Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Stratocaster in the Morning

I had a few minutes to kill while I waited to send my daughter off to school on the bus. Here is a quick 30 second improv on my strat through a Classic 30 amp.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Stevie Ray Vaughan, his clones and John Mayer

I am a fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan. I was working at Musicland in 1984 when he started to break out into the mainstream and was hooked when I heard "Texas Flood." Being a guitar player, I was drawn to his original revved-up blues rock and his interpretations of music by Otis Rush, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, et al. During a time when most guitar players were using rack-mounted processors and effects that needed a degree in engineering to operate, here comes SRV with a battered pre-CBS Stratocaster, going through a few effects and into an old Marshall or Fender amp. There was nobody playing like that in 1984 who was in the music mainstream, although there were probably plenty of unknown guitarists playing in a similar style all across America. He was the first to break out in the MTV world who was different.

I was lucky enough to see SRV in concert in August 1989, during the In Step tour. It was an outside concert on Harriet Island in St. Paul. I may have been far away from the stage, but I still fell under the magic of his music.

Which leads me to this: since SRV’s death, there have been many clones come out, like Kenny Wayne Sheppard and Corey Stevens, and probably thousands of others around the world, all brandishing Sunburst strats and wearing a hat.

This leads to severe criticism on guitar forums all over the Internet. Are these musicians original? Are they just copies of SRV, who he himself proudly admitted that he took from the people before him, and made the songs his own?

I used to think these guys were silly to try to emulate SRV. Now I think it is great, because in today’s bland music scene, they are least trying to keep this kind of music alive. SRV is not around anymore to do it, so why not all those guitarists across the world? I see it all over – particularly on YouTube - with young kids, picking up a guitar and wanting to play like SRV. How cool is that? The fact the young kids, both boys and girls, are doing this kind of music instead of listening to Hannah Montana, that Spears lady and others, is a very good thing!

Onto John Mayer: I am always amazed at how much criticism is leveled at John Mayer for daring to sound like SRV. Here is a guy who loves to play guitar and is one of the new great, young guitar players with mainstream success, bringing SRV’s style of music back into light. And all these guys do is complain about how stupid Mayer looks when he plays, or that he found success playing AOR music before going into the blues with the John Mayer Trio. We, as guitar players, should appreciate any effort that a guy like Mayer makes to keep SRV’s (and others) brand of charged-up blues rock going.

It really does not matter to me that it has all been done before. I just like the music, and how it makes me feel. I miss Stevie Ray Vaughn. But his music and spirit is alive in all of us who like to play in his style, paly his songs and learn from what he did. I suppose it is the passing down from one generation to the next. Maybe someone out there will discover a new direction to take it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Childhood Guitars - Conn and Ibanez

I thought it was appropriate to write a few words about two other guitars I had in the 1970's, since I covered the Univox High Flyer a few weeks ago.

Peter Frampton was all the craze in the mid 70's, and so were black Les Paul Customs. Of course, getting a real Les Paul was out of the question, so I found this little plywood gem, a Conn Drifter. It was actually a nice guitar, with fake humbucking pickups and a bolt on neck. I painted the plastic white to look like Frampton's Les Paul, and even added white paper to the neck to make it look like a set neck! That is something a 13 year old would do! I recall being very proud of this guitar and sold the Univox to buy it. I have found very little information on Conn, other that it was Japanese made and probably made by Aria Guitars. Here is one link I found on Japanese guitars from that era. And another interesting link on Asian guitars, the VintAxe Forum. Most of us young guitar players started out on Asian guitars. They had a bad reputation of being cheap copies.
Until I got this one - an Ibanez Stratocaster. I traded the Conn for this. It was my second choice as the real Fender Stratocaster, used and selling for $192 (!) in 1977, was sold when I went back to the store. The strat was a great guitar, with a laminated maple fingerboard on a maple neck. I bought an Ampeg VT-22 amp along with the guitar for a total of $250. The Ampeg was loud, which my dad did not appreciate. It did not have a master volume, so to get any distortion you had to crank it up. I have tapes of me playing this setup, and for a ninth grader in 1977, it was not too bad! These stat copies are highly regared today, as quailty copies, at a time when real Fenders were having quality problems and did not have a good reputation. Are these collectable? I can't seem to find the answer that. People do collect Ibanez guitars, so I am sure they have gone up in value over the years. Here is a link to an Ibanez collectors page. This guitar had a cross between a matte and glossy finish, which had cracks in it soon after I bought it. I do not know what the body wood was, as I probably did not care one bit back then.
As I view this site, I remembered getting Ibanez catalogs back then, and seeing that they made dead-on copies of Gibson Flying V's and Explorers, which are very expensive these days. Tommy Bolin and Ricky Medlock played the Destroyer (Explorer copy) as did Eddie Van Halen, who took a saw to his. Bob Mould of Husker Du used the Rocket Roll (Flying V copy) for many years. These guitars are known as "Lawsuit" guitars, as Gibson supposedly sued to stop them from making them to sell in the USA.
I own four Stratocasters today, and I as I listen to the tapes of me playing the Ibanez with the Ampeg cranked, I can say that it sounded like a Stratocaster should.
I traded this guitar in late 1978 for a 1978 Les Paul Deluxe in wine red, another guitar I wish I had today. I wonder where the Ibanez is today. Probably somewhere down in southern Minnesota or Northern Iowa, perhaps?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Quiet Riot concert - 1983 in Minneapolis

