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Joey Leone Signature RBC Eastwood Guitar (Rock, Blues & Country)

I have always dreamed of a guitar that would combine the features of my favorite guitars, yet be able to get many sounds from it, all of which would be useable sounds. This guitar would have to be functional, beautiful, easy to play, and affordable – the Joey Leone Signature Model Guitar for Eastwood.

Headstock: Joey Leone RBC Guitar from Eastwood Guitars

Headstock: Joey Leone RBC Guitar from Eastwood Guitars

Eastwood CEO Mike Robinson and I have been working together for years – improvements on existing designs, new ideas and alike. Mike has always encouraged me to think outside the box, and in turn I have given him many ideas and concepts, some discussed and put aside, but this Signature Moded was a concept we both loved. This guitar was to be a players guitar – one that offered an opportunity for guitar players to have a wide palette of sounds to draw from – yet did not look like a crowded subway car.

OK Joey, “what does this guitar do that is so special?” Here’s where the fun begins…. First I thought about some of my favorite guitar players and the guitars they played. I tend to think of guitars and players in groups, organized by styles and tones. Hmmm? Matt Guitar Murphy played an ES 345, T-Bone Walker played an ES-5 Switchmaster, Mark Knopfler a Strat, Roy Buchanan a Tele, double hmmm? Pickups?A triple hmmmm?

Pickups: Joey Leone RBC Guitar from Eastwood Guitars

Pickups: Joey Leone RBC Guitar from Eastwood Guitars

I knew I wanted my first design to be a versatile guitar that would be a clean, and clear voiced guitar that could be played at a low volume and still be strong sounding, but also one that would sing and sustain at higher volumes. I wanted the guitar to cut through with a high mid voice that would be there even when mixed at lower volumes. Here’s how I did it!

First I decided to go with a semi-hollow archtop design like a 335, but use P90 pickups. I knew that there were very few if any semi-hollows with P90 pickups. Next I wanted to have the scale length be longer then the standard Gibson, so I created a Fender scale (25 ½ inch) on a Gibson style frame. This would afford the player the opportunity to use heavier gauge strings without the hand fatigue that we incessant pickers tend to experience. Also this would make bending strings more pleasurable.

Flamed Finish: Joey Leone RBC Guitar from Eastwood Guitars

Flamed Finish: Joey Leone RBC Guitar from Eastwood Guitars

I also asked the builders to make the neck a bit wider (2 mm’s) so the strings would not feel crowded. This is the feel you get when you play an L5 or any high end archtop, again wanting to give the player a really fine guitar for his or her money. I also asked them to make me a one piece mahogany neck; this design in my opinion gives the guitar a more consistent transfer of vibrations throughout the guitar. I have always felt that multi-laminated maple necks were strong and stiff to a fault as the glue joints make the neck dead. I also never liked the idea of guitar builders gluing together piece of wood that did not have consistent grain and or density. Yes, more expensive, but Mike said, “Let’s design the guitar FIRST, and worry about cost SECOND.”

I insisted that this guitar have a book matched flamed maple top and back of similar grain and density for the same reasons mentioned above. I also added flamed maple sides as well for aesthetics mostly. And speaking of aesthetics I also wanted real mother of pearl instead of “pearloid” or some other faux material. Tell me that never drove you crazy, over $3,000 for a guitar and when you friends say, “is that real mother of pearl?” you have to say… ahhh.. kinda…..no!!!

Switches: Joey Leone RBC Guitar from Eastwood Guitars

Switches: Joey Leone RBC Guitar from Eastwood Guitars

Now onto the electronics, an aspect of which I am most proud. I went to pickup visionary Kent Armstrong (son of Dan) and told him I wanted P90 pickups that would also be able to get a Strat sound as well as the standard P90 voicing. Through many, many hours of work in Kent’s workshop we came up with a hot P90 pickup with a coil tap that would yield the signature Strat sound. This is not one of those stacked humbuckers that I have always thought to be okay at best, but not having a single coil sound at all. These pickups sound great and they are potted with wax to avoid almost all microphonics. Then, three pickups like T-Bone’s ES-5 with the middle pickup reverse wound to get the humbucking sound when combined with any of the other pickups, this we did – but again through many hours of skull sessions – we made the middle pickup not only a coil tapped single coil but used AlNiCO 5 magnets like on the old 55 Les Paul Custom – but really closer to the McCarty Pickups found on the old L7 “pickups in the pickguard” design. These can be adjusted by simply pushing the pole piece up through the bottom of the pickup with a small screwdriver. This pickup when coil tapped sounds very similar to a Jazzmaster pickup but with a bit more balls. All these custom creations add expense? You bet it does, but when you play this guitar and start to explore the tonal palette, it will blow you away….

What we end up with is a guitar with 27 useable sounds – no throw away “excuse” sounds – with 9 humbucking combinations. All of this is easily accomplished by using the three full size toggles located between the master volume and master tome pots.

You will see some pictures here is this article of the first two prototypes. Production models will be available in April 2007. I’ve asked Mike to do two colors – Natural (pictured here to the left) and an Antique Sunburst (the Cherryburst will not be in production until later next year).

