Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why Didn't I Think Of That? #3 | Masayoshi Takanaka's Model Railway Guitar

I just spotted this at Guitar Noize. An axe that combines two of my passions -- guitars and model railways!

And this, to be exact, is a model railway on a guitar!

If you've browsed my Link list you would probably have stumbled onto my model railroad blog -- The Sunny Model Railroad. (Yeah I know it hasn't been updated in a while, but it's a work in progress that is proceeding very slowly)
This guitar belongs to Japanese melodic-fusion guitarist Masayoshi Takanaka -- who's probably crazier than I am about model railways.
The guitar's body is completely covered in a miniature scenic landscape, replete with track, tunnels, electric catenary train, palm trees and a river that forks around the middle pickup.
Tres cool!
Judging by the size of the train relative to the pickups, this looks like a 1:160, N-scale railroad, probably of the Kato brand.  Kato is to Japanese model trains like Ibanez is to guitars.

Funnily enough, a friend of mine used to play Takanaka's cassettes in his car all the time and that was when I first became aware of the distinctly '80s phenomena that was Japanese fusion.   Think Casiopea, T-Square and of course Takanaka.

Although I didn't count him as an early influence, I do remember that the guy did have a pretty nice vibrato and a singing tone.

And after all these years it's good to know that Takanaka is still out there hitting it.

The complete home study jazz guitar course

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New Jimi Hendrix Guitars By Gibson -- The Saga Continues

Here are some pics of the new Jimi Hendrix guitars in the production line at Gibson.

It's interesting to note that these pics originated from Gibson's website but the company has since taken them down.

Leading to some speculation that maybe Gibson is doing an about face and are either working on a re-design -- due to some legal tangles with Fender, perhaps -- or are shelving the idea completely.

Even more interesting is that these do not appear to be bolt-on guitars as anticipated. Especially for guitars at this price point.

In the first pic we can see a typical Les Paul-type tenon joint in place of a larger bolt-on neck pocket. The quality of the ash wood bodies, I must admit, looks pretty good. Again, surprising for instruments at this price. I was expecting basswood-ply.

The second pic shows the set-neck/neck-to-body joint and the Authentic Hendrix logo on the back of that oh-so-ugly reverse headstock as well as -- check this out folks -- what appears to be a tremelo cavity that's been routed out backwards! No doubt to accomodate some fiendishly clever new vibrato design! Gasp!

Is this a high-end Gibson Jimi Hendrix line in the works? What are we really looking at here?

I feel like I'm looking at evidence of an alien presence from Roswell's Area 51.

Picture Source:

Why Didn't I Think Of That? #2 -- Modular Pedal Risers

This might be of interest to any pedalgeek who never leaves for a gig without a veritable fruit-stand of pedals.

If you have a single level pedalboard -- and two rows of pedals -- you've probably hit a control knob out of position by accident. Causing, for instance, a chorus pedal to warble madly out of tune during Message In A Bottle.
Or worse -- (insert personal experience here). Those clunky CAT workboots are not exactly pedal friendly.

Enter the Pedal Riser.

Designed to elevate the upper row of pedals on a pedalboard, the additional height lessens the likelihood of a clumsy boot heel or steel-toe from knocking out a pedal setting on the bottom row.

Pedal Risers are made out of 18-gauge steel and attach to the pedalboard with a very heavy-duty hook-and-loop fastener, which according to the company's advertising, is far stronger and more heat-resistant than the Velcro product we've come to know and love.

Pedal Risers are modular units -- use one for a single Boss or MXR-type pedal, or two, side-by-side, for larger pedals like the Line 6 Modellers. The space under each Riser also serves to conceal any unsightly wiring for a clean, professional look.

My only concern is how much additional weight all that 18-gauge steel is going to add. On a pedalboard it seems like every ounce counts.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Build A Custom Guitar Online

Design My Guitar is a new website that enables the user to design and have their dream axe built.

Launching on October 1st, the Belgium-based company offers Strat, Tele and Les Paul body-types as a starting point, with the option of further customization. Or a complete redesign.
Users will be able choose from a variety of standard tone woods for the bodies, necks and fingerboards, with pickup choices that include models from Fender, EMG and Seymour Duncan.
And here's the best part, with a base price of 200 Euros, a fully-loaded model will not exceed 1000 Euros. And turnaround time for delivery is 14 days.
I'm really looking forward to this one. It's about time I got that fretless guitar built.
And if this guitar manufacturing model works, it could well be the alternative way guitars will be marketed in the future.
(Source: Harmony Central)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Fabulous Quotes of the Rev. Billy F. Gibbons

Always eloquent, Billy Gibbons is a master of the turn of the phrase.

Here for your perusal is a small sampling of quotes -- which happen to also include some great advice on musicianship, guitars and making hit records -- as put forth by the inimitable Rev. Willie G.

"I was not really taking any lessons -- just had to sit on that porch and make up what I could"

On reading music:
"I'm strictly by ear. I can do charts, but it's mostly get up there and turn it up to Patent Applied For or Patent Pending and go for it!"

On using unusual tunings:
"We got into a situation where two strings broke on a Strat. It threw the other four strings into some strange Martian mode that I've yet to figure out."

"I've been told that I play the action too high, and I've been told that I use too heavy of a string. I've got the Billy G-strings!"

