Sunday, February 17, 2008

Saturday Night Live Season Two Music Guests

I was 13 years old when I watched these live on Saturday night, often with my Univox electric guitar in hand, ready to play along with the music. It was a blast from the past to purchase the first two seasons, with the third season set to be released this May.

I grew up on the flat fields of southern Minnesota, where we only got about four channels, so anytime I got to see a taped or live music concert was a treat. SNL, along with Don Kirshner's Rock Concert and The Midnight Special, were really the only games in town. Often, the guitarists would be playing a Stratocaster or Les Paul, the two guitars I wanted badly.

The Band made their last TV appearance on October 31, 1976.I was not a fan, but I remember watching this live that night. Robbie Robertson had recently been on the cover of Guitar Player, so I knew who they were. He was playing a vintage 50's Stratocaster with a humbucking pickup in the bridge spot, playing his distinctive sytle with pinch harmonics and that treblely tone. Levon was playing, as I learned many years later, his wooden drum kit bought in the 60's, that definded his drum tone. Now, of course, as I am older, my wife and I are huge fans of the Band and own many or most of their music and taped concerts. That was almost the end of an era, as the Band were true originals. Music changed later during the 70's, with disco taking over the airwaves and many of the older bands faded away.

Brian Wilson made a rare and unusual appearance on November 27, 1976. He was shaky at best, but it was good to see him out of his shell of anxiety and drepression. He was clearly nervous, but had the courage to appear in a sketch as a guard. He played Good Vibrations solo on piano while sitting in a sandbox.

The Kinks were on the show on the February 26, 1977 and played a quick medley of their hits. Dave Davies played a beautiful 50's goldtop Les Paul with P-90 pickups. This guitar was probably not a huge collectable at the time, but would be worth a fortune today. He sounded great, as did the rest of the band.

Levon Helm played on the March 19, 1977 show, along with Dr. John and Paul Butterfield, calling themselves Levon Helm and the All Stars. They played great on two songs, and one wonders why they did not continue with this line up. For us, this was worth the price of the boxed set. Leveon Helm is a true American musical treasure, who lives for the music and still plays today at his farm. He beat cancer and financial problems, and recently won a Grammy for Dirt Farmer.

Santana played on March 26, 1977, playing Europa, which was at the time, my favorite song, and did a short version of Black Magic Woman. I was a huge fan at that time and was learning his songs the best I could. He was playing a Yamaha SG-2000 through Mesa Boogie amps. It was a thrill for me seeing him play Europa. Also, he seemed to be on TV alot that year. You could not be an aspiring guitar player at that time and not be influenced by Santana. I would hold a microphone to the tv speaker and taped these performances to my cassette recorder so I could learn the songs. Somewhere, I have a tape of me from 1977, playing along with Europa. It was not a bad effort. Ieven hit a few of the same notes as he did.

Frank Zappa was on the December 11, 1976 show, with a young Terry Bozzio on drums. I liked Frank, but was not to familiar with his music at that time. John Belushi appears on Frank's last song on the show, as the Samuari saxaphone player. Frank was playing a SG copy given to him by a fan. Frank was a true orignal, and there has been no once since that is does his style of music. He did not care for guitar pyrotechnics and flash, and does not even play guitar on one of the songs.

Chuck Berry was on the January 22, 1977 show, playing his trademark Gibson ES-345. He played Johnny B. Goode and did his duck walk. It was easy to see why he scared the heck out of people in the 1950's and we own much to him for coming up with many of the guitar stylings and licks that we have all played at one time or another.

There are many more to write about, and I have focused mostly on the second season. I am looking forward to the third season, and will write more about others later when I have more time.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fender Unveils New American Standard Series

The original American Standard ran from 1987 to 2000, where it was replaced with the America Series. There was much controversy about the orignal AM Standards, from the swimming pool route underneath the pickguards on Strats, the the use of veneer tops and backs, covering the multiple pieces of wood use for the body. Plus, the type of wood was often unknown. Poplar and Basswood, perfectly fine woods, were thought to have been used at times. Regardless, the American Standard was a good guitar and was very popluar. I own a 1994 and 1997 Stratocaster and am very happy with them.

The American Series came out in 2001, I believe, and addressed the veneer issue. In Fender ads, they specifically mentioned the use of non-veneered bodies, and changed the much-maligned swimming pool route to be less severe. I own a 2001 Stratocaster, and consider it my main guitar.

The changes from the Fender website:
  • A new bridge with improved bent-steel saddles mounted to a stamped-brass bridge plate for increased resonance and sustain.

  • A new neck treatment—tinted for a richer presentation, with the maple or rosewood fingerboard buffed to a high gloss. The back of the neck still has that silky, comfortable satin finish.

  • A thinner finish undercoat that lets the body breathe and improves resonance.
  • A new Fender-exclusive SKB molded case.

I had a chance to play both the Tele and Strat unplugged. I did not notice much of a difference in the body, but the maple neck was darker. Lately, it seems that Fender is using white maple, almost a light green in some cases. They must have caught on to complaints about that. The new necks have that slippery feel common in vintage reissues and 1970's era guitars. The body has a thinner finish, too, supposedly helping the overall tone.

My impressions were that the guitars felt like my 2001 Strat, and I was not really crazy about a slippery fingerboard. However, none of that detracts from a finely made guitar. It is just my personal preference. The laquered neck is not near as bad as say the Eric Johnson signature Strat or a 52 reissue Telecaster, which I have a hard time with.

Small changes to the guitars have added to a just under $1000 pricetag, too.

I am planning on trying these out plugged in soon, so I can see how they sound. Word around the guitar forums is that they sound fantastic and all of the changes are good.

Whatever the changes, Fender always does a good job on moving forward with old designs. When you look back on the history of Stratocasters, you can see how they have evloved over time. And almost always for the better. Sure, CBS screwed things up during the 1970's. But having grown up during that time, my interest was in the new models, not the old ones. I did not know about all the crap that was going on. I just knew that I was looking at these guitars in awe.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

1986 Squier Stratocaster

This is my work-in-progress 1986 Squier Stratocaster, made in Japan. This is the oldest guitar I own and for years it was sitting in parts waiting for the body to be refinished. It used to be Lake Placid Blue, but in a fit of boredom, I stripped it and tried to bleach it to natural white. The body is poplar, and very lightweight. It was repainted as a matte pearl-like white, which is yellowing nicely.

The neck is very comparable to a Fender 1962 reissue, as the Squier was modeled after that guitar. In fact, I recently compared this neck to a new reissue. The Squier neck, being 22 years old, felt better to me. I just love the neck on this guitar.

This guitar now has Texas Special pickups on it. I hope to add better bridge assembly, as it currently has cheap saddles on it. The guitar still needs work, as I feel the Texas Specials are almost too hot for the guitar. As a slide guitar, it works great. The action is high, but I decided to leave it that way for slide and just get used to playing it with higher action that I would normally use. It needs a better rewiring, too, as the bridge pickup is not wired into a tone control. It is too shrill to use. This short clip uses the neck and middle pickup, and I am playing straight into my Peavy Classic 30.

Squiers from 1983 to mid 1987 are getting collectible, believe or not, as the quality was very high on them. The original pickups were weak, and I am not crazy about the bridge assembly. With a few modifications, these guitars are worth it.