Natural Finish: Joey Leone RBC Guitar from Eastwood Guitars

Natural Finish: Joey Leone RBC Guitar from Eastwood Guitars

Now onto some of the other design ideas that went into the RBC model. Medium jumbo frets on a slightly curved fretboard, this will make this guitar an axe blues players as well as shred guys who are used to flat fingerboards feel at home. Add some Grover Imperial Tuners, a tunematic bridge, and trapeze tailpiece to the design of the Joey Leone Signature RBC Model, and you have a guitar designed by a player for players. No B.S.

One more thing my friends, my buddy Mike Robinson at Eastwood Guitars has been behind this guitar from the beginning and will deliver this guitar to you with his usual rock hard, unsurpassed customer service that has helped make Eastwood the up and coming guitar company out there today. This guitar will be of the highest quality and be affordable. No B.S. there either!

This Guitar Bites (1981 O’Hagan Shark Custom Electric Guitar)

Cue the music. Duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH? Fin cuts water. Girl screams. The big Jaws open. That’s right, folks, we’re talking about sharks. Killer sharks with a taste for teens. Only this monster is a guitar! From Minnesota, no less! Well, I’m sure weirder things have floated down the Mississippi River! Yes, boys and girls, you are looking at a genuine 1981 O’Hagan Shark Custom!

1981 O'Hagan Shark Custom Electric Guitar

1981 O'Hagan Shark Custom Electric Guitar

I didn’t really pay much attention to electric guitars during the 1970s and early ’80s – I had my face glued to 18th and 19th Century guitar music – but I did peruse the pages of Guitar Player. It was there that I first laid my eyes on a curious guitar called the O’Hagan Shark. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but once I’d been bitten by guitar collecting, a shark immediately showed up on my radar – uh, sonar – screen. Back then, no one was looking for O’Hagan Sharks, so I had no trouble scaring one up cheap. This was back in those pre-internet days when you eagerly looked for the next catalog mailer from big dealers.

I got one in black, but I think something was changed out on it, so I swapped it for this all-original Custom. I never liked black guitars anyway. That it looked like its namesake was obvious, but what the heck had I gotten? This set me on one of those classic investigations. I got some brochures and learned that they were made in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. A few calls to local guitar dealers led me to none other than Jerrel (or Jerol, aka Jerry) O’Hagan himself, the designer of the Shark and the other guitars offered by the Jemar Corporation of the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. Jerry filled in the blanks for me.

1981 O'Hagan Shark Custom Electric Guitar

1981 O'Hagan Shark Custom Electric Guitar

O’Hagan had been a music teacher specializing in clarinet in the Twin Cities area in the early 1970s, and then became a music sales rep. As a rep he discovered high-quality Yamaki acoustics from Japan and in ’75 went into business importing them as Grande guitars. Unfortunately, he was just in time to see demand for acoustics evaporate. Out of that failed venture came the idea of making good, affordable electrics in the US to compete with Japanese imports. The O’Hagan Shark was born in 1979.

Whether or not the “Shark” name came before or after the design is unknown, but Jerry was inspired by Gibson’s Explorer. Again, whether or not he intended it, his new Shark was more comfortable than an Explorer to play sitting down. The notion of improving on Gibson was being pursued at the same time by Dean Zelinsky (Dean) and Jol Dantzig (Hamer) a few hundred miles down the pike in Chicago.

1981 O'Hagan Shark Custom Electric Guitar

1981 O'Hagan Shark Custom Electric Guitar

O’Hagan Sharks were a pretty good compromise between high-end guitar and affordable. They were neck-through-body and sported top-notch Schaller hardware and hot Mighty Mite humbuckers. By the time this guitar was made, they’d switched to DiMarzios. Brass appointments to increase sustain. The mini-toggle is a phase switch. Early examples often featured fancy woods, though they got plainer by the time of this guitar. Later Sharks featured Schaller pickups. Bottom line: O’Hagan Sharks are really nice guitars! Comfortable, hot, flexible. Way cool!

A number of other O’Hagan models were introduced, including the double- and single-cut NightWatch, the Twenty Two (Flying V), and Laser (Bizarro Strat). A lot of custom options were offered. Problems inevitably developed and notes were called in, O’Hagan was broke, and the I.R.S. liquidated it all in 1983.

Only about 3000 O’Hagans were ever made, most Twenty Twos. There were only about 100-150 Sharks. All are pretty rare. Sharks (and Lasers) are the coolest. With tons of bite, like you’d expect from a maneater from Minneapolis!

A Baker’s Dozen Tips: Recording Guitars & Basses (Part 1)

I have been recording since 1980, mostly in home studios. And just for the record I will give you an idea of what was in my first few home studios, it was no digital 8 track the size of a paperback novel.

My first home recording set up was an Akai ¼ inch 2 track and a Harmon Kardon cassette deck, no EQ, the only effects I had were a few effects pedals. I would program one of my primitive drum machines or use a factory preset non-programmable rhythm machine while I was recording that I would usually add my bass or rhythm guitar. And after a suitable take I would ping pong the tracks back and forth from the 2 track to the cassette, adding effects on the fly.

