The Legends Of Classic Rock

Monday, September 1, 2014

Do You Really Need A Vintage Guitar And Vintage Amp To Get That Old School Sound?

 I came across a musician originally from California now living in the UK. who has a popular blog on the Guitar World website. William Baeck as he's known, 
                                                                                                                    Also, all of my amps and half of my guitars are in storage in the US. I live in London now. So the only guitar-with-amp photos I have are some old ones from years ago that I took for a guitar calendar, one of my '52 Telecaster with my '59 Princeton and the other of my '66 Tele with my '66 Deluxe Reverb.
I've attached these. I wrote my answers to your questions in a way that referenced these two setups, so they'd work for your article.
But if you want a pic of just my '56 or '63 Strat I could take one, as I brought those and the '52 Tele with me when I moved.
Thanks for the cool questions,

CGP: Most players can't really afford vintage guitars and amps for their playing, so what's your best suggestion as far as them buying a solid axe and amp for the music they play?

WB: Popular guitars, such as the Les Paul and Strat, come in a wide range of models and prices. Similarly, if you’re looking for a 20-watt, non-master volume amp with a 12-inch speaker, there are a gazillion on the market. Familiarize yourself with the different versions of the kind of guitar and amp that appeal to you and then buy used or on sale. Pretty simple, really.

That’s because we live in a time when well-made guitars have never been more affordable, even as old guitars just keep getting more expensive. I love the vintage stuff. I truly do. But it didn’t cost that much when I was buying years ago. I only spent $800 on my ‘66 Tele and matching ‘66 Deluxe Reverb back when I bought them. These days I’d have to add an extra zero on the end to buy that same setup. And no way could I justify spending that much.

The trick is, finding what makes you happy within the budget you have.

I think you can find a good playing, fine sounding guitar and amp on nearly any budget—if you’re willing to look. Begin by figuring what your budget is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s $300 or $3000, as long as you start by thinking “What do I really need?”

Since your question implies folks who lean towards vintage instruments, let me use that as an example. Nowadays most manufacturers make vintage reissue or vintage-inspired guitars and amps at a variety of price points. So you can start there. Fender for example makes vintage-style Strats ranging from Squiers up through Masterbuilt Custom Shop models. After the first $200 - $300 you begin paying more for the increasing quality of the fit, finish, and components.  But some of these you may never notice. An AAAAA flame maple top doesn’t sound any different than a plain one.

While some folks aren’t happy with less than a top-of-the-line handmade instrument, I know of people regularly gigging with guitars that cost under $100 new. The buskers here in London use the least expensive guitars and amps, yet their equipment seems to hang in there year after year, even being played outside in the rain and snow.

So broaden your horizons when you go guitar shopping. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a copy of a specific vintage guitar to have a vintage vibe. Some great new designs manage to incorporate a great old feel.

Let me give you an example. Several years ago Fender’s Squier ‘51 solidbody electric was selling new for as little as $69. These Squiers are influenced by the ‘51 Precision Bass, but with belly and forearm contours and a Telecaster neck. The neck profile on these remind me of old Fender Broadcasters, big and round. Moreover, their pickups are gritty and cut well through a mix, with a distinctive sound that’s great for blues and rock. The whole guitar has a vintage look and feel to it and you could have had one then for the price of a cheap guitar pedal.

A side benefit of owning vintage guitars is that I’m well past believing that the only good instruments are old ones. I’ve played a lot that frankly sucked. I remember going into Guitar Center in San Francisco and seeing a 50’s Stratocaster that had been played so long and hard that the treble side of the neck had worn away, leaving bare frets sticking out. It was “on sale” for $45,000. There is no way that guitar was as playable as a Squier ‘51.

For better or worse, prices for vintage instruments are based on originality, historical importance, rarity, popularity, and condition...not directly on how they play, sound, or last. In other words, their value is based on how much people are willing to pay for it. That’s all.

If I could give another piece of advice, it would be “once you have a decent, reliable guitar, the best place to put your money is in a good amp.”

