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Mosrite vs. Sidejack

Mosrite vs. Sidejack: Which One Is Better?

Can a brand new guitar be better than a legendary, vintage one? Mosrite vs. Sidejack: Which One Is Better? This is a tougher question that you might’ve thought…

Before we start a fight, let’s be clear: we LOVE Mosrite here at My Rare Guitars, as Mike himself made clear in previous blogs. They sound amazing, look beautiful, and are some of the most iconic and unique guitars ever made. From a collector’s point of view, it’s a no-brainer: if you can find and afford an original, vintage Mosrite, you should just go for it!

But we all live in the real world, and from a musician point of view, things get a little bit more complicated… and vintage may not be convenient, nor necessarily mean better.

Over the years, there’s been many variations of the Mosrite models: from the Univox guitars in the 70’s, to 80’s and 90’s replicas branded Mosrite, besides other brands making their own versions of the classic design, to varying degrees of success (Hallmark guitars, Danelectro and others).

The thirst for Mosrite guitars has been there for many years – not just because of the Ventures surf-music connection, but also due to it’s connection to seminal rock bands such as The Stooges (Dave Alexander played a Mosrite bass), MC5 (Fred “Sonic” Smith) and, especially, the Ramones (Mosrite was *the* Johnny Ramone guitar).

Fred "Sonic" Smith and his Mosrite

Fred “Sonic” Smith and his Mosrite

The first problem regarding Mosrite is precisely that – most musicians inspired by those artists, who want to actually rock out onstage, wouldn’t (shouldn’t?) really choose a vintage Mosrite to play. After all, Mosrites are too rare, too expensive for actual rock gigs, now! So no wonder so many copies have proliferated.

And then, there’s the other, more pressing question: were the original Mosrites actually that good?

Some well-known Mosrite issues

Vintage Mosrite guitar

Vintage Mosrite guitar

While there’s no question about the build quality of the original Mosrite guitars, and even less doubts about their amazing sound, there WERE some issues which have bothered many players over the years.

Basically, the Mosrite neck were quite idiosyncratic and a big barrier for many, many players who’d otherwise love the guitar: tiny frets, and very thin necks very narrow at the nut – which quite a few players could enjoy but not all – especially if playing lead.

The frets, though, were definitely a big issue. We’ve heard of people who bought original Mosrites and decided to actually re-fret them! Just imagine – you buy a rare, expensive vintage guitar, and feel the urge to actually change its specs – and, by making it not all-original anymore, devaluating the guitar. 

Yep, that’s how bad some people didn’t like those frets.

 

It’s important to note this because, lo and behold, not even The Ventures were too keen on them! Despite their association with Mosrite (after all, mk I model was called “The Ventures”) they actually preferred to use Fender guitars in the studio, and used Mosrites live just because of their contracts.

The Ventures

The Ventures… and their Fenders!

According to an old blog post we found:

“…remember, it was the Ventures that really started using stringbending….and try to bend a string on an orignal model…there is no fret to use…It’s all but filed off… They had specifically asked that the Mosrite necks have the same frets and feel as their favorite Jazzmaster, Stratocaster and PBass.”

Another interesting thing about Mosrites: they didn’t have a nut!

Mosrite headstock

Mosrite headstock

Instead, Mosrite guitars have a  zero fret that acts as a nut, and behind it, they feature a metallic string slide device to keep the strings in place. Looks weird but, apparently, is a very clever design that helps with the intonation.

Vintage 1964 Mosrite bridge

Vintage 1964 Mosrite bridge

Another interesting detail is that Mosrites used a roller bridge, not too dissimilar to a tune-o-matic, but the saddles were actually little wheels that would allow for smooth tuning and smooth tremolo action. However, some players say that  that some of them had issues where the bottom of the saddle didn’t conform to the bridge plate, and would cause buzzing – some players would then put a small and thin piece of felt under the saddle!

All told – everything does seem to show that, for such an expensive piece of rock history, the Mosrites (or some of them) did have playability issues most people shelling out thousands of bucks, today, would rather avoid…

Are Eastwood Sidejacks Better Than Mosrite?

Eastwood Sidejack DLX

Eastwood Sidejack DLX

Now… here’s the million dollar question: are the new Eastwood Sidejack guitars actually better than the legendary Mosrite? As the recent Re-Inventing The Past: From Mosrite to Sidejack blog says, there’s little doubt that the Sidejacks are, today, more popular than the original Mosrites ever were.

The Sidejacks are not “reissues” or replicas of the Mosrite, but modern, updated tributes to the original. They definitely feel more playable, and feature a more familar jazzmaster-style tremolo,  besides adjustable bridge. So, while not 100% like an original Mosrite, the Sidejacks are the true heirs, keeping the Mosrite cult alive – and doing it the RIGHT way: by being used by lots of bands who really love to rock out!

While not quite as well-known as the Jazzmaster (yet?), the Sidejack is equally suitable for surf music, punk or indie rock. For fans of the P-90 sound, simply an amazing choice.

Now… better than a Mosrite? Only YOU can tell, really, if you ever have the chance to compare both. Everyone will have their own opinions… but I know which one I’d rather take to my next gig!

David Bowie red guitar

The Guitars Of David Bowie

2016 was a year of great musical losses, but none was as shocking or as saddening as David Bowie’s. One year on, let’s remember a side of Bowie that’s been often forgotten: the guitarist! Here’s our guide to the guitars played by David Bowie over the years… enjoy!

David Bowie has had many different faces and personas over the years, but, surprisingly, one has been overlooked by most – David Bowie, the guitarist. In a way, it’s not very surprisingly, considering he was far from being a guitar hero, and, most importantly, has collaborated with some truly stellar guitarists who contributed greatly to his music, including: Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Earl Slick, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Nile Rodgers and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Quite an impressive list!

Which Guitars Did David Bowie Play?

Though not primarily a guitarist, Bowie had a consistent taste for vintage, rare guitars and his choice of instrument often changed with his ever-changing musical directions. Here’s a guide to some of his most notable guitars. We usually talk about electric guitars, but in Bowie’s case we can’t help but mention a few acoustics, too… after all, he was a huge fan of 12-string acoustic models, throughout his career! In any case – Bowie was a true connoisseur, and his choice of guitars over the years is nothing short of fascinating! 

Here’s Bowie’s career – in 20 rare, amazing guitars.

1) Framus 12-String Acoustic (1965-66)

Of course, many of you will know that Bowie started his musical career as a saxophone player, and then became the frontman of different bands (The Mannish Boys, The Lower Third) but never playing a guitar. This pic of an young David Jones with a Framus 12-string  is the earliest photograph of Bowie with a guitar.

