Category Archives: Guitars

1975 Rickenbacker 4001 Bass

Although this is a guitar-oriented blog, it’s important to show love to our four string brethren.  In fact, I’m sure many of us dabble in bass, or at least consider ourselves decent bassists (it’s just a guitar without the top two strings rights?) given it’s similarity to the guitar.  For me, bass holds a special place in my heart – for many a year it was my primary instrument, before I picked up the guitar.


During my “bass period” I played in a multitude of various bands, but focused mostly on Rock n’ Roll.  I had a small arsenal of basses – a Fender Jazz Bass and a Musicman Stingray – but was too young to be a serious connoisseur or collector.  My Dad’s good friend Steve lived up the street, and every time we’d go to his house I’d be drawn to this funky looking bass in the corner – his Rickenbacker.  Steve is an avid music enthusiast and hobbyist who has been part of all kinds of bands throughout his life, and his Rickenbacker was some of the last remaining evidence of his younger musical endeavors.

Originally, Steve was a keyboard player.  He had some wild prog-rock set up that most likely emulated some of his favorites of the day – Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Blue Oyster Cult, Yes, Boston, etc.  At some point, I believe Steve wanted to join a particular band – a group that needed a bass player, not a keyboardist.  In a common twist of fate that has led so many musicians to their true instruments, Steve traded his keyboard rig for the Rickenbacker and an amp.  Now I’m not sure if this was Steve’s true calling (and I have no more information on this particular group) but regardless – Steve acquired this beautiful bass that many years later, another young musician was admiring.

Steve was always a huge supporter of my music – from jam sessions with him and my Dad to my own bands, he was always a positive presence.  So one lucky Christmas day (or maybe it was my birthday) Steve and my Dad decided it was time to bestow the great power of the Rickenbacker upon me.  Alas, I was the proud owner of one of the coolest and most iconic instruments of all time.

This particular Rickenbacker is a 4001 model that was made in January of 1975 (indicated by the serial number “OA499” on the jack plate).  It has all of the classic Rickenbacker features – neck-through construction, triangle inlays, wave-crest headstock, and iconic body shape.  But beyond its aesthetic, there are some really unique features of the Rickenbacker.  Firstly, Rickenbackers have dual truss rods as opposed to the standard single truss rod.  This allows greater control of neck concave, specific to each side of the neck.  Second, Rickenbackers are famous for their stereo output jack.  Yes, as opposed to a single mono output jack, as seen on most electric instruments, Rickenbacker has two outputs, giving the player an option for a stereo/dual-mono sound.  As written on the jack plate, one output is “standard” and together they create the “Rick-o-sound.”  Basically, this makes each output jack correspond with one pick up, so with two cables  you can run them into separate amps or into the Rick-o-sound DI box that allows you to blend the two.  There are many varying opinions about the practicality of this option, but nevertheless, it makes the Rick unique.  Lastly, the neck-through construction gives the Rickenbacker its instantly identifiable tone that has become associated with the likes Paul McCartney, Geddy Lee, Lemmy, and many others.  The 4001 is a truly innovative and unique instrument that has undoubtedly earned its placed in music history.

So overall, this is a very special, classic axe that I am so grateful to have in my collection.  Although now I mainly play the six string, I always come back to my roots and slap the bass with the Rick.  From some random shop, to Steve’s prog-rock bands, to my own musical escapades, this bass has seen quite a bit in its almost 40 year life span.  Vintage instruments are special not only for their tone, but for their history, history that can give a particular instrument distinct tonanilty, unachievable from any physical material – tone only achievable through its own unique life.  I can only imagine what this bass will have to say in another 50 years!

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The Ibanez RG350M – Such a JEM . . .

I have a fixation with Ibanez guitars.  The company’s retro styling, commitment to playability, constant innovation, and  iconic neon color schemes make them truly original (which is ironic as they faced law suits in their early years for plagiarism of competitor’s models).  As a result, many of their guitars are works of art, and have become collector’s items.  One of the guitars that helped establish Ibanez as a serious company for the serious player was the JEM.  Introduced in 1987, and co-designed by Steve Vai, the JEM was a Super Strat that came in Shocking Pink, Desert Sun Yellow, and Loch Ness Green.  Probably the most iconic features were the “Monkey Grip” handle cut out and the multicolored disappearing pyramid inlay – cool!

