Sunday, November 4, 2012

Elmo Karjalainen | Interview

Finnish guitarist Elmo Karjalainen is one of those rare shredders who possesses not only prodigious technique but also a highly developed melodic sensibility. His latest prog-rock release Unintelligent Designs showcases well-crafted songwriting, soaring melodies and some mighty fierce, but not over-indulgent chops.

We featured Elmo in our last post demoing Fractal Audio's Axe-FX amp simulator and effects processor. And we are very glad to be able to feature him again in this exclusive email interview.

The Guitar Column: Thanks so much for doing this interview with us Elmo! Just for clarification, for us non-Finnish speaking folks, how do you pronounce your last name?

Elmo Karjalainen:  Sure thing, the pleasure’s all mine! You can say my name any way that gets my attention. So saying “Hercules” probably wouldn’t register. For English speakers, think of the 'j' as a 'y', like in “yes”, and pronounce the 'a’s' like you would the 'a' in “part”.

TGC:  When did you start playing and what drew you to the guitar in the first place?

EK:  I think I was eleven when I got my first guitar. However, the first two years of my playing mostly involved random hitting of the strings and dives with the whammy. What got me really interested in actually playing was hearing Gary Moore’s live version of 'Shapes of Things'. The guitar solo really grabbed me, and I knew I wanted to be able to play like that. I had tried out piano and drums before that. The piano I wasn’t too keen on, and my drum teacher was my dad, which didn’t really work out. We mostly ended up arguing. Nowadays I’d really like to be able to play the piano (and the drums too for that matter).

TGC:   Did you take lessons early on?

EK:  I took lessons from one teacher for a couple of years, but that didn’t really work. I then changed teachers and Sasa Opacic became my guitar teacher. He asked me the magic question: “What do you want to play?” I said “Gary Moore”, and he said, “Ok. Let’s start with bends and vibrato”. He was really strict with the bends.

TGC:  Who were you listening to back then?

EK:  Aside from the aforementioned Mr. Moore, I was listening to Queen, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai (and the bands that he had been in) and a lot of the old Genesis stuff just to name a few.

TGC:  Were you influenced by any Finnish guitarists in particular?

EK:  Not really, unless one counts not wanting to play like Finnish guitarists as an influence. A few years later I did get into Ben Granfelt quite a bit. He’s a very good rock guitar player from Finland. I also got into Pekka Pohjola, a Finnish bass player, who wrote some very interesting music.

TGC:  Did you keep to a steady practice schedule when you first started out?

EK:  Well, I was probably all over the place with my practising. At times I’d practise like crazy, and then I could have a week when I didn’t play at all. The good thing with this approach (although it wasn’t a conscious approach) is that you can take a step back and maybe not get too caught up in your own playing. I listened to a lot of different music all the time, which I think was important. I didn’t stick only to guitar players (although there were a lot of those), and I didn’t just listen to rock.

TGC:  What is your typical practice schedule like these days? Are there particular things you work on?

EK:  I don’t really have one. What I’ve been doing for years now is mostly playing along to stuff. That’s a great way to practise, or at least it works for me. I try to emulate the feel of whoever it is I’m playing over, without trying to play the same licks. Then I try to transfer that into my own playing when I’m playing something else, or in a live situation.

That being said, getting that Yngwie feel while playing jazz could be a bit of a challenge. Nowadays I have trouble finding the time to practise. There’s just too much stuff to do, so when I finally do have some spare time, I can’t really be bothered anymore. I just feel like going to sleep. I’m hoping that will change once I get my master’s thesis out of the way.

TGC:  Name some guitar players whose playing you admire. What elements of their style would you like to incorporate into your own playing?

EK:  Well, I admire a whole bunch of people. We have the usual suspects: Vai, Satriani, Malmsteen. Steve Lukather is someone I really like. Danny Gatton had great technique and he was funny too. Guthrie Govan and Mattias IA Eklundh are both incredible. I really also like Fredrik Thordendahl of Meshuggah.

Then there’s Pat Metheny. His playing and writing skills are brilliant. But if there was someone I had to mention above the others, then I would have to go with Jeff Beck. What he does with a guitar is to make it really sing. Plus his whammy technique is otherworldly.

TGC:  Tell us a bit about your new album Unitelligent Designs, and why that unusual title.

EK:  The title is a bit of a jibe at creationists who want to have creationism taught in schools, but under the name of intelligent design. Also, it’s not the most intelligent thing trying to make money by making an instrumental guitar record. Although in fairness I don’t think many, or any, of us have any illusions on that point.

Other than that the record is a collection of songs that have been around for a long time, some for as long as 10-15 years. I just decided that I had to get it done, to kind of make room for something new. So I sat down and recorded a bunch of tunes, and I also used a couple of older recordings.

TGC:  Tell us about your songwriting process.

EK:  It varies greatly. Sometimes I start with the drums, like in 'The Promised Land of Roundabouts', sometimes it’s a melody bit, sometimes it’s a riff. These songs are from a time when I did lots of stuff by doing the chord progression first. In general I don’t like to spend too much time tinkering with arrangements and stuff. Some songs take longer than others, but I try to avoid going around in circles with tunes. This way stuff gets written.

TGC:  What is the most important thing you would hope to get across to a listener hearing your album for the first time?

EK:  I hope that listeners feel something. Even anger is better than nothing. I also hope that they find it musical and well produced. The technical shreddy side of it is less important (although that’s fun too). Most of all I hope to make people smile.

TGC:  What recording gear did you use on that album?

EK:  I had an AKG C-414 in front of the cab. That went into an RME Fireface. The software used was Sonar. Most people use Pro Tools, but Sonar is what I got used to using when I got to know recording software, and I can’t be bothered to learn the use of a new one.

TGC:  What was your guitar, effects and amp setup for the album?

EK:  Guitars and amps varied. The main guitar was a Fender Yngwie Strat. I also had a couple of guitars built by Sasa Opacic (the man from question 3) at Sale Custom guitars, plus an Ibanez Universe, a Schecter seven-string and a Takamine acoustic, I forget the model.

The amps were Marshall 1987X heads, the reissues of the old MK II 50 watt heads, going into a Marshall Handwired cab with Celestion Greenbacks. I also used a 100 watt Marshall JVM head for some rhythm stuff. In addition to those I had a distortion and a Morley Bad Horsie wah in front of the amp. Add a healthy dose of delay and voila, that’s it.

TGC:  You recently did a demo of Fractal Audio's Axe-FX for The Guitar Column -- thanks for that! What do you like about the Axe-FX?

EK:  No problem. It was fun. Firstly I like the fact that you have everything there, all the sounds you’ll ever need and then some. Secondly, it’s by far the closest thing to the real thing. So much so that when we did an A/B test at the studio, with the Fractal modelling the amps I use, it was really a really close thing.

I’ve been using the Roland Cubes for smaller gigs (and a Cube also features on the songs 'The Demise of a Karaoke Bar' and 'Tuire’s and Ville’s Wedding Waltz'), but the Axe-FX beats it by a country mile. It also reacts to dynamics really nicely.

TGC:  What do you think of some of the other amp modellers on the market?

EK: I must say that I’m not too familiar with some of the other products out there. I hear that the Line 6 stuff has got to a point where it’s quite good. Other than that, I can’t really say.

TGC:  Tell us about the Sale Custom guitars you are using.

