Sunday, August 30, 2009

1976 Hand-Carved Ibanez Artwood Nouveau

While browsing Stratoblogster's post on the Verrilli Spiral guitar, I had a familiar feeling that I had played something like it years ago.
And then I remembered. Now if I could just find a suitable pic of that elusive beast for this blog.
A quick browse through the 'archives' yielded this Ibanez ad from 1976.
The Artwood Nouveau, the strat-style axe at the center of this trio of instruments, had a hand-carved mahogany body, a maple neck, and a carved mahogany cap on the headstock.
Using a carving technique called 'raised relief', or 'high relief', the carved patterns have the effect of emerging out of the wood. Even the Ibanez logo on the headstock was engraved!
There was an Artwood Nouveau at the music store where I used to work at back in '91. Apparently the store had got it as a freebie from Hoshino for taking on the Ibanez dealership. And they had kept it in storage for years and only brought it out around the time I started working there.
For a few months, it was the 'tester' guitar for customers to try out amplifiers. I remember it used to leave ornate welts in the right forearm of everybody who played it for awhile.
But it did sound a little thin with its heavy, dense body, devoid of any kind of resonance, combined with particularly weak sounding single-coil pickups. It was not the most ideal guitar for trying out that Mesa Boogie or Marshall -- these were after all, the high-gain/post shred/Seattle grunge-era early 90's.
Then one day it was taken off the hanging hook and placed high on a shelf on a guitar stand directly behind the service counter where it had pride of place.
And I couldn't tell you how many times I was asked if it was for sale, and for how much.
"Don't touch it. Don't even look at it!"

Friday, August 28, 2009

John 5's Telecaster Collection

As guitarist for Goth/shock-rock artist Marilyn Manson, John 5's choice of axe seemed a little unusual.

Eschewing the guitar weaponry of the typical goth-rock guitarist -- jagged, angular or bearing a resemblance to the letter 'V' -- John favored Telecasters (albeit equipped with mirrored pickguards and humbuckers) for Manson's outlandish stage performances.

Before joining the Manson circus, John 5 aka John Lowery, was an up and coming session guitarist in Los Angeles, touring or recording with artists as diverse as k.d. lang, Rick Springfield, Lita Ford and David Lee Roth. And since leaving Manson in 2004, he has been caught up in a whirlwind of projects, including the release of four solo albums.

An avid guitar collector, his penchant for the Telecaster remains clear. And his collection of mint or near-mint Teles must surely rival some of the best collections in the world.

Not bad for someone who got into guitar collecting after selling his collection of KISS posters for $75,000.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This Bich Is Rich -- B.C. Rich

Bernie Rico, the late founder of BC Rich guitars was the son of one of the first owners of a guitar shop in America.
A Mexican immigrant, his father Bernardo worked a variety of jobs upon coming to the US. An entrepreneur at heart, he eventually started up various businesses, including at one point, a couple of chili restaurants.

In 1946, and knowing next to nothing about guitars, his father purchased a small guitar shop in California. Changing the name to Bernardo's Valencian Guitar Shop, this was where the young Bernie Jr. spent most of his youth, learning about guitar building and repairs.

In the 50's the shop was building acoustic guitars on a custom basis. Taking the helm of the business, Bernie Jr. was soon also building a line of classical guitars in Mexico, based on designs originated by Ramirez guitars of Spain.

A die-hard flamenco enthusiast whose interests lay solely in nylon-stringed guitars , Rico eventually bit the bullet due to flagging sales, and started custom-building solidbody electrics that were copies of Les Pauls, Stratocasters and Telecasters in 1969. The first BC Rich original design, the Seagull, appeared in 1971.

With the help of Neal Moser, whom Rico hired as guitar designer, the company started producing many more original models. Moser was the designer behind the now-famous (infamous?) Bich, Eagle, Ironbird, Warlock and Mockingbird models.

The 10-string Bich shown in the pic featured 4 extra strings, which essentially doubled up the high E, B, G and D strings (the E and B were tuned in unison while the G and D were doubled an octave higher) for a 12-string type sound. The extra strings were anchored through eyelets in the headstock and tuned by tuning pegs mounted into a cutaway on the lower bout of the body.