My next home recording rig was a Teac 3340 4 track with a Biamp 6 channel board with internal spring reverb and a stereo 10 band graphic equalizer. Boy that was the real deal.

I did learn a lot about recording guitars and basses from my home recoding experience and also from listening to my favorite records too. So here is my top ten tips on recording guitars and basses.

BTW please send me some of your first home recording Frankenstein laboratory creations, I would love to hear them.

#1: Use chord fragments instead of whole chords

Like a good B-3 player who uses two or three fingers, your chords and their voicings should be well thought out and economical. Try not to use roots or fifths unless the fifth is an altered fifth like a flat 5 or augmented 5th. Analyze the melody notes and try not to crowd them with notes that proximate in the same octave i.e. if your melody note is a root middle C and you want to use the 9th in the chord use one either an octave higher or lower..

The whole idea here is to give room for the other instruments or just to open up the music and let the notes you leave out be implied as opposed to being heard, it’s an interesting concept check it out!

#2: Utilize ghost tracks when recording bass guitar

This is a very useful technique when you want to change the texture of your bass track, without changing the integrity of the original. First you will need to clone the track, once you have done that clone it a second time. Now you should have three tracks, eq the first clone track very bassy and cut all the highs. Now do the opposite to the second clone track, eq it high and cut the lows. Now instead of changing the original track you can just add the clones to your taste.

A few pointers on this technique, first I think you should electronically clone the tracks and not shadow them by recording another bass track (that is an entire different idea). Now when eq-ing your clones try to do it while playing it alongside your original track, that will give you a better picture of where to go with the eq.

#3: Have a guitar strung up to Nashville tuning.

Nashville tuning for those not familiar with it is a six string guitar tuned with standard first three strings and the next three tuned up an octave. It’s like a twelve string without the low strings, pretty cool idea. They call it Nashville tuning because that’s where it started in the studios in Nashville. You can’t play lead with it, or accompany with it alone, but where it comes into play is adding it to a track where you want to add a highlight to your track. A twelve string will sound a bit muddy in comparison. Try some alternative voicings, and work it in and out of the mix.

Prepare yourself to adjust the truss rod as this tuning puts almost no tension on the neck.

#4: Use stereo delays to fatten up rhythm guitar parts.

This is a method I have used for years, I especially like using the stereo delays on funky or single note rhythm parts. I will usually use a delay of 75ms to 150ms, panned hard left or right. The dry guitar panned one way the wet guitar panned the other way. This effect also works well on ½ note and ¼ note parts, like reggae-type feels.

You can also open up the delays for melody parts. What I like to do is set my time delays immediately when I record. I do this by counting the beats per minute and setting the delays accordingly. So if yourBPM’s are 105 I would set my delays at 210ms, 420ms and 840ms and use and combine them to taste.

One suggestion is to get a feel for it when you bring up your tracks, but I really start to get creative when it comes to the mix. Make it sound big, and don’t be afraid to get buck wild!

#5: Bass players use those flatwounds dammit!!!

Yes Mr. Bassman start recording with flatwounds and hear the magic. Don’t forget that drums record better when they are muffled (ask Ringo) and don’t decay, well boys sorry to tell you that unless you are playing Stanley Clarke style fusion your bass should not be sustaining all over the place. All it does is make the track feel real loose. Studio bass legend Joe Osborne recorded hundreds of sessions in the 60’s with the same set of “dead” strings for over four years! And when he did change them, he had to fish the dead ones out of the trash.

All your favorite James Jameson / Jerry Jemmot records of the 60’s were also recorded with flatwounds. Just try it!

#6: Always record a direct sound on a separate track

Whether you are recording through a POD or miking up your favorite amp, having the track recorded along side direct will always be a plus. You may never use it or just bleed it in, but you will feel better just knowing its there. The other plus is you can always “reamp” it by feeding the dry track through any device or by using a device such as a Reamp which allows you to run a recorded track back through an amp after the fact.

That’s the first part of this column – and remember, that you do not need a 24 track studio to create great music, you need go concise ideas and tons of overdubs and other filler. Reminder, Sgt Pepper recorded on a four track, Blizzard of Oz, 8 track, Uncle Meat a 3 track, all the early Motown hits two 2 tracks in sync, Dark Side of the Moon, 8 track – ..see a pattern developing?…..Part 2 next month.

Peace,

Joey Leone

P.S. Mike Robinson and I have been working on some custom designs – the first is the Joey Leone Signature Model – for the past 18 months. We are getting close to the release date and will have some information available in the next newsletter. In the meantime, drop me an EMAIL and I can fill you in on some preliminary information. Here are some sneak peaks at the prototype.

