Friday, July 18, 2014

Johnny Winter | 1944 - 2014

This article is dedicated to Johnny Winter who passed away on July 16, 2014 at age 70.

"I never took lessons like to learn how to read music or where to put my fingers. I would just ask these guys to show me whatever they thought I ought to know."

"I would just learn how to play a record note-for-note. I just took what I heard and assimilated it, and I guess it would come out part mine and part everybody else's. There's nobody that really plays original. You can't. You can find some of everybody's licks in almost everybody's playing, but I tried to make it my own after I got the basic things down."

"I'd listen to those blues records like Bobby Bland and Otis Rush, and I wondered, how could they push those strings, how could they do this? I used a second for the third, a first for the second and an A tenor banjo string for the first. That was really cool!"

"(My parents) thought that all musicians were either drunks, dope addicts, or sexual perverts of some kind. And I said, "It don't have to be that way, though." Of course, they were right."

"Everybody thought I was crazy. Nobody wanted to hear that stuff. I was almost embarrassed to play it. I used to shut my door, and people would come by and say, "What is that music, man? You don't really like that stuff!" I didn't find one other friend that liked blues until I was about 23 or 24."

On playing with BB King for the first time: "One night, when I was about 18, I went down there. We were the only white people in a club of about 1500 people. BB was playing and I wanted to show off, man, so bad. And so finally I went up on a break and asked him if I could. BB thought I was crazy. He said, "Can I see a union card?"

On his guitars: "Firebirds. I love Firebirds. I like real high action. I had it pretty high before I played slide, because I played hard. Just for pushing strings it's important for it to be high. When I have low action I can't get my finger under the string to push it as well. (String gauges are) .009, .011, .016, .024, .032, .042. The brand doesn't matter."

On his amps and amp settings: "Everything on all the way, and all treble and no bass. We're using a stack of 100-watt Marshalls. One head and two bottoms, and one head and two bottoms of the Ampeg SVTs."

On his younger brother's different musical tastes: "Edgar was never into blues. He couldn't stand it. He plays his John Coltrane and Dave Brubeck records for me and says, "Now isn't that great?" And then I'll say, "But what is that stuff you're playing for me, man? I don't feel it -- I mean, there's feeling in it, but it just sounds like a bunch of notes. As to Edgar's jazz, it's fun to listen to but I wouldn't want to live there."

"Every second that I wasn't doing something else that I had to do, I was playing guitar. It was just an obsession. I guess I played at least six or eight hours a day from the time I started until I was fifteen. Then when I started playing in groups, I didn't practice unless we were having band practice. (These days) I'll go a couple of weeks and never even touch my guitar. Of course, when I start back, it definitely takes a week or so to get back in shape. It's hard making myself practice 'cause there's not much that I'm interested in learning. But pretty much it's just practicing for a reason. We play so much on tour, that usually when I get off the road I don't want to see my guitar for a while anyway."

On his use of a thumbpick: "Since I started out playing Chet Atkins' style, I used a thumbpick. Really, a flat pick would have been a lot better, but I've just been doing it so long, it'd just be too hard to switch. I bought a hundred of them a couple of years ago because I had so much trouble finding them, and a few months after that, Gibson quit making them. I still got about fifty left, but I'm going to have to quit playing the guitar when I run out, unless I can talk Gibson into making me some more."

On his right hand technique: "I don't really think about it. When I started out with the Chet Atkins' stuff I was using those metal fingerpicks, and they just got in the way, so I quit using them. But on my blues stuff, I'm still using my finger some, mostly the first and second finger with the thumb."

"I've had my slide for years. I was using test tubes and playing with the back of my wristwatch and everything imaginable. (I went) to a plumbing supply place, got a 12-foot long piece of conduit pipe, cut it into pieces and rounded out one side. When I got it, it was dull, gray and real rough. Then I just played and wore that off, and it became kind of shiny black. And then I played it for a little while longer and wore that off, and now it's kind of silver. Crust just sort of built up inside. Rust and dirt and sweat and everything. I love it! I don't even have any backup slides."

On his different slide tunings: "Open A and open E. Sometimes I play slide in regular tuning, but not too often."

On Jimi Hendrix and the tremelo bar: "Jimi Hendrix could use it so good! And people would put him down for using it, but man, it was a whole different dimension when he used it.  Even when his guitar was horribly out of tune, he could play so cool, you'd hardly ever know it. He had a way of bending the strings just enough to where it could sound in tune, even though it was horribly out of tune.If I'd pick it up and play a chord on his guitar, it would sound ungodly."

