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Peavey T-15 blog

Peavey T-15: the “Mississippi Mustang”

Some players seem to have a natural dislike for Peavey amps, which is often unfair. But what about… the Peavey T-15 guitar??? Now here’s an  obscure little gem! In this guest article, Rob Roberge reminds us why this guitar and Peavey itself deserve a bit more love…

Peavey T-15 guitar - sunburst

Peavey T-15 guitar – sunburst

I was talking to my buddy – a professional blues player – a great player who has an impeccable ear for tone, telling him about my new (well, used…but new to me) really outstanding amp, a Peavey Delta Blues. He said to me, “you lost me when you used Peavey and Blues in the same sentence.” And while I could have gone on about some of the southern blues players that, in fact, did and still do use Peaveys (both guitars and amps), I kept my mouth shut. I could have even gone into a minor history lesson about Lynyrd Skynyrd using the very powerful and tuneful competition for the 70’s Fender Twin Reverbs – the Peavey Mace (with SIX 6L6 power tubes inspiring all those Zippos to flame up every night during “Free Bird”).

But if you think many guitar players’ reaction to Peavey amps is dismissive, just try selling them on the brilliant (Yes. Brilliant. There. I said it.) T-Series of Peavey guitars (many made from the late 70’s-mid 80’s, though most dying a quiet death in the early 80’s). At best, you may get a chuckle that suggests you know nothing. Or a comment about how ugly they are (not an uncommon thought…and actually, with some models, perhaps the most valid criticism of the series). Or even an incredulous reaction: “Are you kidding? Peavey? Peavey guitars? Please.”

But why this reaction to Peavey guitar equipment? Especially the guitars themselves. So long as we’re not talking about an abomination like the pink Adrian Vandenberg signature model of the late 80’s…ouch. Yes…Peavey deserved all mocking and humiliation for that clunker.

One of my main theories for why Peavey is taken most seriously for their PA’s and audio equipment, and at times very seriously for their amps, and almost not seriously at all for their guitars (especially, paradoxically and oddly, for what is their classic period when they were making as good or better guitars than either Fender or Gibson) is for one unfortunate reason: they had almost no recognition at the time as a guitar builder. And they committed a cardinal sin in the guitar business: they were (and still are, for many players) pretty uncool and, at best, aesthetically boring. No way to get a new line of guitars off the ground.

Peavey T-15

Peavey T-15 and some better-known models

And while we guitar players tend to think we are somewhat radical and hardly conservative, consumers in the guitar market are like consumers in most other markets – they go with brand names they know other people think highly of. And in the late 70’s, that meant—more or less—Fender and Gibson. Even if those companies were producing, it is now widely agreed, some of the worst instruments they have ever made.

Of course, this is an oversimplification—the very existence of Eastwood Guitars points to the fact that there is a market for guitar players who want to stand out from the Strat, Tele, and Les Paul crowd. But, I’d argue, that market was pretty much absent in the late 70’s. It’s only over the last 15-20 years that we have seen a steady growth of interest in some of the most interesting and wild guitars of the 60’s.

The Rare Guitars Revival

The (steadily over the last fifteen/twenty years) increasing interest in Harmonys, Danos, Valcos, some of the best Kays, and others has been caused, I’d argue, by a two-prong desire among guitar players:

  1. As vintage Fenders and Gibsons—and brands Guild, Gretsch, and Epiphones and others—started to skyrocket in price, players on a limited budget still wanted to get their hands on a piece of guitar history and vintage gear. And,
  2. Players discovered (or rediscovered, as many baby boomers first instruments were affordable 60’s models) that a lot of these budget/catalog guitars from the garage boom of the mid 60’s just happened to be pretty great guitars.

And they were—and this is not to be minimized—cool. In 1979, just about everyone was playing a guitar by a major company. And many of these were the traditional, yet boring designs that hadn’t changed much from the 1950’s.

Even before players such as Jack White brought his radical, funky red resolglass Airline to the masses, you’d had a quiet, yet growing groundswell of underground 80’s and 90’s bands playing inexpensive guitars that are now classics—but were, at the time—simply affordable, weird guitars that set them apart from mainstream bands. Hey, if your band wasn’t mainstream, why play a mainstream guitar? This was even true of some of the higher profile players/bands, with people like Elvis Costello and Tom Verlaine and Steve Wynn dusting off Jazzmasters—which, by the late 70’s, were considered pawn shop crud. Or, if not crud, hardly a guitar that had been by far Fender’s most expensive guitar in the 1963 catalog. By comparison, Strat was very fairly priced (by comparison…it was still pricey for the day), and Teles and Esquires (not to mention, later, Mustangs) were positively relatively cheap.

But even lower on the food chain were the Airlines, the Silvertones, the Harmonys, the Danos. In the early 80’s, Karl Precoda used a Silvertone-branded Harmony H78 (with a missing middle goldfoil) on the Dream Syndicate’s classic The Days of Wine and Roses, an album that was widely praised at the time for bringing back long and aggressive duel guitar to underground rock—with a band that owed more to, say, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Velvet Underground than to any South Bay Hardcore. All of this with Precoda’s feedback-laden killer tone out of his Harmony.  East Bay Ray, from the Dead Kennedys, was famous for using off-brand guitars, often seen with then forgotten/unknown various Valco/Airline resoglass models over a decade before Jack White hit the national stage. No one was like him in bands of the time.