Joey Leone Signature Guitar Prototype from Eastwood Guitars

Joey Leone Signature Guitar Prototype from Eastwood Guitars

Joey Leone Signature Guitar Prototype from Eastwood Guitars

Joey Leone Signature Guitar Prototype from Eastwood Guitars

Celebrating the Chinese New Year, Korean Style (1987 Cort Dragon Electric Guitar)

The writhing, brightly colored paper dragons carried by a line of athletic young men to celebrate Chinese New Year is a sight most of us have seen. If you don’t live in a city with a Chinatown, you’ve at least seen them in a Stephen Segal movie. And if you’ve ever entered a Chinese gift shop, you’ve seen the gift boxes inlaid with colorful pearl and abalone dragons. The dragon is one of the most powerful images associated with East Asia. So, imagine my surprise when I first came upon a Cort Strat copy inlaid with a most spectacular mother-of-pearl and abalone dragon! What had I found?

1987 Cort Dragon Electric Guitar

1987 Cort Dragon Electric Guitar

Well, it’s always best to go to the source when you have a mystery (if you can), so I called Jack Westheimer to get the true story about my find. Jack’s name, unlike Leo or Orville, is probably not on most guitar fan’s lips, but he brought us Teisco (and other brand) guitars from Japan at a time when most folks in America didn’t think much about products from the Orient. There’s a whole lot more to this story that we don’t have time to get into here, but, long story short, Jack transferred from pioneering guitars in Japan to pioneering guitars in Korea. He took his Japanese Cortez guitars to the Peninsula in 1973, partnering with Yung H. Park, to create Cort guitars. Today they are one of the world’s top guitarmakers, and many Cort guitars are quite simply excellent instruments.

However, as you might expect, this quality achievement did not happen overnight. By Westheimer’s own assessment, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that they felt quality was at a competitive level. But how to show it? He needed a guitar to make an impact on the U.S. market.

1987 Cort Dragon Electric Guitar

1987 Cort Dragon Electric Guitar

It was one day in around 1986 or ’87 while pondering this problem that Jack took a walk through an outdoor market that thrived outside the factory. There he encountered some of those gift boxes inlaid with fabulous pearl and abalone dragons. Maybe this was just the ticket. After a few inquiries he learned that the inlay work was done by craftsmen on a small island. He decided to take some Cort Strat and Explorer copies and have them inlaid with dragons.

1987 Cort Dragon Electric Guitar

1987 Cort Dragon Electric Guitar

What do they say about the litter on the road to success? Despite his best intentions, the project was doomed. The cost of the inlay was reasonable, but Cort had to finish the bodies, carefully pack them up, ship them to the village where the work was done, then have them shipped back, touch up any dings, then proceed to clear-coat and complete the guitar. By the time you added up all the extra handling, the guitars had to be sold for a pretty penny once they arrived Stateside. Dealers wouldn’t pay the freight for a Korean guitar, no matter how fancy.

1987 Cort Dragon Electric Guitar

1987 Cort Dragon Electric Guitar

Their loss was my gain. This is a swell little guitar with neck-through construction (my favorite) and even if it didn’t play well, which it does, it would be fun to stare at all day!

The Cort Dragons are pretty rare, uh, dragons. About 400 Explorers and 100 Strats (StoStats) were built in 1987. Most were Corts, but some came labeled Lotus. Of those, most were made with laminated bodies like this one; only 50 were made of solid timbers toward the end of the run.

In the long run, it only took time, consistency – and a mature global economy – to secure Cort’s reputation. They didn’t need the Dragons. But this one, at least, ended up in my treasure hoard, and every time I open the case it’s like Chinese New Year to me!

Unexpected Eye Candy (1965 Avanti Electric Guitar)

Maybe it was the smarmy, frozen smiles thrust kind of aggressively into the camera. Or maybe it was because our PARENTS chose the TV programming. Not that there were very many options back in the day when you were lucky to get three network broadcasts, depending on where you lived. If you were lucky enough to have a TV. Or maybe it was because my little sister played insipid beginner tunes on a black-plastic and pearloid Silvertone piano accordion (“The bear went over the mountain”). But every Saturday night it was the Lawrence Welk Champagne Hour “wonaful, wonaful” with those big honkin’ accordions. Take it away Myron. For years I hated accordions. Little did I realize their vital connection to the guitar, as can be seen, if you know what to look for, on this little 1965 Avanti from Italy.

1965 Avanti Electric Guitar

1965 Avanti Electric Guitar

It’s amazing how little you know when you’re in the middle of things. Especially when you’re young. Even though I was prime-time ’60s, I didn’t really become aware of Italian guitars until I began writing about them several decades later and, with a personal attachment to Milwaukee, learned of the Lo Duca Brothers and EKO guitars. It was talking with the Lo Ducas that I learned of the accordion connection. Duh.

That’s because those very accordions I’d hated as a kid were the equivalent of what the guitar became a decade later. Very popular. And very Italian. The piano accordion “with keyboards instead of buttons” was invented in Vienna in 1863 and brought to the area of Castelfidardo on the eastern coast of Italy. The instrument was embraced and a lively accordion manufacturing industry grew up in the area. It’s still a major center. While accordions were also made in Germany and Sweden, the vast majority played during the 1950s were from Italy.