Moser also came up with the names of some of the models --the Mockingbird was so named because it could emulate the tones of other big-brand guitars, thanks to its elaborate switching circuitry.

The company's provocative designs were only outdone by their controversial -- some would say downright sexist -- marketing campaigns. One of which, an advertisement featuring the lower half of a scantily-clad woman posing with a BC Rich Bich, drew a fair amount of flak from feminist groups in the '80s. The ad was also made available as a poster for $3.00, and according to Rico, several tens of thousands of these posters were sold.

Another point of controversy was the company's use of the term 'Bich' for one of its (guitar) models.
According to Rico, "We didn't even mean it in a feminist sense. It's just that whenever anybody says something is good, they say 'It's a bitch'. So we decided to use 'bitch,' meaning a 'great thing,' but spelt without the 't.'"

Bernie Rico passed away in 1999. His son and successor, Bernie Rico Jr., started Bernie Rico Jr. Guitars to carry on his father's legacy.
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The American Standard -- Eric Johnson's First Signature Stratocaster?

Here's a Fender American Standard Stratocaster ad featuring Eric Johnson from 1988.

At this time, Fender had yet to fully realise the sheer marketing potential of artist signature models -- the Eric Clapton Stratocaster was launched only in 1988 -- and the as yet undiscovered goldmine that was to be the Custom Shop.

After languishing in economic turmoil for much of the early 80's, Fender Musical Instruments was bought over from CBS in 1985. Under its new owners, a revamp of the product line was initiated.

One of the new and improved products, the American Standard Stratocaster, was launched in 1986.

Featuring a 22-fret neck with a flatter radius and medium-jumbo frets, hotter pickups with TBX tone control and a newly designed two-point pivot bridge with aluminum saddles, Eric Johnson gave his ringing endorsement to the American Standard Stratocaster, as depicted in this ad.

And Fender would have scored a major marketing coup if they had repackaged the American Standard as the Eric Johnson signature Strat.

But then again, hindsight is always 20/20..

Whatever the case may be, the marketing geniuses at Fender are more than making up for lost time with the seemingly boundless -- and expensive -- output of the Fender Custom Shop.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Scalloped Fingerboards | Yngwie Anyone?

I saw this post on I Heart Guitar and was reminded of a similar scalloping procedure I performed on my unsuspecting 1984 Ibanez RS1300.

The fingerboard edge at the 9th fret had received a nasty ding from a falling cymbal during a rehearsal and I decided to conceal the damage -- with possibly even more extensive damage..

At about this time -- this would have been 1989 -- Fender had just released the first Yngwie Malmsteen signature Stratocaster. I got a good close look at the fingerboard of this guitar at the store before trying out the scalloping procedure for myself.

At the very worst, I figured, I would just replace the neck on the Ibanez.

I didn't actually know what tools to use so I made a quick trip to the DIY store where I found a semi-circular file, a rat-tail file and a few sheets of sandpaper of varying grits -- about eight dollars in all!

I used the semi-circular file on the wider frets -- the 1st fret to the 11th fret, or so -- and the rat-tail for all the frets beyond that.

Figuring that the upper frets would be easier to scallop since they were roughly the same width as the rat-tail, I started on the 22nd fret and slowly worked my way down from there. After about an hour I had scalloped the fingerboard from the 14th to the 22nd fret!

After smoothing out the file marks with sandpaper, I rubbed on a few drops of lemon oil to moisturize the wood. This really brought out the lustre of the scalloped wood.

The next day I decided to work on the remaining frets.

Scalloping the wider 1st to 11th frets was a little more tricky. Using the semi-circular file I really had to watch what I was doing and not take off more wood than necessary. From the pic you can see I went a bit too deep and lost some of the dot inlays in the process -- but who needs those anyway, right?

When I went back to the guitar shop the following week to take another look at the Malmsteen signature I was surprised at how shallow the scalloping now seemed to be, compared to my handiwork. Hmmm...

Once my main axe, I had put the 'ol RS1300 away for years and had only just brought it out to snap the picture -- hence the rusty and broken strings.

It reminds me that I have more guitars than I will ever use..

