John petrucci • luther dickinson • warwick bass camp • ted greene
Titans of the
A tribute to the vibrato bar’s
visionary inventors and players
10 Guitar & Bass Reviews
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4. Standard guitar tuning
8. one of the most innovative and
influential guitarists of all time
9. In 1955 this 'man in black'
makes his first chart appearance
with "Cry Cry Cry"
10. 1968 The Beatles release a
self-titled album commonly
referred to as...
14. this guitar great wrote the
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15. In 1967 this music bible was
18. 1967's "Magical Mystery Tour"
19. Eastman’s electric guitar line
20. Elvis Presley's last #1 hit in
1. Just Another Brick In (1979)
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away November 24, 1991
3. Traditionally eaten on this
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6. born November 18, 1962 guitarist
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11. "Tiptoe Through the Tulips"
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Life in the Key of Dorian Gray
BY shawn hammond
of Dorian Gray”
of the timeless
ot to get all hippie-dippy—I’m not the hugest fan of all that circle-of-life
crap—but isn’t it funny how we all do kind of fly in these mysterious orbits
around the invisible black holes of our history and genes and chemistry
and who-knows-what-else? Flung around our little universes, we try to forget about
mortality’s gravitational pull—try to focus on paying the bills but remember to let in
a little light from the imploding star of unrealized (and kind of stupid) dreams and
fantastically unexpected opportunities so it can feed new life springing up around us…
try to remind ourselves all that stuff composes the dynamics that make this prolonged
state of breathing and atria pumping the crazy, unpredictable, terrifyingly exhilarating epic psych-prog jam that it is. We’re always trying to find meaning and purpose
on macro and mondo scales—always thinking/knowing/wishing there are/were some
assurances after we’re compacted into the dense mass of elemental existence before
exploding into oblivion like the signal coming out of J Mascis’ wall of Marshalls.
Yeah, life can be heavy sometimes.
Speaking of circles of life and getting all we can out of it, 16 years ago my wife and
I were contemplating names for our first son. We wanted something unique—but
not weird enough that he’d someday blame it for sociopathic behavior. I kind of liked
“Dorian.” I hadn’t yet read Oscar Wilde’s brilliant novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, so
I must’ve been spending too much time on fretboard scales. My English-major brother
alerted me to the faux pas of naming your kid after a dashing, forever-young rich bastard who lives as scandalously as possible and actually enjoys watching his soul corrode
in a mysterious painting.
So yeah, we canned that idea. But over the years Wilde’s masterpiece became one of
my favorite books. Sometimes I regret being deterred. I mean, hardly anybody knows about its elegant prose
and dichotomous tale of debauchery and moral insight, so who would’ve given our kid crap for it anyway?
I still kind of like the villain’s name. But I don’t think it has anything to do with scales now. Maybe
it’s because we all struggle with the things Dorian did: Our nerve endings tell us to seek out everything
that’s pleasurable and easy, while our brains speak to us of practicality and self-preservation and maybe
some sort of philosophical or faith-based morality. Our hearts long for fantastic, paradoxical possibilities to avoid death and pain or prolong ecstasy.
But it’s okay to have some Dorian DNA in us—to want the best of this existence and never cease
looking for new experiences that brighten the tapestry of life. To not let routine and complacency
bleach its brilliance.
Most of us aren’t stupid enough to think, like Dorian Gray, that loyalty to nothing but the pleasure
center of our brain is a road worth following. But plenty of us are too busy, discouraged, complacent, or
incurious to find the grain of truth around which the black pearl of his warped philosophy grew.
I guess what I’m saying is it’d be a tragedy to become as dead to life’s new possibilities as Dorian was
to his conscience. The day you’re hardened to the cosmic hippie stuff and become indifferent to squashed
squirrels festering in the road or wide-eyed fawns eating in the grass outside the office window is the day
you start rotting inside. And you’re completely screwed if you don’t love that your kids helped you, say,
rediscover the same Metallica album you bought new at 15, or don’t laugh when they lambast mainstream songs you kind of like—right after asking you to download the Top 40 tune you hated in high
school. The day you think there’s nowhere new for your songs, tone, or playing style to go, you’re SOL.
… plenty of us
are too busy,
or incurious to
find the grain
of truth around
black pearl of
8 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Martin player, 2 years
“For the love of music” is Hunter Hayes’ mantra that’s inscribed on the pick guard of
his Martin 00 Koa Custom. Learn how his love of watching country artists perform live
inﬂuenced Hunter’s sound at www.martinguitar.com/hunter.
uses I have ever read. Usually
the articles on tubes get way too
technical for me and I get lost
in all the tech talk. This one
however, I understood and will
use as a handout to my guitar
students who want to know basics
about tubes. Very well done!
With the Band
I met Derek on his first tour
with The Allman Brothers when
Dickey was still in the band.
Shortly after that, Derek was in
St. Louis with his band and called
up and asked about coming out
to Silver Strings Music to look
around. He was 21 by that point,
as I recall. He bought a very cool
old black Silvertone guitar and
an old Guild A-50, which Susan
[Tedeschi] had seen when she was
in town with Derek earlier that
summer, as a birthday present.
The Silvertone ended up being
the “Down in The Flood” guitar.
The ’65 Firebird V was one of
my personal guitars for about
30 years and is easily one of the
best Firebird Vs made, and still
in one piece. I was finalizing a
Firebird deal with Duane on the
day that he died, so this deal was
a bit of guitar “closure,” since
he never got to gig with his.
Derek has been able to pursue a
tonal direction that Duane had
planned on exploring, but did
not get the chance.
Regarding the ’69 Duane
Allman Marshall, I brought it
to the soundcheck for a Derek
Trucks Band/Eric Johnson
show on February 13, 2001.
I remember the date because
10 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Susan had flown in that day for
Valentine’s Day, which was the
following day. Derek tried it out
backstage with his main SG, and
it was undeniably, the Fillmore
one. Very distinctive fullness and
sustain. Derek used the amp for
the encores when he, Susan, and
Mike [Mattison] sat in with Eric’s
band. George McCorkle and I
had several discussions about the
appropriate thing to do with the
amp when it was time to pass it
along, and we both agreed that
for a variety of reasons, it would
go to Derek. Over 10 years later,
we worked out a deal that puts
the amp where it should stay. I
am happy to hear that it was used
on this album [Made Up Mind]. I
still miss the Firebird, which was
one of my three favorite guitars
of the last 43 years, but I think
that the right guy has it, too!
Derek and Susan have also bought
several other old guitars and amps.
Do not miss seeing this band live!
Pete—great article. Here’s one
little tip I haven’t seen anywhere ...
1) Go to your amp manufacturer’s
website and download a PDF
copy of your tube chart. 2) Open
the PDF with Acrobat. 3) Use
the sticky note tool in Adobe
Acrobat to make notes on when
you changed your tubes and
with what brand/model and any
other settings, things to try in
what section, etc. 4) Save the
document. Now you have a log
of your tube changes and you
won’t forget what’s where and if
you want the same tubes or to try
4 1/2 hrs @ 35,000 ft
issue means pedalboard
overhaul is coming. Used
pedal sale at my place soon
Silver Strings Music & Repair,
St. Louis, Missouri
Thank you Peter Thorn and
Premier Guitar. This [Tone Tips,
October 2013] is one of the best
descriptions of tubes and their
“tuning up” comments in
the latest @premierguitar
are so on the mark. Case
in point, my pedalboard:
Great info. Don’t forget extra fuses
too! If you blow a tube it will
likely take out the amp’s fuse(s) as
well. Also, since failed tubes often
take out a tube socket resistor
(which is tough to change quickly
mid gig) you can always bring a
backup amp or a POD type device
to bail you out for those situations.
That being said having an extra set
of tubes is always a great idea!
Please send your suggestions,
gripes, comments, and good words
directly to email@example.com.
I bought the Mu-tron
III brand new. It was
my first effect pedal back
in the ’70s. It burned
through the batteries like
nothing else but sounded
so good. I sold it in the
’90s to a gentleman in the
Netherlands. The Dan
Armstrong Blue Clipper
was my only other box
until I bought a Small
Stone. The Clipper
plugged right into the
guitar, unless you had a
Strat. I called it the “Now
I’m Fripp” box.
FOCUS LESS ON YOUR GEAR,
MORE ON YOUR MUSIC.
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a new level of performance. With the Bose proprietary 12-speaker articulated line
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same time, it’s small enough to fit in your car and light enough to carry yourself.
Plus, with no speaker stands and fewer connections, it’s easy enough to set up in
minutes. You’ll focus less on your equipment and more on your performance.
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L1 Model 1S
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PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 11
CONTENTS November 2013
How the North
created their boldest
album to date.
One of the most
12 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
The visionaries of
vibrato, from the
It’s as old as the human
voice, but when did it
become a guitar effect?
A weeklong low-end exporation
set in the land of sausage.
“If you’re going to get into slide, you
need to put that pick down!”
—Luther Dickinson, p. 79
TC Electronic PolyTune 2
Hayden Mini Mofo
Spontaneous Audio Son of Kong
PRS S2 Custom 24
ToneConcepts The Distillery
NS Design CR5 Radius
Bearfoot Effects Model G
Above: Photo by Michael Weintrob
Practice makes perfect,
says the beloved
On the Cover:
Contents November 2013
Spanish Model B with
Kauffman Vib-Rola. Photo
by Robert Corwin
Next Month in PG
28 Rig Rundowns
44 Modern Builder Vault
60 Vintage Vault
62 Bottom Feeder
76 Tone Tips
92 Guitar Tracks
Right now I’m listening
to some Bill Frisell
Gone, Just Like a Train.
Staff Picks, p. 178
14 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Photo by Kat Osweiler
110 Acoustic Soundboard
112 Guitar Shop 101
114 Bass Bench
116 On Bass
130 Mod Garage
132 Ask Amp Man
134 State of the Stomp
ONLY ON PremierGuitar.com…
Your guide to the latest stories, reviews, videos, and lessons on PremierGuitar.com
Access all of our lessons
online, for free, with
streaming audio and
Dorian vs. Aeolian
By Levi Clay
DIY Bass Setup, Trivium, and Black Crowes Gear Porn
In our latest DIY video installment, tech guru Tony Nagy shows us how to set up a 5-string bass. In
light of Vengeance Falls, Trivium’s Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu discuss working with Disturbed
frontman David Draiman, and we also get a closer look at the making of Only Slightly Mad, the latest
album from Dylan collaborator and Americana godfather, David Bromberg.
Black Crowes’ guitarist Rich Robinson had so many glorious instruments on hand when we
recently shot a Rig Rundown that we simply had to find a way to share them all with you. Check
out our exclusive gear gallery featuring his touring guitars and rig. (Flip to p.28 for a preview of this
By Mike Cramer
How Many Chords
By Shawn Persinger
By Allen Hinds
Calling All Bottom Feeders!
Gear lust comes in all forms, and who doesn’t
love a good bargain? Will Ray’s Bottom Feeder
column has received great feedback over the
years, so we’ve decided to see what steals and
finds other people are playing. Send a highresolution photograph of your budget gear finds
to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget
to describe what it is, but also tell us where and
how you acquired your instrument and how
much you paid. We’ll feature the best finds in
a “Bottom Feeder: Reader’s Edition.” And don’t
worry about how cheap it is. After all, one man’s
trash is another man’s treasure.
16 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
What kind of monster have
I become that I’m cheering
for Walt and Todd?!
Great Scott! @Scott_Ian:
New Thraxagram relic
aka Evel Knievel
just in time for San
Experience PRS 2013
Private Stock. Limited
edition, only 30 made.
I played 2 of Jimi’s strats.
1 he gave to Frank
Zappa (still in Dweezil’s
possession) & a ’61 he gave
to Adrian Gurvitz.
both = unreal vibes.
The sound in our venue
tonight can best be
described as an echo
chamber!! You can come
back tomorrow and still
hear us from tonight!
Production Thrasher has
passed the tests.... The
first big batch will be
18 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Todd Rundgren to Receive Les Paul
Award at 29th Annual TEC Awards
Carlsbad, CA – Legendary musician,
groundbreaking record producer, and electronic
music revolutionary Todd Rundgren will be
honored with the Les Paul Award at the 29th
Annual Technical Excellence & Creativity
Awards. The awards recognize outstanding
achievement in professional audio technology and
production and will be presented Friday, January
24 at the Anaheim Hilton during the 2014
NAMM Show held in Anaheim, CA.
The Les Paul Award, named for the revolutionary
inventor and esteemed musician, is presented
annually to honor individuals or institutions that
have set the highest standards of excellence in the
creative application of audio and music technology.
Russ Paul, son of Les Paul, will make the
presentation on behalf of the Les Paul Foundation,
sponsor of the award. Instituted in 1991, the
honor has been granted to such luminaries as Pete
Townshend, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Stevie
Wonder, Neil Young, and Peter Gabriel.
The TEC Foundation for Excellence in Audio
will also induct two new members to its Hall
of Fame—John Meyer and Hal Blaine. Audio
engineer and sound researcher John Meyer
co-founded and is CEO of Berkeley’s Meyer
Sound Laboratories, Inc. He will be recognized
for bringing groundbreaking developments to
the design and manufacture of the loudspeaker
and for his cutting-edge contributions to sound
reinforcement in the performing arts. Legendary
session musician Hal Blaine of the Wrecking
Crew played drums on more than 5,000 records,
TV jingles, and film scores. Career highlights
include hits for Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, and
Korn and Rob Zombie Announce
Los Angeles, CA – Rob Zombie and Korn have
announced a co-headlining arena tour—the “Night
of the Living Dreads” tour—kicking off Sunday,
November 3rd in Reno, NV and encompassing
17 dates across the U.S. before wrapping
November 26th in Bethlehem, PA.
On his upcoming co-headlining tour
with Korn, Rob Zombie notes, “Some of
the best times we’ve had on the road have
been touring with Korn, so we’re thrilled
to be doing it again!” Jonathan Davis adds,
“We’ve had a lot of fun touring and playing
with Rob Zombie over the years. It’s been
a while and those shows were so much fun.
We’re really excited about doing it again.”
Taylor Guitars Announces
Domestic and International
El Cajon, CA – From California to
Malaysia, New Zealand, and Norway,
Taylor’s team of factory experts and
product specialists is circling the globe as
part of the fan-favorite Road Show series.
The Road Show will make stops at over
100 different authorized Taylor dealers
this fall, promising guitar enthusiasts
a night of insights on the company’s
guitar-making processes, body shape and
tonewood options, and the award-winning
Expression System pickup. After a series of
guitar demonstrations, guests are invited
to sample a variety of different models,
including the all-new Grand Orchestra,
along with rare and custom Build to Order
guitars, as part of Taylor’s “Petting Zoo.”
Admission to each Road Show is free.
The 2013 Fall Road Show schedule will
kick off in the United States with multiple
dates in California, followed by several stops
in Ohio and Indiana, with concurrent events
planned for the East Coast in Massachusetts,
New Hampshire, and Maine. While on the
Road Show page, fans can also enter for a
chance to win a Taylor Grand Orchestra
guitar. Introduced earlier this year at Winter
NAMM, Taylor’s Grand Orchestra delivers
the company’s biggest body shape to date,
producing a full-spectrum tonal range that
boasts great power, depth, and balance.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 19
New products on the horizon.
Saint Nick Pickups
Resurrected from its brief
These handmade single-
tenure in the ’70s, the
coils have the punchy
The Micro DI contains
DG Custom Heads
& Custom 2x12 Cab
POD HD Pro X
Line 6’s latest all-in-one
balanced and unbalanced
Designed in conjunction
rackmount unit contains
Starcaster is Fender’s
nature of P-90s, and a
outputs, a ground lift,
with David Grissom, the
more DSP processing
only offset-waist semi-
virtual cab simulation,
DG Custom 30 features
power, over 100 studio
hollow model. It sports
gives them a uniquely
and a gain switch—all in a
four EL84/7581 tubes and
and stomp effects, and can
a 9.5" fretboard radius
versatile tone in a
very small footprint.
the DG Custom 50 rocks a
serve as a studio interface.
and Fender Wide Range
quartet of EL34s.
Street $125 (add $10 for
MAP DG Custom 30
black or gold)
$2,899, DG Custom 50
$2,999, DG 2x12 Cab $849
20 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
The revamped, true-bypass
The Artisan B4 20th boasts
Hughes & Kettner
The iRig Pro is a universal
The 36-watt, EL84-
A replica of the 1957
powered head includes
Magnatone Mark V
250 captures the sound and
interface that handles
H&K favorites like the
designed by Paul Bigsby,
a swamp-ash body, a
wild heart of the original,
both 1/4" and XLR cables,
Red Box DI output and
it features a chambered
5-piece neck constructed
but boasts an output that
has 48V phantom power,
power soak, but adds
mahogany body, 22-fret
of African wenge and
is significantly higher
and works with IK’s suite
MIDI functionality and
mahogany set neck, and
rosewood, an African wenge
and cleaner, giving it an
of music-creation apps.
programming for onboard
a pair of custom-designed
EW Alnico SCP90s.
fretboard, Bartolini MK-1
incredibly polished sound.
reverb, tap delay, flange,
pickups and preamp, and
phase, tremolo, and
Hipshot Ultralite tuners.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 21
August 3, 2013
Photo by Chris Kies
The frontman for Lukas Nelson
& Promise of the Real takes on
the 2013 Lollapalooza BMI stage
with his new main squeeze—a
near-mint, completely stock 1956
Les Paul Junior that he purchased
earlier this year.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 23
August 3, 2013
Photo by Chris Kies
The National’s Bryce Dessner
brings it to an eager Lollapalooza
crowd with a 1965 non-reverse
Firebird he picked up on eBay for
a whopping $300. He outfitted
the ’Bird with a Bigsby and a set
of handwound Lollars.
24 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
August 9, 2013
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, California
Photo by Rich Osweiler
Writer, producer, and player of
countless hits since the ‘70s, Nile
Rodgers works a crowd of San
Franciscans into dance mode
with his long-favored axe (aka
“Hitmaker”), the 1960 Strat with
a ’59 neck that he’s been playing
since the early ’70s.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 25
August 11, 2013
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, California
Photo by Kat Osweiler
The Hall & Oates co-founder and
guitarist gets an ’80s-flavored party
rolling at the 2013 Outside Lands
festival with one of his favorite
guitars, a stock 2009 TV Jones
Model 10 equipped with a Bigsby
and a pair of TV Classic pickups.
26 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Longtime tech, Doug
“Red” Redler, showed
us the gear Rich
Robinson is using
on the Crowes’ latest
tour. A large portion
of the band’s gear
was damaged during
Hurricane Sandy and
Redler had to replace
touring rig. On this
leg, Robinson was
from relic’d out
Gibsons to Japanese
Zemaitis models, and
even a few Gretschs
Gretsch Black Falcon
was relic’d by Cobra
Guitars out of NYC.
Robinson tunes this
guitar to C–C–E–C–E–G
for “Shine Along” and
reaches for it anytime
he wants to wrestle
with feedback. All of
guitars are strung up
with .010–.046 sets of
His Teye La Mora
(not pictured) is tuned
to open-G and capoed
at the third fret for
“Remedy.” Built in
Austin, Texas, these
guitars feature very
work and a somewhat
knob. Robinson plays
almost exclusively on
the bridge pickup—no
matter what guitar he
plays—with all the
knobs full on.
28 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Robinson’s hi-fi stereo
was the inspiration
for the design of
Top: Two EL34 output
tubes and five 12AX7
preamp tubes power
the 50-watt Rich
Reason amp. It also
contains a GZ34
rectifier and a tube
tremolo that Robinson
controls via an
expression pedal. The
2x12 cabinets are made
of Baltic birch and are
stocked with 50-watt
Eminence Private Jack
Center: In order to
keep stage volume at
a manageable level,
both of Robinson’s
amps (on the left is a
50th Anniversary Vox
AC30HH with matching
cab) use Stage Craft
baffles. On top of the
effects rack is a pair
of Fulltone Tube Tape
Echoes (one for a short
echo and the other for a
long echo) and a Fender
Vintage Reissue ‘63
Bottom: All of
are housed in a rack
that sits between his
amps onstage. The
drive section of his rig
consists of an ElectroHarmonix Big Muff and
four reissue Way Huge
pedals (Angry Troll, Red
Llama, Swollen Pickle,
and Pork Loin). The
next drawer houses his
modulation effects: a
Strymon El Capistan,
Way Huge Supa-Puss,
Chorus, Flip Vintage
Tremolo, and a Demeter
Tremulator. He splits his
signal with a Framptone
3-Banger out to his Vox
and Reason amps (which
are both always on) and
uses a Strymon Lex for
his rotary tones.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 29
Jerry Horton & Tobin Esperance
We caught up
with Papa Roach
guitarist Jerry Horton
and bassist Tobin
Esperance for a
before this stop
on the Carnival
of Madness tour.
downsizing his rig
with Schecter on his
discusses why he
removed the 3-band
EQ on his Lakland
basses and why picks
just aren’t his thing.
Horton played a
Schecter C-1 in the
“Last Resort” video
Horton has rocked
Schecters for over a
decade and his signature
6-string is based on the
single-cut Custom Solo
6 with a few tweaks. He
requested a TonePros
bridge and swapped
the standard Seymour
Custom in the bridge
for his preferred JB
bridge pickup setup.
For the Carnival of
Madness tour, his tech
replaced the standard
locking tuners with
Grovers. The graphics
were codesigned with
a hot-rod artist from
Tennessee. One is tuned
to dropped C and the
other is C#. He uses
Dunlop Nickel Plated
Steel .013–.056 strings
and custom Dunlop Papa
30 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Horton once rocked a
four-amp setup that
included three different
Marshall heads and a
Vox AC30, but he scaled
down his rig for an early
2013 gig in Russia and
hasn’t looked back. He
now uses two Fractal
Audio Axe-Fx II units for
all his amp models and
effects and relies on a
lone expression pedal
for wah sounds and
controlling the amount of
overdrive/dirt on certain
patches on songs like
Esperance is only
traveling with two
amps. His main stage
head is a SVT-4 Pro and
the backup is a BR5.
Esperance relies heavily
on his custom Lakland
44-94 4-string models.
These look like standard
at first glance, but
the control layout by
opting to ditch the
3-band EQ for a passive
sound because he
always had it on 10 and
was turning the wrong
knobs during dimly
lit shows. His 44-94s
also have a sleeker,
look with all black
hardware. He currently
uses D’Addario strings,
Esperance never uses
a pick onstage, saying
he has better control
over tone and dynamics
when he attacks
the strings with his
Esperance keeps a tidy
house when it comes to
his pedalboard, which
only has three boxes on
it: a Jim Dunlop 105Q
Cry Baby Bass Wah, a
Distortion, and a Boss
TU-2 tuner. A Voodoo Lab
Pedal Power 2 powers
his modest board.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 31
By Joe Charupakorn
32 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
A tribute to the visionaries of vibrato—
from the brilliant minds that concocted its mechanics to
the players who hooked us on its intoxicating effects.
hether it’s used to add a
shimmering vibe to a cloud
of ethereal chords, impart
a seasick feel to a surf riff, or unleash a
sonic assault of bowel-rattling divebombs,
the tremolo bar has played a huge role in
the guitar’s capabilities as an expressive
instrument. It’s difficult to imagine a
modern musical genre that wouldn’t sound
a lot different without the remarkable
range of textures that a deftly used tremolo
can yield. To celebrate the contributions of
this wonderful piece of hardware—and the
brilliant minds that made it possible—let’s
look at the tremolo systems that changed
not just the way guitar is played, but the
entire musical landscape since the 1930s.
First, some nomenclature: Although
many use the terms “tremolo” and
“vibrato” interchangeably, they aren’t always
synonymous. There are different types of
tremolo: On bowed string instruments,
tremolo can refer to rapid reiteration of
the same note, or movement between two
notes (sometimes called “tremolando”). This
explains why the fast picking at around
the 0:30 mark in Edward Van Halen’s
“Eruption” is often called “tremolo picking.”
But with some instruments, including
guitar and organs, “tremolo” refers to a
variation in volume—which explains why
famous amplitude-modulating pedals like
the Demeter Tremulator and Fulltone’s
Supa-Trem2 are named as they are.
Confused yet? That’s only half the
picture. Those who insist tremolo is a
volume-related musical effect will tell
you that, theoretically, vibrato refers
to pitch fluctuation. But try keeping
that straight in your head the next time
you’re playing a Strat outfitted with
Fender’s pitch-altering “Synchronized
Tremolo” through a Twin Reverb
equipped with the company’s deliciously
hypnotic volume-modulating circuit
The Good Doc’s Vib-Rola
The tremolo bar’s origins go back to
the 1930s, around the time the electric
guitar was born. In 1935, Clayton Orr
“Doc” Kauffman was aiming to replicate
the sound of a Hawaiian steel guitar. He
invented the Kauffman Vib-Rola, one of
the first incarnations of a vibrato tailpiece.
Initially, the Epiphone guitar company
had exclusive distribution rights, even
installing the Vib-Rola on some of its
acoustic guitars. Before long, though,
Rickenbacker (which still went by the
original German spelling: Rickenbacher)
took over the rights and began installing
Vib-Rolas on its Electro Spanish guitars,
as well as its lap-steel guitars. A little later,
the Rickenbacher Vib-Rola Spanish, a
variant of the Electro Spanish, featured
a bar-less, motorized version of the VibRola with knobs for speed and volume.
The Vib-Rola earned its place in the
annals of tremolo-bar history by ending
up on the 1958 Rickenbacker 325, which
John Lennon used as the Beatles began
their ascent to the pop throne. However,
because the Vib-Rola was seemingly
incapable of smoothly returning to correct
pitch after even light use, it never became
as timeless as the Fab Four’s discography.
When Lennon returned to Liverpool, he
went to Hessy’s Music Centre to have
the Vib-Rola replaced with a unit that
avoided many of the problems associated
with Doc Kauffman’s design.
Vibrato Goes Big with the Bigsby
Introduced in 1952 and patented in 1953,
the Bigsby vibrato was the first successful
production tremolo system. Although
exact details of its chronology are a little
sketchy, it seems legendary country picker
Merle Travis became friends with guitar
builder and fellow motorcycling enthusiast
Paul Bigsby in 1944 or ’45. At some point
Travis mentioned to Bigsby—who boldly
proclaimed he could fix anything—that
his Kauffman Vib-Rola-equipped Gibson
L-10 wouldn’t stay in tune. Though it’s
unclear whether Bigsby ever worked on
Travis’s Vib-Rola, historians believe this
interaction focused Bigsby’s mind on
developing a better vibrato.
However, according to vintageguitar guru Deke Dickerson,
Travis obtained a custom Bigsby
guitar—the first modern solidbody—
in mid 1948, years before getting a
Bigsby vibrato. It wasn’t until 1952
that Travis received Bigsby’s first
vibrato unit. The future Country
Music Hall of Fame inductee then
had the aluminum-alloy design
installed on his Gibson Super 400.
Bigsby’s first guitar design to come
equipped with the vibrato was the
doubleneck he built for country
guitarist Grady Martin in
It didn’t take long for
the vibrato system to
gain popularity among
John Lennon’s friend
Chris Huston, guitarist
for Liverpool band
had a Gibson
Bigsby so much
that, in May of
Left: A 1930s Rickenbacher Spanish Model B 6-string with a Kauffman Vib-Rola. Photo by Robert Corwin Right: Tremolo pioneer Paul Bigsby
finished work on this guitar for country session ace Jimmy Bryant on October 7, 1949, though it ended up going to Ernest Tubb sideman Billy
Byrd. The vibrato—which is inset to be flush against the guitar’s top—was added not long after the design’s introduction in ’52. Photo courtesy
of Bigsby/Fred Gretsch Enterprises, Ltd.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 33
1954 is arguably
in the world (see
the U.S. patent
diagram at right),
in the ’60s far
were using the
trem found on
guitars. Photo by
1960, Huston contacted Paul Bigsby to
request a unit for Lennon. One day in
1961, Lennon approached Huston with
the news that his Bigsby had arrived.
The pair went to Hessy’s and swapped
out Lennon’s Vib-Rola for the Bigsby.
There are many similar stories of music
icons adopting the Bigsby.
Bigsbys are often found on
hollowbody and semi-hollowbody guitars
because the vibrato mounts to the guitar’s
top and is less physically invasive than
other systems. The Bigsby’s spring-loaded
rocker arm attaches to a pivoting axle
that the strings wrap around. The pull
of the strings works in conjunction with
the pressure of the spring. When the
arm is pushed down, the bridge rocks
forward and the strings loosen, lowering
their pitch. When pressure on the arm is
released, the strings return to pitch.
Although Paul Bigsby’s design
improved on many of its predecessors’
shortcomings, it’s by no means a lowmaintenance piece of machinery. Pre1956 versions had a fixed-position vibrato
34 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
arm that got in the way
of strumming. Once the
swivel arm was introduced,
the bridge became much more popular.
Even so, if you pull the bar up, there’s
risk of the spring falling out. Additionally,
string changes can be tricky and more
time consuming than with some more
modern designs. But for countless
Bigsby devotees in genres ranging from
country to rockabilly to indie rock, these
inconveniences are a small price to pay for
the smooth, undulating magic of a Bigsby.
A Legend Is Born
Perhaps the most enduring and
influential vibrato for solidbody guitars
is Fender’s Synchronized Tremolo, one
of the many innovations introduced in
1954 with the debut of the Stratocaster.
Countless solidbody trem variations have
come and gone over the years, and nearly
all of them owe a lot to Leo Fender’s
masterpiece of engineering.
This design is what’s referred to as a
“floating,” fulcrum-style tremolo. It can
only be used with solidbody guitars, and it
features a base with a steel block connected
perpendicularly to its underside. This block
extends downward into a cavity extending
through the body. From the back of the
guitar, strings are threaded through holes
in the bottom of the tremolo block, which
is visible through a route cut in a plastic
plate. The same plate covers a shallower
cavity where three to five springs connect
the block to a “claw” screwed into the
body. The two screws securing the claw can
be loosened or tightened to adjust spring
tension and accommodate different string
gauges. The springs counterbalance the
pull of the strings and facilitate the floating
design, which can be set up to allow both
downward and upward pitch bends. It can
also be set up for down-only movement.
In fact, to ensure that the bridge can’t
go upward, some guitarists even wedge a
block of wood between the steel block and
the cavity wall.
in 1965 on
similar to the
saddles with a
with the prior
it a popular
upgrade for many
Photo by Tim
The Synchronized Tremolo also enables
action and intonation adjustments. Each
string has its own saddle made of casehardened stamped steel, and each saddle
features two screws for adjusting string
height. Behind each saddle is a screw that
moves the saddle forward or backward to
fine-tune each string’s intonation.
Despite all its advances, the Fender Strat
trem still has limitations. Under extreme use,
it typically has tuning issues. Some remedy
the situation by making sure their Strat’s nut
slots are smoothly cut and lubricated, or by
reducing the number of string winds around
the peg. Ultimately, though, some tuning
compromises are virtually unavoidable if
your playing calls for aggressive bar action.
Although today far more players
use Strat tremolos, in the late ’50s and
throughout most of the ’60s, Strat sales
were in a major slump and other Fender
models were selling much better. When
the Jazzmaster guitar was introduced in
1958, it featured what the company touted
as its “top-of-the-line” tremolo system.