1965 Avanti Electric Guitar

1965 Avanti Electric Guitar

As fate would have it, the rage for accordions in the US at least passed by the mid-’50s. Accordion makers struggled to replace the lost business. Lucky for them Baby Boomers like me came along with a taste for playing guitars. Doubly lucky for them, there was a long tradition of guitarmaking in the same part of Italy. When the American electric guitar market exploded in the early 1960s, the Italians were among the first European sources of guitars for meeting the demand. One of the hallmarks of early accordions was the use of plastic covering. Thus it was natural that, when switching to guitars, they should be plastic covered, which brings us back to this Avanti.

Avanti guitars were probably made by the Polverini Brothers of Castelfidardo for European Crafts of Los Angeles beginning in late 1964. For this one, they chose a really cool rootbeer-barrel colored faux-rosewood plastic covering. Most early Italian guitars had either pushbutton or rocker controls adapted from accordions, but this is unusual with a fourway rotary select that let you choose each pickup individually or all at once. All in all a sensible arrangement. Whether the pickups are really humbuckers or single-coil is unknown, but they have that bright ’60s sound, and, anyhow, you really want an Avanti because it looks like rootbeer candy.

1965 Avanti Electric Guitar

1965 Avanti Electric Guitar

Italian guitars continued to be plastic-covered through 1965 or so. By 1966 guitar players were becoming more discriminating and Italian guitars switched to more conventional finishes. Though not for long. Rising wages and slacking demand, plus implacable competition from Japanese guitarmakers, led to the demise of Italian guitars by 1968 at the latest, at least in the American market.

Since discovering these plastic-covered marvels I’ve become more interested in the piano accordions that spawned them. I’ve even contemplated picking one up to play it. But one thing they haven’t done. And that’s change my opinions about watching the Lawrence Welk show, no matter how wonaful it may actually have been.

Famous Guitarists & Their Guitars

Greetings my friend and fellow strummers in this month’s column I will discuss that in my opinion that Artist recognition is one of the most important aspect of guitar marketing. That is a statement I truly believe, and in this column I will trace the popularity of certain guitars and the artists that I believe are responsible for their success. I will also list some guitar players and the guitars I found to be intriguing. I will list the guitars first and the artists that were associated with it.

Remember my friends knowing what guitars your favorite players play is part of getting a sound similar to them, but it is only a small part of it.

Gibson SG Electric Guitar

Gibson SG Electric Guitar

Gibson SG: Tony Iommi, Angus Young, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Frank Zappa, Eric Clapton

Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar

Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar

Fender Telecaster (stock): Roy Buchanan, James Burton, Steve Cropper, Muddy Waters, Joe Messina

Telecaster (modified): Mike Stern, Keith Richards, Danny Gatton, Clarence White

Gibson ES-335 Electric Guitar

Gibson ES-335 Electric Guitar

Gibson ES-335: Larry Carlton, Dave Edmunds, Johnny “Guitar” Watson

Gibson ES-345: Freddie King, Alvin Lee, Elvin Bishop

Gibson ES-355: Chuck Berry, B.B. Kink, Keith Richards

Fender Stratocaster Electric Guitar

Fender Stratocaster Electric Guitar

Fender Stratocaster (stock): Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Mark Knophler, David Gilmour

Fender Stratocaster (modified): Hiram Bullock, Robbie Robertson, Adrian Belew, Stevie Ray Vaughn

Gretsch 6120 Archtop Electric Guitar

Gretsch 6120 Archtop Electric Guitar

Gretsch 6120: Brian Setzer, Chet Atkins, Eddie Cochran

Gibson Les Paul Electric Guitar

Gibson Les Paul Electric Guitar

Gibson Les Paul: Mike Bloomfield, Slash, Joe Perry, Duane Allman, Jimmy Page

Gibson Firebird Electric Guitar

Gibson Firebird Electric Guitar

Gibson Firebird: Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton, Howlin’ Wolf, Stevie Winwood, Pat Hare, Clarence Gatemouth Brown

Gibson Flying V: Albert King: Jimi Hendrix

Gibson Melody Maker: Joan Jett

Gibson Byrdland: Ted Nugent, Roy Clark, Eric Clapton

Gibson Les Paul Junior Electric Guitar

Gibson Les Paul Junior Electric Guitar

Gibson Les Paul Junior: Lesley West, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Johnny Thunders

Fender Jazzmaster Electric Guitar

Fender Jazzmaster Electric Guitar

Fender Jazzmaster: Elvis Costello, Fender Jazzmaster Guitar

Rickenbacker 12-string Electric Guitar

Rickenbacker 12-string Electric Guitar

Rickenbacker 12-string: George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roger McGuinn

Airline H44 Electric Guitar

Airline H44 Electric Guitar

Airline Resoglas Electric Guitar

Airline Resoglas Electric Guitar

Airline/Supro Resoglas: J.B. Hutto, Jack White

Epiphone Sheraton Electric Guitar

Epiphone Sheraton Electric Guitar

Epiphone Riviera/Sheraton: John Lennon, Otis Rush, George Harrison, John Lee Hooker