EK:  Sasa, as was revealed earlier, was my guitar teacher back in my teens. He also builds guitars and has a brand called Sale Custom Guitars -- Sale being his nickname. He recently built me a Strat out of mahogany, and it sounds fantastic. It’s basically an Yngwie strat, but with a Wilkinson tremolo and a mahogany body. I also have a Jem copy(ish) thing with a Fernandes sustainer, and another Yngwie strat copy with a humbucker as the bridge pickup.

You can find his website here:

TGC:  Do you use any unusual tunings?

EK:  The Schecter seven-string is tuned G-C-G-C-G-C-E, like Devin Townsend tunes his guitars. The Ibanez Universe is tuned normally, but with a drop A.

TGC:  Do you have a dream instrument that you would absolutely love to own eventually?

EK:  Probably a seven-string version of the Yngwie strat. I really like that low stuff, and I really like the sound of single coil pickups, or stacked humbuckers.

TGC:  What gear would you bring to a live gig? (Pedals, effects, amps)

EK:  It all depends on what kind of gig it is. Nowadays I’d just get my Fractal and the accompanying midi pedal, plus a wah. Earlier I used to use the Marshalls live as well, with a Rocktron Intellifex for delay, and as a power attenuator. You could get really good results by just turning the output down on the Intellifex, which brought down the volume, but kept the sound almost exactly the same.

TGC:  What kind of picks and strings do you use?

EK:  The picks I use are 1.5mm Dunlops. The strings are GHS Custom Light Boomers, .009-.046. On the seven strings the gauges are different of course, but I don’t remember them by heart. I think the low string -- yes, the low G-string for all of you who already had the thought -- on the Schecter is a .070 I think.

TGC:  Other than your solo work, what other projects are you involved in right now?

EK:  I’ve been in Deathlike Silence (, ) for many years now, and we’ve slowly been contemplating the idea of returning from a slight hiatus. I also play in a band called Seagrave (, and we’re just about to start recording our first record. It’s a more traditional band in the style of Iron Maiden, Yngwie Malmsteen, etc.

I’m also involved in a band called Conquest ( I’ve also played the leads for an upcoming album by the bass player from a band called Kilpi. The project is going by the name of Helena & Kalevi at the moment, but I’m not entirely sure if that will be the final name. You can find a few raw mixes of that stuff on YouTube. In addition to that I also play in an Eighties cover band.

Those are the things that are really happening. Then there’s the stuff that’s in the planning stages, like a progressive metal band. We have the tunes for an album, and we have the band. We even have a name: Insomaniac. Then there’s the as yet unnamed quartet that is meant to be playing my solo stuff, but we had to put that on hold because of the lack of time.

TGC:  What is a typical day like in the life of Elmo Karjalainen?

EK:  It mainly consists of diapers nowadays, due to the fact that I became a father nine months ago. Other than the diapers and the sometimes less than well slept nights it’s been nice so far. I’m waiting for her to become a teenager. That should be fun. I also have a few guitar students and I do some substitute teaching occasionally. I’m also working on my master’s thesis in philosophy at Åbo Akademi University.

TGC:  Thanks so much for doing this interview with us, Elmo -- All the Best!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Axe-FX Demo | Elmo Karjalainen

Rising shredder Elmo Karjalainen was kind enough to put together this demo of Fractal Audio's Axe-FX guitar processor for The Guitar Column recently. And man, does he put the device through its paces while showcasing his impressive vocabulary of musical styles!

Elmo's recent release, Unintelligent Designs features the Axe-FX extensively. If you're into melodic shred, this album is definitely worth checking out.

I think Elmo is deserving of an Axe-FX II endorsement. Fractal Audio, are you listening?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

An Interview With Rex Goh

Born and raised in Singapore, Rex Goh is a true journeyman musician.

rex goh air supply
Rex Goh
Rex migrated to Australia in 1972 and then moved to Sydney in 1976 to a burgeoning music scene.  A few months after his arrival in Sydney, he auditioned for and joined a then-relatively new band called Air Supply.

By 1980, with multi-platinum albums and a string of Billboard hits, Air Supply had become a pop supergroup who were touring the world.

For his friends in Singapore, Rex's success with Air Supply came as no surprise. He was already known for his good ear and natural ability when he started playing in bands at the local British Royal Air Force bases while still in his teens. Many Singaporean musicians of that era whom I have spoken to still recount those days of the RAF bases fondly. And they still testify to Rex's precocious talent then.

Today, Rex is an in-demand guitarist in Sydney, dividing his time between recording sessions and Australian tours.

The Guitar Column:  Thanks for taking time out to do this interview Rex!

Rex Goh:  It’s my pleasure.

TGC:  When did you start playing and who were your earliest influences?

RG:  I suppose growing up in Singapore in the 60’s, it would have been The Shadows, The Ventures and also early local bands like The Quests and The Checkmates who were my early influences. Then came The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Animals.

My taste changed when I heard the John Mayall and The Blues Breakers album with Eric ClaptonCreamJimi Hendrix and also Terry Kath, the guitarist with Chicago. All this time I learned how to play by ear..

TGC: We actually have a lot of mutual friends and many of them describe your playing back in the days of the RAF bases as simply stunning! How old were you when you started playing at the bases?

RG:   I had just finished high school when I joined the band called Group 123. We had a manager, Jimmy Loh, who very kindly helped me acquire my black 1969 Gibson Les Paul which I still own.

TGC:  How did you get your playing together at such an early age?

RG:  When I was 10 years old, I was fortunate to live two doors away from Benny Chan, the guitarist with The Checkmates. My mum had just given me a ukulele and lucky for me, the ukulele was quite a good one and it played in tune. About twice a week, I would go to Benny's place and he would teach me simple Elvis tunes to start with.and then later jazz standards like 'All Of Me' and 'It's A Sin To Lie'. 

I suppose I would have spent about 3 or 4 years learning chords and playing rhythm for Benny on the uke.  Later on I graduated to playing the guitar and I started to form band with kids from school or from the Aljunied estate where I was living.

TGC:  Do you have any memorable gig stories from this time?

RG:  Although I started out as a lead guitarist, I became a bass player when I joined a band called Tani's Titans. We were kids and were also lucky enough to appear on Singapore TV's variety show playing country music. When I first joined Group 123, I was the bass guitarist but switched to lead fairly soon when the lead guitarist Dave Tam left.

TGC:  You migrated from Singapore to Australia in 1972. What made you decide to take this huge step?

RG:  When I was working in clubs in Singapore I used to admire quite a few overseas bands like 'Tenderness' from Perth, 'Pieces Of Peace' from Chicago who were an incredible soul and funk band, and also 'Peter Nelson and The Renaissance' from New Zealand. Their arrangements of Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago songs were stunning. I wanted to play in bands like these.

TGC:  What gigs did you take on when you first arrived in Australia? Was it difficult breaking into the music scene?

RG:  I was living in Adelaide when I first arrived and one day I answered an ad in the local paper for a lead guitarist. Soon I graduated to a Yes cover band that played about half Yes songs and half originals. We had quite a following and also had a residency at The Tivoli Hotel in the city on Tuesday night. I then moved to Melbourne before going to Sydney in about 1976.

TGC:  Air Supply was positively huge in the late 70's and early 80's. How did you come to hook up with one of the biggest pop groups of that era?

RG:  A few months after I had arrived in Sydney, I heard that Air Supply needed a guitarist so I went for an audition. They had just released their first hit in Australia called 'Love and Other Bruises'. They were a new band on the scene and I was fortunate to join them.

TGC:  Was The One That You Love album your first record with Air Supply?