Here are a few pictures I took of Quiet Riot in July of 1983 in Minneapolis at the Parade Stadium. It was the Northwestern Beer and Barbeque concert. They opened, followed by Joan Jett, Greg Kihn and the headliners, Lowerboy. I got right up front for Quiet Riot, as they were not hugely popular then. I had that Metal Health cassette in my car most of that summer. I wish I could have seen them with Randy Rhoads, though. I have Quiet Riot two, recorded in the late 1970's. It is more pop metal, if there is such a thing. I will add more pictures later this weekend.

Monday, November 19, 2007

1960's SG Jr.

In 1981, I traveled up to St. Cloud, Minnesota to visit a few music stores. I came across Al’s Music on my last stop. One the wall was a beat up, white SG Jr., with its finish cracked\ and dents and chips all over the body, but in all original condition. The price was $250. I had to have this guitar, but, being only 18 and in vocational school, I had no cash. I drove home, about an hour south, and tried to figure out a way to buy this before it was too late. I decided that my Echoplex had to go. So, with that in hand, and some cash, I drove back up there. It had been a few weeks, so I was hoping it was still there. It was, and I got it.

When I plugged it in, I remember being under whelmed with the soap bar pickup. That was probably because I had never had one before. I decided it needed a humbucking pickup. I managed to find one even with my limited funds. I had no tools to get it in, though. Out comes a screwdriver, which worked well as a chisel. I made the rout just big enough. Of course, today, you would never, ever do this. Back then, it was just an 18 year old beat up SG Jr. I did not know the year of the SG, but it had to be between 1964 and 1967.

The guitar sounded great with the new pickup. I was using a Lab Series L-5 amp with it.
It was as light as a feather, and had a crude vibrato bar on it, which worked well enough. It was not meant for dive bombing, Van Halen type playing, but with a subtle touch, you could get those Allan Holdsworth styling’s.

I used the guitar for maybe two years, until GAS go a hold of me (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome). I traded it for a Les Paul Custom. The original pickup went back on, and the rout was small enough to where you did not even notice that I took a screwdriver to it.

I really miss this guitar. It is the only one I ever regret getting rid of. With the damage I did to it, it may not be all that collectable, but it played great and had the true reliced look, due to years of playing and abuse by its former owner. Today, Gibson and others try to replicate that look. This one was the real deal.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Univox Hi-Flyer 1976

In the summer of 1976, aftera long beanwalking season, I bought this guitar. It was sitting at the music store where my mom bought sheet music. I had admired it for quite a long time, and when the $150 came in, I got it. I did not know much about guitars. I knew that Duane Allman played a Gibson Les Paul, but I had never played one yet. They were out of reach at that time.

This guitar is a Univox Hi-Flyer, a made in Japan model. It was a copy of a Mosrite from the early sixties. This guitar had two humbucking pickups and a vibrato bridge.
I recall that it had a nice neck and played very well. I had it a year and sold it to a kid in Iowa in the summer of 1977.
Who knew that Kurt Cobain would use this very model of guitar in the early days of Nirvana and cause the prices to go up on them a bit.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I recently spent some quality time with a Fender Telecaster Thinline, a Made in Mexico semi-hollow guitar, modeled after the 1969 Thinline. This particular guitar was finished in a beautiful three color sunburst finish. This combo is one of my favorite color schemes.

