Tag Archives: Folk

South Austin Music – Austin, TX

Lamar Boulevard in Austin, Texas is the street for guitar shops, and one of the coolest shops on the block is South Austin Music.  Established in 1986, SAM is now a staple of the Austin Music scene.  With a wide-ranging, unique inventory, SAM will entertain and surprise any guitar player, from novice to life long enthusiast.

One thing that makes a great guitar shop is the vibe.  Coming into a guitar shop can put a customer in a vulnerable state – you feel pressure to play well, talk the talk, buy something – for some, it can be very overwhelming.  That’s one of the reasons why SAM is a such a great shop – the staff create a very positive environment that welcomes all.  From the moment you walk in, you know you are actually allowed to play the guitars, not just stare.

SAM has a great selection of electric and acoustic guitars.  Aside from of all of the usual suspects (Fender, Gibson, Martin), SAM has a large variety of Eastwood, G&L, Danelectro, and Nation Reso-phonic guitars.  Of course, there are also some fantastic classics and lots of vintage pieces that’ll keep any connoisseur busy, all easily accessible and quite playable.

SAM also has a killer amp collection.  A large amount new and vintage Orange, Fender and Marshall amps pepper the shop’s perimeter.  They also carry some extremely hard to find Divided by 13 amps – wow!  And of course, they have many acoustic amplifiers and boutique makers.

Last but not least, SAM has an amazing pedal selection, filled with all the classics and newcomers.  From MXR to Xotic to Ibanez to Fulltone, they have everything you could want – and at very reasonable prices.  And once you’re through with all of this, SAM has every pick, string and accessory you could possibly imagine.  I ended up with a sweet new guitar strap!

So if you’re in Austin, TX, South Austin Music is a must!  Visit them @ 1402 South Lamar Blvd, Austin, Texas 78704 or on the SAM website

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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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Lollar Charlie Christian Pick Up

In the world of aftermarket Pick Ups, Lollar is a breath of fresh air.  Started by expert guitar luthier, Jason Lollar, Lollar specializes in boutique PUs for guitar, bass, and steel guitar.  Unlike most aftermarket PU companies, which are geared toward high output, modern tones, Lollar makes classic, vintage-styled PUs – using modern technology to achieve classic tonality.  Their product range is probably the most unusual and diverse of any PU company, making Stratocaster, Telecaster, Humbucker, P-90,  Jazzmaster, Charlie Christian, and “Miscellaneous” PUs.  Within these categories are many classics, like the Stratocaster Vintage Blackface, Dog Ear P-90, ’52 Tele Neck PU, and special PUs inspired by Peter Green, Johnny Smith, and Charlie Christian.  Jason Lollar also makes some unique, one of a kind PUs, like the Chicago Steel, designed for slide playing, Single-coil within a Humbucker, and “the Broiler,” which has a bell-like tone a la John Lennon.  Ultimately, Lollar is constantly pushing the boundaries of traditional PUs, creating exciting and new inventions to compliment any playing style and achieve any tone.

For those of you who don’t know Charlie Christian, he is one of the original guitar legends.  Christian was a key developer of Bebop, the language of improvisation, guitar technique, and was one of the very first people ever to take an amplified guitar solo!  He was most well-known as a member of Benny Goodman’s Sextet, one of the first integrated bands, but has become legendary for his influence at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem – the birthplace of Bebop.  Here, in after hours jam sessions, Christian would exchange choruses with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and other Bebop greats, as they developed this new style of Jazz.  Christian’s improvisational style is his greatest legacy.  Often said to be “horn-like,” Christian was one of the first guitarists to play single-note solos instead of chords, emulating the solos of a horn.  Through his single note improvisational style, Christian invented many phrases, licks, and ideas that would become building blocks for the language of Bebop.  His influence can be most strongly heard in Wes Montgomery, who learned to play by transcribing Christian’s solos.  Adding to his legend, Charlie Christian died at age 25 from tuberculosis, leaving an incredible legacy behind.

The style of the early pick ups used in the first electric guitars have become known as Charlie Christian PUs.  Preceding Humbucking technology, these PUs were single coils, but had a different sound than the modern-day single coils you would find in a Strat.  They had a depth and richness more akin to a P-90, and a unique fullness that set them apart from other PUs.  Today, Lollar makes Charlie Christian PUs designed to be housed in a traditional arch-top guitar, but their most popular CC model is designed for neck position in a Telecaster.  This is the PU I have put in my Telecaster, and it sounds amazing.  Putting a Lollar CC in a Tele achieves a deep, bluesy tone a la Ted Greene, Keith Richards, and even Jimi Hendrix.  Although you lose some of the “spank” associated with the Telecaster, you gain a new dimension of tone that is sweeter and richer than the conventional Telecaster sound.  I originally used this PU to adapt my Tele for a Jazz setting, but as I have experimented more, I find it’s a perfect sound for Blues, Rock, Pop, and Folk-Rock.  It makes my Tele sound more like a Strat, but even more harmonically rich.  The only downside was the shape of this PU required my local shop to cut my pick guard, an operation they weren’t too familiar with.  However, they learned, and did just fine, leaving me with a unique and great sounding modification to my Telecaster.

So if you’re interested in after market pick ups that will help your guitar, and your tone, stand out from the crowd, check out Lollar Pick Ups!

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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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“American Guitar” with Doug Morier @ Westwood Music Center, Los Angeles

Once again, I am introducing a new section to Riffs Of Wisdom, two in fact -“Happenings” and “Players.”  One of the most significant and educational ways to progress on your journey towards musical nirvana is to learn from other players.  Whether it’s through books, videos, or a good old-fashioned face to face meeting, other musicians, more or less experienced, can teach you valuable lessons.  It’s often said that one hour of practice with another musician is worth ten alone, and you never know what kind of helpful knowledge someone might have – don’t judge a book by its cover right?  Plus, isn’t that what all this practicing is about, actually playing music?  So without further adieu, I present our first “happening” and “player” . . .

Doug Morier is a Los Angeles based guitar player who specializes in Bluegrass and Old-time American Music.  A fellow New England immigrant, I first met Doug a few years ago when I joined the UCLA Old Time String Ensemble.  Ever since, I’ve seen Doug act as the unofficial spokesman for Old-time music and all things Americana, this side of the 405.  Doug also performs his own original music, drawing influence from the aforementioned styles, and performs locally with his group, the L.A. Bluegrasshoppers.

As long as I’ve known Doug, he has always been a great teacher, totally open to revealing the secrets of the craft.  At last, Doug has created his own weekly teaching series called “American Guitar,” every Wednesday night at 6PM at the Westwood Music Center.  For those of you that don’t know, Westwood Music is one of the coolest guitar shops in the world, with an amazing staff and inviting environment – but I’ll save that for another post.  “American Guitar” will cover all the bases of Old-time American music.  Flat picking, finger style, accompaniment, basic music theory, traditional songs, and lots of licks, this class will give you everything you need to begin your quest for musical nirvana – American style.  Plus, Doug is a great player, with knowledge far beyond these parameters, who will gladly entertain any special requests, and make great recommendations for outside resources.  So grab your gi-tar and head down to the Westwood Music Center this Wednesday for an Old-time American musical education!

“American Guitar” @ Westwood Music Center, 1627 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles CA – All classes $20 or 2 for $35

For more on Doug Morier, check out Doug’s website, and for more info on the Westwood Music Center, and their classes, check out the Westwood Music Center website.

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