RG:  No, my first album with them was The Whole Thing's Started. There were no hit singles on the album but it was the start of my recording career.

TGC:  You're credited with co-writing 'I Want To Give It All' with Graham Russell.

RG:  Yes, I wrote the music during an early tour of the US and played it to Graham. He liked it, so he wrote the lyrics to the song. We also wrote 'She Never Heard Me Call', 'What Kind Of Girl' and 'Late Again'.

TGC:  Air Supply must have been an amazing experience. Care to share a few memorable gigs or road stories from your time with Air Supply?

RG:  Those were days that I will cherish forever. I remember when we were opening for Rod Stewart on big stages like Madison Square Garden which holds around 80,000 people and all we saw was about the first 50 rows. But you could hear the roar all around you which was just thundering.

I got the chance to meet many famous people like Aretha Franklin, Gino Vannelli and played with Glenn Campbell in his show. Once I had a police escort for my boots from the hotel to The Greek Theater where we were performing so they would arrive in time for my performance!

TGC:  Did you turn exclusively to session work after Air Supply?

RG:  No, I formed a band with singer Jenny Morris called Q.E.D. We made it to the charts in Australia with a song 'Everywhere I Go'. We also made an album titled Animal Magic.

TGC:  You're credited with recordings and performances with Savage Garden, Randy Crawford, Tom Jones, The Supremes and The Temptations amongst many others.

RG:  I played on Savage Garden's first album that included 'To The Moon And Back' and 'Truly Madly Deeply', two of their biggest hits, but did not tour with them. I was fortunate enough to work with Randy Crawford and Tom Jones on The Midday Show, a live TV show in Australia on which I was part of the orchestra performing with local and international artistes five days a week.

I also toured and recorded with Tommy Emmanuel and I was in his band for about three years when he played mostly electric. Another big international album I played on was with a Canadian group called Soul Decision that went platinum in many countries.

TGC:  Who have you been recording and touring with most recently?

RG:  Lately I've been touring and recording with Graeme Connors, a well-known country artist in Australia and Glenn Cardier who is more a blues and roots artist. Glenn has just released a new album titled Stranger Than Fiction. My latest project was recording an album with Darren Percival who came second in the TV show The Voice Australia.

TGC:  This interview wouldn't be complete without the typical guitar and gear questions. You're credited with being one of Australia's most heard guitarists, having played on numerous sessions. What guitars, effects and amps would you bring with you to a recording session?

RG:  Typical gear I would bring to a recording session would be two amps, my 1965 Fender Deluxe and my 50-watt 1970 Marshall JMP with two 12" Celestion Greenbacks.

For guitars, I would always bring my favorite Fender Telecaster - a late 80's issue of the '52 Tele. I used this guitar on many of the Savage Garden tracks. My brown Warmoth Strat which was given to me by a good friend in Adelaide and my black 1969 Gibson Les Paul which I bought at Swee Lee in Singapore back in the Group 123 days. The Les Paul was featured on many of the Air Supply and Savage Garden tracks.

Lately, I've been using a 1997 PRS which I purchased on eBay. It has quite a different sound from the Les Paul. I would also throw in a Rickenbacker electric 12-string just in case.

I use mostly stompboxes in the studio like TC Electronics delay and chorus pedals, and the AC booster and the RC Booster by Xotic. I have been experimenting with the old Germanium transistor fuzz box which Hendrix and The Rolling Stones used in the old days. For tours when I have to program sounds for certain songs, I would use my Boss GT6 and a Mesa/Boogie V-Twin for my distortion. My days of effects racks that stood about 4 foot high and running in stereo are well gone.

TGC:  What is your favorite acoustic steel-string for session work?

RG:  For acoustics I'm fond of my Gibson J45 and Maton Tommy Emmanuel model. I would also bring my Maton 12-string acoustic.

TGC:  You were also endorsed by Ibanez guitars for awhile. I've seen videos of you playing a nice blonde Ibanez 335-style guitar.

RG:  Yes, that guitar was especially built for me by Ibanez. It has a smaller body than the regular ES33 and told Ibanez that would prefer a smaller body 335 so they came up with the one you saw. David Moyse (Ed. note: Rex's co-guitarist in Air Supply) also had one but his was sunburst I think. David and I were given many guitars by Ibanez but we left them in the States and I don’t know where they are now. I love my blonde Ibanez -- it’s getting better with age. I have not modified anything.

TGC:  Correct me if I'm wrong but I do believe I've also seen you playing an early Roland GR guitar synth on a few of your appearances with Air Supply. Were you into guitar synthesizers at the time?

RG:  I don’t remember playing a Roland guitar synth but I used Casio guitar synth model PG 380 which had the sound built into the guitar. That was way past Air Supply days but was fun for awhile. The guitar was great by itself and was my main guitar for quite a few years during the late 80’s and early 90’s.

TGC:  The Classic Albums Live tour is an interesting concept where audiences get to hear their favorite albums performed live. You were the musical director for the Brothers In Arms tour. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?

RG:  I was approached by the promoter Phil Bathols whom I met during a tour called The Beatles White Album Tour on which I was the guitarist. He told me that Brothers In Arms was one of his all time favourite albums and would I like to put band together to do national tour as a concept show. For the first half we would play the whole album exactly from start to finish and the second half would be the best of Dire Straits. I was lucky enough to use drummer Chris Whitten who actually toured with Dire Straits during the 90’s. He now lives near Sydney. I have since done Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and The Beatles Sgt Pepper’s and Abbey Road albums

TGC: I, for one,would love to hear a Rex Goh solo album. Can we look forward to one in the forseeable future?

RG:  I love playing in a band situation and never regard myself as a virtuoso guitarist since I always like to play with singers. It might happen someday maybe with lots of guest singers.

TGC: Do you have any parting words of advice for young guitar players looking to get in to the music industry?

RG:  My advice is that you need the desire and the passion for whatever you do. To hang in there when times are tough and never lose sight of your goal. Success does not come overnight. You might get lucky but more often it’s hard work. The industry is very different now than in the old days when usually the focus for kids growing up was music whatever kind it may be.

When I was growing up in Singapore, it was either marbles or playing the guitar, thankfully I chose the latter.

TGC:  Thanks so much for doing this interview with us, Rex-­- here's wishing you All the Best in your future endeavours!

RG:  It’s my pleasure to be of any help to you, all the best. Cheers!

(Pic Source:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Fool SG | The Painted Player

The Painted Player is pretty well-known in guitar circles for their faithful replicas of Eric Clapton's The Fool SG. For added authenticity each guitar is handpainted with paintbrushes to mimic the legendary psychedelic artwork on the original The Fool SG made famous by Clapton when he was with Cream.

If you have been following my Les Paul Quest series, my good buddy Sherman recently decided to spring for Painted Player's The Fool SG replica while he sorted out his decision on which Les Paul to eventually get.   

The Fool SG
The Fool SG by The Painted Player

The Painted Player offers their Fool custom paintjob on any number of SG-style guitars that they might have on hand at a particular time. 

Which means that the customer has a variety of guitars to choose from depending on their preference and budget. 

The Fool SG
The Fool SG - closeup of handpainted fantasy graphic and Maestro Vibrola tremelo, chrome metal cover removed.

A great idea, since the serious player or collector will not have to settle for a cheapo guitar, while the player on a budget, or someone who just wants to hang the guitar on the wall, can get a lower priced alternative.

Closeup of headstock artwork. Note period accurate wide headstock and bell trussrod cover.

