Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Rocket Ride . . .

With the last KISS-related sighting in ND being almost (8) years ago, the announcement of Ace Frehley's upcoming March 11th Fargo performance was truly exciting news for local guitarists and music fans. My lovely wife excitedly delivered the news to me a week or so ago, after reading about it on the In-Forum website. As if she wasn't already perfect in every way, she scored (2) nice floor seats for my sister and I to attend the show.

A notorious prankster and died-in-the-wool rocker, Ace has never been one to jump the train to notariety - a far cry from the paths chosen by his KISS counterparts Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. Simmons, the quintessential media whore, acts as the "fall guy" in his own family-based reality show (*which is actually very funny, by the way). And Stanley, vain as ever, preens and poses for his line of signature model guitars. Other than an occasional call-in to friend Eddie Trunk's NY-based radio show, and appearances at select events and shows - the Spaceman remains largely out of the public eye. Such may bide well to his renewed musical efforts, which include a bevy of spring dates, as well as a rumored - but seemingly eminent 2008 release.

Pandering the historical significance of a theatrical-based rock guitarist like Frehley might come easy for casual fans, especially in light of the Simmons-led mega-marketing campaign of the past decade (KISS condoms, anyone?!!) However, those "in-the-know" are well aware of Ace's penchant for the glorious rock hook and trademark Les Paul-wielding saviour fare'. Costumes and gimmickry aside, Ace has paid his rock n' roll dues, and has a vast catalog of heavyweight material to prove it. From the gut-wrenching, power-chorded magnificence of ALIVE's 100,000 Years, to Love Gun's stadium rock standard Shock Me, to the pop-rock genius of New York Groove, Mr. Frehley has given us more than an ample dose of rocket-propelled guitar bravado.

The build-up for Ace's present tour and album release has been rather hush-hush, but my guess is that this isn't going to be the case when the lights go down at the Fargo Theater on March 11th. Not only does Frehley have a lot to draw from in the KISS catalog, his Frehley's Comet-era material features a lot of solid, kick-ass power rock. Throw in the possibility of a vintage cover or two (perhaps the Stones' "2000 Man"), and we could be talking about a really awesome show from start to finish.

However you choose to look at KISS, or their individual members, know for a fact that I'll be in the seats - grinning from ear-to-ear - when one of my favorite players of all time takes the stage in my hometown.

Really - does it get any better than that? J.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Power Snake . . .

The Tone Farm would like to welcome friend and fellow player Joe Austin to the contributor's fold. In a recent e-mail, he highlighted (2) newer releases that had been seeing frequent rotation at his secret lair in Grand Forks, ND. Thinking that there'd be a few 'Farmers that would appreciate the low-down, he has graciously offered to share with us his informative takes on Gary Moore's latest - Power of the Blues, as well as "Live: Still of the Night" from 80's metal icons Whitesnake. So, without further adieu . . .

Amidst my busy schedule, I always find time for my favorite hobby: music. I recently picked up Gary Moore's Power of the Blues. Now critics have always denigrated the lyrical content of Moore's projects, preferring instead, to focus on his six-string heroics. However, w/Power of the Blues, I have to disagree with the critics - it may possibly be the best Moore CD he has put out since the Black Rose project w/Thin Lizzy.

Moore's singing and playing are top-notch. What I love about Power of the Blues is the overall sonic tone. The mix is well done. Sure, Gary's guitar is up in the mix, but the rest of the band is heard at just the right level as well. And to top it all off, Gary's tone is about the best I've ever heard. Plenty of double-up notes and dizzying vibrato (wait a minute....are we sure we not talking about Mr. Frehley? lol) make this a 5 star (*****) CD and a absolute must for every blues guitar fan!

On the DVD side, the 2004 Whitesnake release "Live: In the Still of the Night" has been getting a lot of airplay. After watching it several times, I must say that the current lineup may be the best ever. David Coverdale and Tommy Aldrich remain from the 1987 tour. New players include keyboardist Timothy Drury, bassist Marco Mendoza, guitarist Reb Beach, and one of my new favorites, guitarist Doug Aldrich.