David Bowie circa 1965-66 with Framus 12 string

David Bowie circa 1965-66 with Framus 12-string 

According to Bowie biographer Paul Trynka, Bowie bought a guitar in late 1965. Considering Bowie’s well-documented taste for 12-string acoustics in later years, it’s fair to assume that the Framus in the photograph was indeed his first guitar, though there has never been any specific information about it. It’s interesting to note that his guitar had pickup, volume and tone controls – perhaps it was modded and bought second-hand by the still struggling Bowie. Little trivia: the guitar was redburst. 

Playing guitar was an important step in David Bowie’s career, as he started to use the instrument to compose songs, such as “Maid Of Bond Street” and his first true classic, “Can’t Help Thinking About Me”.

2) Gibson B45 12-String (1968-69)

Bowie live with Feathers

Bowie performing with Feathers

After the commercial failure of his 1967 debut album, Bowie tried other directions, including joining Lindsey Kemp’s mime troup, buddhism and forming folky trio Feathers with his girlfriend Hermione Farthingale and John Hutchinson. During this period, Bowie used a Gibson B-45 12-string acoustic.

Gibson B-45, as played by David Bowie

Gibson B-45, as played by David Bowie

He’s never been seen or photographed with this guitar again, after the end of Feathers. We actually believe this is the first time this guitar has ever been mentioned in relation to Bowie, as we couldn’t find anything else elsewhere. Well, now you know!

3) Hagstrom 12-String Acoustic (1969-1972)

Bowie live at the Beckenham Free Festival in 1969, with his Hagstrom.

Bowie live at the Beckenham Free Festival in 1969, with his Hagstrom.

This is perhaps Bowie’s most legendary guitar. It’s believed it’s the one he used to write his first hit, ‘Space Oddity’, as well as used live and to write most ‘Ziggy Stardust’-era songs, including ‘Starman’.

Curiously enough, the guitar is now on display at the ‘Beatles Story’ museum, in Liverpool. At some point, it seems to have had pickup and tone & volume controls added to it, though it’s not shown with this configuration in any Bowie photos.

David Bowie's Hagstrom on display in Liverpool.

David Bowie’s Hagstrom on display in Liverpool.

4) Espana 12-String Acoustic (1969)

Bowie and his Espana 12-string

Bowie and his Espana 12-string

This guitar was used on a famous promo shot for the ‘Space Oddity’ single, but strangely enough, there’s not a whole lot info about it. It might have been used just as a prop for the photograph. It looks very similar to the Hagstrom 12-string, and it could indeed be the one he’s using in other pics and footage, but it’s hard to be sure!

5) Guild 12-String Acoustic (1971)

David Bowie live in 1971 with Guild 12-string

David Bowie live in 1971 with Guild 12-string

When David Bowie toured the US for the first time, to promote ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ in 1971, he could be seen playing a Guild 12-string acoustic. There’s no report or pics of him using one before or since, so he probably just borrowed it for the tour.

6) Harptone 12-string (1972-83)

Bowie and his Ziggy-era Harpoon 12-string

Bowie and his Ziggy-era Harpoon 12-string

This Harptone 12-string is “the” Ziggy-era Bowie acoustic. He used it when touring with the Spiders From Mars and this guitar can be seen on most footage from the era. 

Curiously enough, it seems Bowie decided to dust it off years later, after the release of Let’s Dance, as this live pic suggests:

Eighties Bowie meets Ziggy-era acouistic.

Eighties Bowie meets Ziggy-era acoustic.

7) Harpotone 12-String Jumbo (1972-75)

Bowie Harptone 12 Jumbo

Bowie Harptone 12 Jumbo

Many people don’t realise this, but Bowie also regularly used ANOTHER Harptone 12-string, which at first sight looks similar to the previous one, but you’ll notice that it has a different scratchplate and is also bigger. He used this model on the second, Ziggy-era “Space Oddity” video; during the Ziggy tour and up until the Young Americans- era.

8) Egmond 12-String, Blue (1972)

Bowie and his blue Egmond.

Bowie and his blue Egmond.

This is one of Bowie’s most important guitars – if not for anything else, simply for being the guitar he used on the watershed moment of his career – playing “Starman” on Top Of The Pops, which finally launched Bowie as a bona fide popstar in the UK! He also used the Egmond on a few promo shots, and that seems to be about it.

9) Vox Teardrop Mark XII 12-String (1972)

Bowie and his Vox 12 string

There’s no record of Bowie using this cool Vox guitar other than in 1972, for promo pics. Years later, he used a Vox Teardrop Mark VI for the recording of one of his best songs in the Eighties, ‘Absolute Beginners’. The guitar is now on display at the Hard Rock Cafe in Warsaw. There’s no photo of him and this guitar, though.

Bowie's Vox VI guitar

10) Gibson 1972 Deluxe Les Paul (1972)

David Bowie and a Gibson Les Paul

David Bowie and a Gibson Les Paul

David Bowie was always very conscious about his image and symbolism. That’s why he posed with a borrowed Les Paul on the cover of the “Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” album – to show the world he was now a tougher, “rock’n’roll” act.  Maybe for this reason, he was up for using a Les Paul during his 1972 USA tour.

Presented to Bowie by Gibson, he used it live and on the ‘Jean Genie’ promo film. But given his more esoteric tastes in guitars, it’s not surprising that it soon became Mick Ronson’s back up guitar, never to be used by Bowie again. 

11) Hagstrom I Kent PB- 24-G (1974)

David Bowie red guitar

David Bowie and his Hagstrom I Kent PB-24-G

Now we’re talking! The red Hagstrom I Kent PB-24G guitar was Bowie’s first truly iconic electric guitar. Though many fans will recognise and love it, this guitar was only used in promo shots for his ‘Diamond Dogs’ album, and there’s no record of him ever using it elsewhere, apart from a TV appearance:

As most hardcore Bowie fans may know, he played most guitar parts on the ‘Diamond Dogs’ album, but according to those who worked with him, his guitar choice during the sessions was a Dan Armstrong plexiglass model – which he’s never been pictured with… a shame! Unless, those recollections are slightly wrong and they really meant the next guitar…

12) Dan Armstrong 341 (1976)

Bowie's Dan Armstrong 341

Bowie’s Dan Armstrong 341

Yes, David Bowie had for sure another Dan Armstrong guitar, but it was not a plexiglass model! Auctioned in 1991, this is an important guitar. Besides featuring on a famous pic used for the Sound + Vision compilation, it was also used to write one of Bowie’s finest albums. According to Bowie, in ’91: “I’ve had this Dan Armstrong guitar since the early 70s. I wrote most of the songs for Station to Station on it.” Considering the cronology, it may have been used on ‘Diamond Dogs’, too.

13) Custom Fender Telecaster, Natural (1976)

Bowie and a customized Fender Telecaster

Bowie and a customized Fender Telecaster

During the tour to promote ‘Station To Station’, Bowie played a custom Fender Telecaster, with 3 pickups with individual on/off switches. A pretty cool guitar, never seen since.