And then perhaps the band who perhaps most single-handedly showed their audience a plethora of cool 1960’s rare and funky and (at the time) forgotten guitars: Anton Newcome’s hollowbody Vox Cheetah he uses this day…over the years, he’s also used a Silvertone 1454L (the Silvertone model number for the Harmony/Airline H78—one of Eastwood great Airline reissues), Vox 12 strings…while brilliant former lead guitar player Jeff Davies was seen on stage with Hagstroms and Harmonys, and sometime bassist/sometime guitarist Matt Hollywood was often seen with a two pickup Rocket.

Brian Jonestown Massacre live

Brian Jonestown Massacre, dusting off vintage guitars…

Peavey T-Series

But, back to the Peaveys of the early 80’s. In some ways, picking a guitar (at least in part…no one plays a piece of crap just because it looks radical and unique) because it looks cool seems like a pretty shallow reason for picking you main/stage guitar. Because it is.

Still, I can understand why players might have shied away from the T-Series at first. The flagship and top of the line, the T-60, is a pretty unattractive guitar. While some people who LOVE them tend to say things on forums like, “it’s so ugly, it’s beautiful.” And while there are some people who do actually think the T-60 is a good looking guitar, they are in the vast minority. And remember, these are on forums for people who absolutely love these guitars. The general guitar playing public, if they are at all familiar with the T-60, tend to think of them as pretty uninspired designs at best, and pretty damn ugly at worst.

Peavey T-60

Peavey T-60: ugly, or so-ugly-it’s-beautiful?

But the T-Series was built in a way that revolutionized the guitar making industry. Peavey was the first to construct necks with a computerized copy lathe. By using computers, every neck came out exactly the same for the first time in guitar making history. This is now used throughout the guitar industry. This technology also allowed Peavey to produce guitars that were at least the equal to the quality of Fender and Gibson, yet significantly lower their production costs.

In 1978 (the first year of the T-60’s production), these were the prices of Fender’s Strat, Gibson’s Les Paul, and Peavey’s T-60:

Les Paul: Nearly $1,000

Stratocaster: $790

T-60: $375

And maybe that was another problem for Peavey. Maybe guitarists had the perception that a guitar that sold for so much less couldn’t possibly be the equal of the big names. But that simply wasn’t true (even if they weren’t nearly as good looking).

But the best—or most compelling and surprising—guitar in the T Series may be the T-15. This was a guitar that Peavey marketed as a beginner’s guitar, or a professional guitar for “players with smaller hands.” It’s become known over the years as the “Mississippi Mustang”—a reference, obviously, to Fender’s much more famous short scale classic—the Mustang.

Peavey T-15 in sunburst

Peavey T-15 in sunburst

The Fender Mustang had/has a 24” scale and a fast, comfortable neck that not only makes single note runs easy to speed up, but also offers a comfortable reach for more complex chords than many longer scale guitars allow and, lastly, makes bending easier up and down the neck. 

If you’re a player who enjoys playing the Mustang’s 24” scale, you might well love the T-15’s 23.5” scale. This, combined with a thin, flat, very fast neck, makes for an ease of playing that’s hard to describe. I’ve never player another guitar quite like it. It not only allows all of the benefits I mention above with the Mustang, but it makes double country bends enormously easy once you get used to the effortlessness of the bends. It may be why the guitar found early popularity with country players—with its ability to lend itself to complex country pedal steel-like bends. I have fallen in love with the 23.5” scale—which happens to be very rare and the same scale as the Gibson Byrdland (a short scale that’s also a favorite of Ted Nugent, which I pray is the only thing he and I have in common with the exception that we are both carbon based life forms).

Though, while the whole T Series of Peaveys first found the majority of their players in the country field, the T-15 is becoming more and more popular in indie rock. Some of the big reasons for this could be the one of a kind Peavey Super Ferrite pickups, which sound like a powerful cross between P90’s and some of the twang of a bridge Tele. But they have a sound all their own. Peavey also has the nice feature of there being no treble loss when you roll off the volume knob—the guitar keeps its tone no matter how low you roll off the volume.

Peavey T-15 in natural

Peavey T-15 in natural

Other features of the guitar are a three way pickup switch and a single tone and volume knob that controls both pickups. There’s a metal nut much like some of the classic Danelectros, which is nice because they never seem to wear down like many of the plastic ones that need to be replaced after many years of work. And while some of the higher end models, like the T-60, are famous for their excessive weight (some are reported to weigh more than a Les Paul—though the colored and sunburst ones supposedly weigh less than the more common natural wood finish), the T-15 is a very light and comfortable instrument. It, too, came most often in a natural wood finish, with much more rare versions made in both sunburst and walnut. According to Peavey’s literature at the time, the T-15’s body is made of “southern hardwood” whatever that might exactly be. The radius is 12”. And the neck is made of hard rock maple. It all adds up to a first-rate guitar. A Mississippi Mustang, indeed.

Lastly, while most of the T-15’s came with Peavey’s custom fit plastic cases, some (hardly all, but some) came with a 10 watt solid state amplifier in/with the case—harkening back to the classic Silvertone (made by Dano) Amp-in-Case of the 60’s.  The better one, of course, being the one that came with the two pickup 1457. Complete with a deep tremolo and a great tube sound driven by a single 6V6. While the T-15’s Peavey solid state amplifier hardly comes close to the greatness of the Silvertone Amp-in-Case, it does have some beautiful cleans and serviceable overdrive. But it’s hardly the same, even if it’s a cool and nostalgic feature.