Gibson L5-CES Archtop Electric Guitar

Gibson L5-CES Archtop Electric Guitar

Gibson L5-CES: Wes Montgomery, Scotty Moore, Paul Simon (L5S)

Other Notables:

  • Gretsch Country Gentleman: George Harrison, Steven Stills, David Crosby
  • Mosrite (several models): The Ventures, Joe Maphis, Rick Wilson (B-52’s), Johnny Ramone
  • Silvertone/Danelectro: Jimmy Page, Link Wray, Hubert Sumlin, Elmore James, R.L. Burnside
  • Kay Electrics: Jimmy Reed, Howlin Wolf, Lonnie Johnson

So if you are interested in getting a sound similar to any of these artists, a good place to start is with their guitar choices. I would say that may be 20% of it, the amplifier would be another 20% and the rest is technique, approach, and attitude.

There are some other aspects that would affect your sound, the type of picks you use, the gauge of your strings, and any effects you might use.

In my world I would say use as few effects as you can, I know they are part of the song, blah,blah blah. If you need a harmonic effect like a chorus but feel you need to flange at some point in the show get one of those multi units like the Line 6. And remember the more pedals you use the farther away are you from the sound of your guitar.

Now as far as the amps go, those of you who are familiar with my column know I am a traditionalist. As far as I can see there are three categories of amplifiers.

Clean Amps:
These amps are clean sounding, with plenty of headroom and eq to pick from. Twin Reverbs, Ampeg, and Lab Series amps are a few. Also some of the older Peavey solid state amps are real clean amps. You can always get a dirty sound with your favorite pedal if you need it.

Dirty Amps:
Marshall JCM 800 and 900 Series amps, many tweed Fenders, the 100 watt army of amps like Crate, Krank, Soldano, and Randall. These amps will give you the sound you are looking for, if that sound is a crunchy compressed full sound.

Channel switching amps:
These amps are for cats that need both clean and dirty and like the idea of the two sounds coming from the same amp. These amps are personified by Mesa Boogies, Rivera era Fenders, and combos like the Marshall TCM Series.

And remember folks – “got and questions?”..”go lean on Shell’s Answer Man”.

Bushwhacked by the Past (1965 Kay K350 Titan I Electric Guitar)

The wonderful thing about the world of design is that every once in awhile you get to feel smug and sit back and say, “WHAT were they smoking?!” In the case of this 1965 Kay K350 Titan I, I’m not sure but what it wasn’t more a confluence of circumstances that created this Frankenstein, because parts of it are actually not that bad, and, to be honest, the quality is surprisingly good. But other parts are downright u-ugly.

Back in the day Kay was actually called Stromberg-Voisinet and actually produced the first documented electric guitar, the Stromberg Electro, in 1928. Good idea but it had some problems and promptly disappeared. Kay didn’t exactly rush back into electrics with any alacrity, but after the War, when it became clear that the electric Spanish guitar was going to be viable, Kay took the plunge like everyone else. Some of its guitars from the 1950s, like the Thin Twin, are classics of the era, though a little stodgy.

1965 Kay K350 Titan I Electric Guitar

1965 Kay K350 Titan I Electric Guitar

By the ’60s guitar boom, of course, Kay was pumping out trainloads of guitars. The market for these mainly beginner-level electric guitars was, of course, young Baby Boomers. By around 1960 Kay was making attempts at upgrading its image to a hipper one, with truly ugly guitars like the Solo King or “State of Ohio” guitar that we’ve talked about before. One of Kay’s improvements was the adoption of chrome plastic pickup covers with etched lines often called “Kleenex boxes” by collectors. They look cheesy to me, but cool cheesy, in a tacky sort of way, if you know what I mean.

But it’s really all about that headstock. Someone at Kay thought they needed to hippify the heads on their solidbodies and came up with what many collectors call the “bushwhacker” design. No chance of being sued by Fender on this puppy! What’s particularly amazing about it is that it must have been a bear to produce. The lower edge or throat is beveled away from the face, while the tip on the upper side is also beveled out, but just beyond the tuner buttons. There’s a ton of carving here in the days before numerical carving machines.

1965 Kay K350 Titan I Electric Guitar

1965 Kay K350 Titan I Electric Guitar

The head, as goofy as it is, isn’t the only impressive feature of the Titan. Those angled double parallelogram inlays are real pearl. Routing for those much have been fun. Then dig the body. Again with the bevels. Everywhere! On a two-piece solid mahogany body. With a good, tight, snug fit for the neck.

And, I guess while I’m complaining, who could love that awful plastic Kay logo? I guess someone did.

1965 Kay K350 Titan I Electric Guitar

1965 Kay K350 Titan I Electric Guitar

In any case, this all came together in 1965 to form the Kay Titan I, a remarkably nice little guitar despite it’s looks. Technically, the Kay Titan I lasted only one year, although it was still around as the Kay Titan II beginning in 1966, when the juke box company Seeburg purchased the company. Little other than names changed with the Seeburg possession, so they obviously didn’t have any objection to bushwhacking or plastic parts. But then again, have you ever seen a juke box? Also cool, but hardly models of high art or great aesthetic taste. More like, “Hey, look at me!”