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Friday, August 21, 2009

My Top 10 List of Left-Handed Guitarists

TIME magazine recently published their 'Top 10 Lefties' list to commemorate International Left-Handers Day on August 13th:

Barack Obama
Bill Gates
Oprah Winfrey
Babe Ruth
Napoleon Bonaparte
Leonardo Da Vinci
Marie Curie
Ned Flanders (Editor's Note: ?!)
Jimi Hendrix

Of Jimi, TIME wrote:

"Jimi Hendrix played guitar upside down and backwards, and to his devout fans' parents, it probably sounded like it."

"The six-string revolutionary favored a right-handed Fender Stratocaster, slung upside-down across his shoulders, that didn't even need to be restrung: Hendrix taught himself how to hit the strings in reverse order, producing a unique sound and allowing him to alternate between left- and right-handed playing if he so desired. (He could play right-handed but generally preferred not to)"

Sorry guys, but I've never seen Hendrix play guitar 'upside down and backwards' with the 'strings in reverse order'. He would even restring a 12-string so that the high E was nearest his toes, as in the clip below:

Perhaps they were thinking of another lefty -- Albert King?

Anyhow, here are 10 lefty guitarists that make my Top 10 list. Note that both Steve Morse and Vinnie Moore are lefties who play right-handed:

  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Paul McCartney
  • Albert King
  • Steve Morse
  • Jackie King
  • Otis Rush
  • Al McKay
  • Elliot Easton
  • Vinnie Moore
  • Tony Iommi

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Paul Reed Smith Guitars | A Question of Scale Lengths

There are two basic guitar scale lengths in general use -- the 25 1/2" 'Fender' scale and the 24 3/4" 'Gibson' scale.

Just to clarify, a guitar's scale length is determined by measuring the string's length immediately after the nut to the exact point that it goes over the bridge. The scale length determines the tension of the strings when they're tuned to pitch, affecting how the instrument feels in general. Shorter scale lengths give the strings a more pliable feel and vice versa.

PRS based their earlier guitars exclusively on a unique 25" scale -- somewhere between the traditional Fender and Gibson scales.

And they have always set out to make the most versatile guitar possible. Primarily humbucker-equipped, PRS's were also capable of sparkly Fender-type tones by putting the pickups in series or out of phase with the selector switch.

And by using a 25" scale, PRS originally hoped to create an instrument that was capable of being the best of both worlds.

PRS now uses several scale lengths on its various models -- 24 1/2", 25", 25 1/4" and 25 1/2". Note that with a 24 1/2" scale, the tension of the strings when tuned to pitch would be identical to a 25 1/2" scale guitar tuned down a half-step -- commonly referred to as Eb tuning. This is the scale featured on the PRS Santana model.

For some time now the company has seemed to resist going with the full 'Fender' 25 1/2" scale.

Until now.

The recent release of their 305 model marks the first instrument they've produced with a 25 1/2" scale. Featuring a host of other decidedly Stratocaster-like accoutrements -- three single-coil pickups, 5-way pickup selector switch, tremelo system, a maple neck and an alder body -- the 305 falls squarely in the 'super strat' category.

(Picture Source:

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

WAVES Eddie Kramer Artist Signature Series

Working at Olympic studios as staff engineer in the 60s, Eddie Kramer helped a certain rock guitar legend revolutionize the art of recording .
When Olympic studio relocated to Barnes from London in January 1967, Jimi Hendrix was among the first artists to record there.
To create the sonic soundscapes that Jimi envisioned, and given the limitations of only 4-track machines to record with at Olympic, tracks had to be recorded on one 4-track, ‘comped’ (compiled into a stereo mix), and then bounced to 2 tracks of another 4-track machine.
Needless to say that everything had to be exactly as they wanted it as there was no way to modify or undo tracks once they were comped and bounced.

Says Kramer of his time working with Hendrix, “When he played the guitar.. it’s the guitar, the hands, the heart, the brain, it all became one. When he played a chord or played a solo, it was so telling, so vibrant and so unusual that people were just attracted to it. My job was to capture the sounds.”

In collaboration with Kramer, WAVES has introduced their Eddie Kramer Artist Signature Series of software plug-ins.

Designed to work on various digital audio platforms, this software bundle is designed to give anybody immediate access to Kramer’s recording expertise by way of his personal EQ, compression, reverb and echo settings for each different instrument group. According to Kramer, the plug-ins “ reflect some of the sounds I‘ve created over the years, so the end user can call up an Eddie Kramer vocal sound, guitar sound or drum sound.”

