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The Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

It was late 1969 early 1970. I was 13 years old and had been learning guitar for about a year when I was given what I considered to be the key to a world of freedom. Mum & Dad said it was ok for me to setup my room in a shed inside Dad’s garage. The shed was the size of a small bedroom, about eight by ten in the old measurements. It was originally built from scraps of recycled building material from a 100 year old house and was initially used as a tool shed.

Why would anyone want to live in a garage? Well the answer was easy. Up until that point I was sharing a bedroom with my elder brother, who was learning drums. My brother is two years older, and at that time size and age counted when disputes occurred. We had bunk beds with slide out desk draws that met at the invisible but well defined halfway mark between our beds. Go over that mark and I’d find my possessions dumped on the bedroom floor.

There was one item that lived in the DMZ between our beds; a Crystal Radio Set Dad had made for us. I grew up with the music of the late 60’s penetrating my brain like a form of sleep learning. Years of POP music entering my subconscious head every night because more often than not I would fall asleep with the ear plug jammed in my ear. I remember so many songs from those years. Tunes like Telstar became engraved into my musical soul. It’s true, being exposed to POP Music at an early age can affect young guitar players for the rest of their life.

Dad’s garage was big enough to fit eight cars. My room, inside the garage, was big enough for the bunk bed and a chair and a set of drawers and my guitars. There was no room to swing a cat. I had two guitars at that time. My first guitar, a Maton F10 Classical guitar and an Electric Japanese Strat copy, an Esquire. I saw the Esquire in the shop window of a now long gone Melbourne music store named Sutton’s. I used to stare at it every Saturday, before and after my guitar lessons – until I had saved enough money to buy it. $79.00 well spent. I still have both guitars – 37 years later.

For about two years – I practiced in my room, the tool shed – using my Mum’s old Bakelite Radio as my practice amp for the Esquire. I had to practice in the room – because the guitar lead I had was only 5 feet long. By working as a delivery boy for a pharmacy – I was able to save up enough money to purchase my first real guitar amp [and a long coily cable guitar lead, which let me stand outside my room and in the Garage].

Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

The day came when I went by train to pick up that first real amplifier – a Vox AC 30 from the famous Australian guitar Luthier, Merv Cargill.

All the way to Seaford and met Merv in his garage [I liked the fact that we both spent a lot of time in the garage involved with guitars], paid the huge sum of $250 [they’re worth 10 times that now] and then lugged the amp – by hand, back to the train station, then all the way home. My house was at least a couple of miles from the nearest train station. I can remember to this day the pain in my arms of hauling the amp by hand all the way home, we only had one car and Dad was at work. I was certain my arms had been stretched at least a couple of inches by the time I got home and wondered whether I had done any permanent damage.

We all know the smell that a new car has – guitar amps have a unique smell too – Tolex covering a wood cabinet, warmed by heat generated from valves. Turning on the Vox AC30 was almost a ritual, a religious experience. Knowing that what was about to happen was like expecting the arrival of the messiah’s voice box. Volume & TONE. Guitar & Amp.

Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

Teenage dreams fulfilled by the sound created by an electric guitar. Reverb. Tremolo. Guitarists know what this means. The ability to traverse all boundaries, to “go where no one has gone before” play an electric guitar – you’ll arrive at that place on the playing of the first note, in the relative comfort of your bedroom or as in my case my bedroom in the garage.

So there I stood, guitar in hand, my face turned to the opening of the garage – which, coincidentally for all the Led Zeppelin fans, looked to the West. There was no door on the garage. It was too big and Dad couldn’t afford a door so the gate on the property’s side fence was the barrier between me and the world outside. The gate was only five feet high, so anyone tall enough walking past could still see over.

To me – those passers by were my first audience. Whenever anyone walked past, I’d be sure to try and play something tuneful and not make any mistakes. Through many a summer’s day I played guitar from inside the garage and looked the West and pretended and believed that I was performing to an audience, from a stage. An amphitheatre filled the sound of an electric guitar and bathed in the sunbeams of the after school sunlight. I didn’t have to go to Church I was there every day. All I had to do was plug in, turn on and play guitar.