For now, the T-15’s are still pretty affordable for such a great, professional grade guitar. They play like butter, and they have pickups like you’ve never heard, but will want to her a lot more once you do. Grab one before the price starts going up. The T-60’s have already been discovered. Grab the T-15 while you can.   

– guest article by Rob Roberge.

WATCH: PEAVEY T-15 DEMO 

Chuck Berry

Goodbye, Chuck Berry (1926 – 2017): The Father Of Rock’n’Roll

Last weekend, we lost a true legend: Chuck Berry died on 18th March, aged 90. Make no mistake, folks – the world lost the one person who truly epitomised the spirit of Rock’n’Roll. Here’s our tribute.

Chuck Berry

The origins of Rock’n’Roll  are somewhat murky, and there are many contenders for what was supposed to be “the first rock song ever”. But Chuck Berry was without a doubt the true father of rock’n’roll. He’s the one person who truly personified its spirit, the seminal influence who laid down the foundations for all that was to come. The outsider. The guitar hero. The rebel. The songwriter. The outlaw. The poet. Oh, and so much more…

Rock’n’Roll Music! 

It could be argued that some artists who followed became more famous, made better albums, and recorded more hits… but none of them would’ve been the same without Chuck Berry, whose lyricism, and genius for simple, memorable songs set the template for the best which rock music had to offer thereafter. Berry songs fuelled The Beatles’ early sets (and final albums); inspired The Beach Boys’ first hit and The Rolling Stones’ debut single. His DNA lives on in pretty much any rock band and guitarist worth anything.

In the past decades his presence had been waning from the music scene and, sadly, perhaps the majority of millennials were not particularly aware of Chuck Berry’s music or influence – but even younger generations will have been touched by his influence… after all, most of them will be probably familiar with Back To The Future’s rock’n’roll ball scene, a delightful homage to Berry and one of the most classic scenes from that film!

Chuck Berry, the father of rock'n'roll

Chuck Berry, the father of rock’n’roll…

The fact is – most of us grew up in a world were Chuck Berry and his music existed, a world where Chuck Berry was a fact of life, and where his songs were so interwoven in the fabric of our culture, that we didn’t even have to think about it, because he’s always been there…  so it’s hard – or even impossible – to imagine how rock music would’ve been without his influence. 

Anyone who’s seen the octogenarian Chuck Berry on stage, will know how fragile he was in his later years, hardly capable of playing his guitar anymore. Though it was an upsetting sight, and some will say he was being exploited by promoters or whoever, we can’t really agree with this view. Any musician passionate about music, and who understands the power of rock’n’roll music, will immediately understand it was something Chuck simply had to do. To play and perform for as long as he was able to, however he could. That’s rock’n’roll, and Chuck Berry was rock’n’roll. How could he do anything else?

And indeed, Chuck kept working. On his 90th birthday, on 18th October last year, it was announced that there would be a new Chuck Berry album, his first in more than thirty years, to be released later in 2017.

Listen! Chuck Berry’s new single, ‘Big Boys’:

‘Big Boys’ is the first taster for Chuck Berry’s upcoming new album, now sadly a posthumous release.

Chuck tracklisting:

1. “Wonderful Woman”
2. “Big Boys”
3. “You Go to My Head”
4. “3/4 Time (Enchiladas)”
5. “Darlin’”
6. “Lady B. Goode”
7. “She Still Loves You”
8. “Jamaica Moon”
9. “Dutchman”
10. “Eyes of Man”

Jeff Senn tribute to Chuck:

Here’s a little tribute our friend Jeff Senn made in Chuck’s homage, playing his new Continental model:

Chuck lives on, in anyone who really cares about guitars and about that magical crazy thing called rock’n’roll. We’ll miss you, Chuck, goodbye!

Chuck Berry, RIP

CHUCK BERRY (Oct 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017)

Playing a wide neck guitar

All You Need To Know About… Wide Neck Guitars

Wide neck guitars – what’s it all about? Do you need one? Here’s a look at all you need to know about this niche (for now) market which is increasingly growing…

Playing a wide neck guitar

A few years ago, Gibson announced their 2015 range of electric guitars, which featured several changes that didn’t please many of their core customers – and one of those changes was a wider neck. The move proved a big PR fiasco, with many players thinking that Gibson had finally lost the plot, and that the wide necks were one of the most visible signs of that.

Looking back, perhaps Gibson had the right idea, but just dealt it the wrong way, by having all their 2015 models being made with wide necks – thus depriving their customers of choice: there is indeed an increasing market for wide neck guitars, no question about that… but it’s not for everybody!

Why play a Wide Neck guitar? Is it for YOU?

The fact is, if we’re honest, that a good chunk of the population is, well… getting chunkier! To be totally blunt about it – fatter people have fatter fingers, and it can (sometimes, for some players) make it harder for  them to play a guitar which has a narrower neck. But also, anyone who’s bigger and thus got bigger hands might find it a bit troublesome to deal with a standard, narrow neck guitar…

For those players, opting for a wide neck guitar can make a huge difference! It’s in fact quite remarkable that for so many years, the industry has not focused on this problem, but now guitars with wide necks are not such a rarity anymore.

Please bear in mind that when we say “wide neck” we don’t refer to the thickness of the neck, which is something else altogether – as most players will be aware, different guitars my have different neck profiles, with different shapes and different thickness (which is a subject that’s itself worth a separate blog!)

