Monthly Archives: January 2012

Fender Highway One Telecaster, Honey Blonde

The Fender Telecaster is one of the most iconic guitars in history.  From Keith Richards to Bruce Springsteen to Joe Strummer to George Harrison, no player can resist its unique allure.  Able to function equally well in country, rock, jazz and blues, the Tele knows no boundaries.  In good company, I too was taken in by its siren song , and have been under its spell ever since . . .

Not long ago, Fall 2009 to be exact, I began to get serious about collecting guitars.  Like most beginning collectors, I wanted to start with the basics – and there is none more basic than the Fender Stratocaster.  So, I began my journey by purchasing a Fender Highway One Series Stratocaster.  Smitten with my acquisition, I soon decided to move on to the second collection essential – the Telecaster.  Just a few months later I went window shopping on the historic West 48th street in New York City, and a quick dip into Sam Ash resulted in the second addition to my budding collection.

The Fender Highway One series is(was) a unique transitional series for the Fender corporation.  Although still available, the HWY 1 is on its way out, and will soon be completely discontinued (or more appropriately, replaced by the American Special series).  The idea behind this slew of guitars was to make an affordable, entry level, USA-made Fender guitar.  Most guitar players are aware of the great discrepancy between an American-made Fender and a Mexican-made Fender, but for those unaware, generally there is a huge difference in materials, craftsmanship, overall quality and most importantly, holding of value.  Although Mexican-made Fenders are cheaper, they depreciate drastically upon purchase, and are typically sub-par instruments, while American-made Fenders hold value and are of higher quality, they are upwards of $1000.  To bridge the gap, Fender created the HWY 1 series – American-made guitars at approximately $700.

The Fender HWY 1 Tele is modeled after the 1970s Fender aesthetic.  It has classic block lettering on the headstock, and a vintage styled bridge and saddles.  The body is a huge hunk of Alder, there are 22 jumbo frets and a modern C-shaped neck.  One of the coolest and most unique things about this model is its Satin Nitrocellulose lacquer finish.  In congruence with vintage Fenders, this thin finish allows the body to breathe and vibrate with the strings, giving the guitar a more “live” feel.  The finish color is Honey Blonde, and in combination with the NC lacquer, has translucence, allowing the body’s wood grain to show through.  Ultimately, this guitar has the look and feel of a 1970s Tele, with modern playability and price tag.

I think this guitar is awesome.  I have since sold my HWY 1 Strat, but I can’t part with the Tele – it feels like a worn in pair of shoes, fits like a glove, feels like butter, etc.  It’s one of the most comfortable guitars I have ever played and the HWY 1 styling looks amazing.  I use it as my travel guitar, and despite having been stowed away for thousands of miles, has never given me any problems.  I have heard complaints about the finish wearing in too quickly, but personally I think its a perk, giving each individual instrument character (plus I love the “liveliness” of NC lacquer).  You will notice that I have replaced the neck PU with a Lollar Charlie Christian PU – but I will save that for another review.  Overall, I use this axe to play jazz, blues, country and solo chord-melody arrangements, and find its sounds and look continuously inspiring.

So go out and get one while they’re still available!  As we all know, American made, discontinued Fenders can become pretty valuable over time – and why not get some quality playing with a great guitar in while you wait!

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Ted Greene – “Chord Chemistry”

As in any field of study, countless volumes have been written about music.  With the increasing popularity of the guitar, particularly in the last 50 years, a wealth of guitar literature has been established, much of it penned by the instrument’s greatest masters.  Today, many of us learn from teachers, in person, but truth be told, if we were all well disciplined, self-motivated students, we could learn everything we would ever need to know about the guitar from books.  Although it is immensely helpful to have a teacher synthesize and communicate this information, some books hold a special knowledge only receivable though the intimate reading, studying experience.

In the “books” section of Riffs of Wisdom, I will shed light on some literature that could greatly help all guitarists on their journey towards musical nirvana.  Some will be advanced, theoretical books, some will be instructional methods, some will be important collections of scores, and some will just be plain fun reads!  Ultimately, these books have helped me gain many Riffs of Wisdom, and will hopefully teach you a few too.