This DVD was shot in London in 2004. The material focuses mainly on the 1987 blockbuster self-titled release, but does throw in a few gems from previous endeavors. Highlights include "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City" and "Burn/Stormbringer" from Mr. Coverdale's days in Deep Purple. The band is super-tight and it shows. Doug Aldrich's guitar is way up in the mix and being a huge fan of the Les Paul/Marshall tone, I absolutely love it. However, at times, you can hardly hear Reb's guitar when he solos - which leads to a slightly uneven overall mix. It's likely that Reb's fans would have appreciated a more level playing field. Never-the-less, as a buddy of mine once told me, "This whole video is BAD-ASS" - and I couldn't agree more. I give it 4 1/2 stars (****1/2).

You can find these gems at The Whitesnake release also comes in a DVD/CD combo for a little extra $$$.

Personally, I'd hoped for a few revealing back stage shots of Tawny Kitaen (Dave Coverdale's squeeze). ;~) But alas . . . no dice.

Nice reviews, Joe. Keep 'em comin. J.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Run for cover . . .

I was recently introduced to "Real to Reel" - the latest CD offering by 80's metal darlings Tesla. If you have any familiarity with the band, you might remember heavy airplay, made-for-MTV hits like "Love Song", "The Way It Is", and "What You Give". Enter modern day. The once lush paradise of Hair Metal Cove has now turned into the barren, cracked earth of "Ain't Had a Hit in Twenty Years". In the majority of cases, it's all but killed bands of that genre. Those more vigilant have since found new avenues to pursue, to include the boys from Tesla - who have re-invented themselves as a professional cover band - - and are now touring in support of it. *insert sound of pin dropping*. Um . . . yeah.

Material-wise, Real to Reel consists of not one, but two volumes of classic rock power standards from 70's heavyweights like Alice Cooper, Bad Co., Montrose, Aerosmith, UFO, Thin Lizzy, Lynyrd Skynyrd - just to name a few. If you're savvy enough to have caught the intended play on words with "real" and "reel", then you're also clued into the other gratuitous quirk that this double set offers: all of the tracks were recorded using a vintage Neve console, and then mastered directly to Ampex 456 analog tape (i.e."reel-to-reel" tape). If your name isn't Donald Fagen, this probably won't mean a whole lot to you, But don't feel bad - it certainly won't ring a bell with any of the raccoon-eyed, ripped-jean-wearing thirty-something moms wearing that'll be lining the first six rows of the small-to-medium-sized clubs Tesla will be playing on tour. All of whom will be secretly praying that the band will deviate from their cover-heavy set list . . . to play "Love Song" - - just for them - - perhaps twice!

Now before you get the wrong idea about these two CD's, let me tell you that I'm a big Tesla fan. Always have been. I have fond memories of tossing around the 'ol 165g "frizz" down at Sertoma park (*back in the day when you could actually drive through the park), a pair of Pioneer home stereo speakers (*that I'd ingeniously wired to work into my car stereo) setting atop my Mach 1, while Mechanical Resonance blasted for all to hear. The only thing cooler than that was the fact that we were sucking down Schlitz Malt Liquor with these clever soda can decals wrapped around them, so no one knew we were drinking illegally. Yeah, I know. Total coolness.

Perhaps the most enticing thing about "Real to Reel", at least for me, was the guitar work. Side-to-side, it's all incredibly well done. I've always been impressed with players that appreciate and / or revere the guitar tones achieved using vintage gear, and original band guitarist Frankie Hannon, along with sideman Dave Rude, weave some incredibly lush classic rock tones throughout both CD's. For a gear junkie like myself, that alone was worth the price of admission. While Hannon and Rude's playing rarely strays outside the lines - they do occasionally work in a tasteful original run, slide progression, or lick now and then. Toss in the fact that the tracks were recorded and mixed using vintage studio gear - and hey, break out the bell-bottoms and Keep On' Truckin tees! Overall, the guitar playing is technically very strong, and really fun to listen to - if you're into that sort of thing. I'm thinking that these CD's will get a lot of use as jam / practice tools.

Amongst the bevy of classic tracks, there were two songs that did stand out for me. The first was Grand Funk's Stealin', and the other was Aerosmith's Seasons of Wither. Both are under-appreciated gems from two of the biggest bands of the 70's. What makes Stealin' work particularly well is that Jeff Keith's voice matches nicely to the original sound and vibe of the song. In other words, you still get feel of Jeff's vocal style, blended with a bit of that magical mojo from past. Seasons of Wither - a dusty jewel off of Aerosmith's Get Your Wings album (1974), impressed for the same reasons as noted previously. While it's not on par with the original delivery, courtesy of a young, pre-chemically-dependent Steven Tyler - the song does have its moments . . . and especially on guitar.

