Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bambusa | Bamboo Solid-Body Guitar

Used for millenia in the Far East and prized for its strength, resilience and flexibility, bamboo features prominently in Asian architecture, furniture and in its musical instruments.

And bamboo grows extremely quickly.  Under the right conditions, growth of as much as 48 inches within a 24-hour period have been recorded, making it an abundantly renewable resource. 

Now Boston-based instrument company First Act has created the Bambusa, an eco-friendly guitar made entirely out of bamboo.  Although not a completely new idea -- Yamaha came up with the FGBM-1 bamboo acoustic guitar in 2000 -- this is the first time that a solidbody bamboo instrument is being manufactured. 

Like the Yamaha, the only non-bamboo part of the instrument is the rosewood fretboard.

And according to First Act, bamboo that is cut into strips and glued together to form a laminate, is stronger than maple and is a viable substitute for more common tonewoods.

At a MSRP of $399, the Bambusa could make an interesting conversation piece at that next blues gig. Ok, now I'm thinking out loud.

(Pic Source:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Archtop Guitar Built From Fallen Historic Tree

A 90-foot tall elm tree that was battered by a typhoon in 2004 and then destroyed by heavy rains in 2006 has found a new lease of life as an archtop guitar.  The 300-year-old historic tree, which was awarded '100 Giants of the Forest' status in Japan, once stood as a proud symbol for the town of Shimokawa in northern Hokkaido.

After deliberation by the town's council, it was decided that guitar luthier Naoto Odashima would be commisioned to construct a guitar out of the tree's remains.  The archtop-style guitar was completed in October 2009 and has been played by a number of local musicians in Shimokawa.

Here's a list of standards that probably shouldn't be played on this particular instrument:

Here's That Rainy Day
Gone With The Wind
September In The Rain
Stormy Weather
Stormy Monday
There Will Never Be Another You (Yew)

With a fallen historic tree that large I would think that they would have managed to knock out a few additional solidbodies like this hand-carved Ibanez Artwood Nouveau from the mid-70s. 

(Pic Source: The complete home study jazz guitar course

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gibson Reverse Flying V | Benefit Haiti Relief Effort

I've featured many eBay items in the past but this one supports an important cause.  (eBay Item #:  160396737083)

Gibson Guitars and music blog Miami New Times have created a special edition Reverse Flying V which is being auctioned on eBay to benefit victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti .  The guitar also features custom artwork by Miami artist David LeBatard of LEBO Studios.

One hundred percent of the proceeds from the sale of this guitar will go to

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pat Metheny's Orchestrion Project

For his latest recording project Orchestrion, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny teams up with an unlikely combination of pneumatics, solenoids and mechanically played instruments, instead of his usual Pat Metheny Group. 

Metheny is one of the few jazz guitarists who has always experimented with technology -- he was a keen user of the Roland guitar synthesizer, which he made as much a part of his musical voice as his warm toned jazz guitar, and was also an ardent supporter of the Synclavier digital composing and recording system back in the day.

But the Orchestrion is a different machine. Quite literally, it is a machine. 

Metheny recalls visiting his grandfather's home as a child and heading straight for the basement where he would tinker with an ancient player piano and boxes of piano rolls -- no doubt the awakening of his infatuation with music technology.  At the turn of the 20th century, the player piano idea was taken further with the Orchestrion except that the piano rolls now controlled percussion and calliope wind instruments like a pseudo-orchestra -- an early music sequencer if you will. 

For his Orchestrion project, Metheny sought out inventors and engineers to create an array of acoustic instruments that could be controlled from a central source -- he uses the technology from the Yamaha Disklavier piano, the modern electronic version of the player piano, for his central controller.  Pivotal also was an invention that used MIDI to trigger mechanical solenoids by way of control voltage which allowed for a wider dynamic range than was ever possible.  
Pat Metheny has really stepped out of the box with this one.  What is remarkable is that he makes a convincing statement out of what could easily have turned out to be a musical and mechanical disaster.   
( The complete home study jazz guitar course

Friday, January 22, 2010

Gibson Announces Slash Signature 'Appetite' Les Paul for 2010

Gibson recently announced the soon to be released, limited run Slash signature 'Appetite' Les Paul.  My guess is that this will be the most talked about, reviewed, discussed and dissected axe for 2010.

But folks, 'Appetite' has got to be one of the strangest guitar model names ever.  Not to mention that its imminent release comes so closely after Jimmy Page's 'Number 2'.  Is it just me or are we seeing some kind of gastro-intestinal pattern developing here?  Too bad that the far more elegant sounding 'AFD' has already been taken by Marshall for their new line of Slash amps.

What is interesting is that Gibson, after taking several stabs at a Slash signature Les Paul over the years, has finally chosen to tackle head-on and attempt to replicate the guitar used on Appetite For Destruction.  Never mind that the singing beast used by Slash on Guns N' Roses debut wasn't made by Gibson but was actually a Les Paul copy built by one Kris Derrig.  

