Wednesday, July 30, 2008
This little practice amp was not only pretty cool looking, it was a decent sounding little amp to goof around with. Mostly though, the thought of this amp reminds me of an entire era of my life. Seriously? Yep (warning: this story is going to go way off track, but comes back around at the end).
When I was still in the first few years of learning to play guitar I ended up as best friends with three guys who became lifelong friends and great influences on my musical and even personal taste. I had already screwed up college once and was somewhat in the middle of screwing it up a second time at a different school in a very small Oklahoma town. I grew up in Tulsa, OK, which is not the redneck shithole you might imagine it to be. It's actually a pretty cool city with a long musical heritage and an amazing live music scene. Heck, even this year's American Idol winner was straight out of the Tulsa bar scene, though they always mention his hometown as somewhere in Missouri. Now, American Idol aside (please), the music scene in Oklahoma has it's roots in blues, R&B, honky tonk, swing, and blue-eyed soul. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys went out over the radio to the world from Cain's Ballroom in good ol' Tulsa. You've got Leon Russell and J.J. Cale and David Gates (Bread) and The Gap Band (who I saw open up for Sly and the Family Stone when I was a kid) and Lowell Fulson and Jamie Oldaker (drummer for Clapton) and one of the best drummers ever, Jim Keltner. There are The Tractors and Elvin Bishop and, uh, Hanson, and that guy from American Idol. Yeah, I mentioned him already. Oh yeah, Ronnie Dunn from Brooks and Dunn was a local Tulsa guy I saw more than once before he was famous.
Some of the best musicians from Tulsa are guys you've never heard of but are freakin' legends around that part of the world. Guys like Steve Pryor (at one point the heir apparent to Stevie Ray Vaughn before drugs sidetracked him) and Jim Sweney and Bill Davis and most of Bob Seger's band and Dwight Twilley and Gus Hardin and the list goes on. There is a guitarist named Tommy Crook who has never left Tulsa, but some people (including guys like Chet Atkins and Merle Haggard) say that he might possibly be the best guitarist on the planet.
So where were we? Oh yeah, I moved to Enid, OK.
Enid sucked. No hot chicks, two decent bars, and a bunch of rednecks who would be more than happy to beat the crap out of the guy with the earring if he bumps into them wrong. My three buddies and I hung out together so much, enjoying music and watching Saturday Night Live and having our own cookouts, that much of the town thought we were gay...not that there's anything wrong with that...we just weren't. One of the guys, who was only 19 at the time, was/is a world class drummer who now tours the world with famous jazz acts like David Benoit and The Rippingtons and Keiko Matsui and has played with just about every big named jazz guy you can mention. Another of the crew was an amazing guitarist who could play anything by Larry Carlton or Robben Ford or (name a famous guy) with ease. I always thought he'd make the move to the west coast where he could easily be a session guy, but ended up staying in Oklahoma. The third guy, the ringleader, owned the house we all hung out at and worked with his dad, traveling to Japan on a regular basis. He was the worldly one of the group, keeping our eyes open to the possibilities beyond Enid, OK. He drove a fuckin' Delorean for christ's sake. He was our "Dude." His house was very hip and cool and well designed in a very clean, asian aesthetic and he even did some modeling in Japan. Geez, I wonder why anyone thought we were gay?
Now, although I coveted the Delorean, what I really loved was the Dude's guitar/amp collection. Much like the man itself, it was lean and high quality and to the point. He had a beautiful Gibson 335, a late '70s Telecaster, a la Springsteen, that he had refinished himself perfectly, a Mesa Boogie Mark I with the natural wood cabinet and rattan looking grill (think early Santana), and a Washburn western cutaway electric-acoustic that was one of the first factory acoustics I ever saw that actually worked well for on-stage. Then, sitting over in the corner, next to the Japanese-import Sade records, was a little Yamaha G-5 practice amp that looked much like a miniature version of the Mesa Boogie...see, I told you I'd get back to the amp in question. There was always something about this little amp that seemed cool to me and I always wanted one.
One day, many years later when both of us were living in the San Diego area, the Dude got a job with MTV in Japan. He was moving overseas and didn't have room for all of his stuff and he wanted me to have the little Yamaha amp and a Strat-style guitar that he had received as a gift from the Eddie Van Halen of Japan (I don't know his name now, but evidently he was big in Japan). He also gave me the Washburn guitar and basically said to just hang on to them, but do what I wanted. They were mine. I eventually sold the Washburn to a guy I know and hung onto the Strat-ish guitar and gave back to him years later. As for the Yamaha amp...I kept it for a long time. I almost never plugged it in, but it sat around my house for years, a reminder of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life and Sade and '80s SNL and throwing knives in the backyard and my old RX-7 and a million other things.