"We learn more things on the bandstand than we would practicing. After I learned how to play guitar I never have liked to practice that much."

On recording versus playing live: "I get off on turning people on. It's hard for me to put everything into it when I know there's nobody there."

"So many people just buy a guitar because the decided, "I want to be a rock and roll star. I'm going to learn how to play this son of a bitch." And after they get a few runs down they think, "Okay, it's time for me to be a star." You know, I was really ready to play for fifty bucks a week, if that's what it took. The basic drive and main thing was that I really liked what I was doing. You've got to have that first, or you can't make it."


Friday, February 28, 2014

Paco de Lucia | Memorable Quotes

This article is dedicated to the great Paco de Lucia, who left us all too soon at age 66 on February 25th 2014.

"In Andalucia, when I play, the audience at some times, will say 'Ole' all at once. If they don't say 'Ole', it means that you have played like shit."

"I'm very glad to be here, to try to further my music. I play guitar not for me, but for flamenco."
Paco de Lucia
Paco de Lucia (Pic source: wikipedia)

"I don't want to be a star, or a rich man. I am working for my village, for my country, for my music, for the tradition of the art form, and I want to make the music better, always better."

"In my music, we are very simple. In the phrygian mode, there are simple scales and harmonies with heavy emotion and tradition."

"I cannot see ahead two meters, you know? I live for the moment, the second. To make the future is to live every day, every second."

"There are two kinds of flamencos, the old, traditional flamenco and the new, young kind. The old ones cannot accept the change, and they say their way is pure. But pure remains for me to play what I feel at the moment, always with respect for the roots. It's not a problem for me whether they accept it or not. It's something I forgot a long time ago."

"It's something strange, but I never used to think of myself as playing music. I was living a special kind of life, flamenco."

"I never listened to other kinds of music, only flamenco. My philosophy of life was around flamenco only. I looked at it not so much as music, but more as a kind of life, a way of living."

"Thinking is the worst thing in improvisation. You need only feeling. Forget everything. Try to fly."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ordering A Killer KG-Stallion From Ishibashi Japan

I ordered a Killer KG-Stallion from Ishibashi recently, my third guitar purchase from this Japanese online store.

But why a Killer you might ask? Well, here's a little background.

I saw Japanese metal band Loudness play a concert in Singapore in 1989. To be honest, I wasn't really a fan of their music -- something about the razor-like guitar tones and mispronounced English lyrics made me cringe a little bit. And who knew what they were singing about in Japanese? No offence meant to Japanese readers of The Guitar Column.

But despite his less than dulcet tones, I could hear that their guitarist, Akira Takasaki, was a decent player in the Van Halen/Randy Rhoads tradition.

But I underestimated Takasaki-san.

For a good 2 hours, as the band belted out many of their past hits and played every song from their Soldier Of Fortune album, Takasaki was an exhilarating showman and consummate virtuoso. He had obviously been working on his shred chops and was alternate picking and sweeping with the best of them, every note as clear as a bell. Add to that his unique overhand tapping technique and I realized that he had stepped out of the shadow of Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads.

Throughout the show, Takasaki's tone was warm, rich and singing, with just the right amount of bite for those crushing riffs. I realized then and there that this was the 'brown sound' that Eddie Van Halen had been talking about in all the guitar magazines for years. Here it was, up close and personal.

Standing in front of his Marshall half-stacks, Takasaki brandished one of the weirdest looking guitars that I had seen up to that point. Bright orange, two humbuckers, single volume and tone controls, the ubiquitous Floyd Rose trem, and a shape that looked like it stepped right out of Japanese Anime. And what was with that 5-plus-1 tuner arrangement?
killer kg stallion
Killer KG-Stallion OS

I guess I never shook the impression that Takasaki's orange Killer guitar made on me that evening. As I played, owned and experimented with various Ibanezes, Fenders, Gibsons, Suhrs and Tylers over the years, Takasaki's Killer never came to the forefront of my consciousness as a 'must-own' guitar.

You might say that it was lying dormant in the back of my mind all these years. All it needed was a trigger.

That trigger came in the form of lunch at an Indian vegetarian restaurant 2 weeks ago, with my ol' buddy Eric. I've known Eric since 1991 when we were both crazy about shred guitar and home 4-track recording -- the whole Ibanez JEM into an ADA MP1 and ADA MicroCab cabinet simulator era. We also found that a Boss Metal Zone into the ADA MicroCab worked just as well, if not better, but that is a story for another day.  

