Reinventing the Wheel: TTK talks with the makers of the Guitar Wheel
By Marc Johnson for TheToneKing.com
Some say that the nineties were a rebellion against progressive players who touted theory as vital to build enough muscle to properly wield a six-string axe. Alternative and grunge struck back against sweeping arpeggios with discordant melodies and progressions that were based on chord and scale shapes. Since bands like Nirvana momentarily pushed the hair-bands of the eighties into relative obscurity, there has been a raging debate about what is more important, ‘feel’ or ‘theory’. Well, the makers of the Guitar Wheel believe they may have found a way to bring the two opposing sides together.
“It strikes a chord with people,” Dustin Cheatham replied when TheToneKing.com asked about his father, Dennis’, invention.
We both laugh at the pun.
As I moved the plastic tab on the wheel, I noticed that Dustin wasn’t far off. Pick a key, rotate the plastic tab Key Selector, and you have all of the major and minor diatonic triads, the dominant 7th chord, the relative minor 7th chord, and tonic chord inversions for that particular key. The sturdy plastic wheel has a map of every fret on the guitar neck, and then some, around the circumference, listing each note and illustrating the shapes of every chord in the selected key.
And this is where the Guitar Wheel seems to bridge the gap between feel and theory. While the ‘theory’ player will be able to view things from a different point of view, the ‘feel’ player will be more comfortable learning from the shapes. “It helps visualize patterns in music theory,” Dustin notes. And Berklee Music Instructor German Schauss seems to agree, calling the Guitar Wheel, “Easy-to-use and simply understandable, it clearly presents the relationships of keys, chords, and scales.”
The Guitar Wheel didn’t always find acceptance with music educators. When Dustin and his father started attending NAMM to show off the Guitar Wheel, they were met with glares as music educators “thumbed their noses” at their hard work. But there was a group that did latch on to it quickly: the shredders. With nearly 50 string-melting endorsers: Rusty Cooley, Jason Becker, David Shankle, and Tommy Bolan to name only a few, even music educators had to eventually take notice. The Guitar Wheel had started to build a community.
“It helps with that language barrier between teacher and student,” Dustin says to help explain why music educators started to realize the value of the Guitar Wheel as a teaching tool. “It’s not meant to diminish lessons but to augment them.”
These puns have to stop.
Even in the early days, there was always a community surrounding Dennis’ invention. Over fifteen years, as his guitar player father fine-tuned the Guitar Wheel, little Dustin would come home from school to find toppling piles of plastic and paper notes and scales threatening the integrity of the kitchen table. Showing off his project to his musician friends, Dennis debated over every note that would stay on the wheel. “It brought people together,” Dustin says about his father’s decade long project.
After talking with Dustin Cheatham for TheToneKing.com, I felt the need to go out and start my own music education workshop. His passion about guitar and music education quickly gets into your head. Dustin is a guitar player; his father is a guitar player; his father’s father was a guitar player. “His father showed him a few chords and passed his Martin acoustic down to him,” Dustin says about his dad. That passing of the torch makes it obvious why Dustin is the CEO of Music Master Publishing, the company spawned by his father’s invention.
The Cheatham family’s passion for all things music seems to be spreading. Several endorsers of the Guitar Wheel have already donated lessons to Dennis’ upcoming book expanding on the concepts and showing different ways to use the Guitar Wheel, including: Rusty Cooley, David Shankle, Tommy Bolan, German Schauss, Sonny Lombardozzi, and Steve Burrows.
Tom Amoriello, a music teacher from Reading-Fleming Middle School located at The Tone King’s home state of New Jersey, is using the Guitar Wheel to help train other instructors on how to teach guitar, all of which have been donated by Dustin and his family. The artists and educators have quickly become a part of a community surrounding the Guitar Wheel. Dustin even says that player Tommy Bolan has become like family. Tommy introduced Dennis and Dustin to Farley’s Musical Essentials. Dustin says, “We have a lot in common with Michael Farley, and working with him helped take our business to another level.”
Since launching in 2005, they can’t seem to keep the Guitar Wheel on the shelves. Dustin isn’t surprised given that the Guitar Wheel is like a “treasure chest of information.” Their success is no ‘minor’ accomplishment, and one might say the Guitar Wheel may help keep that rock ‘rolling.’
OK. Sorry. I’ll stop now.
Putting the puns aside, Dustin makes it clear that he and his family are trying to build a community based around teaching people how to enjoy music. And you know TheToneKing.com is all about community.
Watch Artist Tommy Bolan demonstrate The Guitar Wheel:
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About the Author: Marc published his first novel Becoming in 2010. It’s a kick-ass book with monsters and dreams and stuff, and you should buy it. Since then, he’s written thousands of articles for TheToneKing.com, many of which have been picked up for circulation by manufacturers and other news outlets. His next book, Drugs and Pancakes, should be available early 2014 if his alcoholic editor can find time to work on it in-between destroying his liver and screaming about punctuation. He graduated from Roosevelt University with honors, which means that he’s not as dumb as he looks. He’s been playing guitar for over 25 years, which is almost twice as long as most of his students have been alive.