And then one day I just gave it away to another young guitar player...the son of a friend who was really into music and guitar and really needed to be able to plug in. I'm sure there is no way he could know the history of that amp, but maybe, as his very first amp, it will mean something to him in other ways that will stay with him the way they did for me.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Back in the early '90s I worked with a guy named Walt who was into a lot of the same things I was...we were both graphic designers, we really liked baseball, and we played guitar. He had a Jetglo (black) Rickenbacker 330 six-string and I thought it was a really cool guitar. At the time, I had a great Gibson Dove acoustic (read the story of the Dove here) and he fell in love with it. At the time I was in a band and rarely played my acoustic. He was moving more towards country music and, long story short, we decided to trade guitars. It was a great trade...everyone was happy. Then Walt decided to move to North Carolina and, of course, take the Dove with him. I figured that was the end of that.
I didn't even think about the Dove much after that. Then, one day, Walt gave me a call. He was moving back to California and he wanted to know if I would trade back. Hmmmm. Interesting proposition. I really liked the Ricky quite a bit...it played very nicely and it sounded great. I have always loved the fretboards on Ricks...not sure what makes them feel so different but they are very obviously different than a Gibson or a Fender or, hey let's go out on a limb here...a Peavey Wolfgang (maybe I should have gone with Carvin?). Although they have a big ol' body on them, they stay balanced pretty nicely and they just sound great. I've always felt like a Rick is also a great visual guitar...when a guy is playing a sunburst Strat you kind of just say, "Well, there's a guy with a Strat." But when a guy walks out with a Rickenbacker, that's kind of making a statement.
You wear a Rick on your sleeve if you know what I'm sayin'.
So, after much thought, and much reminiscing about the Dove, I decided to trade back. I handed over the silver Rick case with the guitar all polished up and lookin' good, and I took back the Dove in it's original Gibson brown fake leather case. Later on I was very happy that I took the Dove back and it certainly got much more use over the years as I got more into acoustic gigs. But I will always have this little certain itch to get another Rickenbacker. I'm sure that at some point I will.
Note: I know, I know, the photo above is of a 12-string. It's all I could find. I have some photos of my own Rick from the story, but I have to find a scanner...they're old school photos...printed on real paper. No megapixels here!
UPDATE: My friend Walt happened upon this story and was nice enough to hook me up with a photo of the real deal. Here it is! Thanks buddy.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
I know I've threatened before, but I'm seriously about to run out of stories to share. Hey, the last one was about a Metal Charger pedal. I've got a few more guitars to write about and not much else. I'm going to have to turn the focus of the site to other people's stories. I plan to do interviews with other guitarists, but as always, I'd love to have you submit YOUR story about the one that got away. It doesn't have to be all witty and intricate...it just has to be about that instrument you really wish you'd never let go. Just tell us what the instrument was, any interesting details you can think of, such as where you got it, how much you paid, anything odd or interesting about the guitar, how long you had it or something interesting that might have happened while you owned it, and how it got away. Maybe it was stolen, maybe you sold it when times were tough, maybe you gave it away. Photos are great but not necessary. You can email your story to me here: CLICK.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Some people really only like the 09 series effects pedals from Ibanez. You know, the ones that look like a Tubescreamer...there is a pukey lavender chorus pedal and a flanger pedal the yellow color of those Xterras on Baywatch. I like those pedals too, but there are some other Ibanez pedals that I think get passed over just a little bit...no, not those cheap-ass Sound Tanks. The 10 series. I don't know a lot about them to be honest, but it seems to me like Ibanez wanted to make a bunch of newer, more versatile pedals and thought it would be a great idea to completely change the way their pedals look while they were at it.
I can hear the marketing dudes sitting around at Chili's now..."Boss is the number one pedal in the world. We have to start branching out and we need to make our pedals look more like the Boss pedals. Yeah, that's the ticket!" So, they graduated up to the 10 series. The good thing is that a lot of these pedals really do sound great. I found this Metal Charger pedal at the Swap Meet and picked it up for $20 or so. Sounded like metal to me. That's about all I know. I'm not a big metal, heavy distortion guy. I'll settle for the Tube Screamer and nothing else when it comes to distortion. But I figured I could resell this one for a profit.