The features are typical Telecaster, with a one piece maple neck with skunk stripe on the back of the neck, slotted tuners, 21 frets vintage style frets, three saddle adjustable ashtray bridge, and volume and tone controls. The neck was slightly chunky, with a laquered finish, which seems sticky to me, as someone who is used to satin finished necks. But I got over that quickly as I played this guitar through a Classic 30 amp.

The setup was great on this guitar, and finish darn near perfect. Then neck pocket was as it should be. The guitar does not weigh much at all, which is great for my old back.

All that aside, what about the guitar sound? I found that this guitar gave me the twang my Standard does not, although I am changing the pickups on that one soon. I play a lot of blues and classic rock music, and use Stratocasters, along with my Standard Telecaster. The guitar just sang and the semi-hollow body projects the sound beautifully. The neck pickup gets a smooth tone, slightly dark, if you roll off the treble. I really prefer the neck pickup on this guitar.

The bridge pickup is a little harsh, but controllable. I could see doing a pickup change someday but I don’t own this guitar, so I am only thinking out loud here.

This guitar is on my wish list, although I am really intrigued with building my own with Stew-Mac parts. I am a little wary of the small frets, and if I were to spend the money, I would want the larger frets.

However, if I never get around to building a partscaster, this one would do fine.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Agile AL2000

Here is a clip of the Agile AL2000, a korean made Les Paul copy. It is an alright guitar, but I am changing the pickups next year. The guitar itself is almost flawless in construction, and has a maple top with a thin flame veneer.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

1983 - Gibson Explorer and Marshall Amp

In 1983, I owned this setup - a brand new first run Gibson Explorer from the new custom shop. I traded a 1983 57 reissue Stratocaster that I just could not get along with. (In the time between the two guitars, I borrowed a 1968 SG Standard, which was then just a 15 year old guitar that I rememer as being not so good and difficult to get along with. Who knew that would be worth so much today?)

The Marshall is a 50 watt from 1969-70, that was used through a Vox 6 x 10 cabinet. This was not the best set up for an apartment, even with the Powersoak!

I sometimes regret getting rid of that Explorer. It was all korina mahogany, with a fantastic neck. The vibrato bar on this picture was a Bolen Bar, that just sat on the exisiting stop tail set up. I did not have it on the guitar for long.
The Marshall was killer. The first time I played through it to test it out before buying, was the first time I had ever played through a Marshall. Somehow, I got the $475 for it all, even though I was only working parttime at a Pizza Hut. The amp did not do as well when I used it later with the strat. I was a bit naive about gear back then and could have used a distortion pedal or EQ with a booster to give it more bite. I bought the amp when I had a Les Paul, so I was using the same amp that Duane Allman used and a similar guitar (in name only, really). I did not sound like Duane, though, no matter how hard I tried.
I traded the amp for a Fostex x-15 four track, which I got many years of use out of and, since I was not a performer, made more sense to have.
The Explorer - well, I traded for a Hamer Prototype, a new guitar with a triple pickup system and Kahler vibrato bar. This guitar left the Explorer in the dust as far as playability and sound. When I got the Hamer, it was pure bliss. I used that guitar for many years as my main performing and recording guitar. As much as I regret getting rid of the Explorer, that Hamer gave me years of service. It is gone, traded for a Stratocaster.
Next post....my mid 60's SG Jr., that I bought for $250 in 1981.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Randy Rhoads

I am a big fan of Randy Rhoads. I did not really know about him until after his death. I had the first LP, but never really listened to it much in 1981. In June of 1982, while learning songs in a band, someone played "Diary of a Madman." I was hooked. I wish I could have gone to Musonia, his mom's music school, when I was in Los Angeles. Hopefully I will have more time on the next trip out.
Here are a few pictures that a co-worker took in January of 1982, as they played the Met Center, now the site of a Mall of America parking lot.
I never got to see Randy play. All I have are these pictures. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

1983-1986 Squier Stratocasters and Telecaster

In 1986, I bought a Squier Stratocaster, made in Japan, in Lake Placid Blue. It was my fourth strat, with the first being an Ibanez copy, then a 25th Anniversary Fender and lastly, an early 1983 Fender 1957 reissue. I sold or trade all those away and was strat-less for a few years. This guitar was bought for around $250. Who knew that in 2007, these Japanese-made guitars would be nearing collectable status? Of course, very little of the original guitar remains, as I stripped the LPB finish off, replaced the weak pickups with Texas Specials and put in new pots, switches and bridge saddles. It is now a matte white with a black pick guard. The body is poplar, which works just fine.