14) Fender Stratocaster, Red and Sunburst (1977)

Bowie Red Strat

Bowie and his Red Strat

Two  more conventional choices, during Bowie’s least conventional period! In 1977 Bowie could be seen playing a red Stratocaster for the ‘Be My Wife’ promo, one of the most commercial tracks from ‘Low’, which became a single. 

Bowie was also spotted playing a sunburst Strat that same year, for his duet with Marc Bolan, on Bolan’s TV show. This guitar belonged to Marc, who gave it to Bowie as he turned up without one on the day!

David Bowie, Strat and Marc Bolan.

David Bowie with a Strat and Marc Bolan.

15) Gibson L4, Black (1989-90)

Bowie and his Gibson L4

Bowie and his Gibson L4

Owned and used by David Bowie in the studio, on stage and while on tour with Tin Machine, accompanied by a Sound + Vision tour program showing Bowie playing this guitar, a signed letter of authenticity from Reeves Grables and guitar picks. The guitar can be seen in videos for the Tin Machine 1 album, in Music News reports and was used heavily in the studio for the recording of Tin Machine II. 

16) Gibson Chet Atkins Country Gentleman, Wine Red (1990)

Bowie and his Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman

Bowie and his Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman

The guitar was used on stage by Bowie during his March – September of 1990, Sound + Vision World Tour.

Bowie also subsequently used this guitar during studio sessions for his 1995 concept album “Outside.”

17) Takamine FP 400SC (1990)

Bowie and his 12-string Takamine

Bowie and his 12-string Takamine

Bowie used this guitar during his 1990 Sound + Vision tour. It was his main acoustic guitar then, used on classic hits such as ‘Space Odyssey’. The tour included 108 concerts over seven months in more than 80 cities around the world. Bowie promoted the tour as a “greatest hits” tour and stated it was the last time he was going to play songs from his back catalog. 

18) Steinberger GL2, Custom Silver (1991-92)

Bowie and hiscustom Steinberger

Bowie and hiscustom Steinberger

Bowie was a big fan of headless guitars, since he saw Tin Machine’s Reeves Gabrel’s: “David saw mine and decided he wanted one like it. My guitar tech, Andy Spray, called the factory in Newburgh to see if they could make another chrome L series. Apparently, they had a guitar they used as a test run for the chroming process. That one had a normal fretboard (it did not have a chromed fretboard) making Bowie’s copycat completely playable while mine was not. The non chromed fretboard is the easiest way to tell them apart.”

19) Supro Dual Tone (2003)

Bowie and his Supro Dual Tone

Bowie and his Supro Dual Tone

The Supro Dual Tone is one of his most iconic later-years guitars. He used it during his last world tour, in 2003, and it even appears on his 2010 live album of that tour, ‘A Reality Tour’:

Bowie 'A Reality Tour' cover

Bowie ‘A Reality Tour’ cover

More recently, Eastwood did a great job at recreating this model (first made famous by Link Wray in the Fifties) as the Airline Twin Tone – a fitting tribute to Wray’s model, but now also a great choice for fans of Bowie who also play guitar…

The Airline Twin Tone, now also popular thanks to the David Bowie connection.

The Airline Twin Tone, now also popular thanks to the David Bowie connection.

20) Hohner G2, Red (2013)

Bowie and his Hohner G2

Bowie and his Hohner G2

Bowie went back to a headless guitar in the video of ‘Valentine’s Day’, from his superb comeback album ‘The Next Day’. As ever, his choice of instrument was unusual but made total sense with his tastes over the years. Unique just like the man himself.

Blonde Redhead live

Forgotten Offset Guitars: Teisco TG-64

Offset Guitars have been, for a long time, a favourite amongst alternative rock and indie rock players. Let’s have a look at a forgotten classic – the Teisco TG-64, now being reissued by Eastwood.

Blonde Redhead live

Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead, one of the players who discovered the joys of a Teisco offset – she plays the bass version of the TG-64, the TB-64 now being resurrected by Eastwood. VIEW INFO

Don’t get us wrong – we love a good Jazzmaster, Jaguar or Mustang. Fender was and still is the big daddy of the offset guitars. But if familiarity doesn’t always have to bring contempt, on the other hand many of us prefer guitars with that little spark of mystery, which add to an unique touch when you’re on stage, or simply helps making it more interesting to play. That’s why a few lucky guitarists can’t help but loving their rare, 1960’s Teisco TG-64. Let’s be honest, it has a certain mojo lacking in modern-day Jazzmasters!

The Forgotten Offset Classic?

While its shape is familar, it’s all about those other details: three single coil pickups stripy scratchplate, push buttons and that cut-out handle on the body – what’s it all about? One of those features no one really needs, but which in fact looks pretty cool. It was the Sixties, after all, and who knows what the designers were smoking, then!

Original Teisco TG-64

Original Teisco TG-64

The thing about Teisco guitars, is that they were unashamedly cheap knock offs of bigger brands such as Fender – but with enough personality to stand out on their own. They were never meant to be GREAT guitars, but put them through a valve amp and a good fuzz pedal, and it could be the coolest thing ever.  Originally unpopular offset models such as the Jazzmaster and Jaguar were affordable, and for this reason rediscovered in the Seventies by Punk and New Wave acts, but as soon as they became a staple in 90s alt-rock, thanks to Nirvana, Sonic Youth and others, they became prized commodities – and, somewhere along the way, lost just a little bit of their “cool” factor (for all it’s worth!).

Owning a Teisco TG-64 is a bit like owning a Jazzmaster back in 1976 – because it’s still an odd and rather cool choice, not seen too often. Some of the people who’ve used one recently include Blonde Redhead and Conor Oberst. But this model is still not the easiest to find! This is perhaps the coolest of all non-Fender offset guitars, and certainly a “forgotten classic”!

Conor Oberst and his Teisco TG-64

Conor Oberst and his Teisco TG-64

Eastwood Custom TG-64 Monkey Grip

It’s great news that Eastwood Custom are planning to reissue the Teisco TG-64. The plan is to make it even better than the original, but still quite affordable. While in the past Teisco were cool but cheap guitars, the new ones are of much better quality. If you’re looking for a cool alternative to a Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster that really stands out, maybe the new Eastwood Custom TG-64 will do the trick for you.

Eastwood Custom TG-64 Monkey Grip

Eastwood Custom TG-64 Monkey Grip

At the moment guitarists have to pledge a small amount to guarantee theirs… if you’re interested, hurry up, because opportunity ends TODAY (17th November)

VIEW EASTWOOD TG-64 PAGE FOR INFO

Eastwood Custom TB-64 Monkey Grip

Tesco TB-64... new Eastwood custom project

Teisco TB-64… new Eastwood custom project. Find out more

The Teisco TB-64 looks very closely to the TG-64, but with a few differences besides the longer scale: a more “Fender-y” headstock, different neck joint and a vibrato arm closer to the edge of the body. Yes, it might’ve been inspired – in principle – on the Fender Bass VI but, frankly, has quite a marked difference… and, dare we say, looks much better?