Of course, today these guitars are fairly rare and infinitely more expensive than they were in the late 80s.  I mean, we’re not talking 1954 Stratocaster rare, but a vintage JEM in good condition will definitely take some research and cost upwards of $2700.  Not horrible, but you’re still buying a vintage instrument, which means all of the problems that may come with it.  So in my quest for a JEM, I had to face the reality that it was not in my best financial interest to purchase a real vintage JEM (although they will probably appreciate nicely).  Luckily, Ibanez still produces a guitar that bears resemblance to the mighty JEM – the RG350.

 

So, for roughly $430 I got a new Yellow Ibanez RG – the foundation for the 2011 JEM project.  Now there were a few elements I would never have – the Monkey Grip, the disappearing pyramid inlay, and the pink tremolo bar depression cut out.  I mean I could have gotten these things, but at that point and cost, I might as well have shelled out for the real deal.  So first I scoured the online community of JEM fanatics – Jemsite – until I found a parts supplier, Ibanez RulesFrom Ibanez Rules I ordered authentic neon green (with black writing) Volume and Tone knobs, and a Pink selector switch tip – all to match the original.  Next, it was time for the PUs, which were obviously to be Dimarzios, the only company still producing the late 80s aesthetic.  To sound like the best, Paul Gilbert, I got two PAF Pros for Neck and Bridge, and an  FS-1 for Middle position.  To match the original JEM, I got neon pink PU covers, and one creme/black zebra cover for a personal twist.  Lastly, I installed a neon green Dimarzio ClipLock strap – my late 80s JEM reproduction was complete!

Ultimately, this was a fun project!  Of course, it’s no spitting image of the original JEM, but it’s a modern progeny with the same general character and a much smaller price tag.  The Dimarzios sound killer, and at the very least, the guitar is a great conversation piece that fills the void in my arsenal of a late 80s shred machine.  So if you’ve got a thirst for some rare, vintage axe but lack the funds to obtain – make it yourself!

For more on the Ibanez JEM, check out Jemsite.

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Charvel San Dimas, Style 1 HH Snow White

If you can’t tell by the dirt on the neck, this guitar is my weapon of choice.  The playability of an Ibanez and the look of a Fender Stratocaster, for me, this guitar is the perfect combination of old and new.  As much as I love the sound and feel of my Ibanez guitars, their styling is a bit too aggressive to be applicable to all gigs.  Whipping out a pointy, neon yellow axe at a session or live gig can scare the audience or client, and turn everybody off – even if it does sound good.  At the same time, you don’t want to show up with a knife to gun fight, and bringing a vintage Strat to a modern sounding gig can be just as bad.  Hence the best of both worlds – the Charvel San Dimas, the original “super-Strat.”

Charvel was started in the 1970s by Wayne Charvel, a former Fender employee.  Emerging out of “Charvel’s Guitar Repair,” Charvel eventually started making complete guitars.  By the late 1970s, the company became most well-known for its invention of the “super-Strat,” modernizing the traditional Stratocaster configuration with humbucking pick ups and tremolo bars.  These “super-Strats” were perfect guitars for the popular heavy rock and metal of the period and earned Charvel an association with Eddie Van Halen, Shawn Lane, Richie Sambora and many other top players of the era.  Fast forward, in 2002 Charvel was bought by Fender Corp.  Today, Charvel operates as a major manufacturer and full custom shop, producing lower-priced Japanese made guitars, more expensive American made axes, and taking individual custom orders.