Come to think of it, maybe it’s NOT the goofy headstock or plastic parts that make this guitar odd. Maybe it’s the really nice mahogany that’s the problem. Maybe the Titan I just needed some pink and green lights and a mirror-ball finish to complete the “Hey, look at me”… Oh well, let’s face it, if guitar designers didn’t come up with some klinkers once in awhile we wouldn’t have the fun of coming up with such goovy descriptions as Kleenex box and bushwhacker.

A Nice Faucet But Can You Play It? (1963 Framus Television 5/118 Electric Guitar)

“Yeah,” said the dealer, half in contempt, “and it’s got one of them there spigots.” Spigots? He didn’t realize I was a pretty cool customer in those days, able to hide my curiosity – but he’d gotten my attention. What the hell was a spigot? “You know,” he added, “you hook your pinky over it and get tremolo.” Done! That was my introduction to German electric guitars. I was, so to speak, hooked!

1963 Framus Television 5/118 Electric Guitar

1963 Framus Television 5/118 Electric Guitar

What I’d gotten in that dark, dusty Philadelphia guitar shop was a 1965 Framus Strato Deluxe, essentially a solidbody version of the hollowbody 1963 Framus Television 5/118 shown here.

Now, you have to be careful about ethnic stereotypes, but since I’m half German, perhaps I may be permitted to agree that there is a Teutonic affinity for engineering. I see it in myself. You see it in German cars. And you see it in German guitars from the golden age of the 1960s like these Framus’ better models!

1963 Framus Television 5/118 Electric Guitar

1963 Framus Television 5/118 Electric Guitar

Germany has a long history of instrument making going back at least to Medieval times. Framus, short for Franconian Musical Instruments, dates to 1946 when Fred Wilfer set up shop in the American controlled part of Germany in Bavaria. While they made lots of different instruments, by the mid-1950s guitars were Framus’ main product, mainly for exportation. After the Beatles hit, the American market for electric guitars mushroomed and Framus became an early supplier of the demand. Their primary American distributor was Philadelphia Music.

’60s Japanese guitars copied this neck notion. Framus was also known for its light-touch vibratos, augmented by a flip-up bridge mute for rhythm work.

1963 Framus Television 5/118 Electric Guitar

1963 Framus Television 5/118 Electric Guitar

But the main attraction of Framus guitars was under the hood, in the electronics. Powered with three fat single-coil pickups, each operated by its own sliding on-off switch. Then of course there was a master volume and three tone controls, with separate on-off switches to bypass tone controls on the neck and bridge pickups.

But best of all was the spigot, known officially as the ‘Orgeltone,’ or Organ Tone, a manual tremolo with, of course, its own on-off switch. Can’t have too many of those! Basically the spigot was a volume pot that was reverse wired and spring loaded. The spigot was simply a hefty hook that you wrapped your right pinky around. As you picked the strings, you curled your pinky up and down to modulate the volume downward (reverse). The effect is a lot like an onboard Hammond organ! Orgeltone! It takes a little practice and coordination, but once mastered it’s a pretty cool low-tech engineering effect.

Framus guitars thrived as low-cost alternatives in the US until cheaper Japanese guitars and higher European labor costs phased them out. By that time the Orgeltone was also history. Gone but not forgotten, because whenever I feel like it I can limber up my pinky and let the tremolo kick in for a nifty doppelganger effect. And bring back fond memories of my first encounter with German electric guitars that fateful day in that Philly guitar shop when I was first introduced to the spigot!

Losing It in TV? (1965 Teisco TRG-2L Electric Guitar)

How would you feel if you got a gig playing on your local television station and your gear didn’t work? Well, in a way, that’s what happened to me and this 1965 Teisco TRG-2L guitar! Sort of.

Vintage 1965 Teisco TRG-2L Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Teisco TRG-2L Electric Guitar

Like in most major TV markets, the stations where I live have a roving reporter who gets to go around and do stories on the strange and unusual. You know, pieces about people obsessed with carving pumpkins at Halloween and guys with like 8,000 Lionel trains their basements. I guess I fell into the latter category. Somehow one of these reporters found me out and called to do a story on the weirder parts of my guitar collection. Some might argue that’s the whole thing, but he meant the old Kays and Harmonies and Teiscos he remembered from his youth. I reluctantly agreed and he said “Ok, bring a couple hundred of them into your living room.” Right. You gonna carry them? Expletive deleted. But I picked about 30 or so and spread them around.

Vintage 1965 Teisco TRG-2L Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Teisco TRG-2L Electric Guitar

Anyhow, on the appointed day the reporter showed up, interviewed me, and started making fun of my guitars. As he worked the room he got to this Teisco with the built-in amp. He threw the switch and hit a chord. Vroo-crackle, crackle. It crapped out. On TV. Ho, ho, ho. More mirth. Oh, great. Doh!

