Monthly Archives: March 2012

Stevie Ray Vaughan

I recently visited the “live music capital of the world” –  Austin, Texas – a city drenched in American culture.  Although its roots date back to the mid 19th century, in the last 50 years Austin has become well-known as a hotbed for musical artists.  From country blues to Texas swing to “South by Southwest,” Austin is a city on the pulse of American music culture.

One of the greatest musical treasures and cultural icons to emerge out of Austin was Stevie Ray Vaughan.  From local guitar hero to international blues ambassador, Vaughan is now a legend.  Achieving great success with his group, Double Trouble, Vaughan pioneered the sound of modern blues guitar, evolving what Albert King, Buddy Guy, and Jimi Hendrix had previously made contributions to.  But more than just a blues artist, Vaughan crossed over into pop culture.  His debut album Texas Flood went double-platinum, and he was a featured musician on David Bowie’s infamous Let’s Dance.  SRV continued to make groundbreaking records and give inspirational performances until his early death in a tragic helicopter accident following a show with Eric Clapton.  At age 35, SRV made an early departure, leaving behind a legacy that is still shaping the music world today.

Aside from his amazingly innovative and identifiable playing style, SRV is known for his guitar tone.  Although he used other guitars, Vaughan is almost exclusively depicted using Fender Stratocasters, most often a 1962/63 model called “Number One” – his favorite.  He used “heavy” .12 gauge strings which, like many other blues greats, he tuned down a half step, thus allowing greater flexibility when bending strings.  Another crucial element to his distinctive tone was a 40-watt Fender Vibroverb amp, which he often blended with other amps, most notably a 150-watt Dumble.  SRV was also a huge proponent of the infamous Ibanez Tube Screamer overdrive pedal, which became a staple of his dirty sound.  Fascinated by the endless combinations of all elements of guitar tone, Vaughan created many iconic tones that enthusiasts everywhere are still trying to emulate!

So in a nutshell, Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of the most innovative guitarists and musicians of his era – a true American musical icon.  As you walk the streets of Austin, Texas today, you can hear Stevie Ray Vaughan everywhere – in every club, band, and musician contributing to this musical hub.  The echos of his legacy still ring loudly, and his playing continues to inspire generations.  Next time you’re in Austin, be sure to visit the Stevie Ray Vaughan memorial statue to pay tribute to one of America’s greatest cultural icons, SRV.

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The Guitar Connection – Venice, CA

Serious guitar collectors are a breed all their own.  Often afflicted by a serious case of G.A.S.  (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), many enthusiasts have gathered collections that could easily be featured on an episode of “Hoarders.”  Constantly buying and selling, always looking for the next piece of equipment, begging you, “no matter what, do not let me buy another guitar,” every guitarist, and their significant other, can relate to the never-ending cycle of guitar collecting.  At The Guitar Connection in Venice, CA, one of the most bizarre and interesting guitar stores in the world, owner Mike Van Voorhees has made his own personal collection the inventory of his small business.

The Guitar Connection is a unique surprise on the up and coming Venice street of Rose Avenue.  Outside, you are instantly drawn to the pleasing vintage aesthetic, which summons you to peek inside and see what gems are hidden within its walls.  After you’ve been buzzed in by Mike, you enter – well, his living room – which has been transformed into the guitar showroom of the Guitar Connection.  See, what makes this shop truly original is that it is half-house-half-store, and everything for sale is part of Mike’s personal collection.

Once you’ve been let in, Mike watches you browse from his kitchen doorway, asking questions and adding personally commentary about certain items.  Although, and I’m sure he would agree, he is not the greatest salesmen (and his odd antics may scare off many customers), it is evident that this store and its collection are his life, and things he values very dearly.  Every instrument and amp has its own history, which Mike will gladly share with you.  A mixture of high quality and lesser instruments, The Guitar Connection inventory has all the peaks and troughs of any life long player’s collection.

Exclusively used and vintage instruments, some highlights include two Gibson “Black Beauty “Les Pauls, some rare Gibson Hollow Bodies, an original 1966 Fender Bassman amp, and some nice vintage Stratocasters – all set up and maintained by Mike.  There also some vintage 80s shredders, like Hamer and Ibanez, and a bunch of novelty curve balls that you are unlikely to see elsewhere.  Mike also buys used instruments, rents, and does repairs and set ups.  And although I can’t speak to his repair quality or expertise, I am sure he is more than capable of fixing up any axe, and has all of the knowledge and passion acquired by a life long enthusiast.

So for a unique, one of a kind guitar shop, be sure to check out The Guitar Connection @ 633 Rose Ave. Venice, CA 90291.