Unlike the Strat, the Jazzmaster had a
separate bridge with six saddles, and the
mechanisms of pitch transposition were
mounted to a chrome plate set into a
shallow cavity on the guitar’s top. The trem
also had a slider to lock it in place to keep
the guitar in tune in case of string breakage.
36 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
In 1962 Fender debuted the Jaguar,
which used the same floating trem as the
Jazzmaster. Both guitars are infamous for
their troublesome bridge designs, which
often let strings slip out of their multiridged saddles under even moderate attack.
That said, the design became integral to
surf players, as well as guitarists who would
use the instruments’ unique appointments
as a foundation for more raucous styles in
later years. Today, many players replace the
original Jazzmaster bridge with a Mastery
or Tune-o-matic-style bridge.
In 1965 Fender released the Mustang
guitar, whose floating Dynamic Vibrato
shared similarities with the Jazzmaster
and Jaguar systems, though its bridge was
mounted to the vibrato plate. While the
Mustang’s bridge was similar to the one
on Jazzmasters and Jaguars, its saddles
featured a single, deeper groove that
alleviated many of the earlier design’s
problems. Introduced in 1967, the Bronco
student guitar used a variant of the Strat
trem called the Steel Vibrato, which had
two pivot points rather than six.
Gibson Sideways and
Some of Gibson’s most coveted guitars
from the 1960s came with vibrato designs
that looked handsome but were fairly
impractical due to their limited range
and tuning issues. First available in early
1961 on ES-355s and Les Paul SGs, the
“sideways” Vibrola—so named because
its jointed, foldable tremolo arm moves
parallel to the body—is paired with
a Tune-o-matic bridge, and its pitchchanging apparatus is encased in a long
tray that extends from the bridge to the
strap endpin. Under the tray’s elegantly
molded cover, the handle connects to
a mechanism that moves two pistonlike springs on either side of the whole
assembly. When the arm is activated, the
springs alter the lateral position of the
piece to which the strings are anchored
(the section with the triangle-shaped
hole). According to Lin Crowson,
repair and appraisal specialist at Gruhn
Guitars in Nashville, the amount of pitch
variation possible with a sideways Vibrola
varies by the tension adjustment on the
two internal springs, though it can go
anywhere from one-and-a-half to three
full steps or more.
Available on Gibsons SG Specials in
late 1961, the Maestro Vibrola was quite
simple compared to other tremolos of the
day. Viewed from its side, it is essentially
a question-mark-shaped metal base that
attaches to the guitar top with three
screws. A separate piece of metal—the
Above: A vintage
one of the earliest
Photo by Deke
Right: A set of
Rose trem parts.
Photo courtesy of
piece to which both the strings and the
vibrato arm are secured—slides over
the top of the curved “question mark.”
Pushing on the arm changes the curvature
of the base, thus altering tension on the
strings. Gibson later introduced a model
with a “Lyre” portion that extended from
the bridge to the endpin, similar to the
sideways Vibrola. In 1962, SG and SG
Customs were also available with a version
of the tremolo that had an ebony block
with art-deco-like inlays behind the bridge.
Both the Lyre and the block were purely
cosmetic additions. According to Gruhn
Guitars’ Lin Crowson, though the original
Maestro Vibrola and ebony-block versions
attach differently than the Lyre version, the
mechanisms of pitch transposition are the
same. All three offer a subtler vibrato effect
than other designs, with treble strings
being affected more due to their proximity
to the point of arm attachment. Typical
pitch changes can be from one-and-a-half
to two-and-a-half steps, depending on the
angle of the bar, string gauge, and how
much spring is left in the metal.
to the Stars
In the late ’50s, Semie Moseley—a former
apprentice to both Rickenbacker luthier
38 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Roger Rossmeissl and Paul
Bigsby—started a quirky
guitar company called Mosrite,
which soon became a favorite of
many country and rock musicians.
One of Moseley’s first instruments was
a doubleneck he built for country picker
and TV star Joe Maphis in 1954. It featured
an aluminum Vibramute tremolo. The
Vibramute bears some visual similarity to
a Bigsby but is exclusively top-mounted
and has a foam-rubber string mute. Strings
are fed through a string stop, to which the
tremolo arm is connected, and mounted
to saddles with individual string rollers that
move with the string when the bar is used.
A few years later, Moseley changed the trem
to a die-cast design, did away with the mute,
added a longer arm, and called the resulting
model the Moseley tremolo. It appeared on
popular Mosrite guitars such as the Ventures
models used by the surf-instrumental icons,
as well as Johnny Ramone.
The Floyd Rose Revolution
In 1977 Floyd Rose designed a fulcrumstyle vibrato bridge that aimed to achieve
better tuning stability than Fender’s
design. The “double-locking” tremolo
that bears his name allows users to clamp
each string at the bridge and the nut.
The Floyd Rose played a significant
role in shaping the sound of ’80s rock,
facilitating over-the-top guitar histrionics
by allowing an unprecedented amount of
whammy-bar abuse while meticulously
maintaining the guitar’s tuning. In some
ways, the design is as integral to hard rock
and metal as Marshall and Mesa/Boogie
amplifiers, and high-output pickups by
the likes of DiMarzio and EMG.
Floyd Rose was inspired to develop his
bridge after applying Krazy Glue to his
Strat’s strings after they were tuned to pitch.
Before long the tuning problems returned,
so he tried a more permanent strategy: He
rented machinery to make locking nuts
and bridges. When Randy Hansen—an
infamous Jimi Hendrix impersonator and
noted whammy-bar abuser—got a hold of
the second Floyd Rose prototype, he found
that his guitar remained perfectly in tune
even after he stomped on the bar and then
tossed the axe in the air, catching it by the
bar. That’s when
Rose knew his device
would be a game changer—
though it was the next Floyd owner who
put the trem on the map.
Rose’s friend Linn Ellsworth of Boogie
Bodies was making guitars for Eddie Van
Halen, the world’s biggest guitar hero at
the time. Rose showed Van Halen the
unit and he was quickly sold. Rose struck
a deal with Kramer guitars to be the
exclusive distributor of the trem despite
the fact that the guitar manufacturer had
planned to use the Rockinger trem, a
locking-nut design that they had referred
to as “the Eddie Van Halen tremolo.”
Van Halen’s iconic, Floyd-equipped
“Frankenstrat” went on to become the
decade’s defining axe, and Floyd Rose
The Floyd Rose consists of a floating
bridge and a locking nut. Unlike
conventional bridges that rely on the ball
end to keep the string in place, the Floyd
Rose necessitates cutting off the ball end
just above wrappings. The string end is
inserted in a saddle, and a small metal
block clamps the strings in place when you
tighten the 3 mm hex screw at the back of
the bridge (in the same location as a Strat
bridge’s intonation screw). Up at the nut
are three square pieces of metal, each of
which tightens down on a pair of strings
via another 3mm hex screw once the guitar
is tuned. When the strings are locked in
place, the headstock tuners have no effect
on tuning. However, small adjustments
(roughly a whole-step’s worth) can be made
via fine tuners at the rear of the bridge. One
downside of the fine tuners: Because of
their location, they can sometimes obstruct
a player’s picking hand, particularly if the
player rests their hand on the bridge.
The biggest pitfall of the Floyd Rose,
however, is that if it is set to float and a
string breaks, the whole guitar will go out
of tune. Because of this—and the fact
that changing a string on a Floyd Roseequipped guitar takes longer than on
many other bridge designs—many Floyd
users always bring backup guitars to gigs.
Kahler’s Threat to the
Kingdom of Floyd
Perhaps the most direct competitor to
the Floyd Rose was the tremolo designed
by Gary Kahler. In the late ’70s Kahler
had a guitar hardware
company called Brass Factory
that made brass versions of the
Fender trem and developed several
bridges with Fender. In the ’80s Kahler
changed the company name to American
Precision Metalworks and soon unveiled
the Kahler tremolo.
The Kahler trem had several
unmistakable Floyd-inspired design
features, including a locking nut and
fine tuners on the bridge assembly—
enough to warrant a patent-infringement
judgment against Kahler. Unlike the
Floyd Rose however, the Kahler is a cambased system—strings attach to a single
cylindrical cam inside the bridge housing.
Furthermore, Kahlers didn’t require
snipping the ball ends off of strings.
The battle raged between Floyd Rose
and Kahler throughout the first golden
age of shred, with many flashy players
pledging allegiance to one system or the
other. In the end, Kahler lost a patentinfringement lawsuit and the balance of
power went to Floyd. In 2005, however,
Kahler began manufacturing bridges
again under Floyd Rose licenses. To this
day, the company has produced over a
Left: An example
of Kahler’s cambased lockingtremolo design.
Photo courtesy of
Beyond Tuning Stability
As double-locking trems grew in
popularity, numerous aftermarket addons emerged. Some players who preferred
the vintage feel, low profile, and lesscomplicated operation of Strat-style
bridges turned to locking tuners and more
sophisticated and finely tuned fulcrum
designs by the likes of Wilkinson, or the
John Mann-designed bridges on Paul Reed
Smith guitars. Meanwhile, some shredoriented guitar brands developed their
own versions of the double-locking recipe,
as Ibanez did with its many iterations of
the Floyd Rose-inspired Edge tremolo.
Most of these, however, owed a debt to
Floyd Rose designs and were marked with
language such as “Licensed under Floyd
Rose Patents.” (continued on p. 42)
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 39
Players Who Put Tremolo on the Map
ince the vibrato bridge’s invention nearly 80 years ago,
creative guitarists have used it to change the vernacular of
the electric guitar. Here we take a look at some of those
tremolo-bar pioneers and the sounds they created.
To this day, the Bigsby
is one of the most
popular tremolo systems
on the market. It’s
a factory option on
guitars by Gretsch,
Gibson, PRS, and
others. Compared to
more modern tremolos,
the Bigbsy has a
relatively limited range
of pitch manipulation.
However, those who swear by it do so because fulcrum- and
cam-based designs with greater range simply can’t match the
subtle charm, vintage vibe, and unique timbres that the Bigsby
imparts. The image of a Bigsby-equipped hollowbody guitar
through a reverb-drenched amp has withstood the test of time.
The Bigsby is often the trem of choice for rockabilly,
country, surf, and indie rock players. Artists like Brian Setzer,
Chet Atkins, and Duane Eddy have all made great use of it.
Check out the warbles on Setzer’s “Stray Cat Strut” or his
rendition of “Sleepwalk,” the gently rocking chord punctuations
on Atkins’ “Mr. Sandman,” and the open-string Bigsby twang
on Eddy’s “Movin’ ‘n’ Groovin’.”
But when push comes to shove, the Bigsby can scream. Neil
Young, “The Godfather of Grunge,” has never been one to treat
the Bisgbsy with kid gloves—he mauls his Bigsby-equipped Les
Paul like a metal maniac on tunes like “Cowgirl in the Sand”—
and pretty much every other song at his live shows.
The Strat’s Synchronized Tremolo system is almost as important
to music history as the guitar itself. It paved the way for
groundbreaking moments too numerous to count.
Perhaps the most memorable moment in Strat trem history
was Jimi Hendrix’s jaw-dropping 1969 performance of the “Star
Spangled Banner” at Woodstock. Jimi shook both guitarists
and music fans to the core with his erotic, violent whammy bar
attack, conjuring howling, swirling feedback and trills that divebombed into oblivion.
But it wasn’t Hendrix alone who immortalized Strat trem. From
delicate, faux-slide sounds to soulful melodic caresses, Jeff Beck’s
tremolo technique practically transforms the guitar into a new
40 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
instrument. The former Yardbird sets up his Strat trems so they
float, often gripping the bar with the tips of all his picking-hand
fingers while plucking stings with his thumb and performing
volume swells with his pinky. Listen to his tremolo bar work on
songs like “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” and “Where Were You.”
And let’s not forget the impact of Fender Jazzmaster and
Jaguar tremolos on the ’60s surf sound. The Surfaris’ Jim Fuller
and Bob Berryhill used Jazzmaster trem to fuel their megahit
“Wipe Out”, while the Surftones’ Dave Meyers warbled his
Jaguar’s tremolo to great effect on “Church Key.” More recently,
Nels Cline used Jazzmaster trem to great effect on Wilco’s
“Impossible Germany,” as did Kevin Shields on My Bloody
Valentine’s “Come in Alone.”
Gibson Vibrola Fans
The “sideways” and
developed by Gibson
in the early ’60s weren’t
terribly popular due to
their limited practicality.
However, Jimi Hendrix
used a Maestro Vibrolaequipped Gibson Flying
V for “Red House,” and
today players such as Mike
Campbell (Tom Petty and
the Heartbreakers) and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy still have great affinity
for them. Campbell is often seen with a Maestro-outfitted Gibson
Firebird, and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy often wails the Maestro on his SG
Standard on live renditions of “At Least That’s What You Said.”
When Semie Moseley loaned a guitar to Ventures guitarist
Nokie Edwards for a recording, both the band and Moseley’s
Mosrite guitars skyrocketed to fame. When the band used the
instruments live to play hits like “Walk Don’t Run,” with its
tremolo shimmies on the held C note at the end of the iconic
riff and the chords that follow it, it cemented the Mosrite
tremolo’s place in whammy bar history.
Using a standard Fender trem, Eddie Van Halen eviscerated
rock guitar fans with his paradigm-shifting 1978 instrumental,
“Eruption.” But his extreme pummeling of the bar soon led him
to embrace double-locking tremolos for better tuning stability.
By the second Van Halen album, he’d adopted the Floyd Rose
and ushered in a new era of bizarre bar antics that, along with
tapping and screaming harmonics, set the standard for guitar
mastery in the ’80s.
There are too many
examples to cite, but
the Floyd Rose-driven
insanity in his solo for
Michael Jackson’s “Beat
It” is perhaps most
indicative of his impact.
As the shred era
caught fire, the guitarist
David Lee Roth recruited
after exiting Van Halen
also carved a career out
of whammified sounds. Dissatisfied with the upward range on his
Floyds, Steve Vai used a hammer and screwdriver to chisel the area
behind the bridge of his Charvel “Green Meanie” so he could pull
the bar up further. He took advantage of this newfound range to
achieve stratosphere-scraping squeals on songs like the odd-meterlaced “The Attituide Song.” After joining Roth’s solo band, Vai
used the bar in combination with a wah pedal to create a wild
vocal effect on their first single, “Yankee Rose.” For many players, it
expanded the horizons of whammy use.
Interstellar Travelers of the TransTrem
Ned Steinberger’s TransTrem also offered a goldmine of riches
for outside–the–box artists like Allan Holdsworth, who used the
transposing vibrato to augment his already befuddling harmonic
tapestries for an effect similar to what synth players get with
a pitch wheel. To this day Holdsworth uses TT2 and TT3
TransTrems cannibalized from older Steinbergers on axes built
by Canton Custom Guitars.
Because of its complexity, some dismissed the TransTrem
a niche piece of gear for esoteric styles. But Eddie Van Halen
shattered such notions by employing the TransTrem in a
straight-up hard rock setting. Van Halen used a pin-striped,
TransTrem-equipped Steinberger GL on songs like “Get Up”
and “Summer Nights” from 5150, the first Van Halen album
with Sammy Hagar as lead vocalist.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 41
from p. 39)
to guitars such as
a Gibson Les Paul
in 2008 featured
version of Ned
in correct pitch
during use and
lets you lock
the bridge in six
you add a Bigsby
to Teles and other
developed new designs,
too, including the SpeedLoader, which
eliminated the time-consuming need to
snip off the strings’ ball ends, though it
necessitated buying proprietary strings.
Eddie Van Halen’s EVH brand also
released the D-Tuna—a simple device that
replaces the string-locking screw of a Floyd
Rose’s low-E saddle and that, when pulled,
instantly lowers the string’s pitch to D.
Ned Steinberger took the locking
and detuning concepts even further with
1984’s Steinberger TransTrem bridge. The
TransTrem, an evolution of his original
S-Trem design, appeared on Steinberger
headless guitars. It used special doubleball strings (though a single-ball string
adapter was later offered) and allowed
entire chords to stay in tune as the bar was
manipulated. Perhaps the most unique
feature of the TransTrem was that it
allowed you to raise or lower pitch with
the bar and then lock the bridge in place
in order to play in six different keys—as
far down as a perfect 4th (B-standard
tuning), or up a minor 3rd (G-standard).
Headless guitar manufacturers like Klein
made the TransTrem standard equipment
on their designs. After Steinberger stopped
guitars, the trems themselves
became hot commodities,
42 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
of $1,000 on eBay. The scarcity and
expense proved to be a significant
impediment to headless guitar
manufacturers, who turned to alternate
solutions such as JCustom’s recently
released XS-Trem, a direct replacement
for the Steinberger S-Trem. Since then,
manufacturers such as Carvin have
explored headless guitars, including the
Allan Holdsworth HH1 and HH2.
In 2008 Ned Steinberger
introduced an updated version called
the TransTrem 3, which coincided
with the release of the Steinberger
Going Where No Trem
Has Gone Before
For a long while, the evolution of vibrato
bridges seemed to coincide with the
development of more modern playing
styles. But many Les Paul and Tele fans
secretly longed to join the whammy
parade without sacrificing what they
love about those unique guitar designs.
However, those with vintage instruments
were apprehensive about permanently
modifying them, because any irreversible
modification would severely impact
a guitar’s value. Thankfully, many
innovations have come to market to
address these concerns.
Back in the ’80s Eric Stets wanted
a trem on his ’71 Gibson Les Paul
Custom but didn’t want to drill holes
in it. He subsequently designed and
patented the Stetsbar, which fits existing
bridges and doesn’t require any guitar
modification. He also offers versions for
Strats, Teles, and other guitar designs.
Meanwhile, the Vibramate kit lets
Bigsby fans mount the spring-powered
legend to the studs of a stop-tail bridge
without drilling. For Teles, you simply
swap your “ashtray” bridge assembly
with a modified Vibramate bridge that
fits in the existing holes. It connects to
a tailpiece secured by the strap endpin.
The Bigsby mounts on the tailpiece
rather than the guitar body.
To Infinity and Beyond
Though they’re the unequivocal
benchmarks of vibrato design, the models
discussed here are only the tip of the
trem iceberg in terms of sheer numbers.
Likewise, the players mentioned
are merely those most immediately
associated with each device them in the
broader guitar consciousness. Countless
other players have enriched our lives with
inventive, soul-touching vibrato work.
As with everything in our gear universe,
nothing will stop the wheels of change.
Given how far tremolos have come, it may
seem difficult to fathom where designs
could go next. But at least one company
seems poised on the brink of the future.
EverTune’s tension-monitoring bridge
wowed guitarists the world over in 2010
with its promise to never let a guitar go
out of tune, regardless of temperature,
climate, or heavy-handed playing. At
press time, the company told us they are
about a year away from offering a tremolo
version that’s sure to make waves.
And yet the designs we’ve come to
love, whether vintage or modern, are
sure to remain popular for a long time to
come. Whether you’re the one wiggling
that bar, or the one enjoying it from the
crowd, there’s no denying the power of
Modern Builder Vault
Red Rocket Guitars
By Rich Osweiler
fter a busy decade of concentrating on
marriage, work, and kids, Matthew
Nowicki came to the frightening
realization that somehow he didn’t have a guitar
in the house anymore. For someone who started
playing at the age of 12, that just wasn’t a good
sign. He decided to get back into it, but couldn’t
afford the pricey guitars he was digging at the
time. So when he saw a banged-up vintage Tele
with a snapped neck and no pickups for $100,
he grabbed it. In just a few months, he taught
himself the art of guitar repair while working it
back into shape.
A friend of Nowicki’s loved the results of the
Tele project so much that he offered to buy the
guitar. Nowicki sold it to him and bought another
broken instrument. After completing this cycle
a few more times, Nowicki began designing and
building his own guitars from scratch, starting
with a batch of five. When he put up a website
Vintage Burst Commander
The elegant-looking Vintage Burst Commander is an eye-pleasing
presentation of top-of-line materials. Its chambered body is cut from black
limba and blanketed with private-reserve flame maple for the carved top,
while the black limba neck is topped with a ziricote fretboard that’s adorned
with abalone top and side dots. Nowicki went with more flame maple for the
head plate, pickup rings, and body and neck binding. For a bevy of versatile
tones, it’s packed with a pair of Imperial humbuckers from Lollar, as well as a
Graph Tech ghost system piezo.
44 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
touting his wares, within a few months he had
enough orders to build guitars full-time, which
the North Carolina-based luthier has been doing
for five years now. “It was kind of an accident that
it turned into a career,” he says.
The self-taught luthier has been making art
as long as he can remember and says it seemed
natural to start building guitars. “I’ve always loved
working with my hands and creating beautiful
eye-catching objects,” says Nowicki, whose college
major was sculpture. “When I was repairing
broken guitars, I kept having ideas for interesting
finishes, details, and shapes. There is a huge
amount of information out there to learn how to
build guitars, but like most things, the majority of
the learning happens by just keeping on building
with the attitude of trying to make the next one
In this quest, Nowicki notes the importance of
sourcing quality components. “I like the standard
woods like mahogany, maple, and rosewood, but
I really believe that every guitar has a unique
voice,” he says. “Two guitars made from the
same materials will still have slightly different
tones because every piece of wood is different.”
The luthier likes using wood in interesting
combinations to create unique voices and looks,
but says the quality of the wood is always the
most important thing. “Beautiful wood is
wonderful, but it has to sound good, too.”
When it comes to electronics, Nowicki has
tried most pickups on the market. “Smaller
boutique builders really do create a superior
product,” he says. “Lindy Fralin, Jason Lollar,
Pete Biltoft and TV Jones make some of the best
pickups I’ve used.”
Most of Nowicki’s customers have very specific
ideas, so almost all of his builds are custom. It can
be time consuming since unique jigs and tooling
are needed for almost every instrument—but,
of course, it’s worth it. “Working with clients
to figure out their dream guitar is loads of fun
and always results in something interesting,” says
Nowicki. “I love thinking up new combinations
of colors, wood, and sound, and seeing the
instrument emerge at the end into something that
has a life of its own.”
Nowicki can be
through his website,
which also provides
information for the
dealers he works
with. Nowicki makes
guitars a year, but he
plans to expand and
recently took on a parttime assistant in the
shop. The current build
time for a Red Rocket
guitar is approximately
five months. Builds
average about $2,950
and Nowicki contends
that his guitars are
rarely more than
StyleSonic (Above Left)
This guitar features a body carved from solid, black limba,
adorned with cocobolo binding and checker purfling.
Its C-shaped neck is constructed from rock maple and is
topped with a premium-rosewood fretboard. The StyleSonic is loaded with a set of Lindy Fralin Blues Special
Strat-style pickups, which he says helps this axe deliver
“classic tones with an extra helping of rich and twangy
goodness, but no icepick highs.”
Ash Top Custom Atomic (Above Right & Inset)
Shaped like a Tele but with much more than meets the
eye, this mahogany-body Atomic is topped with intensely
figured ash that’s been finished with a vintage ’burst and
then dressed with a thinline-style parchment pickguard.
Going with flame maple for the neck, Nowicki outfitted it
with a bocote fretboard that’s adorned with white motherof-pearl for the top and side dots. The pickup trio is made
up of a TV Jones T-Armond in the neck, a Lindy Fralin
reverse-wound Strat-style in the middle, and a Lindy Fralin
overwound P-90 in the bridge.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 45
A Brief History of
(from 900 to 1963 A.D.)
Photo by Chris Gray
Tremolo is as old as the human voice.
But how and when did it become a guitar effect?
By Dan Formosa
set out to investigate the
earliest recorded examples of
guitarists using tremolo and
the equipment they used to do
it. You might think, as I did, that
the story starts somewhere in the
1930s or ’40s. But the search took
me much further back: specifically,
to the 9th-century Byzantine
Empire and 16th-century Europe.
Obviously, there were no electric
guitars then, but tremolo was
being used as a musical device
more than a millennium ago.
After exploring those origins,
we’ll leap ahead to the mechanical
tremolo contraptions of the
1800s, and finally, the electronic
tremolo circuits of the 20th
century. We’ll encounter the first
electronic tremolo (created for
organs, not guitars) and the first
electronic guitar tremolo, which
also happened to be the first
electric guitar effect box. We’ll
look at the first tremolo amps
that appeared in the late 1940s,
and we’ll conclude in 1963, when
Fender introduced their thenradical photocell tremolo circuit.
In use by early
was the first
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 47
By “Tremolo,” We Mean….
Our focus is the history of musicians’
ability to oscillate the volume of a note,
not its pitch. Oscillating pitch change
is properly referred to as vibrato, not
tremolo. But as you’ll see, the words
have a long history of being confused.
(There’s also another musical definition
of tremolo: striking the same note many
times in rapid succession, mandolin-style,
a technique also known as tremolando.)
Tremolo’s Ancient Origins
carving from 900
A.D. suggests that
this time period
may have used
as the lyra.
48 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
But guess what? The changing
pressure simultaneously alters volume
and pitch. Therefore, the tremulant
mechanism produced both tremolo and
vibrato. In other words, the confusion
between the two terms far predates Leo
Fender’s decision to call the Stratocaster’s
vibrato-producing whammy bar
“tremolo.” We see this confusion again
By the late 17th century vibrato/
tremolo was being documented as a fluteplaying technique. Again, fluctuating air
pressure in a flute produced both volume
and pitch changes.
In 1891, George Van Dusen patented a
device similar in many ways to the vibrato-producing whammy bars we know
today in 1891. His mechanism, designed
for any stringed instrument, anchors the
string at the short end of a spring-loaded
lever. A push on the lever pulls the string
tighter, raising its pitch, after which a
spring attached to the lever returns the
string to its original pitch. The result
is vibrato, though Van Dusen called it
tremolo in the U.S. patent application.
But Van Dusen (or should I say Munn
& Company, his patent attorneys?)
Above: Photo by Dave Fey
by is one of only
150 made and
was the world’s
first electric piano
model. It debuted
at the 1939
World’s Fair and
the early models
Oscillating the volume of a note is an
ancient technique—we’ve been able to do
it with our voices as long as we’ve been
capable of singing or yelling. For centuries
musicians have sought ways to impart this
wavering, voice-like quality to notes and
chords. Any musician playing a bowed
stringed instrument can create tremolo—
they simply move the bow back and forth
while sustaining a note, as we’ve seen countless violinists and cellists do. (Their bowwielding hand provides tremolo, while the
hand quivering on the fingerboard varies
the pitch of the strings, producing vibrato.)
We don’t know exactly when and
where the first bowed
instruments originated, but
there’s a Byzantine carving
from around 900 A.D.
depicting a scantily clad
cherub holding an extremely
long bow against the strings
of an instrument known as a
lyra. We don’t know whether
lyra players used tremolo effects, but the
technique was available.
How far back must we go to find
an instrument that produces tremolo
mechanically? Sixteenth-century pipe
organs used slightly detuned pitches
played simultaneously to create an
undulating effect. One of the earliest
mechanical tremolos can be found on
the 1555 pipe organ in the San Martino
Maggiore church in Bologna, Italy. It
includes several effeti speziali (auxiliary
stops), including drums, birdcalls, drones,
bells, and tremulant—a mechanism that
opened and closed a diaphragm to vary
the air pressure. As the pressure varied, so
did the volume.
Photo Credit: Fred San Filipo
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patent for an
50 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
weren’t acting in isolation. The words
tremolo and vibrato both found their way
into patent vocabulary, where they were
Orville Lewis devised a somewhat
similar device for violin in 1921. It
worked by oscillating the bridge. Again,
his device varied pitch, and again,
the effect was called tremolo. Clayton
Kauffmann created a sort of whammy bar
for banjo in 1929. As with all whammy
bars, the result was vibrato, not tremolo.
And again, the product description used
the word tremolo.
There were devices that produced true
tremolo, such as rotating fins on a piano
cabinet that opened and closed a sound
port, or a spinning mechanism for a wind
instrument mouthpiece that modulated
airflow. But unlike bowed and blown
instruments, non-electric guitars have no
innate tremolo techniques. It takes an
amplified guitar and electronic circuitry
to produce a wavering-volume effect.
Early Electric Guitar Tremolo
By 1941 the DeArmond company had
developed what may have been the
first effect unit for guitarists. It resides
between the guitar and the amplifier like
today’s effects. Inside the metal box is a
small glass jar containing a water-based
electrolytic fluid, which gets shaken by
a motor. Inside the jar is a pin attached
to the positive connection of the guitar
cable. As liquid splashes against the pin,
signal is shunted to ground. The result:
great-sounding, liquid-like tremolo.
The 1941 date is not based on the
effect being used with guitars, but on
the first electric pianos. Storytone pianos
were manufactured by Story & Clark
and developed in conjunction with RCA.
They were first exhibited at the 1939
New York World’s Fair. By 1941 early
models boasted DeArmond tremolo units
mounted directly under the keyboard
for easy access. In August of that year,
pianists J. Russel Robinson and Teddy
By 1941 the DeArmond
company had developed what
may have been the first effect
unit for guitarists.
Hale performed at the Chicagoland Music
Festival, their state-of-the-art Storytones
outfitted with both DeArmond units
and Hammond Solovoxes (miniature,
secondary keyboards, and some of the
There wasn’t much musical instrument
development during World War II, so the
second effects box may have been Andrew
Appel’s 1945 tremolo device. His design,
housed in a metal box quite similar in
shape to the DeArmond unit, arranged
resistors in a circular pattern in ascending
order of resistance. A motor rotated
a contact that successively touched
each resistor. The result, in theory, was
the Straight Truth About Pickups by Jason Lollar
The “magic” found in some (but not all) classic vintage pickups
was created by accident. Don’t let anyone tell you different. And
over time, some pretty stellar accidents happened. The only way
to recreate that magic is to study more than a few exceptional
examples of all the classic pickup types, while acquiring a
thorough understanding of exactly what materials were used
and precisely how each pickup was constructed and wound. Only
then is the “magic” repeatable, if you are willing to spend the time
and money required to chase the dragon. I am.
I personally design and wind over 30 different pickup models,
including all the vintage classics, many obscure works of art
known only to lap and pedal steel players like Robert Randolph,
and even a few of my own designs that never existed in the past.
I invite you to visit our website for sound clips, videos and
current product information, or call us for a free product
Lollar Guitars PO Box 2450 Vashon Island, WA 98070 (206) 463-9838 www.lollarguitars.com
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 51
of this patent (his
was in 1940).
52 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
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*iPhone, iPad, iPod and iOS is a trademark of Apple, Inc.,
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registered in the U.S. and other countries.
equivalent to quickly raising and
lowering your guitar’s volume control.
Again, even though the effect only
changed volume, Appel described the
device as creating “tremolo or vibrato
effects in conjunction with an electric
type stringed musical instrument.”
(Note: I have never seen this unit
and am not sure if it ever went into
production. If anyone has further
knowledge, please let us know!)
Other mechanical innovations?
Donald Leslie first attempted to
patent a rotating horn device in
1940. (He abandoned that first
version, but followed up in 1945 with
an alternative.) His earliest design
incorporated a stationary speaker that
faced upward, its sound flowing into
the small end of a rotating horn a
bit like the ones on early Victrolas.
