Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rig O' The Month

I've always been fascinated by stories about other players' gear. Whether it be the unique combination of events that led them to a particular guitar / amp, the end of an exhausting search for "just the right one", years of faithful service jamming in friends' garages / smoky clubs, or perhaps underneath more than its fair share of spilled beers - the tales of how things "came to be" are the stuff of legend. Every rig has its own special "mojo", and I thought it would be a fun idea for an ongoing Tone Farm monthly article to feature a few cool snaps & a short story about the instruments & rigs of our fellow Tone Farmers.

The criteria for being featured in "Rig of the Month" aren't lofty, by any means. A couple of digital snaps and 2-3 short paragraphs about what made it "happen" - and there you have it. You can send more pix if you like, or write a bit more - whatever. Collectible or cast-off, high-dollar or low-buck, vintage or new, thrashed or pristine, domestic or from another side of the world - it's a "come one, come all" show here at The Tone Farm. What matters most is that you make music with it - because after all - that's really what makes any piece of gear cool.

To get the ball rolling, I thought I'd put forth a short bit about the rig that most of you have come to know me by - my #1 Epiphone Les Paul Suburst and Peavey Classic 30. Both of these pieces of gear have each been with me for 10+ years - the Epi since 1991, and the Classic 30 since 1995.

The Les Paul was purchased from Gary Emerson Music in East Grand Forks in the fall of 1991 (*sadly, a victim of the 1997 Flood. Emerson Music is no more.) Weighing heavily on that choice was the then-new, completely re-mastered studio catalog of Led Zeppelin, and legendary Les Paul sorcerer Jimmy Page. I mean, really, how can one not be affected by such an amazing tone? Anyway - not having the major lettuce for an authentic Gibson instrument, the Epiphone seemed like the next best thing. Sixteen and some years later, it has proven to be a wise choice. "Ruby" has been a mainstay of my own personal tone, and continues to inspire me to this very day.

My Peavey Classic 30 purchase came quite by accident, the result of a casual afternoon of "browsing" at Marguerite's Music in Moorhead, MN. At that time, I'd been looking to get into a tube amp for a couple of years, but was still indecisive as to what I wanted. As luck would have it, my Les Paul was in their shop for some new pots / caps, so my first session on that amp was with my own guitar. Magic must've been in the air at the moment I plugged into the Classic, because as soon as the tone hit my ears - my brain was spinning like a slot machine. I dropped Kenny Rardin the idea of a trade-in on my current amp at that time - a Yamaha 112II, and before I knew it, I'd wheeled & dealed myself into a new tube amp. The rest is history.

At this point of my playing "career", I have a lot of cool gear that I can play - perhaps more than I even need to have (*yikes* - did I just say that?!!) But I still play my Epi & Classic frequently - and always marvel at how good that combo still sounds. Perhaps the coolest thing of all with that rig, for me, is the look I see on the faces of my friends when I tote those two in for a jam session - as in, "now we're ready to rock!" J.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Beano Re-visited . . .

About a month or so ago, I'd posted a feature on Eric Clapton, and the omnipresent guitar tone he employed on John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers' landmark '65 release. I've dug up a few additional resources on that very same tone that I thought might interest fellow guitar players.

The first link is an excellent piece written by John Wiley, and featured on Premier Guitar's online site. In the article, Wiley goes into fantastic detail on upgrading a newer Marshall 1962 Bluesbreaker re-issue to Clapton-era vintage spec. I'd touched on that a bit in my initial post - and here, Wiley takes it to a major-league level. While I don't think that most of us are of the mind-set to undertake such a daunting (*and gloriously expensive) task, it does present one with an interesting base from which to consider modifying one's own gear. In many cases, getting the absolute best tone from your amp / guitar may only be a few inexpensive mods away - i.e. new tubes; a bigger output transformer; maybe a better capacitor here and there.

The second item is a link to some excellent photos of two early 60's JTM-45 amplifiers - very similar to what Clapton would have been playing at that time (*the 2x12 model). Being that the production details for some of Marshall's early amplifier runs are pretty sketchy, the legend of the actual amp EC used during this session continues to grow to this very day.

The last article deals exclusively with the Les Paul guitar that Eric used during the Bluesbreaker sessions. Like the JTM-45 amp, details regarding this particular guitar are also inconclusive. Of particular interest to me was the bit towards the end of the article that highlighted Clapton's guitar successor in the Bluesbreakers - Peter Green. Peter would break shortly after his stint with Mayall to form another British blues powerhouse - Fleetwood Mac.