Gibson has issued the following specs for the 'Appetite' Les Paul:

•Traditional style weight relief Mahogany body with AAA Figured Maple top

•Unique neck profile made for Slash features rounded 60’s shape

Rosewood fingerboard with trapezoid inlays

•Un-burst top with faded cherry back lacquer finish

•Slash signature smoking skull with top hat artwork for peghead face

•New Seymour Duncan Alnico II Slash Signature pickups

•Special capacitors selected by Slash for vintage tone

•Tone Pro hardware with historic machine heads, locking bridge and tailpiece

(Pic Source:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mike Matthews Talks About The Big Muff

I'll always have a soft spot for the Big Muff pedal

It was, after all, the first pedal I played through that, to my adolescent ears, gave me a decent facsimile of the Jimi Hendrix sound at bedroom levels. 

Bear in mind that this was the era of behemoth non-master volume tube amps that simply refused to distort at anything less than tooth filling-loosening volume levels.  And those new fangled transistor amps (gasp!) had yet to get their act together -- they sounded better on paper in the guitar magazine ads than they did up close and personal. 

Fortuitously, Electro Harmonix Big Muff came along just as my musical tastes were gravitating toward the flavors of the psychedelic '60s.  If I wanted my guitar to distort and sustain like Jimi's on Love Or Confusion, the humble Big Muff was just a footswitch-tap away.

In this vid Mike Matthews -- hail, oh great one! -- talks about the origins of the Big Muff and its predecessor the Muff Fuzz, mentioning how he came up with the name because he thought it sounded 'muffled'.  I guess it dawned on Mike a little later to add the Pi after Muff, giving the Big Muff Pi a whole new meaning.  Nudge, nudge.. wink, wink..

Jeff Beck To Release New Album!

Jeff Beck has never been prolific with his studio releases --  it's been 7 years since 2003's eponymously-titled Jeff.   The upcoming release of Emotion & Commotion on April 13 will undoubtedly come as a welcome surprise for fans hankering for the Strat-meister's new material. 

Can someone please stand up and say, "It's about bloody time!"

And it's an ambitious project too, for one of rock's most influential guitarists.  Together with his usual stellar band of Vinnie Colaiuta, Jason Rebello and Tal Wilkenfeld, Beck also performs with a 64-piece orchestra on several cuts.  Also making a guest appearance on two tracks is sultry-voiced pop songstress Joss Stone.  That should ensure some decent radio airplay.

Before embarking on his world tour for Emotion & Commotion that will include South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia and the US, Beck will also be playing a few shows with Eric Clapton in London, New York, Toronto and Montreal in February. 

Quite a leap for Jeff Beck who by all accounts prefers to be holed-up in his garage building hot-rod cars or slicing carrots in his kitchen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Misa Digital Guitar | Who Needs Those Stinkin' Strings?

2010 must be the Year of the Guitar Gizmo. 

While the YouRock guitar was targetted at the guitar player/gamer with the lure of its touch fingerboard and strummable strings, the Misa digital guitar goes in the totally opposite direction. 

Strings?  We ain't got no strings.. we don't need no strings.. I don't have to show you any stinkin' strings!

In lieu of strings, the Misa digital guitar's outstanding feature is a futuristic touchpad screen that is 'played' with the right hand -- electronic musicians will recall the Korg Kaoss Pad here.  And like the Kaoss Pad, the Misa digital guitar is purely a MIDI controller and needs to be connected to a MIDI sound module, keyboard or appropriate sequencer software.

Hmm, it's finally beginning to look like the 21st Century..

The far-thinking designers at Misa have based their digital guitar's software on the open source Linux operating software which they hope will invite programmers to experiment and further expand on the possibilities that the Misa digital guitar has to offer.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Marshall Announces Slash AFD100 Amp Project and Website

Marshall Amplification has come up with a unique marketing strategy for the new Slash signature Marshall AFD100 amplifier.  The website, was created specially for the purpose of showing the new Slash signature model amp as it goes through its various development stages.

Based on the legendary JCM800 2203 head that Slash used on Appetite For Destruction -- which was actually a rental from SIR Studios, Hollywood -- Marshall intends to nail the mojo of this seeming Holy Grail of Marshall amplifiers.  The AFD100 is scheduled for release later this year.

Interestingly, this is not the first time Marshall has collaborated with Slash. An earlier amp, the Marshall Jubilee JCM 2555SL Slash Signature, was released in 1996.

Tom Morello | Support For Laid-Off Cort Factory Workers

Following up on my article on the plight of laid-off Cort guitar factory workers, it looks like some prominent guitar folk are getting involved.

Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello showed his support at a recent Cort Action Solidarity concert on January 13. 

The concert, dubbed A Night of Guitars, was staged during NAMM 2010 week in Los Angeles while guitar manufacturing bigwigs were in town.  In addition to their own guitar line, Cort also supplies Fender, Ibanez, Gibson, Lakland and ESP. 

Morello also issued this statement:

“Guitars should be a means to liberation, not exploitation. I fully support the Korean workers’ demands for justice in the workplace. All American guitar manufacturers and the people that play them should hold Cort accountable for the awful way they have treated their workers. Without us, they would go out of business. Simple as that. No one should have their job taken away because they stand up for their rights.”

Fender apparently, is the first to step up to the plate and will be conducting their own investigations into the Cort guitar factory lay-offs.

(Pic Source:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

TC Electronics PolyTune | Strum, Tune, Rock!

TC Electronics PolyTune is the newest revolution in guitar tuner technology!