When Sherman placed his order with The Painted Player, he had four guitar options to choose from:

Tokai SG75 -- a brand-new Japanese-made Tokai 61' re-issue SG, this is the top-of-the-line Tokai SG model, highly accurate and featuring an ABR bridge, PAF humbuckers and Kluson machine heads 

1992 Orville 61' Re-Issue SG
-- from The Painted Player's new-old-stock collection of guitars. Made in Japan by Gibson's Japanese Custom Shop from 1988-1998, the Orville is a faithful replica of the '61 SG featuring an ABR-1 bridge and PAF humbuckers.

1988 Burny SG -- another Japanese-made guitar from The Painted Player's new-old-stock collection. Apparently, the Burny SG's from the 80's are highly sought after by collectors of Japanese-made replicas.

1992 ESP Navigator SG 320-LTD -- also made in Japan and one of the closest Gibson SG replicas, second only to the 1992 Orville.

Sherman decided to go with the 1992 ESP Navigator which is the guitar you see in these pics, which he has generously allowed me to share. Thanks Sherm!

The Fool SG
Artwork on the back of The Fool SG

He also went with the worn neck finish option, something which Clapton himself had done to his original The Fool SG, to minimize finish stickiness on the back of the neck.

Interestingly, he had ordered the guitar with the back of the neck fully-painted, but it had somehow gotten misdirected by the postal service in the UK who sent it back to The Painted Player. 

The guitar received its worn neck finish -- normally an option that comes with an extra charge -- as a sort of apology for the delay and the many days of anguish while the guitar was lost in the post. Talk about customer service!  

The Fool SG
Worn neck finish option on The Fool SG

Read more about Sherman's Les Paul Quest Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

Friday, August 17, 2012

Jackson Adrian Smith Signature

This just in from the good folks at Fender, which now also owns the Jackson guitar brand -- the Jackson Adrian Smith Signature.

Part of the Jackson Bloodline series, the Jackson Adrian Smith features a maple neck, with either a maple or rosewood compound radius fingerboard, basswood body, high-output Jackson humbucking bridge pickup, noiseless single-coil pickups for the neck and middle positions, 5-way selector switch, and a Floyd Rose bridge.

In other words, a not atypical '80s-style super strat.

The maple fingerboard models, like the one pictured here, come with black pickguards while the rosewood models come with white pickguards. The body finish on the Adrian Smith Signature is in a color that Jackson calls Snow White -- decidedly un-metal, if you ask me, but a cool looking axe nonetheless.

Jackson Adrian Smith
Jackson Adrian Smith

Thursday, July 19, 2012

New 2012 Limited Collection Relic Models from Fender Custom Shop

Just received this email from the Fender Custom Shop announcing five new Relic models.

My favorite of the bunch is the 1963 Heavy Relic Stratocaster. There's something about that year that rings a bell. Hmm..

This Heavy Relic Strat comes replete with tortoise-shell pickguard, Texas Special neck and middle pickups, and Seymour Duncan JB model humbucker in the bridge. A push-pull volume knob allows the bridge humbucker to be split to single-coil mode.

1963 Heavy Relic Stratocaster - 2012 Limited Collection

The '63 Heavy Relic Stratocaster has a distinctive Tyler Mike Landau signature vibe. Or maybe it's that huge wear spot in the finish that reminds of the Tyler 'bare forearm' finish.

Heavy Relic. They ain't kidding.

Hitching a ride on the Jimi-at-Woodstock train, without having to shell out a big chunk of change to the Hendrix estate, is the 1969 Relic Stratocaster.

1969 Relic Stratocaster - 2012 Limited Collection

The '69 Stratocaster features - what else - a reverse headstock. And to up the mojo factor, the pickups are handwound by Abigail Ybarra.

Also part of the 2012 Limited Collection is the 1959 Heavy Relic Telecaster. The Fender Custom Shop calls this color Celadon Green, although I think it looks more like classic Seafoam Green.

1959 Heavy Relic Telecaster - 2012 Limited Collection

The '59 Heavy Relic Telecaster's neck and bridge pickups are selectable with a 4-way switch, and I'm guessing that the additional fourth pickup position puts the neck and bridge in series for a fuller, humbucker-type tone.

Celadon green ceramic ware. You sure you want to call it Celadon Green, Fender?
And if relic'ing patterns are supposed to mimic real wear spots a player might inflict on an instrument, how on Earth do the relic dudes at the Custom Shop explain the weird wear swirl that starts near the volume knob and then curls up behind the bridge on this Tele?

Last, and possibly least, from the Relic La Cabronita line come the Boracha guitar and Boracho bass.

Boracha from Fender's Relic La Cabronita line

Both the the Boracha guitar and Boracho bass feature reverse Jazzmaster bodies and TV Jones pickups -- twin Power'Tron pickups on the guitar and a single Thunder'Blade pickup on the bass.

Boracho from Fender's Relic La Cabronita line

You've got to wonder exactly what target market the suits at Fender had in mind when they came out with the slightly demented looking Boracha and Boracho.

I'm thinking maybe tequila-crazed, Tex-Mex vampires.

(Ceramic pottery picture source:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Niels Vejlyt | Über-Shredder Interview

If shredding is your thing, Niels Vejlyt is one of those guitar players who will cause you to seriously re-think your entire approach.

And if you haven't already heard of Niels Vejlyt, The Guitar Column is proud to present this email interview with the Über-Shredder.

The Guitar Column: Thanks for taking time out to do this interview Niels!

Niels Vejlyt: I really enjoy doing this, so thank you.

TGC: When did you start playing and who were your early influences?

NV: I started around 1990 or '89, I'm not completely sure. But my first guitar influence was actually Frank Zappa because I loved the long solos he did. Then I listened to King Diamond and other Metal before I actually discovered Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen, and then later on, a lot of the Shrapnel dudes like T-Mac and Vinman. (Ed. note: Tony MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore)

TGC: Did you take lessons early on?

NV: The first lessons I got was from a friend who showed me some chords with no relation to any songs. But the same guy actually showed me Steve Vai and Malmsteen and I then decided "this is what I wanted to do". Then later on I got a teacher who showed me scales and a few arpeggios but he also showed me Paul Gilbert who was also a major influence, especially the first few Racer X albums.

TGC: What was your daily practice routine like back then? Were you obsessive about practicing?

NV: At some point I said to myself, I want to be as good as I can be, whatever that takes. And so I practiced from when I got up in the morning until I went to bed. Occasionally I visited friends, but it was definitely a special time that was very lonely, just me and the guitar. But I was totally focused on getting to the highest level possible for me

TGC: What is your current daily practice regimen like?

NV: Actually these days I practice a lot. I have found the spirit again, after a while of where I almost only composed and taught guitar. But I have, so to say, found the reason to do this -- because it's the most awesome thing in the world to play and practice the guitar!

Other than that, I create videos and teach and compose songs, but I try to find the balance where I do it for the right reason, and it feels good and is stressless.

TGC: Your technique is absolutely phenomenal. Do you have a particular way that you approach new techniques that you are working on?

NV: Thanks a million man! Well, I found the key to learn advanced ideas that I come up with. I choose a small enough part so that I see progress soon enough to know that what I do works. And then I try to avoid discipline as much as possible so that practicing becomes a labor of love and not something I need to kick my own ass to do. I've had enough of that in the past.

TGC: How important is the metronone to your practice schedule?

