Tag Archives: Telecaster

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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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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“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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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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