But the real reason why I posted this one is because it reminded me of another 10 series Ibanez pedal I used to have that was really great. It was both a chorus and a flanger in one. It might be the Prime Dual Chorus...or the Chorus/Flanger...I don't even know the model number. Maybe someone out there knows and could throw me a bone. I'd love to find one again...the chorus on it sounded very lush and really nice. I don't care much about flanging really. I'm not Steve Miller.
So, today's lesson: I hate metal distortion pedals so much that I only write about them to bring up other pedals I do like.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
This is going to have to be a short one because there just isn't much to tell. This is a model 110 Teisco Del Rey guitar with a single pickup and an adjustable bridge. You see a lot of these if you frequent the swap meets, but you don't see them in blue. Usually they are sunburst...so this one kind of caught my eye. They don't sell for a lot on eBay, so, unless I find a Teisco like this for $50 or less and in pretty darn good shape, I just keep walking. Have I become too picky? Well, not really....just tighter with my money. It's just not the kind of guitar I'm interested in keeping, so it's got to be something I can resell for enough to make it worthwhile to photograph, list on eBay, package and ship.
In other words, why bother paying $100 if you can only sell it for $125?
Having said all that, it's a pretty cool looking guitar...especially up against my vintage orange Steelcase chair and hand made JFK pillow. The blue color really pops and the black flowery pickguard is interesting enough. Notice how all my comments are about how it looks? Overall the guitar was in excellent condition. It just didn't seem like anything I'd use even for home recording. I'm no Ry Cooder folks and I don't even want to be David Lindley...have you seen him? He always looks like the craziest grandpa ever who could use a shower (and some new pants). I'd love to have him play on some recordings though. Or Ry Cooder. Either one really. I'm an idiot. And I'm running out of stuff to write about. If someone doesn't contribute a story soon we're pretty much dunzo here.
Update: In the comments Keith asks how it sounded and how the action was. What? Real guitar questions? What is this? Oh, all right. The sound was actually about how the guitar looks...pretty weak and thin. The action was actually okay. I'm sure it could have been tweaked even more and made to play extra fine. I readily admit that this guitar might be right up someone's alley for a cool, alternate sounding instrument. I didn't really take the time to do much more than clean it up, make sure it worked, and start listing it on eBay.
Monday, July 14, 2008
So, what's your sign? I'm a Libra. Groovy. Back in 1970, when Fender went way off track, they introduced a line of solid state guitar amps based on the signs in the zodiac. There was the Capricorn, the Scorpio, the Taurus and the Libra. The Libra came with 4 12" JBL speakers, 105 watts (I wonder why not just a nice even 100?), two channels, with reverb and tremolo. The zodiac series was (mercifully) only offered for two years or less and are very rare now. But who really wants them? I guess maybe if you were trying to collect every single amp Fender made it would worth having, but, from all accounts, these things sounded brutal.
What makes the one I had interesting is that it was a head only. Now I'm relatively sure that these were not offered as a head, so that means someone took the time to nicely repackage this amp as a head. It was hard to tell that it used to be a combo amp and I probably would not have known if I hadn't researched it a little and discovered the specs. I found this one at the good ol' Oceanside Swap Meet that I frequently mention...in fact I think I need to get back out there soon. This was one of those things that you spot from about a row over and hope you get to it before some other guy walks up and manages to snake you. It was sitting on some Peavey cabinet (I think)...something crappy anyway. The guy REALLY wanted me to buy the cab too, but the Libra was all I was interested in. He only wanted $50 for it but it wouldn't be a swap meet unless you tried to bargain a little and I ended up getting it for $40. He had no idea if it worked and I figured for $40 any old '70s Fender item is worth it.
I got it home and plugged it in and it came on no problem. I can't remember what speaker cab I plugged it into because I really haven't owned many separate cabs...but I do remember testing it out. It worked great! Which is a nicer way of saying "it sucks." It's reputation was well deserved. I put it up for sale on eBay and had a fair amount of interest. In fact, I think that's actually how I first found out it had been cut down to a cab. A nice guy that eventually ended up winning the auction knew quite a bit about these and was out to collect 'em all. He was positive this shouldn't just be a head, but was interested in owning it just the same. I believe it sold for somewhere around $200
I really am a Libra and it might have been cool in a perfect financial world to have kept it just for fun. But I'm sure it helped fund some other purchase that I've probably written about by now.
Of course, in a perfect financial world I wouldn't be bailing out Fannie May and Bernie Mac (or whatever that other one is) with my tax dollars.