"I like to hit the right note. You can definitely make someone wiggle in their seat a bit if you know where you're heading with it and end up there."

"And of course you can follow a chord structure, and you can follow a scale, and come up with a delightful and correct piece. However, I think today it's a game of getting out there and getting after it, and if it feels right, you'll know."

On the music the band enjoys playing outside of ZZ Top:
"We like the Nortena stuff -- that border music -- bajo sexto and accordion. A little country and western pops up backstage every now and then."

"If you're really looking for something in particular, it helps to take your time."

"We do tend to pay a lot of attention to tone. Even with music like ZZ Top, I think that obscene tones are quite acceptable."

On the band's ritual before going onstage:
"We just take a moment to get into it. You know, just looking each other in the eye and making sure it's going to get lowdown."

"What we wind up doing is probably three hours of blues before a show, and then that kind of gets us wound up in gear to do two hours of high carburetion."

On his guitar collection:
"They're in a big pile."

"The majority of my collection is completely stock. There's a corner that we've saved for some of the more exotic tortures that have been performed on a few instruments, but those are pretty much for laughs."

"American ingenuity doesn't stop with a paint job. I've got a guitar that was made out of parts off a Model T. It's pretty rustic. Primitivo!"

"They're tools that are a means to an end. I think ultimately it's what's inside of you that brings it out. I'm sure everybody has found themselves in unfamiliar surrounding, banging on an unfamiliar instrument, and yet the heart and soul and the art makes its statement."

"Certain instruments lend themselves to either technical dexterity or the execution of some sophisticated passages."

On future goals:
"If we can just keep getting low-down, keep getting funky and playing them blues, we'll always have a smile on our faces. I'd like to just keep spankin' the plank."

On ZZ Top's breakthrough album Eliminator and music videos:
"Certainly, pretty girls wouldn't have anything to do with it."

On recording and mixing:
"If it sounds good to you in the car, what more do you want?"

On the Afterburner sessions:
"We built a thing that was nicknamed the 'Amp Cabin'. This was a pile of Fenders and Marshalls that were stacked on top of each other, and then supported to provide a roof and four walls, and we just stuck a big microphone in the middle of it and turned them all up as loud as we could get them. It was a true test of microphone technology."

"There was a time when it was thought that the best way to make records was to hide everybody in private booths, and you would communicate by way of headphones. This was great for isolation but it did nothing for that camaraderie and that spontaneous moment where you can look at someone right in the eye, give a nod of the head, and say "Let's make a left turn here." It was a great bonus to get back to doing that."

On locking tremelos:
"It's made me stay in tune! I tend to lean toward the Hendrix school, when it was just balls-to-the-wall, smash it to the face of the instrument, and who cares? -- just do a little string-bending and you're back in pitch. But now it's even more fun because you can just turn steel to rubber, and it still pops right back on the calendar."

On pick harmonics:
Harmonics are the upper-registers and chorusing always enhances the higher end. So it's not a bad idea to try a little chorusing when attempting to harmonic-out the stratosphere there."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Steve Lukather's Ibanez Prototype

Ok so the bidding for Luke's prototype Ibanez on eBay has ended -- 270451639615. After a 10 day listing with a starting bid of $18,000 maybe it was overreaching a little bit.

But really, I was half expecting a collector and Toto fan from Japan or Europe to scoop this one up. Chalk it up to tough economic times.

The Luke protoype was modelled closely after the Ibanez AR300, which was a set-neck, dual humbucker instrument with coil-tap options for each pickup. The prototype also had a slightly offset, asymmetrical body shape and the now de rigeur pointy headstock.

Strangely, the Ibanez RS1010SL Steve Lukather model that was eventually released in 1983 adopted the familiar early RG Roadstar body shape and headstock, with a bolt-on neck.

Ibanez spiffed up the RS1010 with an ebony fingerboard with mother-of-pearl 'snowflake' inlays, custom Lukather pickup in the bridge position and a bird's eye maple top. They also included a coil-tap on the push/pull tone pot for Strat-like tones.

But I always thought that the one-off Lukather prototype was way cooler. Too bad that the only design features they kept on the production model were the humbuckers and snow-flake inlays.

Lukather's relationship with Ibanez didn't last long -- production of the signature axe ceased by 1984 and Luke started playing his Mike McGuire-built Valley Arts instruments exclusively. He is currently endorsed by Musicman who produce his 'Luke' signature model.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New Jimi Hendrix Guitar Packages By Gibson

This kind of takes the cake.

In a 'roll-the guitar legend-in-his-grave' moment, Jimi's estate, Authentic Hendrix LLC has announced their exclusive agreement with Gibson in releasing three 'Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Packages'.

The aptly named (or not!) 'Experience', 'Little Wing' and 'Signature' guitar packages each come with a 10-watt amplifier, strap, tuner, cable, deluxe gig bag and Authentic Hendrix picks -- which gives us some idea as to the market Gibson and Authentic Hendrix are targetting with this one.

Somehow I don't think guitar collectors will be queueing up around the block anytime soon.

And never mind that the guitars themselves are butt-ugly bastardizations of the Stratocaster --I thought I was having a surreal Dali moment when I saw them.

Janie Hendrix, CEO of Authentic Hendrix, had this to say -- “It was our own idea to approach Gibson in the beginning after the positive experiences we’d had with the Flying V’s that they made based on Jimi’s guitar some years back. Our excitement inspired their excitement, and here we are, creating these new branded musical instruments. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
What's next? A Jimi Hendrix Happy Meal?