We are, of course, talking about the actual width of the fingerboard. Visually, at a quick glance, many people might not notice any difference in some cases, but the relationship between the player’s hand and the fretboard is so crucial and subtle, that just a matter of tiny millimetres can make a huge difference – the difference in fact, between you loving a guitar or maybe even loathing it!

Take two very similar guitars, such as the Airline Tuxedo, and the new Airline Tuxedo WN Wide Neckrecently announced:

Airline Tuxedo

1) Airline Tuxedo

Airline Tuxedo Wide Neck

2) Airline Tuxedo Wide Neck

The first picture is of an original Tuxedo, with a width at nut of 1 11/16″, while the second one is a Tuxedo WN, with width at nut of 1 7/8″.

We’re talking about minimal differences here, but which play a crucial factor on how much playable you will think a guitar is – depending on how comfortable either of them feels on your hand!

Going back to Gibson, here’s another comparison: the maligned 2015 Les Paul had a width at nut of  1.795″, whereas “normal” Les Paul Standard has a width at nut of 1.695″. That’s right – 0.1″ of difference that’s enough to make someone simply hate an instrument!

But that’s the crux here – it’s not about the instrument, because there’s nothing wrong with a wide neck, it’s just a matter of: do YOU actually need one?

Other Guitar Companies Who Make Wide Neck Guitars

Eastwood / Airline is the latest brand to embrace wide necks, but the Airline Tuxedo WN is currently still just a custom shop project. There are other brands who’ve been adopting the wide neck design too, over the years, besides Gibson.

The Zarley Wide Neck Guitars was founded by Tracy Todd, who decided to make wide neck models after years struggling with playing standard guitars, and their instruments have been welcomed by players who fancied wide necks:

Zarley Wide Neck

Zarley Wide Neck

Many “Heavy Rock” brands such as Ibanez, Jackson, BC Rich also make guitars with necks wider than the usual Fenders, Gibsons etc you see around. 

Best Fingerpicking (“Fingerstyle”) Guitars?

Another common use for wide neck guitars is for those who play guitar “finger-picking” style… whatever the size of your hand! Though most fingerpicking guitarists use acoustic guitars, you can also use electrics for that style, and wider necks offer a distinct advantage, due to the wider width at nut and string spacing.

Wide Neck Guitars: for Beginners, too?

Perhaps another angle we could look at, is that wide neck guitars are also perfect for beginners and less experienced players, as it may be easier to try chords. Many people start on guitar playing a cheap Classical acoustic guitar (also known as Spanish or flamenco guitars) which are usually about 2″ wide (approx 49-52mm).

So we can’t see why wouldn’t beginners opting for an electric guitar not enjoy a wide neck model, in fact it could make learning even easier.

Is wide neck right for you? Well… first look at your hands, then let us know!

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.

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.

Technique 101: Five Songs You Should Learn

Whether it was Jimi Hendrix ripping through a solo with his strat behind his head, or Michael Hedges creating soundscapes on his acoustic with both hands on the neck, somewhere down the line somebody inspired you to pick up a guitar. As much as you wanted to, however, you likely weren’t able to immediately bust out the solo to “Red House” or play through “Aerial Boundaries”.
As with anything, learning to play the guitar should be approached with baby steps. You need to learn to walk before you can run, and in order to play like your heroes you’ll need a solid grasp on some fundamentals first.
While finger exercises, scales, and theory may be important, you can pick up a lot of technical know-how just by learning a few introductory level songs. The most important part is to find songs that aren’t too demanding, and are achievable with regular practise. Below I’ll list five techniques, and a good candidate of a song / riff you can learn to start getting used to them. Let’s start with the basics…

1. Chord Changes – “Hey Joe”, by Jimi Hendrix

 

aye

One of the first obstacles you’ll be faced with when learning to play is memorizing chords, and figuring out how the heck you’re supposed to contort your fingers to switch between them. The truth is, these “shapes” that your fingers need to be placed in are not built into your DNA. There’s nothing else you’ve ever had to do that requires your hand, wrist, or fingers to hold such patterns, and as such you’ve got to work them into shape. The only way to teach yourself (and your hand) these chords is through repetition and practise; it’s all about muscle memory here.

The song “Hey Joe” is a great introductory to chord changes for a few different reasons. The first is that it forces you to learn five essential major chords, C, G, D, A, and E. The second is… it’s only five chords! The entire rhythm guitar section of the song is just a loop of these five chords in a relatively simple strumming pattern, so if you can manage the switches, then you’ve got it down. The third reason deals with the chords in question. Some chords are easier to switch between than others, allowing you to leave a finger or two in the same spot. Some chords allow you to play all six strings, while others demand that you avoid a string or two. Some chords require the use of one finger to hold down multiple strings… and the list goes on. In “Hey Joe”, each chord is far enough apart from each other that you are required to make a substantial shape change, getting your hand used to arriving at and leaving each chord. It also exercises your strumming hand, as you’re required to play all six strings for a couple of the chords, and only some of the strings for the others. If you can play through this tune, then you’re well on your way to saying goodbye to your chord changing woes.

2. Fingerpicking – “Blackbird”, by The Beatles

 

beat

If you’ve spent most of your practise time strumming chords, or plucking out melodies with your pick, learning to fingerpick might be a daunting task at first. This technique is, of course, all about your picking hand, and getting your fingers used to where your strings are. What I mean by that is, at first you will likely be looking down at your picking hand, making sure you use the “right” finger on the “right” string, etc. The more you practise, the more you will just get accustomed to the distance between each string, as well as various patterns that tend to appear in songs. This is part of the reason I like “Blackbird” for an introductory to this technique.

