Tag Archives: 1970s

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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Keith Richards – “Life”

Few people in the history of the human race have had a life as unprecedented, indulgent, lucky, uninhibited, or impactful as Keith Richards’.  A full-fledged rock star since the age of 18, Richards has seen levels of excess and luxury unimaginable to even history’s most gluttonous monarchs.  A life even he never would have thought possible, Richards’ saga is one of mythical proportions, spawning enough mystery and folklore to fill volumes.  The creative force behind the greatest Rock n’ Roll band ever, Richards’ unlikely tale is sure to entertain even the least suspecting reader.

A book that in no way presents itself as “fine literature,” Life is a straightforward recollection of Richards’ journey from the rural wastelands of Dartford to international infamy as the original rock star – at least what he can remember of it.  Pieced together with the help of friends and contributors, this book is a fascinating story of a completely unprecedented life. Of course, it has its fair share of foul language, drug use, sex, violence, and let’s not forget, Rock n’ Roll, but Richards makes no attempt to glorify his past or impose his behaviors on others.  The focal point of the book is the music – something Richards serves above all else.  To put it simply, it’s the story of an English kid, immersed African-American music, who proceeds to use it as a vehicle for expression with a group of like-minded individuals, The Rolling Stones.  Like a lovable friend who just can’t keep it together,  Richards becomes an enticing character who, despite major flaws, you can’t help but empathize with.  Although a generally lighthearted read, Life will reveal a depth and sincerity behind Rock’s most notorious outlaw that will make you realize it’s not as easy as it looks.  As Keith says, “I’m not the guys I see on MTV, who obviously think they are me” – he is something far more complex.

One thing that I gained from reading Life is a greater appreciation for Keith as a musician and guitarist.  Recently, he was named # 1 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Top 100 Guitarists,” and I couldn’t agree more with their decision.  I mean talk about riff merchants – this guy is the wholesaler.  “Start Me Up,” “Brown Sugar,” “Happy,” “Satisfaction,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” – 40 Licks is a vast understatement.  The king of tone, Keith is instantly recognizable.  As a player, he is amazingly well versed in the blues vocabulary.  I mean, all of the Stones are heavy into early African-American Blues – Chess Records, Robert Johnson, etc.  They may as well have Musicology degrees with a major in Blues – they really know their stuff.  Not only that, they even recorded at Chess records in Chicago during their first visit to America, where they were mentored by Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters!  But I digress.  Keith may not have chops like EVH, Hendrix or Page, but he’s channeling somethings much deeper – he is the greatest rhythm guitarist of all time.  Who would have thought that the torch of African-American blues would be passed on to five White, English lads?  Perhaps that is why Keith cannot be killed by conventional weapons.

The real secret, that had many guitarists stumped for years, is Keith’s tuning.  Taught to him by Ry Cooder, Keith began primarily using open-G tuning in the late 60s.  From Low to High it looks like this  – DGDGBD.  Keith would also occasionally remove the lowest D string, giving him a 5 string variant.  This tuning is the distinctive characteristic of his sound.  Using what he calls “drone notes,”  Keith plays his signature IV/I – I phrase with barre chord shapes borrowed from standard tuning.  You’ll notice that open-G tuning isn’t drastically different form standard tuning, so it retains many elements of traditional guitar, but allows major chords to be played with a single finger – an elegant solution for getting an intoxicated Richards to play otherwise difficult progressions.  But in all honesty, it’s genius.  Few guitarists have fully embraced alternate tunings or applied them in such a creative manner.  Most people will toy with open-E, common to slide guitar, and hardly break out of the standard lick repertoire.  Richards took a unique alternate tuning and made it his iconic sound, and the sound of Rock n’ Roll – no small feat.

Overall, Life is a worthwhile read that demystifies one of the greatest cultural icons of the 20th century.  Hearing the tale from his perspective, you realize that there is a primal element to Keith’s philosophy.  A modern-day pirate, an adventurer in cultural exploration, Keith has simply lived his life the way he has wanted, all the while serving music like a god.  A man who seems to know no bounds, Keith developed his own moral code, which he strictly abides by, one that you may find more chivalrous than expected.  So if you’re a Rolling Stones Fan, Rock history buff, or just want a fun read about an unimaginable Life, check out Keith Richard’s Life.

“Everyone talks about rock these days; the problem is they forget about the roll.” – Keith Richards

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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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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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Taylor Guitars Factory Tour – El Cajon, CA

Although many of us view guitars as works of art, few of us know anything about the creation process.  Great playability, sonic characteristics, aesthetic beauty, and price are just some of the factors that guitar luthiers have to consider when creating their masterpieces.  From raw wood to completion, the nuances and attention to detail that go into the final product are mind-boggling.  I’m just glad I’m on the playing end of this arrangement!

Taylor Guitars is an American guitar company based in El Cajon, CA.  Started in 1976 by Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug, the company has become one of the most successful acoustic guitar manufacturers in the world, rivaling Martin and Gibson.  Today, Taylor production ranges from mid-level acoustics to professional quality six strings, and has even expanded to electric solid, hollow, and semi-hollow body guitars.  Some of their endorsers include Leo Kottke, Dave Matthews, Jason Mraz, Taylor Swift, Zac Brown, and Peter Sprague, and Taylor guitars have become the gold standard in modern country, folk, and bluegrass music.