His patent describes the effect as
producing “pitch tremolo or vibrato.”
The rotating horn or speaker in the classic
Leslie cabinet produces tremolo and vibrato
simultaneously. As the speaker or cone moves
towards you, the sound waves move faster,
slightly raising pitch. The pitch lowers slightly
as the speaker moves away. Meanwhile,
volume is greatest when the speaker faces
you. Therefore “tremolo and vibrato” is an
accurate description of the Leslie effect.
The First Guitar Amp Tremolo
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Nathan Daniel created the first guitar
amplifier with vibrato in 1947, the year he
founded the Danelectro company. He called
it a “Vibrato System for Amplifiers,” and his
extended description explains that the circuit
produces a “tremolo or vibrato effect.”
54 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
For centuries musicians have
sought ways to impart a
wavering, voice-like quality
to notes and chords.
The patent was granted in 1949, but we’re
not sure exactly when the circuit was first used
in a Danelectro amp. According to Nathan
Daniel’s son Howard, “I have no knowledge
of this, and I suspect there’s no living person
who does. I can speculate, however, based on
my knowledge of my dad, that he introduced
tremolo sooner than 1950, as soon as he
could following his application for a patent.”
Tremolo definitely appears on Danelectro’s
1950s Special model amps.
But Multivox and Gibson may have beaten
Danelectro to the market with trem-equipped
amps. A 1947 Multivox ad trumpets the
company’s new model: “Guitarists! You owe it
to yourself to try the new Premier ‘66’ Tremolo
Amplifier. Yes, you too will be sold on this new
amplifier from the very first trial. The builtin Electronic Tremolo lends a new organlike
quality to your tone.” Meanwhile, Gibson’s first
tremolo amp, the GA-50T, appeared in 1948.
(Note to Magnate fans: While Magnatone
began manufacturing steel guitar amps in
the late 1930s, their first tremolo-enabled
amplifier, the Vibra-Amp, didn’t arrive until
1955. Their “true vibrato” circuits, using
varistors to alter pitch rather than volume,
first appeared in 1957’s Custom 200 series.)
(or four) power tubes to share amplification
duties. The Tremolux is unique in that
the wavering voltage is sent to the cathode
element of the phase inverter.
The 1956 Vibrolux operates on the same
basic principle, varying the bias. It also uses
resistors and capacitors, enlisting only half
of a 12AX7. (A single 12AX7 tube houses
two separate triode tubes, which can be used
independently.) The modulating voltage enters
the guitar signal path after the phase inverter,
The Premier “66” (below) may have been the first
amp introduced with tremolo, in 1947. Gibson’s
GA-50T (above) from 1948 was one of the first
amps to feature a built-in tremolo effect. Fender’s
first tremolo amp was 1955’s Tremolux. Later
brownface and blackface Fender amps would
feature radically different versions of the effect.
acting on the grid elements of the two 6V6
(The brownface amps Fender introduced in
1959—the Vibrasonic, Concert, and eventually
other models—utilize a circuit called “harmonic
vibrato.” It’s not exactly tremolo or vibrato,
although it can certainly create that impression.
Think of tremolo volume as a sine wave, with
high and low peaks. Now think of a second
tremolo wave, this time offset by 180 degrees.
It would cancel the first tremolo—the summed
build a better guitar
Prewired pickup and control assemblies, on templates or pickguards, for
many popular guitars. Not inclined to spend your Saturday soldering?
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The tremolo section of a vintage amp
circuit (yes, it’s called “vibrato” on many amps
and schematics) involves at least one tube. A
wavering voltage affects the tube’s bias. How
that wavering voltage is generated, and to which
section of the amp circuit it is applied, account
for the sonic differences between various tube
tremolo circuits. Without getting too technical,
let’s look at how they work, using several Fender
tremolo amps as examples.
Fender’s earliest tremolo amplifier appeared
in 1955, relatively late in the game. The
tremolo section in a ’55 Tremolux amp uses a
12AX7 tube, resistors, and capacitors to vary
the voltage. All amps with two or more power
tubes include a tube called a phase inverter,
which splits the guitar signal to allow two
…Strat® assembly mounted on plastic template
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 55
volume would be flat. However, the harmonic
vibrato circuits send higher frequencies to one
wave and lower frequencies to the other. There
is no actual change in volume or pitch, but
rather a sort of phase shift.)
Fender’s next type of tremolo featured a
very different system. The blackface amps that
appeared in 1963 use a 12AX7 tube and a
photocell to oscillate the voltage. That system
employs a neon light to open and close the
photocell. It acts on the grid of the phase
inverter. Photocell tremolo tends to sound
choppier than earlier bias variation circuits.
(For an example of bias variation tremolo,
listen to Otis Redding’s version of “A Change
is Gonna Come,” featuring Steve Cropper on
guitar. For photocell tremolo, try the Doors’
“Riders on the Storm.”)
Early Tremolo Recordings
Bluesman Big Bill Broonzy is probably the
guitarist on several 1942 songs by singer/
pianist Roosevelt Sykes. The tremolo effect
With DeArmond tremolo boxes underway by
1941 and amplifiers incorporating tremolo
circuits appearing by end of the decade, what
are the earliest guitar tremolo recordings?
Maybe a better question would be, why would
DeArmond, Danelectro, or Gibson offer
tremolo for guitar unless guitarists were experimenting with the effect? Since the Hammond
company was using tremolo in its organs since
the 1930s, the potential for early experimentation by guitarists certainly existed. With that
thought in mind, I’ll share the oldest tremolo
Bo Diddley made tremolo his
trademark sound in 1955.
Duane Eddy started using a
DeArmond tremolo in 1957 to
enhance the melody in his hit
Strings that offer unmatched
durability with a consistently
warm, true sound.
56 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
tracks I’ve uncovered so far. If you’re aware
of earlier ones, please let us know.
Guitar tremolo can clearly be heard on
four songs that singer/pianist Roosevelt
Sykes recorded in Chicago on April
16, 1942. “Are You Unhappy,” “You Can’t
Do That to Me,” “Sugar Babe Blues,” and
“Love Has Something to Say” probably
feature Big Bill Broonzy playing through a
Les Paul, electric guitar pioneer and mad
scientist of the recording studio, may have
used a subtle tremolo effect on his 1946
recording of “Sweet Hawaiian Moonlight.”
You can hear Muddy Waters playing through
a tremolo effect on his 1953 song “Flood.”
Two years later Bo Diddley made tremolo a
centerpiece of his sound, using a DeArmond
unit on his 1955 hits “Bo Diddley,” “Diddley
Daddy,” and “Pretty Thing.”
By the late 1950s electric tremolo
was in full swing. Duane Eddy famously
incorporated it in many of his recordings.
He obtained a DeArmond unit in 1957 and
used it on “Rebel Rouser” the following year.
According to Eddy, the tremolo effect was
“cool because it was such a simple melody.”
His other tremolo-based songs include
“Stalkin’,” “Cannonball,” “The Lonely One,”
and “Forty Miles of Bad Road.” Also in
1958, Link Wray recorded “Rumble,” where
you can hear the effect being turned on in
the final portion of the song.
The 1960s brought an entirely new wave
of tremolo-infused amps, effect pedals, and
“Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James & the
Shondells showcases the tremolo sound that
boomed in the 1960s.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 57
guitar recordings—far more than we
can cover here. But even a short list of
great trem-fueled ’60s classics reveals
how much the effect contributed to the
The Staple Singers
Slim Harpo, “Baby, Scratch My Back”
Tommy James & the Shondells,
“Crimson and Clover”
The Shadows, “Apache”
Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth”
Creedence Clearwater Revival,
“Born on the Bayou”
The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter”
Let’s conclude our early history of tremolo
with two songs that demonstrate how
compelling tremolo can be: The Staple
Singers 1956 recording of “Uncloudy
Day” (search “Uncloudy Day - The Staple
Singers on YouTube), with Pops Staples
on guitar, and Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang
Bang,” with L.A. session ace Billy Strange
(search “Nancy Sinatra Bang Bang on
YouTube). Both songs feature vocals,
tremolo guitar, and nothing else. When
you have an effect this dramatic and powerful, who needs a band?
Big thanks to everyone who helped with
this article: Deed and Duane Eddy, Matt
Celichowski, John Peden, Shane Nicholas,
Stan Cotey and Jason Farrell of Fender
Musical Instruments, Bradley StauchenScherer, Ken Moore and Naomi Takafuchi
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Deke
Dickerson, Ira Padnos, Chris Smith, and
Gary Atkinson of Document Records.
Your Source For
Low Prices On Top Brands
pg_090513_Take Your Pick.indd 1
58 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
9/13/13 1:31 PM
60 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
1937 Gibson EH-150 Guitar and Amp
BY Dave Rogers, Laun Braithwaite, and Tim Mullally
he popularity of Hawaiian-style
music in the early 1900s created a
demand for instruments specially
made to accommodate Hawaiian guitar
techniques. The top companies, Martin
and Gibson, first began supplying separate
devices to place on the nut to raise the
strings high enough to play Hawaiian
style, but eventually they designed guitars
specifically for Hawaiian playing.
Gibson’s earliest Hawaiians were the
HG series of 1929, followed by the Roy
Smeck 12-fret models of 1934. By the time
the Roy Smeck guitars became available,
Hawaiian music had already begun to
feature a new innovation: an electric
guitar made by Rickenbacker. This guitar
featured a magnetic “horseshoe” pickup to
amplify the strings’ vibrations. This guitar
could be heard more easily, and notes and
chords could be effortlessly sustained.
Rickenbacker’s “Frying Pans” went
almost unnoticed by Gibson until 1935,
when sales shot high enough for Gibson
to think it worthwhile to try an electric
Hawaiian of their own. Gibson’s shortlived first attempt at an electric Hawaiian
followed Rickenbacker’s lead and had
a metal body. But the metal body had
tuning issues and didn’t fit Gibson’s
classic look, so by 1936 the EH-150 had
a maple body and neck and was finished
in Gibson’s traditional dark sunburst.
After initially trying to outsource the
pickup design to Chicago’s Lyon & Healy
(who did end up making the matching
amplifiers), Gibson relied on one of its
own employees, Walter Fuller, to devise
the now famous bar pickup.
The 1937 EH-150 set pictured here
has features consistent with the middle
of that year. These include a headstock
with a pearl Gibson logo and split
diamond inlay (there was no inlay the
previous year), multi-ply top and back
binding (the top binding was singleply in 1936), a back attached with
screws (by 1938 the backs would be
glued on), and a bar pickup with multiply binding (replaced by a U-magnet
pickup in 1938). The amp had rounded
corners (replacing the square corners
of 1936), two 6L6 power tubes (earlier
models used 6N6s), and a 12" speaker
(previously a 10"). The amp’s power
rating was about 15 watts.
The original list price of the EH-150
guitar and amp set was $150. The current
value for a set in excellent, all-original
condition is $2,000.
Sources for this article include: Gibson
Electric Steel Guitars by A.R. Duchossoir,
Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars by
George Gruhn and Walter Carter, Electric
Guitars and Basses by George Gruhn and
Walter Carter, and Gibson Amplifiers
1933-2008: 75 Years of the Gold Tone by
Wallace Marx, Jr.
Original price for set: $150 in 1937
Current estimated market value: $2,000
Dave’s Guitar Shop
Dave Rogers’ collection is tended by Laun Braithwaite
and Tim Mullally and is on display at:
Dave’s Guitar Shop
1227 Third Street South
La Crosse, WI 54601
Photos by Mullally and text by Braithwaite.
In 1937 you could have purchased the EH150 guitar and amp set for $150. Gibson’s
Walter Fuller created the company’s iconic
Left and Inset: The 15-watt amplifier boasted
two 6L6 power tubes and three inputs.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 61
Jay Turser Stiletté Futuré
BY Will Ray
ometimes you see a picture of a
guitar and are intrigued by its looks.
Such was the case when I saw this
on eBay a few months ago. It’s a 2001 Jay
Turser Stiletté Futuré model. These were
only made for about three years.
In person, the Stiletté Futuré has an
unusual 3-D look that pictures don’t do
justice to. You can tell someone wanted
to design a futuristic guitar here—but
then got distracted by reality. It features
two Strat-type single-coil pickups, a
humbucker in the bridge position,
an upside-down headstock/tuner
configuration, a rosewood fretboard, and
scallop fretboard markers. But the most
unusual aspect is the silver-colored flat
aluminum back. A black plastic housing
and knee rest sits atop the aluminum,
creating visual contrast.
You might think that, with its sparse
aluminum and plastic body, this guitar
would be pretty lightweight. You’d think
wrong—it weighs in at just under 8
pounds. It’s not the heaviest guitar I’ve ever
held, but it’s not nice and light like, say, an
aluminum-bodied James Trussart guitar.
I was the only bidder on the auction
and won the guitar for the starting price
of $150 (plus $18 shipping). “It’s just
an okay deal,” I reasoned after checking
around. “There’s not much demand for
these.” It arrived needing new strings and
a serious setup. The action was very high,
the neck was out of whack, the wiring was
funky, and the pickups needed shimming
to get them closer to the strings. Luckily, I
could do all that work myself.
Bottom Feeder Tip # 689: Learn as
much as you can about guitar setups
by watching a good tech in action. I’ve
had several over the years who would
let me watch as they performed their
tricks of the trade. You can acquire a
lot of knowledge this way, but the key
is not to be distracting. Ask pertinent
questions, but don’t yammer on. Let the
tech concentrate on the job, and always
be ready to help by handing a tool or
volunteering to clean up.
62 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
You can tell
to design a
Fig. 1. The body and knee rest of
this 2001 Jay Turser Stiletté Futuré
are screwed to a flat aluminum back.
Fig. 2. You might think that the
Stiletté Futuré, with its aluminum
and plastic parts, is a light guitar—
but you’d be wrong.
Fig. 3. Despite its striking 3-D
looks, the Stiletté Futuré doesn’t
have a strong sonic personality.
So how does the Stiletté Futuré sound?
Not quite as cool as it looks. Its tone
is kind of pedestrian, without much
personality. I’ll probably keep it for a
while just because it looks cool. Some
guitars are like that.
will ray is a founding member
of the Hellecasters guitar-twang
trio. He also does guitar clinics
promoting his namesake G&L
signature model 6-string, and
produces artists and bands at
his studio in Asheville, North
Carolina. You can contact Will on
Facebook and at willray.biz.
64 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
The Ultimate Evolved Guitarist
The beloved shredder reveals how his
band Dream Theater stays the course: by
practicing always and playing from the
heart. He also tells us why his 13th Music
Man signature model guitar is his most
cutting-edge collaboration to date.
Opposite Page: Photo by Larry DiMarzio
By Corbin Reiff
ohn Petrucci is a man who wears
many hats and assumes many
different guises. He’s a writer,
producer, teacher, and sometimes an
engineer. Above all else, though, Petrucci
is a guitar player, and unsurprisingly,
this is the role that he’s most personally
comfortable in assuming. Despite being
universally acknowledged as one of the
best who’s ever laid a hand on a fretboard,
Petrucci refuses to remain content in his
own abilities. “I still sit there with the
metronome,” he declares with pride. “I
still practice, I still warm-up and do all
the stuff that’s required.”
Petrucci brings this progressive spirit
and drive to all his projects, including
his latest, the self-titled 12th album from
Dream Theater. The record adheres tightly
to the group’s prog/metal influences
without a trace of stagnation one might
expect from a group this deep into its
career. Much of this is due to Petrucci’s
drive and meticulous nature in his triplerole of producer, composer, and guitarist.
We recently spoke with Petrucci about the
new record, his latest gear explorations,
and what’s next for Dream Theater.
Tell us about the writing process for
Dream Theater. How much time did
you spend composing the tunes, and
how did you work on the songs?
The first step happens throughout the
year leading up to the actual recording
of the album. It’s just sort of collecting
ideas, little riffs, melodies, and chord
progressions. I compile all that stuff on
my laptop and phone, just so I can come
in with some ideas to use as springboards.
Then the next step is discussing what sort
of album we want to make. Two months
before we get into the studio, we all get
on the phone and email each other to talk
about it, so everyone coming in is on the
This time around was very similar to
a lot of our past albums going into the
studio. We set up all our gear in a kind
of rehearsal setting, but in a recording
studio with everything mic’d and ready
to go. Then we start to work on these
ideas and hammer them out. Sometimes
we use some of those seeds that were
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 65
is a jack-ofall-trades for
taking the role
collected; sometimes we just start from
scratch. That goes on for a few months
until all the songs exist in instrumental
form awaiting lyrics, and then I’ll
sit down and get that process going.
It’s very interactive—there are many
different stages, but the great thing is that
everybody is involved and invested in it.
How do you conceptualize and craft a
song as large in scope as “Illumination
Theory,” which runs well over 20
minutes and contains such a vast array
of time, tempo, and mood shifts?
It’s done a little bit at a time for sure
[laughs]. It is a big project and it is a big
process and the first step is in knowing
the kind of song that we’re setting out
to write. Then we have ideas kind of
mapped out, whether they be from
things we’ve been jamming on from the
past couple of weeks or from previous
soundchecks or some of those seeds I
talked about and we’ll discuss, “Oh, that
would make a great ending piece.” There
was this great theme that I’d pictured in
the beginning and we’ll map it out—
literally draw it out, like storyboard it on
66 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
paper for everybody. Once we have that
kind of storyboard and that structure,
that’s when we start writing.
How do you approach your solos? Do
you map them out as well or are they
To me, guitar solos are always those
moments that are make or break. They
can be an opportunity to further the
song musically—further the story you’re
trying to tell—and that’s the way I try
to approach it. I think about my role in
that moment: Where is the song going? If
the solo happens kind of later in the song
and it’s leading toward the out-chorus,
I know that my job is to lift the song at
that point, make it exciting and carry it to
the end. If it happens like in the case of
a song like “The Looking Glass,” where
it’s sort of in the middle and it’s stretched
out, then I know it’s going to be more of
a free, improv thing that’s going to make
the song feel a little freer in general.
Sometimes I have solos that are right
at the end like the very last thing on
“Illumination Theory” where I know
my job is to carry the torch and play
the mighty solo standing on top of the
mountain [laughs]. That’s always the
first thing I do—think about what’s
going on musically—then I just start
going for it and improvise a lot over
those progressions. Sometimes while
that’s happening I’ll change things we’ve
written, like in the case of “Surrender
to Reason.” The solo seems really kind
of reckless and there were some chords
going by that [keyboardist] Jordan
[Rudess] did and I decided, “Let’s
take those chords out and not put any
restrictions on the harmony, so I can do
something a little more raw.”
How do you balance your role as a
guitarist with that of a producer while
in the studio?
I love doing it. I’m really fortunate and
very thankful that the guys trust me in
that position and give me that flexibility
and responsibility to be the producer.
It can be really difficult to be a band
member and to produce your own band,
but it’s worked out incredibly well because
I am the guitar player in the band, and I
know the guys incredibly well, which is
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68 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
something I use to my advantage as far as
how I approach each person. Everybody
is different in terms of temperament and
work method, so I’m able to get the best
out of everybody in that situation.
I think the key for me—and I wrote
about it in the song “The Bigger Picture”
on the album—is being able to step back
to see the forest through the trees. To
see what it is we’re trying to accomplish
in a larger sense. This way everything
you do works toward that goal. You do
have to separate yourself out, you have
to step back, you have to get out of the
microcosm of playing guitar and being
a band member, and pull that into the
How do you mic and mix your guitars,
and how much time do you dedicate to
crafting your tones on record?
That’s actually a really big process and is
also one of the most fun times I have in
the studio. We spend a ton of time with
I think the key for me—and I wrote about it in
the song “The Bigger Picture” on the album—
is being able to step back to see the forest
through the trees. To see what it is we’re trying
to accomplish in a larger sense.
it. I’ve done it so many different ways,
but this time the approach was to get a
guitar sound from day one that pretty
much was a finished sound—it’s the
sound you hear when you hear the album
today. I really left it up to [engineer]
Richard Chycki to do what needed to be
done in order to get there. I basically had
my Mesa/Boogie amps all set up in an iso
room in the studio and Richard set up a
couple of different mics—a [Shure SM]
57 and [Neumann U] 47. Then he went
through whatever process it had to go
through after that. I didn’t really concern
myself with how it was happening. What
was important was the sound coming out
of the studio monitors, and we would
spend days on that.
We also used a Radial JDX to re-amp,
so every time I recorded a part, we’d have a
DI [direct input] track as well. Depending
on the song, we’d re-amp the part and
experiment by setting the amp EQ
differently to get it to really match up to a
particular song. You hear a lot of different
types of guitar tones on the album, and
they were all tailored to each song.
Were you listening to any music while
writing and recording Dream Theater,
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 69
John Petrucci’s GEAR
Music Man JP13
(6- and 7-string models with
DiMarzio Illuminator picksups)
Music Man JP BFR
(baritone with DiMarzio LiquiFire
and Crunch Lab pickups)
Mesa/Boogie Mark V
Mesa/Boogie Mark IIC+
Mesa/Boogie Royal Atlantic
Analog Man King of Tone
Analog Man Juicer
Carl Martin Compressor/Limiter
TC Electronic John Petrucci
Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter
MXR EVH 90
Theater gears up
for another epic
world tour, John
Petrucci says he
hopes to have a
solo album out
by 2014. It will
be his first in
and how do your influences continue
to define what you do?
I purposely tried to not listen to
anything. When you listen to stuff while
you’re in the studio or before you go
in—especially if it’s not something you
discovered on your own, if it’s something
that somebody went, “Oh, you have to
hear this”—it can be dangerous. All of a
sudden it seems like you need to pull this
thing into your style.
My original influences go back to
being a teenager in those formative days.
Bands like Metallica and [Iron] Maiden
got me into the whole metal scene, and
I was also a big Rush and Yes fan. That
fusion of metal, rock, and progressive
music molded my style, and subsequently
Dream Theater’s sound, because we
were all into the same thing. Those core
influences determined our style from
the beginning, and I think it’s important
for us to stay true to this and continue
developing from it, and not lose sight of
the band’s original vision.
70 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
How do you balance trying to push
the music forward conceptually and
technically with the desire to stay true
to your roots?
It’s very easy to remain grounded if you
just play what comes from your heart.
You work off of the inspiration you
receive from each other when you’re
playing together. This band has a ton of
musical chemistry. We write together and
we inspire each other to push ourselves
in that spirit. That’s automatically
reflected in our metal-progressive style.
You can’t lose sight of that inspiration
when it feels really natural to you. If
you’re doing something that doesn’t feel
natural, usually it’s not going to come
This being DT’s 12th studio album,
why did now seem like the right time
to release a self-titled record?
I think it’s because it made a strong
statement this many albums into our
career. We wanted to make a bold, strong,
confident album that really projected our
musical attitude at this point in time and
pushing forward. We felt that the best
way to illustrate what the album is about
was to self-title it. To not pick a title that
would distract from it at all or lead to any
preconceptions. Keep it strong and keep
it a little bit of a mystery.
How much time do you spend
perfecting and adding to your
technique as a guitar player?
A lot—it’s really important. First of all, it’s
something I love to do and I’m addicted
to doing. I really have to practice, it’s such
a use-it-or-lose-it thing. I have routines,
especially while I’m in the studio and I’m
ready to push the envelope and record
something that takes the music further or
challenge myself as a player.
As a longtime Mesa/Boogie devotee,
what Boogie amps did you use in the
studio, and what, if any, other amps
did you throw into the mix?
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 71
One of the most
Petrucci says he
believes in the
“use it or lose it”
The studio was all Boogies, and for the
most part it was the Mark V. We did a
ton of experimenting using the Radial
to re-amp, which was a blast, but a lot
of the time we ended up going with
the Mark V. I ended up playing a lot of
7-string on this album, and the Mark
V really seemed to work with the range
of my new Music Man JP13, which
sounded very broad and alive through it.
I also set up three of my old Mark
IIC+ amps. We’d go back and forth
between different ones for solos. They all
have different tonal aspects that are just
beautiful. I used a TriAxis for clean stuff
and for writing, and for the first time I used
a Royal Atlantic, which is a Boogie that
has a different sound from any of the Mark
amps. You can hear it on “The Looking
Glass.” The amp has more of a big, grindy,
rock sound, not as metal sounding, but
really appropriate for that song. I also used
it for “Along for the Ride.”
You mentioned using a lot of 7-string
guitar on this record. What attracts
you to that extra string and how does it
alter your approach to playing?
My technical approach pretty much
remains the same. To me it’s all about
the range. When you’re composing, it’s
freeing to play chords or lines that go
below that standard E without tuning
down. Keyboardists have that in their left
hand, 6-string bass players have it too. It
also adds some other options as far as the
tonal aspect of keys. When you’re tuned
to standard, you have your basic E, A,
and F# keys, which you can mix up when
you’re using a 7-string. Your centers can
revolve around B or C# or D, and then
if you tune the guitar down they can
revolve around A, so it gives you options
you don’t have with a 6-string.
Your Signature Series Music Man
guitar lineup is currently up to its
13th iteration. How has the JP guitar
evolved over the years and how much
creative input do you have with each
The lineup has changed with things I
discover, whether in the studio or playing
live, that help shift the design and
72 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Speed kills and so does John Petrucci in the solo on “Constant
Motion.” In this performance, Petrucci lets fly with a truly staggering
display of agility and dexterity—dive bomb to hell and back included.
YouTube search term: Dream Theater - Constant Motion - Download
construction of the guitar as time goes
by. The very first JP guitar was my first
experience making a guitar with Music
Man, and it came out absolutely amazing.
It has that scoop for the right arm, for
example. As I learn about tone woods,
neck dimensions, fretboard radius, fret
size, and body shape, I talk to Music Man
and they make adjustments.
All my signature guitars—the 6-string,
7-string, and baritone—are tweaked a bit
differently. They’re different spices in my
spice rack, but they’re all me. Having said
that, there are also a lot of consistencies in
the way we lay out the controls and the
bridge. Once we nail something that’s just
perfect, it stays that way. I have a ton of
input and involvement in that process, and
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to
work with literally the best guitar builders
on the planet. I put these ideas forth and
the engineers turn it into an actual physical
guitar. It’s an incredible experience.
What makes the JP13 different from
what has come before it?
This guitar continues the evolution. It
has a preamp in it, which none of the
others have—that’s the main difference.
The preamp enables the guitar to be
more alive and open sounding, and it also
offers a boost. You can tap the volume
control to add 20 dB of gain, so you
don’t need an overdrive or clean boost
pedal. We also went to a 17" fretboard
radius, and, of course, the guitar looks
different with all the chrome and silver
finish on the knobs and everything.
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74 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
TC Electronic released the John Petrucci
Dreamscape Signature TonePrint three-in-one
modulation pedal with chorus, flanger, and
vibrato. How did that come about?
TC’s chorus and flanger effects have been a huge
part of my sound forever. I remember discovering
TC stuff when I was really young, and I just
fell in love with the sound and design. They
approached me. They’d never done a signature
pedal before and neither had I, so it was a first
for both of us.
We started to talk privately about what this
might be. I mentioned that their modulation
pedal was my favorite pedal of all time and
maybe we could take it to the next level by
making it quieter and more compact, more
roadworthy, and expanding its features. They
were 100 percent for it. Once we started
exploring the new technology they’ve developed,
we discovered that this pedal could do a lot more
than just chorus and flange. We’re going to be
able to take this as far as we want, especially with
the TonePrint technology. In the end, this pedal
is probably one of the most versatile modulation
pedals you can get, and it ended up being one of
my main secret weapons in the studio.
What other pedals do you currently have in
Only a few. I have a big pedal collection I bring
into the studio to experiment with a bit, but
live I just use a small drawer of maybe four. In
addition to my Dreamscape, I use a Boss PH-3
Phaser—I also use the MXR Van Halen one,
which I like—and usually some sort of overdrive.
But I don’t really need an overdrive anymore
because of the JP13’s boost. We’ve experimented
with Mesa/Boogie’s new line of pedals, which are
really cool for that, and we’ve used the Analog
Man King of Tone. I also really like the sound
of compression pedals, and the Carl Martin
Compressor/Limiter is great, but the one that
I really fell in love with on this album was the
Analog Man Juicer.
What is next for you and Dream Theater?
Business as usual, as far as supporting this release.
We have a world tour planned and that will start
in Europe in January and continue across the
globe. I’m also working on a solo album that’s
been a long time coming—my last one was in
2005—and I’m hoping to finish that by the end
of the year. We’re going to continue to stay busy,
that’s for sure!
Do You Really Want To?
BY PETER THORN
Here I am in
2001 on tour
with Evan and
Jaron in Atlanta,
my blonde era).
Touring for a
living can be
tough, but a lot
of fun at the
’m writing this while sitting outside
at a café in Paris. I’m on tour and
having a really good time, so I can
understand why people often say to me,
“I want to do what you do.” It’s definitely
a yin-yang thing because I’m missing my
family in Los Angeles right now. Touring
is no longer my only source of income,
but it can keep you away from home and
family all the time. Touring can also be
tough during those times you don’t have
a gig! There are ups and downs to being a
I first moved to L.A. in 1990 and
attended Musician’s Institute for one
year. This was a great experience, and
through the school’s referral service after
graduation, I found a band with great
songs and a good industry buzz that
needed a guitarist. I liked their music and
they liked me, so I joined the band and
worked a day job in a music store to pay
the bills. I thought I’d only be working at
the store a few months or so before being
whisked off to fame and fortune.
Fast-forward five years: I was
still working at the same store. And
after writing and demoing 50 songs
and playing countless gigs and label
showcases, the band was about to call it
quits. I almost gave up, but miraculously,
the band was offered a small deal on a
Japanese label. I was able to quit my day
job, make an album, and I could finally
76 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
call myself a “pro musician.” But our label
folded after one year, and around 1997, I
found myself looking for work again.
A drummer friend told me about an
audition for a touring gig with singer/
songwriter Meredith Brooks. He got me
an audition, my first real crack at scoring
a touring sideman gig. I’ve always had
a good work ethic and an attitude of
striving to be the best guy in the room, so
I was totally prepared and did really well.
Out of about 30 guitarists, it was down
to me and one other guy.
Meredith called me at home and
we had a long talk. I really thought I
had the gig at that point, but the other
guitarist ended up getting the job. I was
disappointed, but this audition put me
on the radar in L.A. and I was asked to
audition for more gigs soon after.
From 1998 until 2003, I ended up
touring and/or recording with a slew
of major-label acts including Adam
Cohen, Sparkler, Blinker the Star, Evan
and Jaron, and a few others. They were
some great times, but most of these were
up-and-coming artists with small tour
budgets. I wasn’t earning much money
and the travel could be rough.
By the year 2000, I’d been pursuing
my dreams for a decade and was far
from home. My entire family was in
Edmonton, Canada, and I tried to get
back twice a year but it was tough. I was
struggling just to pay the bills.
From 2003 to 2006, I ended up
doing some higher-profile tours with
artists such as Jewel and Robi Draco
Rosa. I performed on the big late-night
talk shows and had endorsements with
Gibson and Ernie Ball. It seemed like my
career was on an upward trajectory and I
was having a great time seeing the world,
but it was difficult to keep a girlfriend for
long and I was still only getting home to
see my family a few times a year.