As far as the right hand is concerned, the song revolves around just two patterns. Try this: hold a G chord, and with your thumb and middle finger pluck the low E string and the open B string together at the same time. Then pluck the open G string on its own with your first finger. Repeat these over and over… and you’ve essentially got the picking hand pattern used for half of the song. Of course… your thumb will occasionally move to the A or D string, but you can worry about that later. A large portion of this song is about getting used to moving back and forth between your index finger and second finger, while maintaining a bass-line with your thumb…which is sort of the whole idea behind fingerpicking! It’s a great way to practise, while playing through a great song.

3. Counting / Rhythm – “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” by Stevie Ray Vaughan

 

cstw

The most important thing in playing a musical instrument is rhythm. Whether you’re playing on your own, or as part of a group, you need to be able to keep time. Some patterns are easy of course, just strumming along in 4/4 time, but if you really want to challenge yourself and start to unlock your “inner metronome”, you’ll need to try out some more complex patterns. Try to test yourself – whenever you play, keep your foot tapping along to the beat of whatever it is you’re playing. The opening riff in “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” is a good challenge for this – it combines a relatively simple melodic riff with a syncopated sort of rhythm. It contains various notes and rests that land both on and off the beat, making for an unexpected feel. With a stronger sense of rhythm and larger vocabulary of patterns, you will find it much easier both locking into a groove as well as coming up with your own ideas.

4. Power Chords – “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones

ram

 

A power chord is just two notes of a chord played at the same time; the root, and the fifth. Doing so means that you don’t need to worry whether or not the chord in question is supposed to be major or minor, as both would have the same root and fifth anyways. You can incorporate the octave as well, as it doesn’t make things much more difficult, and adds a nice upper layer to the sound of the chord.
More often than not, you will find yourself playing power chords with their root note on either the low E string or the A string. Thanks to the way the guitar neck works, this means that the shape of these chords will never change.
For example, plant your first finger on the low E string of the fifth fret. Now plant your third finger on the A string of the seventh fret. You are now holding an “A5”  power chord! Want to add the octave? Just throw your pinky down on the D string of the seventh fret, below your third finger.
But what good would knowing how to play power chords be without knowing how to play some raw, straight to the point punk tunes to go with them? While they may not have invented them, the Ramones’ sound encapsulates everything that the “power” chord exists for; straight to the point, loud, and fast!
The song “Blitzkrieg Bop” will get you used to holding the power chord shape, as well as moving up and down the neck to play each chord. You’ll also have to jump between the E and A as your root note, which is important to become accustomed to.
In addition to this fretting hand technique, the strumming you’ll be doing with your other hand is just as important. You’re only playing two or three strings here, so of course you don’t want to hear the others. At first it will be easier to just limit yourself, and play only the strings you are holding in the chord. In this way, however, you’ll soon realize that you can’t quite capture the same power and energy that Johnny Ramone did. So how do you fix that?
Muting. Being able to mute strings properly with your left hand is what will bring your power chord strumming to the next level. It’s sort of hard to put it into text, but whilst you hold down that A5 power chord, try to also lightly lie your first finger down across all the strings below (like you’re playing a barre chord). Doing this means that it doesn’t matter how many strings you hit – the only ones that will ring are the ones you want to hear. THIS is how you get the “power” out of your power chords – pure aggression with the strumming hand, and precision / articulation with the fretting hand.

5. Soloing – “Californication” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers

rhcp


Playing a guitar solo is a culmination of things. It’s not just “playing a bunch of notes really fast”, but should be thought of moreso as the guitarists’ turn to takeover for the vocalist, and front the song. With that in mind, the way in which you approach your solo should be derived directly from the vibe of the song you are playing to. This means that you need to take everything into consideration – the chords used, the melody, the rhythm, the feel… the perfect solo is one that touches on all of these things, while throwing in bits of technique for flavour.
One way you can start to understand how to play a strong solo is to listen to guitar solos that you find to be memorable, and figure out what it is that they’ve done. Listen to the section as a whole, and try to emulate it. A good starter would be the solo in “Californication”. It isn’t blazing fast, but it is subtle and captures the essence of the song very well. You’ll pick up on a few techniques here and there throughout the solo, and start to be able to hear the difference between, for example, a bend and a slide, or a hammer-on and a picked note. It is also done in a clean tone, which means you are forced to nail the performance when you play it. Extremely over-driven amps have a tendency of “covering up” mistakes made when playing, so practising with a clean tone is a good way to truly hear what you’re putting into the guitar.

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

lwray

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

jendrix

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

trav

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

bkessel

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

halen

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.

Debunking Ten Common Guitar Myths

Separating fact from fiction can be difficult regardless of what the subject matter is. If you believe something, then you believe it! It’s as simple as that. You may have even forgotten what source you’ve heard something from, but as long as it seems “right” in your head, it’s natural that you’ll see it as truth until proven otherwise. Misinformation and old wive’s tales are constantly being passed around, and can easily get muddled up with whats true.
Chances are you’ve read or been involved in a debate or discussion about the guitar where two sides believe entirely different things. Or, maybe you’ve just heard something that seems a little hard to believe. Below I’ll list a few common myths surrounding the guitar, and my reasons for debunking them. Let me know if you agree or disagree with any of them in the comments!