NV: Well, for me personally, I really enjoy using it because it gives me a feeling that I am progressing step by step. But I know that some people get great results without it, so its definitely not the only way. I just really enjoy using it, but there are a few things that I practice were I don't use it. I also I need to get to a certain level before I introduce the metronome. I need to be really certain on the right and left hand, like fingering and picking before I start the metronome

TGC: Do you have a personal philosophy as far as left and right hand technique?

NV: I used to be a little rigid about it, but I see that different people can make something work in their own way, and that's great. I do think there are a few pointers that can help make people reach their goals.

Basically that is just to be totally clear on what the right and left hand are doing so you are never in the situation where you just play and sometimes it works and sometimes not. Then something like take advantage of the fact you have four fingers and not limit yourself to three fingers. Quite basic, I guess.

TGC: What I notice the most is how synchronized your left and right hand are, even on extremely quick passages.

NV: Well, I think that to make anything sound good on the guitar is all about the cooperation between the right and left hand. It's pretty clear when someone who plays fast is not in sync, and the first pothole is sweep picking because the level of difficulty between the right and left hand are so extreme. You have a very easy right hand, and a difficult left hand.

TGC: Your right hand picking technique is effortless. How important is right hand picking position to good technique?

I think it is crucial, even more important than what I used to think. Actually, my buddy The Wizard Of Shred is inspiring me even after all these years of playing

TGC: What made you develop your 8-finger legato technique to such a high degree?

NV: Thanks again man. At some point I just realized that there really were no limits to what can be learned, as long as the steps I take to learn something are small enough, and as long as I keep on keeping on.

So I pretty much said to myself, "what is the most insane, technical thing you can imagine?" And for me, at that point, it was to combining eight-finger tapping, legato and sweep picking. It's a really fun and creative process to do stuff like this. And so I just created one lick, and once it worked I made a few more, and now I actually play it when I improvise which is really a magical thing

TGC: Are there any areas in your playing that you would like to develop further?

NV: Yes ! Always.

First of all, I really feel the benefit of keeping a quite extensive practicing schedule everyday on all the technical aspects. But other than that, I'd like to improve on my improvisation skills and songwriting skills

TGC: Do you have any other tips for aspiring shredders?

NV: Since the internet, it's so easy to come across good information about learning anything. So I believe that its only up to the individual to find the balance between having the desire to play, and the discipline to stay focused on the material until you manifest the goal you want. I meet quite a few youngster that have developed a high technical skill in a short period of time, and I believe that it is mostly because they just love to play and practice, and also finding the information that leads to getting results quickly.

TGC: You also exhibit an extremely melodic side to your playing on your compositions. Tell us about some of the albums you have done.

NV: My latest release was Sthenic. That was a solo album and completely instrumental. I actually composed the songs at the same time as I did the songs for the second Infinity Overture album. I was pretty inspired by Jeff Loomis and Steve Vai doing those songs. I think it turned out really well.

On the second Infinity Overture release I was moving more toward instrumentals with a shredding kind of edge -- much darker than the first Infinity Overture, which was more Symphonic Neo Classical Metal. I was also inspired by much harder bands like Behemoth and Meshuggah when I did Sthenic and The Infinite Overture Part 1, so maybe the ones that enjoyed Kingdom of Utopia were a little shocked. And we did not support the songs live. We only did a few shows because there was not a band as such, so it was a little weird. But actually the last show we did with Kimmie on vocals was killer!

TGC: Name some players who have influenced you greatly.

NV: Of course there´s a lot of players that I love, but some of the biggest are Steve Vai, Jeff Loomis and Shawn Lane. Jeff Loomis is The Riffmaster and Shawn Lane's playing is from another planet. Also, Michael Romeo, Jason Becker, Greg Howe, Vinnie Moore, John Petrucci, Tony MacAlpine and Ritchie Kotzen had such inspirational chops that I learned a lot from them. George Bellas.. all the Shrapnel dudes.. Rusty Cooley..

I'm sure I've forgotten some, but I love all these guys -- some of them for their playing and some also for their compositions like Michael Romeo, Jeff Loomis and John Petrucci.

TGC: What are some aspects of their playing that you would like to incorporate into your own style?

NV: Ritchie Kotzen was doing some awesome combinations of sweep picking and legato that I learned a lot from. Steve Vai´s whole phrasing and sound and definitely Jeff Loomis especially his riffs. In my opinion, they are some of the most incredible musicians ever, cand they are setting a new standard. And Jason Becker for his whammy style and arpeggios.

TGC: What is your current gear setup like? Could you give us a rundown of your guitars, effects pedals and amps?

NV: Actually I only have one guitar, an Ibanez RG1527M (7-string). I did have a Strat also but I sold it to get a better camera for my videos. The Ibanez is completely stock and I have a Mesa Boogie Stiletto Deuce and an Engl cabinet but no pedals. I use Logic for all my recording and an old ProTools Digi 002 as a preamp. It works for me.

TGC: What kind of picks and strings do you use? How important is the type of pick you use for your technique playing style?

NV: I actually just started to use the Dunlop Jazz Stubby, those small fat ones. I used to use Dunlop Delrin 500 for about 20 years.

I just use .010 - .056 Ernie Ball strings and I have never really felt a big difference between the differend brands of strings. I must say that I feel a little more ease when playing with those new picks, but of course it's not like it makes an audible difference. That's my opinion anyway.

TGC: Are you involved in any band or recording projects at the moment?

NV: Well, I'm doing another solo album but I have no idea when anything will be ready since I just work on the songs when I feel like it. It's much slower than the way I used to do it but it's also better and a nicer process.

And I'm actually doing some neo classical songs, maybe for a new band. I've written quite a few songs and I'm really psyched about this. I did have a singer in my studio to do one song, but I will keep the name unknown because I'm not sure if we will finish it with him. Only time will tell. What I can tell you is that he is well known in the world of Metal.

TGC: Describe the guitar courses that you offer on your website and on

NV:Yes! I have just made a very big program about mastering legato and using legato licks in your own playing. (Ed. note: The Secret Mechanics of Legato)

It's a sure fire way to actually start using the material right away and really getting to the bottom of being so flexible with the material that you can use it in pretty much everything and every style. I have included jam tracks in different styles of music with real live drums, bass and guitar and also a book and even a few practicing tracks. There's over 4 hours of video.

The material I did for is also a legato program with some killer chops. And as we speak I am making a Sweep Picking program for the Wizard as well. I also did an Arpeggio program with some extremely advanced chops some years ago called Advanced Arpeggios.

TGC: What is a typical day in the life of Niels Vejlyt like?

NV: Well, I get up pretty early to spend an hour on reading, and then I practice guitar technique a few hours and then I work out. Then I usually work on new songs or filming or editing. I teach guitar and then I spend time with my kids. That's pretty much a typical day for me

TGC: Any parting words for our readers out there?

NV: Yes. Just enjoy playing guitar and try to keep your mind on just the love for music and playing. For me that helped when I got a little too focused on having a certain plan with the music. Anyway that's what works for me.

TGC: Thanks so much for doing this interview, Niels -- All the Best for the future!

NV: I am really happy for the opportunity to talk a bit about my music and guitar here, so thanks a million for that.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Interview with Jazz Guitarist Tom Lippincott

I first became aware of jazz guitarist Tom Lippincott through his excellent Modern Jazz Guitar modules on Mike's Master Classes. For anyone interested in the modern stylings of Jonathan Kreisberg, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ben Monder, Tom's series of videos hold nothing back!
jazz guitarist Tom Lippincott
A proponent of the 8-string guitar, Tom currently teaches at Florida International University and Miami/Dade College.