'Scuse me while I go throw up.
(Source and Photo Credits: GuitarWorld)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Fire In A Chinese Restaurant And Meeting Living Colour's Vernon Reid

A review of Living Colour's new album The Chair In The Doorway on I Heart Guitar reminded me of my meeting guitarist Vernon Reid in 1982.

Still a couple of years away from forming the Grammy award-winning Living Colour, Reid was your typical struggling New York-based avant-garde/jazz musician and a sideman with Ronald Shannon-Jackson's Decoding Society.

Led by bandleader and drummer Shannon-Jackson, the music of The Decoding Society could best be described as avant-garde/funk/jazz/rock, played by members who were all proponents of Ornette Coleman's harmolodic concept. It is my understanding that a certain amount of training under Ornette himself, or one of Ornette's disciples was required before one could be considered 'qualified' to play in this style.

I saw the band perform as part of the 1982 Singapore Jazz Festival and they were pretty mind-blowing. Vernon's style was a combination of post-bebop, 'sheets-of-sound'-era Coltrane and Hendrix-psychedelia.

Playing an early all-graphite Steinberger prototype and a 6-string banjo tuned like a guitar, Vernon plugged into an array of what must have been 12 or more pedals (sans pedalboard) that he set up individually on the floor in front of him.

Of course when a Decoding Society jazz workshop was announced, I could not pass it up.

At the workshop the day after the gig, the band was obviously keen to educate everyone present on harmolodics -- I recall bandleader Shannon-Jackson making a reference to 'evangelizing' Ornette Coleman's concepts.

We were barely 10 minutes into the workshop when things took an interesting turn -- a fire had broken out in the Chinese restaurant in the concert hall building, which led to the band and the workshop attendees being 'evacuated' by chartered bus to the Ramada hotel where the band was staying.

In the lobby of that hotel, I had a chance to sit down next to Vernon with a couple of other guitar playing buddies of mine -- fortunately for us, most of the workshop throng were either drummers, bassists or horn players.

From what I can remember, Vernon talked at length about his musical influences and his lessons with jazz guitar great Ted Dunbar whom he obviously had a great deal of respect for. He also spoke about the necessity of being familiar with the various eras in jazz and proceeded to rip some pretty convincing bebop lines on his Steinberger.
He also described harmolodics as the current-day equivalent of bebop and how difficult it was for someone like Charlie Parker to get any kind of recognition playing in the bebop style in his earlier days. Harmolodics, he said would be embraced as the new form of jazz in time to come. (I'm still waiting on this prediction Vern..)
In an about turn, Reid then started playing a beautiful chord-melody in the style of Barney Kessel/Johnny Smith. The cat is versatile!
And when someone asked what one should do if the country they were living in did not support the arts or a career in muic, Vernon's reply was simple -- "Leave! And go somewhere that does". It impressed upon my 18-year old mind the kind of fearless journeyman attitude one must have if one chooses to make music one's life path.

Buy Living Colour CDs And DVDs Here! The complete home study jazz guitar course

Sunday, September 20, 2009

8 Guitar Solos That Changed My Life

I decided to commemorate this, my 100th blog post with this list of my favorite guitar solos.

They are the reason I got started, the reason I stayed, and the reason I carry on.

All Along The Watchtower -- Jimi Hendrix (Electric Ladyland)
This tune never fails to give me goosebumps. Hendrix apparently agonized over the various sections of this song for weeks, laying down a multitude of parts before paring them down. The result -- amazingly melodic electric solos that grab you from the outset, a mysterious delay-enhanced 'slide' section and wah solo and a scratchy rhythm thang culminating in double bends. The studio version is a work of art, and still sounds relevant today despite being recorded more than 40 years ago.

Does anybody know what he used for the slide section? Til this day I can't figure out if he was using a conventional slide. Or could it have been a mic stand, or as some have postulated, a large ring he wore on his right hand?

Sunny - Pat Martino (from Pat Martino Live!)
I first heard this one when I was about 16. It was my first introduction to Martino and I was an instant convert. At 10 minutes 25 seconds this song filled the entire B side of the record. Martino really cooks and the sheer raw emotion he projects is startling.

Cause We've Ended As Lovers -- Jeff Beck (Blow By Blow)
What more can I say about this tune? Turn off the lights, the TV and the computer and just listen to it. Jeff gives us a timeless lesson in exactly what a Fender Stratocaster is capable of. Just as Jimi owned Bob Dylan's All Along the Watchtower, Jeff Beck certainly owns this song by Stevie Wonder.

Devil Take The Hindmost -- Allan Holdsworth (Metal Fatigue)
I first heard this as a Guitar Player magazine Soundpage. I was familiar with Holdsworth's earlier body of work but this track from Metal Fatigue was to me a defining moment -- his 'new' sound if you will. His already great playing seemed to have taken a quantum leap on Metal Fatigue with a newfound clarity of expression and articulation.

Push Comes To Shove -- Eddie Van Halen (Fair Warning)
Eddie has said that he had Holdsworth in mind when he cut this track, but the end result is unmistakeably Van Halen. I consider Fair Warning to be one of the darker Van Halen albums and to me it still stands above everything the band has ever produced. And Ed's tone has never been more 'brown'.