My father passed away from cancer in
2006. I’ll always be thankful that I was able
to spend a couple of weeks with him before
his death, but this was a real wake-up call
for me. Even though I was doing exactly
what I set out to do 15 years earlier, the
implications of my career choice suddenly
came into sharp focus. I’d chosen a tough,
unpredictable path that took me far away
from my family. Touring was my only
decent source of income, and touring kept
me away from home.
I spent 2007 to 2010 touring with
Chris Cornell and this was truly an
exceptional gig. Joining Melissa Etheridge
in 2010 on her Fearless Love tour was a
similar experience. Playing music with
some of the greatest songwriter/vocalists
of our time has been a dream come true.
That said, I’ve recently really made an
effort to diversify and find some other
sources of income. Jumping from tour to
tour and relying solely on that for income
was starting to wear on me. Releasing
my solo album Guitar Nerd in 2011 was
a great experience and people responded
favorably to it, so I’ll be recording and
releasing another soon. My YouTube gear
demos have really taken off, and this
allows me to play guitar and write songs
in my studio, be creative, and still be
home for dinner with my girlfriend and
her little boy every night. So at 42, I feel
that I’m finally figuring out how to play
guitar for a living without being on tour
all the time! I want to continue touring,
but I don’t want it to be my only option.
If you really think you want to play
guitar for a living, you have to ask
yourself if you’re absolutely obsessed
with it. I think you have to be in order
to hang in there during the tough times.
But my biggest piece of advice for those
who “want to do what I do” is this: If
you move away from home and the ones
you love, go back and visit as often as
possible. You’ll be glad you did.
is an L.A.-based guitarist, currently
touring with Melissa Etheridge.
His solo album, Guitar Nerd, is
available through iTunes and
cdbaby.com. Read more about his
career at peterthorn.com.
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World Boogie Is Here
The slide guitar virtuoso reveals how the North Mississippi Allstars
created their biggest, boldest album to date.
written By Joe Gore
Photography by Michael Weintrob
Above: “I’m definitely a single-coil guy, and playing the ES-330 with P-90s gave me the idea of a 335
with P-90s, which is what we did with the second version of my signature guitar,” says Dickinson.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 79
playing one of his
from the Gibson
Custom Shop in
orthern Mississippi is a fertile
guitar country, the place where
the Hill Country blues intersects
with the rock and R&B traditions of
nearby Memphis. The area is a sonic
Galapagos Islands where music has
evolved in unique and beautiful ways.
The North Mississippi Allstars reside,
both musically and geographically, at
the heart of this musical melting pot.
The region’s traditions have shaped
the band’s sound since the Dickinson
brothers—guitarist Luther and drummer
Cody—first performed as the Allstars
in 1996. Their dozen albums are rich
in regional atmosphere, not to mention
deeply soulful slide guitar work. But even
longtime Allstars fans may be surprised
80 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
by the breadth and depth of the band’s
new release, World Boogie is Coming. It’s
the closest they’ve come to a classic rock
World Boogie is an atmospheric affair
where a kaleidoscope of blues and rock
colors unfolds against a backdrop of
found sounds. There are ghosts here,
especially of the late blues greats that
the Dickinsons knew growing up: R.L.
Burnside. Junior Kimbrough. Otha
Turner. The album’s large cast of guest
musicians includes Burnside’s sons,
Turner’s granddaughter, and new Allstars
bassist Lightnin’ Malcolm, who the
Dickinsons first met on the bandstand at
Kimbrough’s juke joint. (Also appearing:
a harmonica player named Robert Plant,
who once gigged with a British combo
named after a dirigible.)
But the album’s strongest ghost-voice
probably belongs to the Dickinson
brothers’ father, Jim, who passed away in
2009. Jim Dickinson was a producer and
session player who worked with Aretha,
Dylan, Big Star, the Stones, and many
other crucial artists. His band, Mud Boy
and the Neutrons, mixed roots music
with an open-ended, art-rock attitude,
much like the Allstars do today.
Jim Dickinson’s final words were “World
boogie is coming.” And he was right.
We caught up with Luther Dickinson
in Charlotte, North Carolina, where
the Allstars were a week into their postrelease tour.
The name for the
the late father
of Luther and
“World boogie is
coming,” were his
final words before
passing in 2009.
World Boogie is Coming feels more
cinematic than your other albums.
Cinematic is exactly what we were going
for. The secret behind the strength of this
record is that we’ve finally figured out
how to put everything in its proper place.
When the band started out, I used to
think, “Hey, I’ve got a bunch of songs—
let’s make a record!” I sort of lost my way
and started making egotistical rock and
roll records that probably should have been
solo albums. But really, the Allstars is more
of a community-based art project about
the traditional repertoire of our home.
I wanted this record to be a multimedia
cultural statement about Mississippi, and
this record is modern-day Mississippi
blues. We just opened up ourselves and
our microphones and let it happen.
Did you record at Zebra Ranch, your
Oh, yeah. The studio is out in the
country, between Independence and
Coldwater. I live right near there. We
recorded a couple of records right after
our dad passed away in ’09, but after
that the studio sat dormant and got kind
of sad. But then Patty Griffin wanted
to record there, so we rented a huge
dumpster and cleaned the funk out of
the place. Patty brought in Robert Plant,
and that session turned into her American
Kid record. For the Allstars record, we
brought in a refurbished one-inch 8-track
tape machine and a new Pro Tools HD
rig. We set up our projection screen. We
had rain sounds and weird atmospheric
studio noises, because I like to keep all
the doors and windows open. When
Patty was there, she said, “Wow—the
only studio in the world with wind!”
to one track of drums, or one track of
guitar. And this time I think we’ve really
managed to capture the live spirit.
It’s not like those modern blues records
tracked in sterile rooms.
Yuck—I hate that! We also tend to cut
fast, almost sloppy, and then edit down
the performances. That’s how we maintain
our spontaneity. We don’t do ten takes of
a song—we do just a couple, and then
glean the good parts. We definitely use
the technology, though we’re into the
“freedom of limitations.” That’s why I love
the 8-track machine: You have to commit
You’ve worked hard to develop a
refined slide guitar style, but you also
like to keep things raw. How do you
balance skill and sloppiness?
It all comes down to primitive
modernism. I’m always trying to keep it
as primitive as possible. I’m not a fancy
guitar player. I’m just trying to capture a
moment, a mood, a feeling. That’s what
I learned from Otha Turner and R.L.
Burnside: How to project a feeling into a
82 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
room—or onto a front porch, as was the
case at Otha’s house.
Are we hearing much of your new
signature-model Gibson ES-335?
No, we did the record before I had that. I
used just one guitar for the entire record:
a new Gibson Custom Shop ES-330
reissue. Well, that, and the two-string,
coffee-can diddley bow I play on “Rollin’
and Tumblin’.” I just love that 330, and
I’ve been using it on record after record.
I can’t really play it live, though, because
hollowbodies go crazy with feedback at
the volume we play at. The first prototype
of my signature model was an ES-335
with humbuckers. [Ed. note: ES-335s are
only semi-hollow.] You don’t get quite as
fat a tone, but it’s such a relief to cancel
that hum. But I’m definitely a single-coil
guy, and playing the ES-330 with P-90s
gave me the idea of a 335 with P-90s,
which is what we did with the second
version of my signature guitar.
So are you migrating from humbuckers
to single-coil P-90s?
Well, single-coil pickups have the most
pleasing tone for me, but they are so
damn noisy. That’s the main reason I
started playing humbuckers. But one cool
thing about my signature 335 is that you
have hum cancelling when both pickups
are on. It’s also got a Bigsby tremolo,
which was inspired by something Ry
Cooder used to tell me as a kid: The
more springs on a guitar, the better. He
likes mounting pickups on the pickguard
because of the springs. Each spring
is a tiny reverb center. The Bigsby is
awesome, and the guitar is bitchin’. My
friend Mike Voltz is doing beautiful work
at the Gibson Custom Shop in Memphis.
There aren’t a lot of guitarists who can
use the phrase “something Ry Cooder
used to tell me as a kid.”
I know, man! My father and Ry worked
really closely through the ’70s and ’80s.
He’s just a genius. His hands are huge.
His inversions are so wide and varied,
like a classical player’s. He plays a lot in
“cross tunings,” like playing a song in
D when he’s in open G, or playing in
A when he’s in open D. Almost nobody
does that. I perceive a real similarity
between what he and my dad were doing
and what we’re doing. The way he’d
reinterpret folk songs on albums like
Boomer’s Story and Into the Purple Valley
was a huge influence on us.
Ry wasn’t the only one.
Yeah, our whole childhood was insane!
We were products of the Memphis
underground of the ’70s. Dad and
his bohemian folk music friends had
the opportunity to interact with blues
masters like Furry Lewis, Sleepy John
Estes, Bukka White, Reverend Robert
Wilkins, Fred McDowell. We grew up
watching Dad’s band, Mud Boy and
the Neutrons, reinterpret roots music,
country, gospel, and R&B. That scene
grew into the Alex Chilton solo projects
and Panther Burns. It was the beginning
of the punk blues scene. That’s the world
boogie, man! The whole Memphis guitar
thing is just amazing. I was good friends
with Roland Janes, Billy Lee Riley, Teenie
Hodges from Al Green’s rhythm section.
There’s Steve Cropper. Scotty More. Paul
Burlison. Willie Johnson. And I had a
great guitar teacher: Shawn Lane.
Oh, yeah—totally forgot he was a
9 modes of modulation bliss, all easily accessible via
presets and tweakable with tone shaping options.
This versatile pedal oﬀers up a huge variety of great
tones in an incredibly small footprint.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 83
Luther dickinson’s GEAR
Gibson Custom Shop
Luther Dickinson signature model
Gibson Custom Shop ES-335 reissues
Gibson Custom Shop ES-330 reissue
Harmony Sovereign acoustic
(customized by Scott Baxendale)
Coffee-can diddley bow
(built by Scott Baxendale)
his go-to axe in
early 2013 during
a taping of PBS
Shawn was a genius. [Ed. note: Lane,
who passed away in 2003 at age
40, acquired a cult following for his
incredibly fast and fluid guitar work.]
I’d give him fifty bucks, and we’d
hang out all day. He’d make dinner,
then he’d sit around with a joint in
one hand and a bottle of wine in
the other, watching a movie on a big
screen, reciting the dialog, singing
the score, and talking about some
conspiracy theory, all at once. Despite
all his technique, he’d always advise
finding the easy way to do things,
and not practice something that’s
hard. For example, he never used
the combination of index finger/ring
finger/pinky. He’d always use index/
middle/pinky, just because the other
way just didn’t feel good to him.
Obviously, that worked for him.
84 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
So you used to be a shred kid?
I was shredding my ass off! I can’t
even fathom the melodies I used
to play. Before the Allstars, we had
a little experimental rock band
called DDT—for Dickinson,
Dickinson, and our talented friend
Paul Taylor—and we were Shawn’s
backing band for a year. It was fun,
but at some point we burned out
and wanted to have our own thing.
You also knew the great bluesmen
who were part of the ’90s Mississippi
Hill Country blues resurgence.
That stuff blew my mind. I was a
blues snob who only liked the old
stuff from the ’20s through the ’50s.
Even Chicago blues was too slick for
me sometimes. But all of a sudden in
the ’90s there was electrified country
Fuchs Overdrive Supreme combo
Fuchs Full House combo
Marshall plexi 100-watt and
50-watt heads (with Fuchs cabinets)
Blackface Fender Princeton
Brownface Fender Concert
Radial Switchbone switcher
Analog Man King of Tone overdrive
Foxrox Octron octave
Boss DD-7 Digital Delay
Dunlop 212 slides
Peterson strobe tuner
Boss TU-2 tuner
blues right in my backyard. The stuff on
Fat Possum records was the nastiest stuff
I’d ever heard. It was modern-day, multigenerational, electrified country blues—
that’s what inspired this whole band!
We were already old family friends with
Otha Turner and [longtime R.L. Burnside
collaborator] Kenny Brown, but once we
got turned on to that scene, we could hang
out at Junior Kimbrough’s juke joint on
Sundays. We started the Allstars in ’96,
and in ’97 Kenny Brown hired us to go
on the road, opening for R.L. They taught
me how to tour, and I’ve been on the road
ever since. The entire basis for our band is
trying to play acoustic country blues in a
loud, electric power-trio setting.
And that’s why you usually play
hollow-bodied or semi-hollow guitars?
Yeah. I’m trying to get an acoustic
guitar-type response out of an electric
instrument. I’ve always wanted to play
something like the acoustic sound of
R.L. Burnside or Fred McDowell, but
on electric. The first signature 335 got
me close to that, but the new one, with
the P-90s and Bigsby springs, is really
there. I’ve always been most interested in
the blues players who used DeArmond
soundhole pickups on acoustic guitars,
like Elmore James, Lightnin’ Hopkins,
and Lonnie Johnson, as opposed to, say,
Muddy Waters, who wound up playing
a Tele in standard tuning using a capo.
They maintained more of that country
blues fingerpicking sensibility.
How often do you play fingerstyle?
About 95 percent of the time. Having a
strong right hand on the instrument feels
so good! There are so many amazing and
expressive sounds it can bring out, like when
you accidentally hit a harmonic. I just adore
the range of tones you can get. Some things
are obvious, like the fact that you get a
tighter, brighter sound when you pick down
by the bridge. But I also love the way the
strings resonate when you play closer to the
middle of the neck. R.L. Burnside tended
to pick that way, while Fred McDowell
tended to be tighter. My dad told me how
Ry Cooder would say he had eight different
contact points with his thumb. Sometimes
Derek Trucks just thumps the strings, just
like you’d thump the back of someone’s
head. That’s what so fun about playing with
your hand: Anything goes!
What slides are you using these days?
I’ve been using a Dunlop 212 on
electric guitar for years because it fits me
perfectly, though I’m not satisfied with
how it sounds on acoustic. For acoustic,
I’ve been using socket wrenches and
different metal slides, though I’m still
experimenting. My main concern is being
able to bend the second joint of my lefthand ring finger—I can’t play with the
slide all the way down my finger. I can’t
use bottles—it gets too sweaty and humid
in there, and those seams will kill you.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 85
percent of the
time. Here he’s
picking a cigarbox guitar built by
Ry says he likes to play on top of the seam.
So did I! But my wife is really sensitive
to noise. She hates scratchy slide, even
finger-squeaks on acoustic. I usually use
a .011 or .010 set on electric, but on
acoustic I mix and match a lot. I’ve even
started using an unwound .024 third
string on acoustic, and it’s amazing! It cuts
back on 50 percent of the squeak. And
it’s the shit for slide because it’s so heavy.
I use relatively heavy acoustic strings—
something like .014, .018, and .024 on
the high strings—because I’m always
tuning my acoustics down. I like dropping
down to open C, for example—just like
open-E tuning, but lower.
How do you amplify your acoustics?
I love DeArmond soundhole pickups—
I’ll put them on anything. But I hate
modern-day under-the-bridge pickups.
86 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
The sound just grosses me out, like
fingernails on a chalkboard. But the key
to my acoustic guitar sound is my friend
Scott Baxendale, who takes great, soulful
old Harmony and Kay acoustics and
re-braces them. All the classic ’60s players
used those guitars: Page, Townshend,
Keith. Every time Robert Plant saw my
Harmony Sovereign, he’d go straight to
it. “This is what Pagey had!” he’d say.
Baxendale knows I like magnetic pickups,
so for my custom guitar, he made me
a humbucking magnetic pickup and
attached it to the neck bracing inside,
so it doesn’t deaden the resonance of the
body, which regular DeArmonds can
definitely do. I think it’s a revolutionary
pickup, and it sounds so good.
Are you always in a transposed version
of standard, open E, or open G?
Usually, though I’ve been playing with
D–A–D–G–A–D, and sometimes I go
down the tritone wormhole and tune my
sixth string to E% and raise the fifth string
to B%. These days I keep everything tuned
down a half-step, so I’m in E% standard,
open C#, and open F#.
You’ve said you prefer turning up an
amp to generating distortion via a pedal.
Usually, though I always have some
pedals with the Allstars. The Analog Man
King of Tone is a real useful overdrive
pedal. I sometimes use that when I have
to play through backline amps that are
too bright—I back the tone down with
the pedal, just to make up for the sound
of a shitty amp. I also like the Foxrox
Octron octave pedal because it’s so nasty.
Are you still using Fuchs amps?
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The new 1934 Original Jumbo
Well, I turned over the 150-watt Fuchs
I used when I played with the Black
Crowes because I hadn’t played it in so
long, even though it’s an amazing piece
of ammunition with unreal headroom.
But I just got Fuchs’ Full House 50-watt
1x12 combo, and I’m very happy with
it. It’s a 2-channel amp, though I mainly
use the clean channel cranked up. I also
used lots of blackface Fender Princeton
on the record, plus an old brownface
Why do you stick with the clean channel?
Because for me, all that distortion pedals
and extra preamp gain stages in amps
do is try to duplicate what an amp does
when it’s cranked up and on fire. Since
I play in environments where I’m totally
free to turn my amp up, I do. Duane
Allman, Derek Trucks, or Jimmy Herring
would all tell you the same thing: Just
turn that son of a bitch up! Let it talk.
Let it sing.
88 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
So what’s the gnarly distortion sound
on “Rollin’ and Tumblin’?”
The low riff is just the coffee-can diddly
bow with two bass strings, played
through the Foxrox octave.
What about all the wild sounds on the
That’s not me—it’s my brother playing
electric washboard through his effect pedals.
It really takes you on a Hendrixstyle journey.
Electric Ladyland was such a big influence
on both of us. When I was about 16
we took a lot of drugs and got way into
the box set versions of that and Allman
Brothers at Fillmore East. Those are our
two favorite records.
How about all the freaky sounds on
Kenny Brown plays the choppy power
chord riff. Duwayne Burnside plays the
Hendrixian phase guitar. I’m playing the
crazy slide/toggle-switch solo.
You mean, turning off one pickup
and using the pickup toggle as an
Exactly. I learned that trick from Brian
Gregory of the Cramps, who used it on
“TV Set” long before Tom Morello made
the technique famous. I’ve loved the
Cramps since I was a little kid. They’re
yet another link to the Memphis punkblues scenario. They came to Sam Phillips’
studio and worked with Alex Chilton on
their first record, Gravest Hits. My dad was
there and recorded a song with them. They
were a big influence on me growing up.
I love the intro to your version of
Junior Kimbrough’s “Meet Me in the
City,” where you play in swing feel
against a perfectly straight groove.
We recorded a swinging version of the song
back in ’03, but then we started playing it
with a straight, almost Michael Jackson feel,
which was enough of a change for us to
want to record it again. But that little guitar
hook of Junior’s has to swing. I’m still
experimenting with the idea of swinging on
top of a straight beat. But really, that’s just
rock and roll. It’s like Chuck Berry playing
in straight time while Johnnie Johnson
plays piano with a swing feel, or Little
Richard pounding straight eighth-notes on
piano against a swinging drummer.
So why did most rock guitar players
forget how to do that?
I don’t know! I was just lucky enough to
grow up with a roots rock master who
was really aware of things like that. But
I’m not naturally much of a swing player.
Swinging is tough, man.
How did you get that amazing staccato
groove on “Goin’ to Brownsville?” Is
that just damping?
Yes—I’m choking it with my left hand.
But I mute a lot with my right hand too,
90 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
especially with my thumb. Muting is so
important in slide playing. I like playing
with a pick sometimes, but if you’re
going to get into slide, you need to put
that pick down! I mute the high strings
with my middle and ring finger and mute
the low strings with my thumb, which
usually hangs down across the strings.
How do you approach iconic blues
standards like “Brownsville?”
We just grew up with it. That song was
one of the staples of Mud Boy and the
Neutrons. They were friends with Sleepy
John Estes and Furry Lewis. Furry claimed
to have written it, but Sleepy John
Estes was the one who actually lived in
Brownsville. Therein lies some of the cool
lyrical thievery-slash-oral tradition of blues
lyrics. Sleepy John Estes wrote it. Furry
Lewis made it his own. Our parents played
it, and we learned it from them, so it’s just
a natural thing to us. You know, I always
used to sidestep the question of whether
or not the Allstars are a blues band. The
idea just gave me the creeps! We are a rock
and roll band, because when white kids
and blues get mixed up, the world boogie
turns into rock and roll. But our approach
is very interpretive, and it can be wildly
different from night to night. That’s what
we learned from Mud Boy: to play roots
music the same way a jazz player would
interpret a standard. We just take these
melodies and rhythms and have our way
with them. Nothing is sacred!
In this commercial clip from Gibson, Luther demos and discusses his
signature model ES-335.
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Learning Your Room
BY MITCH GALLAGHER
Here’s a look
at my previous
When you really
get to know
you’ll have a
on which to base
n last month’s column [“More Mix
Tricks,” October 2013], we talked
about assembling a reference CD.
Assuming you’ve chosen your tracks and
have your CD ready, it’s time to evaluate
and learn your room. And a good way to
begin is to emulate what the pros do.
Even if your studio is in the corner of
the living room or it’s not possible for you
to make changes to your room or setup,
going through this process of learning your
room will help you achieve better results
from your rig. Just being aware of potential
problems can help you work around them.
If you were to watch a number of
different recording engineers walk into a
studio for the very first time, you’d find
that they are remarkably consistent in what
they do. Many will stop and listen for a
minute to quickly gauge what’s happening
in the space and determine if there is any
background noise. Sources might include
hiss or hum from equipment, noise from
an air-conditioning system, outside traffic,
and so on. There are some noise sources
you can’t do anything about, but some
are easily addressed. If the air conditioner
is making disruptive noise, for example,
just make sure you turn it off during your
critical sessions. If there’s heavy traffic
noise, simply reschedule your sessions to a
time when traffic is lighter.
The next thing an engineer will probably
do is walk around the room and clap their
hands. What they’re doing is listening for
flutter echo—sound that bounces back
92 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
and forth between two parallel surfaces and
creates a rattling echo effect. An engineer
might even shout “hey!” a few times to
test the amount of reverb in the room.
Commercial studios solve the problem by
installing sonic treatment, such as acoustic
panels or acoustic foam, to absorb these
reflections. You can hang acoustic panels
in a home studio too, but just shuffling
the furniture around or hanging a curtain
or blanket to disrupt the reflection path
between the parallel walls might do the trick.
After listening to the room itself, it’s time
to learn how the monitor system sounds
in the room. A few engineers will go as
far as running a noise source through the
speakers and measuring the response in the
room. In my experience, a more practical
(and more commonly used) approach is to
pop your reference CD into the system or
load up your music files on your computer
and prepare them for playback through
your audio interface. An important note
I touched on last month: Don’t rely on
an MP3 player or your phone for playing
reference tracks. The audio quality isn’t high
enough for our purposes.
Now it’s time to sit down in the mix
position and start playing back your
tracks. I break down my focus into three
components—bass range, midrange, and
treble range—and I’ll often play a section
of a particular track back three or more
times so I can really dial my attention in
on each component.
First, I’ll focus my listening intently
on the low end and ask myself a few
things: What’s happening in the room? Is
it boomy? Does the bass seem light? Does
the bass extend all the way down or does
it feel as if the lowest octave is missing?
It’s a good idea to get up from
your chair and walk about the room
while listening to the low frequencies.
Any enclosed space is subject to what
acousticians call “room modes”—
resonances in the low frequencies that
result from the room’s dimensions. These
resonances will vary in intensity in different
places in the room. You might have a “hot
spot” where a resonance is loud, or a “null”
where the resonance seems to cancel out
and the bass almost disappears. Knowing
where these spots are is a big help because
you certainly don’t want to make critical
decisions about the bass level when you’re
sitting or standing in a hot spot or a null.
Return to your listening position. Are
the bass frequencies even throughout
their range? Do some notes seem to jump
out? Again, just being aware of these
facts can help you adjust your ears and
optimize your tracks and mixes.
I’ll turn my focus to the midrange
next. Is it clear or does it seem clouded?
Do tracks seem to jump out of the
speakers or do they seem to languish? On
a heavily layered track, are all the parts
discernible and independent? Where
things need to blend, do they sound
seamless? Do the mids seem scooped
overall or are they too prominent?
Finally, my attention shifts to the high
end. I’ll ask myself if the tracks sound
open or if they’re dull. Can I discern the
small details like fingers pressing frets on
acoustic guitar strings, subtle ghost notes
on snare drums, or vocal breaths? Are the
highs smooth or harsh? Are they smeared
or clear? Are they overly bright?
This is also the point where you can
start inspecting the imaging of the system
and the room. Are you able to pinpoint
the position of each instrument or voice
in the stereo field? If something pans from
side to side across the stereo field, does it
do so smoothly? Does the stereo field seem
wide and open, or narrow and closed?
Again, going through this process will
allow you to form a baseline from which
you’ll feel comfortable working on your
own tracks and mixes. So until next time,
enjoy getting to know your room.
Mitch Gallagher’s latest
book is Guitar Tone: Pursuing the
Ultimate Guitar Sound. A former
Editor in Chief of EQ magazine,
Mitch teaches music business
and audio recording at Indiana
University/Purdue University, and
serves as Sweetwater’s Editorial
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Unsung Players Who Shaped Guitar as We Know It
The life and legacy of one of the most brilliant and
influential guitar instructors who ever lived.
written By Corbin Reiff
Photography courtesy of leon white
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 95
Joins Bluesberry Jam
Receives first guitar
Ted Greene Timeline
Theodore Greene is born
on September 26 in
Los Angeles, California
Begins teaching at
Ernie Ball Guitars in
Joins the Cage Kings,
buys Gretsch 6120
n life we sometimes encounter
people who, like Virgil in Dante’s
Inferno, guide us along treacherous
paths to our ultimate destination. For
many on the path to guitar excellence,
Ted Greene was that guide.
Ted Greene devoted his life to
unlocking the secrets of the guitar’s
fretboard and sharing them with whoever
wished to learn. His four books—Chord
Chemistry, Modern Chord Progressions, and
Jazz Guitar Single Note Soloing Volume 1
and Volume 2—have taken literally untold
thousands of players through the deepest
recesses of guitar theory.
A heart attack claimed Greene’s life
on July 23, 2005, yet he continues to
96 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
teach through his books, videos, and
lesson guides, many of which are posted
on his official website, tedgreene.com.
Ted Greene was many things: musician,
friend, eccentric, mentor, and student.
But to many, he was simply a hero.
Theodore “Ted” Greene was born
September 26, 1946, in Los Angeles,
California. Music seemed to be woven
into the fabric of his being. His mother
recalled her baby rocking back and forth
to rhythm from the time he could sit up.
His intellect became apparent once he
started school. He was a math whiz with
an IQ of 160—well into genius territory.
Greene received his first guitar in 1957
at age 11. “I had a horrible guitar with
the highest action in the world, especially
down at the nut,” he later reminisced.
“I almost quit, but my parents’
encouragement and a true love of music
carried me through.”
Though he was left-handed, he opted
to play right-handed. He took lessons
from local jazz guitarist Sal Tardella.
Despite his later affinity for the genre,
said Greene, “the sounds of rock and
roll were pulling my ears.” In 1960 he
joined his first band, the Cage Kings,
and acquired his first good guitar: a
Gretsch 6120. He later admitted he
wasn’t ready to play in a group. “But
Helps Fender design
Plays on Joe Byrd’s
Passes away July 23,
from a heart attack
at the age of 58
Publishes Jazz Guitar
Single Note Soloing
Volume 1 and Volume 2
it didn’t matter,” he said, “because we
could make a lot of noise. That seemed
adequate to get people’s lower torsos
moving on the floor.”
Greene didn’t embrace guitar as a
lifestyle until after high school. At 19,
he’d spend hours—even days—in his
bedroom, obsessively expanding his music
theory knowledge. As his longtime partner
Barbara Franklin wrote in her memoir,
My Life with the Chord Chemist, “If a
book suggested doing an exercise in a few
keys, such as spelling major triads, Ted
would do the exercise in all keys, major
and minor, until he had memorized them
cold. Greene learned to instantly recognize
everything from interval identification …
to knowing the quality of every chord on
each scale degree, the many uses for each
chord, the inversions, traditional voice
leading, and more.”
To Teach Is to Love
In 1965, Greene found his calling when
he accepted a teaching position at Ernie
Ball Guitars in Tarzana, California. “I
didn’t mean to be a guitar teacher,” he
said, “but I just fell in love with it.” His
playing ability and musical knowledge
quickly attracted a large pool of prospective students, and soon there was a twoyear waiting list to study with him.
Students were drawn to both the
method and the man. Hundreds of
Greene students will expound at great
length on his kindness, patience, humor
and generosity. Leon White—a Greene
pupil and co-producer of Solo Guitar,
Greene’s only solo album—recalled that,
“If a guy came in and said, ‘I’m a little
short this week and I can only pay you
half,’ Ted would say, ‘Well, can you
afford that half? Do you want to keep
it and pay me some other time?’” In
fact, throughout his life, Greene charged
criminally low rates for lessons—usually
no more than $25 per half hour. He just
seemed to love teaching, and he believed
that no one should be denied a chance
to study with him because they couldn’t
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 97
Ted Greene with
jazz singer Cathy
Meanwhile, Greene continued to gig
around Los Angeles with various rock and
blues acts. In 1967, he joined a group
called Bluesberry Jam that featured future
Canned Heat member Adolfo “Fito” de
la Parra on drums. The group regularly
played the Magic Mushroom club, as well
as the larger Shrine Auditorium, where
they supported such acts as the Doors,
Iron Butterfly, Joe Cocker, and Alice
Cooper. While Bluesberry Jam gained
a following around the city, they never
made it to the next level, and the band
folded when de la Parra departed for
Canned Heat. Sadly, no Bluesberry Jam
recordings survive. However, Greene did
record with psychedelic rocker Joe Byrd,
including on Byrd’s 1969 album The
American Metaphysical Circus.
Greene then threw himself even
deeper into teaching. Simple diagrams
he’d previously drawn to demonstrate
his concepts grew increasingly more
detailed. Barbara Franklin would later
recall how he made charts of all closedvoiced triads in all major and minor keys.
“On the same page would be a list of the
most common chord progressions to be
memorized. The page went on to include
adding the 6th, 7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th
degree to each chord.”
In fact, to say that Greene was
systematic in his approach to teaching,
playing, and writing music would be an
understatement—to some it appeared to
border on obsession. Others believe Greene
might have suffered from an undiagnosed
case of Asperger syndrome—an autismspectrum disorder that typically affects
social interaction and is often accompanied
by restrictive or repetitive interests and
behaviors. Those who subscribe to this
theory believe it explains his later decisions
to limit his exposure to the public at large.
Franklin notes in her memoir of Greene
that, “This thought or that, a moment
split by the minds’ idle chatter or a tune
running through it and a week flies by.”
Dale Zdenek, owner of the music shop
where Greene taught, took note of these
minutely detailed diagrams. In 1971,
Zdenek, who had no background in
Greene often said, “I’d rather play at a retirement
home for blue-haired old ladies than at a club. At
least the old ladies would listen to and enjoy the
music and not watch my hands the whole time.”
publishing, proposed a book based on
Greene’s work. Greene was interested, but
instead of simply compiling his extant
material, he decided to create something
The resulting book, Chord Chemistry,
went on to become essential reading for
players seeking a deeper understanding
of chords. Its success established Greene’s
name in the guitar community, and the
desire to study with him and see him
perform increased exponentially. In 1976,
Greene published a second important
chord book, Modern Chord Progressions.