1. It’s bad for your guitar to remove all the strings at the same time when re-stringing your guitar.

gl1c

When you take your guitar to a tech or a luthier for any sort of fret work, they’re most likely going to be taking all the strings off to grant themselves proper access to the frets. As long as the string tension is reduced gradually, then there’s nothing wrong with taking all the strings off at the same time. What you want to avoid is cutting the strings while they are still tuned to pitch – the drastic drop in tension could potentially cause harm. Also, if your guitar has a floating bridge, you will actually save yourself time by re-stringing it one string at a time. Maintaining as much tension as you can during the re-string process will make it easier to balance the spring tension afterwards, if you even need to.

2. “My guitar has a bad hum, and when I touch the strings / bridge / metal knobs it goes away. It must not be grounded properly!”

gw9c

I hear this one all the time. Naturally, one would assume that your body is acting as a ground, soaking up that hum when touching these components. The thing that seems to be forgotten is that your body naturally creates electricity. If you had an improper or reversed ground, touching anything metal on the guitar would actually just cause your body’s electrical noise to be amplified, thus increasing that nauseating buzz sound. If the hum gets quieter when touching metal guitar components, it’s actually a sign that your guitar is grounded properly.
Pretty much every guitar has some sort of 60 cycle hum that is more evident at higher volumes. If you find a guitar that seems to have a worse buzz than another one, it is likely due to a problem with shielding rather than grounding. It is actually amplifying electrical noises from outside the guitar’s circuit. There are things you can do to help with shielding problems such as using higher quality cabling, better pots and wiring, or even rimming the electronics compartment with tin foil – but at the end of the day, you will most likely never quite get rid of that noise entirely. It just comes with the territory!

3. Playing an un-grounded guitar is extremely dangerous!

shock risk

Well, maybe for your ears it is. The amount of amperage an electric guitar produces simply isn’t enough to be lethal, or even cause any harm. What you need to be wary of is your amplifier, and the source you are plugging it into. People have literally died in the past from amplifiers that were not properly grounded. So if you notice a shock when you touch your strings, or when your lips touch the microphone while playing, it might be a good idea to get your amp and wall outlet checked out!

4. “Your tune-o-matic bridge is on backwards.”

bridges

This is a common issue you’ll find players debating. When you look at a tune-o-matic bridge, the intonation adjustment screws are on one side only. The argument is always over which side these should be facing for the bridge to be on “properly”. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. There is no universal right or wrong direction for the bridge to be on; it should be placed in the direction that makes the most sense for the particular guitar it is on. For example, if your bridge happens to be located really close to your bridge pickup, and you like your bridge pickup to sit rather close to the strings, it might be in your best interest to have the intonation adjustment screws facing the tail of the guitar. That way it’s not impossible to intonate.
Many tune-o-matic bridges feature 3 saddles facing one direction, while the other three face the opposite way. Others feature saddles all angled the same direction. Here’s a quick doodle I did to help picture a saddle from the side:

saddle

Consider this: depending on the break-angle of the string, it may be best to have the intonation screws facing the pickups as shown here. In rare occasions the break is so great that the string makes contact with the screw, which is of course not something you want.
Also in the diagram, you can see that the string rests on the saddle at its leftmost side. This means you have more room to shorten the string than you do to lengthen it. If your E string’s saddle is facing this way, for example, and it consistently intonates too sharp (even with the saddle pushed all the way to the right), consider flipping the bridge or saddles. With the saddles  facing the opposite direction, this will give you almost an entire saddle’s length extra to lengthen the string!

5. A Nitro-finished electric guitar sounds better than a poly-finished one.

finishing

To me, this is just a similar argument to “a les paul sounds better than a strat”. It’s entirely subjective. Is there even a difference? I don’t know, I’ve never A-B’d two identical guitars that had the same weight, wood, shape, and electronics, but one had a nitro finish and the other had poly. Some would argue that poly “chokes” the resonance of the guitar more than nitro does, therefore making for an inferior sounding instrument. I can see such an argument holding more water for an acoustic guitar – these are entirely dependent upon their wood and the way it vibrates. That said, I’m not really convinced that a slightly thicker compound would ruin the tone of an electric guitar. Sure, the finish might look, feel, and age differently, but I’m not going to squander the opportunity to try out a potentially great sounding guitar just because of its finish. If I play a guitar and like how it sounds, then it sounds good. That’s my criteria, anyway…

6. You need to have natural talent to become a “guitar god”.

babyguit

I find that this would be almost insulting to every “guitar god” out there. It’s as if to say they inherited their talent rather than worked for it, when in fact these musicians worked very hard to be able to do what they do. It’s true that if you’re brought up on music, then maybe you’ll have a bit of a knack for it when you decide to start playing an instrument – but it still requires a lot of dedication and practise. If anything, it could be argued that you need good people/business skills coupled with skill and ability to become a “guitar god”. There are and have been TONS of incredible guitar players out there that we’ve probably never heard of because in the music business, there’s more to it than just being “really really good”.

7. You need to practise for several hours each day to become a good player.

practise

To this I say: quality over quantity. You could practise for 8 hours a day and go nowhere if you aren’t being productive about it. Without proper instruction, research, and practise, you can easily end up developing bad habits that hinder your overall playing, or just spend too much time on something that isn’t helping you. Thirty minutes to an hour of focused, co-ordinated practise is more than enough to keep you on track and on your way to becoming a good guitarist. Private lessons are also a great way to help you establish a good practise routine.