The Days of Wine and Roses -- Wes Montgomery (Boss Guitar)
Stating the melody in a very pianistic chord-melody style, Wes absolutely slays with his solo on this Henry Mancini classic, balancing jazz sophistication with a soulful bluesy edge. Wes is the Boss and every guitar player worth his salt knows it.

Stairway to Heaven -- Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin IV)
This solo needs no introduction. After many years of my thinking Pagey played this solo on a Les Paul into a Marshall stack (hey, these were pre-internet days!), it turned out that this landmark was played on a '58 Telecaster into a little Supro amp!

Blues For Salvador -- Carlos Santana (Blues For Salvador)
Recorded at a soundcheck for a Top of the Pops TV show, this duet between Santana and his longtime keyboard player Chester Thompson oozes with soul. Carlos's PRS guitar plugged into a Marshall stack simply cries with the most glorious of tones and might have just been the tipping point that put Paul Reed Smith on the map.

The complete home study jazz guitar course

Stevie Ray Vaughan's Studio Tone Secrets

Stevie Ray virtually redefined the sound of blues guitar. His fanatical attention to tone and the measures he took to get it are legendary.

The pic at right was taken during the In Step recording sessions by SRV's amp tech, the late, great Cesar Diaz -- the 'Amp Doctor'.

Stevie's amp setup from left to right were:

  • A Marshall JCM800 driving a Marshall 4x12 slant cab
  • A blonde '62 Fender Twin Reverb
  • A 150-watt Dumble Steel String Singer head on a Dumble 4x12 cabinet
  • Two '64 blackface Fender Vibroverbs (that happened to have consecutive serial numbers), each equipped with a 15" speaker
  • Two KT88-equipped Marshall Major 200-watt heads driving Marshall 4x15 and 8x10 cabinets

The speaker tally for this setup is interesting -- an 8x10 cab, two 4x12 cabs, a single 12" in the Twin, a 4x15 cab and two 15" speakers in the Vibroverbs. With eight 10", nine 12" and six 15" speakers, Stevie Ray could cover the entire sonic spectrum. His fondness for 15" speakers no doubt contributed greatly to his full-bodied, beefy tone.

For the In Step sessions, Stevie also relied on his ever-present Ibanez TS808 Tubescreamer, a Vox wah, a FuzzFace and an Octavia which he used in tandem with the Tubescreamer.

The Tubescreamer took a toll on his amplifiers which were already turned up to the point of breakup -- he would set it up so that it hit his amps hard with a hot, clean boost. According to Stevie, coupled with his heavy technique, and .013-.058 strings tuned to Eb, "I give my amps between two weeks to a month, and then they sound horrible."

Gear aside, the real secret to SRV's tone was in his hands. He could have plugged into a Fender Champ and still revolutionized the blues.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

James Tyler Guitars And How They Make A New Guitar Feel Like It's Been Played For 25 Years

If you've ever picked up a well-played Strat from the '60s (or if you're lucky, the '50s) you would probably have noticed that some areas on the edge of the fingerboard have become naturally rounded due to wear from years of playing -- adding to the overall mojo and vibe of the instrument.

In an effort to duplicate some of these worn, played-for-years characterictics, Tyler Guitars 'rolls' the fingerboard edges on every guitar they make. In fact, this feature has become something of a company hallmark -- and they have certainly taken it to the nth degree. (see pic above of my Tyler Studio Elite Jimburst)

When viewed at a certain angle, the fingerboard edges, meticulously shaped by hand, appear to be almost scalloped, with a slight concave between each fret.

What this translates to is a very smooth playing neck, since all sharp angles have been painstakingly sanded out of the equation.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Visit to Ceriatone Amplifiers -- Part 3

Just found a few more Ceriatone pics in my camera which I thought might be interesting to post up.

I'll follow this up with a video demo of the Ceriatone JTM45 soon.

Left: Aluminum chassis awaiting assembly -- which gives us an idea of the sheer volume demand worldwide for Ceriatone amps.

According to Ceriatone boss Nik Azam, the company is now shipping out about 100 amps a month.

Right: Stacks of amp faceplates. Ceriatone uses a traditional silkscreen process for the lettering on their faceplates.

After the letters are silkscreened, a hard matte clear coat finish is applied to protect the lettering.

Left: A tech solders on the components using point-to-point wiring. All circuits have to be hand-wired as no PCB's are used.

Right: Miles of color-coded, teflon-coated wire.

Left: Every kind of amp fuse known to Man. Almost.

Right: Power transformers awaiting assembly. Note the 120V and 240v varieties.

Left: A Ceriatone Tweed Twin with a one-off custom color faceplate.

Right: An amp being prepped for shipping. Amps are shipped 'glass-on-board' (tubes installed) hence the need for bubblewrap to protect them during transit.
Left: Clinton and Nik Azam, Ceriatone founder.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mike Landau Owned Tyler Studio Elite

Here's a cool eBay find (220480641051) -- a Jim Tyler Studio Elite in BBQ Black, which according to the seller is a one-of-a-kind prototype matte finish and apparently, originally built for Mike Landau.

This guitar features a maple fingerboard on a maple neck , three Seymour Duncan mini-humbuckers, Wilkinson VS100 bridge and a Mamywo body.