My friend James, who sent me the CD's, made mention of the fact that in his opinion, the Tesla version of Saturday Night Special was perhaps the best he'd ever heard - - cover or original. Indeed, bold words coming from someone who does not own a single piece of Skynyrd on vinyl - - or a Skynyrd release devoid of the words Greatest Hits (*I make light of this only because I can). Me - I've been listening to Saturday Night Special longer than I care to admit publicly, so my take on the Tesla version of SNS is a well-earned "C" - with most of this grade being given on the strength of the guitar work. The vocals, IMHO, are a bit "light", and the delivery less vengeful / toxic than the original album version. When you listen to Ronnie Van Zant's vocals on SNS, you don't have a hard time imagining him getting liquored up on cheap whiskey at a dingy local watering hole - - and then jumping in his rusty old pickup, hell-bent to fill his wife's adulterous lover full of cheap lead slugs. I don't hear that desperate, twisted vibe in Jeff Keith's rendition, and hence, it just kind of lies there - - like a prom date who's had one-too-many chugs on a bottle of T.J. Swan. Bottom line - if you wanna' run with the big dogs, you'd better be able to bring it. Tesla's version remains content to stay on the porch, though quite honestly, most bands would be happy with that.

As I see it, the big fall on "Real to Reel" is pretty simple - Jeff Keith's voice sounds great on Tesla records, but not that spectacular singing other bands' material. Add to that the fact that there's very little in the way of production done on his vocal parts, which leaves his singing sounding like it's "forced", or even worse, unnatural. Although I can tip my hat to the effort put forth on this project, it's hard to really appreciate anything that is not at least equal to, or better than the original. Most of the songs featured on "Real to Reel", sadly, are not. There's a gem or two here and there, but quite honestly, I'd have have been more impressed with the band releasing a single CD's worth of decent new originals, spiced with a strong cover or two as bonus tracks. But then again, what the hell do I know.

I know a lot of people dig Tesla's music, including myself - and for that reason, I'm really at a loss as to why they'd fill up two entire albums with other bands' tunes. Especially when they're perfectly capable of kicking ass on their own stuff. Give me some new tunes, and I'll be more than happy to come and see you on tour, drink a few brews, and we'll all have a good time. J.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Of Mice and Modelers . . .

Via recent e-mails, my good friend (*and sparkly-blue, vintage Les Paul-wielding axeman) Dave Tea and I had an interesting exchange regarding tube amps vs. modeling amps. I asked if he would consent to having his reparte' posted on Tone Farm. Having his permission, I offer you a most generous slice of wry wit:

"I've been a frequent lurker and occasional participant for years at an online site called If you're not familiar, it's pretty much a place where Beatle People have much discussion regarding Beatle Gear, Beatle Songs, Beatle Chords and of course, Vox amplifiers. Many of the participants are Beatle impersonators (aren't we all?) and/or gigging musicians. Non-Beatle issues are occasionally raised, but detailed theories on the opening chord smash on "A Hard Day's Night" get a lot of discussion. I love the Beatles music as much as anyone, but some of these guys are pretty intense. (Of course, Kiss Kooks are a lot scarier than these guys, but that's whole different can of worms.)

Whatever the deal is, the subject of transistors and modeling amplifiers comes up and I've been quite generous with my true feelings regarding non-tube and/or hybrid guitar rigs. Maybe I'm still cranky over getting swindled years ago, you see, I traded off a 50 watt Marshall Master Volume from the 70s for the allure of a channel switching hybrid (tube pre-amp) Valvestate. Sounded great in the showroom, sucked ass on the stage with pounding bass and drums. It had all the warmth and character of a White House press secretary.

Anyway, my anti-transistor opinions really got some of the geekier members of the board a little hot under the collar, I think the term 'wanker' was used more than once, so you can imagine how offended these proud owners of modeling junk could be. I was challenged to put my money where my mouth was, one member didn't think I should be spouting such ignorance without having tried out the then-new Vox Valvetronics modeling amplifier. I live in a small city in the middle of nowhere, so Vox dealers aren't that easy to find.