8.  You need a 100 watt stack amp if you want to play in a loud rock band.

marshall stacks

Unless you plan on playing in a sold out arena or stadium some time soon, then you really don’t need that much power. Keep this in mind: twice as much wattage is not synonymous with twice as much volume. It actually takes ten times the output power to effectively double the human ear’s perception of volume. In other words, if you were thinking of getting an amp that could be twice as loud as a 50 watt, you would need a 500 watt – not a 100.
If the typical venue you’ll be playing in is a bar, or a small theater, you probably won’t be able to set your 100 watt amp’s level too high before your bandmates (and the sound technician) are screaming at you to turn down. The problem is, in order to get the best tone out of your amp, normally you need to run it pretty hot. Using a 30 – 50 watt amp is more than enough to allow you to play at a good level and achieve the tone you want for a decent sized venue. Not to mention you can easily get mic’d up and run through the sound board for a better control over the mix!

9. The fatter the string, the better the tone.

tt15d

Once again, we have a subjective statement. To me, this phrase should be “the fatter the string, the different the tone”. Artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Zak Wylde have been known for creating unbelievable tones using their super thick gauge strings. That’s a fact; these are two incredible, individual guitar tones that are “owned” by these two artists. That said, there are other guitarists who have created super heavy sounds using thin strings. James Hetfield? .009. Eddie Van Halen? Also .009. Jimmy Page? He prefers .008! My advice: use what feels and sounds good to you.

10. If it’s not “brand name”, it’s crap.

brand

I think this is society’s fault. We feel this way about everything… Going for a run? Get a pair of Nike’s! Want to go for a coffee? Only if it’s Starbucks! Name two good guitar brands… I bet you just thought of two words that rhyme with “blender” and “bibson”.
That’s not to say that these brands aren’t good – many of the guitars they make are! They’re the big guys who have stood the test of time, and they’ve done so for a reason. Partially because they started off with a great product, and partially because of advertising and word of mouth. What you need to remember though is that just because it has the name on the headstock, that doesn’t make it good. These brands make various quality levels of instruments, and while their higher-end stuff might be fantastic, their lower end guitars really aren’t any different from others at the same price-point. You could take two of the exact same model guitar priced at, say, $700 and one could be incredible, and the other a dud – especially when coming from such large, mass production facilities.
The best coffee I’ve ever had is from a small, family-run restaurant near my hometown. Not a Starbucks. In my opinion, the best guitar you’ll ever play could be one built by a local luthier specifically for you. That doesn’t sound like crap to me!

 

Don’t Ask Me, I Don’t Know!

Rhetorical question: What do getting fit through exercise and liking solidbody electric
guitars have in common? And, no, I don’t mean Sweatin’ to the Oldies with Richard
Simmons or any workout program designed to dance your way to 6-pack abs. I mean1983 Aria Pro II XX Series XX Deluxe
discovering Heavy Metal and the guitars that were made for it, like this Aria Pro II XX
Deluxe!

     Forgive me if I’ve told this autobiographical story before (age isn’t kind to short-term memory), but it’s pertinent to this guitar. I didn’t really become interested in electric guitars until the mid-1980s, even though I’d been playing for 30 years by then.
My first electric was a used Gibson ES-225T in the late 1950s that I used to learn Chet
Atkins licks. I switched over to acoustics when folk music was big, playing electrics
again in the late ‘60s in a blues/r’n’b band. Our best number was a spirited version of
the Box Top’s “The Letter.” Still like that song. Then I became a classical guitarist.
And a writer. These are not, fyi, aerobic activities. And I don’t descend from a line of
skinny people.

By the early 1980s I felt I needed some physical activity. I went to Sears and
bought a primitive exercycle. I got a good set of Koss headphones to hook up to my
KLH. But I needed some juice. Despite playing Bach, Sor and Giuliani for nearly a
decade, I’d kept up with my Guitar Player magazine subscription. In its pages I’d been
reading about Ozzie Osbourne (whoever the hell he was) and his rave new guitarist
Randy Rhoads. So I went out and bought a copy of his record (when a record was a
record, an actual vinyl artifact with 12” cover artwork), Blizzard of Oz.

Indelibly imprinted on my brain is that first bike ride. I set the needle at the very
outside of the lead-in groove and hopped on the bike.
DuddleyDuddelyDAHdadaDuddleyDuddelyDAHdada. To quote a current Hyundai
commercial, “Holy [bleep].” As a guitarist, I hate song lyrics on principle, but when the
singer croons “What’s the future of mankind, don’t ask me ‘cause I got left behind; Don’t
ask me, I don’t know,” well, I’m hooked. Better than “The Letter.” Randy Rhoads? I’d
never heard guitar playing like that. Bach for rock n’ roll.

What followed was a descent into Heavy Metal. I’d missed all popular music
after 1972 or ‘73. Three Dog Night and Jethro Tull were the last things I’d listened to
before switching to Julian Bream and John Williams. By total coincidence I found
myself at the beginning of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, affectionately dubbed
by critics at the time NWOBHM. Hmm…

I bought magazines. I devoured records. I began to notice the guitars. The
tastes of the NWOBHM and the nascent American correlatives, which would eventually
become known as neo-classical metal, liked Flying Vees and Explorers and other
non-Spanish-shaped guitars, often with custom graphic finishes.