For the guitar plug-in, Kramer designed a “good overall rock guitar sound” -- something he has come to be identified with considering his work with Hendrix and Jimmy Page -- with a punchy EQ in the midrange, compression, reverb and slap echo. Slap echo, Kramer feels imparts a much needed analog quality.

For the inexperienced home recording buff as well as the budding professional engineer , Kramer has taken the guesswork out of trying to figure out all the various EQ and compression settings for drums, cymbals, overheads, bass, guitars and vocals. The end user gets a great starting point, eliminating hours or even days ‘tone-chasing’ in the studio.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fender Catalog from 1976 -- The Brothers Grimm Meet Alice Through The Looking Glass

The '70s were a great time for album art -- think art-rock band Yes' gossamer fantasy landscapes by Roger Dean, or Hipgnosis' alternate realities that have become a Pink Floyd record sleeve hallmark.

The album artwork was as powerful as the music itself.

Not to be outdone, Fender interspersed its 1976 product catalog with these incredible illustrations by Bruce Wolfe.

Familiar fairy tales given a guitaristic twist.

As part of their ArteHouse series, Fender is making available these illustrations as prints.

**Note that the present set of prints have more text at the bottom, differing from how the original illustrations appeared in the catalog.

More Books On Fender History Here!
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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wes Montgomery | Impressions

Here's a clip of Wes Montgomery ripping it up on the John Coltrane tune Impressions.

From Coltrane's 'modal' period, Impressions is in an A-A-B-A format -- Dm7 (16 bars), Ebm7 (8 bars), Dm7 (8 bars). Compare this progression against Coltrane's Giant Steps which is a veritable minefield of key-center modulations.

The challenge of this tune -- other than keeping things interesting over the repetitive progression -- is not getting lost when the last 8 bars of Dm7 turns around to the top of the tune, starting out again with 16 bars of Dm7. In effect, that's a continuous 24 bars of Dm7 from the second 'A' back to the first 'A' section!

Wes' solo is, as always, a swingin' study in bebop lines.

He starts his solo with an Fmaj9 type triadic idea (some might want to analyze this as a Dm7sus idea), going on to play Dm7 type lines.

Wes seemed to love superimposing the relative major on minor, and vice versa. Freely superimposing his arpeggios in this way, which he extended to the 7th and 9th degrees, gave his playing a certain modern-ness. This technique also gave him a wider palette of sounds to work with, especially over harmonically static progressions.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Les Paul -- An Icon Passes

Innovator, inventor, recording pioneer, brilliant musician and one of the guitar's greatest elder statesmen has left us.

It's a sad day for the guitar universe.

But the world is richer -- much richer -- from him having come our way.

RIP Les.

Ceriatone Overtone Special | Dumble In Disguise?

I was turned on to Ceriatone amps a couple of days ago by a musician friend. He's from the older school 'Fender is king' generation and he was hipping me to this amp builder in Malaysia who made brilliant Fender copies. And at less than two-thirds the price.

A quick Google search revealed this:

Interesting. A Malaysian amp builder going toe-to-toe with Marshall and Fender, not to mention the big boys of boutique American amps -- Fuchs, Trainwreck, Matchless. And yes... even Mr Dumble.
Granted, Ceriatone is still at the 'copy' stage. But remember Peavey's Fender tweed-style design on their Classic series amps (complete with chickenhead knobs) of a few years ago? Peavey resurrected tweed when Fender had put it to bed. It was good marketing and a good way to get noticed.

Check out the Dumble-like font on the Ceriatone Overtone Special at right -- it sort of reads like 'Overdrive Special' from five feet away. Surely to be a nifty conversation piece for the owner.

But fortunately the similarities are not merely cosmetic. Ceriatone has also added new, useful features to the original amp design, giving the user more tonal options and flexibility.

And listening to Jack Zucker's clip above, it sounds great.