Eastwood launched a custom shop project to reissue the TB-64, ending on April 20, 2017. They’ve successfully crowdfunded the TG-64 and it looks likely the TB-64 will also get made… but the best way to make sure this happens, and to guarantee yours, is of course to help crowdfunding and leave your pledge, too!

VIEW EASTWOOD TB-64 PAGE FOR INFO

Watch: Teisco TG-64 Demo

TOP 10 WEIRD VINTAGE GUITARS

Six strings, wood and metal. That’s what guitars are made of, at least the boring ones. However, there will always be something else, something different than every other guitar you have ever seen. New shapes. Mixed elements. Screaming colours. Or, simply MADNESS. Ladies and gentlemen, freak out all you want because this is the top 10 of the weirdest vintage guitars.

                                                                                           10. Rickenbacker 620

rickChubby, but splendid. The 620 features the unusual ‘cresting wave’ styled body, as well as an oddly shaped pick-guard. Designed in the 50’s, it is less popular than the 300 series although much more bold and unconventional.

                                                                                            9. Ampeg Dan Armstrong

ampegExactly how it seems, the Dan Armstrong has a ‘see through’ design. Its body is made of clear plastic which may look a little gimmicky on the 2006 vintage edition, but was already played by big names as Keith Richards and Dave Grohl. In other words, the Dan Armstrong is “clearly” weird.

             8. Gibson Explorer 120

exWould you dare to play this wild pointy creature? The Explorer was initially marketed as Gibson Futura until its later success. Unsuccessfully released in 1958, it has a classic space-age perfect for hard rock and heavy metal.

 7. Gibson Flying V

flyThis one is a monument. From Jimi Hendrix to Lenny Kravitz, everybody loved its V shaped Maple body. The Flying V was futuristic, light and crazy enough to overcome its rough launch in 1958. Nowadays, it is one of the most iconic models ever made. How about that?

 

6. Kawai MS-700 MoonSault

kawHouston, we have landed on a weirdo. The MoonSault was released during Japan’s guitar making boom in the early 70s. Its moon styled body is really one of the most unique guitar shapes ever created! And take a look at the fret markers, they follow the entire lunar cycle with quite some detail. Kawai just made the coolest guitar for a night out!

5. Vox Phantom

voxLove won’t ever tear us apart. The Phantom is not just a guitar, it is more of a badass violin: light, small and weirdly pentagonal. In fact, its shape became an icon of the British Invasion since the release in 1962. Ian Curtis, huge psychedelic rock legend, owned about 3 Phantoms.

4. La Baye 2×4

bay

 

The name says it all, 2×4=6 strings and a rectangular shaped body. As simple as that. It may look like a joke, but this one is quite a serious vintage guitar. Devo, probably the most futuristic and quirky band ever, worshiped the 2×4.

3. Ibanez Iceman PS1CM

iceMadness made in Japan. The Iceman was built with an appealing original design that mixes both classic and modern styles. It was released internationally in 1978 by Ibanez, but its Japanese version belongs to Greco. Paul Stanley, from KISS, is a fan and even signed this broken glass vintage edition. It is as weird as awesome!

2. Gibson EDS-1275 Double-neck

edsMeet the Frankenstein of all this freak show. The Double-neck integrates 2 different guitars in a single one resembling Gibson’s SG model. Introduced in 1958, it is big, heavy and noisy enough to be a scary scary scary monster. After all, you get 6 strings plus 12 to rock the house down (Jimmy Page’s style).

 

1. Airline 59 2P

At last, the award for most weird vintage guitar goes to… Airline’s 59!!!

The future is with this one, and it is beautiful. Every part of the 59, from the styled body to the controls or the colours, look as if it was stolen from a Stanley Kubrick’s movie. The Airline 59 model is almost a rock spaceship, a quality futuristic statement embraced by great artists as Jack White or PJ Harvey. And its sound? It is absolutely MIND-BLOWING!

Do you agree with our top 10? What would your weird guitar picks be?

Rock on, weirdos |..|

 

THE SMARTER GUITAR NUT #1: So, You Want to be a Smarter Guitar Nut

Hi there, my name is Mike Zimmerman and welcome to my series of articles about guitars and guitar collecting from the techie’s point of view. I’ve been collecting guitars for many years and have accumulated quite an interesting collection. I also have the usual, accompanying collection of sad tales of “the one that got away” or “the one I sold when I needed the money” etc.

img_20161021_120853

Strange but true, reissues can become collectables too (on the left an early ‘60s Danelectro Longhorn, on the right its late ‘90s reissue).

Sound familiar?

While I’ve been a long-time happy member of the Guitar Nut fraternity, I’ve also had a little advantage: I’m also a trained and accomplished guitar tech, and that means I can buy an instrument that needs work and do the work myself, whether I intend to keep it or re-sell it. Often, that’s not just a cost saving, it can also mean the difference between snapping up a bargain on a decent guitar (for fun or profit!) or getting stuck with an unplayable and unsellable pile of wood and metal.

About that “pile of wood and metal”, I’ll mention here that a repair client of mine who is a piano technician once referred to any piano that needs more work than it’s worth as a Piano-Shaped Object or PSO for short. I liked that and have since referred to any guitar as a Guitar-Shaped Object (or GSO) if it is so far gone that its restoration would take much more time, effort and money than it’s worth. GSO…remember that term. It will come up from time to time.

Anyway, that’s the angle I’d like to take in this series of articles for Eastwood: the happy marriage between technical knowledge and smart guitar collecting. For me, it’s a marriage that has worked for more than forty years.  For you, I want it to be an introduction to what you need to know to become a Smarter Guitar Nut too, with a special focus on oddball and unusual instruments. This is, after all, written for Eastwood!

The subjects I’ll cover include:

  • Generally, what to look for (and look out for) in a guitar
  • How to recognize whether the instrument is in original condition
  • What parts can be replaced to improve playability without hurting its collectable value
  • What types of repair work or improvements are usually required in most guitars and how to do those repairs without affecting a guitar’s collectable value
  • Originals vs. reissues: which is better for you and how a re-issue can become a collectable itself
img_20161021_133438

Probably the most common modification to vintage instruments: New tuners. When should this be done? How should it be done ? And, when should it not be done?

For each of these subjects, I’ll be getting into how you can do these things yourself and when to know that a pro should become involved. Ultimately, the goal is to make you a more knowledgeable guitar owner and collector.

First, here’s a little relevant personal history. I started repairing instruments when I was a teenager. I’d brought my prized Rickenbacker bass to a local shop to have it set up. I don’t think I even knew what “set up” meant…all I knew was it ought to get done. I must have read it somewhere.