It would be a few years before I started collecting electric guitars, by which time
the guitars of the NWOBHM were becoming passé. But my interest had been piqued
and I began picking up some of the more noble examples. Like this 1983 Aria Pro II XX
Deluxe, part of their XX Series.

ara2

Basically, it’s a mini-Vee with graphics. I’m not sure
what the body is, but it’s lightweight, maybe poplar or alder. I don’t know who made it.
Aria was/is a trading company. Trading companies did the marketing and distribution,
working with a family of factories to provide whatever product they needed. Many of
Aria’s better models were produced by the legendary Matsumoku in Japan, but these
XXs do not have that vibe. Instead, these remind me more of the Ibanez Axstars of
1986 which were made not at FujiGen but at Chushin, also in Japan. To quote Randy
Newman’s theme for Monk, I could be wrong now, but I don’t think so.

If you’re going to hop around on-stage in Spandex—which I, needing an
exercycle, sure as hell would never do—you could do a lot worse than this Aria. The
neck is lacquered black, which increases speed. The two Protomatic V humbuckers
(probably Gotohs) are decently hot. In 1983, when this was made, locking vibratos had
yet to conquer the world, so we still have a traditional style. This particular guitar was
found as new old stock, never having been previously sold or played. Pretty neat.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since these heavy metal guitars were
popular. Not least of which is being able to buy inexpensive Japanese guitars for sale
in the U.S. Nevermind whatever is the latest iteration of Heavy Metal, which is eons
away from NWOBHM. And my exercycle rides hooked up to my KLH. (Not to mention
even KLH.) For the record (history, not vinyl), I try to walk 3 miles every day, plugged
into an iPod with SkullCandy earbuds listening to…sorry, the latest Solomon Silber or
Ana Vidovic classical guitar CD. But, I confess, every once in a while on my walks I dial
down to Ozzie and Randy wailing on “Don’t ask me, I don’t know (know, know, know).”

Musical Communication

musicomm

Have you ever listened to or overheard a conversation between seasoned
musicians? The phrases, terminology and body language are very different from
non musicians. Depending on what type of musician you are talking to, the words,
lingo and animations vary. For example a conversation between two jazz
performers might sound like this:

That cat can really play in the pocket on Birds up-tempo swing tunes, and I
was digging the groove on the walking bass line.

Rock musicians might sound like this:

The drummer crushed it with those 32nd note fills on the hi hat, and I was down
with the syncopation of the double bass drums on his second solo.

Finally the well trained classical musician who wrote the book on terminology
might sound like this:

Did you notice the strings in perfect unison with the reeds while building a
perfect crescendo at the start of the 2nd ending in the 3rd movement.

There are thousands of musical terms that make communicating easier for musicians.
Today I will show you a few of the basic terms that are built into almost
all styles of music. I will break them down into 5 categories with 3 sub categories.

#1 Parts of a Song

a. Verse – In typical popular music the first set of lyrics would be considered
the 1st verse, and would almost always change going from verse to verse telling the
story.

b. Chorus – Unlike the verse the chorus usually retains the same lyrics and is
often the most memorable part of the song.

c. Bridge – In pop and rock songs, the bridge is a section where the lyrics or
music connect or bridge the verse to the chorus. This is usually done with a
different melody line and with different lyrics.

#2 Style of a Tune

a. Swing – A form of American music developed in the 1930’s which has a
strong rhythmic groove or drive. The emphasis in swing is on the offbeat of the
music.

b. Waltz – In a Jazz context Waltz would be any piece of music written in ¾
time or 3 beats per measure. In classical music it is also played in ¾ time but
traditionally used for ballroom dancing or folk dance.

c. Bossa – Short for Bossa Nova is a genre of Brazilian music made popular
in the 1950’s and 60’s. Bossa has a swaying feel rather than a swinging feel. Bossa
like most Latin based styles of music incorporates a lot of syncopation.

#3 Navigating a Tune

a. Coda – Primarily a term that designates a passage of music to the end of
the tune. The symbol looks like a circle with two lines going through it.

b. D.C al fine – D.C. or (Da Capo) means repeat to beginning of the song, then
to the word fine which means end.

c. Treble Clef – Or G Clef is a sign indicating the pitch of written notes. The
Treble Clef as its name implies, is reserved for instruments that can produce notes
with a higher pitch as opposed to the bass clef designated for lower pitched
instruments.

#4 Dynamics

a. Forte – Is a musical term which means to play loudly at that section of the
music.

b. Decrescendo – Is a sign that looks like this ( >) letting you know that the
music will have a gradual decrease in force or loudness.

c. Fermata – Is a prolonged tone, chord, or rest beyond its indicated time. A
good example would be in the tune Happy Birthday, when you come to the
person’s name it is held for a longer time than the music allows for. Or in the Star
Spangled Banner when you get to the word free.

#5 Tempo

a. Andante – Means in a moderately slow and even tempo. It can also mean
gently or flowing.

b. B.P.M. – Refers to beats per minute which is attached to a number. For
example a song that has 80 bpm is exactly twice as slow than a tune that has 160
bpm in it. Marching band and Disco music usually play songs that uses 120 beats
per minute probably because it is easy to march to and also to dance to.

c. Up – Short for upbeat, is a jazz term indicating that the music should be
played quickly.

Just like most professions there are ways to communicate that are outside of
(normal) conversation. A good example might be the Lingo between Lawyers,
Doctors, and Law Enforcement. Another good example would be wildlife. We
clearly don’t understand the language but they are communicating quite well with
each other.


 

 

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