Guitar tuners have always been finicky little beasts.  The chromatic tuner as we know it, is easily confused by extraneous, sympathetic string resonances that are liable to send LED readouts bouncing back and forth like a ping-pong ball at a table-tennis match.  As any experienced guitar player will tell you, a certain amount of 'tuner chops' are required to get an accurate, steady reading.

Enter TC Electronics PolyTune -- the world's first polyphonic guitar and bass tuner! 

All the user needs to do is strum through all the strings on his guitar or bass simultaneously and the PolyTune's micro-computer decides, and indicates by means of multiple LEDs, which string is in tune, and which are sharp or flat.  The LEDs also adjust their brightness automatically, depending on ambient light.

Fabulous.  TC Electronics PolyTune just made onstage guitar fine-tuning a lot quicker.

20 Life-Saving and Extremely Useful Guitar and Gear Tips!

To commemorate my 200th post, here are 20 useful, and on occasion, life-saving guitar and gear tips that have worked for me over the years.

  • Leave cables with solderless plugs for home or studio use.  I really like the tone of cables with solderless plugs.  They usually tend to be of high quality and sound really transparent.   But they're also most prone to a bad or loose connection that can be a nightmare to troubleshoot, especially if you have a huge pedalboard.

  • Use an aural exciter if you need to punch through the band without playing louder.  An aural exciter works by separating the different frequencies in a signal by milliseconds so that they reach the input source or amplifier at slightly different times.  This separation reduces muddying of frequencies resulting in better clarity.

  • If you've just bought a new multi effects pedal, don't bother tweaking the tone at home.  Once the rest of the band kicks in, it's going to sound totally different onstage.  Book a couple of hours rehearsal time with your band and tell your mates that the session is purely for you to tweak your sound 

  • Don't pay attention to the numbers on the knobs when tweaking your gear. Just keep twisting the knobs till the sound approximates what you hear in your head.  Then use the numbers as a reference to remember later.

  • When using an amp modelling pedal in a live situation, play through a clean solid state amp -- I love the Roland JC120 or JC160 solid-state amps for this application.  Tube amps impart too much of their own color to the sound.  A direct line into the PA also works well but you'll need a good soundman who can give you a good onstage monitor mix

  • Go stereo.  All the famous cats, from Steve Lukather to Pat Metheny to John Scofield do it.  Stereo creates a nice spread to the sound, and surprisingly lets you relax more as you play because you're not dealing with a sound that is emanating from a single, direct source.  And going stereo let's the bass player enjoy some of your juicy tones from his side of the stage too!  

  • A simple truss-rod adjustment can make a guitar play like butter.  Learn to do this yourself or shell out a few bills for a repairman or luthier.  My personal preference is for absolutely no neck relief.

  • If you're going to be leaving your guitar on a stand between sets, unplug that guitar cable and put it away from the instrument.  Guitar cables have a tendency to get caught in people's feet, unleashing that prized PRS Private Stock onto the floor.  The floor always wins.  If you play an expensive instrument, it belongs back in the case between sets, no matter how gorgeous it looks onstage on a stand.  'At first it's all ooh and ahh, and then there's running and screaming..'

  • If you have your guitar setup the way you like it but there is still some fretting out somewhere around the 17th to 20th frets you might want to check that the screws on that bolt-on neck are not torqued too tightly.  Overtightened screws tend to push against the fingerboard, causing a slight hump which can lead to fret buzz. This applies especially to fretless bass!  Thanks to my friend and bass virtuoso Serge Dionne for this tip!

  • A compressor is your best friend for clean tones.  It fattens the sound, increases perceived sustain and generally imparts a polished, studio-quality tone.  Add a smidgen of reverb and you're golden.

  • You can buff out ragged edges on a guitar pick by rubbing it against carpet!

  • Pickups set too close to the strings can cause a warbling, double-toned, 'out-of-tuneness' when playing above the 12th fret.  This is especially true of single-coil pickups.  Back the pickups off a little more and allow the strings to 'breathe' and vibrate through their full ellipse.  But back the pickups off too much and you'll lose some output.  Find a happy medium.

  • The neck pickup always sounds louder than the bridge pickup -- the neck pickup sees a far bigger vibrational movement of the string.  I like to set Stratocaster pickups or Les Paul pickups so that the relative volumes between each pickup are as equal as I can get it.  And this usually means setting the neck, and middle pickups (on a Strat) slightly lower than the bridge pickup. This will also help in alleviating the warbling and intonation problems I mentioned earlier.  

  • On nylon string guitars you can get away with changing the nylon treble strings once with every three or four changes of the metal wound bass strings.

  • If you go with stainless steel strings on an electric, you can leave the bass strings and get away with replacing only the top three treble strings two or three times before you have to replace the entire set.  Clean the bass strings between changes with isopropyl alcohol or even aftershave lotion!

  • Rosewood fretboards tend to dry out and need to be lightly oiled once every six months.  Just a smidgen of lemon oil does the trick.  I usually also take this opportunity to go over the fingerboard with a soft toothbrush, removing any gunk that has accumulated.  Moisturized rosewood has a nice luster and shows off the grain of the wood.  Dunlop makes some nice fingerboard conditioning products.

  • Maple fingerboards usually have some kind of hard finish over them and therefore do not need moisturizing.  Just the occasional cleaning with a coarse, damp rag -- with the strings off of course.