Based on Zucker's description, the front panel controls from left to right are:

FET input jack
Normal input jack
Input control
Bright switch
Deep switch
Jazz/Rock switch
Level control for overdrive
Ratio control for the overdrive, for controlling relative volumes for lead and rhythm sounds
Master volume control
Presence control

On the back panel:

Mid-Boost switch that defeats the tone controls (for manual switching)
Lead and Rhythm switch (for manual switching)
Footswitch jack for controlling Rhythm/Lead and Mid-Boost controls
Passive effects loop

I'm real curious to try one of these out for myself.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Eric Johnson's Guitar Setup Secrets

This article is gleaned from a 1988 interview with Eric Johnson's guitar tech Jerry Holmes. It's pretty insightful -- Holmes details the quirks of Eric's guitar setup and even mentions his infamous Energizer vs Duracell battery preference.

On his guitar tuneup routine before a show:
"I clean (the guitar) up, restring it, play it awhile.. strobe-tune it and then play it a little more to work it in. This way I know the guitar is ready. If a string breaks or something goes wrong during the show, it's just because the musician has played it to death; it's not because I didn't do my job."

"I always stretch new strings at the 12th fret."

On maintaining consistent intonation:
"I find that if you use the same kind of strings and change them on a regular basis, your intonation starts to set in and you don't have to move the bridge pieces that much. If you only change strings every week or two, it seems like you have to move the bridge pieces a lot more."

"He uses GHS Nickel Rockers on his Strats, gauged .010, .013, .017, .026, .036 and .046."

On the number of string wraps around each tuning post:
"The low E and A strings have to have exactly two wraps -- no less, no more. One wrap goes underneath and one goes on top, and that decreases the (string) angle."

"The D and G strings have to have two-and-a-half wraps, one over and one under, so it's kind of the opposite. I have to use a little more of the string to have half a wrap more."

"I don't trim any of the B string off at all. I put one wrap over and wind the rest of the string underneath. This puts just enough winds down to the very bottom of the post so I don't need to use the string tree."

"With the (high) E it doesn't matter, since I use the tree -- just one over, one under."

On Eric's tremelo and nut setup:
"Eric's Strat tremelos have to have four springs and sit level. The nut has to be perfect. It's got to have a clean groove, the high point has to be at the very front of the nut, and it has to have a downward angle on it. We use bone, but really hard plastic seems to stay in tune a little better. To lubricate it I use Tri-Flow gun oil that has Teflon in it."

On brass and stainless-steel plugs:
"(Eric) can hear the difference between a stainless-steel plug, like a Switchcraft, and a brass plug, which he prefers."

Energizers vs Duracells:
"He can tell the difference between what kind of batteries I put in fuzz boxes; it's really bizarre. He likes Eveready Energizers the best, over Duracells or Kodaks. I believe he hears things that no one else hears."

On Eric's never-ending tone quest:
"Just little picky things, like swapping out speaker cables and different kinds of speakers. He seems to never stop trying to find something older and more difficult to find that sounds great."

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

James Jamerson -- The Sound of Motown

In the '60s, Detroit, Michigan was the hit capital of the world. Motown Records, the independent label headed by Berry Gordy, would discover, record and promote such future stars as Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.

Under Gordy's very capable leadership, Motown Records maintained a stable of in-house songwriters, choreographers and session musicians.

Of the session musicians on Motown's roster -- which included guitarists Eddie Willis, Joe Messina, Robert White and Dennis Coffey -- bassist James Jamerson is arguably the most well-known.

Spotted by Gordy at a recording session on which he was playing upright bass, Jamerson was signed on as the then fledgling label's house bassist, to record as well as tour with various Motown acts. Playing his early sessions on the upright, Jamerson purchased his first electric bass, a Fender Precision, in 1961. This was the instrument that was to become his trademark.

From 1959 to 1973, Jamerson provided the backbone for innumerable Motown hits. And unlike most bass players of the day who were content to dwell in the background, Jamerson propelled the music along with creative hooks and riffs that became integral to the song.

And for that reason, Jamerson was pulled off the touring circuit in '64 as the label needed him to concentrate on recording sessions. As Jamerson himself put it, "Nobody at Motown would record anything until I came off the road."

Stringing his Precision bass with flatwound, heavy gauge LaBella bass strings and plugging into an Ampeg B-15 amp exclusively, Jamerson's equipment setup was simple by today's standards. Having had his first two Precision basses stolen, he claimed to have changed strings on his third instrument only once since purchasing it in 1963, when he replaced the stock Fender strings with his preferred LaBella brand.