When the bass was ready, the shop charged me only $6 rather than the expected $8 (remember, this was a long time ago!) because, as they explained, they couldn’t intonate the E string; the bridge saddle had been pulled back as far as it would go and the string was still slightly sharp when played up the neck. I was happy enough to save $2 (like I said, this was a long time ago) but, as well, my interest was tweaked. I asked what “intonation” meant and the explanation I got inspired me to pursue the issue.

img_20161021_122141

The modern solution for Riks with intonation problems: The Hipshot Bridge. There are many modern parts that can improve vintage instruments without modiufication.

I went home and filed the E string saddle slot to enable a bit more backwards adjustment and the operation was a complete success. From that moment on, I was both able to set up my own instruments and do favours for my musical friends. Most important, I’d learned two important basic principles about guitar repair that I’d like to impart to you now:

  • If you understand why and how something is supposed to work on a guitar, you will more likely be able to figure out what needs to be done when it isn’t working as it should; and,
  • If you inspect the situation, plan and carry out the work carefully, you can be successful.
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Should you install side position dots on a vintage neck that doesn’t have them? We’ll discuss.

All that, of course, has to be considered in the context of your skill level with basic repair techniques and tools. At the very least, applying the principles above will help you recognize when you need professional help. It will also make you a much more knowledgeable repair customer. That’s a real head start for you and, again, a potential cost savings.

So, to conclude my own story, I eventually got a job with Fender’s Canadian distributor doing warranty repairs, set-ups and even some custom work on new instruments. I went on to become one of the early partners in The Twelfth Fret, Toronto’s premier guitarists’ pro shop that’s still going strong almost 40 years later. I then formed the Amazing Musical Instrument Company, which manufactured innovative acoustic-electric instruments, primarily violins. For the past 30 years I’ve maintained a shop in my basement to do various repairs for a number of local guitarists and on the guitars that I buy, sell and keep.

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In the foreground, this Longhorn has had a metal strap button installed on the horn rather than the heel to improve balance and stability. Ideally, a modification to a vintage instrument should be reversible, like this one.

At each phase of my work I acquired new skills, experience and knowledge that I think will be useful to you and anyone interested in guitars and guitar collecting.

In my next article, we’ll start that process by looking at what you should look for in any guitar to make sure you don’t end up with – as you now know it’s called – a GSO.

12 Songs for 12 Strings

While the twelve string guitar has been around for over a century, its role as a foreground instrument only surfaced in relatively recent rock and roll history. Sure, the instrument was favored by the likes of early blues artists “Lead Belly” and “Blind Willie McTell” in the 1920’s and ’30s, but at that time the instrument would have been used as an accompaniment at best. That said, their use of the twelve string in blues music is perhaps the main reason the twelve string began to come to prominence in the rock and roll world of the ’50s and ’60s. Their influence, along with the skyrocketing popularity of the electric guitar at the time gave musicians the idea to see what a twelve string could bring to their songs. The result? In a word… “Jangle!” We all know the sound. It is instantly recognizable as a twelve string guitar, and when you hear it, it truly makes you want to have one.

The following is my top twelve list of songs that evoke that feeling. Whether you love or hate the song, you can’t deny the infectious sound of the twelve string, nor can you help but wonder “would the song be the same without it?” To keep things interesting, I’ve only allowed myself to list one song per artist.

The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man

What sort of list of twelve string songs would be complete without mentioning “the Byrds”?! They’re easily one of the first groups to come to mind when you think of that twelve string jangle. Influenced by the Beatles and the film “A Hard Days Night”, Byrds guitar player Roger McGuinn picked up a Rickenbacker twelve string to incorporate into their sound. Their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” was the first single to be released by the Byrds, and went on to become the first smash hit in the world of folk-rock.


The Beatles – Ticket to Ride

As George Harrison and the Beatles can be credited with bringing the twelve string guitar to mainstream pop music, they are definitely deserving of a spot on this list. They’ve got more than a couple songs that could stand here in place of “Ticket to Ride”, but that intro riff just showcases the twelve string perfectly. Not to mention, its pretty simple to play!

Rush – Closer to the Heart

Fast forward a few years, and you can hear the twelve string being used in a very similar way to those early bands who pioneered its use. The guitar introduces the song here, and really just sets the tone for the whole song. In addition to the arpeggiated melody played in the intro, this song makes great use of the “full” sound you can get by strumming on a twelve string. With the full band playing, the guitar really fills in its spot and can clearly be heard as a twelve string.

Boston – More than a Feeling

Perhaps their biggest hit, “More than a Feeling” was featured on Boston’s debut album in 1976. Again, we have the twelve string guitar introducing the song with arpeggiated chords. There’s a distinct “pretty” sort of sound you get when you hear a suspended chord resolve on its major counterpart, and there’s no denying that doing so on a twelve string just adds to that “prettiness”! The intro to this song makes good use of this, as well as a chord progression that makes it sound circular and complete.

Tom Petty – Free Fallin

Here’s another example of those suspended chord transitions! In fact, it even revolves around a D chord shape like in the previous song – but with a capo on your third fret. There really isn’t much to this song as far as guitar playing goes, but who doesn’t know this riff? The whole song is based on  those simple chords being strummed on a twelve string guitar. It simply wouldn’t have the same vibe if a six string was used in its place.

Bon Jovi – Wanted Dead or Alive

Anyone who grew up in the ’80s or ’90s will know the opening riff to this pop-rock anthem. Heck, anyone who listens to the radio should know it! For the “ballad” era of rock and roll, this song stands easily as one of the most recognizable. The descending Dm arpeggios in the beginning of the song are played on a twelve string, and the octave pairing of the G strings is what really gives the riff its mysterious, “shimmering” sound.

Led Zeppelin – Over the Hills and Far Away

Of all the great songs Zeppelin has written with a twelve string guitar, I always come back to “Over the Hills and Far Away” as my personal favourite. If you think it’s fun playing that intro riff on your six string, pick up a twelve string and give it a go. Instant satisfaction!

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

Just by reading the title of the song, you get the idea that the songwriter is yearning for someone (or something) from the past. Then you hear the subtle twelve string enter with an effect that makes it sound like it’s coming through an AM radio, and the mood is set! It’s one of the most recognizable songs in Pink Floyd’s catalog, and a fantastic example of a twelve string guitar being put to good use.

Wild Horses – Rolling Stones

Stripped back and straight to the point, “Wild Horses” is a rock ballad that gives us the raw simplicity of a twelve string being played as a rhythm instrument. Fun to strum along with, and an all around great song, it’s not a surprise that this one is often covered by rock bands around the world.

Give a Little Bit –  Roger Hodgson (Supertramp)

For whatever reason, it seems that there’s a universal acceptance that the key of D is where the 12 string “belongs”. Roger Hodgson’s “Give a Little Bit” is another one of many that are built around this key using a twelve string guitar. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… it’s another timeless classic!