Anyways - more food for thought. I am still hoping to follow-though with my EC / Bluesbreakers tone-farming project at some point here in the very near future. While it may seem like over-kill to keep exhuming this one tone as a viable discussion / posting topic, its supreme relevance to all that is considered "modern rock" is immeasurable. Quite simply, this tone is the blueprint from which bands like Zeppelin, the Yardbirds, the Stones, The Who, and those that followed in their wake, would build - and eventually, refine further. - J.

Peter Frampton - "Fingerprints"

From my days as a youngster listening to KFYR AM radio, to present-day music afficianado, it seems like Peter Frampton's music has always stayed pretty close to home for me. A skilled player, excellent writer / arranger, and capable vocalist - Frampton's artistry has been a staple of rock music for over (30) years. His latest CD offering Fingerprints, showcases many of the finer attributes of his musical style - not to mention his surprising depth as player. Being that it is an all-instrumental effort, the guitar takes its rightful place front and center, and I must say that the effect is a most pleasing one.

Joined by a cast of all-star players, Frampton explores a variety of musical styles throughout the (14) song set. From a trippy, voice-box'ed cover of power-grunge standard "Black Hole Sun" (*which coincidentally features both Mike McCready and Matt Cameron of Seattle-based rockers Pearl Jam), to the soulful duet "Blooze" with Gov't Mule / Allman Bros. guitarist par excellence' Warren Haynes, to the campy, Django Reinhardt-influenced "Souvenirs De Nos Peres" with guitar virtuoso John Jorgenson (Desert Rose Band, The Hellecasters), there's an abundance of incredible tone & technique on full display throughout Fingerprints.

Perhaps the thing that stands out the most in Frampton's latest release is the absolute joy I hear in his playing. You can tell that it is continually evolving, yet in many ways, still the same. A fluid, jazzy feel permeates a lot of the material, as does an innate knack for the sweet hook / fill. Deep down, though, Pete's always been a rock player at heart. And that being the case, he certainly isn't afraid to crank up his rig, and grind out some heavy riffs with his signature triple humbucker Les Paul Black Beauty and Marshall amp stack.

While it's hard to ignore Frampton Comes Alive as a high water mark in his career (and realistically, how could you?), there's so much more to Pete's playing than made-for-airplay stadium anthems. For example, check out his early work with Steve Mariott and Humble Pie, as well as his second solo album Frampton's Camel (*which features the original studio version of "Do You Feel Like We Do.) Stellar stuff!

I might also mention that Fingerprints took home a 2007 Grammy for "Best Pop Instrumental" album - a very deserving award to a musician who continues to employ his skillful craft in the modern day musical arena. Amongst the dry heave-inducing pop & rap offerings currently littering today's music industry landscape, Fingerprints is an island of refreshing change - real music crafted by real musicians.

If you're looking for a CD loaded with incredible guitar playing, lots of different styles of songs, and a mind-numbing array of tasty guitar tones (both acoustic & electric), I'd highly suggest that you check this CD out. - J.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Who - "Endless Wire"

A year or so ago, I was active in an internet guitar forum. During my time there, I'd written a number of CD / album reviews, a few of which I though were very good. In an effort to bring our Tone Farm readership the best of music past and present, I thought I would post a few of them. Knowing fully that these were written in "present tense" back then, I will do my best to bring them into current day. Of course, there is the very real possibility that something might "slip through the cracks" from the standpoint of time relevancy, so I apologize in advance if this should happen. My only hope is that these reviews might entice you to explore some new listening material. Cheers - - J.

Hard to believe that (24) years had passed between The Who's last studio album (1982's It's Hard), and their most recent release Endless Wire. Certainly, a lot of history has passed since the band exploded onto the UK music scene back in the early 60's - and in many ways, their music provided a soundtrack to the turbulent times that changed the course of musical history. Yet, there is a note of irony in the fact that we are not too far removed from those same kinds of things here in present day. That very point is something that has always stood firm with me about The Who's music - it's relevance to to the time in which it was created. They are a band that that is cognizant of the world around them, and through their music, they offer solace, perspective, and hope. Their most recent release Endless Wire works along those same lines - only through a wiser, and more interpretive view. No longer do guitars need to be smashed, or revolutions stirred, to offer the listener a reason to listen. Call it street cred, or whatever you like. The Who are a force to be reckoned with, and should you seek to channel yourself inside their musical world, chances are good that you will emerge . . . wholly enlightened.