(It’s worth noting that while the contents
of Greene’s chord books were meant to be
absorbed in the order they’re presented,
they’re not so much formal methods as
encyclopedias of ideas.)
Meanwhile, Greene continued his
own studies. He took eight weeks of
lessons from the “Father of the 7-String
Guitar,” George Van Eps, and worked on
expanding his knowledge of single-note
playing. In 1979, he published two books
on the subject: Jazz Guitar Single Note
Soloing Volume 1 and Volume 2.
Greene’s four books offer up a
staggering amount of information,
including many concepts never before
available in print. Even if he’d never done
anything else, these volumes would have
secured his place in guitar history.
In April of 1965 Greene acquired his first
Fender Telecaster, a 1953 that cost $135.
It was the beginning of a lifelong love
affair with the Tele. Greene estimated that
he owned 200 Telecasters at one point or
another. “The versatility of the Telecaster is
almost unmatched,” he said in an interview.
When Fender decided to manufacture
a reissue model of their famed 1952
Blackface Tele, the company turned
to Greene and his vast collection
while designing the prototype. Greene
regularly offered suggestions about how
to improve the reissue. Fender asked
him to play the new guitars at their
> Cont’d on p. 104
98 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
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Vox Custom AC30 30W Tube Combo
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PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 101
8/26/13 10:55 AM
Hallmarks of Ted Greene’s Style Cont’d
intervals, and this allows any note to
function as the root. The scalar bass line
technique gets a reprise in measures seven
and eight before the progression heads to
the V chord in measure nine.
While focusing on economy of
motion and outlining the harmony,
Greene creates a somewhat symmetrical
melody line over the V and IV chords,
above the ever-so-slightly shifting the
harmony underneath. Finally, in the last
two measures he combines the previous
diminished harmony with a masterful
bass line to create a turnaround that’s as
functional as it is sophisticated.
In Fig. 2, we see how Greene combines
a traditional form with more extended
harmonies and substitutions. The first
thing you’ll notice about the voicings is
that they’re almost exclusively played on
4 b˙ ™™
the 5–4–2–1 string set. Greene was a
devout fingerstyle player and these “split”
voicings will expand your right-hand
technique and suggest alternatives to
typical jazz grips. When Greene originally
presented this material, it was merely
a bunch of chord diagrams on a page.
Following his advice, I took those chords
and added a more syncopated rhythm.
If you look at how Greene constructed
these chords, all of them start on either
the 3 or 7. Those two notes are the most
essential harmonic elements because
they define both the chord’s quality and
tonality. The first harmonic twist is in the
fourth measure where Greene inserts a
IIm–V7 progression to create a stronger
pull into the B%9 chord in the next
measure. The key changes momentarily
to A% in the sixth measure with a
IIm-V7. The E%13 in measure six keeps
two common tones while the harmony
gracefully shifts up for a return to the I
chord in the next measure.
The eighth measure contains the
standard altered VI chord, but this time its
own altered V7 precedes it. In harmonic
terms, this measure can either be thought
of as simply a III7–VI7 progression in the
key of F, or an added secondary dominant
(V of VI). The final four measures begin
with a dom7 chord built on the second
degree of the scale. Usually in the blues
form this would be a min7 chord, but
Greene deftly adds a tritone substitution
after this in order to let the lower notes
of the chord remain while the upper
notes shift. This sets up a proper IIm–V7
progression in the next measure before
ending with a I–VI7–II7–V7 turnaround.
bb œ ™
#b œ ™™
‰ bœ ™™
102 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
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Live footage of Ted Greene is quite rare, but the following three segments on
YouTube show the genius in his element as both a performer and an instructor.
Ted Greene performs a masterful and
completely improvised performance of the
Beatles classic “Eleanor Rigby.”
YouTube search term: Ted Greene E Rigby(TedGreene.com)
Greene’s performance of “Embraceable You”
is a great example of his chord mastery.
YouTube search term: Ted Greene plays A
Gershwin classic (TedGreene.com)
Greene doing what he did best: teaching.
Lovely examples of classical and jazz
YouTube search term: Ted Greene Clinic
1982 NAMM show debut, which he
In later years Greene’s favorite Tele
was a hybrid: a ’52 body fitted with a
’51 Esquire neck. He routed the body
himself, installing two DiMarzio DualSound humbuckers in the neck and
middle positions. He also replaced the
stock bridge pickup with one from a 1954
model. Interestingly, Greene removed the
pole pieces from a pair of stock Gibson
humbuckers and installed them into
the DiMarzios, which were then set low
into the guitar—beneath the pickguard,
even—with the pole pieces set high
near the strings. His explanation for the
unusual parts swapping and positioning
was that he did it to “get rid of the mud.”
Another uncommon choice was Greene’s
choice of rather heavy strings for his
Telecasters, including a .013 or sometimes
even a .014 for the high E.
While Telecasters held a special place
in Green’s heart, he owned many other
guitars, mostly Gibsons. His collection
included a goldtop Les Paul, an ES-335,
and a number of hollowbody archtops.
he also loved
In 1976 Greene began performing his first
solo gigs, taking up a Sunday night residency at the Smoke House in Toluca Lake,
California. Southern California guitarists
flocked to hear the master perform. One
104 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
frequent attendee was Greene’s friend and
sometime student Leon White. Recalls
White, “In the parking lot after the show I
said to him, ‘We have to record that. You
don’t have to prepare anything. Just come
and sit down and play.’ We ended up having that same discussion in the Smoke
House parking lot for two years. He just
didn’t want to do it!”
Ultimately, White’s persistence won
the day, and Greene went into the
studio with White and friend William
Perry. Over the course of roughly 10
hours spread out over two days, Greene
sat alone in the studio, playing almost
continuously. There was no game plan,
not even a song list—just Greene playing
whatever came to mind.
meticulousness sometimes made for a
grueling process. “He played all those
songs front to back, so each tune is a
single performance,” says White. “He
would start up on something, get three
“If a guy came in and said, ‘I’m a little
short this week and I can only pay you
half,’ Ted would say, ‘Well, can you afford
that half? Do you want to keep it and pay
me some other time?’” —Leon White
and a half minutes into it, not like it, and
stop. We were going through reels of tape
like you have no idea!”
The result was Solo Guitar, a
breathtakingly beautiful set of standards
played as only Ted Greene could play
them. The album received near-universal
praise. “On this record he defies the
technical physics of jazz melody chord
voicings but creates an organic and
inspired listening delight,” Steve Vai
told Guitarist magazine. “It’s a must
for anyone who puts their fingers on
an instrument with strings.” Sadly, Solo
Guitar is Green’s only solo release.
A Teacher Affects Eternity
Greene ceased writing instructional
books after 1979, though he continued
teaching and learning. For the rest of
his life, he coached aspiring guitarists at
his home, at Musicians Institute in Los
Angeles, and at seminars throughout
106 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
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his books and
the hundreds of
lives he touched.
He stopped playing solo gigs, too—
reportedly because he disliked the way
guitar players would scrutinize his
technique and execution on the guitar
rather than soaking in the music he
drew from the instrument. According
to Leon White, Greene often said, “I’d
rather play at a retirement home for
blue-haired old ladies than at a club.
At least the old ladies would listen to
and enjoy the music and not watch
my hands the whole time.”
When Greene passed away on
July 23, 2005, approximately 700
people attended his memorial, nearly
all of them guitarists. Greene had
many loves in his life: baseball cards,
fast cars, and his partner Barbara
Franklin. But above all else, he loved
music and teaching.
As the noted writer Henry Adams
once said, “A teacher affects eternity. He
can never tell where his influence stops.”
Greene’s legacy may outlive us all.
108 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
The Sonic Effect of Time and Vibration
BY Rick Turner
How much an
tone changes due
to age and playing
is a subject of
debate, but surely
this 1946 Martin
from when it was
first strung up.
o acoustic guitars really “open
up” with age and playing? It’s a
phenomenon that every repair
and guitar-building luthier I know believes
in. All the top professional guitarists I’ve
talked to about it also agree. But there
is a vocal band of forum posters who
steadfastly refuse to accept that guitars
change and become more responsive to
a player’s touch over the course of days,
weeks, months, years, and decades.
The argument usually stalemates at
the “no scientific proof ” fork in the
road. True, there is little or no published
scientific proof that guitars change tonally
with age. The noting of the phenomenon
is mostly anecdotal and (as is often
pointed out) long-term memory of tone
is also poorly understood.
But as a guitar maker, I can state
unequivocally that there are huge tonal
changes in the first 24, 48, and 72 hours
of stringing up a new guitar. This alone
leads me to believe that even though the
changes slow down, they don’t just stop
after a month, a year, or a decade.
One style of flattop I build is made
fairly stiff to enhance midrange projection.
110 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
I’ve had to learn that the first sounds I
hear are not the ones I’ll hear later. Since I
can’t judge the results from the first strum,
I have to wait a few days to get an idea of
what the guitar will sound like. After it
has been played for a couple of months,
the guitar is about 90 percent of the way
there. And after a few years, the tone will
have settled for the most part, though it
will continue to change.
So what’s going on? Are there
physical changes from the stress of string
tension? Does vibration loosen up wood
fibers along nodal lines, much like the
phenomenon of metal fatigue? What is
the effect of oils in the wood that harden
and crystallize as the volatile organic
compounds slowly evaporate from the
wood? Are there other explanations for
wood changing with time? And the
big question: Can these changes be
Luthier Alan Carruth has probably
done more in-depth investigation into
the science of acoustic guitar design
than anyone else. One bit of science
he has brought to the attention of
the lutherie community is that wood
consists mainly of cellulose, lignin,
and hemicellulose, and that all wood
gradually loses hemicellulose—a soluble
polysaccharide—to evaporation over a
long period of time.
The significance is that wood loses
some weight along with some strength
as it ages, but it does not lose stiffness
as fast as it loses the tensile strength.
As long as the tensile strength remains
sufficient to withstand string tension,
there is a net gain in one of the most
important features of tonewood: the
stiffness-to-weight ratio, which is known
as Young’s modulus.
Let me back up a bit: The difference
between strength and stiffness is one of
the keys to understanding tonewoods.
Tensile strength is a measure of the
ultimate breaking point of any material
put into a stretching mode. Stiffness,
however, is a result of tensile modulus—a
measure of how much a material will
stretch under a given load. Hence, you
can have a material with a very high
breaking point (high tensile strength),
but it may stretch and elongate a great
deal before it breaks. On the other hand,
you can have another material that will
barely stretch at all before it reaches its
Two modern materials that illustrate
this are aramid fibers (Kevlar) and carbon
fiber. Kevlar is used in products from
bullet-resistant vests to very expensive
racing yacht sails. Carbon fiber is often
used by luthiers these days to add stiffness
without a weight penalty to guitar necks
and bracing. Kevlar has a higher tensile
strength than steel for a given weight, but
it stretches, which can be an advantage
in many applications. Carbon fiber
has a higher tensile modulus (stiffness
factor) than the same weight in steel,
but it will fail sooner than Kevlar. The
trick in harnessing the tensile-strength
and tensile-modulus factors of different
materials is in knowing where you need
Different wood species and individual
pieces all have different ratings for
strength, stiffness, crush resistance,
tendency to split, how much they
may damp vibrations (the opposite of
resonance), how well they glue, etc. The
stiffness, resonant properties, density,
and ultimate strength are the four
most important aspects of what defines
a tonewood, and these are also the
properties that change with age and thus
affect tone and responsiveness of guitars.
Next time out, we’ll continue this discussion and explore even more esoteric
issues, such as methods being used to age
wood and instruments artificially.
Rick Turner is a longtime
luthier and founder of
Renaissance Guitars, Rick Turner
Guitars, and Compass Rose
Guitars. He helped pioneer the
boutique guitar with the Model 1
he built for Lindsay Buckingham
in the ‘70s. Rumor has it that he
can build a mandolin in four days.
guitar shop 101
How to Shim a Bolt-On Neck
Story and Photos by John LeVan
Recently a client brought an older Fender
Telecaster into the shop for a setup. The
action was really high, but the saddles
had run out of adjustment and couldn’t
drop any lower. After careful inspection,
I determined that the neck needed a
shim to fix the problem. Fortunately,
shimming a bolt-on neck isn’t too hard.
In fact, if you’re handy with basic tools
you can do this yourself, but you need to
understand the process and know what
mistakes to avoid. Let’s investigate.
Understanding neck angle. Our journey
begins with neck angle, which is the pitch
of the neck relative to the guitar’s body and
bridge. When the neck angle is set correctly,
an electric guitar’s saddles can be raised or
lowered to create comfortable playing action
and optimum tone and sustain.
But when the neck angle is too low
(Fig. 1), the saddles can’t be moved down
enough to bring the strings close to the
frets. The guitar is hard to play and the
intonation suffers. Conversely, when the
neck angle is too high (Fig. 2), you can’t
raise the strings enough to prevent fretting
out or buzzing—even when the saddles
are adjusted to their maximum height.
In this column, we’ll learn how to fix
a neck angle that’s too low. Typically, this
problem can be resolved using a shim
What causes a neck angle that’s too
low? Most players don’t realize that an
electric guitar can compress over time.
As an instrument ages, constant string
tension can cause the body to become
slightly concave, and this changes the
neck angle. This doesn’t occur with every
guitar, but it is common.
Many experts say that the angle for a
bolt-on neck should be between zero and
five degrees. From my experience, this is
correct in most cases. But what I find even
more important is how you adjust the neck
to its optimal angle. When this is done
properly, your guitar will play and sound
at its best. When the neck angle is adjusted
improperly, it can ruin a perfectly good neck.
If your guitar plays well and the saddles
offer enough adjustment range for you to
set the action correctly, you don’t need to
change anything. However, if the angle is
too low and you can’t move the saddles
down any further, the neck needs a shim.
Shimming dos and don’ts. I’ve seen just
about every type of material used to shim a
neck, including a matchbook cover, metal
washers, a broken Popsicle stick, wood
scraps (Fig. 4), and a guitar pick (Fig. 5).
For starters, don’t use paper or plastic,
and above all, only use a “full-pocket”
shim. Here’s why a full-pocket shim is
essential: When someone uses, say, a
matchbook cover or guitar pick, it leaves
a gap between the body and neck. Over
time, the screws holding the neck force
it to fill that void. As a result, the neck
warps and the end of the fretboard looks
like a ski jump. Next thing you know,
the fretboard has to be sanded to remove
the warp and then refretted. If you’re
lucky, the neck will have a thick enough
fretboard to allow resurfacing. If not, the
neck is a total loss. Either way, it’s going
to cost you hundreds of dollars.
To avoid these problems, use a fullpocket shim that fits inside the entire neck
pocket and is shaped like a thin wedge,
with the slightly taller end facing the
bridge This raises the end of the fretboard
just a bit, which is what you want when
correcting a neck angle that’s too low.
What you’ll need. The best material
for a shim is a thin piece of maple veneer.
Most bolt-on necks are made of maple, so
it makes sense to make a shim from the
same material. The wood can be easily
shaped to fit the neck pocket and angled
to the proper degree. I typically start with
a piece of maple about .060” thick.
The project requires a small hobby
saw, 80-grit self-adhesive sandpaper
attached to a flat plastic or wood sanding
block, a belt sander, a hole punch, a
pencil, and some superglue.
Crafting a shim. Use a hobby saw to
cut out a rectangular piece of wood that’s
slightly wider and a bit longer than the
neck pocket. Begin by tracing the neck
heel onto your rectangular piece of maple
(Fig. 6). Next, using the 80-grit sandpaper
or a belt sander, trim the wood along the
neck-heel line. Frequently check your
progress to assure a close fit (Fig. 7).
When you’ve shaped the shim so it sits
securely inside the neck pocket, trim off any
excess length. Using the rear edge of the
neck pocket as a ruler, mark the trim line on
the shim, remove the extra wood with the
hobby saw, and then sand the edge smooth.
Once the shim fits the neck pocket,
the next step is to shade its entire bottom
with a pencil (Fig. 8). This will help
you know where to sand and how much
material to remove.
Next, place the shim on the belt
sander—make sure it’s turned off—with
the shaded side face down. Lay your
sanding block on top of the shim with the
80-grit paper against the wood (Fig. 9).
Holding the block, turn on the belt
sander while keeping pressure on the
block. Apply more pressure to the end of
the shim that will face the headstock. This
will create the subtle wedge shape you
need to correct a neck angle that’s too low.
Frequently check the bottom of the
shim to make sure it’s getting sanded
evenly from side to side, but developing a
slight front-to-back angle (Fig. 10). This
is where the pencil marks come in handy.
Some electric guitars have a “micro-tilt” assembly in the neck pocket (Fig. 12). By inserting a hex wrench through a hole in the neck
plate, you can push an Allen screw against a metal disc embedded in the neck heel and adjust the neck angle without using a shim. This
invention, in my opinion, is a great way to force the end of the neck to warp or bow. If your guitar has micro-tilt hardware, I’d remove
the Allen adjustment screw from the body and simply bolt the neck flat against the pocket. If the neck angle is too low, use a full-pocket
shim to correct the problem.
112 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Fig. 1. This neck angle is too
low, so even dropping the
saddles flush to the bridge
plate won’t bring the strings
close enough to the fretboard
to play comfortably.
Fig. 2. This neck angle
is too high. The guitar is
unplayable even with the
saddles raised to their
Fig. 3. A full-pocket neck
shim can correct a neck angle
that’s too low.
Fig. 4. A shim made from a
Popsicle stick or scraps of
wood leaves a gap between
the neck pocket and neck.
Eventually, pressure from the
neck screws will warp the
neck as it tries to fill the void.
Fig. 5. Another no-no: Using a
guitar pick as a shim.
Fig. 6. Tracing the neck heel
contours onto a full-pocket
Fig. 7. Checking how the shim
fits into the neck pocket.
Fig. 8. Using a pencil to
mark the bottom of the
shim before sanding it into a
Fig. 9. Getting ready to
sand the shim to its proper
thickness and angle.
Fig. 10. Checking the bottom
of the shim to confirm that
the end facing the headstock
is sanded a bit thinner than
the end facing the bridge. The
pencil marks tell the story.
Fig. 11. Punching holes
for the neck screws after
reinforcing the screw-tip
impressions with superglue.
Fig. 12. The micro-tilt neck
adjustment system uses an
Allen screw to press against
a metal disc embedded in
the neck heel.
Don’t sand away too much wood—if
need be, you can return to the sander
to remove a little more wood from the
bottom of the shim. Work incrementally
so you won’t have to start from scratch.
Once you’ve sanded the shim into a
subtle wedge and smoothed the top, it’s
time to punch holes to accommodate the
four neck screws. Place the shim into the
neck pocket with the shaded side down.
Be sure it’s oriented so the thicker end of
the wedge faces the bridge. Insert the neck
bolts and gently turn them until they each
make a shallow impression in the shim.
Remove the shim and place a few
drops of superglue around each screw-tip
impression to reinforce the wood where
you’ll be punching holes for the neck screws.
Using the screw impressions to center
your punch tool, make four holes in the
shim. Work slowly and carefully to avoid
cracking the shim as you punch holes in it.
Following the same orientation described
above, reinsert the shim into the neck
pocket. Bolt the neck onto the body, string
up, and tune the guitar to pitch. From there,
measure the action and test playability.
Remember: The problem you’re
correcting is a low neck angle that
prevented you from adjusting the saddles
down far enough to create comfortable
action. The shim is working properly if
you can use the saddle screws to set the
action the way you like it. The saddle
screws should offer sufficient adjustment
range to lower or raise the action.
If the action is too low with the shim
in place—even with the saddles raised—
you need to remove the shim and sand it
thinner. It may take several attempts to
achieve the correct thickness and angle.
Carving a shim takes time and patience,
but the reward is well worth the effort.
John levan has written five
guitar repair books, all published
by Mel Bay. His bestseller, Guitar
Care, Setup & Maintenance, is
a detailed guide with a forward
by Bob Taylor. LeVan welcomes
questions about his PG column
or books. Drop an email to
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 113
The bass bench
Name That Bass
BY heiko hoepfinger
Fig. 1. A still
Fig. 2. The huge
Fig. 3. Removing
the fake neck
plate revealed a
safe hiding place
for the battery.
hen you’ve run a shop for far
more than a decade, you begin
to believe you’ve seen it all,
but every once in a while someone shows
up with a curiosity that makes you laugh,
scratch your head, or both. Sometimes it’s
just a broken instrument, where the story
behind it makes your day. Other times
you’re introduced to someone’s soldering
art, adventurous home mods, or morethan-creative wirings. And then there are
the flea market finds that drag you down
into the builder’s work and world.
Here’s one of those basses (Fig. 1).
I’ll admit, I wasn’t able to
determine what this is, though
the current owner would be
glad to know more about it. It
might be a one-off homemade
bass or just a heavily modded
production instrument. But it’s
quite a curiosity, so let’s get into it.
The basic shape and appearance
is reminiscent of an older Eko
instrument. Eko was an Italian
company that had their best times
in the ’60s and ’70s. They made
copies of violin-body basses,
built acoustic basses, had a line
of acoustic and electric guitars,
and also manufactured for Vox
and others at that time. Eko
instruments were known for poor
quality and the tiny tone of cheap
plastic. Still, they had their fans—
especially in surf and psychedelic
music—and Eko’s freaky
shapes, rocker switches,
and sparkly finishes
surely helped here.
Okay, so much for
the basic shape. In this
case, the interesting
stuff is in the details.
a huge cavity and a
large printed circuit
mounted to the
114 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
pickguard (Fig. 2). PCBs looked
way different at that time, so it’s
hard to tell whether this was a
one-off job or a series model. This
seems to be a circuit for fuzz or
distortion, and the builder spared
no efforts and mounted it on
massive spacers. He used six slide
switches and instead of mounting
them on top, he built an elaborate
mechanism to let several rocker
switches do the job.
Because the PCB hosts a couple of
active parts, one would immediately
expect to find a battery, but there’s no
obvious battery in sight. Perhaps the
unusual, old 5-pin DIN audio output
jack might have also supplied power?
Fans of vintage instruments know that
removing the neck can sometimes reveal a
hidden note, date, or the builder’s name.
So off it goes. Surprise! A second and
very small neck plate actually holds the
neck to the body. And here’s the battery
compartment—not a very common or
convenient location (Fig. 3).
The small label reads “9809,” and this
might very well be the consecutive serial
number, as Eko was one of the biggest
European manufacturers at that time.
Prowling for other unusual features, I
noticed a loose strap pin. Backing it out
revealed a hidden tiny screwdriver! Nice
idea and detail.
While the bridge and tailpiece could
have been production hardware—they
often looked pretty sturdy back then—
the three pickup housings use the same
cover as the bridge. The only difference
is they have a cutout for the pickup. This
opening exposes a Pertinax PCB plate
with tiny pole pieces that in no way align
with the strings. But that’s probably not a
big concern because you can’t adjust the
pickup height either.
The neck appears to be homemade
because the fretboard looks like it was
fabricated with a chainsaw. Hey, sanding
is for wusses. The frets are all straight,
but several frets in the upper register have
identical spacing, which makes the neck
look even more like a home build.
It’s easy to spend a lot of time
investigating such an oddity, and
imagining a builder’s strategy is always
the most enjoyable part of a repair job
for me. With this bass, the outcome was
very much out of the ordinary, as this
is definitely an unplayable instrument
that totally fails in both intonation
and pickups. There’s no way this bass
was created by a luthier—or even
an experienced bass player. But the
execution of some details is stunningly
laborious and clearly done with
affection, which makes this bass one of
the most schizophrenic instruments I’ve
Heiko Hoepfinger is a
German physicist and long-time
bassist, classical guitarist, and
motorcycle enthusiast. His work
on fuel cells for the European
orbital glider Hermes led him to
form BassLab (basslab.de)—a
manufacturer of monocoque guitars and basses.
Bringing It to the Stage
BY Victor Brodén
he great Billy Sheehan once said
that playing bass is a full-contact
sport. I love that statement. To
move air, we deal with bigger strings,
higher action, and larger equipment than
our guitar-playing brethren. It’s just more
physical … period.
For us bassists, it’s also an ongoing
challenge to bring the same precision
to the stage that we’re used to in the
recording studio or band practice. Playing
well live is a personal obsession and
passion of mine. But being a performing
bassist is what I dreamt of as a child, and
it still makes up about 75 percent of my
work. The challenges of playing onstage
range from artistic to physical.
When we practice sitting down, the
bass is on our lap. If you hold your bass
exactly where it rests on your torso while
in the sitting position, and then slowly
stand up, you’ll see that you end up with
the bass very high on your body. This may
not be a cool look, but it’s where all your
hard-earned muscle memory is.
Personally, I compromise between
this position and a more low-slung,
rocker look: It’s high enough to where I
can accurately execute my parts, yet low
enough that it still looks “right.” I use
a strap that has a little bit of give and
moves with me when I move onstage,
but it doesn’t move enough to where
the bass feels like a yo-yo. Finding the
right position for your bass, and finding
the right strap for your body and liveperformance style are huge factors.
It’s no secret that preparing for a live
show with a new artist requires plenty
of practice to learn the songs well. After
quite a few years of playing for majorlabel acts based here in Nashville, I’ve
developed a song-performance approach
that varies according to what different
types of artists typically prefer.
For instance, many female artists
in the modern-country genre lean in
the pop direction, and they seem to be
more comfortable if the band honors the
original parts. Hearing signature licks
116 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
and setups for certain phrases or sections
of a song can provide confidence and
familiarity in a live setting.
I’ll generally honor the album parts
for the first few shows of a tour and
play the same fills as the record. But
after a handful of shows, I’ll often add
my own flavor to certain licks. Judging
by either the positive or confused
reaction of the artist, I’ll know whether
or not it’s okay to dig deeper and get
more adventurous creatively.
Male artists in the modern-country
genre (where I make a large part of my
living) tend to lean a little more toward
classic rock than pop. I usually aim for a
Verdine White is a perfect example of a
bassist who executes with stunning precision
while maintaining an almost impossible
bigger, rounder tone than what’s on their
recorded songs to achieve a little bit of
intentional “live sloppiness.” These artists
often want their live act to be more of
a house party, so I’ll sometimes simplify
certain sections to make sure I can
entertain well. This approach also helps
the FOH engineer provide a tight mix.
I recently caught Bruno Mars in
concert, and his bassist Jamareo Artis
brought high energy, grooves, and furious
licks for two hours straight. He reminded
me of Verdine White, the non-stop
show-machine from Earth, Wind & Fire.
The ramp in front of the stage—an area
usually reserved for a lead singer—was
used almost exclusively by Artis during
the first three songs. I was simply blown
away by his ability to maintain such an
energy level for the duration of the show,
while still providing world-class playing.
I’m a big fan of “show bands” like
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band,
Prince, and James Brown. Unfortunately,
they’re a dying breed. Most of today’s
stars rely on dancers, bigscreens, and
other production tricks to deliver a
“larger-than-life” show. Show bands keep
audience attention with interplay between
the bandleader and the musicians, and by
demanding crowd participation.
Successful execution of the showband concept is sometimes difficult for
bassists because as a general rule, we play
all the way through most of the songs.
Guitarists and keyboardists generally get
breaks in songs. Bassists also have to be
more concerned with the evenness and
consistency of attack. Try playing even
eighth-notes while jogging across the
stage or while doing simple choreography.
It’s very hard, but not impossible.
Physical fitness is key. Eating right and
hitting the gym is incredibly important to
the success of a performer. Bruno Mars’
band members couldn’t maintain their
level of energy if they weren’t in shape.
Adrenaline is certainly a factor (I know
because I’m an adrenaline junkie), but it
can only carry you so far. Adrenaline can
also impair your precision.
It’s true that there have been great
performers who were out of shape.
But to consistently perform live at the
very highest level, physical fitness is an
absolute requirement in order to last
long enough to give the audience more
than what they paid for. And that’s the
definition of our job, right?
Until next time, keep up the hard
work in the woodshed and be sure to
keep taking care of yourself, too!
Victor Brodén is a Nashville
bassist and producer who has
toured and recorded with more
than 25 major-label artists,
including LeAnn Rimes, Richard
Marx, Casting Crowns, and Randy
Houser. You can reach him at
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Warwick Bass Camp 2013
The Best of the Bass
Set in the lush, luxurious Markneukirchen region of Germany,
this weeklong bash of pro clinics and jam sessions gives new meaning to
“bass in your face.” Designed to celebrate a musician’s craft and personal
journey, the event offers campers insights to last a lifetime.
By Jonathan Herrera
f all the lucky things one gets to do in life, surely camp is one of the
best. What’s not to like? You get to decamp (ahem) from your real
life and flee to some beautiful hideaway. Strangers become fast
friends, and there’s an invigorating intensity to the shared purpose, whether
it’s weaving lanyards, learning archery, or, in my case, playing bass.
The Warwick Bass Camp is unlike
any event in the world. First, the setting. Warwick is headquartered in
Markneukirchen, Germany, a bucolic
little village near the Czech border,
surrounded by lush forest and rolling, cow-dappled hills. Its beguiling Central European charms aside,
Markneukirchen has a rich heritage
in instrument making, dating back
centuries. And while this tradition
still continues in all its mom-and-pop
glory, with small lutheries and brass
instrument makers scattered about,
Warwick (and its sister brand, Framus)
has brought a decidedly modern edge
to the local trade. Its carbon-neutral
factory (a music industry first) is a
gleaming Teutonic masterpiece, all
brushed stainless and exotic hardwoods.
Picture a Porsche dealership, but instead
of 911s, the showroom is packed with
The wünderbar architecture is a good
clue to the financial resources at play
here, as the camp made clear. Whether
it’s the resort-like (if slightly surreal)
hotel—a former Communist party
retreat, according to the scuttlebutt—or
the daily catered meals, or the everpresent, ever-cheerful staff, Warwick has
undoubtedly invested heavily in making
its camp a nearly luxurious affair. Said
President Hans-Peter Wilfer, “When we
invest in the community like this, it’s
good for the whole industry. This isn’t
about getting people to play Warwick.
It’s about creating an amazing experience
for the campers that they can then share
in their own communities. It’s good for
all bass players.”
This investment is perhaps most
obvious in the sheer density of iconic
talent assembled to teach the campers.
When John Patitucci, Victor and Regi
Wooten, Leland Sklar, Steve Bailey,
and Stuart Hamm (among many other
bright lights) can hang for the week,
you know the organizers are deeply
invested in the event.
The camp began with the first
of what would be five dinners at
the Alpenhof, a German restaurant
and hotel straight off the Universal
backlot: waitresses in bust-squeezing
peasant dresses, men proudly rocking
lederhosen, and enough beer and
sausage to sate half of Milwaukee.