  • Clean volume, tone and wah wah potentiometers with a spritz of a good quality contact cleaner meant for electronics.  Servisol brand contact cleaner is probably the best.  Don't use WD40 as it has too much gunky industrial lubricant that will build up and spell trouble in the long run!    

  • Stewart-MacDonald produces radius gauges for measuring arcs between 7 1/4" and 20".  Repairman use these gauges and often adjust the bridge arc radius to match the fingerboard radius.  When I did get hold of one of these radius gauges I measured how I had set up the bridge saddles on my own guitars.  I found that I had consistently gone with a 12" arc radius, regardless of fingerboard radius, on all my guitars, purely by feel.  Just my preference, but you might want to experiment with the gauges yourself.  Dan Erlewine's 'How To Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great' includes free radius gauges in soft vinyl.  A must have!

  • With some bolt-on neck guitars you may find that the bridge saddles are as low as they can possibly go but that the action is still too high.  Shimming the neck in the neck pocket is your only option in these cases -- I've used strips cut out of business cards for this purpose in the past.  The added tilt to the neck angle automatically causes the strings to sit lower to the fretboard.  Fender's Micro-Tilt feature performs this adjustment admirably without having to add shims or even remove the neck. 
 So there we go.  Twenty of my most useful guitar and gear tips.  What are some of yours?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gibson ES355 Owned By Freddie King On eBay!

Here's a 1967 Gibson ES355 that, according to the seller, was owned by the late legendary bluesman Freddie King!  (Item #: 180375852258)

The ES355 was intended to be a deluxe version of the ES335 and featured an ebony fingerboard, pearl block inlays, gold-plated hardware, six-position Varitone and multiple binding on the body, neck and fingerboard.  The headstock was also adorned with the Les Paul Custom-style 'split-block' pearl inlay.

The Gibson ES355 also came with a 'Stereo' feature with discrete outputs from each pickup that could be sent to two separate amplifiers.   Freddie kept his pickup selector switch in the middle position --both pickups 'on' -- and played through a Fender Quad Reverb amp. 

The ES355 was Freddie King's main axe of choice for most of his career, although he did on occasion also play ES335s, ES345s and Les Pauls.

This particular ES355, serial number 580445, dates from 1967.  According to the seller, Freddie had its Vibrola trem removed and replaced with a stop bar tailpiece.

With a Buy It Now price just shy of 50 grand, this guitar comes with a letter from a roadie who travelled with one of King's opening acts, as well as a road-worn, duct-tape reinforced hardcase stencilled with 'Freddie King, Texas Cannonball, Fragle (sic)'

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pete Anderson and Reeves Gabrels Reverend Signature Models At NAMM 2010

Pete Anderson and Reeves Gabrels will be performing with their respective signature Reverend guitars at NAMM 2010.

The Pete Anderson Signature is a decidedly retro-hollowbody affair with Reverend P90 pickups, a Bigsby vibrato and a noticeable Gretsch guitars influence. 

The Pete Anderson also incorporates a unique feedback-reducing design called the Uni-Brace to adapt the hollowbody instrument to a wider variety of musical (and higher volume) situations.  The Uni-Brace, invented by Reverend Guitars founder Joe Naylor, is a 1/2" wide piece of wood that traverses the bass-side of the guitar underneath the laminated spruce top, from neck block to bridge and also adds sustain to the instrument. 

Unlike the Pete Anderson, the Reverend Reeves Gabrels is a more contemporary design with a bolt-on maple neck and solid korina body with a flamed maple top.  Featuring a Reverend humbucker in the bridge and a DiMarzio Fast Track 1 in the neck position, the tone control knob is also a push-pull phase switch for added tonal versatility.

Both the Pete Anderson and Reeves Gabrels models feature Reverend's proprietary Bass Contour Control which alters the bass frequency response of the pickup, allowing their humbuckers and P90 pickups to sound like single-coils depending on the amount of bass rolled-off.

(Pic Source:

Free Fretboard Trainer Software | is offering their Fretboard Trainer software for free.  That's right.  For FREE!

Designed to help the guitarist who is seeking to thoroughly learn the fingerboard, the Fretboard Trainer's primary aim is to increase fingerboard knowledge through visualization.  And the guitar, as we all know, is an extremely visual instrument.   The better we're able to visualize chords, scale shapes, arpeggios, licks and patterns, the better we can get around on the instrument.

But much more than just a compendium of fingerboard diagrams, the Fretboard Trainer also gets the user involved in practical exercises after each lesson that involve finding and entering the correct notes on the virtual fingerboard with the mouse.   Which means any one can now work on their fingerboard knowledge away from the instrument, with just a computer or a laptop. 

Just make sure the boss man isn't looking over your shoulder when you do it.

You can get the download here:

An extra lesson on Pentatonic scales is also available as a free bonus if you sign up for the GuitarCourses newsletter.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

EverTune Self-Tuning Bridge

Also exhibiting at CES 2010 was EverTune with the latest in self-tuning bridge technology.

Four years in development, the EverTune bridge is a purely mechanical device.  The strings are loaded in to the 'adaptive spring tensioner' and the tension on each string is set by the user.  During play, as the strings gradually loosen and lose their pitch, the spring tensioner compensates by adjusting the string back to the tension levels that were previously set. 

Interesting.  The notion of a guitar that doesn't go out of tune I'm sure, will appeal to all players, beginner and pro alike.  Depending on price and sheer invasiveness (or lack thereof) of installation, this thing could turn out to be the Floyd Rose of its generation. 

