things a guitar player needs. First, you need a guitar that you can dance with like a seasoned partner, and secondly, you need continuous knowledge and inspiration like flowers need rain! Knowledge is inspirational!

Get Some! at a sanctuary for the guitarist at heart. Bring your prodigy and meet some of Collin Counties Guit Arch Angels.

You might even get some autographs when you are there! You never know who might be there. You might be seeing them on the big stages.

They had better not be dancing with my girl! I’m saving for the engagement ring that is engraved JB loves PR Smith!

J.B. Blocker is a media consultant based in Historic Downtown McKinney.

Words with Friends rising in McKinney, on iTunes

By Danny Gallagher
Reprinted with permission of the McKinney Courier-Gazette

David and Paul Bettner sit at a corner table of a downtown coffee shop on W. Louisiana Street, engrossed in their laptops like so many coffee house regulars.

They type furiously across lines of unrecognizable gibberish that only a true tech-head could decipher, pausing to test out a word game on the screen or their iPhones.

From a distance, they look like any member of Generation-X, mooching off of a cafŽ’s wireless Internet connection so they can write a blog post or check up on their fantasy football team. However, this seemingly familiar scene was taken back in May of 2009 and the Bettner brothers are developing a game that will become one of the most successful iPhone apps and downloaded games of all time.

“If we were ever going to have a chance to start our own game company,” David said in 2009, “this is our chance to take it.”

They not only built their game company. They built it into an unmitigated gaming powerhouse that created “Words with Friends,” one of the highest rated and most downloaded apps on the Apple iTunes store.

“We always had high hopes for Words With Friends,” Paul said by email, “but only in our wildest dreams did we think it would become as successful as it has.”

The brothers first worked for Ensemble Studios in Dallas, a game development company brought by Microsoft in 2004 that developed popular titles such as “Halo Wars” and “Age of Empires.” They developed Newtoy just before the studio closed and laid off its staff of 200-plus people. They decided the time was right to work on games for the newly released Apple iPhone and iPod Touch, starting with a turn based multiplayer chess game called “Chess with Friends.”

The success of their first app enabled them to hire a few more people for their small-staffed studio. They still toured the downtown coffee bars and restaurants and even the public library to use their public Wi-Fi connections, they started work on “Words with Friends,” a “Scrabble” inspired word game that pits iPhone users against each other.

The response made it an essential download for iPhone users from all walks of life. It not only received critical acclaim from industry experts and magazines such as “Wired” and blogs such as “TechCrunch” but has also been downloaded by millions of iPhone users. It remains one of the top 25 highest grossing apps in Apple’s iTunes store after more than a year on the market.

Naturally, the game has a huge fan base from unofficial online communities that hold regular tournaments to celebrity status players such as musician John Mayer and practically every player in the Texas Rangers’ and Dallas Stars’ clubhouses.

“It seems like hardly a week goes by without seeing a reference to ‘Words With Friends’ somewhere in pop culture,” Paul said. “Just this week, Jason Bateman raved about us on the Jimmy Fallon show.”

This spreading, non-lethal computer virus isn’t immune from McKinney’s legion of drive-by gamers either. Joseph Martin, a mechanical engineer from Raytheon who lives in McKinney, picked up both “Chess” and “Words” for his iPad six months ago. He has six games going at once and not a day goes by that he doesn’t make his move. He only plays on the iPad because if he had an iPhone, “I wouldn’t get any work done.”

“I’m, in my never to be humble opinion, very good at ‘Words with Friends,'” Martin said. “I play fairly competitively as far as the people I play against. I work very hard to win.”

McKinney District 4 Councilman Ray Ricchi admits to being a fan of the Bettner brothers’ creation. He said he plays with his family and friends throughout the day at the office and in-between meetings, but never, of course, during city council sessions.

“It’s a great way to play games with your children,” Ricchi said who more than a few games going with his 12 and 17-year-old boys. “Back when I was growing up, my grandparents and me would sit around and play board games at night but with all the activities that the kids are involved in and everything I’m involved in, this is a great way to keep in contact and be with your kids another way.”

Martin said “Words with Friends” offers word game aficionados a more interactive and streamlined game for more than half the price of the officially licensed “Scrabble” app.

“You can take your time,” he said. “When I’m playing ‘Scrabble’ against my wife, I take a long time to make a play, a really good play, and it drives her up the wall…With ‘Words with Friends,’ I can be off doing something else or take two days to make a good play.”

Paul said this combination of interactivity and pacing has made it such a huge success.

“At its core, it’s about language, something that unites us all,” Paul said. “There is something compelling about the way the game combines skill and luck on the basic human level of communication. Anyone can pick it up and instantly get it.

“Finally, it’s about connecting with friends, family and acquaintances,” he added. “It is ‘Words With Friends,’ after all.”

Of course, with great success comes great responsibility. Paul said maintaining the game’s high quality can be difficult.

“A good example is the server farm that hosts ‘Chess’ and ‘Words with Friends’ games,” Paul said. “At first, everything ran smoothly but as the games grew in popularity, all kinds (of) things started going awry. In the early days, that meant one of us had to frequently stay up all hours of the night working with the servers. Now, we’ve outsourced the entire process.”

Fortunately, they have more than a coffee house Wi-Fi connection and their wits to keep up with the inevitable bugs and updates. Newtoy has a staff of 17 full time engineers, artists and designers, housed in 5,000 square feet of office space at The Cotton Mill on Elm Street that is being expanded as they staff grows. They have also released a new kingdom strategy game called “We Rule” for the iPhone and iPad and have some other projects in the works, but Paul can’t spill the details on them just yet.

Ricchi said he hopes the Bettners’ business becomes the first of many clients in McKinney’s commerce model.

“That type of company, the intellectual property types of companies, are recession tolerant,” Ricchi said. “That’s exactly what we need in the city of McKinney. Silicon Valley didn’t start up overnight. Someone had to put that flag in the ground first.”

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