This guitar is a Snow White San Dimas model, part of the “Pro-Mod” series, made in Japan – but don’t let that turn you off.  The Japanese Charvel luthiers are expert craftsman who easily rival any domestic makers, and although it does shave off some $ signs, these guitars don’t carry the stigma of, let’s say, Mexican made Fenders.  At $900, this guitar is all business, using the highest quality materials and parts to make a no-nonsense, professional axe at a reasonable price.  First, unlike any other comparable guitar in its price range, the San Dimas has a real Floyd Rose Tremolo system, not a “Floyd Rose Authorized” knock-off.  Along these same lines, it comes stock with a Seymour Duncan ’59 PU at neck position and JB PU at bridge, not Seymour Duncan “authorized” PUs.  It also comes with Grover tuners, chrome hardware and Dunlop Straplok strap buttons – amazing features that almost always need to be added post purchase.

But the real bread and butter of Charvel is their compound radius necks.  Neck radius is the amount of curvature on the fretboard – low radius being more curved, and high radius being flatter.  Fenders typically have a low radius, while Ibanez use a higher one.  Although just a preference, low radius necks are said to be better for bends and chords, while a high radius is optimal for legato and tapping.  Of course few of us are tapping and using legato at the 1st fret – that’s why Charvel invented the compound radius neck.  Charvel necks have a low radius at the lower frets, and slowly increase radius(get flatter) towards the higher frets – 12″ to 16″ radius to be exact.  This gives the feel of a Strat at lower frets, and the feel of an Ibanez up high – perfect for rhythm and lead.  Aside from that, Charvel necks are unfinished, giving them a very smooth texture that wears in nicely.  Also, the neck shape is licensed by Fender, so it is literally the exact same headstock you would find on a Strat – cool!

Ultimately, you can’t beat this guitar in its price range – or maybe even at all!  With the highest quality parts, fantastic compound neck, and classic look, it’s the best of all worlds.  You may note the lack of a tone knob – there is only a volume knob and 3 way selector switch – but I have never desired one while playing this guitar.  Any EQ alterations I have needed could be done on an amp, and believe me, you won’t want to change this killer tone much.  For Rock, Blues, Metal, Pop and even Jazz, I’d say this guitar can’t be beat.  Also, it comes with a TSA approved hard case, perfect for air-travel – no more stressing about your axe during the flight!  Need I say anything more . . .

For more on Charvel, check out the Charvel website.

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Gibson Custom ES-359, Vintage Sunburst

Like a lot of guitarists, and musicians in general, I went through a period when I was fascinated by Jazz music.  Not that I don’t love and appreciate Jazz now, but during this phase I ate, drank and slept Jazz 24/7.  My Jazz guitar heroes were Pat Martino, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, John Scofield and Jonathan Kreisberg, to name a few, and like my idols, I needed an appropriate Jazz axe.  Eventually, I acquired the gold standard of Jazz guitars, a secondhand Gibson ES-175.  This was a beautiful, full hollow-body guitar, with black P-90s and a AAA Flame Maple top.  However, it soon grew wearisome.  It was huge, and carrying it to gigs and rehearsals was a major pain.  Also, because of the size of the body, it would feed back at even moderately high volumes, and had such a dark tone that it was hardly applicable outside of the Jazz idiom.  That ES-175 served me well on many Jazz gigs, but after a while I decided I needed a guitar that was more convenient, smaller, and could play Jazz, Rock or any other style equally well.  That’s when I came across the ES-359.

After selling my ES-175 on eBay, I had a sizable sum to put towards my next purchase, but still nothing compared to what would be necessary to buy a brand new Gibson Custom Shop guitar.  One thing I had learned was that if I was going to spend a large sum on a guitar, it had to be perfect – no exceptions.  For me, that meant it played well and looked amazing – no P-90s or AAA Flame Maple top (cool, not my favorite finish).  Luckily, I had located a Gibson ES-359 at Guitar Center on Pico Blvd., but it was out of my price range and had a AAA Flame Maple top.  Now (and especially at the time) ES-359s are both a very recent and somewhat of a novelty model, making them extremely hard to find second-hand.  Nonetheless, after quite an effort, an employee at the Guitar Center Platinum Room in Hollywood located a used Vintage Sunburst ES-359 in the computer system.  It had been returned by a dissatisfied customer somewhere in Kentucky, but he assured me that 95% of returns were not due to malfunctions, but incompatible buyers.  So we made the transaction, I got my discounted price, and about a week later the guitar arrived – flawless.