While on vacation later that year, I popped into a guitar store in a bigger city that had been a Vox dealer before. I asked the salesman about the Valvetronics amps, but they had given up their Vox dealership, and besides, the Line Six was way better anyway. I thought it was a coincidence that they happened to sell Line Six as well. Go figure. I plugged into the Starship Enterprise and asked for a basic dry crunch, nice and loud. I was genuinely surprised at the thickness of the tone, and was very impressed with the sound quality of this Line Six 2x12 combo. Excellent.

But here's the rub: touch sensitivity. Tube amps have it, hot, glowing glass reactors that spit fire when provoked. I don't know how else to put it than this: I've never had sex with a blow-up doll, but now I think I know what that must be like.

Glowing glass reactors that spit fire when provoked. Classic. Thanks Dave - - J.

Winter Blues . . .

Right after I moved to Fargo, I discovered an excellent used vinyl store off of 1st Ave. N called the Vinyl Connection (sadly, now defunct). I happened to be browsing the store one Saturday afternoon, after a nice bloody mary at the OB, when the owner of the store slipped on Second Winter by Johnny Winter. "Mind if I crank this up?", he asked, noticing that I had been grooving to the opening track Memory Pain. "Not at all - let 'er buck," I replied, and went about my business carousing the $1.99 section.

About three songs into the operation, I went up to the counter and asked to buy the copy that was playing on the turntable. "Good stuff, ain't it," the owner said, pleased with his salesmanship. I think I flipped $5.99 for the album, which was a total steal at that price - the vinyl was pristine, and the jacket near mint. I brought it home, and proceeded to have my mind blown by Johnny's searing slide guitar and electrifying blues-rock licks. Having been an SRV fan for a much longer time, the similarity of styles was all too obvious. There was no question in my mind that a young Stevie Ray had spun this very album back in the day, perhaps marveling at the primal guitar savagery that was, and still is, Johnny Winter's calling card.

I was recently sorting through my vinyl, and once again came across this LP. Reading the liner notes, Johnny explains how the album came to be a (3-sided) double album - a rather unique feat in the day. "We had enough stuff for one album, and planned to edit out what we didn't like. As it turned out, we liked everything, and didn't want to cut any material - so here it is . . . all three sides." And interestingly enough, the fourth side of the LP is totally blank. Knowing what little I know about record companies, I don't anticipate that many artists were good enough to slide one like this through the corporate wickets. So, one must assume that there was, in fact, a person with a brain at the record label; someone who thankfully realized, "You're right Johnny - all of this stuff kicks ass; let's release everything." Divine intervention . . . perhaps.

Now on the subject of Winter's playing, I'd originally planned on writing a few lines myself on what I thought his music represented. Then I came across a short piece that was so eloquently written, so absolutely on-the-money, that anything I could say could only be construed as walking in the shadows. So, courtesy of of the late Mr. Buddy Blue, as written in his San Diego Union-Tribune column Blue Notes, I give you his take on the guitar stylings of "Whitest Black Man" ever . . . Mr. Johnny Winter:

"The deal with Winter's guitarsmanship is that on top of his dazzling speed, soulfulness and technical wizardry, his sound is so demonic, so malevolent that you imagine it emanates from the death-stinking talons of Satan himself. Winter's riffs twist and coil their way into your orifices like venomous serpents seeking shelter from the light; they bite and slash and constrict your innards; they defile your bloodstream and mesmerize your brain with a noxious brew of seconal, strychnine and cheap whiskey, ultimately leaving one an exhausted husk from the effects of some dark, unspeakable power. In this regard, I liken Winter to a modern incarnation of Robert Johnson, the only other guitar player whose work sounds similarly haunted, hell-spawned."

Pure poetry. Anyway, enough of my ramblings. Here's a link to a You.Tube clip that features Johnny doing a face-melting, slide-infused version of Bob Dylan's hit Highway 61. And if that doesn't impress, how about a jaw-dropping, nine minute guitar tour de force featuring the Clapton / Bluesbreaker's standard Hideaway ? WARNING: You may want to have a fire extinguisher nearby in case your computer spontaneously bursts into flames. Enjoy - - J.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Clipping - 15 yards . . .

Avast, ye' Farmers of Tone. My guess is that a few of you are wondering where all of these guitar "tone clips" are? Well, fret not fellow fretters (try saying that fast (10) times!) - I have my ace IT guy Chris on it.