Tyler generally eschews the Fender-style 'skunk stripe' method of installing trussrods into a maple neck. Instead, he glues his maple fingerboards onto his maple necks, just as he would a rosewood 'board.

'Mamywo' is a Tyler concoction meaning 'Malaysian Mystery Wood' aka jelutong which is a very light and resonant hardwood, commonly used for building houses in Asia (back in the day).

A VTT push/pull control on one of the tone pots enables the player to bring in the neck pickup into the mix, no matter if the selector switch is on the 3rd, 4th or 5th positions -- very similar to the mod I described here -- which is always great for wringing out a couple more tones out of any three-pickup guitar.

Also included is a certificate of authenticity signed by Jim. The complete home study jazz guitar course

Why Didn't I Think Of That #1 -- Screwless Pickguards for Les Paul Guitars

I recently came across these Bobby Lee Signature Series screwless pickguards for Les Pauls on eBay -- 140345282784

Gibson currently sells some of their Les Paul models without the pickguard installed -- probably as a cost-saving measure. The pickguard, screws and mounting bracket are placed in the case's accessory compartment and left to the customer to install themselves.

One can only imagine the number of little disasters this has caused.

Bobby Lee, who works in plastic fabrication, has come up with a solution for the Les Paul owner who doesn't want to drill holes into his guitar.

To attach the screwless pickguard, the user has only to remove the two pairs of pickup mounting screws on the 'pickguard side' of the guitar. The four holes on the screwless pickguard are then aligned with the holes on the mounting rings and the mounting screws replaced.

A small silicon rubber grommet is attached to the underside of the pickguard which contacts with the guitar's top for added stability. Although according to Lee, only one of his customers has installed the grommet since the system is already very secure and solid without it.

And voila -- the pickguard is now attached without having to drill a single hole into the instrument. And the guitar is easily restored to factory spec by simply removing the pickguard.

The screwless pickguard is a great quick-fix solution for Les Paul players who rest their pick hand fingers on the guitar, inadvertently leaving a swirl of tiny scratches in the finish.

The pickguards are available in left-handed models and in a variety of colors -- cream, black, 'Robot' blue and clear (is that a color?) so that the full grain of that figured top is in complete view.

Lee's pickguards, recognized by Gibson as a qualified after-market accessory, fit Les Paul Standards, Studios and Classics as well as the Epiphone series of Les Pauls. As of this writing Lee's pickguards are being developed for the Historic-series Les Pauls.

You can check out Bobby Lee's website here:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Jimi Hendrix Plays 'Hound Dog' On Acoustic Guitar!

I found this YouTube vid of Jimi playing 'Hound Dog' on

Jimi's take on this Elvis classic shows just how deep Hendrix's knowledge of the Delta blues style really was. Opting for the key of E (Elvis' original was in C) he gives it a decidedly Robert Johnson twist while freely interspersing it with his own rhythmic ideas. And if there's anything that this video shows us, it's just how in the pocket Hendrix's time was.

Check out the Mississippi bottleneck slide lick he wrings out with just his fingers at 0:32-0:33, and the 'Delta wail' in 2:21-2:29 where he doubles a single line motif on the guitar with his voice while keeping the rhythm going.

Another listing for the same video dates it from 24th February 1969 which was also the date for Jimi's concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. If the date for this video is correct then this could have been an after-show hang, maybe even backstage at the Albert Hall itself.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

PRS Al DiMeola Signature Model

Now this is a beautiful instrument -- almost too beautiful to play. It should come with its own glass-case, halogen spotlight and velvet rope.

Al DiMeola has been playing various PRS's since the late '80s, alternating them with his mainstay axe, his famous black '59 Les Paul Standard with cream DiMarzio pickups. But this is the first time PRS has come out with an 'Al D' signature axe.

The Al DiMeola Prism features PRS's standard 25" scale length, a custom-shaped Peruvian mahogany neck and black Mexican rosewood fingerboard with abalone bird outline inlays with paua centers. The carved curly maple '9' top is coupled to a mahogany back. (Why not a '10' top we wonder -- this is after all Al's signature guitar. I guess those are saved for the Private Stock series)

The standard tremelo bridge and pickup covers for the humbuckers are nickel-plated. The pickup covers, interestingly, have a brushed texture giving a satin-matt finish. And as anyone who has owned a guitar with nickel hardware will tell you, nickel ages to a similar dull lustre if not wiped regularly.

A 3-way toggle switch, and a single volume and push/pull tone control for humbucker/coil-tap selection complete the setup.

Al originally suggested a 'tie-dye' finish which eventually evolved into the breath-taking Prism of colors on the final version.

And if you look closely at the Prism's various tints, several of PRS's primary colors are represented -- Vintage Yellow, Amber, Vintage Cherry, Purple, Royal Blue, Whale Blue and Emerald Green -- each blending into the next. Wow.

The complete home study jazz guitar course

PRS Al DiMeola Prism And The Bird from 'Up'?

While watching the movie 'Up' I was quite taken by the colorful plumage on Kevin the Bird.

And I couldn't shake this feeling that I had recently seen that same color combination somewhere. It was all too familiar. Hmmm...

But seriously..

See my next post for an overview of the PRS Al DiMeola Prism.

The complete home study jazz guitar course

Friday, September 11, 2009

Zakk Wylde Facing Serious Health Issues

Our favorite Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde has been diagnosed with a rare, genetic blood disorder.