Unless you’re specifically going for that “Les Paul into an AM radio” sound, even a cheap guitar into a good amp will sound better than a good guitar into a cheap amp. So if I had $500 to spend on a rig, I might spend $200 on the guitar and $300 on the amp.

CGP: The players I've met through the years have been blues guys mainly from here in Canada and the US Northeast. They tend to buy 60's and 70's based guitars and amps because they tend to capture the tone they need for the music they play. What are your thoughts on that?

WB: Well, you’ve basically described me, except I’m from California. My favorite electric sounds originated around Chicago in the 50s and 60s. And I admit to owning Fender guitars and amps from that period. The best pre-CBS Fenders I've played have felt and sounded better to me than the best new ones. But unless you're rich or an investor, I don't think the $5,000+ prices on these instruments are justified in terms of mere playability.

On the other hand, and although there are always lots of exceptions, the worst Gibsons and Fenders that I’ve played have been from the late 60’s to the late 70’s. I’ve played too many 10-pound Strats with wobbly necks, thick plastic finishes, and thin-sounding pickups, and Gibsons with narrow necks and plastic saddles to be a fan of this period. Unless it was an exceptional example of a 70's guitar, I'd take a new one over those any day.

I guess what I'm saying is that you don’t need a vintage guitar or amp to sound great. But you might want one to inspire you to play great, if that makes sense.

Over the years I’ve noticed that what appeals to people about guitars and amps is not merely the objective elements that make them up, it’s the emotional appeal as well. It’s not just about the sounds that come out of these instruments. It’s a mix of clearcut criteria such as reliability and the feel of the guitar’s neck in your hand. But it’s also about subjective elements, sometimes even illogical things like looks (honestly, would you want to play a pink Hello Kitty Tele through an iPad in your Muddy Waters tribute band—no matter how good it sounded?).

Guitar playing is part of a tradition, and we are all affected by that. We like playing what our heroes played.

Buying a guitar and amp needs to take into account not just that they’ll perform reliably for years with a good sound but that they’ll also inspire you to play your best. Let me give you a simple example. The other day I was playing my Squier Bullet Strat through the free Garage Band software on my Mac, and sending the output via Bluetooth to the standalone speakers on my TV.

Like most folks, my computer, software, and speakers were things I already owned. So the total cost of my “rig” was just $70 for the Strat. This incredibly cheap setup plays fine and sounds pretty good.

On the other hand, I have a 1952 Tele that I can plug into a late tweed Princeton. Although primitive, this is probably a more reliable rig, ancient as it is. It also sounds better to my ears. But the biggest difference is that it is far, far more inspiring to play. Even after many years of owning this pair, I still think to myself “Oh Lord, I’m actually playing a ‘52 Tele into a ‘59 Princeton! How cool is that?”

I think it’s great if you can afford it and want to buy vintage guitars and amps. And having played and owned some, I really do prefer them, but mostly for emotional reasons. I like the tangible connection it gives me to the music I love. I don’t know if it makes me play any better, and I certainly don’t think anyone else would notice a difference, but I do know it makes me happier, which is ultimately the reason I play guitar in the first place.

So to sum it up, you need basic, reliable gear to create good music. The rest is whatever it takes to inspire you, and that’s an individual choice. 

CGP: Mark here everyone. So basically what I'm saying is its more important to have a good amp than an expensive axe that sounds like every other guitar. I think you can have a 100 dollar guitar and a 100 dollar amp and if tweaked just right, will sound better than that 5 G axe and 2000 dollar amp head the guy down the street never ever plays. Why?

I'm not if William would agree with me, but I know a Detroit based bluesman who would. At least I think he would. He better. Just kidding. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fender Guitar Pickup Guru Bill Turner, Talks With Us On The Inner Workings Of Revamped Fender Pickups And Learn From For Your Sound

By Mark Grove

This is an important repost for players who want their pickups to be just right for the guitar and amp they use. This interview I did in 2003 was with Bill Turner, one of music's Pickup gurus who has made pickup technology his life, and players like you have benefited like crazy because of it. So with that I decided to put it back up because a refresher on how pickups work and what ones to use for your music are important, at least it's important to me. Well, it better be important to you if you want great tone. Hell, I didn't realize I did that interview more than 11 years ago.