And You And I – Yes

I chose to put “And You And I” on this list not only because it’s a great song, but also because the twelve string is really put through its paces here. From the opening of the song with its brilliant natural harmonics to the strumming patterns used in the verses of the song, the twelve string really shines in the forefront throughout.

 

The Eagles – Hotel California

Featuring one of the most well-known twelve string riffs in rock and roll history, “Hotel California” is likely one of the songs to have been on the tip of your tongue when you read the title of this article. It’s a classic that’s here to stay, and it’s hard to imagine the recording without the mysterious jangle of the twelve string.

Vegematic Guitars

Vegematic Guitars

By Michael Wright

The Different Strummer

 

1965 Hagstrom Impala

As with our old friend Nigel Tufnel, that more is better goes without saying.  Why play an amp at 10 when you could play at 11?  I’ve bought guitars just because they had 4 pickups.  And I’d for sure be interested in a guitar like this Hagstrom Impala with 8 push-button controls!  Count ‘em, 8! And color-coded!

I find it curious that Hagstrom isn’t better known or regarded by Stateside guitar enthusiasts.  I guess you can say that about most European guitar-makers.  But Hagstrom actually got pretty good distribution here.  Maybe even better than EKO, which somehow ends up being better known (although that’s probably more due to Dan Forte’s—aka Teisco Del Rey—writings than actual familiarity during the 1960s)  But Hagstroms were pretty well made and they actually were among the earliest European guitars to be imported after the War.  In the late ‘50s, with the rising popularity of Folk music, acoustic guitars from Scandinavia were the first imports, guitars made by Landola (Finland) and Bjarton (Sweden) came in as Goyas and Espanas.  In around 1959 those acoustic were followed by the first, short-lived electrics, those wonderful sparkle-plastic covered hollowbody electrics sold under the Goya brand name, made by Hagstrom in Sweden.

Finding a vegematic array of push-buttons on a Hagstrom shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Indeed, those early sparkles had push-buttons.  But when you consider that Hagstrom actually began in the 1930s as an accordion manufacturer.  Accordions have nothing if they don’t have buttons!  American manufacturers hit on the toggle switch early on, but European makers seem to have preferred push-button switching.  Then again, come to think of it, most European guitar-makers started out making accordions!  Except for many of the German makers.  Except for Hohner.

Anyhow, Hagstrom produced some pretty innovative and high quality instruments, although I think their reputation gets a bit tarred by those pretty flimsy vinyl-covered guitars that were their bread and butter through most of the 1960s.  But those early sparkles were pretty interesting.  They had modular pickup assemblies.  You just lifted one configuration out and plugged in a different one, although practically speaking that really only made sense if you were upgrading.  I can’t think of why you’d change out a 4-pickup unit for a 1-pickup unit, since all you had to do was just play one pickup on the 4-pickup configuration, but, hey, it makes for good marketing copy.

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            There were guitars like this Impala.  This was a very early neck-through-body guitar made long before that technique became fashionable.  The push-buttons were basically for a variety of tone controls.  The “0” was one of my favorite settings: “off.”  I never really understood why you want to turn your guitar off, but OK.  The 1 button activated the neck pickup, while 2 turned on the bridge unit.  Then there were 3 buttons  for Hi, Mid, and Low, sort of a quasi-EQ presumably with different capacitors.  The Solo button was full out, and Accompaniment was a muted setting for chording.  The sliding lever was a master volume for all the buttons except for knob which was a volume control for when you were in Accompaniment mode.  I love all those buttons but I may be loving a toggle switch more.  Even though the switching is a bit arcane, this is a high quality guitar with a pretty good amount of tonal versatility.

Guitars like the Impala weren’t Hagstrom’s only quality builds or technical innovations.  Later in the 1970s the company commissioned Jimmy D’Aquisto to design a jazz box (dubbed the Jimmy) and they also produced the very nice Swede, a sort of Les Paul-style axe, some of which came outfitted with a Patch 2000 interface pedal made by Ampeg, a pre-MIDI form of synth guitar that combined guitar switches with a foot pedal and was even harder to figure out than the Impala’s push-buttons.  But the Swede/Patch 2000 certainly earned them an A for effort.

Hagstrom, like most other European manufacturers couldn’t survive the Japanese juggernaut of the 1970s and they bit the dust in the early 1980s.  Their labor costs kept going up and up as Europe gradually recovered from the 20th Century’s hot wars and the political and economic turmoil of the Cold War.  But they did manage to make some significant—or at least some really interesting—contributions to guitar history.  Including guitars with lots of buttons.  Now, if this only had 9 buttons, Nigel would be a happy chappy…

 

Hell On Wheels

by Michael Wright

The Different Strummer

1978 Travis Bean TB500

There are any number of things I associate with pickup trucks (from Handicaps to gun racks), and guitars aren’t one of them.  Yet—as anyone who’s followed the recent advertising battle between the Ford F-150 and its competitors—the two sometimes flirt with the use of aluminum to optimize performance.  Certainly there more than a passing relationship between this Travis Bean TB500 and motor vehicles.

Now, Travis Bean may have owned a pickup truck, I don’t know.  But he for sure was interested in motorcycles, which he apparently raced and presumably worked on.  And it’s almost impossible not to conclude there was some crossover influence between working on motorcycles, being a machinist, and putting aluminum necks on guitars.

However, Travis Bean wasn’t the first to put vehicles and guitars together.  Back in around 1959-1960 Wandré Pioli—another motorcycle fanatic—began making aluminum-necked guitars in Milan, Italy.  Those were way cool, with weird body shapes and exotic one-off paint jobs and great names like “BB” (for Brigit Bardot!).  Some other Italians—well, depends on what you consider Sicilians who emigrated to Paris—the Jaccobacci brothers also used aluminum necks.  As far as I know, they had no interest in either motorcycles or pickup trucks, though I may be wrong about that.  It doesn’t show up in the biographies.  A little later in the 1960s—and I believe totally independently—John Veleno in Florida also used aluminum to build guitars.  He built the whole shebang out of aluminum.  I don’t think John was into motorcycles or trucks either.  He was actually a music teacher who built a guitar-shaped aluminum sign as advertisement.  A friend suggested he make a real guitar out of aluminum, so he did.  In 1967 the Messenger company of San Francisco briefly made guitars with aluminum necks.  (Eastwood offers wood-necked versions of the Wandré and Messenger guitars.)

1978 Travis Bean TB500 Rr

            Anyhow, in 1974 the Travis Bean guitar concept was born.  The story is somewhat confused, obfuscated by the passing of time and varying accounts.  Bean apparently teamed up with a guitar repairman named Marc McElwee and Gary Kramer.  Kramer’s telling, given long after, has himself as the main money man and sales department.  The chronology is a bit muddled.  According to Kramer, Bean kind of lost interest before things got off the ground.  Kramer left in 1975 to start his own aluminum-necked guitar company and according to other accounts actual guitar production didn’t begin until 1976.  When the company closed down in 1979, a little over 3600 guitars and basses had been produced.