In the coming weeks, my goal is to have a fully- functional audio / .MP3 player permanently installed on the site. Such will allow us to post clips of various guitar tones - recorded originals, along with those available via the vast KJON rock library. At some point down the road, I also hope to feature original music - my own, as well as that of other blog contributors / participants.

Anyway - posting clips will soon be a reality. Penalty is declined. J.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Great technique = great tone

A friend & I had a discussion about this the other day, and I thought it would be fun to share with the rest of the 'Farm faithful - mostly because it applies to all of us as players, and to some more than others. That topic: the long, lost art of . . . technique.

Each of us approaches their own technique in different ways, depending on style, preference of music, and frequency of playing. Inevitably, the headwaters for all guitar styles is one and the same. Playing the guitar demands many things, among them: dexterity, focus, knowledge, rhythm, and perhaps the most important of them all - - passion. The great players have these skills interspersed with their own styles / ideas, and it's no surprise that developing them takes many years of practice, along with a healthy dose of commitment. Once a player develops these skills, they require regular practice to maintain peak form. Indeed, this sounds a bit "old school" - but the truth is often times the most obvious: there are no shortcuts to becoming, or continuing on as a capable, well-rounded player.

One of the things I find most intriguing about playing is the constant ebb and flow of development. I'll get to a point where I'm really feeling like I'm getting better, and then . . . without warning, I'm back to the same old tricks. Vamping the same scales & progressions. Running multiple pedal effects. Using tons of distortion. Playing too many power chords. From the playing standpoint - there's actually nothing wrong with this. In an "executional" sense, however, what it ends up doing is getting you to think of easier ways around some of the more important aspects of playing technique.

Even experienced players hit ruts - points where our playing isn't on the upward curve. It's at those times that I find myself going back to the basics, and re-visiting some of the things that I think many players occasionally take for granted, or don't think about enough - things like fingering notes / chords cleanly, running though all of the different scales, and picking / strumming dynamics. These are things that you need to do all the time when you play, and staying sharp on these things pays big dividends for any style of playing that you do. Other things that I like to implement into my basic regimen include reviewing my notes on different sound settings (I have several stenographer's notebooks full of notes / settings for various guitars, amps, and other pieces of gear); playing different songs in different styles (ever tried Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water with major chords on an acoustic?); and playing different songs on a clean channel, so that I can fully understand, and appreciate, how they were constructed from a note / arrangement / chord standpoint. A lot of times, these sessions lead me into other discoveries - - which again, is the big reward for regular, focused, and enthusiastic practice.

The other day, I spent about (30) minutes running through an album I consider to be a benchmark for fantastic guitar technique - The Allman Brothers' At Fillmore East. Duane & Dickey both exhibit flawless command of so many basic playing principles on that set list. Along with that, they're both well-versed in many different musical generes - jazz, blues, country & rock - something which always played into their unique collaborative style. Anyway, I always feel rejuvenated when I get done playing along with the Fillmore set. It's hard to explain, but I'd equate it to the feeling you get when you have a nice visit with an old friend. It puts things into proper perspective.

However you decide to do it, make sure that part of your regular practice regimen involves something that focuses on your playing technique, for it is truly one of the foundation blocks of successful guitar playing. Great technique = great tone. Rock on - J.

Wolfetone "Flashback" Strat P'ups

Any Stratocaster player worth his weight in synchronized tremelos and moto pickguards will tell you that there are about as many flavors of "vintage" single coil pick-ups as there are manufacturers. I’ve certainly read more than my share of ad copy touting the "vintage" Fender sound. So many, in fact, that I’m convinced that trying to actually define a "vintage" Strat tone would lead one on a futile, never-ending quest. Simply put, different ears hear different things.

As both a writer and a player, I am more than happy to tout my lack of qualifications when it comes to the technical aspects of the "vintage" Fender sound. However, as my voluminous album & CD collection will attest to, I am no stranger to the skilled purveyors of the Stratocaster, as well as their tones of choice. Such are the benchmarks which I use to equate the terms "vintage" and "classic" – esp. in the realm of the "Fender Sound".