Time flies doesn't it. Which means you players better get to work and learn from this little interview with Bill Turner.

Fender Guitars and Pickups are known for their distinctive sound that delights players and fans all over the world. This has lead to generations of players trying to perfect Leo Fender's great inventions. Bill Turner: The Pick up expert and Co-founder of EMG pickups and LSR (Linear String Research) came on board with the Fender R&D team in 95' and wanted to bring back that vintage sound that clearly stated Fender's unique pickup tone and quality.

Bill being the old hand at pickup development, took old vintage Fender pickups and experimented not just to recreate that old fender Sound and technology. But how to combine Old Tech with the new and test the hell out of it to come up with Vintage pick-ups that had that distinctive Fender tone that only Leo and real musicians would love.

MG: When you joined The Fender R&D team in 95' was it important that the vintage pickups that Fender was making had more of a percentage of vintage parts or new technology?

Bill: It was extremely important that the vintage pickups be correct. The current vintage reissue pickups are the truest recreations of the originals. The pickup construction is consistent with the techniques used by Fender from the early fifties to the present day. The vintage pickups are still made with pressed paper fiber and Alnico magnets which form the winding bobbin. The magnet wire is wound directly onto to the magnets in the traditional manner. The technical part was the research into the materials used to make these pickups when they were originally produced.

The structure and process of the Alnico 5 magnet was slightly different in the past than it is today, which is a large component of the tonality of the pickup. The other half of the sound component is the magnet wire. The magnet wire used for the pickups is still produced by one of our original suppliers. Without getting too technical about it, for better or worse in the case of pickups, the grades and processes for magnet wire have changed over the last fifty years, leading us back in time to discover the technique and material the wire maker used to produce the wire.

Fine magnet wire produced in the fifties and sixties had greater hardness than the softer annealed wire produced today, so the original technique was used to produce the magnet wire for the vintage pickups.

MG: Do you believe the single coil pickup is really what drives that signature Fender guitar sound and why?

Bill: Without doubt, it is the single most identifiable electric guitar sound, the sound is unique to Fender instruments. The single coil pickup produces the most natural tonality and presence of any type of guitar pickup. What sets the single coil apart from the humbucking style pickup is its ability to produce the fundamental note with the naturally occurring related harmonics, while the humbucker cannot reproduce the fundamental, only a harmonic of the original note, which is why it lacks the clarity of the single coil.

MG: Are the type of magnets used in the pickup making process important?

Bill: Magnet material is chosen based on a group of properties. Alnico(Aluminum, Nickel, Cobalt) iron making up about 50% of the magnets balance. The magnet not only must provide a magnetic field to magnetize the string, it also must provide the iron critical to inducing (inductance) voltage in the coil. The iron in Alnico spreads and widens the magnetic field through the pickup coil, charging the coil with magnetic flux. Ceramic magnets, while twice the magnetic strength of Alnico, contain no iron and cannot achieve the same affects as Alnico without iron or iron pole pieces being added to the pickup design. Each of these materials has its own very different properties, both very useful in pickup design, it`s a matter of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each.

MG: When you started with Fender you began with 1957/1962 StratoCaster Pickups. Was it a challenge to produce a solid vintage 57/62 pickup even though you're an old hand at it?

Bill: It was a learning experience. As I described in your question regarding vintage parts for pickups, the 57/62`s were the model for that research. A set of original 63' Strat pickups were sacrificed for that project, for the greater good of musicians everywhere. With regard to the reference "old hand", although I was responsible for many of EMG pickup designs, EMG wasn`t tied down to producing a truly authentic passive Strat sound. We created a truly good Strat tone, but achieving the subtle tonal nuances of a passive 60`s Fender single coil pickup proved very difficult. Passive pickup design is the most challenging because of  its inherent limits. There are only wire and magnets as the tools of creation.

MG: What are one of the ways to test out the tone of a pickup to be and figure out it's capabilities and what it can handle?