There were basically four Travis Bean models: the TB500 seen here, the slab-bodied TB1000 Standard (the most common), the carved-top TB1000 Artist, and The Wedge, whose shape you can readily imagine.   These got heavy coverage in the guitar press of the time and a lot of big stars toyed with them, including Keith Richards, Jerry Garcia, Stanley Jordan, Ace Frehley, and Slash, to mention just a few.

The TB1000s had teak bodies.  They are exceptionally cool, but also very heavy.  You’d best be in good shape to sling one around an arena rock show.  The TB1000s had humbucking pickups.

1978 Travis Bean TB500 CU

The Wedge and the TB500 models are pretty rare birds.  This TB500 was meant to be a less expensive guitar.  This one (#234, 1978) was made of magnolia wood and is considerably lighter weight.   These have single-coil pickups.  I’ve played this guitar and several Standards.  While both models are pretty nifty, I found the TB500 to be a little white bread compared to the Standard (and presumably the Artist, which was just a bit fancier version), but there’s no accounting for tastes, as they say.  Both certainly did give you plenty of sustain.  Then again, the older you get, the less interested you are in a heavy guitar!

The skinny on Beans at the time was that the aluminum  was sensitive to temperature changes, although I’m not sure if that wasn’t more about conservative guitarists trying to find a reason not to like them.  I do know that John Veleno found resistance to the feel of an aluminum neck.  That was part of Gary Kramer’s “improvement” of putting in wooden inserts on the back.  In any case, Travis Beans were a pretty interesting episode in guitar history.

In 1999 Bean announced a big comeback and a revival of the legendary Travis Bean guitars.  There were pictures of revamped, very fancy guitars that I presume were of prototypes.  I’m pretty sure the line ever made it into production, and the aluminum-necked Travis Bean guitars sank back into legend.  (Clifford) Travis Bean passed away in 2011 at age 63.  Both the Ford F-150 and Travis Bean guitars used aluminum to improve performance, albeit for completely different reason.  Even after all this time, the jury’s still out on that!

Roll Out the Barrel, And We’ll Have a Barrel of Fun!

By Michael Wright

The Different Strummer

 

It’s curious how wildly tastes can swing in a relatively short period of time.  When, in the 1967 classic movie The Graduate, Murray Hamilton (Mr. Robinson) leans in to advise Dustin Hoffman (Benjamin Braddock) to consider a predictably successful future in “Plastics,” the very concept of “plastic” was loaded with highly negative cultural connotations.  Plastic people were disingenuous, fake, mindless pursuers of a corrupted American Dream that created the Viet Nam War.  Yet only a couple years earlier plastic was viewed as an ideal way to add beauty and attraction to a guitar such as this 1965 Avanti solid-body!1965 Avanti

The term “plastic” comes from Greek and more or less means “moldable.”  Moldable natural materials have been used for millennia, but synthetic or man-made plastics date from mid-19th Century America.  At that time, the economy was shifting from agrarian to industrial.  A part of this shift was increasing demand for consumer goods by larger numbers of people.  Many of these products had traditionally been fashioned from natural materials.  For example, hair combs were carved out of bone.  Tortoise shell used to be, well, tortoise shell!  The problem was that, as demand rose, raw materials became scarcer.  Just one example of how cultural changes affected things: cattle ranchers stopped de-horning their steers, thus decreasing the supply of horn material.

The catalyst for modern plastics was the popularity of billiards in the 19th Century.  The growing upper middle-class found it necessary to have a billiards room (for the guys to light up cigars after dinner, you know).  Billiard balls were carved out of elephant ivory.  Enormous numbers of pachyderms were slaughtered.  Obviously, this was unsustainable.  In 1863, a contest was promoted offering $10,000 in gold to anyone who could come up with a man-made alternative.  The result was the first celluloid invented by a New York printer named John Wesley Hyatt.  Alas, early celluloid was highly flammable and prone to exploding.  Nevertheless, they eventually got the formula worked out and modern plastics were on their way.

Just when instruments began to be covered in celluloid remains to be elucidated.  However, a good candidate for the first instrument is probably the accordion, which makes sense for this guitar.  Accordion history is far less well documented than that of guitars, but in the 1850s and ‘60s accordion-making developed in and around Castelfidardo, Italy, in the northeast in the Po River delta.  The region also had a guitar-making heritage.  Castelfidardo remains the center of accordion-making to this day.  Accordions came to the U.S. in the early 20th Century and became popular by the ‘teens primarily through the Italian immigrants Pietro and Guido Deiro, who recorded extensively for Victor.  Sears sold Castelfidardo-brand accordions around this time with glued-on celluloid, including sparkle.  By the 1940s accordion technology had evolved to include covering curved surfaces in celluloid.

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In the early 1950s there was an accordion craze among young Baby Boomers—my sister was captivated—but it fizzled out mid-decade.  This left the accordion makers—and importers—sitting with lots of capability and a greatly reduced market.  Fortunately for the accordion makers, the region of Italy where they existed was also home to a guitar-making tradition.  When Baby Boomers started turning to guitars later in the decade and into the 1960s, many accordion makers—EKO most famously (or actually Oliviero Pigini, EKO’s maker)—threw their hats into the guitar ring.  It was only natural that they should hit on covering guitar bodies in celluloid, just like their accordions!

As far as I know, EKO was the first to start making plastic covered guitars in around 1962 or ’63.  This Avanti was imported by European Crafts of Los Angeles I’m guessing around 1965.  European Crafts was importing Italian made solid-bodies at least by December of 1964, most made in Castelfidardo by the Polverini Brothers.  Presumably, this is one of those.  This is actually a pretty serviceable guitar once you’ve set it up right.  There are some amusing features, like the fake truss rod cover (the rod adjusts at the body).  What can I say?  They made accordions, didn’t they?  The pickups are controlled by a 4-way rotary switch that gives you neck, middle, bridge, all.  But really, the story here is plastic meant to look like root beer barrel candy!  Yummy!

Now, there’s nothing I love more than highly figured woods on my guitars, but root beer barrel candy plastic?  What’s not to love?  For better or worse, guitars like this Avanti were kind of yesterday’s news.  They were fine for combos in matching collarless suits with matching guitars.  But Dylan had “gone electric” and folk rock was hot.  And someone was, no doubt, working on the script of The Graduate.  Of course, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since this Avanti appeared and today we recycle plastic.  So, show me a root beer barrel candy-coated guitar and I’m all in!  Plastics!