My first experience with Wolfetone pick-ups was during summer ’06, while on holiday in the fair city of Seattle. My friend Dan had a set of "Flashbacks" installed in a newer model Strat, which I had the luxury of running through a trio of thoroughbred amps – a Fender DeVille; a Marshall DSL / 4x12; and an Orange AD series 50W 2x12 (*DB, I hope I got those right). As expected, the pick-ups through the higher gain amps produced some very impressive rock tones; but those through the Fender DeVille - - wow - - nothing short of astounding. Clean and over-driven tones both had a round, articulate quality to them – two features that I’ve found usually contend with each other in regards to single-coil pick-ups. A long weekend of playing that particular guitar and amp (*very loudly I might add) all but sold me on the "Flashbacks". Unfortunately, for me, it would be nearly a year later before I actually had a set in my possession. But good things do come to those who wait . . .

When my new set of Wolfetone "Flashbacks" finally arrived this past May, I decided to drop them in one of my favorite guitars – a 1987 MIJ Squier Stratocaster. My primary intentions on doing the swap were to turn the Strat into more of a rock n' roll player. Something with attitude. And that, my friends, is what the Wolfetones do in spades.

I chose my 1968 Fender Super Reverb for the first official test-drive of the "Flashbacks". During an evening jam session, I covered the gamut of my favorite Fender tones - - with neck hairs standing straight at attention. Sultry, Knopfler-esque tones shimmered from the "2" position with unimaginable clarity, as well as a touch of that bluesy sqawk that instantly brings you "Down to the Waterline".

The bridge position was where I was the most impressed. Running a Marshall Bluesbreaker II pedal in front of the Super, I was able to push the amp into a fat, glorious overdrive that echoed Marc Ford-era Black Crowes. Unlike a lot of *ahem* "vintage" single coils I’ve played, the voicing of "Flashbacks" appears to be well-suited to hard, driving tones. Strat afficianados also know that definition up top often equates to "ice-pickyness". Not so with the Wolfetones. The entire volume sweep was filled with rich, complex harmonics - and most impressively at the bottom end, where Strat players who like to rock need it the most

Later on, I plugged the Strat into a 5W Epiphone Valve Jr. head, and ran that through a 12" cab loaded with a Celestion Vintage 30. Running the amp at near full volume produced a delicious Class "A" grind reminiscent of Live at Leeds-era Who. Backing off the amp’s master volume, along with some deft tone / volume adjustments yielded several nifty Beck-era Yardbirds flavors. All of which were coaxed without a single OD pedal or attenuator. Nice.

Many Strat players look towards the neck position for the bulk of their live blues tones, and in this capacity, the "Flashbacks" did not disappoint. Aplomb with Texas-bred boogie, the gritty grind of these pick-ups will curl your boot-tips at full roar, yet still provide you with the tonal definition you need make those quiet blues numbers really sing. To test this out, I ramped up my Super to (4), and backed off the volume and tone a bit. I was rewarded with a clean Fender tone that bordered on the religious.

Since my initial bench test, I've put my Flashback-loaded MIJ Squier into use in a variety of situations - live playing; amps mic'ed & direct; with / without pedals; and general practice. All with different different settings and volumes. No matter what musical territory I've chosen to explore, the Wolftones have rewarded me with a fantastically expressive Fender tone. Bottom-line: a great Strat pick-up set with all the vintage savoir fare' you crave, plus a dirty little sister who will - - if you ask her . . . ;~) I'm a such a bad boy. J.

Robben Ford - "Truth"

As much as I enjoy classic rock and vintage-style blues music, I often feel that there is always a need to stretch those boundaries a little bit further into other musical realms. While I can credit SRV and the Rev. Billy G. for fueling my interest in blues-based music, there’s been one player who has filled the void nicely between contemporary and traditional blues music: Robben Ford.

My friend Darren introduced to Robben Ford a short time after Stevie Ray’s passing, and without question – it was just what the doctor ordered. Combining a jazz-fusion feel with fluid, modern blues improvisation, Ford’s list of admirers is many, to include Larry Carlton and Carlos Santana. And me, of course.

Robben’s latest offering, "Truth" finds him conjuring up yet another collection of memorable tunes, one of which features a duet with modern-day blues maven Susan Tedeschi (aka Mrs. Derek Trucks). As well, former Late Night with David Letterman bassist Will Lee lends his talents to a number of songs. "Riley B. King" is one of the release’s best numbers, where Ford pays tribute to one of his peers (*can you guess who it is?).