The Guitar Column:  Thanks for taking time out to do this interview, Tom!

Tom Lippincott:  I'm happy and honored to do it. Thanks for asking.

TGC:  When did you start playing and who were some of your early influences growing up?

TL:  I started playing guitar when I was 13, although I had started out on trombone at 11.  Trombone gave me some good preliminary experience with reading and basic musicianship.  People tell me I take a breath before playing a phrase, and I think this is because of trombone being my first instrument. 

When I was around 12, I used to sneak into my sister's room and check out her records.  This was the late '70s, and I remember listening to the Bee Gees, among other groups.  But then one day she brought home the two-record collection The Beatles '62-'66, and that hit me like a lightning bolt when I heard it.  Pretty much right then I decided "that's what I want to do," and I started bugging my parents to buy me a guitar.  After about a year of this, they finally relented and got me a cheap steel-string acoustic for Christmas when I was 13. 

I was totally crazy about The Beatles, and still am today, but I also ended up getting into Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and then later on some of the great rock players and bands like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rush, and Van Halen.

TGC:  When did you get into jazz?

TL:  I played trombone in jazz band in high school, and our band director was into jazz and played some jazz trumpet.  I was intrigued by the sophisticated harmonies and rhythms I heard in some of the music.  I actually tried to talk the director into letting me play guitar, but he had too many guitar players and too few trombone players, so I was stuck. 

I also remember reading about Miles Davis and John Coltrane in music magazines and was interested enough to buy some records of those guys.  I loved Miles in particular from the first time I heard him and eventually grew to love Coltrane just as much. 

During my senior year in high school, I sought out guitar lessons for the first time from a guy named Randy Wimer in Tulsa, Oklahoma (where I grew up). Randy, a great player and teacher who I still keep in touch with today, introduced me to jazz and classical guitar.  Through him, I became aware of guitar players like Joe Pass, Johnny Smith, Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, and John McLaughlin, all of whom ended up being some of my biggest influences.

TGC: You attended North Texas State which is pretty well known for its jazz program. How did that experience shape your development as a jazz musician?

TL:  Attending North Texas had a huge impact on me.  First of all, it provided me with a wake-up call.  As a teenager, I had gradually developed a reputation at my school and among my friends as a really good guitarist, and I went to college with the notion that I was going to “wow” some people.  I remember when the results from auditions for my first semester were posted. My name was about a third of the way down this list of 80 guitar players ranked from best to worst, and I didn't place high enough to make any of the ensembles.  I really struggled my first year or two and consequently had to buckle down and practice hard. 

I also learned quite a bit just from being around other young musicians who I would practice and jam with whenever I could.  One guy, Pete McCann, the top undergrad jazz guitar student at UNT at the time, would generously spend time hanging out with me, playing tunes, and patiently answering questions like "How do you get that tone?" or "What was that lick you just played?"  I learned as much from Pete as I did from any of the teachers there.  Not surprisingly, Pete is a very successful jazz guitarist in New York now.

TGC:  Were there any teachers at North Texas who stood out and had an impact on you?

TL:  Absolutely.  Jack Petersen, who was the jazz guitar teacher there, really kicked my butt at first.  He had a great, very organized approach to teaching chords, rhythms, and scales, and it did me a world of good.  I have adopted many of his ideas for use with my own students over the years. 

Dan Hearle, who was the jazz piano teacher, was also a big influence on me.  Jack was down-to-earth, practical, real-world guy, whereas Dan had a little more philosophical, hippie kind of vibe. Of all my teachers, Dan’s the one I’ve emulated the most in terms of teaching-style and the way I interact with my students. 

I also fondly remember two other teachers from those days: Rick Peckham, who at the time was a grad student and teaching assistant and is now the assistant chair of the guitar department at Berklee; and Phillip Hii, who I took classical guitar lessons from.  I completed my master’s degree at the University of Miami, where I also learned a tremendous amount. 

Randall Dollahon, who just retired this past year, was my guitar teacher there, and I was influenced greatly by his dedication to his craft and the high standard that he held himself to.  I still look to him as an inspiration in both my playing and teaching.  I also was influenced quite a bit by some of the other teachers there like Ron Miller, Whit Sidener, Matt Bonelli, and Steve Rucker.  Ron, Matt, and Steve have become good friends and frequent musical collaborators over the years.

TGC:  You mention on your website that you adopted your fingerstyle technique a few years ago after being a pick player for years. I gathered that it was in the interest of revamping your entire technique. Was getting rid of the pick also a result of your lesson with Mick Goodrick? Mick, as I recall, went down a similar path from pick player to fingerstyle player years ago.

TL:  Strangely enough, no.  Although I do consider Mick to be one of my biggest influences, I was only vaguely aware of him being a fingerstyle player around the time I made the switch. 

I had been really interested in piano players like Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, and Brad Mehldau and was looking for a way to get more of those sounds into my playing. 

Around the same time, I also became aware of Lenny Breau and was inspired by his pianistic fingerstyle technique.  Additionally, I was inspired by hearing some of the incredible stuff Ben Monder does with his fingers.  I’m sure that my years of classical guitar playing made the transition a fairly smooth one as well.

TGC:  Having as much knowledge and facility on the instrument as you do, it's refreshing to know that you still sought out one of your guitar heroes for a lesson a few years back. What was that experience like, getting together with Mick Goodrick?

TL:  At this point it was more than a “few” years back since it was 1997, but that was definitely a life-defining lesson for me.  I brought my guitar but never even took it out of the case.  At the time, I had been agonizing over the issue of having (or not having) my own voice as a guitarist and musician.  Up until then, I felt like I had only been mimicking this or that player and didn't really have a style of my own. 

What Mick told me was very simple and self-evident: just stop worrying about it and trying to force it to happen, and it will happen on its own.  But there was something intangible about the way he delivered the message, and just being there in his presence, that seemed to have a profound effect on me. 

After that lesson, I really did manage to stop worrying about it so much, and sure enough, I feel over the next few years my own voice did start to become more clear.  I also feel like that lesson had a pretty profound impact on my musical and professional goals. I’d been struggling with this idea that, in order to have any sense of self-worth, I had to be known and respected in the jazz and guitar community, but after talking with Mick, I began to realize that, for me, thinking that way is a trap, a distraction to what is really important, which is finding my own truth and hopefully sharing that with others. 

When I’ve had the occasional taste of career success and recognition, I’ve always felt like I ended up having to fight even harder to stay true to myself.  Mick Goodrick and Ted Greene are two shining examples and role models to me of musicians who have stayed true to themselves while remaining humble and giving people. 

One of my deepest regrets is that I never had a chance to meet or take a lesson with Ted Greene.  I had always intended to but just assumed he'd be around for a lot longer.  John Stowell is another guitarist and teacher who I've been inspired by in more recent years in that same regard, and luckily I've had a chance to get to know him and play with him.

Although my lesson with Mick was 15 years ago, I have sought out lessons with heroes of mine since then.  Just recently I took a lesson with Nir Felder, one of my favorite up-and-coming jazz guitarists.  It was great to get a chance to pick his brain; aside from being a fresh voice in jazz guitar, he’s a really good teacher and a nice guy.

TGC:  You currently teach jazz guitar and jazz improvisation at Florida International University and Miami/Dade College. Describe the jazz guitar courses you teach and what a prospective student can expect.

TL:  The jazz improvisation class at MDC is a two-semester introductory course designed for music majors of any instrument. 