 

 

Five Guitar Techniques and the Players Who Made Them Famous

Most things in this world have gone through various changes or “evolutions” to get to how we know them today. When the wheel was invented, it’s not like Rolls-Royce launched their product line the next day – we just weren’t present during the time it took to move from “spinny stone circle” to “Phantom Coupé”. We simply can’t fathom a world that is without wheels, and it’s easy to take things like these for granted.

The guitar is something that yes, has had various updates and reworks – but fundamentally, it’s really just the same as it’s always been. Six strings and a piece of wood, maybe throw in some electronics if that’s your thing… an E note is an E note and a B is a B, these are all things that haven’t changed.
Perhaps what has changed more so over the years than the guitar itself is the way in which they are played. Musicians who have experimented, looked for new ways to approach things and for ways to make sounds never before heard on a guitar are what make the instrument so versatile today. Here’s a few techniques we all know about and where they came from:

1. The Power Chord

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How would punk and thrash metal have got anywhere if it weren’t for the use of these raw, stripped down, straight to the point delights of sound?
The power chord is, simply put, two notes played at the same time. They consist of a root note, and that note’s perfect fifth. While in theory, this sort of chord may have been used in music way before Pete Townsend blasted them out with his “windmill” strums, but it was the sound of over-driven guitars and rock music that really made them popular.
When you play more “full” chords with major or minor intervals, and add a bunch of gain and distortion to it, often times the resulting sound can become very messy and unclear – especially when paired with a full rock band. The frequencies within the two notes of a power chord mesh with each other in a way that allows them to remain clear, allowing you to crank the gain and really put some “power” behind your playing. A nice bonus is the fact that the shape of the chord remains constant all the way up and down the neck, allowing you to move between playing the chord and riffing much easier.
Use of the power chord on the guitar can be traced back to the early ’50s, in both Willie Johnson and Pat Hare’s playing – but perhaps the first mainstream and recognizable use would be by Link Wray in his hit song “Rumble”.

2.Controlled Feedback

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When the electric guitar was first invented as an instrument, feedback was an unwanted noise that came along whenever a guitar was played at high volume levels. Over time, methods were discovered that could significantly reduce and even prevent these noises from occurring. However, at some point in time somebody said “but I want that sound… how can we use that in my song?”
Allegedly, the first known deliberate use of Feedback in a rock song appears in the intro to “I Feel Fine” by the Beatles. John Lennon created the sound by leaning his semi-acoustic guitar against a guitar amp. Since then, controlled feedback and noise has been used by guitarists everywhere,  most notably by artists like Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Pete Townsend, and Lou Reed. More recently, manipulated feedback has become a signature sound among noise rockers and shredders alike, being featured in recordings and live performances by artists including Sonic Youth, Steve Vai, Nirvana, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, and Robert Fripp. Speaking of Robert Fripp, here’s an interesting quote from Tony Visconti on Robert’s work on David Bowie’s “Heroes”:
“Fripp [stood] in the right place with his volume up at the right level and getting feedback…Fripp had a technique in those days where he measured the distance between the guitar and the speaker where each note would feed back. For instance, an ‘A’ would feed back maybe at about four feet from the speaker, whereas a ‘G’ would feed back maybe three and a half feet from it. He had a strip that they would place on the floor, and when he was playing the note ‘F’ sharp he would stand on the strip’s ‘F’ sharp point and ‘F’ sharp would feed back better. He really worked this out to a fine science, and we were playing this at a terrific level in the studio, too.”

3. Fingerpicking

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This may seem so second nature that it’s hard to believe that someone, at some point in time had to come up with this as a method of playing. It’s not that playing an instrument with one’s fingers was first done on a guitar, but there have been so many evolutions and intricacies of this method particular to the guitar that I couldn’t go without mentioning it.
Fingerpicking is what you could refer to as a sub-category of the term “fingerstyle guitar”, which is a broader term used to describe the “playing of a guitar with one’s fingers”. Specifically, fingerpicking as a technique is used to play types of folk, country, blues, and rock music, and can be dated back to the days of “Ragtime” music in the early 20th century. As ragtime became popular, southern blues-guitar players sought to mimic the piano style by using their thumb as the pianist’s left hand, and their other fingers as the right. As a result, the style typically incorporates a steady rhythm pattern using the thumb on the bass strings, and a melody using the index, middle, and ring fingers on the treble strings.
Some of the earliest known recordings of this style can be heard by blues guitarists Blind Blake, Mississippi John Hurt, and Memphis Minnie. It wasn’t long before country artists such as Merle Travis and Chet Atkins picked up on the style, and added their own signature twist to it. Since then, countless guitarists have used this style across a wide spectrum of music, all contributing to the technique we know today.

 

4. “Sweep” Picking

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Perhaps most widely associated with speed-metal and shredding these days, the origins of the “sweep” are heavily rooted in Jazz. The technique was first used by virtuoso jazz guitarists Barney Kessel, Les Paul, and Tal Farlow in the ’50s, and didn’t make its way into the mainstream rock world until Ritchie Blackmore and Steve Hackett brought it there in the ’70s and ’80s. In the early ’90s, jazz-fusion guitarist Frank Gambale brought sweep picking into the limelight with both his music, and his instructional video / book about the technique. Today, it’s rare that you’d hear a new speed metal band that doesn’t use this technique, and shred guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen love to use these all over their solos.
This technique is essentially the playing of arpeggios at a very high rate of speed. That said, the way in which you pick the strings is not how you would typically pluck individual notes. In order to achieve such a high speed, it’s almost as if you are strumming a chord. Your picking hand moves in one fluid motion, while your fretting hand takes care of the note selection. This is a tricky technique to master, but an impressive one once you wrap your head around it!

5. Guitar Tapping

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Tapping is not a technique that is exclusive to the guitar. It can be done on virtually any stringed instrument – in fact there are instruments like the Chapman Stick that require the use of this method in order to play it. The technique can be done with either one or two hands, and involves the repetitive use of hammer-ons and pull-offs (“tapping” the fingerboard) to create notes.
Similar techniques have been around for centuries, both having been used on instruments like the violin or the Turkish baglama, but the first known usage of tapping on a guitar didn’t happen until sometime in the mid-20th century. This is where things get a little foggy – ask ten guitarists who invented tapping and you’ll get ten different answers!
There is footage of Roy Smeck using the technique on a ukulele in 1932, and Harry DeArmond is alleged to have used a sort of two-hand-technique to test his pickups. Jazz guitarists like Barney Kessell are said to have used the technique in the ’50s and ’60s, and Chet Atkins did it in the ’70s – around the same time that tapping started to be seen in rock and roll. Steve Hackett, Leslie West, Frank Zappa, and Billy Gibbons are all known to have utilized the technique at this time, but the one who really launched it into the mainstream was Eddie van Halen. When his guitar solo “Eruption” was released to the world, it was like nothing ever heard before.
Regardless of who “invented” the technique, what’s important is that all of these musicians helped make it what it is today. Tapping is just another technique that’s hard to imagine the guitar being without.