You won’t have to listen to this CD very long to realize that Ford is a master at work. Tight, tasty fills and fluid rhythm playing are some of his trademarks, both of which are punctuated with a guitar tone slightly left of divine, though still in the heavenly zip code.

The music featured throughout "Truth" is both intricate, and well thought out – yet still has an improvisational feel to it. This dichotomy is part of my attraction to his music, as it showcases the versatility of his playing, as well as the wealth of exploratory avenues blues music presents to a highly capable guitarist.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Bean-o Farmer . . .

The sound of an over-driven Marshall amp has long been one of the staple tones in rock n' roll music. From humble beginnings, Marshall amplifiers soon rose to prominence through the combined efforts of some of Britain's most prolific players, including Eric Clapton (*then of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers) and Pete Townshend and John Entwistle of The Who. While The Who's tandem is largely responsible for the modern day "stack", it was Clapton's use of a Mashall JTM-45 combo model that would set the guitar-playing universe on its ear.

Known by guitar afficianados simply as "the Beano album", Clapton's de rigueur blues stylings, combined with the amazing tone of the over-driven Marshall combo, would send players everywhere scrambling for "that tone". What few knew at the time was that there was another key ingredient to pushing the amp into its natural over-drive state. That little piece of analog electronic magic: the Dallas Rangemaster Treble booster. There are many theories as to why Clapton chose to use the Rangemaster, and most seem to point to the rather "dark" voicing of the Marshall amplfiers of that period. Employing the booster before the amp resulted in not only a "brighter" tone, but also a faster saturation of the tubes. Lo and behold - - the cream-iest of distortions. The technical specifications of the Rangemaster treble booster are incredibly simple, and the 10db of boost it provided was more than ample to coax the much-desired effect. Bearing in mind the near-obsessive conditions this single tone created amongst guitarists - even today, the scarcity of original Rangemaster adds yet another mystical element to this legendary guitar sound.

Another key ingredient in Eric's "Beano Tone" was the use of his 1959 Gibson Les Paul (*some sources indicate that it was a 1960 model) equipped with dual P.A.F. (*patent applied for) humbucking pickups. Gibson had already discontinued the Les Paul model in 1960, long before the Bluesbreakers recorded their masterpiece (April 1966). Due to the fervid interest in Clapton's playing (*along with that of other notable rock and blues artists of the day), they would eventually re-introduce the instrument in 1968. It's been the company's top-selling model ever since.

Today, guitarists seeking the elusive "Beano Tone" can expect to shell out a fat wad of dough - and even then, may not be able to duplicate Clapton's exact Bluesbreaker-era sound. A re-issue 1962 Marshall "Bluesbreaker" combo amp will run you rougly $2,200 - but unfortunately only carries a single Celestion 12" "Greenback" speaker (*whereas Clapton's original JTM45 had two). If you're a fussy bloke, you might shell out some extra ching to mod out your amp with NOS tubes, an original-type Drake transformer (*or a solid Mercury Magnetics repro unit), and various caps & resistors. Gibson has a re-issue of their famous '59 Les Paul Standard model, which will run you a cool six grand (*though it does include a custom hard case - nice.) And again, you could go the extra mile and swap out the stock p'ups with repro P.A.F. units, change out the stock pots, caps, and wiring with NOS stuff, and replace the stock tuning machines with period-correct Kluson units. The Dallas Rangemaster treble booster is more scarce than decent rap album (*maybe non-existent is a better term), so expect to pay several hundered, if not more, should a good working example turn up on Ebay. There are, however, numerous Rangemaster "clones" readily available, ranging in price from $100 - $300 - and most likely all will impart a reasonable facsimilie of the original effect. All of which brings us within stone's throw of $9,000. Indeed, a pretty penny for a major-league guitar tone.

Having an admittedly serious affliction for this particular guitar sound, I thought it would be fun to go through the "tone farming" process to see just how close I could get with the gear in my own arsenal. True, there will be some creative license here and there - but all in good fun. So, armed with a reasonably impressive line-up of "Average Joe" gear, along with a couple of ringers, I am off to see the Wizard. Provided that I don't get whisked off by flying monkeys, I shall report my findings via a series of upcoming posts, and perhaps even a few clips. Because I am certain that there are other "elusive" tones amongst those in our "tone farming" community, please - feel welcome to join in the fray with your own mad tone scientist experiments. Cheerio - J.