Jamerson's right hand technique was simple and unorthodox. But still he managed to execute his grooving, complex lines with just the index finger of his right hand as seen in the clip above.

Despite his incredible body of work, Jamerson was to languish in relative obscurity throughout his career -- something that was an endless source of frustration for him.

Motown was a label that focused primarily on the star. The session musicians did not receive printed credit, either on the albums or the singles. And Jamerson's wages were paltry relative to his contributions to the music. Working for Union scale, he reportedly received $61 for playing on 'Reach Out' by The Four Tops which was a #1 hit song on the R&B charts in 1966.

Jamerson died on August 2nd, 1983. It was only after his death that he began to receive the recognition that he deserved, with bassists like Jerry Jemmott, Jaco Pastorius and Anthony Jackson claiming Jamerson's influence on their playing.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

The Spiritual Sayings Of Carlos Santana -- Part II

My first article on The Spiritual Sayings Of Carlos Santana proved somewhat popular. I guess Carlos' nuggets of wisdom struck a chord in quite a few people.

In light of that, here are some more.

This time I've divided them into two sections. The first are from a 1974 interview he did around the time of the release of Love, Devotion, Surrender with John McLaughlin. The rest are from a 1999 interview he did after recording his multi-award winning record, Supernatural. It's interesting to see how Santana's perspectives have evolved over 25 years.


"A lot of times, what I hear and what the Supreme hears are two different things."

"Sometimes I find myself living in the illusion that I've got to do it the way I hear it. But when I do that, it doesn't come out right, it sounds too thought out."

"The most natural thing on earth is your heart, your soul, because it rarely goes out of tune with God. What goes out of tune is your mind and your body."

"I am the string and the Supreme is the musician. And that's all I am, because I go out of tune just like a string goes out of tune."

"I've got a long way to go before I can be in any kind of environment and still keep that oneness with the Supreme, so I don't start swearing and trying to be stupidly proud."

"Sometimes I'm not aware I can do some of these things on my guitar, because in reality I'm not doing them, they are being done through me, which is one of the highest places anyone can reach."

"For Leonardo daVinci to reflect all his artwork, he had to get his chops out before he could try to reflect all that perfection the Supreme gave him."

"There's only one king, man, and that's the Supreme. And when he plays through you, according to your capacity, it's like music from beyond, and that's what I'm hungry for."

"If I'm not practicing my guitar and my technique, I'm reading certain types of books which make me constantly aware of how much conviction, surrender, devotion I have to have so that I don't go out of tune. So when I play, all those doubts and wrong notes don't come into the picture."

"Some music just goes right over you, and you start yawning. John Coltrane's music used to do that to me. It's so heavy it's like eating a big meal. But after a while I got hungry for it."


"I had only one concern when making my new record (Supernatural). Would Jimi Hendrix like it if he were here?"

"It's important for me to appease Jimi and Wes Montgomery because I play for them too."

"We are multi-dimensional spirits dwelling in the flesh, solely for the purpose of evolution."

"I don't see myself playing black music or white music. I play rainbow music -- all the colors are there."

"Like Miles -- you know when you hit that note, you don't want to breathe until you finish with it. Miles, Peter Green -- there are very few people who can make you hold your breath until that note is ended. You get goosebumps."

I love musicians who make you want to laugh and cry at the same time. When they go for it, you go with them, and you don't come back until they come back. There are not many players who can consistently do that. Potentially, we should all be doing it."

"From Miles you get the alchemy of making 50,000 notes into five. But with those five, you shake the world."

"You don't have to be Jimi Hendrix or Charlie Parker -- you can get it done your own way. God made the world round so we can all have centerstage."

"The secret of life is that I have validated my existence. I know that I'm worth more than my house, my bank account, or any physical thing."

"Once you validate your existence, you have the wind in your sails -- where do you want to go?"

"When I hit that note -- if I hit it correctly -- I'm just as important as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, or anybody. Because when I hit that note, I hit the umbilical cord of anybody who's listening."

"When you hit a note like that people say, "What kind of guitar is that? What kind of speaker are you using? What kind of strings?" No, man. It's not all that -- it's the note."

"These are the ingredients for being a complete communicator: Soul, heart, mind, body, cojones. One note."