Tremelo, B-bender and bass versions of the EverTune are in development.

(Pic Source:

You Rock Guitar | CES 2010

Hot on the heels of the Fingerist, comes another marvel from the recent CES 2010 show, the You Rock Guitar by Inspired Instruments.

Designed with the real guitar player in mind, You Rock Guitar is being billed as 'a bridge between a real guitar and a game controller'.  Featuring a touch-pad fingerboard and 'real' strings which can picked or strummed, the You Rock Guitar is a step up from the colored-buttons-and-wiggle-stick-type game controllers for the Rock Band or Guitar Hero gamer. The You Rock Guitar works as a game controller on the XBox 360, Wii and Playstation 3.

You Rock Guitar also has a ton of features as a stand-alone digital guitar.  Check out this list from the You Rock Guitar site:

  • 100 Guitar and Synth Presets – blends, mix sounds, levels, tunings, capos, tap mode, open mode
  • 25 Sampled Real Guitars – Strats, Les Pauls, Acoustics, Nylons, 12-strings, Telecasters in 16 bit long samples
  • 25 You Rock Mode™ Tracks – just the rocking start to learning all the progressions that changed the world
  • 50 Alternate Tunings – From Hendrix and Hutchence, Mitchell and Hedges plus the classics.
  • Digital Capo – No need to tune a single string
  • Tap Mode – When you’re feeling like Eddie
  • Whammy Bar – pitch bend up or down
  • Vibrato Joystick – for that mushroom sustained amp feedback effect
  • 1/4” and stereo mini output
  • On-board recorder – take the You Rock Guitar anywhere and still save your creations
  • MIDI and USB – the fastest and easiest, all 16 channels plus Mono modes on Channels 1-6 or 11-16 also works as a MIDI guitar controller with a USB port
I find the the MIDI and USB features particularly appealing.  The You Rock Guitar interfaces seamlessly with a MIDI sequencer like Apple's GarageBand without expensive additional hardware, allowing you to use the guitar to track MIDI parts, without the glitches normally associated with conventional pitch to MIDI converter systems.

Evenno's Fingerist at CES 2010 | When Air Guitar Just Ain't Enough

Exhibiting at CES 2010, The Fingerist by Evenno allows the user to literally strap on their iPhone or iPod and play their software apps more like a real guitar.  Showing off your new iPhone to friends and relatives just reached a new high!

And if the built-in speaker and 2-hour battery were not enough private virtual-guitar time for when the boss isn't looking, there is also a 1/4" jack output that allows you to plug the Fingerist into an amp and, according to Evenno's website, "perform in the center of a band as a Fingerist right next to the guitarist."

C'mon, you know you want one!

The Fingerist won't help you build your actual guitar chops or maintain your calluses but it might provide some fun guitar therapy when away from your instrument.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Larry Perkins Bluesman's Journey.. And Meeting The Ghost of Orville Gibson?

Larry Perkins, guitar player extraordinaire, is a guy you've probably never heard of.  But he has a few good stories to tell. 

Larry was on the second last day of his 3 month stint as frontman for the houseband at the Crazy Elephant club, Singapore, when this interview took place. An accomplished guitar luthier and repairman, Larry also worked at Heritage Guitars in Kalamazoo, from 1996 to 2006. 

This conversation took place in a Japanese restaurant over a bottle of chilled sake and plates of seasoned baby octopus.

The Guitar Column:  Tell us a bit about your early years. Where did you grow up and what was your earliest musical memory?

Larry Perkins:  I grew up in Paw Paw, Michigan. It was an agricultural town. I remember going to a barn dance when I was maybe 3 years old and the guitar player was playing a Fender Stratocaster. I remember sitting there and just watching him for hours.

Later on, my older sisters were into the bands of the British Invasion. I was 8 years old and exposed to the music of the Beatles, The Stones. My favorite band was The Yardbirds.

TGC:  Were you aware then that Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton were in The Yardbirds?

LP:  I didn’t know. I just liked the songs.

TGC:  When did you get your first guitar?

LP:   It was 1967, I was 11 years old. My first guitar was an old Sears acoustic. It was a piece of junk. In school choir the kids got the baritone ukuleles, the 4-string ones tuned like the lower 4-strings on a guitar. I dove right into it and when the teachers saw I was pretty good at it, they put me in with the older group of kids.

I didn’t know it was Jimmy Page I was listening to when I was listening to The Yardbirds. When Led Zeppelin came out I found out that it was Page again, and I felt I had to listen to this guy!

TGC:  When did you get your first electric guitar?

LP:  I got it in 1968. It was a Teisco. My mother got it for me on condition that I stayed with the school music band. And I had a little amp. I had only one setting for the amp – turned up all the way up. It was the only way to get it to distort.

TGC:  Were you really into the guitar by this time?

I was obsessed by it. I would stare at the clock in class and I couldn’t wait to go home and play. I couldn’t understand why everybody wasn’t into it.

TGC:  What were you practicing? Did you jam along with records?

LP:  I was jamming along with the records -- Beatles, Zeppelin.

TGC:  When did you get your first band together?

LP:  This would have been in 1968, when I was 12 years old.

TGC:  12 years old in ‘68! That must have been a great time to grow up!