Vintage 1965 Teisco TRG-2L Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Teisco TRG-2L Electric Guitar

Then again, maybe having an amp built in to your guitar is something to laugh at. The idea isn’t new. Back in the 1930s both National and Harmony, at least, built cases with amps for their lap steels. But it was left to modern transistorized electronics, and the Japanese application of them to the earliest consumer products, to put the amp into the guitar itself. The result was this TRG-2L, one of several models introduced in 1965 that had a small amp and 3″ speaker built in, operated by two 9-volt batteries. These came in a kind of Stratish shape and a sort of Tele-ish shape. One or two pickups. These were the first of their kind.

Ok, the TV performance aside, these actually do work and are kind of fun to play. You can walk around the house and strum without the tether of a cord. Wanna go to the beach? No need for a plug to entertain that campfire circle. Louie Louie, Oh yeah, we gotta go now. (Or were there other words?) And, like most Japanese guitars from this period, they’re really quite well made – and play well – once you set them up properly. The body is solid mahogany (maple neck), and, in case you’re not at a pig roast, there’s even a headphone jack if you want to use this as a practice guitar.

Vintage 1965 Teisco TRG-2L Electric Guitar

Vintage 1965 Teisco TRG-2L Electric Guitar

Of course, practice and Pignose amps came much later. But guitars like this Teisco were revolutionary in their time and are still fun to play. You can even run them through a regular amp if you want to make a different kind of impression.

Although you might not want to do it on TV. If these early Japanese guitars have a flaw, it’s in the use of extremely thin wire and economical use of solder. Easy to get that crackle, crackle when you least want it. I’m told the video of me trying to salvage some respect for my goofy guitars still circulates occasionally on late-night Philly airwaves (and cable whatever they are). At least it wasn’t me who lost it on TV! Blame it on time and the Teisco. And that darned cynical reporter.

The Wages of Sin (1978 Kawai KS-700 Electric Guitar)

Now, I don’t really think there was – or even would have been – any sinful activity associated with this guitar. And the fact that its design is based in part on a religious motif is purely coincidence. But it is a funny story how this rare 1978 Kawai KS-700 guitar was discovered, in Sin City, no less.

1978 Kawai KS-700 Electric Guitar

1978 Kawai KS-700 Electric Guitar

It was 115 degrees in the shade – of which there is none – in Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps. I was there for a scientific conference and found myself with an open early afternoon before the next session. I’d heard about this hot strip club on the edge of town and thought, “What could it hurt to spend an hour or so enjoying the local sights?” So I hopped a bus and headed out toward the desert. I got off the bus and walked toward the club door full of anticipation. Doors opened in about 2 hours. Right!

1978 Kawai KS-700 Electric Guitar

1978 Kawai KS-700 Electric Guitar

Then heaven intervened. I turned my gaze across the street and what should I see? Two blocks (two blocks!) of pawn shops! Hmm. Let’s see. Beautiful naked girls. The chance of a guitar find. It took about 2 seconds to place that bet! A sure thing was calling!

A number of interesting possibilities presented themselves before the spirit led me to a dark corner in a cage and this Kawai. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was cool and I’d never seen another. Done.

What I’d found was a cool 1978 Kawai KS-700, a rare artifact from that brief period in time in the late 1970s when the realities of global guitar trade were finally hitting home. The “copy era” had revealed both the excellent skills of Japanese guitar makers and the lack of direction of the American establishment. This culminated in the famous 1977 lawsuit of Norlin (Gibson) v. Elger (Ibanez) that put at least a temporary end to copying. Japanese companies rushed into the breach with a number of original designs, many inspired more or less by the popularity of Alembic at the time (think Musician, Rev-Sound, etc.).

1978 Kawai KS-700 Electric Guitar

1978 Kawai KS-700 Electric Guitar

This Kawai was part of that response, but also but reflects an earlier related development. As early as 1975, the Japanese, feeling confident in their abilities, wanted to establish more of a Japanese design identity. The result was both some of the most interesting “conventional” solidbodies of the ’70s – like the Ibanez Artist, Aria Prototype, and Yamaha SGs – and some of the more curious designs, including the Ibanez (and Greco) Iceman, the Lucky Cat guitar, the legendary Kawai Moonsault and others, all decidedly Japanese.

The Kawai KS-700 shows all the “natural” predilections that surrounded the Alembic aesthetic (the brown sunburst), plus overtones of guitars such as the Artist. Unlike many of its contemporaries, this features passive rather than active electronics (the mini toggle is a coil tap), though the amount of shielding is remarkable. But what makes this really cool is the head treatment, which reflects the Japanese design movement. Use of the retro slotted headstock allowed Kawai to create a design inspired by the Torii gates that mark the entrance to Shinto shrines. No way Gibson could mistake this puppy for trademark infringement! Talk about a statement!

The Kawai KS-700 was only made until 1980. It’s not even certain that it was ever marketed in the US. I’ve never seen another. How it made its way to a pawn shop across from a strip joint in Sin City remains a mystery. But one thing’s sure, if someone’s hand hadn’t closed the doors of that strip joint in the heat of day, this nifty guitar never would have made its way into my hands. And that would have been a sin.