Admitted to hospital on 19th August after Zakk felt a severe pain in his calf muscle, the guitarist was diagnosed with having blood clots in his leg and in his lungs after a CT scan. Blood clots of this nature can migrate through the circulatory system and be life-threatening.

According to Barbaranne Wylde who posted this on Black Label Society's MySpace page dated 10th September,

"Zakk is still on this rollercoaster. One day blood thinners too day they don't even register in his blood. We have an appointment with a hemotologist on Friday. He does have a rare, genetic clotting disorder."

Zakk has requested that his fans tweet him. His twitter page is here:

Sending Light and Prayers your way, Zakk. Get well.

The Jimmy Bruno Guitar Institute | Overview

I've long been a fan of jazz guitarist Jimmy Bruno.  And when I heard that he was offering an online jazz guitar course in 2007, I simply had to sign up at The Jimmy Bruno Guitar Institute.

I stayed for two 3-month subscription terms. At $60 per term, I felt that I had gotten more than my money's worth.

The layout of the course is very logical and systematic -- Jimmy Bruno takes the student from ground zero up to more advanced levels of jazz improvisation. Depending on one's current level, combined with the willingness to work dilligently every day at the material presented, the student should be able to become a fairly decent jazz guitar player in about a year.

Jimmy introduces his course using the piano to illustrate the concept of extended arpeggios -- a cornerstone concept in jazz improvisation -- and indeed the sound of jazz itself. Playing a basic C triad with his left hand, he plays extensions built in thirds above it and starts to explain how any chord can be played over using extended triads.

Jimmy then goes on to detail the 5 Forms which maps out the entire fretboard in any key. He also advocates being able to play in one position while going through all 12 keys using the 5 Forms, which I found to be particularly helpful. And quite challenging if you played all 12 keys through, say the Cycle of 4ths, using only one position on the guitar neck.

It's interesting that, by Jimmy's own admission, he has abandoned his rather complex fingering naming system which he detailed on his earlier video instructional tape No-Nonsense Jazz Guitar in favor of the more streamlined 5 Forms.

And I agree. I myself was baffled as to why he was using nomenclature such as '6V2' and '5V4' on his earlier tape to explain what were basically the 5 Forms.

Putting theory into practice, Jimmy begins creating simple jazz-style melodies out of the 5 forms and goes on to supply a myriad of ii-V patterns in various keys which he plays over Band-In-a-Box backing tracks. He plays all the examples on video, supplies the PDF file for all the notation and also makes the midi backing tracks downloadable so the student can further explore the concepts.

Jimmy also explains his improvisational approach to some basic jazz standards -- Blue Bossa, Satin Doll, There Will Be Another You and On Green Dolphin Street were all being thoroughly explored during the time of my subscription. I do believe he has since added more advanced tunes to analyse -- including that harmonic minefield, Giant Steps.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the entire course is the Masterclass section where enrolled students can submit their own improvisations for Jimmy to critique. While I felt that the lessons in the course curriculum were a little slow to come -- sometimes weeks passed with no new lessons -- Jimmy was absolutely on the ball with his video responses to student submissions. Which might have been the thing that took him away from his core curriculum development to begin with.

Bear in mind that I signed on in 2007 when the Institute was still in its infancy. The core curriculum is now probably well fleshed out -- which is the advantage to signing up later instead of earlier for this type of course.

There is no expense spared as far as the production quality -- there is absolutely none of that camera-in-a-poorly-lit-bedroom, dishevelled-hair-at-9-in-the-morning sort of vibe. The video is studio-quality sharp and the audio is excellent -- Jimmy even goes to the extent of sweetening the tone from his Sadowsky archtop with a touch of studio reverb.

While there is a lot of material for the student to download and work on, my only gripe perhaps is that the lesson videos themselves are not downloadable -- a protection against digital copying and file sharing. The only way to view them is to log-in and watch them online.

All in all, I would say that the material in JBGI is targetted at the beginner right up to the upper-intermediate level jazz guitar player. If you're already a gigging jazz guitarist there won't be much here that is groundbreaking or totally new in terms of theory or outside playing concepts.

But perhaps therein lies the beauty of Jimmy Bruno's approach, and indeed the approaches of all the legendary jazz masters who used simple, easy-to-use-on-the-bandstand concepts instead of being bogged down by a vocabulary derived from scales and modes.

And if you're a guitar teacher yourself, this course provides a huge resource from which to tap into.

Note: The Jimmy Bruno Guitar Institute has since closed.  Jimmy Bruno is now currently offering online jazz guitar lessons at

The complete home study jazz guitar course

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Steve Lukather's Paul Rivera Modified Fender Princeton

Here's an eBay listing for Steve Lukather's Fender Princeton Reverb amp:

(The link will go down once the amp is sold)

Leo Fender had it right the first time.

The circuits for the Fender Princeton, Deluxe and Twin Reverb have long been the templates on which other American amplifier manufacturers have been building on.

And Fender's circuitry was adaptable and relatively easy to modify.

For instance, before launching his Boogie amplifiers, Randall Smith got his start by modifying Fender Princeton's in his garage, introducing cascading gain stages that enabled the little amp to scream with almost infinite sustain even at low, hotel room volumes.

Across the pond, Jim Marshall was basing his earliest creations on the original tweed Fender Bassman amps, but powered with EL34 power tubes instead of the American 6L6's.