In the first semester of the course, I emphasize learning the basic elements of the jazz language, with special emphasis at first on how to play a musical phrase or melody and make it sound idiomatic to the jazz style.  Students also learn tunes, learn major scales and patterns in 12 keys, work on ear training, do a brief survey of jazz history, transcribe a recorded solo, and begin to study construction of improvised lines with plenty of in-class playing, culminating in soloing on modal tunes and simple II V I oriented tunes. 

In the second semester of the class, we continue learning tunes, surveying jazz history through important recordings, solo transcription, study of negotiating the all-important II V I progression, moving on to more complex tunes while also learning scales and patterns in 12 keys for harmonic minor, melodic minor, and diminished scales.  I also introduce the concepts of chord substitution and reharmonization, with special attention to the modes of the melodic minor scale and their uses for reharmonization.

I also teach a guitar ensemble at both MDC and FIU, and that’s a class I've always loved teaching; it's one of the only situations where guitarists get to play in a section and work on blending with other guitars, phrasing with a lead player, and following a conductor.  Special attention is also paid to sight-reading, which, as we all know, is a particular weakness for most guitarists.  I've written quite a few arrangements of both my own music and other composers' tunes for guitar ensembles, and I always enjoy the process of writing, arranging, and working up pieces while the students get valuable experience performing the music in concert settings.

I teach private jazz guitar lessons at MDC and FIU, as well as at Broward College. The private lessons follow a curriculum based on the level of each student (freshman through senior and/or graduate at FIU) but also are open ended enough to address individual strengths, weaknesses, and interests of each student. 

At FIU, I also teach a jazz guitar class for jazz guitar principles who are not performance majors.  This class functions pretty much like a group lesson, although I have a set curriculum and a syllabus that’s laid out from week to week.

TGC:  What is the current state of jazz guitar education like and how has YouTube affected things?

TL:  I thank my lucky stars that I got to live through the rise of the Internet and YouTube.  There is so much music and educational material available that I would have given just about anything to have access to when I was younger. 

I still haven't gotten over the fact that pretty much any time I want, I can think of a subject I want to learn more about (music or non-music) and, within seconds, have oodles of information at my fingertips.  I think that, in many ways, the Internet and YouTube have been a terrific boon to both aspiring jazz guitarists and also to professional musicians. 

There obviously are some slippery intellectual property issues associated with the posting of that material, but I am convinced that overall the rise of the Internet and YouTube has been extremely beneficial for jazz guitar and jazz in general. 

There are negative aspects as well; for one thing, I think it's easy for students to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available.  When I was first starting out, I thoroughly exhausted the few resources that I had.  Now, students have to wade through tons of information and decide what to spend their time and effort working on. 

There's also Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is crap.  YouTube and the Internet definitely prove that rule, so that's another pitfall for the student.  It can be difficult for a beginner to know what information is valid and which players they should listen to.

TGC:  You also teach privately. What is a typical Tom Lippincott lesson like?

TL:  I typically approach private lessons outside the school setting a little more freely and open-ended and based more on the student's specific interests, without the burden of worrying about conforming to a curriculum or doing a jury, recital, or other performance. 

There are certain basics that I think are important for all guitarists, especially those interested in jazz, to master, and I do often find myself coming back to those with many private students.  Whether a student is inside or outside of a school setting, I like to spend the initial lesson finding out about that student's background as well as what his/her goals are for the lessons and for the long term with music and his/her guitar playing, so that I can tailor the lessons more specifically to those needs. 

I also always want to hear a new student play to get an idea of his/her strengths and weaknesses.  I know that some teachers can be real taskmasters; I have experienced teachers like that and have gained value from that approach as a student, but I just don't have that type of personality.  I also think that the inspiration and desire to learn and improve has to be there already, so I don't like the idea of being like a drill sergeant, and if I tried that approach I think it would come off as humorous and ridiculous more than anything. 

As a teacher, I think my strengths are introducing new concepts (or a different way of approaching an old concept) in a very clear and organized way, making observations or suggestions about a student's playing, and hopefully providing an inspiring role model as a student of the guitar and music myself.  It's also very important to me as a teacher to help my students find their own paths rather than advocating that they play like me or subscribing to a specific style of playing or approach.

TGC:  How did your association with Mike Gellar and Mike's Masterclasses come about?

TL:  I owe that association completely to John Stowell.  He was very proactive and kind of twisted my arm in a way by sending Mike Gellar a note recommending me and by making sure I emailed Mike an introductory email.  I'm very thankful to John because my association with Mike's Master Classes has been a positive experience so far, and it's a relationship that I hope will continue for a long time.

TGC:  I've got a couple of modules from your Modern Jazz Guitar series on Mike's Masterclasses and you cover topics which, seriously, I've not seen anywhere else -- especially the Kurt Rosenwinkel/Jonathan Kreisberg approaches to modern improvisation.

TL:  Thanks!  Steve Herberman actually suggested to me when I first started doing classes for Mike that I do something addressing modern jazz guitar styles.  Steve told me that it was something he gets a lot of requests for and that he thought I was a good person to approach the subject. 

As you say, I think there isn't a whole lot of information available right now addressing that subject specifically, so I was happy that I could introduce something to the general body of knowledge that hasn't already been covered. 

TGC:  Do you have any more lessons in the works for Mike's Masterclasses?

TL:  I definitely am planning on recording new classes this summer, probably at least a couple more Advanced Jazz Guitar Harmony classes.  One student also requested that I do a class covering single note improvisation on modern style tunes…how to negotiate chord progressions that don't contain II V I or other more traditional movement, and I'm considering doing that also.

TGC: This interview wouldn't be complete without the obligatory guitar and gear questions. Your Conklin 8-string solidbody features both a high A first string and a low B string. Tell us a bit about this instrument.

TL:  I do tend to get a lot of questions and comments about the guitar when people see me play, and what I usually tell them is that it's not all that crazy of a guitar; it's just a regular six-string with an extra string on either side of the range, kind of the same concept as a six-string bass versus a traditional four-string. 

Everyone always want to know if the fanned frets were difficult to get used to, but they weren't at all.  The hard part was getting used to the high A string being there.  It took me a long time just to acclimate myself to the high E string no longer being on the edge of the fingerboard.  If anyone is interested in more details about my guitar, I have a couple of pages devoted to it at my website at

TGC:  What made you gravitate toward the 8-string?

TL:  I was inspired by Lenny Breau's use of a 7-string with a high A. 

At one point I decided that I wanted to try a high A 7-string, but after doing some research (and trying it for myself), I realized that it's nearly impossible to tune a string up to a high A on a conventional scale length guitar, so just buying an off-the-rack 7-string and stringing it with a high A was not going to work. 

Once I realized I needed to have a custom guitar built, I thought why not add an extra low string as well, ala George Van Eps, another big hero of mine.  After I got the guitar, I ended up liking the low B better than the low A that Van Eps used.  Since the low string was more of an afterthought for me, I'm not too concerned with having the extra whole step into the bass register.  It's great to have the low string for solo gigs or for duos with a singer, but I'm not out to put any bass players out of work. 

I am interested in approaching 8-string more like a piano player than like a guitar player plus a bass player ala Charlie Hunter.  That's the other comparison people often make: "Oh, you play 8-string like Charlie Hunter," but to me, what I'm doing is totally different.  Charlie Hunter is amazing at what he does, but that's not what I'm trying to do.

TGC:  What is the advantage of the Novax fanned-fretboard?