"Late at night, if I want to check in with my internal Internet, I load the tape recorder, get some nice tones, and play."

"The only thing that I have is my tone. That's like my face. Your tone is your fingerprint and your personality. I learned by listening to T-Bone Walker and Peter Green, so I have a tone."

"Attitude is as important as notes. You learn not to be intimidated. You learn to respect and find your place -- to complement."

"There's cursing and praying, and all that language is part of music. A lot of my best solos remind me of when my mom used to scold me, 'Dit-doo-dup-dat-doo-doo-bah!"

"When you get older you either get senile or become gracious. There's no in-between. You become senile when you think the world short-changed you, or everybody wakes up to screw you. You become gracious when you realize that you have something the world needs, and people are happy to see you when you come into the room."

"Whether you've got a green mohawk or a suit and tie, it's still the same. Are you saying something valid. Are you contributing, bringing new flowers that we haven't seen in the garden?"

"When you think, 'I should hang up my guitar and be a dishwasher,' listen to your other side: 'No, you too have something they need'."

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Jimmy Nolen -- Funk Guitar Pioneer

If James Brown was the 'Godfather of Soul', Jimmy Nolen must surely be the 'Father of Funk Guitar'.

Joining James Brown's group in 1965, Nolen's first recording session with the Godfather yielded Papa's Got A Brand New Bag. Nolen's infectious rhythm guitar part, replete with signature 16th note guitar break, propelled the song into the Top 10 on both the R&B and Pop charts.

And for the remainder of the '60s, the hits kept on coming -- I Feel Good (1965), It's A Man's World (1966), There Was A Time, I Can't Stand Myself, Cold Sweat (1967), Say It Loud (1968), Mother Popcorn (1969) -- landmark cuts all featuring Nolen's rhythm stylings.

An integral part of Nolen's style was a scratchy 16th note strum based on a dominant 9th chord, and peppered with single-note syncopated hooks. But the real key to his style was how he developed his guitar parts so that they fit perfectly around the snare and kick drum syncopations of drummer Clyde Stubblefield.

It was the art of enhancing the groove while not getting in the way.

Except for a two year hiatus from 1970 to 1972 when Nolen joined Maceo and All The King's Men -- made up of members of James Brown's band who had left in a defection incited by saxophonist Maceo Parker -- he remained with Brown's group until his death in 1983.

In spite of his pivotal contributions to James Brown's music, he was largely relegated to the role of sideman and often went uncredited on Brown's records. It was only in Nolen's final years that Brown started to introduce him onstage.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

John McLaughlin's Rex Bogue Double Rainbow

John McLaughlin has always had a penchant for unusual instruments.

And the Rex Bogue Double Rainbow was easily the most visually striking guitar that McLaughlin has used in his illustrious career.

An earlier custom built double-neck by Gibson left him largely disappointed. According to McLaughlin, Gibson had generally ignored most of the specifications he had requested.  "It took them a year to do it -- they had strikes and everything.  Finally I got it, but they had only done one thing I had asked, and that was the writing of 'Sweetest Is My Lord' on the necks.  The one thing they'd done was the least important as far as the music.  The electronics they hadn't done, the neck they hadn't done, the body shape they hadn't done, they hadn't even used the right wood."

But all was to soon change. California luthier Rex Bogue introduced himself when McLaughlin was playing at the Whiskey club in LA.

Bogue had brought with him a guitar he had built with "flowers going down the neck and this beautiful ebony board". Taken by the high degree of workmanship and attention to detail, McLaughlin commissioned Bogue to build him the double-neck of his dreams.

Bogue took exactly a year to build the instrument, completing it in July 1973. From that point, the Double Rainbow, as it came to be known, became McLaughlin's signature instrument, closely associated with the early days of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

According to Bogue, the 24 3/4" scale Double Rainbow had a body made out of fiddleback maple, laminated necks made from maple and Brazilian rosewood, and Gaboon ebony fingerboards with 22-frets. An ornate 'Tree of Life' inlay traversed each fingerboard to symbolize a musician's progress in achieving his ideals.

For its electronics, the Double Rainbow had individual volume controls for each of the four pickups and a single master volume that controlled the overall output from the guitar. There were no individual tone controls for each pickup; instead, a master tone controlled both necks. In addition, the humbucking pickups were rewound with coil divider taps so that inter-coil phasing and adjustable quad-coil phasing were obtainable with the flick of a switch. Finally, a preamp was also built into the guitar.