Even Alexander Dumble designed his amplifiers around the Fender Deluxe schematic. And as Lowell George once put it, “A Dumble is a Fender made right.”

And more amp hot-rodders rose to the task to meet the needs of a tone and gain hungry clientele with each building a reputation based on their work modding the amplifiers of rock’s elite -- Jose Arredondo (Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai), Harry Kolbe (Al DiMeola, Allan Holdsworth, Yngwie Malmsteen) and Paul Rivera (Steve Lukather, Larry Carlton and many of LA’s session elite). Rivera was also a pioneer in building custom pedalboards and effects racks for studio guitarists in the late 70's.

Which brings us to Mr. Lukather's Rivera-modded Princeton. As the eBay listing describes it, this Princeton was Lukather's 'go to' amp from 1976 to 1982 and has appeared on a lot of his session work.

And it's not surprising. With its low wattage -- two 6V6 power tubes producing all of 12 watts -- the Fender Princeton was the secret weapon of many studio guitar players. The amp could be cranked if needed without becoming overbearing and, with a possible modification or two, could produce a gamut of tones from silky clean to high-gain.

Rivera's mods to Lukather's amp in this case included a 6-position rotary switch in place of the second input jack which enabled a selection of six different mid-boost frequencies. The red knob that was installed in place of the vibrato speed knob is a control for adding gain to any one of those six mid-frequencies.

As he did to most of the amps he worked on, Rivera also probably reworked the amp with his Stage 2 Plus mod where the preamp, output stage and power supply are modified to produce a smoother, more articulate distortion.

Paul Rivera went on to manufacture his own line of Rivera amplifiers in the late '80s. Lukather, ever the loyal customer, started endorsing his own signature model Rivera Bonehead amps in 1999.

The complete home study jazz guitar course

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In Memory of Buddy Holly 1936-1959

Buddy Holly was born 7th September 1936. He would have been 73 years old.

The simplicity of his music coupled with a startling sincerity has always resonated something in me. To many, he stood for the everyman -- the young lad from next door who was blessed with this extraordinary talent to just get up onstage and do his thing.

No hype and no hoopla. Just honest to goodness rock 'n roll.

And he was a fine picker.

Like his singing, he didn't have to resort to much when he played. He chose his notes well on his clean-toned Stratocaster and that was all he needed to get his point across, powerfully and unequivocably.

It was enough to make any grown man wince -- in a good way.

In a career that spanned less than two years, Buddy Holly went from being a household name to a bona fide rock 'n roll legend.

The great ones always seem to go too soon.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Flash Review #1 -- Ibanez Andy Timmons AT100CLSB

My girlfriend took this video of me noodling on an Ibanez AT100 at a music store in Kuala Lumpur. Which gave me an idea for a new series for The Guitar Column -- the Flash Review. (And if I had known she was recording I would have put the guitar through its tonal paces more, from clean to dirty, and everything in between. Oh well, next time..)

Here's Flash Review #1 -- The Ibanez Andy Timmons AT100CLSB:

Featuring an alder body on a maple neck, the AT100 is a joy to play.

When I picked up the guitar, the neck immediately reminded of the limited-run Loch Ness green JEM 777's of the late 80's-- a neck shape which Ibanez didn't incorporate into subsequent editions of the JEM.

The AT100's fingerboard edges are slightly rounded off for that played-for-years, broken-in feel, and the jumbo frets were substantial without being overly high or wide -- they felt a little like Dunlop 6105's.

Hardware consists of Sperzel locking tuners and a Wilkinson vintage tremelo with bent steel saddles. This Wilkinson model is a six-screw mount design but on the AT100, the middle two screws are intentionally left out.

This was a common way to get a Strat's six-screw tremelo to behave more like a two-point fulcrum edge, increasing tremelo range and more accurate return to 'zero' thus stabilizing tuning. Some folks went so far as to remove the middle four screws, leaving only the outer two.

But there was a problem with this particular instrument -- the guitar totally fretted out from the 5th to the 7th frets. There was also a considerable bow in the neck -- a sure sign that somebody had spotted the fret-out, loosened the truss-rod thinking that that would fix the problem while leaving a little dent at the truss-rod nut channel at the headstock in the process. Ouch.

Fret-outs notwithstanding, the AT100 feels and sounds like a really nice, thoughtfully souped-up Strat. The imperceptibly slight 'V' shape on the back of neck makes for a very comfortable ride, with the thin finish giving it the texture of raw, unfinished wood.

The two DiMarzio Cruiser pickups blended very well with the DiMarzio AT1 custom humbucker at the bridge. There wasn't that unpleasant tonal jump when shifting from the neck pickups single-coil'ish tones to the full-blown humbucker at the bridge -- a typical problem with guitars with the single/single/humbucker configuration.

The tonal balance of this combination of pickups is nearly perfect.

Another feature I really liked was how the first tone pot controlled the neck and middle pickups, while the second tone pot was dedicated to the bridge humbucker. This is extremely useful for tempering the bridge pickup's tone when stick-shifting between pickups, so you don't sound like you 'just picked up a different guitar' when you shift from the neck to the bridge pickup -- as how Scott Henderson aptly puts it.

The AT100 is probably the nearest thing, in terms of tone and feel, to a Fender Stratocaster in Ibanez's current line. It captures the traditional vibe surprisingly well (never mind the pointy headstock) while breezing effortlessly into more modern territory at the flick of a switch.