Early 1983 Squier Stratocasters, which were 70’s era copies, are going for over $500. A friend of mine had a black Squier strat, with a rosewood neck. He first stripped off the damaged black finish to reveal a highly figured ash body. He also installed Fender Vintage noiseless pickups. It was a fantastic guitar that was later, unfortunately, stolen. He later bought another one off of e-bay, and after keeping it a few years, sold it for over $500.

These guitars are as good as any American made Strat of that time. That is reflected on today’s market. My 1986, an E-series on the serial number, is collectable, but not nearly as the early 1970’s-style copies or the JV series.

I bought another Squier Strat in late 1987 that was made in Korea and was made to be similar to a 1957 model. It was ok and could have possibly been better if I had taken the time to fix it up.

Another friend has a 1983 Squier Telecaster, in black with a maple neck. It has the vintage styling’s, with the 3 brass saddles and small frets.

By far, it is the best Telecaster I have ever played and has the classic Tele sound. This guitar outdoes any American or Mexican Telecaster I have played in recent years. I made an attempt to get my Mexi-Telecaster to sound like that by ordering a vintage style GFS pickup. It comes close, but is not there yet.

I would seriously consider buying the new Squier Thinline Telecaster. I have always wanted a thinline and have thought about building one with parts. This is priced below $300 and looks like a great guitar. Note – link to Fender site.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rush Concert and Guitar Building Links

I saw my second Rush concert a few months ago when Rush rolled into St. Paul. I had seen the Vapor Trails concert years ago. I have been a Rush fan since the first LP back in 1974, but had never seen them in concert until the Vapor Trails tour.

They are supporting the new release, Snakes and Arrows this time around. The three were in great form and hit the stage with "Limelight." Alex used Les Paul guitars for most of the show, with the exception of using his white 355 for the encore. I am amazed at how tight they are as a band. Many of the new songs were featured in the second half of the show. Snakes and Arrows is not a bad CD at all. I have not really listened to it much yet but my initial impressions are positive.

This guy on Harmony-Central is building a Les Paul copy by hand. He is a woodworker by trade and has the tools and expertise to pull it off.

Here is another person building pine-bodied Telecaster copies from old end tables. I would love to play one of these and really like his concept of an "organic" guitar from reclaimed wood and parts that were lying around the shop.

Gibson is finally releasing information of the routing of chambers in production Les Pauls to reduce weight. All of my now-gone Les Pauls were heavy, Norlin-era. The weight is just part the guitars charm, so to speak. Gibson claims that the chambers have very little impact on the trademark sound of a Les Paul. I recently played a new one, and it was very light. I have no opinion on what it would sound like through an amp, as I have not had the chance to hook one up. I would think that since the famous Les Paul sound is rooted in the late 50’s era, that this chambering is not a good idea. I have been reading on Fender Forum and The Gear Page that the sound is almost in ES335 territory.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Remembering Duane Allman

Today marks the death on the person who most influenced me on the guitar – Duane Allman.

I was all of 12 when I awoke at 1 am in the morning and turned on the radio to KAAY, Little Rock. From 11 pm to 6 am, the radio show "Beeker Street" was on. They played all the music you would never hear on AM radio. I awoke to the most incredible guitar playing. I did not know who it was. My brother had been listening and said that maybe it was the Allman Brothers Band. I had never heard of them, even though "Ramblin Man" was a hit at the time. Later that week, I bought the Beginnings LP, which had the first two LPs repackaged. I did not hear the song, but I still loved what I heard on the record.

I bought a $10 folk guitar from a classmate – I was in the 6th grade – and started to figure out how to play. My sister gave me a few lessons and I learned G, C, and D chords. A few weeks later, I bought the Fillmore East LP. I then heard the song – You Don’t Love Me – I had heard the part when it was just Duane playing by himself. Within a few months, I had all the Allman LPs, thanks to my mom, who was nice enough to buy them for all of about $7.00 each. By then, I was absorbing all I could from Beeker Street – Robin Trower, Hendrix, Marshall Tucker, Rush, Mahogany Rush, Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath, Yes…the lost goes on and on. My LP collection grew quite a bit that year. I spent hours playing along with records trying to learn it all. I got a Teisco electric guitar and amp by the time I was in 7th grade, and continued to buy a new guitar every year, using my money from weeding the bean fields during the summer.