The first book I’m writing about is a guitar classic, and can be found in many guitar players’ bookshelves – “Chord Chemistry,” written by Ted Greene.  Although Ted wrote four significant works about the guitar, this is by far his most well known.  Ted was primarily a solo, finger-style guitarist.  He is most commonly depicted with a vintage Telecaster, and Fender amp, staples of his signature tone.  A master of music theory and harmony, Ted became famous for his intricate solo guitar arrangements, often turning Jazz standards, Pop tunes, and Beatles’ songs into gorgeous guitar ballads.  He also was well known for his mastery of the blues, on which he could improvise endlessly, implementing walking bass lines, harmony and melody.  Much like his contemporary, Lenny Breau, Ted was also well known for his use of artificial harmonics and close-voiced harmony, similar to that of a pianist.  Overall, he was an amazing, unique player – check him out on YouTube.

But more so than a player, Ted was a great student of the guitar – and as a result, a great teacher.  Ted had Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of Autism, that made him an extreme introvert and an obsessive person.  Ted hardly left his apartment (his number of public performances can be counted by hand), and his greatest obsession was studying the guitar.  He hosted a vast number of students in his guitar den, which was cluttered by stacks upon stacks of papers, many pertaining to his studies.  He would conduct in depth analyses of J.S. Bach, Wes Montgomery, and different musical styles.  He could improvise any tune in accurate Baroque styling, and had an impeccable ear for harmony.  Many students were fortunate enough to learn from this guitar master in person, but for the rest of us, Ted left four jam packed books – Chord Chemistry, Modern Chord Progressions and the two part Single-Note Jazz Soloing.  And although these books may seem thin, they are dense!

As Ted writes, Chord Chemistry “examines chords and their application.”  This is not a beginner’s book, but Ted makes an effort to bring the reader up to speed, explaining different chord types and their purposes.  The rest of the book is an attempt to translate Ted’s complex harmonic language.  Some of the most valuable sections discuss specific chord substitutions, when they are appropriate, and the effect they will have.  There is also a dense portion of the book where Ted diagrams all of the chord voicings he uses – and believe me, you would not have thought of many of these!  They are also important sections about the Blues, right hand technique, Rock progressions, and counterpoint.

Overall, this book is dense!  Don’t expect to take it all in the first time.  It’s been on my book shelf for years, and I constantly revisit it, always learning something that I couldn’t previously comprehend.  If you put in the time and effort, this book will greatly help you progress, not only on your guitar, but on your journey towards musical nirvana.

“Nobody loses at guitar if they put in the time.  Something good always shows up.  It’s all consistent with life’s big lessons.  Patience.  Determination.  Love.  Goals.  Finishing a job.”  – Ted Greene

Check out the Ted Green website for more info

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“Francesca,” the LSL Saticoy

About one year ago I was on the hunt for the perfect Stratocaster.  Wanting something more unique than a brand new, stock Fender, and not wanting to spend a fortune on a real vintage Strat, I was checking out boutique guitar makers like Nash Guitars and Mike Lull Custom Guitars.  Then, during a lesson with guitar great Carl Verheyen, he recommended a local company called LSL Instruments.  He was a big fan of their guitars, and told me to contact Lance, the owner of LSL.

So I called up Lance about getting a guitar, and he recommended I come by the factory.  I live in West LA, so it was about a 20 minute drive to Van Nuys where I pulled up in front of the understated LSL headquarters.  Hanging outside was a group of guys, all clad in work clothes and covered in paint and sawdust, the kind of crew that reminded me of my grandfather and his bronze casting foundry.  Out of the bunch came an older gentleman, Lance, who greeted me and led me on a tour of the factory.

Inside, the place even looked liked my grandfather’s foundry – raw materials, tools, paints, chemicals, interesting smells.  Lance explained that he and the crew make everything (except for some plastic and metal components) in house.  They shape the bodies and necks from raw wood.  They cut the pick guards, and lay the frets. They hand wind their pickups, mix their own custom paint colors and do their own aging.  Basically, this small, in house operation is the closest thing to what I’d imagine a pre-CBS Fender factory to be like.  Pretty cool!

Needless to say, I was completely sold.  This was definitely the company that could deliver that ideal Strat – and I loved that I knew exactly where and who it was coming from.  Lance and the crew gathered up a few various guitars and had me plug into a Bogner amp, testing all of the different combinations of elements.  LSL offers bodies made of Swamp Ash, Alder and Pine – yes, Pine.  They have the option of 50s or 60s wound PUs, Maple or Rosewood Necks, and various neck shapes, widths and radius options.  They also have an essentially unlimited amount of finish colors and designs, done to your liking, complete with Nitro Cellulose Lacquer and topped off with a signature aging process.