One of the coolest things about Taylor Guitars is their free, daily tours of their factory.  Located in El Cajon, an inner region of San Diego County, these tours cover the entire process of the acoustic sector of production.  You start by viewing their extensive lumber collection, consisting of exotic woods like Hawaiian koa, Indian rosewood, big leaf maple and tropical mahogany.  Then, you view the shaping process, a mixture of machine and man effort to craft necks and bodies from slabs of wood.  There is a specific neck area, where fretting and sanding occur, and a specific room for inlay work on headstocks, necks and sound holes.  You also get to see the wood bending process that creates the sides of body, and the binding station, where the body parts are attached.  And of course, you get to the see the finish room, where different wood stains and varnishes are applied, followed by a final set up station.  Ultimately, you get to see the entire process of creating an acoustic Taylor guitar.  Plus, the tour ends right where it started – in the TaylorWare store and showroom, stocked with the entire array of Taylor products, ready for immediate noodling.

Probably the most different, progressive, and desirable aspect of Taylor guitars is their patented bolt-on neck technology.  To put it simply, most acoustic guitar manufacturers use a strong glue adhesive to attach necks to guitar bodies.  Over time, due to string tension, climate, and sound vibrations, the angle at which this neck was glued becomes warped, altering the intonation and action.  Because the neck is strongly glued, the only way to fix this problem is to take it to a professional and get a “neck reset,” a very expensive repair.  Aside from this inconvenience, glued necks run a high risk of snapping, and give the player little freedom in altering the playability of their guitar.  Taylor solved these issues with their bolt-on neck technology.  Instead of gluing their necks, they use a specialized neck joint and bolt system to attach necks and bodies.  This system uses special spacers to establish the perfect neck angle.  Over time, when the neck angle becomes warped, the repair procedure is greatly simplified – you just need to unscrew the neck bolt and insert bigger spacers.  Furthermore, if the player ever wants to change the neck angle or replace the neck altogether, it’s as simple as unscrewing the bolts and making the change.  A very practical and innovative solution to an age-old problem. 

Lastly, although hugely successful, Taylor is still run like a small business.  Bob Taylor is almost always present at the factory, and the faculty are very friendly and knowledgeable.  Taylor is also greatly concerned with sustainability and environmental protection.  In a business that often misuses lumber and disregards the scarcity of resources, Taylor has stepped up with the creation of non-profit organizations supporting responsible foresting, and have pledged to use responsible business and manufacturing practices.   Right on!

So if you’re in San Diego be sure to check out the Taylor Guitar Factory @ 1980 Gillespie Way  El Cajon, CA.  For more info on tours, check the the Taylor Factory Tour website and for more on Taylor Guitars, their products, and sustainability, check out the Taylor Guitar Website.

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The E.W.S. Arion SCH-Z Chorus/Vibe Mod, The Ultimate Chorus Pedal

The original Arion SCH-1 Chorus pedal is a legendary guitar accessory.  Coming to prominence during the 1980s, the SCH-1 became a staple on many professional pedal boards.  Known for its deep, lush chorus sounds and tonal versatility, the Arion SCH-1 secured its spot in stomp box history.  However, the SCH-1 has long since been discontinued by the Japanese based company, Arion, which today produces its modern brethren – the SCH-Z.  Many tone freaks argue the superiority of the SCH-1 to the SCH-Z, citing circuitry, country of origin (the SCH-Z is made in Sri Lanka), and most importantly, sound quality, but most professionals will tell you that there is very little difference, if any at all.  Save price of course – while a new SCH-Z is $50, the SCH-1 can easily fetch upwards of $100 on eBay.  This discrepancy is most likely due to rarity, as vintage pedals are very collectible.

Still, with all its perfection, many players sought improvement to the Arion Chorus pedal.  That’s where another Japanese based company, Engineering Work Store, comes in.  Partnering with rising pedal stars, Xotic effects, E.W.S. has created their own Arion SCH-Z modification.  Starting with an original Arion SCH-Z pedal, E.W.S. makes a series of modifications to improve durability and sound quality.  They make the pedal True Bypass, add a brighter LED light, improve the tone adjustment knob, create a more durable foot switch, and most significantly, change the “Direct/Stereo” control switch to “Chorus/Vibe.”  As opposed to having the option of producing a stereo signal, E.W.S. has created two different chorus options within a single pedal.  “Chorus” mode is a more traditional, subtle chorus sound, akin to a Boss CE-5 or TC Electronic SCF.  The “Vibe” channel is a deeper, more intense chorus, emulating the sonic phenomenon of a Leslie rotary speaker.  Although you lose the option of having a stereo signal, you gain an exponential amount of tonal range and diversity.  Plus, how many of us are really using a true stereo set up on stage anyway?

Overall, this is a flawless chorus pedal.  From George Harrison-esque Leslie sounds, to Eric Johnson chorus sparkle, to Stevie Ray Vaughn styled blues chorus, to just plain far out, this pedal does it all – and well!  A great blend of classic tone and modern technology, the E.W.S. Arion Chorus/Vibe Mod is a great purchase for anyone looking for a unique addition to their pedal board.  At $195, this is a professional-grade pedal that will exceed your chorus expectations and last a lifetime – just ask some of the pedal’s biggest proponents, Joe Bonamassa, Scott Henderson, Oz Noy, and Allen Hinds!

Check out the E.W.S. website for more information on this pedal

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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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