Since I didn't take one of those super tricky, underhanded loans that people didn't really qualify for when I probably could have, couldn't my tax dollars go towards music and art education in schools instead? Something besides old guard politics ruining yet another longstanding institution in the last eight years? Okay, that's the first and hopefully only time I've gone political and I'll try to restrain myself in the future. Rock on.
Friday, July 11, 2008
This guitar was the perfect beach guitar and I actually kind of wish I had it back. I went to the swap meet in Oceanside, CA one Sunday and, as I have detailed before, walked directly to a certain aisle that a couple of sellers always camp out on. These two or three sellers always manage to find some interesting, cheap guitars and I'm usually pretty curious about something or other that they have unearthed. On this particular Sunday one of the guys had this Cimar acoustic, which was a knock-off or "lawsuit" version of a Gibson Hummingbird. From what I understand (and please correct me if I'm wrong...I like to know the correct story), Cimar was a lesser brand produced by Ibanez, which itself was making less expensive knock-offs at the time, but at a pretty high quality.
This guitar was black with a tortoise-like Hummingbird pickguard that was still in great shape. It had cheap inlays on the neck and headstock and fake inlay all around the body and soundhole, D-41 style. When I picked it up, it actually played great. The action was just right. As I looked more closely at the body I was shocked. The bridge saddle was a good inch high at least. It stuck WAY out from the bridge and the top of the guitar had seriously bellied in. Yet someone had taken the time to exactly size up a really tall piece to make the action just right.
This was actually a pretty cool guitar. At the time, my daughter was away at school and wanted a cheap guitar to play that, if something happened to it, it wouldn't be the end of the world. So I shelled out a whopping $40 for the guitar and took it home. It cleaned up just fine and, since I was scared to take the strings off, I just left them on. I went to Guitar Center to see if they had any good deals on cases and, oddly enough, they had a GIANT stack of Taylor hard plastic acoustic cases they were clearing out for $25. So, for a cool $65 I had a decent playing, inexpensive guitar and hard case for my daughter.
I took her the guitar and, from what I understand, she never once played it.
She brought it back with her when she came home and I took it over to our neighbor's house. Their 15-year old son was learning to play electric guitar and so I donated this acoustic to the cause. That was the last time I saw it. Not sure if he played it either, but hopefully someone sees the odd beauty of this guitar, bellied top and all.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
If you've looked at the links to other sites I do, you'll notice a link to www.locobox.com. It's what you might call (for lack of a better term) a "fan site" for Locobox guitar pedals. Although I wouldn't call myself a "fan," I did get pretty obsessed with Locobox pedals at one point. I was reading an article in Tape Op magazine about Jason Falkner, member of the Grays, Jellyfish, etc., and he made a comment about gear he used to make his home recordings sound amazing. He said that he used a guitar effect pedal made by a company in the '70s called Locobox. The pedal was a compressor called The Choker and it just made everything sound great.
Well, who doesn't want that? A magic box that makes all recordings sound great? Sign me up.
Like quite a few other folks out there, I got obsessed with finding a Choker pedal. Problem is, they are really rare and impossible to find. Here's the difference though...I'm a freakin' genius and I will find a way to get one. I checked to see if the domain name locobox.com was taken and found that it was available. I bought it, found some photos of a few Locobox pedals, and started The Unofficial Locobox website. I figured if anyone was going to sell a pedal, they might Google Choker Pedal and find my site. Believe it or not, it worked. Really well. I ended up buying many Locobox pedals and sort of became the accidental Locobox guy.
What I really found is that Locobox made some really cool pedals. In MY opinion, The Choker is not one of them. I say that with full disclosure that I just don't understand how to fully utilize compression. I mess with it. I buy compressors. Pretty good ones. I use them. I don't really know whether what I'm doing is working or why. What I do know is that The Choker was not the "magic box" that I was hoping it would be. I am pleased to have found Locobox Mysto Dysto distortion pedals and Tube Maniax pedals and many others that do sound great.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
In honor of 4th of July weekend I thought I'd post about the Buck Owens red, white and blue acoustic that I once had, but remains in the family. So, technically it did get away, but I know where it is. I walked into a guitar shop in Laguna Beach one day and was checking out the amazing selection of gutiars they had. I walked into the acoustic room and immediatly my eyes were drawn to a really beat up Buck Owens acoustic. When I was a kid, my dad would watch Hee Haw every weekend and eventually Buck Owens and Roy Clarke would do a song. On that show Buck always played his red, white and blue signature Buck Owens Harmony acoustic guitar. That guitar was an absolute icon to me. I won't even go into how cool Buck Owens is...if you're not a country fan and think Buck is just one of those old country dudes, think again. An amazing guy in both music and business and his band back in the day featured one of the all-time most influential guitarists, Don Rich. Now back to the guitar...