The coolest thing about the place, as
we’d soon discover, was the dining
room stage, which would play host to
ridiculously cool jams between students,
between teachers, and between students
and teachers the development. The
Left: The hustle and bustle of bass camp … don’t forget to get enough beauty sleep! Center: The mentors for Warwick Bass Camp 2013 are
among the most talented low-end masters alive. Right: Attendees were given the opportunity to jam and collaborate with their fellow bass
compadres—other students and teachers.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 119
into town. Feel human. It makes all
Once camp began, it was basically
all-day clinics, augmented with much
informal hanging. I couldn’t possibly cover
the full breadth of the material on offer
from the amazing array of clinicians, so I’ll
touch on the stuff that touched me most.
his clinic session
on rhythm. “The
truth is, nothing
he told students
annual bass event.
whole week long. After introductory
remarks by Wilfer and a few of the teachers, and some post-chat jamming, it was
off to bed for much-needed sleep.
rumbling for breakfast, I arise to shower
and head out, errantly glancing at my
watch as I peel back the covers. Oops.
It’s 1 a.m. Blech. Not to belabor the
point, but this was a first glance into
what the European attendees have over
us Americans: sleep. If you’re thinking of
attending next year, do yourself a favor
and come early. Acclimate. Have a stroll
And So It Begins
I yawn myself awake, self-satisfied that
I’ve managed to get a decent night’s
sleep, jet lag be damned. Tummy
œ œ œ
œ œ # œ œ œ bœ œ
œ œ œ œ œ
œ œ œ œ #œ bœ œ
120 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
œ bœ œ œ œ œ ‰
œ œ œ œ bœ
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Of the many big-time pros who double
on acoustic and electric, John Patitucci
is the gold standard. His resume is as
broad and extensive as his knowledge
is deep. From Chick Corea to the L.A.
session scene to Wayne Shorter, few bass
players exude the skill, versatility, and
positive spirit of a true professional
Interestingly, for someone as wellversed in harmony and its application in
jazz and classical music, Patitucci’s clinic
primarily focused on rhythm. “Rhythm
is essential,” he said. “Most players
simply don’t pay as much attention to
developing their rhythmic skills as they
do theory. But the truth is, nothing else
matters comparatively.” Patitucci marked
Wayne Shorter cohort Danilo Pérez as a
major influence on his own rhythmic
Double up on a classic.
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the globe. So much so, in fact, that many found themselves using two Albertas in their eﬀects
chain - one for creamy rhythm sounds, and the other for piercing solos.
Aware of just how valuable pedal board real estate can be, we’ve introduced the Alberta II.
This dual-channel powerhouse doubles your tonal range without increasing its physical footprint.
Now you can easily swap between your amp’s clean sound, an on-the-edge overdrive from
channel 1, and a punchy, wide open rock tone from channel 2. Plus, ip the new “FAT” switch for
even thicker tone on either channel.
FUEL IT WITH A
TM Stevens, Victor
Wooten, and Andy
during a meet
and greet at the
Camp in Germany.
Grammy-winning Panamanian pianist
is a master of the syncopated, complex
rhythms of Latin America. Said Patitucci,
“Before I started to hang with Danilo,
I could play Afro-Cuban pretty good,
but in my heart, I knew it wasn’t totally
happening. He turned me on to really
digging into clave and understanding how
it works in an ensemble.”
“A player needs to have a great feel,”
he continued. “To lay down a big wide
beat that’s easy to build on, you have to
know when to play straight, when to play
a swing or triplet feel, and when to play a
combination of the two. Ask yourself, can
you play in a wide variety of tempos and
make them all feel great?”
Patitucci went on to describe the
woodshed habits that make a player get
better. “Transcribe great bass lines from
recordings. Use your ears and memorize
the lines. Listen to Bach. We also need to
develop our ears to respond to harmony
quickly, intuitively, and emotionally. Rhythm
and harmony influence each other in subtle
ways. You can always hear the difference in
drummers who respond to the harmonic
shifts in the music, as opposed to the ones
who play a particular beat no matter what
happens around them.”
Moving into the harmonic realm, Patitucci
stressed the importance of total fretboard
awareness. Fig. 1 shows a brief melodic
minor exercise he shared with the class. One
powerful tip he offered was using triads as a
way to avoid the scalar rut. In the case of G
122 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
melodic minor, for example, instead of
playing a scale-based line, consider the
tonality as the combination of three triads:
G minor, C major, and D major. It’s an
excellent way to create more interesting and
Burdened with laying
down a good groove,
making the changes, and
enhancing a tune, bass
players often forget to
breathe as their brains
Needless to say, living legend Victor
Wooten is an adept clinician. Beyond his
illustrious playing career, Victor is the
brains behind the long-running Bass Nature
Camp. His warmth and insight were
inspiring; his attitude is always one of the
student. “I learn as much from you as you
do from me,” he told us. “So take notes,
and I’ll do the same.”
Accompanied by his scary talented
12-year-old son Adam on cajon, Victor
began the clinic with a funky, mid-tempo
I-IV groove. Once he set it up, he pointed
to students in the room to contribute
something to the budding groove. Some
immediately locked in; others struggled to
find the key; still others played too much or
too little. Inciting individuals to play along,
Victor would modulate the key without
warning, forcing students to use their ears
to adapt to the new tonal center. Most
students couldn’t quite keep up.
The point of this exercise, Victor pointed
out, was to underscore the importance of
listening. “When you’re in a conversation,
what do you do? You listen. Playing is the
same as talking. We’re in the rhythm section!
Approach it that way. If you play a good
groove, there are no wrong notes. There’s
only 12 notes, and if you’re comfortable with
all of them, why do you need the key? If you
can really feel the impact of all 12 notes, and
deliver the notes with a good groove, there’s
zero percent odds of you playing something
wrong. Find the key in yourself! Notes don’t
matter if it doesn’t groove.”
After this illuminating exercise, Victor
wrote his list of the 10 equal parts that
make up music:
1. Notes (this includes
all of music theory)
“Two through 10 add up to groove,”
Wooten said in summation. “If they’re
right, one can’t be wrong.”
Fretless 6-string bass wizard Steve Bailey
is a singular talent. His deeply developed
vocabulary on his extraordinarily tricky
instrument is unique. As comfortable
laying down a fat groove in a funky jam as
he is using artificial harmonics and subtle
articulation to create lyrical, gorgeous
melodies, Bailey is a true innovator.
Given his reputation for solo and dual
bass (often with longtime collaborator
Wooten), Bailey shared a story about the
professional risk of developing a reputation
for solo playing. “Early in my career in
L.A., I got a call that Steve Vai was looking
for a new bass player and wanted me to
come down and jam. Excited, I packed
up my stuff and headed out to his studio.
Steve introduced himself and asked me to
play some solo bass. So I went for it, man.
I was in the zone. I closed my eyes and did
all my good stuff. Really feeling it. I was
so excited when I opened my eyes. Only
problem was Steve wasn’t there. Worried, I
asked someone else in the studio where he
went. Apparently he got on his motorcycle
and took off about 30 seconds after I
closed my eyes and got in ‘the zone.’ The
lesson is: Don’t miss the gig. Be careful
about how you play, and what you play.
Steve Vai wasn’t a solo bass gig.”
To Bailey, good bass playing can be
boiled down to the four T’s: Time, Tone,
Taste, and Technique. “Get that stuff
together, and you’re good to go.”
Given the sheer size of his fretless
6-string’s wide, unlined fretboard, a lot of
students were curious how he developed his
intonation. First, he likes to practice with
his eyes closed: “Use your ears as the guide.”
Then, he offered a great practice routine for
developing fretboard awareness and accuracy.
Fig. 2 shows the first two bars of “Mary Had
a Little Lamb,” first in the most conventional
position. The exercise requires playing that
same melody, but varying the position of each
note across the entire fretboard. Check out
the tab for a few examples of how this works,
and be sure to apply the concept to other
melodies for maximum benefit.
The opportunity to hear, hang with, and
generally observe the masterful Alphonso
Johnson was a personal highlight of the
trip. Simply put, Alphonso contributed
inimitably funky and tasteful bass to
several ensembles and artists who redefined
20th-century music, including Weather
Report, Wayne Shorter, and Billy Cobham.
Beyond his bulletproof resume, Alphonso is
one of the warmest people you’ll ever meet,
always ready with a smile and a heartfelt
word of support.
“Do not forget the root.
Without it, we can never
issue forth true power.”
He emphasized that bass playing should
start with the root, like a tree. A thoughtprovoking handout provided some relevant
wisdom: “Everyone wants to be daring,
creative, and original. Everyone wants to do
things in new ways. But unless we return
over and over again to the basics, we will
have no chance to truly soar. Do not forget
the root. Without it, we can never issue
forth true power.”
Thoroughly convinced, the class then
got Alphonso’s list of tools to embellish our
1. Strong downbeat
3. Legato and staccato
4. Call and response
?4 œ œ œ œ œ œ œ
œ œ œ
œ œ œ
4 bœ nœ
124 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
J ‰ œ bœ œ œ œ œj œ œ
b œ ™ b œ œ œ œ œ œ™
œ œ œ œ œ œ œ
on teaching his
go to town at the
Camp 2013 in
To demonstrate the potential that each
facet on the list can offer, Alphonso
flipped on a drum machine and
improvised the line in Fig. 3. He divided
the room in half and had one side play
Bar 1 and the other Bar 2. Slowing down
to teach the students who couldn’t quite
nail it, Alphonso patiently explained how
the line demonstrated each part of the
list. It was especially fun when he asked
the students to apply some attitude. I
got a good glimpse of some international
Solo bass pioneer Stuart Hamm may
be renowned for his sophisticated tap
technique and the remarkable selfaccompanied tunes his chord-plusmelody concept enables, but his clinic
was really focused on maintaining our
physical selves for long, rewarding,
and pain-free musical careers. While
he did start with a stirring mash-up
of the Beatles’ Abbey Road B-side and
Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” he
quickly pivoted to tips and techniques to
prevent nerve and muscular pain.
Most important to Stuart is proper
breathing technique. Burdened with
laying down a good groove, making
the changes, and enhancing a tune,
bass players often forget to breathe as
their brains tackle formidable musical
challenges. One simple but effective
exercise he described was playing a
simple major scale, inhaling on the way
126 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
up and exhaling on the way down. Not
only does this reinforce the subconscious
relationship between the breath and
notes, but it also has an undeniably
calming, meditative quality.
Swedish bass virtuoso Jonas Hellborg is
one of the instrument’s great thinkers.
His inspired career has seen him
anchoring the Mahavishnu Orchestra,
partnering with the late, great guitar
wiz Shawn Lane, and collaborating with
Indian classical musicians in a variety of
“What is bass? A guitar? A double
bass? A role? Who do you want to be?
What do you want to sound like?”
“Why do you play music? For me, it’s a
necessity. If I don’t, I get physically sick.”
“Music is about interacting with
human beings. We need input for an
ordered output. The brain is a Petri dish.”
“Music is an aural endeavor. It all
begins with sound. It’s not physical. Our
ears are our tools. Think about how you
create a sound. You can just play a G. But
where on the string? What part of the
finger? How do you angle it?”
“Music is an aural endeavor. It all begins with sound. It’s not
physical. Our ears are our tools. Think about how you create
a sound. You can just play a G. But where on the string? What
part of the finger? How do you angle it?” —Jonas Hellborg
compelling settings. Beyond playing and
performance, Hellborg is a self-taught
amplifier designer and audio engineer.
Hellborg largely designs Warwick’s
line of amps and cabinets in his lab at
Hellborg’s clinic followed a different
track than most of the other teachers.
He was adamant that the setting
was a seminar and discussion, not
a performance. Thus he didn’t play.
Instead, he initiated a fascinating backand-forth about the fundamental nature
of music. It’s hard to summarize, but
the following are some of his most
“There is a gravitational relationship
between all pitches. Math, sound, and
logic. Music is about life. It’s what
we experience. Music about music is
pointless. You can’t do it without craft.
You have to acquire the art of it. You don’t
have to work on individuality; we are all
mirrors. All the light in the universe is
I wish space allowed a comprehensive
report on each and every clinic. Leland
Sklar regaled his class with tales from
deep in the session trenches, even
breaking out a Warwick semi-hollow
body for a jam on the Bill Cobham
fusion classic, “Stratus.” Meshuggah
All good things
must come to an
end, and in the
case of Warwick’s
Bass Camp, it
ended in fire and
bassist Dick Lövgren explained some of the
polyrhythmic concepts that lie beneath his
band’s über-complex metal. And on and
on. Frankly, the camp had such extreme
bass talent, it’s going to take months to
process and unravel the insights provided.
And So It Ends …
Camp concluded with a beautiful dinner
in Warwick’s pristine auditorium, featuring
performances by many of the week’s
teachers. After dessert, we all retreated to the
balcony to see a stunning fireworks show
(with a funky bass soundtrack, of course). As
100 bassists gazed up at the sky in unison,
it became clear: This was a special event,
and the bass world is better for it. It’s a
good thing, then, that Warwick is already
committed to next year. Until then, check
out Warwick’s YouTube page for tons of
video from the event (youtube.com/user/
warwickofficial), and start pinching those
pennies. Next year promises to be even
bigger and better. Be there, or be square.
128 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
DESIGNED AND MANUFACTURED IN THE USA
How to Wire a Stock Tele Pickup Switch
BY DIRK WACKER
Fig. 1. The
is to mount an
open 3-way Tele
switch so its
spring faces the
edge of the body.
ow that we’ve made friends with
the Tele’s 3-way switch [“Inside
the 3-way Telecaster Pickup
Switch,” October 2012], it’s time to learn
how to install it correctly and find out
what those lugs really do.
From reading countless emails, I know
one of the main problems guitarists
encounter installing a new switch: How
do you orient it on the Telecaster’s metal
control plate? It’s easy to get confused
because you can rotate the switch 180
degrees and it still fits on the control
plate and in the cavity. From an electronic
standpoint, the question is irrelevant. The
switch is mirrored and will work in either
orientation. All you have to do is wire it
up carefully and you’re good to go.
But in the real world, the standard
practice is to mount an open switch so its
spring faces the edge of the body, as shown
in Fig. 1. There are also open switches that
lack this spring. In that case, orient the
switch so the metal frame that holds the
screws faces the edge of the body (Fig. 2).
Closed switches should be mounted
with the soldering lugs facing the pots, so
all connections come from this direction.
Okay, before we go any further, let’s
review the terminology we’ll use when
discussing a standard CRL/OakGrigsby
open switch, as shown in Fig. 3. Notice
how the switch has two stages (those
are the two “rows”), each with four
soldering lugs. Lugs 1, 2, and 3 are
the switchable lugs, while lug A is the
common lug. For each position on the
lever, a lug on each stage is connected to
its respective common.
Essentially, the Telecaster 3-way switch
consists of two 2-way switches on one
lever. On a Tele, each of the two pickups
uses its own stage to achieve the “both
pickups together in parallel” middle
position. The bridge pickup’s hot wire is
usually connected to stage 1’s common
lug, while the neck pickup is connected
to stage 2’s common.
Fig. 4 shows the complete switching
matrix of the 3-way switch and tells you
130 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Essentially, the Telecaster 3-way switch
consists of two 2-way switches on one lever.
what lugs are connected to each other,
depending on the switching position.
The standard Tele wiring scheme is
shown in Fig. 5. The blue connections
are permanent jumper wires. Notice the
connection between the #2 lugs of stage 1
and stage 2. This is where the two stages
are connected, and it’s the key to engaging
both pickups together in parallel in the
switch’s middle position.
Lug #3 of stage 1 and lug #1 of stage
2 remain untouched on a standard
Telecaster. To avoid a short, be sure
no other wire accidently touches these
lugs. The hot wires of the two pickups
are connected to the switch’s two
commons—bridge pickup to stage 1
and neck pickup to stage 2. Lug #3 on
stage 2 is the output that connects to the
We’ll revisit the 3-way switch when
we take a closer look at the Telecaster
4-way switch—a very special switch.
But meanwhile, if you want to drill
deeper, I highly recommend getting an
open CRL or OakGrigsby switch and
a digital multimeter (DMM) with an
audible continuity testing function.
Connect one testing wire from the
DMM to any lug of a stage, flip the
switch and see what happens on the
other lugs. It’s fun and you can learn a
lot from this.
Next time, we’ll discuss how to transfer
this knowledge to any other 3-way switch.
Until then, keep on modding!
Fig. 2. Some open switches lack a spring.
In that case, orient the switch so the metal
frame that holds the screws is facing the
edge of the body. Diagram courtesy of
Seymour Duncan and used by permission.
Fig. 3. A stock 3-way Tele switch has two
stages, each with four soldering lugs.
Lugs 1, 2, and 3 are the switchable lugs,
while lug A is the common lug. For each
position on the lever, a lug on each stage is
connected to its respective common.
1 = Bridge pickup only
2 = Both pickups together in parallel
Fig. 4. The standard switching matrix for a
Tele 3-way switch.
3 = Neck pickup only
Fig. 5. The wiring scheme for a stock Tele
Dirk Wacker lives in Germany
where he plays country, rockabilly,
and surf music in two bands,
works regularly as a session musician for a local studio, and writes
for several guitar mags. He’s also a
hardcore guitar and amp DIY-er
who runs an extensive website on
the subject (singlecoil.com).
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 131
aSK AMP MAN
Pumping Up an ’80s Fender Champ
BY JEFF BOBER
like this Champ,
appeared with a
All tube amplifiers
after the amp has
from the wall.
Before you touch
the amp chassis,
you are unsure
of this procedure,
consult your local
I always scroll to your column to see what you’re up to. I was recently given
this Fender Champ. She hasn’t been played for six years and she needs a
little TLC. I can’t really say how she sounds, since the original speaker is
shot. (The cone has what looks like a puncture from the power chord.)
I have a replacement Weber speaker, as well as new JJ tubes and
Monster Studio Pro 1000 Speaker Cable to install. I know she’s a
small combo, but before I take her into the shop, might you have any
upgrades/mods to recommend? I play blues-rock à la SRV.
I value your advice! Thanks and rock on.
Thanks for reading, and
thanks for your question.
My first thought was, there’s not really
much to modify in such a simple circuit.
But then I came up with a couple of
cool, simple mods that should have your
Champ sounding like no other.
The version of the Fender Champ
you own is a bit rare, aesthetically
speaking. The original Champ appeared
in a tweed version, which was brought
into the blackface era around 1964 with
a substantially revised circuit. Shortly
after CBS bought Fender in 1965, the
faceplate was made silver, but the circuit
remained unchanged. Then in 1981/82,
during Fender’s “Rivera Era,” the Champ
faceplate reverted back to black, but
again, the circuit was unchanged. This
is the model you have. Since this circuit
hadn’t been altered since 1964, these
simple modifications should pertain to
any of the basic 3-knob Champs.
You mentioned that you play blues-rock
à la Stevie Ray. SRV’s tone was due to a
combination of amplifiers, mostly Fenders
and Marshalls. I know firsthand, as I had
the fortune—or misfortune—of standing
in front of his wall of amps during the
late ’80s. These two amp brands have
significantly different tone signatures, so
the first part of this modification will be an
attempt to combine their sounds.
In your amp’s tone stack you’ll find
a 0.1 µF and a 0.047 µF capacitor
132 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
side-by-side on the board, one leg of each
connected to a 100k resistor. Remove
the 0.047 µF and replace it with a 600V
0.022 µF capacitor. This will give the
amp a bit more midrange (the Marshall
trait) while leaving intact the Fender-style
highs and lows.
The next modification deals with what’s
known as the feedback loop. This has
nothing to do with guitar feedback—it’s an
electrical function that, in this case, keeps
the output of the amp as true and clean as
possible. But we’re going to change that!
Near the center of the circuit board
you’ll find a 2.7k resistor (color-coded
red, violet, red). One end connects
to the speaker output, with the other
connecting to the phase-inverter circuit.
Remove this resistor and replace it with a
10k resistor. (It can be a 1/2-watt resistor
as is stock, though I personally prefer
using all 1-watt resistors.) This change
lets the amplifier saturate more and
produce a nicer overdrive when cranked.
The last modification involves
the power supply. Towards the mains
transformer end of the circuit board are
two larger resistors, one positioned above
the other. One is a 1k (brown, black, red),
and the other is a 10k (brown, black,
orange). Remove the 10k and replace it
with a 1-watt 2.7k resistor. Decreasing
the value of this resistor raises the DC
power supply voltage to the first preamp
tube, increasing the plate voltage on V1 by
approximately 25 volts. This yields a bit
Above: The Champ’s interior before applying
the mods. Below: Here we’ve replaced
three components, giving the amp a hybrid
less compression and a bit more headroom
at the amp’s input, making it sound tighter
and punchier. It may also let the amp
respond better to pedals.
These changes won’t make the amp
sound like Stevie’s rig. I just used your
reference as a jumping-off point to
formulate a few simple changes. A final
suggestion: You mentioned that the
amp hasn’t been played in six years. I
recommend that instead of just powering
it up, bring it up slowly using a Variac
or similar device so the filter capacitor
can be re-formed. This isn’t completely
necessary, but it’s nice if you can do it.
Then again, you could also just replace
the chassis-mounted multi-cap can. Just
be ready to break out the big soldering
iron for that exercise.
Here’s hoping this gives you a Champ
JEFF BOBER, one of the god-
fathers of the low-wattage amp
revolution, co-founded and was
the principal designer for
Budda Amplification. Jeff
launched EAST Amplification
(eastamplification.com) in 2010,
and he can be reached at
Vintage tone for the 21st Century
Developed almost 50 years ago, the Celestion Greenback remains an essential ingredient in the
blues-rock guitar sound that burst out of the late ’60s. Now comes the Creamback –
a contemporary take on the Greenback recipe – all that unmistakable vintage G12M tone and the
higher power handling necessary for a 21st Century stage.
Find out more
STATE OF THE STOMP
Maxon’s Susumu Tamura Retires
BY KEVIN BOLEMBACH
n an effort to slow the growing
percentage of retired citizens
among its population, Japan
passed legislation last April raising the
mandatory retirement age from 60 to
65. Workers on the cusp who would
have retired this year were grandfathered
into the earlier age limit, with the caveat
that their former employers offer them
contract work if desired.
What does this have to do with guitar
pedals? I’ll explain.
In April, Susumu Tamura of
Matsumoto, Japan, turned 60 and opted
for early retirement from the Nisshin Onpa
Company. Readers familiar with Tube
Screamer lore may recognize these names as,
respectively, the designer and manufacturer
of the original OD808 circuit—an OEM
project for Ibanez went on to be branded as
the TS808 Tube Screamer.
That’s right, Susumu Tamura (who did
not attend college but studied electronics
at Shinshu industrial high school) is the
engineer who invented the legendary
808 circuit that’s been used by countless
artists and copied by more companies
than you can shake a stick at.
Mr. Tamura’s retirement holds special
significance for me, as I have worked
closely with him since 1999 developing
many of Maxon’s current guitar effects.
I felt it would be a fitting sendoff to
interview Mr. Tamura about some
highlights of his illustrious career, one
that has affected (and effected) literally
hundreds of thousands of musicians.
How did you become interested in
I liked working on electronics from the
time I was a boy. My earliest memory
of this was working on a 1/24-scale
model of an electric racing car. I made
the circuit course for the car when I
was still in grade school. When I was a
junior high school student, I acquired an
amateur radio engineer’s license and used
a transceiver that I made to communicate
with overseas countries.
134 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
“We simply had to come up with a pedal to compete with the
BOSS OD-1 Overdrive and MXR Distortion+. It was similar to
how one record company commercializes a sound, and then
other companies follow that trend with similar music.”
When did you start working for
Nisshin Onpa (Maxon)?
I was first hired in 1974. I have worked
continuously and exclusively for them for
the past 40 years.
When and why did Nisshin Onpa begin
manufacturing guitar effects?
Nisshin Onpa was originally established
as an electric guitar pickup company.
They initially began manufacturing
pedals as OEM projects for other
companies and then, from 1971, under
their own Maxon brand.
What was the first pedal you designed
for Nisshin Onpa?
My first complete design was the Phase
Tone PT999. Before that I had only
redesigned PC boards for their booster
and wah pedals.
What was the concept behind the
We were looking to make a pedal that
was not hard clipping like fuzz or
distortion, but more like the overdrive
obtained from tube amps. I think we
settled on that “boxy” tone, with the
midrange emphasized, because it worked
well with a wide variety of guitars and
guitar amplifiers, including both LP-style
and the Stratocaster-type guitars.
So the 808’s famous “mid hump” was
a conscious effort to make the circuit
compatible with a variety of amplifiers
Yes. By controlling the wild bass
volumes of standard fuzz and distortion,
as well as the jarring overtones, of the
upper register, a more versatile pedal
The 808 circuit was the first of its
kind. Did you realize you had created
Many journalists have asked us this. From
our view, we simply had to come up
with a pedal to compete with the BOSS
OD-1 Overdrive and MXR Distortion+.
It was similar to how one record company
commercializes a sound, and then other
companies follow that trend with similar
music. So the initial product concept was
not viewed as “special.” But of course, I
wanted a lot of people to love it! Between
the promotional sales power of Godlyke
and Hoshino and the super-famous
musicians who’ve used the pedal, we were
able to ship 350,000 units of the various
808 models over the years.
Of all the signal processors you
designed for Maxon and Ibanez, which
project was the most memorable and
We designed a programmable switching
system, the PE3248. This was custom-made
for Masayoshi Takanaka, a famous Japanese
musician. From this came the basic idea for
multi-pedal/multi-effect products such as
the UE400 and DUE400. I’m also proud
of the analog delays that used BBD ICs,
such as AD80 and AD9. These originated
with the AD230 analog delay series, whose
sound is still unparalleled. Another is the
DCP (Digitally Controlled Processor)
analog programmable effect pedal series,
which includes the PDS1.
What was superior about the
When it came out there were no highquality, rackmountable, maintenance-free
delays using BBDs. Most high-end delays
used magnetic tape. The AD230 suppresses
Susumu Tamura at
the 2007 Winter
Controller for the
for the Maxon
jarring upper-register overtones for a very
smooth, realistic delay sound. Also, the
AD230 was an all-in-one multi-delay unit
with modulation and short delay for flanging
and chorusing, as well as long delays.
Are there any products you’d still like
I hope to redesign the programmable
analog effect DCP. It was discontinued,
but I’d like to revive those designs.
What are your favorite pastimes outside
of audio engineering?
I enjoy listening to jazz and going to jazz
concerts. I do system construction related
to personal computers. I enjoy movies,
U.S. TV dramas, and documentaries. I
also enjoy sea fishing.
Any final thoughts?
Digital is extremely close to the real
thing, but it is not the real thing. The
real thing is analog. Digital’s primary
advantage is that there is no deterioration
in storage and transmission. However,
the musician and the audience—the ears,
eyes, mouths, and fingers that make and
appreciate music—are all analog.
Thanks to Mr. Susumu Tamura for
agreeing to this interview and for creating
so many useful music-making tools!
Kevin bolembach is the
president and founder of
Godlyke, the U.S. distributor
for many well-known boutique
effect brands, including
Maxon, Guyatone, EMMA, and
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 135
By Rich Osweiler
ince setting up shop in early 1950s New York City, Guild
Guitars has established itself as one of a handful of great,
classic American guitar companies. Guild has seen its share
of ownership swaps, direction changing, and relocations over the
years, but the company has maintained its reputation amongst
players as a manufacturer of solid instruments for the working
musician. Attracting players from across the genre spectrum, Guild
instruments have found go-to-axe status in the hands of luminaries
from Mississippi John Hurt to Richie Havens to Kim Thayil,
along with just too many others to mention.
While probably best known over the years for their
acoustics, Guild has given us plenty of electric offerings too.
And with the unveiling of the Newark St. Collection earlier
this year, FMIC-owned Guild has brought back eight of their
classic electric models from the ’50s and ’60s. One of them is
the Starfire bass, a 4-string legend that first made its mark as
the low-end-providing tool for bands like the Grateful Dead,
Jefferson Airplane, and the Byrds. Here, we take this nextgeneration Starfire for a spin.
Crown of Creation
Opening up a new instrument’s case for the first time ranks up
there pretty high on the scale of life’s pleasures. And popping
the top of the Starfire’s deluxe TKL hardshell case didn’t disappoint by any stretch. This is an instrument that just oozes a
classic vibe and begs to be held and played.
and tug bar
Guild Bi-Sonic pickup
136 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
The modern-era, Korean-made Starfire
bass almost looks like it was pulled out
of a time capsule from 1965—the year
Guild first introduced the bass version of
their Starfire IV guitar. And like its ’65
inspiration, the Newark St. Starfire is a
short-scale (30 3/4"), double-cutaway
The slender 3-piece, U-shaped neck
is constructed of mahogany and topped
with a rosewood fretboard. Keeping
true to its predecessor, the Starfire’s top,
back, and sides are all constructed of
laminated mahogany. Some of the other
appointments that help feed the vintage
vibe of the original include the rosewood
tug bar and thumb rest, rosewood string
saddles, ivory white binding for the neck
and body, unbound f-holes, and the
unmistakable Chesterfield inlay adorning
Billed as “handbuilt,” the cherry red
Starfire gave every initial indication that
care and attention played a part in its
construction. I didn’t come across any
finish flaws, loose fitting hardware, or
other red flags when first looking it over.
Powering the Starfire is a single,
passive Bi-Sonic pickup that’s located
in the bridge position. The pickup
configurations of the original Starfire
basses varied through the years but this
solo Bi-Sonic setup in the bridge is true
to the ’65 model. Also like the original,
the two black control knobs for tone and
volume each have position markers inset
in the body next to their sides.
The original Starfires were intended
to offer up an easy playing neck, and
the vintage spec’d, skinny neck of this
bass is no different. The fret dress was
super clean and the neck felt fast and
comfortable as I spent some quality time
working the Starfire unplugged. And
while doing so, I found this semi-hollow
can resonate like there’s no tomorrow.
Once I stood up with the Starfire
strapped on, it took the expected neck dive
that’s typical of a semi-hollow bass. Getting
used to the balancing act was a pretty
quick process, however, given the Starfire’s
light overall weight and short scale.
So You Want to be a
Rock ’n’ Roll Star
I fired up the Starfire by plugging it into
a Gallien-Krueger 800RB paired with
a TC Electronic RS410 cab. I started
out with the amp’s EQ flat to see what
I could dial in using just the bass. Not
surprisingly with a single passive pickup,
the one tone knob didn’t provide much
in the way of variation as I rolled it back
and forth, so I just ended up leaving it
dimed and relied on my amp’s EQ. With
a press of the amp’s mid-contour switch,
pushing up the treble to about 3 o’clock,
and rolling the lo-mid knob down to 10
o’clock, I got to something I liked. And
that was a woody, earthy tone with lots of
warmth on hand, albeit not much punch.
I detected a markedly different
response depending on my right-hand
placement. For me, the angle and
position of the thumb rest felt a little
I spent some quality time working the
Starfire unplugged, and while doing so,
I found this semi-hollow can resonate
like there’s no tomorrow.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 137
Warm, old-school bass
tone is what the
Starfire is all about....
top, back, and sides
cramped when I anchored there, so I
naturally gravitated toward my normal
resting spot around or on the pickup.
The tone was still totally usable here,
but forcing myself to ignore muscle
memory, I moved back toward the neck
and rested on the rosewood bar again.
This shift allowed me to pull a much
fuller, rounder, and dynamic tone from
the strings—so much so that it almost
made my pickup-resting position sound
thin in comparison.