As Gibson says, “there is no truer sign of the Gibson Custom Shop’s dedication to improvement and innovation.”  The ES-359 is most closely related to the ES-339, but both are offshoots of the more popular ES-335 model, the main difference being that the “9”s have a much smaller body.  Although it still retains the tonal qualities of a larger semi-hollow-body guitar, the Es-359 comes in a much more compact package.  In contrast to the ES-339, the ES-359 is its better looking brother.  With gold hardware, Grover tuners, mother-of-pearl block inlays, and a unique neck profile most similar to the BB King signature “Lucille” model, this guitars looks and feels spectacular.  The cream binding and tortoise-shell pick guard also give it a classic charm.  One of the most unusual things about this guitar is the audio taper pots designed to persevere high-end as volume decreases, giving it “a consistently sweeter, brighter, punchier tone than other guitars of its ilk as it gets quieter.”  With two ’57 Classic Humbuckers and a three-way selector switch, this guitar can soulfully accomplish any style, from Jazz to Blues to Rock N Roll to Country.  And let’s not forget it is absolutely gorgeous.

So if you’re in the market for a semi-hollow-body guitar but want something unique, if you want a guitar for your Jazz and Rock gigs, or if you just want one of the greatest guitars made by one of the greatest guitar manufacturers, look no further than the Gibson ES-359.

For more on the ES-359 check out the Gibson Website.

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The Ibanez RG 350 DX – To shred, or not to shred?

Like many guitar players, when I began, I was all about the classics – Fender and Gibson.  Nothing appealed less to me than a Parker, BC Rich, or even Ibanez.  These companies were associated with a mentality I didn’t like – I didn’t want to sacrifice soul or character for playability or a Floyd Rose.  But as I progressed as a player, and became more interested in “shredding,” it seemed as though my old friends just couldn’t handle the heat.  Single coil PUs with hum, low radius necks, heavy strings – not a recipe to sound like Eddie Van Halen.  Plus, I was ignoring one major factor – I thought that “soul” came from the guitar, when it really comes from the player.  Since then, I have witnessed many character-less solos on classic guitars, and some extremely emotional, original ones on the newer breeds.

Eventually, my interest in the other side prompted me to make a purchase.  I went on eBay and bought a factory second, White Ibanez 350DX for about $350.  It was the first guitar I ever purchased with a locking nut, “Floyd Rose”-esque system.  At first it was weird – the neck was so thin and flat, there were 24 frets, there was a usable whammy bar – but soon it became one of my favorite axes.  I loved the way it felt, but the stock PUs were terrible, so I replaced them.  Knowing I would hardly use the middle single coil PU, I just put a Seymour Duncan Jazz SH-2 at neck position and a Seymour Duncan JB at bridge.  With this change, this guitar became my weapon of choice.

Now, a good guitarist can play on any guitar – but playing with this axe was like using training wheels.  So many techniques – legato, tapping, string skipping – that were previously impossible on my Strat or Tele were suddenly pretty easy – and sounding good!  Using high output humbuckers, I could finally achieve a distorted tone with cleanliness and clarity.  This guitar also became my number one studio axe.  It’s totally silent when not being played, and can create a wide array of sounds, from sparkling cleans to death metal overdrive.  And the best part – after playing on this guitar for a while, I could suddenly do all these complicated techniques on my classic guitars.  It was as if practicing these techniques on a guitar built for them allowed me to better understand their mechanics, and how to implement them on any guitar.  Basically, I am so thankful that I purchased this guitar.  It has taught me so much about my own playing, and how to coax classic charm out of even the most modern beast.

In conclusion, I advise every guitar player to spend a little time with an axe like this.  They are generally foreign made, very inexpensive, and easy to find second hand.  I equate them to “rice rocket” racing cars – they are the perfect blank slate, ready to be modified into the ultimate Rock machine.  You can learn a lot from having 24 frets and a high neck radius, and may be surprised how much “tone” you can actually get from one of these “shredders.”  If you’re into modern guitar playing, yielding a weapon like this is a must.

For more on Ibanez, check out the Ibanez website.

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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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“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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