Sadly, McLaughlin has said that the Double Rainbow fell off a bench in 1974 under "perculiar circumstances" since no one was near it. It hit the ground on its front, splitting it down the middle and according to its owner "would have to be virtually rebuilt".

It is not entirely clear if the Double Rainbow was the only one of its kind.

Ibanez copied the famed Double Rainbow and came out with their own model around 1975, the 2670 Artwood Twin as shown in the ad on the right.

The Artwood Twin featured a simplified 'Tree of Life' inlay based on Rex Bogue's original design which Ibanez later also featured on their Bob Weir signature model in the late '70s.

The 'Tree of Life' inlay is a design that Ibanez continues to use to this day on their higher end models -- in particular, the Steve Vai Jem signature series.

Another notable design idea 'borrowed' from Rex Bogue is the 'cloud' tailpiece design as shown in detail in this previous article.

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Pat Metheny's Phase Dance -- A Harmonic Analysis

This is a clip of the Pat Metheny Group playing Phase Dance, a particular favorite of mine. A tune off the first Pat Metheny Group album, Phase Dance was from a period when Pat was still writing tunes based on more standard song forms -- very different from the cinematic epics of his later years.

And here's the chord progression. Interestingly it is based on a repetitive 12- bar sequence:

Bm7 Bm7 Bbmaj7 Bbmaj7
Bm7 Bm7 Bbmaj7 Bbmaj7
G/A G/A Gmaj7 Gmaj7

Notice how the Bm7 and Bbmaj7 toggle between two key centers -- Bm and Bb, or Bm and Gm as how I like to see it. Pat plays off F (or Dm) for the Bbmaj7 for a Bb lydian sound which gives a soaring effect to his melody line and solo.

Taking the lydian idea further, for the G/A and Gmaj7 in bars 9-12 Metheny sticks to the Bm (or D) tonality for a G lydian sound.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Les Paul And The Origins Of His Namesake

Lester William Polsfuss, more famously known as Les Paul, is widely credited with inventing the solidbody electric guitar. Believing that a solidbody instrument would give him added sustain while eliminating unwanted resonances, Les commissioned two custom solidbody instruments to be built for him in 1937 by luthier August Larson.

In the early '40s he built his third solidbody himself using a 4” x 4” center block of pinewood attached to an Epiphone neck and fitted with a single pickup. Dubbed ‘The Log’, a pair of sides was cut from an old guitar and attached to the center block to make it look more like a guitar.
He approached Gibson’s parent company, CMI, in the late ‘40s to discuss marketing a solidbody instrument based on his design -- Gibson was producing predominantly hollowbody archtops and acoustic guitars at the time.

Les Paul had very definite ideas as to the design of the guitar that was to later become his namesake. Type of wood, choice of pickups and even the idea of finishing the guitar in gold paint were all in Les' design proposal to the corporate bigwigs at CMI.
Unfortunately, bringing ‘The Log’ to the meeting did not work in Les’ favor. The CMI boss dismissed his idea, calling him ‘the guy with the broomstick’.
But things were to change a couple of years later when Gibson began developing a solidbody guitar following in the wake of Fender's successful solidbody, the Telecaster.

Les Paul had become a huge music celebrity as one-half of the Les Paul and Mary Ford duo, and hoping to leverage on Les’ popularity, Gibson’s president Ted McCarty contacted him with the proposal of an endorsement deal. Signing a 5-year contract, Les was to play the guitar that bore his name exclusively, in return for a five per cent royalty on sales.
The first production models, sporting a gold finish, combination bridge/tailpiece and cream P90 non-humbucking pickups were delivered to Les in May 1952. He used them onstage the following month at the Paramount Theatre in New York.

In 1954, the high-end black Les Paul Custom was produced. Featuring the newly designed tune-o-matic bridge and stop bar tailpiece for more accurate intonation, the Custom was decked out with pearl inlay on the ebony fingerboard and headstock and multi-ply binding around the body and headstock.

Interestingly, Les Paul never kept any of his original endorsement guitars from the ‘50s – he had no idea at the time that the guitars that bore his name would become such collector’s items.

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