Often, I played like there was someone listening. Mostly, no one was. It was enlightening to find out that my neighbors, an Italian family directly across from the garage, was listening occasionally and the mother did make comment that they could hear me playing my tunes and how I sounded ok and seemed to be improving. Acceptance of my efforts I thought.

They had a daughter who I tried to impress with my playing but Italian girls, who had strict parents, were hard to impress safely with the sounds of a guitar in the early 70’s. This challenge to impress, to gain acceptance, made me strive to play even better.

I played like it was a live performance being recorded for posterity.

Everything was improvised – sounds, tones and composition were more important than playing note for note tunes of songs of the day. Creating a tonal landscape was the daily quest. Getting lost in the vibrations of sounds created was more significant than anything else at the time.

Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

Garage Guitarist: Ian Carter

Teenagers spend most of there teenage years developing the personality traits that will guide what happens to them through young adulthood and even middle age and older. So for a teenage boy possessed by the sound that a guitar makes, a sound which to a teenager has some kind of magical powers that enhance the experience of growing up and finding his place in the world, playing guitar in that garage gave me the base from which many of my life’s experiences grew from.

Trying to re-create and emulate the sounds and songs of the guitarists and bands, popular at the time was important of course. If you played a popular riff or even strummed the chords of a popular song of the day, you became something other than a non-entity. Hero status might be carrying it a bit too far – but I did notice that the better I played those riffs the more localized fame I achieved. Girls noticed me if I played a song they liked. Boys were impressed if you played songs they liked. Go to a party and take your guitar, you were, for a brief part of the evening the centre of attention. How long depended on your repertoire of songs and how well you played them. By the time I was playing in a band regularly I had developed a reasonable list of tunes and could play most of the popular songs, so the guitar was good for improving social standing too!

Being a Garage Guitarist was the basis of this guitar player’s journey. I encourage all guitarists, beginners and advanced to enjoy some time in your own garage or someone else’s if you don’t have one. Play alone, play with fellow musicians – soak up the sounds and play every note like it was your finest performance to the audience just outside the door. Be inspired by whatever sounds you create. Write down the words, record the sounds. Who knows what may happen.

One thing is certain you will have created a lifetime experience that will give you wonderful guitar playing memories to re-visit as the years go by. The glory days are from today onwards so pick up your guitar and go play, live today, play today, start creating your yesterdays so you can relive these creations at the other end of life’s rainbow and look back like I do on those times spent as a Garage Guitarist.

Post by: Ian Carter
Ian is the owner of www.icguitars.com our “Dealer Down Under”
Copyright by Ian Carter 2006

Amplifiers: The Real Voice of the Electric Guitar

One thing I have noticed over the thirty years I have been playing guitar is that guitars have their own sound no doubt, but amplifiers do “reproduce” the sound of the electric guitars differently. Case in point, the Les Paul guitar coming out of a vintage Marshall an amp with plenty of treble, sounds fat yet cuts through nicely. I believe the same thing for a Les Paul running through a blackface Super Reverb, it cuts beautifully. Put that same Paul through say a Tweed Pro or a first run Ampeg Reverberocket and it sounds muddy and has trouble cutting through especially using the neck pickup. IMHO a sure test of a good Paul is does the neck pickup have some bite to it.

Now the next question you may ask is, “are there any guitars that will cut through coming from one of these Tweed amps?” I say yes, plug a Strat in that same Pro and see how awesome it sounds, thick yet trebly.

So the point of this column is, the choice of guitars is a primary decision – I don’t think there are many players out there saying “I wanna play a Twin Reverb what guitar should I get?” – and the amplifier choice is key in getting the sound you want. I am sure that there are some guitar strummers out there who would embrace the potential “mismatch” in guitar and amp symmetry, to assist in them finding there own voice. To this I say Cheerio! Always seek your own sound. Sometimes I believe that playing a Tele through a Twin Reverb can be a potentially intimidating experience as so many great guitar players have that combo as part of their signature sound.

So here are a few suggestions that seem to work for me.