I inquired about the price and it was only $250. The guy pointed out some serious cracks on the back of the guitar, and the action was pretty high. The white paint had faded to a yellowish puke color. And the pickguard was missing...though someone had put a generic, cheap white plastic guard on it. Even with all those faults, I wanted it. I wanted to fix it up a bit and give it to my dad. I took it down to Fred at the Repair Zone in San Diego, one the guitar gurus in town, and asked if he could help me find or create an original pickguard. I had found some photos, and you could still see the faint outline on the guitar where the original had been. Fred hand cut a new one for me and we were back to original appearances.
The headstock on these guitars are a thick plastic overlay that seems to be made out of some very brittle material. On MANY of these guitars, the headstock overlay is cracked, pieces missing, peeling away, or just plain missing. The one on mine was in pretty decent shape except that right where the words "Buck Owens" were, was kind of scraped or rubbed off mostly. I didn't really want to pay for a neck reset, especially since my Dad doesn't play guitar, so I left that "as is." It actually had a decent case too and lots of interesting case candy.
I had asked the guy in the store about the stuff in the case and he said "No matter what's in the case when a guitar comes in, unless it's damaging to the guitar, I leave it in. I figure that's part of the guitar's mojo."
I have now adopted that rule myself when buying any guitar. I keep the mojo together. I took the guitar to my dad who really seemed to like the gift. I don't know that he's really attempted to play it, and a few times when I went to visit I found it out in his garage in the HOT summer in Sacramento...probably not the best place for a guitar. I have tried and tried to get him to put it in a safer spot and I have no idea if it's currently in a storage unit or at my dad's place. I'm worried that it's in the storage unit, going from hot summer to cold winter and probably falling apart in the case. But, not much I can do...just hope for the best. It's a really cool guitar, warts and all, and it will forever remind me of being a kid in Tulsa, OK, watching TV with my dad on a Saturday evening.
Once again, since the guitar is not in my hands, I have found some photos on the internet to use for this story. This is not the actual guitar I gave my dad.
Friday, July 4, 2008
Last night I got to do something very cool. I got to meet Fred Gretsch IV, the man who single-handedly resurrected Gretsch Guitars and returned them to their full glory. I am very fortunate to live near Buffalo Brothers guitars, one of the finest guitar stores in the country. Last night they had a presentation by Gretsch to honor their 125th anniversary. Their marketing director and local sales crew were in town for the event and there was a very cool slide show of the history of Gretsch, which is an interesting history for sure.
I had no idea that in the late '60s Gretsch was sold by Fred's uncle to the Baldwin piano company and eventually just completely stopped making guitars. Fred Gretsch IV, who is the great grandson of the company's founder, hounded Baldwin until they finally sold him the company back, but really only because Baldwin was in foreclosure. Baldwin not only sold pianos but also had become a huge financial company due to the piano financing business. Their failure was basically the Enron of the '80s. Whole different interesting story, but the bright side is that Fred got the company back and, over the course of the next 4-5 years, was able to start manufacturing Gretsch guitars once again and do it in a high quality way.
Mr. Gretsch was an interesting fellow to be sure and was kind enough to meet with people afterwards and sign photos and posters. I just happen to own a Gretsch Way Out West cowboy guitar (these are very cool, and cheap too), so I asked Mr. Gretsch to sign my guitar. He was very gracious, though when I asked him not to personalize it to me, he wouldn't really go along with that. I guess he thinks it would end up on eBay or something. So, forced to have it personalized, I chose to have him sign it to my band, the Small Pox Mountain Boys.
In addition to the history lesson, they also had a performance by guitarist extrordinaire, Bob Gibson (ironic name, huh?) who plays in the Chet Atkins style. They also had some of their upcoming limited edition guitars on display, the coolest of which is a Billy Zoom relic Gretsch Silver Jet.
At about $7,000 street price, it's just a tad out of my reach, but MAN, I want one of THOSE!
All in all, what a great night! They gave out some collectible string pouches with limited edition picks and strings, as well as catalogs and a few T-shirts. If by any chance you have an opportunity in your area to see the Gretsch crew, by all means set the evening aside.