Bill: The best way to evaluate the tone quality of a pickup is in a controlled situation. In other words, you would want to use the same guitar and the same amp for all your listening tests. Swapping different pickups in and out of the same guitar for a consistent sound reference point. We use only one test guitar. The guitar has been modified so we can slide pickguard assemblies in and out of it quickly. The pickguards have different types pickups installed on them, so we can swap and slide pickguards in a matter of seconds and listen to many types of pickups. I realize that this is not practical for most musicians, but a music dealer might consider a test set up like this for his store.

MG: Do fender guitars and amps ever have to tweak their electronics and parts to conform with the way Fender Pickups are made?

Bill: Fender amps and guitars have always been traditionally designed around each other. My thought on this is that popular trends, new products, and player demand create changes to the equipment, and Fender has responded with very innovative guitar and amp products that cover a wide range of musical tastes.

MG: Which type of Fender Pick-ups needed the most changes when you came on Board the Fender R&D Team?

Bill: The American Standard Strat, Tele, Jazz Bass, and P Bass all were upgraded with new pickup designs. MIM guitars were upgraded with new pickups soon after, but the first major project undertaken was developing a new program for Fender Humbucking pickup designs.

MG: Has your past experience in manufacturing pick-ups with (EMG) given you the ability to see where pick-up making has to go and actually improve on Leo Fender's masterpieces?

Bill: It gives me a unique perspective having come from an audio and electronics engineering back round. The answer is in developing new materials for pickup design for the future.

Mark Grove-Canadian Guitar Player-March 2003

For more info on Fender Vintage Pickups just click the Fender link above,or for even more info on Bill Turner's EMG pickups go to:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Jerry Cantrell From Alice In Chains And What You Can Learn From His Influences Playing Wise

You'll be surprised where his biggest influence comes from. It's not a guitar player.

Even though Jerry is a hard rock axeman, his sound tends to come from music other than traditional metal or rock. If you really want a signature Jerry Cantrell sound, pick up a Cantrell Signature Crybaby Wah, or listen to some of Alice In Chains material when Layne Staley was the lead singer. His vocals went off the beaten path, and weren't hard rock tinged. They tended to be blues and soul based.

That's how great Layne was as a singer. I wish he was still here. I think you'll enjoy listening to Jerry.

If you want more insights from Cantrell I'll have some lessons from him.

So go back and listen to AIC's Facelift album from way back.


Friday, August 15, 2014

AC/DC's Angus Young Gives You Some Simple Riffing Tips Just Using The Strings And A Solid Pick--That Will Make Your Tone--More Your Own

 "Its a long way to the top if you wanna Rock n' roll! (AC DC).

Here's another important repost from the old blog. At least I think its vital for players. Some simple tips from Angus Young that will help you develop your own tone more, and you wont flounder so much trying to come with new riffs and chording, making it more complicated.                                                                                                                          Guitar World did an interview with Angus Young and he gave some super simple nuggets of Guitar playing gold that will make your playing more instinctive, without using any effects or even having to tweak your guitar. I love it when musicians like Angus make it simple and don't complicate it.

He even talks about just using a good solid pick instead of your fingers or a cheap thin pick that does nothing to help your sound. Sometimes it pays to use something better.

Even Angus talks about his sound like he's not original. He doesn't think he's hip either. But he's given us rock n' roll lovers great music for umpteen years. And he gives a big thanks to his band mates who help his sound and feel big time!  And even a tip to rev up your songs so you can go sneak a smoke between takes.

Thank you to Nick Bowcott of Guitar World who did this interview. You can read the interview by clicking the link below. You may think his ideas and his ways of playing are very simple, but you know they work for Angus and you should take notes and take action! Just try out a few of Angus's ways of playing and you'll do good!! Your fans will love you for it. Maybe even your band manager or agent who's been hounding you to inject some life into your band's music.

Here's what to do: Take notes,
Why You Should Do it: It will make you play better and get more raving fans. And the ones you have will love you even more.
Here's what to do now: Click the link below and learn something from one of the best guitarist's in rock n' roll!

Like AC DC said in a song. "It's a long way to top if you wanna rock n' roll!