TL:  Simply that it allows me to have a short scale for the high A string and a longer scale for the low B.

TGC:  You also play solo guitar gigs. A lot of guitar players would miss having another harmonic instrument or at least a bass player on the gig. What do you like about playing solo?

TL:  I have always loved the idea of solo guitar from the first time I heard Joe Pass.  I love the challenge of being responsible for everything: melody, harmony, bass, and rhythm.  There is also an intimacy about playing solo that you can only get that way. 

Some of my favorite music ever is solo guitar or piano recordings and/or concerts I've heard by people like Ted Greene, George Van Eps, Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau, Art Tatum, Bill Evans, Lenny Breau, Ben Monder, Bill Frisell, and probably lots of others I'm not thinking of.

TGC:  Tell us about your CD Painting the Slow Train Brown.

TL:  In the wake of the aforementioned lesson with Mick Goodrick, I decided it was time to record, and I decided I should make sure it was something that was truly honest, that would be "all me," so that if I died after recording that music, I'd feel like I'd done one thing that justified my existence here on planet Earth. 

I've always felt more like a composer who also plays rather than the other way around, so I recorded that album with an emphasis on the compositions rather than on the playing.  Plus, I've always hated the way I play on recordings; from a playing standpoint, I end up wincing when I hear anything I've recorded.  I can honestly say that Painting is something I am not ashamed of, and I don't even wince when I hear it; I'm proud of the compositions, and I think a couple of the guitar solos don't completely suck. 

TGC:  You're credited with also playing lap steel, accordion, and harmonica on that album. I'm a big fan of lap steel for adding textures and I think it's a hugely underrated instrument.

TL:  That's nice to hear.  One of the ways I tried to keep things honest for that recording was to follow my inclinations with regards to orchestration. 

I grew up loving records by The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix where the recording studio was just as much of an instrument as a guitar, and a lot of the music I hear in my head is very orchestral in scope.  So I added other instruments that I had access to just to get some different sounds and textures.  I don't pretend to be any kind of lap steel player; I was just tinkering with the instrument for a little while there around the time the CD was recorded, and, to tell the truth I haven't touched it since then, but it was a lot of fun to play, and I think it did add something interesting to the tunes I used it on.

TGC:  I, for one, would love to hear a straight-ahead type album from you. Any inclination to do one in the not-too-distant future?

TL:  Well, I have actually done several recordings over the years since Painting, including some of standards, and all of them have ended up on the cutting room floor because I just wasn't happy with my playing, and also in some cases with the recorded guitar sound. 

I once read an interview with Pat Metheny where someone asked him, after his Question and Answer recording, why he'd waited so long to release a recording that had standards on it.  He said he wanted to wait until he felt like he had something to say that was unique and hadn't already been said before. 

When I think of recording standards, I always hear that quote in the back of my head.  But, my wife has been insisting that I record a new album this year, and I think she's probably right that it's time again.  I have several compositions that I'm pretty happy with that I'd like to record with a sax/guitar/upright bass/drums quartet (and that are a little more in the "modern straight ahead" vein than those on Painting), and I'd also like to finally record some solo guitar stuff for real, maybe even a few standards.

TGC:  Thanks so much for doing this interview Tom, and All the Best for the future!
TL:  Thanks again for asking me!

Check out Tom Lippincott's page on Mike's Master Classes

(pic source:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Les Paul Standard Faded | The Best Sounding Les Paul Ever Made?

If you've been following my account of Sherman's Les Paul Quest, his most recent investigations into finding his ultimate Les Paul led him to Larry Corsa of Corsa Guitars.

From what I understand, Larry Corsa started his custom business by purchasing stock Les Paul Standard Faded guitars and modifying them to 'Peter Green specs'. This meant stripping the 'faded' finish off the guitars, respraying with new paint and applying a nitrocellulose gloss or semi-gloss coat, depending on the customer's requirement. The neck pickup was also reverse mounted and the electronics reconfigured for that distinctive Peter Green humbucker-out-of-phase tone.

Gibson intended the Les Paul Standard Faded to be more modestly priced than their glossy, more expensive counterparts. Far less work went into their finishes and the guitars left the factory with dull, matte, sunburst finishes that looked liked they hadn't been applied with much enthusiasm or attention to detail. But according to Larry, this turned out to be a major plus, tone-wise, making the Gibson Les Paul Standard Faded the best sounding Les Paul ever made!

And his rationale is simple, and sound.

In order to achieve a mirror-like gloss finish, the pores in the mahogany that make up the back of Les Paul guitars need to be filled with wood filler before being stained and sprayed with nitrocellulose lacquer. The downside to applying wood filler to achieve a perfectly smooth finish was that it also severely dampened the guitar's resonance and tone. And since the Les Paul Standard Faded did not receive the same wood filler treatment, they ended being far more resonant than the standard, glossy Les Pauls.

This is Larry Corsa's response to an email enquiry from Sherman, which makes for a very interesting read:

"Believe me, despite all the hype and myths about the tone of Les Pauls, the truth is very few sound good, and even the best sounding ones can’t compare to the Gibson Les Paul Standard Faded because it was finished correctly – not on purpose, but to be a 'cheaper' version of a Les Paul Standard – but they are now discontinued.

The reason the Les Pauls you have played did nothing for you is because they are mostly just mediocre sounding.. People will spend huge sums of money on an Historic, not knowing that, from its birth, it’s tone has been severely compromised because of the way it is finished. Manufacturers have conditioned people to look for guitars that resemble high quality furniture in looks, with no regard for what they actually sound like.

The simple fact is, a Les Paul type guitar has a mahogany body and neck, which is a true “tone” wood, if used properly. The maple top is not 'tone wood', as people often say. However, it does have a purpose, other than looks, on my guitars. Very simply -- and this fact is either not apparent to guitar makers, or they simply ignore it in favor of making 'normal' looking guitars -- when builders force grain filler into the pores (grain) of mahogany, the natural resonance, which is responsible for the sustain, is destroyed.

Back in 2007, when I discovered the Les Paul Standard Faded and experienced how perfect they were in tone, resonance and sustain (all essential to getting the best Peter Green out of phase tone), I didn’t understand WHY they were superior to all other Les Pauls I have ever owned or played, and I have owned around 15 original 50’s Bursts and PAF Gold Tops. I originally had four Standard Fadeds, all totally superior guitars. I then started buying more, and converting them to my LCPG (Ed. note: Larry Corsa-Peter Green) specs.

corsa guitars PGGM
Corsa PGGM - Peter Green, Green Manalishi
It became obvious to me that the only thing different about these guitars was the fact that they had no grain filler in the mahogany. That’s all! All parts the same as any other USA Standard, except for how it was finished. Over the next few years, I converted more than 250 of these guitars and shipped them all over the world to Peter Green fans.

Corsa guitars
Larry Corsa (right) with Corsa guitar owners 
Alas, sometime in 2008, Gibson decided to discontinue the guitar, even though some Gibson sales reps told me the Les Paul Standard Faded was the best selling Les Paul in the line that year. People started to catch on that, for way less than half the cost of an Historic, they can have a Les Paul that destroys anything else in tone. I am fairly convinced that Fadeds cut into the sales of the more expensive Les Pauls, and that is the true reason they discontinued them."

With the discontinuation of the Les Paul Standard Faded models by Gibson, Larry Corsa is building his own line of guitars which you can read about at

Read more about Sherman's Les Paul Quest Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
The complete home study beginners guitar course


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