That day I was playing a lot of Eric Johnson and Carl Verheyen inspired, intervallic rock type licks – and this is what I ultimately hoped to do with the axe.  Upon hearing this, the crew recommended the following combo: Pine Body, 60s PUs, and Rosewood Neck.  Unable to take orders directly, Lance sent me down the street to California Vintage Guitars where I placed my order.  I opted for a thick, V-shaped neck, minimum aging (LSL requires some amount) and a Surf Green finish – The Strat of my dreams!

Long story, made somewhat shorter, about 8 weeks later my guitar was ready.  I picked it up from CVG and was stunned.  There she was, “Francesca” (LSL gives all their guitars a woman’s name with  a name tag on the neck plate).  The Pine body is so lightweight, the guitar easily weighs under 6 lbs – built for the stage. The NC Lacquer allows the guitar to vibrate with the strings, giving it a very “live” feel.  And the PUs perfectly capture that hand wound vintage sound.  Ultimately, it’s an awesome guitar, and as close as you can come to a vintage Strat without breaking the bank!

LSL has been on a steady rise ever since.  They now have a Carl Verheyen signature model, and an ever expanding list of distributors, where you can purchase already crafted guitars or place a custom order.  LSL models include the Saticoy (Stratocaster), the T-Bone (Telecaster) and the newest addition, the Topanga ( Les Paul Jr. Double Cutaway).  For more info check out the LSL Instruments website.

“Never sell a guitar, that you don’t want to keep.’ – LSL Instruments

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NAMM 2012 – Tape’s Rolling!

Like many first time bloggers, I completely neglected my brainchild after its initial incarnation.  Although in my head I have big plans for this little blog, the first step towards realization is the hardest.  So, I made my 2012 New Years Resolution to kick start Riffs of Wisdom!  Here it goes . . .

Last weekend was a very special weekend for all of the music community here in Southern California (and world wide) – it was the annual National Association of Music Merchants convention in Anaheim, CA – aka, the 2012 NAMM show.  In essence, it’s a business convention where music equipment manufacturers, education companies, distributors and representatives from all facets of the industry gather to examine new products, make connections and create plans for the upcoming year.  In reality – it’s a massive music party where companies set up elaborate booths, showcases and demos to promote their brands and products.  There are performances, Q and A’s, autograph signings, contests, and a host of other exciting events designed to turn attendees into loyal consumers.  High profile musicians, celebrities and just about any YouTube music sensation can be spotted while perusing the over 6 halls and 4 floors of industry exhibitors.  Sounds like fun!

The Orange Booth

As a guitar player, NAMM makes me feel like a kid in a candy shop.  I can roam from Fender to Gibson to PRS to Ibanez to Martin and beyond, playing guitars and learning about this years new product lines.  I visited T Rex, Electro Harmonix, Dunlop, Xotic, TC Electronics and others, checking out killer pedals and effects.  And of course there is the amp buffet – Marshall, Orange, Vox, Bogner, THD, etc – supplying hours of endless fun.  And that’s just the guitar stuff!  NAMM also has an extensive exhibitor list of drum, pro audio, key board, brass/woodwind/orchestral instrument, education and specialty companies.  A lot to take in!

Despite the fun of seeing all these great products, the most rewarding thing about NAMM is seeing and hearing the amazing musicians.  Over my last two years of attendance, I’ve had the great fortune of seeing the likes of Guthrie Govan, Carl Verheyen, Alex Hutchings, Victor Wooten, Andy Wood, Joey DeFrancesco, Steve Trovato, Tim Lerch and many others, perform and play in a casual setting.  Nothing compares to seeing these iconic players doing their thing at a little booth – it’s like a private concert, very cool and inspiring.  Youtube is littered with NAMM videos, so I’m sure you can find some great NAMM performances from your favorite players on there.

The Marshall Booth

So overall – NAMM is awesome, you should try and go!  Because it’s a business convention, NAMM is not open to the public.  I have been fortunate enough to gain entry though a student program called Generation Next, geared towards helping future industry professionals.  However, your local music shop can probably get you a badge – if they like you.  And although getting the badge can be tough, not everybody in NAMM is a music industry professional.  There are plenty of NAMM tourists, aimlessly roaming around, trying to film performances for their YouTube Channel, mingling, etc.  It’s all in good fun!  For more info check out the NAMM website

There it is, the first real entry!  Not exactly filled with Riffs of Wisdom, but hopefully it’s an interesting insider view on a world few get to see.  Stay tuned for more Riffs!

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