LP:  It was, it really was! Woodstock, flower power!

I had a very Mid-western upbringing -- you could put the same story all throughout America. The first band I was in played school dances, talent shows.

TGC:  What songs were you playing?

LP:  We did Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Donovan. I remember we played The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun. I also played a lot of old standards – American standard pieces. There was a jam session on Sunday outside of Paw Paw that I would attend. I played Satin Doll, A Foggy Day. I was a young kid hanging out with these old farts playing these tunes!

As a matter of fact, last New Year’s Eve (2009) was the 40th anniversary of my first band’s first bar gig. It was New Year’s Eve 1969 -- the drummer in my band called to tell us he had got us a gig. We got together and he handed each of us 40 dollars and a shot of whiskey. 40 dollars was a lot of money back then!

TGC:  And things haven’t changed, there are bars that still pay musicians 40 dollars! You must have been pretty good by then.

LP:  I got a lot of encouragement. I was into any band that had a big guitar sound. I was playing blues based rock n’ roll. I didn’t quite get the connection about the (traditional) blues yet because I thought it was kind of hokey. I was totally wrapped up in rock n’ roll.

TGC:  Was it at this point that you wanted to play music seriously?

LP:  No, I just always wanted to. I was always practicing. It was something I always wanted to do, to make a living from music.

TGC:  What were some of the things you were working on at this time?

LP:  I would work on my repertoire, my lead work. I would work on my tone. If my band was going to play a new song I would work on that. I also picked up the bass guitar. In high school I was also gigging as a bass player. I actually made a lot of money playing bass in college as a hired gun.

TGC:  Where did you go to college?

LP:  I went to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, studying science with a minor in music. I didn’t graduate but I was there for 3 years. I went in as a horn player, trombone, but I could play any kind of brass instrument. I would go to theory classes. As far as music, it exposed me to a more academic approach.

TGC:  So there you were, a guitar player right in the heart of Gibson town!

LP:  I never realized that Gibson Guitars was in Kalamazoo til after college! Somehow I never made the connection.

TGC:  When did you start getting into guitar building and repair?

LP:  In college, I owned a Guild solidbody. And I had friends who would come with minor guitar problems and I would do repairs. I learned to solder at a young age and I would work on guitar electronics. Just helping friends with repairs for a few dollars, and maybe a joint. You can print that!

TGC:  What bands were you playing in after college?

LP:  In my 20’s I had my rock n’ roll band but I also bounced around in half a dozen bands, sometimes playing bass. I was in demand because I was known as the guy who could sing and play guitar, or sing and play the bass.

1983 was a real turning point. I auditioned and joined a band out of Detroit as the bass player. The band was a drug front. They (the management) didn’t care about the band -- they were only using the band and the club as a front to sell drugs. I had to leave. It broke my heart.

I was engaged to a girl about this time and went the route of selling every bit of gear I owned in November of ‘83. You know, ‘quit music and get a real job’. I went to work for my future father in law.

Four months went by and I had to get a guitar. I got a Harmony Flying V and a Peavey amp and started working on my chops again. At this point my first wife had some drug issues and was indulging in drug-related behavior. I got into the bottle pretty heavy.

I would go down to the basement and try to reinvent myself, I wanted to work on my chords. I would take a chord and find every possible position to play it. So as my first marriage disintegrated, I was reinventing my guitar style. I went back to the roots with the blues as well.

I put a band together called Red Rooster which lasted from 1981 til 1999. I almost died from a drug overdose in October of ’88. That was the darkest period of my life, ’83 to ‘88, but it put a fire in me and gave me an understanding of myself and my talent.

In 1989 I got divorced and moved back to Kalamazoo. I hadn’t had a band for almost 6 years, but I had a new lease on my guitar playing. I had lots of old friends and connections with the clubs in Kalamazoo. And within a couple of months I was doing gigs. I was doing a lot more blues gigs as well.

TGC:  What happened after that?

LP:  In ‘91 I got more heavily into repairs. I went to work in a music store, Farrow’s Music in Kalamazoo. They had a couple more stores in the country. This was the era before the big Guitar Center stores.

TGC:  A real mom n' pop type operation – just a little bigger.

LP:  Exactly. I got the job by complaining to the manager about the guitars they had on display. They were poorly setup, strings were rusting, the guitars were dirty. I told him I could increase his guitar sales and that I would work for free for 2 weeks to prove myself. I sold more guitars in 2 weeks than he had sold in 6 months, just because I cleaned them up, put new strings on them and set them up well. I ended up working there about two and a half years.

When Farrow’s closed I worked as a groundskeeper taking care of things in an apartment building, Milham Meadows – taking out the trash, shoveling snow in winter.

TGC:  You’re the king of guitar setups. Your guitars at the Crazy Elephant all play great. What do you look for when buying a new or used guitar?

LP:  I’m really anal about my setups.

I wouldn’t buy a guitar if it didn’t have the features I was looking for. The last thing I would consider would be how it looks like – which is probably the first thing that most people buying a guitar look at. One thing I insist on though is a nitrocellulose finish because I‘m old school.

TGC:  I remember in the late 70’s Fender was making Strats with really heavy ash bodies covered in thick polyurethane finishes.

LP:  Guitar culture is festooned with myth.