Fender Vibrolux Amp (Blackface)

Fender Vibrolux Amp (Blackface)

#1: Fender Blackface Vibrolux amp and most Gibson equipped guitars especially a Les Paul, an SG, or any ES series guitar.

This is a great combo for rock, blues, country, pop and even jazz at a low volume. This was originally brought to my attention by my friend and fellow Vermonter John Sprung (knower of all Fender amplifier lore, etc). And as always he was right, this combo sound great!

#2: Fender Brownface tremolo-equipped amp and a Stratocaster. This is a sound from the gods, an incredibly thick, full, hypnotic sound, not too dissimilar to Jimi’s sound using the Uni-Vibe but, I feel a more organic sound than even that striking sound. I do believe that when you start to overdrive this set-up from the front end with a pedal you do lose some of the clarity and basic integrity of this sound. If you don’t have a Brownface Fender and don’t want to change your primary amp you are now using just to get this sound, you might want to check out the Victoria Tremverb, it’s a tweed free standing unit ala the Fender Reverb unit but has the Brownface tremolo circuit also.

1974 Marshall 18-watt combo amp

1974 Marshall 18-watt combo amp

#3: Marshall 18-watt combo amp and a Les Paul. Not much else to say here really, this sound will absolutely blow you away, it’s the sound we all marveled at on those early Clapton/ Peter Green recordings. I know a lot of you are saying that’s the “Bluesbreaker” sound and yes you are right it is but, I believe you can only get that sound from a hand-wired Bluesbreaker combo.

The new Reissue Marshall 1974x HW is the absolute balls! I own three of these and cannot tell you how happy I am with them. Get one!

Fender Twin Reverb Amp (Blackface)

Fender Twin Reverb Amp (Blackface)

#4: Fender Blackface Twin Reverb amp and a Fender Telecaster. Clean, toppy and true, baby. Your technique will show through with this set-up like no other. If you are confident and want to be heard this is true test. And please don’t fool yourself into thinking that this is a country exclusive combination, because it is not, ask Mike Bloomfield. Those of you familiar with his guitar lineage will know that before the great Bloomfield went to the “Burst” he played a Tele through a Twin for years. Again I will tell you that this set-up will work for blues, rock, country and yes, even jazz.

If you are looking for this sound in a more manageable context try the “Baby Twin” the BF Pro Reverb instead. It will sound similar but break up a bit easier, and a bit more “club owner friendly.”

Vox AC-30 Guitar Amp

Vox AC-30 Guitar Amp

#5: Vox AC-30 amp and the Rickenbacker 12-string and the Gretsch Chet Atkins Models. Yeah I know another no-brainer, but how could I speak on the guitar-amp relationship without discussing the perfect one. As a foolish young man I was heard to say on occasion “imagine if the Beatles had used Fender amps and Gibson guitars instead of those god awful sounding Gretsch’s.” Oh boy was that a moment of genius, heh?

The AC-30 and its Top Boost circuit helped the Gretsch cut through so well on those recordings while still remaining full and complete sounding across the frequency range of the guitar (a reoccurring theme in this column I’d say).

Now onto the Rick 12 and the ¾ scale 325 model that John Lennon favored in the early Beatle days. Both of these guitars were equipped with what has been called the “toaster pickups”, These pickups did not have a lot of output which only enhanced the “jangly” sound we all came to love back then. The AC-30 embraced this aspect and produced a clean but yet again strong sound with not much in the bass end but with plenty of treble and mids. Another seldom ignored aspect of this sound was the fact that the Ricks came with flatwound strings and were smart enough to supply the Lads with replacements.

Just a couple of quickies for you.

  • Polytone Mini-Brute and a Gibson ES 175 (Joe Pass sound, but you can’t buy his technique, sorry!)
  • Magnatone tremolo amp with a Stratocaster (if it’s good enough for Buddy Holly its good enough for me)
  • Any cheapo hand wired amp from the early 60’s (Valco, Supro, Kalamazoo, take your pick) with a Danelectro lipstick pickup outfitted solid body guitar.
  • And last but not least, a Tweed Fender Champ and any quality solid body guitar, cranked up to 10 baby!!!!