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“LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour” by Stephen Davis

Along with the Beatles, Led Zeppelin are the definitive “band.”  With four distinct personalities,  unprecedented success, an iconic sound, and loads of unusual behavior that have evolved into legend, LZ raised the bar for every Rock n’ Roll band to come.  Maintaining a well protected mystique during their most prominent years, few know the true story behind the world’s greatest rock band.  In 1975, LZ embarked on a North American tour that would go down in Rock history as one of the most wild and legendary tours ever.  One lucky, young journalist, by the name of Stephen Davis, was invited to join the party.

LZ had just released the now classic album, Physical Graffiti, and used this tour to promote new songs like “Kashmir,” “The Wanton Song,” and “Trampled Under Foot.”  Davis, one of the few members of the press that LZ trusted, was given a backstage tour pass, personal interviews, and a seat on the infamous Starship airplane.  His entire experience was documented in three notebooks, which Davis lost for 30 years – only to be rediscovered in 2005.  That discovery led to this book.  Unveiling some legendary events – like LZ’s stay in Los Angeles – providing honest criticism of performances, and giving insightful details about the people and environment of LZ’s world, Davis paints an enthralling picture, drawn from the eyes of a young journalist living the dream.

With many hilarious and unbelievable stories that have become Rock folklore, greatly influencing the cult classic Almost Famous, LZ-’75 is a must read for any Zeppelin fan or Rock history buff.  A relatively short and easy read, this book takes you back to a time when Rock n’ Roll ruled.  It’s hard to imagine, but in 1975 LZ were the most commercially successful band in the world – akin to a modern-day Rihanna or Katy Perry.  Dethroning the Beatles, LZ played for the largest crowd in history, and in 1975 Physical Graffiti was No. 1 on the Billboard Charts.  Davis’ tale is an insiders look on how the band members and entourage kept their sanity, and kept the show rolling amidst this unprecedented success.  From Page’s battle with a broken ring finger to Bonham’s split personality to Plant’s historic quotes (“I am a golden god!”) to John Paul Jones’ subdued English manner, Davis shows the real Zeppelin, warts and all, as they once again crossed the pond to conquer America’s youth.

So check out LZ-’75 by Stephen Davis for an entertaining and unimaginable look back at the high water mark of Rock n’ Roll!

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McCabe’s Guitar Shop – Santa Monica, CA

McCabe’s Guitar Shop is more than just another guitar shop – it’s a Los Angeles icon.  Opening in 1958, McCabe’s has been a staple of Pico Blvd for over half a century,  defending its self-declared claim to fame of having “the largest selection of stringed things to make music with in California.”  An extensively stocked shop by day, by night McCabe’s transforms into one of the most intimate live music venues in Los Angeles.  An unassuming stage in the main guitar showroom becomes a world-class pedestal that has hosted the likes of Joni Mitchell, Mike Bloomfield, Doc Watson, Jackson Browne, Chet Atkins, and many other legendary musicians.

Aside from being a guitar shop, McCabe’s specializes in acoustic and folk instruments like banjo, mandolin, ukulele, fiddle, dulcimer, oud, and just about any other ethnic instrument you are likely to want.  As for guitar, they supply an extensive list of boutique and specialty makers.  In acoustics, you’ll find amazing axes made by Martin, Taylor, Collings, the Loar, Santa Cruz, Godin, and many other high quality manufacturers.  They’re inventory ranges from entry-level to highly boutique, but you are always bound to find reasonably priced, top notch guitars.

As you can see, McCabe’s also has an extensive supply of nylon string (both classical and gypsy styled), resonator, and arch top acoustic guitars, amongst many other novelty items.  And for a shop specializing in acoustic instruments, McCabe’s has a killer selection of electric guitars and amps.  From Fender Stratocasters to Eastman Hollow-body Jazz Boxes to Gretsch twangers, McCabe’s has plenty to offer the electric aficionado.  And feel free to plug into the array of new and vintage amps from Fender, Pignose, and some other brands you’ve probably never heard of!

McCabe’s is also a great place of learning.  They have a diverse teaching staff that covers every niche guitar style, as well as auto-harp, harmonica, and other novelty instruments.  Personally, I’ve been coming to McCabe’s for years to buy books.  They have the largest selection of music books in Los Angeles.  Real Books, instructional books, scores, song books – if they don’t have it, nobody will.  And you are bound to learn something by just hanging around McCabe’s, as they are always players stopping by, exchanging ideas, and casually running down tunes.

Last but not least, McCabe’s also has a fantastic repair shop. I’ve had them do everything from setting up acoustics to changing the PUs in my Ibanez, all of which they’ve done well and in a timely fashion.  Also, don’t forget the endless supply of guitar accessories.  Any pick you could possibly imagine – finger picks, felt picks, thumb picks, copper picks, etc – and a wide selection of straps, capos, slides, and every other accessory surround the register.  It’s almost impossible to leave without buying something!