So click this link guys and you'll do better.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Jimmy Page Talks With Jeff Woods From The Legends Of Classic Rock On Why Full Albums Are Better Than Singles Or Dealing With Record Labels Nonsense In This Regard

 Jeff Woods from the Legends Of Classic Rock talks to Jimmy Page about why it was more important to record full albums than singles, and why that made the music that much better from a live and studio perspective, and made fans more knowledgeable and understanding of the music from Led Zeppelin in the late 60's early 70's. Jimmy also talks about the influence of his producer Mickie Most, a driving force in the studio back then.

Thank you to The Legends of Classic Rock and Jeff Woods for the great material on many rockers from the 60's and 70's and their impact on great rock n' roll that was creative. Just click the link to the interview with Jimmy and Jeff.

Listen to The Legends of Classic Rock every week by clicking this link and finding out the station best for you. Classic Rock 945 which I listen to daily hosts the show every sunday at: 6Pm.

Detroit Bluesman Dee Curtis CD Review--And How Dee Played With John Lee Hooker

These are two articles in one.We start off with a CD review of Dee Curtis and his original and cover material. Just click the link to these 3 tunes and grab a listen. Tell Old Markie what cha' think.

As well, Dee who is my consultant here on Guitar-Player,grew up with John Lee Hooker's son Robert and John Lee Jr. who plays regularly. Most likely in California

Dee Curtis belts out his own brand of originals blues in the USA

Blues News grover writes " Friend and ex-Canadian based frontman for The Dee Curtis Trio has been honing his blues craft back home in Detroit for over the last two years. This singer/Guitarist as he likes to be known as, is going to finally come out with a CD of some brand new, and old material done with Musicians Dee has waited along time to play with.

This includes keyboardist and Dee's brother, Vincent. The first track "Red House” Mixdown" is belted out with a solid backing of walking bass lines and Dee's attention to taking his voice to new heights. The inclusion of Vincent on keyboard's adds a smooth harmonic element to Red House, and as a result gives it a new melodic twist.

"You been Had" is an instrumental taken from Dee's old days with, Thee Horizon in Canada. Dee has literally fused this track into an R&B track laced with definite Jazz leanings, and believe it or not, just a small presence of rock in this mix.

This last track "Carribia's Dream," is an electronic based Guitar instrumental, that I did like, but felt it would have gone over better with drums or bass included to hold the fort down on the rhythm. Look for Dee playing in Michigan and Southern Canada in the new year, along with a new CD to boot. As well, Dee will still be a senior adviser to Canadian Guitar Player.

Dee's guitar and amp rig will be in a future article.

Dee Curtis -- A Look Back at John Lee Hooker
By Mark Grove (A Back issue Article)

Dee Curtis is one of the USA’s strongest rhythm guitar players and blues cats, and originally from Detroit. Dee is well known as an R&B artist when he was an up and coming touring musician in the 70’s and 80’s. One of Dee's closest friends and fellow musicians was one of John Lee Hookers son's and quite an accomplished keyboard player. His name is Robert Hooker, and Dee went to public school with Robert in Detroit. They were both in the same choir.

In 1968 when Dee was 16 he was asked by Robert to be a singer in his group. Now at this point John Lee Hooker was the last person on Dee's mind, and at this time in John Lee's career, he wasn't doing that much. He was mainly living off the records he had done in the 50's, and not playing on the club circuit in a big way at all.

Just shortly after Dee joined Robert in his band, Canned Heat came to town and watched John Lee play in a suburban Blues club in Detroit. Canned Heat's management liked John Lee's Blues style so much, he was asked to come out to California and open up on a regular basis for Canned Heat. Just opening up for Canned Heat was a moving force in John Lee's career and moved John closer to the Blues he loved dearly. Because at this point he was playing a lot of rock due to the movement away from your basic roots music and being with Canned Heat gave him that inspiration back to the Blues.