Feel free to email me some of your faves and I will include thrm in future columns.

Tone Secrets of the Electric 12-String Guitar

I’ve been playing the electric twelve string guitar professionally for the last 16 years in my band The Carpet Frogs. Guitar players have often complimented me on the tone of my electric 12 string and have asked me how I get that “authentic” sound!

Rickenbacker 360/12 Old Style 12-String Electric Guitar

Rickenbacker 360/12 Old Style 12-String Electric Guitar

For me, it all started with the two Godfathers of the electric 12 string: George Harrison of the Beatles and Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. Obviously, the first ingredient is a great 12 string. The Granddaddy of them all is the Rickenbacker 12 string.

Ricks have been handmade in the same factory in Santa Ana, California for many years and if you can find a dealer that sells and stocks Rickenbacker, you will pay thousands of dollars and you may end up waiting many months for the model of your dreams. I waited 8 months for my 360/12 Old Style when I bought it in 1990.

If you play in a weekend band or jam with your friends, you may find that the electric 12 string, once you have done all of the mandatory Beatles, Byrds, Animals, Who, Tom Petty, R.E.M., and Smiths tunes, has a rather limited use for the rest of your repertoire. Or, maybe not. If you’re like me, you’d happily play the electric 12 all night!

12-String Guitarist: David Love & His Rickenbacker 12-string

12-String Guitarist: David Love & His Rickenbacker 12-string

Crank up the input gain, compress the bejeezuz out of your 12 string and jangle away!

Tone Secret Number One: Compression!

George Harrison’s great 12 string tone came from a combination of three things: his matchless technique, the venerable Vox AC 30, and the Altec limiter that was in the Abbey Road studios. The Vox, with its all-tube EL 84 platform and its GZ34 rectifier gives any guitar that creamy, brown, compression sustain and chime but it really sparkles when you play an electric12 through it.

The Altec limiter is an old tube-type studio compressor/limiter that squishes the sound at the mixing console and simply enhanced the sound of those old AC 30’s.

Roger McGuinn of The Byrds has said that his tone came from recording his Rickenbacker directly into the console and running it through not one, but two Pultec Limiters at the same time! Listen to the opening figure of “Mr.Tambourine Man” and you’ll hear those compressors squeezing away!

Now I know many of you don’t have George’s or Roger’s technique (neither do I), or access to old AC 30’s (that can cost upwards of $5,000 for collectible examples) or old pieces of studio gear like Altec or Pultec limiters, but you can achieve the same effect with a good quality stomp box compressor. My personal favourite is the Diamond Compressor made here in Canada but any good compressor will do: Keely, Ross, Analog Man, Barber, MXR DynaComp, and the old standby BOSS CS-2 or 3.

Tone Secret Number Two: Flatwounds!

I discovered this Tone Secret the day I got my Rickenbacker 12. I had played other makes of electric 12’s before but they had never produced “that sound” that my Rick had. What was different about it? The single coil pickups that come standard on a Rick? The way Rickenbacker arranged the strings with the root string on top and the octave string underneath?

Both of these things had an influence on the way it sounded but the most important difference to me was the strings. They were not round wound like 99% of the strings that are on the market these days: they were flat wound!

Back when George and Roger were young men (1964), and before the late Ernie Ball started making round wound light gauge guitar strings in California, almost everybody played flat wound strings – that’s what was widely popular and available at the time. Round wounds were available but it wasn’t until The Shadows made them popular that there was a demand for them in Europe. The best flat wound strings in the world came from Germany (and still do) and were sold under the brand names of Pyramid and Thomastik.

Rickenbacker in California was buying Pyramids from Germany at the time (presumably because of the relationship they enjoyed with West German music retailers who were selling Rickenbacker guitars) so that was the string that was being installed on Rickenbackers from the California factory in early ’63 and ’64. So, the sound you hear on Beatles, Byrds, and The Who recordings – those are flat wound strings! The great Pete Townsend refers to them as “tape wound”. He won’t play his 12 string with anything else but!
Pyramid strings are still available to this day (you can find them on the Internet) and Rickenbacker still sells their Number 95404 Compressed Medium Round Wound.