So for a little slice of historic Los Angeles, an intimate evening concert, or a trip to one of the most unique guitar shops in the world, get down to McCabe’s Guitar Shop @ 3101 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405.  For more information, check out the McCabe’s website.

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Vreny Van Elslande – Are you ready to Rock?

Not enough good things can be said about Vreny.  One of the best kept secrets of Los Angeles, Vreny is arguably the most professional guitar teacher in the world.  Not only that, but he is an extremely charismatic person with many diverse interests, which all combine to make him the ultimate guitar teacher.

Born and raised in Belgium, Vreny has an amazing list of credentials.  After a year in the military, Vreny first attended the Academy of Music and Word in Ypres, Belgium, completing a 10-year study on classical guitar and composition in just 7.  Following this, Vreny graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Berklee College of Music, earning a B.M. in Jazz Performance and a B.M. in Music Production & Engineering.  Since then, Vreny has lived and worked in Los Angeles as a free-lance guitarist and producer, but mainly as a teacher.  Vreny’s goal is to “make the world an even more fun place to live in, by sharing the love for music through education.”  Outside of musical academia, Vreny is also an avid psychology enthusiast, speaks five languages, and is a general intellectual, making him an expert on the art of learning.

Personally, as a guitarist and an individual, I owe a lot to Vreny.  Over 2 1/2 years, he took my playing to new heights, giving me an incredibly deep knowledge of the mechanics of music and the guitar, and a great confidence in my ability.  But more than anything, Vreny taught me how to learn.  He pushed my ability so much further than I even thought possible, and showed me, through my own progress, the way in which our brains function.  There were many times when I laughed at the impossible difficulty of a task he assigned, when only weeks later, I found it simple.  And this is not because of my ability, but because of Vreny’s structured teaching style that maximizes results and compliments the brain’s natural process of learning.  Vreny showed me how to target a goal, create a plan of attack, and reach it – a skill that I have since applied to every area of my life.  I could go on for ages, but in short, Vreny is without a doubt the most professional and effective teacher I have ever had.  If you want to learn about a certain musical style, music theory, engineering, life, or just improve on guitar, contacting Vreny is the best way to realize your goal.

So check out Vreny’s website, Zot Zin Guitar Lessons, for more information. He does private lessons, group lessons, and webcam lessons, so get in touch with him now – I guarantee you will not regret it!

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The Vox AC15 Custom 1×12

Although ideally most of us would be practicing through a 50 Watt Marshall stack everyday, few of us have living situations that permit such awesome noise levels.  Sure, you can get an attenuator, but still, size, price, and general inconvenience are issues.  That why it’s important to have a bedroom amp – a smaller, quieter amp suitable for the apartment building or close quarter living.  But just because it’s small doesn’t mean it can’t rock!  That’s why I picked up the Vox AC15, a bedroom amp that doesn’t make me feel like I’m putting on the world’s smallest performance for the local spider population.

Truth is, the AC15 C1 is more of a hybrid bedroom amp.  Today, almost every venue you play at is going to mic your amp and run it through the PA.  You can have a Fender Blues Jr. and it’s gonna come through the PA as loud as a stack.  50/100 watt amps are essentially pointless, unless you’re doing a stadium tour – but they are still awesome.  Nonetheless, bringing a smaller amp to a gig makes transportation easier, and as long as the amp sounds as good as a larger counterpart, will perform equally well when mic-ed through the PA.

The Vox AC15 C1 is a great, little amp that gives you bang for your buck.  With just 15 Watts of tube power, this amp has one 12″ Celestion Greenback Speaker and offers the full array of classic Vox tones.  It has built-in analog Tremolo, spring Reverb, a “Tone Cut” knob and full EQ for the “Top Boost” channel, giving you a lot of tonal flexibility.  I use it mostly for “chimey” clean tones and  dirty blues sounds, but have found that it breaks up nicely when pushed, without being overly loud.  It’s just a great amp for getting awesome tones at quieter volumes.  That being said I have used it on multiple gigs where it was mic-ed, and it sounded fantastic – nobody even knew it was a little 15 watt box.  The major downsides are no Effects Loop, and although foot-switchable, it doesn’t come with a foot switch, but at around $520 it’s hard to beat the quality and versatility of this classic amp.  Plus, the aesthetic of Vox is iconic, and their amps looks great on stage, subconsciously forcing the audience to draw connections between you and little band called The Beatles – not bad!

For more on the Vox AC 15 C1, check out the Vox website.

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