Those few moments over the Christmas holidays in 1973 changed my life. I never did really play professionally, and I can’t play at all like Duane Allman. However, it has been a lot of fun and I still love to play and listed to music of all kinds.

Thanks, Duane.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Playing slide the Duane Allman way on a 1997 strat using a Peavey Classic 30 amp

Friday, October 26, 2007

Changing Necks on Stratocasters and Other Things

Two of my Stratocasters area 1994 with a rosewood neck and a 1997 with a maple neck. I thought it would be interesting to switch the necks on the two. The removal of the necks was easy enough. The 1994 was greatly improved with the maple neck. The action was low right away and required very little adjustment. The alder/maple combo works well together. My 2001 Strat is a ash/maple combo. I find that the 1994 is not quite as bright, but sounds much more full and louder with the maple.

The 1997 Strat got the rosewood neck. For some reason, the action is much higher and the high E string is hitting the first fret. The body on this guitar, a candy apple red, is heavy, which leads me to think that it may be ash and not alder. Fender usually does solid colors as alder so I am not sure. The sound of this guitar is very close to the 1986 Made in Japan Squier strat, i.e. very SRV like. I am not sure I really like this combo, and think that a set-up by a pro is needed. I like the action high on a few of my guitars to accomdate slide.

Over the years, I have learned to play almost all with my fingers, forgoing a pick. I saw Derek Trucks up close and finally figured out the correct way to play slide in the Duane Allman way. That changed everything for me. I get much better harmonics from my fingernails and find that that playing with dynamics is much easier. You almost feel like a part of the guitar. I mute the strings I am not playing and can move from slide to regular playing very easily, while keeping the slide on my third finger. I recommed anyone trying to learn slide to watch a clip of Derek Trucks.

I am thinking that any new guitar I get in the future will be made with parts. I want to customize a Telecaster in Surf green, rosewood neck and a humbucker in the neck spot. That would be a great combo.

After years of playing Fenders, I have found that they suit me best. A Gibson or any guitar in that scale feels strange to me. I own an Agile AL2000, a Korean made Les Paul copy bought on a $100 blowout from RondoMusic.com. They are the direct distributors of Agile and sell them without a middleman or any advertising. The prices are low for these. I have been very impressed by this guitar. As a previous owner of 4 Les Pauls, I have to say that it does not come close to one. But it will get you in the ballpark. With a few mods, it could get there.

There are very few imperfections on this guitar. The frets are perfect, the finish is spotless, and the hardware works fine. The pickups are ceramic, and will be replaced with a set of GFS Alnicos next year. The ceramics are fine, but I do like the Alnicos better. The only flaw on this guitar is on the bottom, with a few finish streaks that are barely noticeable. The body is a three piece mahogany, the top is a slab of about 1/4" maple, with a thin flame top maple laminate, which is not a photflame. This guitar works great as a slide guitar, and may be even better with the new pickups and a pro set up. Not bad at all for $100. I have not seen them go that low since December of 2005, when I got this as a christmas present.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


We have been doing geocaching as a way to get our kids outside. It does seem a bit silly to search for tupperware hidden in the woods. However, it is a great way to get exercise and challenge ourselves to find the cache. Our GPS unit, which cost around $150, does a good job of getting us to the area. We stay mostly around our home in Carver County, Minnesota. It also takes us to areas, mostly parks and trails, we have never been to, in Victora, Chaska and Chanhassen.

I will be looking for places to explore the next time we travel. We have been all over the west, around the Great Lakes, and to Canada the last few years. Last year at this time, we drove out to North Dakota to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Since it was snowing, we had the place to ourselves.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

This is about music and guitars. I started this journey way back in 1973, after hearing Duane Allman play on the Fillmore East Lp, at 1 am in the morning on KAAY, Little Rock. I picked up many interests in my youth, but the music and love of guitar playing still has a hold on me.

Sometimes the interest goes away for a bit. I took a break from guitars from 1994-2000 when my kids were really little. I picked it up again and found I had lost some of my skills. Picks were hard to find around the house, so I started using my fingers, Jeff Beck style.