(ground wound) set for about $20.00 a set. I buy them by the box of 12 from a store in New York. I prefer the Rick strings: just a tad brighter than Pyramids.

Round wound strings on an electric 12 string sound like doo-doo. Too crashy and too clangy. Flat wounds or ground round wounds are the way to go if you want “that sound”. If you can’t find Rickenbacker strings where you live, your local music store probably sells or can order D’Addario Chrome singles in a flat wound with which you can assemble your own 12 string set.

The string gauge shipped on every new Rickenbacker is as follows from low to high:

  • .042/.026
  • .034/.020W
  • .026/.013plain
  • .020wound/.010
  • .013/.013
  • .010/.010.
12-String Guitarist: David Love & His Rickenbacker 12-string

12-String Guitarist: David Love & His Rickenbacker 12-string

Tone Secret Number Three: Use a light gauge pick!

Try it! It works! A medium is too stiff and , in my opinion, “sends” too much signal to the pickup. I have found that with a light gauge pick, you can strum harder but still have a sound that doesn’t break up from string distortion (over strumming).

That kind of vibe (string distortion) works great for, say, a PRS through a Dual Rectifier but not for the sweet chimey strings on your 12 string. I keep a medium and a thin pick in my back pocket whenever I’m on stage depending on whether it’s a 12 string song or a 6 string song.

The great Colin Cripps of Hamilton, Ontario, revealed this Tone Secret to me many years ago. Colin is the guitar player/composer/producer of bands like Crash Vegas, Junkhouse, The Jim Cuddy Band, and Kathleen Edwards.

Tone Secret Number Four: Get your 12-string set up!

Find yourself a good guitar technician and get him or her to set up your 12 string.

The #1 complaint I hear from new 12 string players is that they put the guitar down because it’s too difficult to play.

The 12 string, by its design, is a different and difficult instrument to play because basically you are stuffing 12 strings into the same real estate as 6 strings. Players with small hands (like me) don’t find a problem especially with Rickenbackers, which have notoriously narrow necks.

A good guitar tech will straighten the neck as well as it can possibly can be – this is really important. He/she may also suggest that the frets be “dressed”, polished and leveled. This will benefit your 12 string and make it very playable. Ask him/her to set the action as low as possible – this is really important!

Another innovation that Rickenbacker has developed is the 12 saddle tuneomatic bridge, which ensures near-perfect intonation. If your 12 string doesn’t have one, don’t despair. Any good guitar tech worth his or her salt will get your 12 string intonated as close as it can possibly be even if you have a 6 saddle bridge – very important if you want those big jangly chords to be as sweetly in tune as they should be.

A well-set electric 12 string should play like a brand new PRS or (insert your favourite guitar brand here). If it doesn’t, find yourself a new guitar tech!

Affordability

As a professional musician – yes, I’ve got the Vintage AC-30 and the Ricky 12 – hard to see it any other way. However, there is a price to pay for perfection, and therefor II recommend to my guitar-playing friends who jam for fun, to buy an electric 12 that’s a little more affordable than a Rick. There aren’t many electric 12 strings on the market these days but one model that fits the bill very nicely is the new Eastwood Nashville 12.

Mike Robinson from Eastwood consulted with me prior to the development of this model. We discussed a variety of options and settled on this style as is was possible to achieve the tone (mini-humbukers) and setup (flat neck, low action) that would make it a “professional” grade instrument at an affordable price. Last month I visited Eastwood Guitars and took the prototype for a test drive. Two big thumbs up…… jangle away!

Suggested Listening:

  • Mr.Tambourine Man by The Byrds
  • I Should Have Known Better by The Beatles
  • A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles
  • The Waiting by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
  • Kicks by Paul Revere and The Raiders
  • You Were On My Mind by We Five
  • Turn!Turn!Turn! by The Byrds
  • Can’t Explain by The Who
  • The Kids Are Alright by The Who
  • It’s My Life by The Animals