Couple the AT100 with a Timmons-approved Xotic BB Preamp, for absolute tone heaven!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Visit To Ceriatone Amplifiers Part II

The following interview with Ceriatone's Nik Azam is excerpted from my hour-and-a-half long visit:

The Guitar Column: I see you use a lot of orange capacitors on your circuit boards. Some have been labelled 'Holy Grail'. Care to share with us what that's about, or is it a trade secret?
Nik Azam: They're no secret -- the orange capacitors are made by Sprague. They are the only ones that will give the proper sound. The Holy Grail electrolytic caps are made locally in Penang (to Ceriatone's specs). It's an availability issue for these if we have to order it everytime from the US.

TGC: I see from your website that you also offer your amps in kit form. Of course putting an amp together from scratch is no simple matter.

NA: Yes, a certain amount of (electrical) knowledge is presumed on the part of the builder. It's an experience for the beginner who wants to learn to put together their first amp.

TGC: Then there is the issue of tube biasing. From what I know it can be dangerous if you're not sure of what you're doing.

NA: Biasing is easy once you know how to do it. And if the customer needs it, I will give them step by step instructions so they can (safely) do it themselves. And it's really not that difficult.

TGC: Do you think there is a difference in tone between amps with printed circuit boards (PCBs), and handwired amplifiers with point-to-point wiring?

NA: No there shouldn't be any difference. But the reason the big manufacturers use PCBs is that they are trying to squeeze in as many features as they can. This means that they have to substitute parts with smaller (alternative) components and that can affect the sound.

(Of the boutique amps) Fuchs uses PCBs -- they go for around US$3,000; Two-Rock amps are hand-wired, they're about US$8,000. People see our Overtone Special, which is modelled on the Dumble for US$1,000 and they go 'why not?' The Dumble amp is US$40,000.

TGC: How did you happen to come across the Dumble circuit? Dumble would put black epoxy over his circuit to conceal the parts.

NA: A couple of Dumbles were actually 'de-gooped' a few years ago, probably using some chemical agents to remove the epoxy. The parts were revealed and their values measured. After that it became public knowledge on the amp forums in the States.

TGC: What is the Overtone S&M Special?

NA: It's based on our Overtone Special. There are some mods in there that were created for two very early customers of mine, friends really -- Sami and Marin. Of course there's the double entendre of 'S&M'..

TGC: What is your view on transformer ratings? There is the opinion that it is better to use a 110v transformer like they use in the US, and then use an external step-up transformer if you're in a country where the mains are not 110v. I had this experience with Matchless amps myself. I thought Matchless didn't sound very good at all, rather dull and lifeless --the ones with the 220v transformer. Then I tried the 110v Matchless amps in the States and they were amazing. What's your view on this?

NA: Technically there should be no difference -- you're just using different leads on the transformer to adjust for the different voltage coming in to the amp -- 110, 120, 220 and 240v.

The change in sound in those Matchless amps may be because of some minor damage during shipping -- things can get moved around inside during shipping, altering the tone.

TGC: What do you think of the opinion that birch ply is the best wood to use for amp cabinets? Some people swear that birch plywood is the only way to go for the tone.

NA: Marshall started using birch ply simply because it was available and it wasn't expensive. Wood availability is a function of geography. In Malaysia of course, birch is not available. We use marine-grade ply made of local hardwoods.

TGC: I notice on your shelf over there that you have several face-plates marked with the word 'reject' on them. To be honest, I can't spot anything wrong with them -- your quality control standards must be very high.

NA: All our face-plates use the traditional silk-screen method for the lettering. Sometimes there is a little smear or imperfection somewhere (on the lettering) so we reject it. Because we're in Asia and we sell amps around the world, sometimes a small imperfection can get amplified. And nowadays with the internet, word spreads quickly.

We went through seven different vendors before we settled on one who could make our face-plates with a low rejection rate.

TGC: What about the grille cloth on your amps? They look good -- are those from a local supplier?

NA: I get them from China. I have to purchase a minimum of 10,000 meters of fabric before they will sell them to me. The best time to purchase parts from China is at the end of the year when vendors are trying to sell off their stock for the year.

TGC: Do you make your amp cabinets in-house?

NA: I get the cabinets made (by a vendor) -- a two-man operation makes them. No CNC machines. They build the cabinets by hand using marine ply and regular dowel joints and then cover the cabinets with black Tolex. We do get requests for other colors but I try to keep it simple -- it's available in any color as long as it's black!

We have only four basic cabinet types for our amp heads -- we try to streamline operations.

TGC: What speakers options do you offer? And what about speaker ohms -- does that affect the sound?

NA: We use Celestion speakers mainly, or Jensens. Based on the output of the transformers, 16 ohms will give the fullest sound. But it also depends on the number of speakers you're using, the type of speaker, whether they're wired in series..

TGC: Which is your most popular amp model?

NA: It depends on the flavor of the month. One month it may be the JTM45, another the TrainWreck clone. But for the last couple of years the Overtone Special has been hands-down the most popular.

TGC: I have to ask -- of your entire line, which amp are you most proud of?

NA: I'm proud of all of them.

TGC: To be more specific, given your entire amp range, which one would you choose to take to a gig?

NA: I would take the JTM45. The complete home study jazz guitar course


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