Brass nuts and heavy bodies were the in-thing in the 80s. But those same guys telling you that you needed brass nuts, brass bridges, these were the guys with the tiny mosquito tones. And they would tell you these things -- that you needed brass to get sustain. Sustain comes from your hands first.

TGC:  Do you have any setup secrets you would care to share? How do you set the neck relief on your guitars for example?

LP:  Good action is good playability. Most of my guitar have low action, but I like the guitar to fight back a little bit.

The first thing I look at is the relief on a neck. It doesn’t matter if a guitar is poorly setup with too much relief. If you sight down a neck (the fingerboard) and see the curve of the relief only occurring between the 3rd and 8th fret, that’s the neck that’s going to dial in perfectly.

When I worked at Heritage Guitars I would look at the neck blank the same way. Once the fingerboard is glued on, it will accept stress in the same way. When I was ready to build my personal guitar at Heritage, I went through about 40 or 50 neck blanks (necks with no fingerboard installed yet), and picked out one. I brought it to the guy in the neck and body department and said “This one’s got my name on it.”

TGC:  What are your opinions about neck woods?

LP:  I want very straight grain. No grain that moves in a wavy pattern, and no knots in the wood. I generally avoid flame or figured maple for necks. Flame necks have been known to shatter at the figured part of the grain, but this doesn’t happen very often – maple is quite reliable.

TGC:  Do you prefer quartersawn or flatsawn wood for necks?

LP:  Flatsawn or quartersawn are both ok. Fender necks if you notice are mostly flatsawn. But if it’s a mahogany neck, I prefer it quartersawn.

TGC:  Tell us how you got your job at Heritage Guitars.

LP:  I joined Heritage Guitars in November 1996. My second wife worked with a girl whose father was one of the owners of Heritage -- J P Moats. My wife said that she heard they were hiring and suggested I apply. I went for the interview and after that I was going there every 2 weeks for a year, pounding on their door. They finally agreed to hire me.

J P Moats started with Gibson Guitars in 1956. He was what we call in the manufacturing business, a 'floater'. He could do about just anything. He would move from department to department making sure everything was ok. You had to be a pretty senior employee to do this.

I played a few Heritage guitars before I worked there. I was impressed – the playability, the way they looked. I actually bought a H150 model, the Les Paul type. They preferred to keep it a small operation. They maintained the handbuilt aspect.

TGC:  Jig saws and routers, no CNC machines.

LP:  Exactly.

I was the first non-Gibson guy they hired. All the employees were ex-Gibson guys. Heritage started in ‘85 and when I went in, it was the 11th year of Heritage Guitars. (Note: The idea for Heritage Guitars began when Gibson decided to move its factory from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Nashville, Tennessee in 1984. When a number of staff refused to move, they decided to buy the Kalamazoo plant from Gibson, including the original tools and machinery, and started Heritage Guitars.)

When I started, they put me in white wood prep (the pre-finishing stage) for six months, ensuring that all aspects were perfect. They liked my attention to detail and in Spring of ‘97 I was promoted to the finishing department . I did the finish on guitars for Roy Clark and John Sebastian. These guys would always ask for custom finishes, custom binding. Actually every Heritage guitar coming out of the factory now is custom.

TGC:  The Heritage Les Paul-style solidbody you mentioned you had specially built -- did you build it entirely yourself? Were there any special features you had put in that you wouldn’t find on any other Heritage guitar?

LP:  I did some of the work on it, but it was put through the production stages (at the factory). There is a higher arch on the carved top. From the side it looks like a turtle! And the guitar is all-maple – I wanted a bright sounding guitar. Heritage uses the VIP system which allows you to cut coils and get a few switching combinations out of two humbuckers.

For my guitar I came up with a system, that allowed me to get every possible switching combination from three humbucking pickups. This allowed me to get any sound I wanted – I could get it to sound like a Les Paul, or a Tele or a Strat. There were only two Heritage guitars built with these electronics. And I own both of them. 

TGC:  I notice you went with a Bigsby tremolo.

LP:  I like Bigsbys. They stay in tune if they are maintained well, and they have a nice 50s vibe. And you don’t have to rout out the guitar to install them like with most tremolo systems. You can’t do dive-bombs with them of course.

TGC:  Any insider stories about the goings-on at Heritage?

LP:  The old Gibson factory that Heritage took over has a lot of ghosts! Lights would turn themselves on and off, footprints would appear on the floor. Orville Gibson himself is said to wander around the factory. Almost everyone in the staff has at least one Orville story.

TGC:  Did you have any encounters yourself?

LP:  One winter day, during a bad blizzard -- this was in my second year at the company -- only about a third of the staff showed up. My boss came to me and told me that once I was done with what I was doing, and if the blizzard didn’t subside, I should go home.

It was about 10 in the morning. The last thing I needed to do was take a rack of guitars to the finishing department upstairs. I rolled the rack to the elevator. And sitting in front of the elevator, partially blocking the door was this dolly with a 20ft long piece of mahogany on it.

It probably weighed about a ton and I definitely couldn’t move it by myself. So here I was wondering where I was going to get someone to help me move it – there was hardly anybody around. And then the dolly with this huge piece of mahogany just moved about 8 inches by itself!  Just enough so I could get the rack into the elevator!

TGC:  Did you go up the elevator then? I would have split!

LP:  I went up and then I went home. I met Orville. Everybody at Heritage has an Orville ghost story.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Keeley Phaser Set To Stun!