At lunch, Eric told me about a reissue Ibanez RG550 that was going for below a 1000 bucks at our local music store. I was curious so we headed down to the store, but not before Eric stated, in his usual matter-of-fact manner that the guitar 'had no vibe.' Meaning that I should not get my hopes up, expecting that slinky, super-low action, vintage RG550 feel of decades ago.

My response was 'let's go check it out anyway.'

What greeted me at the store was indeed a blast from the past. Decked out in nearly luminous, day-glow Road Flare Red, this made in Japan reissue RG550 seemed to whisper 'hello' in a sultry voice as I picked it up. We put it through its paces for nearly an hour and I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed getting those stratospheric harmonic pull-ups on the Ibanez Edge tremelo. A vintage-style Edge trem I should point out, and none of that Zero Point nonsense.

A little online research revealed that this was not the overpriced 20th Anniversary RG550 that Ibanez released in 2007, but a Japanese market-only reissue 550. It's always interesting when made-for-Japan-only guitars occasionally slip through the cracks and float to our shores.

So what does all of this have to do with our Killer KG-Stallion order? Be patient, I'm getting there.
killer stallion
Killer KG Stallion

I've always bought guitars to bring them out to play at gigs. But somehow, I couldn't see myself playing a Road Flare Red RG550. But bouncing around the web looking up the reissue RG550 revealed a Killer KG-Stallion OS. That's 'Orange Sunshine' in case you were wondering.

For those of who know me, a Gibson SG looks like a glorified ukulele on my person. The RG550 would have looked tiny -- I'm not exactly 6 feet tall and 80kg anymore. The Stallion, on the other hand, looked large enough, a bit like my Firebirds, but without the somewhat oversized, be-careful-or-you'll-hit-it-against-a-wall headstock.

According to the Killer website, the KG-Stallion OS is a discontinued model -- the word 'discontinued' always gets me going, for various reasons -- and features an ash body, one-piece maple neck, single volume control, three-way pickup selector, Killer LQ-500 pickup in the neck position and a Killer Dyna-Bite in the bridge. The bridge is an Original Floyd Rose tremelo.

I've never owned a guitar with an original Floyd Rose trem before, although I've had extensive experience with the Ibanez Edge and Jackson licensed locking trems. For a while, I even endured breaking many brand-new, still-shiny strings that snapped off at the ball-end when I owned a guitar with a Kahler tremelo.
killer starrion
Killer Stallion or Starrion?

I've always felt the Ibanez Edge to be the ultimate vibrato locking system, but after a few days with the Floyd Rose I can see why it is still being used by so many guitar manufacturers today, especially on their high end models.

There's something about the Floyd Rose that somehow feels more solid and reassuring than even the Ibanez Edge. To put it simply, the Edge feels like it was made out of lighter, cast metal whereas the Floyd feels like it was milled out of a solid steel block.

And I really dig those Killer pickups. They remind me of the old DiMarzio PAFs, medium output and very warm sounding with an even frequency response. Apparently, the LQ-500 and Dyna-Bite are designed to Takasaki's specifications and are made in Germany. I wonder if there is any affiliation to Schaller in this regard.

Since I was getting the Killer guitar used from Ishibashi's U-Box, the previous owner had even thoughtfully installed a push-pull switch on the the volume pot to coil-tap both pickups simultaneously. He had also graced the guitar with a cigarette burn at the headstock between the 5th and 6th string tuners. I'm not complaining as it adds some street cred to the guitar as well as knocking down the price considerably. Other than a few minor dings and a bit of paint chipping on the longer lower horn of the guitar -- a common malady amongst Killer guitars it seems -- I received the guitar in near perfect condition, thoroughly packed in more bubble wrap than I've seen used on a single item.
killer stallion neck bolts
Killer Stallion - note unusual neck bolt arrangement

And thanks to Japan's EMS and Singapore's SpeedPost, the guitar was at my doorstep within 3 days of my order!

The techs at Ishibashi had also set the guitar up perfectly with .009 to .042 strings, with the trussrod adjusted so that the neck is nearly perfectly straight with low action. Saves me the trouble of having to pop the neck off to adjust the trussrod. All I had to do was readjust the Floyd so that the baseplate sat perfectly parallel to the body and voila, string-slacking divebombs, major 3rd harmonic up-pulls and wang bar flutters for days

A funny note, although this particular model is listed as 'Starrion' on many websites -- the name invoking, perhaps, images of Transformers robots and Gundam Mobile Suits -- 'Starrion' is actually a mispronunciation of 'Stallion'!

Killer guitar indeed. Things have a funny way of coming full-circle.

Read my earlier post about ordering a Gibson Firebird from Ishibashi

Killer KG-Stallion OS on killer.jp website

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