Warm, old-school bass tone is what
the Starfire is all about, and it certainly
leans towards the lows and mids without
a ton of brightness. I suspect this low/
mid emphasis would be even more
pronounced with a set of flatwounds,
which would probably complement this
With the reintroduction of this storied
classic, Guild is no doubt going to make
138 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
a number of bassists happy—especially
those who have dreamed of adding a
Starfire to their clan, but couldn’t muster
the coin for a vintage model. That said,
this bass will still set you back more
than a grand. As much as I like the fact
that Guild stayed so close to the original
Starfire, I found myself thinking about
the dual-pickup Starfire II and the benefits of having some more sonic options
The new incarnation of the Starfire
bass is a nicely constructed instrument
and it’s hard to find much fault with
it. It won’t appeal to slap stylists, those
looking for super-modern tones, or more
aggressive players who might find the
dual finger rests a nuisance. (They can be
removed.) The Starfire, however, could
become a go-to for many players because
its rich, warm, mellow tones are more
than fitting for R&B, jazz, and of course,
rock ’n’ roll. This bass has a little bit of
CLICK HERE TO HEAR this bass at
Pros Very true to the classic ’65
Starfire. Solid construction, excellent
playability, and high visual appeal.
Cons Not a lot of tone-shaping
available onboard. Semi-hollows aren’t
for everyone. A touch pricey.
The NeW elecTro-harmoNix
8 STep program connects to the expres-
sion pedal or control voltage (CV) input of your
compatible effects and synthesizers to deliver innovative rhythmic sequencer control. With eight
independent sliders, each controlling a sequence
step, it can transform an ordinary auto-wah into
a step filter, a tremolo into a syncopated pulse
effect and a pitch-shifter into an arpeggiator.
The Mode control lets you modify the number of
steps in a sequence, its depth and its glide rate.
Four direction modes – forward, reverse, bounce
and random – are selectable on the fly.
Set the sequence rate with the Rate slider or Tap
Tempo footswitch. Or sync it to a drum machine or
DAW via MIDI clock. Six Tap Tempo Divide modes
maximize rhythmic diversity. An expression pedal/CV input enables external, real-time control of
rate, depth, glide, and sequence length.
Save and recall your settings with 10 internal
presets, or use the optional Foot Controller (sold
separately) and expand your presets to 100.
Whether used with your synth or guitar effects,
the 8 Step Program’s awe-inspiring sound
shaping contol is the prescription for
* The 8 Step Program is compatible with
most devices that accept CV/Expression input.
for a list of models.
By Adam Perlmutter
ermany has seen its fair share of great guitar makers,
from classical luthiers like Hermann Hauser to Roger
Rossmeisl, best known for his unusual designs for
Rickenbacker and Fender. Judging by the quality of the 665
model reviewed here you’d suspect Rainer Tausch is making a
play to join their ranks.
Tausch takes his craft seriously. He makes no more than
two electric guitars per month in his workshop, in Illertissen,
Germany. And his work as an apprentice violinmaker and professional carpenter—as well as nearly two decades of lutherie—
clearly informs his eye for detail. Tausch is also a player, and he
fine-tunes his designs based on his own technical requirements,
Callaham vibrato with
pao ferro sustain block
as well as feedback from his growing client base. Not surprisingly, the Tausch 665 feels like a true player’s guitar.
Uncommon Details and Top-Notch Construction
At a glance, the 665 looks like a pretty conventional twist on
the T-style platform. But the guitar is built around some interesting and idiosyncratic features that translate to a very individual sounding and multi-faceted instrument. Though it appears
to be a solidbody, it’s actually a semi-hollow guitar built with a
solid center block extending the length of the body. The body’s
opaque finish obscures an uncommon tonewood, pear, which is
similar in tonality to maple but less bright. In these two respects
140 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Thanks to the extra string tension
provided by the long scale, the guitar
sounds and feels great in slackened
tunings like dropped D.
the Tausch echoes the all-maple bodied,
semi-hollow designs by Roger Rossmeisel
Set-neck construction distinguishes
the Tausch from the many bolt-on T-style
guitars out there. But the 26 3/16" scale
is a much more profound and important
deviation from T-style convention in terms
of feel, playability, and tone. On the back
of the guitar, the exposed tremolo cavity
reveals a tremolo block crafted from pao
ferro, which adds a hint of tonal warmth
and reduces the guitar’s weight by 7 ounces.
Like a lot of retro-leaning electrics over
the last few decades, the 665 pays homage to Fender’s ’69 competition-stripe
Mustang finishes and Le Mans race cars of
the period with a set of white racing stripes
on the front and back. The paint scheme
is complemented by a selection of black
plastic components including the pickup
covers, toggle-switch cover, and Gibsonstyle top hat knobs. The silver caps on the
knobs nicely accent the nickel bridge and
locking Sperzel tuners. Meanwhile, the
flamed maple neck (a $500 option) adds a
bit of natural elegance to the proceedings.
The racing-stripe styling may not sit well
with more traditionally minded players and
feels a little cheap on such an expensive
guitar, but it’s still thoughtfully executed
and suits the guitars essentially mid-century informed lines.
Craftsmanship on the 665 is impeccable, which frankly, is what you’d expect
from an instrument in this very exclusive
price range. The bone nut is precisely
notched and the 22 jumbo frets are perfectly crowned and dressed. The nitrocellulose finish has a faultlessly uniform
matte texture that is extremely comfortable under the forearm.
Smorgasbord of Tones
Weighing a mere 6 pounds, 9 ounces,
the 665 feels light and well balanced.
Setup and intonation were perfect—
smooth, low action and not a single dead
spot anywhere. As a player accustomed
to 24 3/4"-scale fretboards, I initially
found the 665’s long scale to be disorienting and a bit cumbersome. But
though I initially feared that more complex chords that are accessible on shorter
necks might not be possible on this guitar, the super smooth action made more
acrobatic chords easy.
A standard 665 comes with a Kluson
tremolo unit, but the review model
sported a Callaham system (a $250
option). With its Raw Vintage saddles
and pop-in arm, the Callaham bridge is
both old-school and modern, and it provides exceptionally smooth performance
and tuning stability when the bar is
Harry Häussel’s pickups may be less
well known to stateside players, but they
sound fantastic, and fit the Tausch like a
glove. The neck and bridge humbuckers
are alnico 2 and alnico 5 units respectively. They sandwich a Häussel singlecoil called the ST Blues, which also has
alnico 5 magnets. With a coil tap that
Locking Sperzel tuners
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 141
permits nine different pickup configurations, the 665 has an impressively broad
Through a simple amp like a Fender
Blues Junior, the guitar delivers straightahead rock rhythm work from the tight
and slightly aggressive-sounding bridge
pickup; warm, rounded woman tone and
dark jazz tones from the neck pickup;
and snappy, concise funk tones from the
middle pickup. With the coil-tapping
options, however, it isn’t too difficult to
coax the glassy sound of a Stratocaster
or the bright twang of a Tele from the
Thanks to the extra string tension provided by the long scale, the guitar sounds
and feels great in slackened tunings like
dropped D. The guitar’s beautiful resonance and articulate voice also means that
chords sound massive and detailed with
distortion. No matter what the musical
142 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
setting, though, the 665 maintains a
warm, slightly woody, and sophisticated
voice that’s no doubt the sum of the
semi-hollow construction, set neck, long
scale, and the Häussels.
Tausch’s 665 is a superlative guitar in
all respects. It’s incredibly well built,
supremely playable, and possesses a
refined voice that can be almost endlessly
reshaped by the rangy Haussel pickups
and coil-tapping system. With its hefty
price tag, the instrument will have a fairly
narrow audience. The long scale length
may narrow that field further still, despite
its many sonic advantages. But players
with the means to afford the 665, not to
mention a penchant for the unconventional, ought to seriously consider this
fine specimen as a vehicle to expand and
refine their own playing voice.
CLICK HERE TO HEAR this guitar at
Tausch Electric Guitars 665
Pros Impeccably built. A killer player
that covers a lot of sonic territory.
Cons Very expensive. Race carinspired cosmetics arguably cheapen
an extraordinary guitar.
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By Teja Gerken
enmark’s TC Electronic has always been
inventive. But the company amazed many
players in 2010 when it introduced the
original PolyTune pedal, the first tuner that allowed
guitarists to check all six strings at once. A PolyTune
iOS app followed, as well as a smaller pedal, the
PolyTune Mini. And now there’s the PolyTune 2, a more
accurate and easier-to-read version of the original unit.
If you’ve seen the original PolyTune, you know what the
PolyTune 2 looks like. Seriously, without viewing the two
side-by-side, I wouldn’t have known which is which. But
there are significant upgrades under the hood, which I’ll
get to in a moment.
Drop-D and capo
Response is extremely fast—
it has no problem reading a low A
on the baritone, and the display
is never difficult to read.
The “Poly” in PolyTune refers to the fact that you
can check all strings at once. You simply strum the
guitar (open, without fretting any notes), and the tuner’s
display shows which strings are sharp or flat. It also
works in a more standard way: As soon as you pluck an
individual string, it changes to chromatic mode, using
an LED “needle” to indicate pitch.
Like the original, the PolyTune 2 includes a
dedicated bass mode, as well as presets for drop-D,
transposed tunings, and capo positions up to the fifth
fret. Additionally, the PolyTune 2 features a strobetuning function, which could be especially useful for
guitar techs needing an ultra-precise tuner for setup
work. The new version also has a noticeably brighter
display, with a built-in sensor that adjusts brightness
to suit current lighting conditions. You can also
recalibrate to frequencies other than standard A = 440.
You can power the PolyTune 2 with a 9V battery or
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 145
a power adapter (not included). The
unit also has a power output jack that
can power additional pedals when the
PolyTune 2 is connected to external
power. Finally, there’s a USB port for
future firmware upgrades.
Tuning Up, Out On The Town
I received the PolyTune 2 on the
afternoon of a club gig, so I popped it
onto my pedalboard, juicing it up with
a Godlyke Power All. The gig was an
acoustic round robin, and since I use
lots of alternate tunings, it was a perfect
setting to evaluate the unit. My guitars
were a Martin OM with an LR Baggs
undersaddle pickup, and an Alvarez
baritone with a Baggs M-80 pickup.
Having used the PolyTune app, I
was immediately at home with the new
pedal. And I was delighted by how well it
works, regardless of guitar type or tuning.
Response is extremely fast. It has no
problem reading a low A on the baritone,
and the display is never difficult to read.
Since the gig was in a dark club, I took
the tuner outside into bright sunlight
the following day, checking it out with
a Telecaster. Some tuners are almost
unreadable in strong sunlight, but the
PolyTune 2’s display looked bright even
under these challenging conditions.
Without a doubt, the TC Electronics
PolyTune 2 is one of the today’s best
tuner pedals. Are the additional features worth upgrading from an original
PolyTune? The answer depends on much
you expect to use the strobe function and
how much you value extra brightness. But
if you’re in the market for a new tuner
pedal, it’s worth exploring this excellent
alternative to the industry standards—
especially if your tuning needs go beyond
that same old EADGBE.
You might say we’re obsessed. We spent many late nights in our labs
forging a collection of the most organic, luscious, and versatile
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pushed their boundaries with new sonic possibilities never before heard.
Mobius. Rewriting the history books of modulation.
146 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
TC Electronic PolyTune 2
Ease of Use
Pros Ultra quick, responsive,
and easy to read.
Cons Battery access screw can be
difficult to open with bare fingers.
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By Joe Charupakorn
ayden is a relatively new name in amplifier circles.
The company was formed in 2006 in the U.K. as a
guitar-centric sister company to Ashdown, a brand
known for their bass amps.
Hayden didn’t fool around when it came to developing their
new line. They recruited Matamp’s chief engineer Dave Green
to design their amps and developed two main product lines—a
handwired series made in England and a more affordable line
of PCB construction amps made in China. This year, Hayden
retooled and restyled their amp lineup, including our review
amp, the Mini MoFo, a lunchbox-sized head equipped with two
EL84 power tubes and one ECC83 preamp tube.
Son of a Mother
While its biggest sibling, the MoFo 100, offers features like
channel switching, reverb, an effects loop, and a recording
out, the Mini MoFo takes a bare-bones approach. The front
panel consists of controls for gain, EQ (bass, middle, and
treble), and master volume. The two “frills” are the studio/stage
switch, which engages either 2-watt (studio) or 15-watt (stage)
ECC83 Preamp tube
2 and 15 watts
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 149
operation, and the EM84 Magic Eye
tube—a neon-green light that’s visible
through the amp’s vents—that flickers in
response to pick attack.
Portable, Packs a Punch
Apart from the impressively large
sounds, portability is the main attraction
of the Mini MoFo. It comes with a
padded carry case that has a zippered
pouch for the power cord and looks
similar to an SLR camera case. One
minor complaint I have with the case
design is that it’s tricky to get the amp
out. There’s no handle on top of the
amp, so to extract the unit, I had to
wedge my hand in the bag and pull the
amp out while simultaneously tugging
on the underside of the bag. It’s a minor
gripe, perhaps, but the process seems
bound to wear out the bag prematurely.
I had a rehearsal booked in New York
City, so I popped two pedals—an Xotic
SL Drive and a Boss RV-3—into my gig
bag pouch. With just those pedals, my
guitar, accessories, and the Mini MoFo,
I set out determined to get the biggest
tone I could out of one of the smallest
and easiest-to-carry rigs I can imagine.
The Mini MoFo’s portability proved
invaluable before I played a note, because
the closest parking spot was about 12
blocks away from the studio. I plugged
the Mini MoFo into a no-name cheapo
cab, and thought that if the Mini MoFo
can sound good through subpar speakers,
it could probably handle any backline
For the first half of our rehearsal, it
was just the drummer and me. With
the EQ controls and gain all at noon,
volume at 9:30, and mode set to stage,
I enjoyed the roar I got from the Mini
MoFo so much that I played on without
changing a setting for 20 minutes. Even
with a limited set of controls, there are
a wide variety of sounds on tap. And
depending on how I had my guitar
volume knob set, I could move from
gnarly, Brit-rock vibes to a John Scofieldlike, semi-dirty lead sound.
When the rest of the band arrived
(another guitarist and a very loud bass
player), I feared the Mini MoFo would be
150 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
in trouble. My fears were soon assuaged
when the other guitarist, playing through
a Marshall JCM900, asked me to turn
Taming the Filthy Animal
In situations where you want the sound
of a dirty amp, the Mini MoFo has plenty
of horsepower for most live situations.
Predictably, it’s harder to get a truly
clean sound. But the little Hayden is
not entirely without headroom. Turning
down the gain and cranking the volume
still leaves the amp a little too gritty for
jazz or pristine chord work, but for music
that can use a bit of bite on strummed
open chords, it sounds rich and fat.
Cranking the gain left me very
impressed. I was able to get a great hard
rock sound with a crisp, defined crunch
for rhythm and ample sustain for leads.
The Mini MoFo might not be the
highest-gain amp around, but except for
raging metal, it will hold its own for most
Studio mode cuts the power
significantly. But I couldn’t resist the
temptation to see how the amp in 2-watt
mode would fare in this band situation.
I cranked the volume with the gain close
to noon, and though the output wasn’t
quite as authoritative as what I heard in
stage mode, I remained audible in the
Reverb is a bit of a crutch for me, and
I like amp reverb because it means one
less pedal to bring. But the Mini MoFo
sounds so beefy and vibrant that I didn’t
feel too exposed without it. And though
I engaged the drive and reverb pedals I
brought to rehearsal, I ended up using
them sparingly. And the best tones I
got that day were from the Mini MoFo
alone—power tubes cooking.
Lunchbox amps are a common sight
these days. But even given this tough
competition, when you shop for a mini tube
head, you should include the Mini MoFo
in any comparison. If you need a great
sounding, simple amp in a super-compact
package, the Mini MoFo is a bonafide giant
killer. And for players who tend toward
rocking, it might just stand tallest among its
fellow tiny overachievers.
CLICK HERE TO HEAR this amp at
Hayden Mini MoFo
Ease of Use
Pros Excellent sounds. Super portable.
Cons Could use a handle on top.
Son of Kong
By Jordan Wagner
ven if you’re a Frank Zappa fan, the name Arthur
“Midget” Sloatman might not ring familiar. But for more
than a decade, he was the resident studio technician at
Zappa’s Utility Muffin Research Kitchen studio. Zappa’s guitars
were fitted with Sloatman’s custom parametric EQ and gain
circuitry, which gave Frank complete on-board control over filter
resonance and feedback. Sloatman eventually built the circuit into
a giant enclosure to use in his own band and dubbed it Kong.
Sloatman’s Son of Kong is an evolution of the original circuit.
It features two studio-quality gain stages with an additional
20 dB of gain, the original Zappa-approved EQ circuit (which
effectively works as a third gain stage) and a much more
pedalboard-friendly enclosure, plus several other additions that
enhance its already impressive versatility.
With a sturdy, bent-steel chassis and hand-wired circuit,
the Son of Kong is as tough as its name suggests. For
increased headroom, the Son of Kong accepts power
sources up to a whopping 40V. There’s also a direct XLR
DI output jack utilizing a Lundahl transformer so you
can run the pedal directly into a mixing console or PA.
The Son of Kong has lots of knobs and switches,
and it takes some focused exploration to get into all its
capabilities. The right footswitch toggles between two
channels, each with independent volume controls. The
channels are voiced identically, but the first channel has
a maximum 15 db volume boost, while the second one
cranks out 35 dB of boost. The parametric EQ is also a
gain section unto itself and can be used independently
with the V1 or V2 set a unity gain.
The G knob controls the gain level for a given channel,
and the F knob boosts frequencies anywhere from 35 Hz to 5
kHz. You can switch between treble and bass frequency ranges
via a small switch under the first channel’s volume knob.
Finally, the Q knob sets the width of the selected frequency
range anywhere between 1/10th octave and two octaves. You
can also boost the volume by 20 dB via a switch located between
the volume controls, and switch the EQ in and out of the second
channel’s circuit from a switch beneath that channel’s volume knob.
Shut Up ‘n’ Play Yer Guitar!
Thanks to its super-broad frequency range, the Son of Kong
can dramatically re-shape your guitar and bass tones. The Q
and F controls are highly interactive, and even the smallest
adjustments can squeeze, squelch, or expand your tone.
A good starting setting is EQ knobs at noon and volume
at unity. This is the pedal’s most neutral setting, though you’ll
probably still perceive a bit of boost and extra high-end clarity.
With a Fender Stratocaster and a Twin Reverb, the effect is like
playing through a clean JFET-style booster.
Moving the F knob through its range reveals the control’s
impressive sweep and also highlights the voice-like quality of
Q control narrows or
widens EQ sweep
20 dB boost
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 153
the circuit. Moving the control back and
forth while you play a note produces a
cool Tycobrahe-style wah effect. Setting
the control past one o’clock fattens tones
with a pronounced mid hump. Dropping
it below 11 o’clock scoops mids while
adding more pronounced treble and bass
response. Positioning the frequency range
switch to the treble side has the strongest
effect with single-coils and low-output
PAF-style humbuckers. But for pickups
with weaker lows, the bass side of the
switch makes the F knob very effective
for beefing up the bottom end.
The Q control is excellent if you
need to focus or sharpen your tone to
fit into a mix or arrangement, or to suit
a particular amp/guitar combo. But it
can also make your tone wider or deeper
if that’s what you need. The superenhanced focus from a given EQ range
becomes dramatically more pronounced
as you dial up more of the pedal’s furious
distortion. With the gain control set
154 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
fairly high, the Q knob move between
narrow, Pignose-style honk, Claptonesque dark neck-pickup tones, burly
industrial distortion, and fat, hot octave
fuzz. More gain is available by kicking
the +20 db boost, but the boost is big
enough to blow speakers, so be ready to
adjust your guitar and amp volume.
The Son of Kong can hone your guitar
tones in ways that transcend amplifier
tone controls. It lets you adapt more
readily to borrowed backlines and tight,
tricky musical arrangements. The busy
layout may look scary, but it’s easy to use
with a little practice. The Son of Kong
often sounds best when using its EQ
conservatively, though its extreme ranges
will appeal to experimental guitarists. If
you’re a player who moves from weird
realms to sweeter tones—like Zappa
himself—the Son of Kong has the means
to get you there.
CLICK HERE TO HEAR this pedal at
Spontaneous Audio Devices
Son of Kong
Ease of Use
Pros Rock-solid. Easy to use, given
the range of functions. Wide frequency
range. Great solution for tricky backlines.
Cons Requires careful adjustment to
sound its best. Expensive.
S2 Custom 24
By Jordan Wagner
fter nearly 30 years in the business, Paul Reed Smith
has created some undeniably classic guitars. But few are
revered as much as the mighty Custom 24, which for
many players represents the best of what PRS has to offer.
The Custom 24 has been the company’s flagship model since
1985, and has enjoyed enduring popularity throughout its run.
Unfortunately the high price has kept the 24 out of the reach of
many cash-strapped guitarists.
PRS made the new S2 Custom 24 more accessibly priced by
doing away with the Core Custom 24’s most labor-intensive
features. But it’s still built, assembled, and finished at the
company’s Stevensville, Maryland, factory, with the same
attention to detail as pricier PRS models. It costs a fraction of
the price of a Core Custom 24, yet it dishes tones very much in
the same league as the company’s flagship axe.
The S2 Custom 24 has a solid mahogany body with an
asymmetrically beveled, two-piece flame maple top. The
beveling gives the top a sharper, more SG-like profile than the
standard Custom 24’s curvy, violin-carved top. The controls
sit flat against the body, rather than recessed into it as on the
156 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
standard Custom 24. The lovely finish is
free of imperfections, and the transparent
black poly/acrylic finish of our review
model provides a subtly luxurious look.
The S2 comes loaded with a pair of
newly designed ceramic humbuckers
based on the company’s HFS Treble
and Vintage Bass models. They can be
combined or selected individually from
the guitar’s three-way switch, or coiltapped by pulling on the tone control.
The guitar’s two-point vibrato is the
same one that’s loaded in PRS’s SE
guitars. It’s a smooth and stable unit,
though not as refined as the vibratos
found on the Core guitars. Still, they’re
damn close for the price.
The three-piece set neck uses PRS’s
wide and meaty “pattern regular” profile
and is capped by a 24-fret rosewood
fretboard. Bird inlays give the guitar
an upmarket look, though the solid
ivory look isn’t quite as luxurious as the
abalone used on PRS’s flagship Custom
24s. But the S2 Custom 24’s neck feels
a lot like those used on the upscale
models, and it features the same fretwire,
dual-action truss rod, gold leaf headstock
signature inlay, and self-lubricating,
brass-permeated nut. The S2 Series
The bridge pickup really comes alive with
a bit of overdrive grit and does a bang-up
job of delivering smoky blues lead sounds
that jump in the lower midrange.
locking tuners seem to hold their tuning
just as well as those used on PRS’s
Cousin to a Classic
The S2 Custom 24’s stripped-down
appointments and streamlined features
make it an ideal guitar for budget-minded
PRS fans who tend to be a bit hard on
their guitars. The guitar’s polyurethane
and acrylic-blended finish doesn’t feel as
silky as the company’s super-thin V12
finish, but the combination makes the
S2 more resilient to sweat, grime, and
moisture. The poly/acrylic finish doesn’t
seem to harm the guitar’s resonance
either. It sounds full and rich even before
you plug it in.
Through a Mesa/Boogie Dual
Rectifier, the ceramic-magnet S2 HFS
bridge humbucker produces smooth
clean tones, with clear, refined highs and
tight, substantial lows. Compared to
PRS’s standard HFS Treble pickup, the
S2 has a little less midrange presence, and
it isn’t quite as sensitive or responsive.
There’s also a slightly sharp edge to the
pick attack, but that’s easily reigned in by
rolling back the tone control slightly. The
bridge pickup is more aggressive than
the neck’s lower output S2 Vintage Bass
pickup, which has a warmer tone across
the board and a slightly wider dynamic
The bridge pickup really comes alive
with a bit of overdrive grit and does a
bang-up job of delivering smoky blueslead sounds that jump in the lower
midrange. Light overdrive tones clean
up nicely when rolling back the volume
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 157
knob too, allowing for natural transitions
from raw, AC/DC-style grit to more
soaring classic rock and blues leads.
Switching to the neck position
delivers tones with fat, raunchy midrange
reminiscent of Brian May’s Jazz-era tones,
but with a boomier low-end presence.
Coil-tapping enhances the pickup’s
already strong lows and highs and brings
the pick attack to the forefront for SRVstyle rhythmic blues romps. Regrettably,
though, the guitar’s wiring doesn’t permit
combining a pickup in normal mode
with another in coil-tapped mode.
Using both the bridge and neck
pickups with the Boogie’s overdriven
orange channel delivers the sustain and
molten rhythm tones that helped define
’90s hard rock and metal. There’s less
detail in the midrange than you’d hear
from a Core Custom 24, but the overall
tone is thick, punchy, and quiet under
extreme amounts of gain. Unfortunately,
the lows don’t have the rubbery snap
and recoil of PRS’s HFS Treble or
exceptional 57/08 pickups, but their
depth and spread put the tones squarely
in the same ballpark.
For cash-strapped players longing for
the refined tones and exceptional build
quality of a true USA-made Custom 24,
the S2 Custom 24 is the best option on
the market. PRS’s cost-cutting efforts are
smart, thoughtful, and probably invisible to casual observers. There’s little
loss of tone quality—this guitar sounds
like a PRS. While it might not have the
super-silky feel or vibrant looks of a true
Custom 24, the quality lives up to what
you’d expect from a Maryland-built PRS,
and is far beyond what you’ll find in
CLICK HERE TO HEAR this guitar at
PRS S2 Custom 24
Ease of Use
Pros Great resonance. Resilient finish.
Modern Custom 24 tones at a fraction of
Cons Finish not as smooth as PRS’s
V12 finish. Bridge pickup lacks a bit of
the response and character of higherpriced models.
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158 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
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By Joe Gore
els Cline dubbed ToneConcepts’ powerful new
overdrive/preamp the Distillery, but he could just as
easily have called it the Laboratory, the Beauty Parlor,
or the Operating Room. In fact, the Canadian pedal company
could have named the device for any location where exquisitely
precise repairs and modifications are performed.
According to ToneConcepts, the Distillery was created for
gigging guitarists seeking a transparent boost that won’t degrade their
core sound, but with enough tone-sculpting power to compensate
for bland backline amps. It excels at that task—and many others.
Players with good ears will be able to summon new tones from their
guitars using the pedal’s uncommonly powerful EQ tools.
IC What You Did There!
Inside the Distillery are two separate circuits, each activated
by a footswitch. Workmanship is solid, with a tidy circuit
board positioned perpendicularly to the enclosure via boardmounted pots.
One side of the Distillery is a bright, musical-sounding
booster with three controls: boost (output), guts (gain), and
bleed (a passive treble-cut). The IC-based overdrive color is a bit
Klon-like, with pristine cleans at low gain settings and throaty
drive at higher ones. It’s a potentially bright circuit, but the
bleed control is perfectly voiced for, say, smoothing the ragged
edge of a Strat bridge pickup, or conversely, adding extra bite to
a dark humbucker. With 20dB of clean boost, there’s plenty of
oomph to overdrive an amp, even at modest guts settings.
If that was all the Distillery did, the pedal would merit
consideration as a simple but effective booster. But there’s more.
Qs You Can Use
The fun starts when you activate the second circuit, a filter/EQ
with adjustable contour (frequency) and edge (resonance). These
controls let you sculpt those all-important mids, clarifying thick
sounds or bulking up thin ones. (Maybe they should have called
it The Gym, or perhaps The Liposuction Clinic.) If you’ve ever
been frustrated by overdrives with conventional passive tone
controls that can only chop highs, you’ll probably be thrilled
here. (Note that while you can use the booster without engaging
the EQ section, you can’t use the EQ without the boost.)
I love how the Distillery performs with a vintage-style Les
Paul. Modest gain settings add mass without compromising note
Two ways to
Dual circuits: booster
and resonant filter.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 161
attack. There’s none of the compressed,
nasal character you sometimes encounter
from Screamer-based circuits. Compelling
colors emerged throughout the range of
the filter controls, especially the ones with
an edgy, almost Strat-like bite. You can
truly tweak a humbucker’s character here.
With so many bright sounds on tap,
you might suspect the Distillery would be
a poor match for guitars with single-coil
pickups. Fear not—the complementary
voicing of the edge and bleed controls lets
you dial in aggressively edgy Strat tones
while rounding off painfully glassy highs.
Here too you can add mass without
compromising note attack. Transients
crack like knuckles.
Filter At Your Own Risk
I was able to get cool tones from every
guitar I plugged into the Distillery.
But make no mistake: This pedal can
be blisteringly bright. For that reason,
I’d be more inclined to recommend
it to experienced players accustomed
162 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
to wrangling EQ than to neophyte
Despite its range, the Distillery doesn’t
really do “freaky.” You won’t get the
extreme whistling and rumbling sounds
available from some other stompboxes
that pair overdrive and a resonant filter,
such as the vintage Systech Harmonic
Energizer and the modern boutique
pedals it inspired. The Distillery is more
about refining tones than redefining
them. It’s a scalpel, not a sledgehammer.
The Distillery is a powerful and
sophisticated tone-sculpting tool. Chances
are it will help you draw new shadings
from your guitar, nudging tones in various
directions as the musical setting demands.
It’s a great resource for recording guitarists
who must often shape tones to fit into a
mix, or for players hoping to differentiate
their tones within a multi-guitar band.
Best of all, it won’t downgrade the sound
of a great guitar/amp pairing.
CLICK HERE TO HEAR this pedal at
ToneConcepts The Distillery
Ease of Use
PROS A powerful tone-shaping tool.
Excellent clean boost. Many cool tones.
CONS Powerful enough to get you into
trouble if you don’t know what you’re
doing. Doesn’t do extreme/freaky filtering.
By Matthew Holliman
ersatility is a favorable attribute for most guitar gear.
Don’t get me wrong. I love one-trick ponies. They’re
easy to use and you get what you expect. But these
days, the union of function and flexibility is the ideal for most
Devilcat Amplifier’s 2-channel, 6L6 powered, 50-watt Jimmy
deftly walks the line between those two worlds. Boasting master
volume, spring reverb, and an onboard boost, the Jimmy is a
truly versatile amp that feels familiar, yet can run from polite to
nasty and get you through diverse musical situations.
164 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Our review Jimmy arrived dressed in black Taurus vinyl. (You
can also order green, white python, and Western-themed
vinyl.) For a 1x12 combo, this thing is heavy, and I had to
labor to remove the amp from its shipping shell. Reading the
product description, I understood why: The Jimmy is built like
a fortress with an all-maple plywood cabinet and a galvanized
steel chassis. As an added measure against wear and tear, the
front panel is powder coated. The Jimmy is definitely built for
Fitted with five 12AX7s, a 12AT7
phase inverter, and two 6L6s, the Jimmy
is distinctly American in character and
construction, and Devilcat put a lot of effort
into using as many U.S.-made components
as possible. The single Italian Jensen Falcon
speaker (future versions will ship with a
Celestion Vintage 30) and Slovakian JJ tubes
are the only major components made abroad.