Long known for their custom modded hi-fidelity guitar effects pedals, Keeley Electronics has just launched the first Keeley Phaser

In addition to its extremely lush sounding 6-stage analog phasing circuit, the Keeley Phaser also packs in Tap Tempo and a Ramp control to more closely simulate an actual Leslie speaker.  According the the Keeley website, while the phaser's signal path is purely analog, Tap Tempo and Ramp are controlled by "digital circuitry to feel like an 'Invisible Hand' turning the knobs".  Spooky.

While Tap Tempo mode enables hands-free, on the fly changes to the basic Rate speed of the effect, it is in Ramp mode that the Keeley Phaser really shines. 

When the miniswitch is set to Ramp mode, the dialed-in Slow Rate speed makes a gradual transition to the selected Fast Rate speed.  The speed of this transition depends on the setting of the Ramp knob -- the slower the Ramp knob is set, the slower the transition from the Slow to Fast Rate speeds, and vice versa. 

The Keeley Phaser's Ramp mode was designed to emulate the mechanical rotation of the classic Leslie speaker as it gradually speeds up and slows down, and this unique feature really makes the Keeley Phaser stand out from the pack.

You can check out the Keeley Phaser and other Keeley pedals at

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ghostbuilders of Slash's Les Paul Replicas

I just came across a tribute site to Kris Derrig, ghostbuilder of the famed Les Paul replica which Slash used extensively on Appetite For Destruction. 

There was a time in the mid to late-80's when Floyd Rose-equipped super-strats were the de facto standard. 

It was also a time when Gibson's production quality was, arguably, at its lowest, paving the way for several private guitar builders to start building high quality Les Paul replicas for a small but discerning clientele.  These Les Paul replicas were physically identical to the originals, Gibson logo and all, and flying under the radar just enough to not be noticed by Gibson's lawyers. 

The more famous of these builders were Kris Derrig and Max Baranet, and across the pond in the UK, Sid Poole.

While Gibson strayed from their original specifications and cut corners in quality, these ghostbuilders started adding their own little improvements in terms of neck pitchheadstock angle, the use of more exotic woods and better overall construction. 

The late Sid Poole began adding sonic chambers under the highly-figured tops of his Les Pauls, lending his guitars an airy, resonant quality -- a concept that Gibson themselves were to adopt later on.

Kris Derrig and Max Baranet became known for building the replicas that Slash was to acquire.  The huge success of Guns N' Roses 1987 debut Appetite For Destruction -- replete with the creamy, sustaining tones of the Derrig Les Paul replica -- led to a tremendous resurgence in the popularity of the Les Paul.  It's ironic that the very guitar that helped make Gibson popular again was not made by Gibson at all! appears to be still in its infancy.  And I'm not sure if its meant entirely to be a tribute site dedicated to Kris Derrig as there is also a fair amount of detail on the site about Max Baranet's work.  I'm bookmarking this one to see how it develops.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Picasso's 'Little Guitar' Recovered

Carabinieri police in Rome have recovered a rare miniature guitar art piece by Pablo Picasso.

Dubbed the 'Little Guitar for Paloma', Picasso painted the work yellow, gray and black and presented it as a gift to the daughter of his friend, Italian artist Giuseppe Parisi.

The guitar remained with Parisi for more than 40 years. 

But two years ago, at age 92, Parisi was convinced to lend it to an Italian businessman who promised to build a wood and glass showcase for it to be exhibited at the civic musuem in Maccagno.

The businessman instead kept it in a shoebox at his apartment in Pomezia, near Rome, and never returned it.  When Parisi died in January 2008, his widow made a police report that the artwork was still in the hands of the businessman.

The businessman has been charged with fraud and the artwork is set to take its rightful place in the Civic Museum of Contemporary Art at Maccagno, Parisi's hometown in northern Italy.

(Pic Source: 

Friday, January 1, 2010

My Music Resolutions For The New Year!

So here we are in 2010!  A New Year in a new decade. 

How time flies.  And time again for some New Year resolutions.

And what better place to post up my music-related resolutions for this year than on this blog!

For 2010 I resolve to:
  • Write new original music -- This one's been on my mind for the last couple of years, but I just never got around to it.  I'd also been planning to write some vocal tunes, and not just instrumentals -- just because.  No major commercial intentions here.  I just feel it's time to go in a more vocal-oriented direction.
  • Put a band together, find a great singer and just get out there and play that new music! -- Some music festivals overseas would be nice.
  • Brush up on my sightreading -- I was actually a better sightreader when I was 18, just because I was doing it so much!  This is just one of those things where you have to lock yourself in a room, hunker down with tons of reading material and just do it.  Now where did I put Louis Bellson's Syncopation Studies and those Bach Violin Partitas?
  • Expand my jazz repertoire -- I plan on memorizing one new standard tune a week, purely for self-satisfaction and so I can ditch the Real Book for good.
  • Develop my jazz chord-melody playing
  • Start writing the first module of my Jazz Improvisation E-Book!
  • Further expand and improve my personal teaching syllabus -- I have some great and very promising students.  They deserve the best that I can offer.
  • Continue to add quality content and grow The Guitar Column, because you dear reader, also deserve the best I can possibly offer!
Here's to a great and very productive 2010!

Clinton Carnegie


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