At this time in music, a number of well known artists such as Duane Allman, Eric Clapton and other artists with signature sounds were doing a lot of session work and doing a lot of Blues based work as well. This brought fans back to Blues but still had that hard edged rock appeal, mainly for whites. Dee Curtis was spending a lot of his time at John Lee's home on Anadon St. in Detroit, practicing and doing sessions backing up John Lee's band as well. On weekends at Robert's it was one big jam session all day long, and John Lee's wife was known for putting out big spreads of food for the boys. This was quite a learning experience for Dee to say the least. Dee moved on in 70' and went into the armed forces for a stint. Dee hasn't seen Robert in many years since Dee went out to California and played with Horizon and the Hughes Corporation who came out with the song ("Don't Rock The Boat"). Robert is now a minister in California and doing his thing. Dee always said what a great keyboard player Robert was, and if things were different they may have done great things in music.

Dee did one thing though, on one of John Lee's albums in '69 which was a chart topping song regionally for a song called "Mr. Penguin". Dee played rhythm guitar on that track and John Lee did the main vocal line, which was, "Hello I'm Mr.Penguin". Now anyone who knows John Lee or his voice would automatically know it's his voice.

Mr. Penguin is mainly a funk based track where Dee got his affliction for being a funk master on guitar. The major R&B stations in and around Detroit were going nuts over that song because it was based on a dance called The Penguin. The major urban stations probably still have it somewhere in their catalogs. Dee Curtis is currently a solo artist in Detroit, with his Blues Band; The Dee Curtis Trio. Dee is working with drummer Paris, who is Dee’s brother, and has a revolving bass chair in his blues band.

Curtis has played with many top performers over the years including The Temptations Eddie Kendricks, avant-garde musician Bill Laswell, and many other fine blues artists while Dee was a blues artist in Canada up until 2004. Dee has high regard for those he played with in Canada, such as blues and classic rock bass player Vinny Trad who knew how to keep the rhythm section in the pocket Dee loved so, along with Rock session drummer Carlos LaTorre. Dee has a penchant for playing blues his way and always includes a proper dose of R&B along with his very tasteful rock blues tracks that take people back to a time in the 60’s when great blues was rare.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Blues Guitar Jamming Lesson--How To Play Better By Just Listening

By Mark Grove

"Blues Jams are the most important aspect of playing with other musicians and gaining the feeling you get from no other thing in this world, and that's connecting with other players."

Mark Grove--Canadian Guitar Player Online

Okay, you've been honing your blues rock chops on your Fender Strat or Gibson Les Paul at home, or with your garage band. And for the last number of years you said you would always hit the blues jams in your city. But, you’re afraid of looking foolish on stage if you make mistakes.We all go through that. Before you do go on stage, go to a jam and listen to other players, really listen and write down the name of the band or musician hosting the jam.Take notes of songs being played, especially the best blues guitarist in town who’s up there.

If your blues chops aren’t up to his level, don’t worry, and go with the songs you know how to play and ask if he would be willing  jam on your requested tune. I know, you’re scared up there, but if you don’t take that step you’ll never do it, it’s that simple. Chances are they’ll ask you to lead the song so practice the song until you kill it. I know it fly’s in the face of blues improvising on the fly.  But you at least have to know the material even if it’s just one song.

You’ll learn how to jam in a pressure situation that way. Then the best players will want you up on stage consistently. Blues players will also help you more than most rock players. Even though it’s your song, listen to the other players and their techniques which will give you some in sight, into how to use little new variances in your chording technique.

Don’t try and play above everyone else or in your own little virtuoso world either. Even if you or someone else makes a mistake, play through it and in sync with every one else. Even if it is your first jam try and pick out someone in the crowd to play to and connect with. Don’t worry about being a shred king, Blues is about simplicity.

You’ll get fans you never knew you had playing that way. So play tunes you know, and save improvising for later, until you’ve started playing jams regularly with other musicians. You’ll know the right time to fly on the frets if you do that. Don’t just listen to and copy guitarist’s, get your own style and include just little snippets of the Blues Masters, or top players in your town. Listen to drummers, Bass players, singers and harp men. Apply their techniques to yours so you can get beyond your own chording and improvisation techniques. It’s not about being the baddest and best blues guitar cat on the planet.

Jamming and playing with others better than yourself is key, to glom some chording tips and even a wild blues lick or two, from a newbie like yourself. Blues jamming, It’s all so beautiful man.

Mark Grove