The clean channel has a 3-band EQ
and a volume knob. A master volume,
located on the far right of the front panel,
controls both channels and can be pulled
out to engage a bright switch. Switching
to the overdrive channel (using either the
provided footswitch or a faceplate-mounted
toggle) enables the gain knob. And even at
zero, there’s a lot of saturation on tap.
Other features include an effects loop
on the rear panel, external speaker jacks
(8 or 16 Ω), a long-tank spring reverb,
and a dirt switch. You can engage the
The overdrive channel delivers vintage-style voicings
at lower gain settings, but takes on a modern character
once the gain knob creeps towards noon.
latter via toggle, or with the second
button on the footswitch. It uses the
preamp of the active channel and is the
only part of the circuit that employs a
diode. Dirt generates a mid boost and has
separate gain and volume knobs.
At first, the relative multitude of
chickenhead knobs may cause recoil among
minimalists. But if you break things down,
it’s a pretty simple, even classic control
set—just a couple of channels and a dirt
control that’s almost like having a simple
onboard stompbox. Because the Jimmy
is a combo and the controls are mounted
on the front, it can be hard to make fast
adjustments if the amp sits on the floor. So
popping it up on a chair or amp stand not
only gets you better stage projection, but
improved control access.
Reporting for Duty
With a Gibson Les Paul, the Jimmy’s clean
channel sounds crisp and defined. Pairing
the 6L6 circuit with an open-back cab
creates a snappy Fender-like presence, and
humbuckers will easily find traction for
syncopated rhythm parts—John Fogerty’s
bopping-and-dancing right hand work on
“Bad Moon Rising,” for example. In clean
mode, the Jimmy is vocal, full of range, and
12" Jensen Falcon
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 165
punchy and tight in the low end. Pulling
out the master volume for the bright
function delivers a very complementary,
cutting high-mid presence. This pull-bright
control is useful if you’re forced to turn
down on stage, and it also makes the Jimmy
very adaptable to chimey riffage.
The overdrive channel delivers vintagestyle voicings at lower gain settings, but
takes on a modern character once the gain
knob creeps towards noon. With spoonfuls
of gain on tap, the Jimmy strays from
the realm of traditional Fender overdrive
and becomes much more crunchy and
British. At these higher-gain settings, the
open-backed combo can’t quite deliver
the heavy chunk you need for metal. But
you’d be surprised at how close you can get
by matching the amp with a closed-back
cab via the external jack. Players more
interested in these sounds should consider
the head-only version of the Jimmy.
If you elect to make use of the dirt
effect—and you should if you dig heavy
sounds—you’ll likely be able to remove a
boost or OD pedal from your stage rig.
And if you’ve set up the overdrive channel
for a low-to-mild drive, you can almost
use dirt as a third channel. It feels almost
like a separate gain stage and there’s a
detectable increase in compression that
significantly changes the amp’s character
and interactivity. Engaging dirt also adds
a midrange spike that’s useful for leads.
Considering how sonically hot the
Jimmy can get, it’s worth noting the
amp’s quiet disposition. Comparatively
speaking, higher gain settings don’t suffer
from white noise pollution. You’ll hear
some buzz, but nothing that will dissuade
you from running your guitar wide open.
two, and probably the Jimmy’s strength.
But the Jimmy has brawn to spare and
character to go with the muscle, which
adds up to true versatility.
CLICK HERE TO HEAR this amp at
Devilcat Amplifiers Jimmy
Ease of Use
Ultimately, the Jimmy is a solid workhorse
for the touring or gigging musician.
And if you’re a player who works across
multiple genres, this combo can deliver.
It’s exceptionally pedal friendly and the
effects loop is great for post-gain pedals.
The clean channel is the stronger of the
Pros Straightforward control setup.
Plenty of useful features.
Cons Heavy for a 1x12 combo.
What’s Your Instrument
Gruhn Guitars offers an easy to use
online appraisal service. When you
need more than a range of values, get
a fast, accurate appraisal from the best
in the business.
Visit guitars.com for up to date
inventory and photos. Appraisal
requests can also be sent by postal
mail – Include front and back photos,
serial number and description of
instrument with $50 appraisal fee.
2120 8th Ave. S.Nashville,Tennessee 37204
Phone 615.256.2033 Fax 615.255.2021 Email email@example.com
166 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Hammond_LesliePedal_PremierGuitaPage 1 8/19/2013 8:33:36 AM
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 167
By Steve Cook
he ’80s were an interesting time for instrument builders
because many players were trading in their Les Pauls and
Strats for shiny new Charvels and Kramers. It seemed the
more radical the instrument shape, the more it was revered. And
it was in 1980 that a young Ned Steinberger introduced a wildly
different bass design to the world. His L-series instruments were
groundbreaking with their minimal footprint, headless neck, and
a tuning assembly located behind the bridge. The L-series design
was the first major overhaul for the electric bass since 1951. Not
surprisingly, bassists embraced Steinberger’s new instruments,
including notables like Bill Wyman and Geddy Lee.
Fast-forward to 2013 and NS Design’s introduction of the
headless CR5 Radius 5-string bass. This Czechoslovakian-made
instrument is the production version of Steinberger’s innovative
U.S.-built Radius bass, which made its debut about a year ago.
The dimensions are the same as the U.S. model and engineered
to Ned Steinberger’s exacting standards, but this new production
model comes with a more approachable price tag.
168 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Czech This Out
The test model arrived in a form-fitting
gig bag, and from first sight (and weight),
it identified itself as an easy carry-on
companion for a traveling bassist. After
unzipping the snug, nylon cocoon, I was
greeted with a beautiful instrument that’s
slightly reminiscent of a Kubicki Factor 4
bass, but with a more graceful aesthetic.
My tester was finished in a lovely charcoal
satin, but the Radius is also available in
amber or natural.
Steinberger has once again pushed the
boundaries of interesting features while
at the same time enhancing a bassist’s
overall comfort and interaction with an
instrument. The CR5 Radius bass is an
engineering feat: It’s a blend of elegant
form and practical purpose, with an
array of dizzyingly meticulous details.
The top of the chambered-maple body,
for example, has a tighter radius than the
back. This “Diradial” design enables a
more comfortable right-hand position on
top and enhanced hugging of the torso,
thanks to the convex back.
A big selling point of the CR5 Radius
is the tuning system. Having the tuners
behind the bridge really does provide a
more natural and subtle feel for on-thefly tuning. At the other end of the bass,
The CR5 Radius bass is an engineering feat: It’s a
blend of elegant form and practical purpose, with
an array of dizzyingly meticulous details.
an aluminum head plate anchors the
ball end of the strings atop the carbonreinforced maple neck. Gone are the
days of needing double ball-end strings
for a headless bass. The CR5 Radius will
accept any standard-scale strings and the
hollow cavity on the back makes string
changes a breeze.
The CR5 Radius is outfitted with a
pair of EMG magnetic pickups, as well as
a bridge-mounted NS Design Polar piezo
system. The 18V preamp is designed
to give the bass a lot of headroom and
sonic range. The preamp’s control set
includes a pair of 3-way mini toggles:
one for pickup selection and the other
for the piezo’s EQ settings. Four control
knobs are onboard to take care of pickup
balance, master volume, bass boost/cut,
and treble boost/cut.
Headless and Loving It
Out of the gate, the ergonomically
designed CR5 Radius felt very nice under
my fingers. The ebony fretboard is fast
and even, and I didn’t find a single dead
spot all the way to the 24th fret. The
bridge spacing is 18 mm, which also
felt comfortable and even. The radius
of the bass (hence the name) gives the
instrument a slight angle towards the
player, making the fretboard easy to see.
An oversized horn and deep cutaway help
provide balance and I didn’t experience
any neck dive whatsoever. Unplugged, the
notes were true with power and sustain,
and harmonics were fluid and effortless.
I had the opportunity to put the bass
through its paces from two extreme sides
of the spectrum—both my bedroom
amp (a Warwick CCL combo) and an
arena PA with my signal path coming
from an Avalon U5. The bass performed
beautifully in both situations.
The articulation and throaty sound
of having only the piezo engaged
really impressed me. Using the
treble setting of the piezo’s EQ, an
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 169
acoustic-like instrument came to life and
I immediately imagined that the available
fretless version of this bass would have
some serious growl. When I switched to
the bass-boost setting for the piezo, the
tone the CR5 Radius produced sounded
nothing like the piezo-only settings of
other basses I’ve played with this kind of
setup. It was intense and rich, as opposed
to pointed and bright. This dazzling
pickup setting could have handled the
arena gig on its own.
The modern tones took over when
I switched to the EMGs. My aggressive
5th string riffs that were clear and concise
in the bedroom were simply gut-shaking
in the arena setting. The 5th string is
super-tight and responsive, and chords
and double stops were even and equally
responsive. I found the bridge pickup to
be a little too nasal on its own for everyday
use, as I moved between it and the neck
pickup for tonal contrast. It might be a
useable option, however, for a solo section
or for a run that requires a bit more
articulation. I ultimately settled on the
warmest setting, which was an equal blend
of the two EMGs. And when I added the
piezo into this mix, I was again greeted
with some gorgeous, midrange growl.
CLICK HERE TO HEAR this bass at
I like this bass. At roughly $2,700, the
price isn’t astronomically high, but it’s
still high enough that the CR5 Radius is
probably going to appeal to a more select
crowd. The Radius could definitely handle
a meat-and-potatoes-type existence, but
playing it in a smoky bar night after night
might almost be like driving the Lotus
for your runs to Home Depot instead of
the truck. This bass is for the player that
demands more than a mass-produced,
slab-bodied mule. And with its slew of
modern appointments and level of quality,
the CR5 Radius is an instrument that is
able to bridge the gap somewhat between
Ned Steinberger’s custom shop and an
everyday bass. If you find one in a nearby
store, you may not put it down.
Great Gear Giveaways from
NS Design CR5 Radius
Pros Ridiculously well made and
engineered. Resembles a work of art.
You can still keep your headstock tuner.
Cons Somewhat pricey.
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170 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
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PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 171
It’s not the size of the dog in the fight
it’s the size of the fight in the dog
Prepare to be stunned by the new Engl E606 Ironball.
This 20-watt brute delivers huge punch in a compact package. Two channels of ferocious all-tube tone (2 x EL 84 power amp, 4 x ECC 83 preamp),
with switchable power settings: 20w, 5w, 1w and speaker off. The Ironball
handles everything from classic clean to garage growl to modern metal.
Plug in and you’ll immediately yearn to unleash the beast.
By Joe Gore
t’s easy to understand the appeal of “amp in a box” guitar
pedals—who wouldn’t want to evoke the sound of a
tweed, plexi, or top-boost for the price of a stompbox?
These days the pedal landscape is littered with faux Fenders,
Marshall, and Voxes. So how cool of BearFoot Guitar Effects
to create the Model G—a stompbox designed to conjure the
underappreciated Gibson combo amps of the 1960s.
You can emulate an amp via digital or analog means. BearFoot’s
amp pedals go the latter route. Like the company’s Suproinspired Honeybee OD and the Marshall-esque Dyna Red,
the Model G replicates the circuit of the amp it models via a
FET-based tone-shaping stage, plus a Screamer-like gain stage to
simulate preamp distortion.
Any amp in pedal form begs an obvious question: If the
pedal imposes amp-like coloration, aren’t you undercutting the
effect by running it into a real amp, which imposes its own
coloration? Well, yes. But in practice, players either pair pedals
of this type with clean, relatively neutral-sounding amps, or use
the pedals as quirky, colorful overdrives. Either way, the Model
G evokes the flavor of a funky little Gibson combo, if not the
exact tones. It’s a loose, vibey sort of distortion, well suited to
bluesy roots-rock and scrappy indie sounds.
The Model G is strictly handmade. Inside the hand-painted
“B”-sized enclosure is a tidily soldered circuit board. Only the
connecting wires secure it to the enclosure, though it’s insulated
with a strip of stretchy fabric. The results look home-brewed,
but reliable. You can power the pedal with a 9V battery or a
conventional barrel-type adapter.
The drive and master volume controls are straightforward.
And it’s a reasonably loud circuit whose higher settings provide a
virile solo boost. The core overdrive sound is a bit Screamer-like,
but with a brighter, less compressed character. There are many
attractive tones throughout the drive control’s range.
Mother Nature and the Deep Mysterious “C”
Most of the Model G’s character resides in the controls labeled
N (for “nature”) and C. (BearFoot doesn’t say what C stands
for, though we could easily call it “compression,” since that’s
The Model G is extremely dynamic.
Even at maximum gain setting it’s
easy to summon crispy-clean tones
by rolling back the guitar’s volume.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 173
one of the things it controls.) The amps
that inspired the Model G tend to have
one-knob tone controls, but that’s not
quite how things work here. The N knob
yields progressively crisper tones as you
turn it clockwise, with a heavy low boost
in the fully counter-clockwise position.
Meanwhile, advancing the C knob
compresses the signal slightly while adding
highs to compensate for the squeeze.
The arrangement can seem
counterintuitive at first. Bass-heavy sounds
produce more distortion, so the Model
G tends to sound biggest with N at its
minimum setting. But it’s easy to get used
to the arrangement—just use N to dial in
the desired amount of lows, and then finetune C till the highs feel complimentary.
Those highs may require a little
finessing. Like many old Gibson amps,
the Model G checks in on the bright side.
You may encounter harsh, brittle tones,
even with humbuckers, let alone singlecoils. Maximum bass settings approach the
fatness of a good Fuzz Face, but without
174 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
the corresponding treble attenuation. Still,
I finessed nice tones from the bright bridge
pickup of a pre-CBS Stratocaster through
a Divided by 13 CJ11 (a Fender-inspired
combo, also on the bright side). Meanwhile,
that extra bite did nice things to the
vintage-style PAFs in an old Les Paul.
Regardless of pedal settings or pickup
type, the Model G is extremely dynamic.
Even at maximum gain setting it’s easy
to summon crispy-clean tones by rolling
back the guitar’s volume.
Players with a taste for primitive
distortion will dig this vibey, ampinspired overdrive—especially if they
favor bright, articulate tones. There’s no
shortage of lows, though—the Model
G would shine in a rough-and-tumble
guitar/drum duo. It would be especially
appropriate for a guitarist using a
modern, relatively neutral-sounding amp,
but who sometimes craves an injection of
CLICK HERE TO HEAR this pedal at
BearFoot Guitar Effects
Ease of Use
Pros Vibey overdrive with a ’60s
attitude. Extremely dynamic. Many sonic
Cons Tones can be excessively bright
with some guitars and amps.
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 175
The Pearl Jam
always fared well in
rhythm guitarist Eddie
Vedder at his best is
a modern-rock poet,
faithful leader to one
of the more successful
bands to come out of
the grunge era and
keep making music.
It’s been almost five
years since Backspacer, and in a special documentary to launch
the new album, bassist Jeff Ament explains why: “It’s good to
wait until we feel like we do have something to say.” In the
interim, Vedder branched out into solo ventures, and it appears
that Pearl Jam is better for it: Lightning Bolt is the band’s most
focused record in more than a decade.
The inspired double-time rocker “Mind Your Manners”
brings a familiar energy, and a few other tunes share that
signature mid-tempo Pearl Jam mojo that flannel and combat
boot dreams are made of. But what’s really special is that,
while PJ has produced quite a few mediocre songs over the last
decade, here there are more than a half-dozen tracks that could
be breakout hits.
The guitar work shows experimental growth, too. The epic
“Infallible” builds not with typical PJ mystique, but with an
edgier, more modern feel. Guitarists Mike McCready and Stone
Gossard have fun with reverb and vibrato, giving a country/
rockabilly vibe to “Let the Records Play.” From stern, soaring
solos to shimmering delay, shrieking whammy-bar action, and
gentle strumming—these pros cover a lot of ground on an
album that jumps around stylistically but keeps a string attached
to the heart of the classic PJ identity.
The album’s closer, “Future Days,” has just the right
combination of piano, acoustic guitars, and violin to contrast
with more sobering material on the record. It’s carried by
sentiments of hope, the silver lining that keeps us all striving to
see beauty despite ourselves. It cuts like a bolt of lightning.
Must-hear tracks: “Pendulum,” “Yellow Moon”
On Tres Cabrones—the 19th studio
album from Melvins—the band
returns to their old-school punk
roots. They also essentially revisit
their 1983 configuration: Buzz
Osborne on guitar, Dale Crover on bass, and Matt Dillard on
drums. Though not the original lineup, it’s “as close as we’re willing to get,” says Osborne. The three raw opening tracks hark back
to the band’s Gluey Porch Treatments, with a bit of quirky pop
added to the mix. Osborne’s gritted-teeth riffs lurch over Crover’s
excellent bass work, and the guitarist’s penchant for sinewy, lo-fi
leads works especially well on the album’s slower numbers. The
hilarious covers of “Tie My Pecker to a Tree” and “99 Bottles of
Beer” offer a brief reprieve from the album’s dirgelike sound. At
times, Cabrones feels more rigid than the band’s previous work,
but it still has plenty of the headbanging riffs and trademark
tongue-in-cheek humor that make Melvins unique. Another
strong album from a band that’s still kicking hard after 30 years.
Must-hear track: “Stick ’Em up Bitch”
There are two sides to Zakk Wylde:
the mad, swaggering Viking shredder
and the sensitive crooner who isn’t
afraid to sit at the piano and put his
heart on his sleeve. On Unblackened,
Wylde’s latest live album with Black Label Society, he works
to blend these Jekyll & Hyde sensibilities while expanding his
sound with new textures. The seated front line (Wylde, plus
bassist John DeServio and “evil twin” guitarist Nick Catanese)
is a bit unusual for a BLS show, but whatever the band lacks in
Slayer-like headbanging they make up for with ample musicianship. “Losing Your Mind,” Wylde’s first single from 1994’s Pride
and Glory, reveals just how much groove is in his criminally
underrated rhythm playing. On “Takillya (Estyabon),” Wylde
even pays homage to Al Di Meola with burning nylon-string
runs. This is the sound of a shredder shedding labels and following his muse.
Must-hear track: “The Blessed Hellride”
176 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Whales and Leeches
If Red Fang’s Whales and Leeches
is proof of anything, it’s that the
Portland quartet has grown well
beyond its modern-sludge-meets-ZZTop roots. The blistering opening
track, “DOEN,” kicks in with a rampaging, Sabbath-style stomp,
ebbing and flowing with off-kilter riffs provided by bassist Aaron
Beam and guitarists Bryan Giles and David Sullivan. Listening to
such anthemic grinders as “Blood and Cream,” “No Hope,” and
“The Animal,” you realize just how much effort these musicians
have put into focusing their sound without sacrificing the abrasive
textures and fuzzed-out melodies that defined their previous work.
The monstrously heavy main riff of “Dawn Rising” demonstrates
the tight interplay and sense of groove that Giles, Sullivan, and
Beam share. Clearly they understand how you play a riff is just as
important as what notes are in it. This has always been the biggest
strength of Red Fang’s songwriting, but on Whales and Leeches it
has become second nature.
Must-hear track: “Blood and Cream”
Recorded after rookie singer/guitarist Jon
Greene sent a three-song demo to former
Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam drummer
Jack Irons and Wallflowers bassist Greg
Richling, Arthur Channel is replete with
tremulous verses, soaring choruses, ambient guitars, and dashes of discord. Richling produced the effort, but
guitarist Alain Johannes’ sonic fingerprints abound. Tapped by Queens
of the Stone Age and others for his 6-string prowess as much as his
multi-instrumental abilities, Johannes here employs his je ne sais quoi
with timbres and tonalities—everything from nylon-string fingerpicking
to fuzzy Jazzmaster riffs and lilting echoes—to imbue the songs with
a vibe that’s at once sweetly mesmerizing and ghostly. Session veteran
Lyle Workman’s leads (like the swirling, Holdsworth-for-the-masses solo
on “Vapor”) are the perfect foil, too. More dynamic tempos and a little
more attitude here and there couldn’t hurt, but Irons and Richling wisely
let Greene’s catchy songs, somber-yet-hopeful lyrics, and rich voice—
think Incubus’ Brandon Boyd meets Remy Zero’s Cinjun Tate—carry
the album. This is what your local stations should be playing.
Must-hear tracks: “Thirst of the Universe,” “New Life”
PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 177
Every so often you gotta go the other way, change the pace. Guitarist David Bromberg joins Premier Guitar editors
(and a lucky reader of the month) in discussing our favorite music—sans guitar.
What are you listening to? Right now I’m listening to some Bill Frisell records
including Gone, Just Like a Train. I’m also listening to Doug MacLeod’s DUBB,
Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi, Tracy Nelson’s Four Blues Broads, and
Larry Campbell’s Rooftops.
What is your favorite non-guitar music or album? Early Staple Singers (i.e.
The Best of the Staple Singers on Vee-Jay) and Ray Charles on Atlantic and his
Modern Sounds in Country and Western on the label he went to after Atlantic.
Reader of the Month
What are you
listening to? Buddy
Guy Rhythm & Blues,
NRBQ (with Al
Anderson and Tommy
Ardolino), and three
songs I’ve been mixing
over and over and
What is your favorite
non-guitar music or
album? Diana Krall is
always a welcome change
of pace. But if she
doesn’t count, (guitar’s
in the combo y’know),
Louis Armstrong is the
man. I met him when I
was in 4th grade (yeah, I
know, I’m old) and he’s
probably the first reason
I decided to play music!
What are you
listening to? Chris
Whitley’s Living with
the Law. A 22-year-old
album (cut in Daniel
Lanois’ house) that
sounds better than
What is your favorite
non-guitar music or
album? My all-time
album: Cheech and
Chong’s first album
Regrettably, it’s not as
funny as I remember.
What are you
listening to? Under the
Covers, Vol. 3. Susanna
Hoffs and Matthew
Sweet take on a mix
from the ’80s, the
same decade these two
guitarists saw some of
their biggest success.
What is your favorite
non-guitar music or
album? I’m a jazz fiend
and there’s a ton of it
that doesn’t have a lick
of guitar. I suppose the
Dave Brubeck Quartet’s
Time Out probably
qualifies as my all-time
fave since I’ve listened
to it a thousand times.
Gamelan music gets
honorable mention here.
What are you
listening to? The
re-issue of White Fence’s
White Fence, Magik
Surrender to the Fantasy,
the exuberant filth of
Lace the Earth … , and
Mike Donovan’s mostly
What is your favorite
non-guitar music or
album? Raga is my
first love, but I also
dig ’70s ambient synth
jams, John Cale and
Spacemen 3’s organ
drones, the ecstatic jazz
of Impulse-era Coltrane,
Pharoah Sanders, Eddie
Gale, and the ESP and
Actuel label combos.
What are you
listening to? I’ve
started delving into
the groovier side of the
Grateful Dead. From
the synthy intro on
“Shakedown Street” to
the laid-back saunter of
“West L.A. Fadeaway,”
I’m beginning to
think their rhythm
section was criminally
What is your favorite
non-guitar music or
album? There’s a soft
spot in my heart for
classical vocal music—
thanks to my wife—
and anything by Renée
Fleming gets my vote.
Above: David Bromberg Photo by Jim McGuire
Check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/premierguitar to comment on our question of the month for your chance
to be our featured Reader of the Month in Premier Guitar.
178 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
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PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 179
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PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013 187
The Guitar as Cultural Icon
BY jol dantzig
not be worth
much, but many
that in the right
hands, it could
deliver a more
hat is the essence of the
guitar? Why is it arguably
the most popular musical
instrument of all time? The fact that you
are reading these words is testament to the
guitar’s ubiquitous reach. It pervades our
daily world and informs our experience.
As the cowboys drove their herds north
along the Chisholm Trail, the guitar
was there. When African slaves toiled in
American cotton fields, they sang their
stories accompanied by a 6-string. During
the Dust Bowl, displaced families passed
time plucking and migrant workers
rode the rails to the strum of the guitar,
using it as a weapon of survival. Woody
Guthrie—a famous transient himself—
wrote and performed powerful activist
protestations that helped build trade
unions, and were echoed decades later at
the sit-ins and folk festivals of the 1960s.
“The guitar really gave me an
identity,” explains guitarist Matt Beck,
the son of two classical musicians. “It
gave me a personality that was different
from the classical instruments my parents
had.” Beck saw the line in the sand as
a call to arms that allowed him to carry
on the family business in his own image.
Today, Beck spends his time playing on
Broadway shows like Rent and Spiderman,
and performing with Matchbox 20, a
gig he’s held down for over a decade. He
sees the guitar’s flexibility as its greatest
asset, and his career underlines that as
well. As for his take on the guitar’s place
190 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
in history, Beck says, “I definitely see the
guitar in the American experience as a
centerpiece—it’s the folk instrument of
Echoing that sentiment is guitarist
and collector Errol Antzis. He remembers
hearing guitarist Michael Schenker
holding a single feedback-drenched note
during the intro of a UFO song. “Wow,
what is that sound?” he recalls thinking.
“That’s when I decided to start playing
guitar.” For Antzis, it was a defining
moment: The piano lessons got ditched
and it was 6-strings from that day on.
Antzis spent years gigging professionally
before switching gears and going back to
school. Although he carved out a career in
finance and publishing, he’s never stopped
making music. Today, his dazzling
collection of instruments is enviable, and
his musical talent has allowed him to
record with some of his guitar heroes. “I
don’t have a problem,” he says of his vast
guitar holdings, “I have a passion.”
For those musicians and many other
young people, the Anglo version of
American blues and R&B that dominated
the album charts and radio waves spurred
them to pick up and play guitar. For
others, it led to a desire to build. For
renowned builder Ken Parker, listening
to the Ventures inspired him to construct
a guitar out of cardboard as a child, but
it was the Fab Four that really knocked
“The Beatles inoculated America with
American music,” says Parker. “Their take
on R&B lit up the whole world and it
went crazy on guitars.”
Parker’s infatuation for the sound and
song of the guitar has manifested itself
in a lifelong career building instruments.
Reinterpreting and morphing the guitar’s
form has been his calling card, similar to
the way rockers of the late 20th Century
distorted and bent their music. Reflecting
his own first encounters with guitar music,
Parker strives to bring the joy of discovery
to others. “An instrument can give you
goose bumps,” he explains. “I’m trying to
create something that makes you not watch
TV, but go to the guitar case instead.”
Reflecting on the guitar’s enduring
ability to speak for new generations,
amp builder and restorer Blackie Pagano
points out that, “When you look at a
Fender Stratocaster, which was designed
in the 1950s, it still looks modern.” For
young artists, it may also be a connection
to the past. By strapping on a guitar—
and thus donning an iconic musical
costume—they can conjure up some
Pagano sees the guitar’s innate ability
to channel the performer’s personality as
its strength. “In the end, it’s what you
can get out of it, and I’ve seen guys do
amazing things with stuff you’d pull out
of the trash.” When pressed to explain
why the guitar remains popular today,
even with tech-savvy young artists,
Pagano says with a laugh, “Even the junk
of yesterday is more interesting to use
than today’s best technology.”
So is it flexibility or rebellion that
keeps the guitar close to our hearts? I’d
wager that it’s both these things and
more. Unlike horns and woodwinds, you
can sing while playing, and it’s easier
to learn (and carry) than a piano. We
hold the guitar to our bodies like a lover
and caress the strings. In our hands, it
communicates our most intimate feelings
In the end, even though it wasn’t
invented here, the guitar is the most
American of musical instruments. From
the cowboys to the latest bands gracing
the festival stages, the guitar has created
our nation’s greatest export—American
jol dantzig is a noted designer,
builder, and player who co-founded Hamer Guitars, one of the first
boutique guitar brands, in 1973.
Today, as the director of Dantzig
Guitar Design, he continues to help
define the art of custom guitar. To
learn more, visit guitardesigner.com.
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Someday You’ll Regret That Relic Job
BY JOHN BOHLINGER
ystal Bowersox poses with her
Takamine for the cover of her
album, All That for This. The
Takamine, which couldn’t be much more
than 10 years old, looks like a chunk of
driftwood washed up on a beach. I’ve seen
barns abandoned for 70 years that have
more paint on their front than that guitar.
My friend Randy Owen had a
12-string version of this Takamine.
After years of touring, it spent four days
underwater in a storage locker during
The Great Nashville Flood a few years
ago. Although the guitar’s neck fell off
and most of the seams separated, its
bulletproof poly finish looked showroom
fresh. So Crystal, although you want to
give the impression you literally played
the paint off your guitar during countless,
passion-filled hours spent honing your
craft, that’s just not possible. You could
not have put in more hours on that guitar
than Willie Nelson has on his old Martin.
A battle-worn acoustic like Willie’s
“Trigger” has sincerity about it—as if
every scar represents emotions and sweat
pounded into it. There’s the irony: People
who go to the trouble of giving their
guitar a relic job want to appear genuine
by faking authenticity. Hypocrite that I
am, I own two relic instruments—a Tele
and a bass. Both play and sound great, but I
feel like a poser when I’m using them. Truth
is, you can tell mo-faux from the real deal
99.9 percent of the time.
Here are the tells. Most new guitars
have a poly finish. Most old guitars have a
nitrocellulose finish. Poly does not wear like
nitro. Nitro is delicate, prone to cracking,
chipping, fading, and wearing away. Poly is
durable—forever young and shiny.
Those who relic also give themselves
away because they go too far. They’re not
satisfied with a normal 50 years worth of
wear. They want their guitars to look like
Keith Richards himself personally played
50 years worth of gigs on it.
Compare Bowersox’s newish Tak to
the 1946 Martin D-18 adjacent to it.
Although we’ve logged a few hundred
192 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2013
Relic or Real? Clockwise from top left: An “old” Takamine, 1946 Martin D-18, 1967 Fender
Tele, 2007 PRS.
hours together, I treat this D-18 with the
concerned care you’d give a baby. The
previous owner may not have been as
careful, but through 67 years of playing,
my guitar still looks relatively new
compared to Crystal’s Tak. And that’s in
spite of my D-18’s delicate nitro finish.
Look at my 1967 Tele—a true player’s
guitar. Its former owner put in tens of
thousands of hours on it, installed an
early B-bender in the ’70s, and added a
brass nut and brass saddles. In spite of
the age and play, the 46-year-old nitro
finish shows only very light wear.
Check out my PRS. This poor thing
has been knocked over and nearly crushed
when a light truss landed on it during
a world tour. The nitro finish has a few
dings, but considering the abuse, it looks
played, not artificially aged.
Guitars are like the Velveteen Rabbit:
If the owner truly loves them and plays
them enough, they will come to life. If you
want your guitar to look played, play it so
much that it seldom sees the inside of a
case. Maybe you’ll find your 4-year-old son
joyfully beating it with a drumstick. You’ll
be pissed, but eventually you’ll laugh it off.
Perhaps one sweaty, lonely August night
the neck will feel sticky and you’ll impulsively
sand it down to the wood. Somebody will
spill beer on it, blow smoke on it, airlines will
do their best to destroy it, and hundreds of
hours of music will vibrate through it. All of
this will make your guitar an honest-to-God
relic—a historical artifact of your musical
journey. You can’t fake that.
is a Nashville multi-instrumentalist.
He’s been the Musical Director
for the CMT Music Awards for the
past five years, led the band for all
six seasons of NBC’s hit program
Nashville Star, and has worked on
many specials for GAC, PBS, CMT,
USA, and HDTV.
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