The new release is divided into two segments, the first being (9) songs that comprise Endless Wire. The second stanza is a mini-opera entitled "Wire & Glass", and I will offer no other insights to it other than to mention one word - Tommy. By mentioning that, I only imply that W & G has been created by the same basic nucleus that pushed outward the boundaries of the musical landscape with the "rock opera" concept. In short - The Who deliver the goods. They wrote the book. Everyone else is an imitator.

Included with the solid (21) song line-up is a DVD of a recent live performance (recorded in July 2006), featuring one of the new songs, and (4) all-time classics. For long-time fans who've pined to hear the band go into the studio to record some new material, it's an extra reward . All-in-all - a lot of music for $15. And it's The Who - - 'nuff said.

As I see it, the album is a refreshing, if somewhat economical performance from one of rock music's most legendary outfits. Caveats of brilliance are to be found amongst the songs featured Endless Wire, both in the now-grizzled glory of Daltrey's vocals, and shimmery brilliance of Townshend's electric and acoustic riffs. Overall, it's a rewarding listen for fans of all ages, although some of the material may be geared towards the more experienced Who listener.

The sands of time may have taken some of that original, chest-beating glory away from The Who . . . and begrudgingly I might add. But it brings a smile to my face to know that the fire still burns brightly inside of them.

Long live rock. - J.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Finding Keys . . .

Being fully aware of the knowledge and skill already present amongst the "All-Star Cast" that frequents our blog, I though it might be fun to tap into that deep, insightful well for an upcoming feature about "keys" to guitar playing. What spurred this on? Very simply - - talking / e-mailing with you - my fellow axe-slinging compadres. Whether its sitting down and sessioning some killer boutique amps, talking about Winter NAMM, discussing the benefits of NOS tubes, or sharing a few comical observations about gigging live - as players & musicians, these tributaries all flow into the same ocean.

An astounding player / musician I am not - but the desire to be one burns inside of me like a trio of fire-red 6L6's. To get the ball rolling on this feature , I though I'd pass along some things that have helped me to get where I am today. Either via e-mail, written contribution, or comments - it'd be fun to find out about some of those all-important "keys" that have opened doors to your own playing. Yes - this might take some thought. But think of it as time well-spent. Like enjoying a great cup of coffee, or listening to one of your favorite songs (*which does not include You.Tube!)

Believe me, culling (20) years of "lessons learned" down to (5) wasn't easy - - but I think the crux of the endeavor is pretty self-explanatory. Here are my own "keys" to guitar-playing success:

1.) Go your own way - Finding your own personal guitar "place" is where it's at. Rule your own musical universe, and reap its benefits.
2.) Listen! - i.e. are you really hearing it? Become acutely attuned to what you hear musically. Dissect it. Understand it. Know it.
3.) Inspiration is everywhere - All music presents potential inspiration for your own playing. Leave no stone unturned.
4.) Regular & Inventive Practice - Find ways to infuse practice into your daily routine through traditional & inspirational methods.
5.) Look outside the box - Don't play it safe. Continually challenge yourself by exploring new technical styles and musical theories.

What's that I hear . . . the sound of keys . . . jingling? J.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Architect of Heaviness

There is probably little that I could say about Jimmy Page that hasn't been said a million times before. The dark genius behind the rock n' roll colossus known as Led Zeppelin, Page's sonic blueprint spreads across the modern rock landscape like a solar eclispe. I'd venture to say that there's very little that exists in any of today's hard rock genres that wasn't propogated, or at least enhanced by something that Page / Zeppelin did during their storied reign as the biggest band on the planet.

I recently came across a couple of interesting web articles that might be of interest to fellow 'Farmers. The first one highlights a 1977 Steve Rosen interview with Page, and comes courtesy of Modern Guitar's online site. Jimmy was always quite wary of the press, and especially at that point of his career. All of which makes this interview somewhat unique, as he appears to be quite accomodating to Rosen's inquiries on various topics. There's some excellent historical information on Page's pre-Zeppelin days, as well as snippets here and there about the gear used to create some of Zeppelin's masterpieces. A very good read. Should you prefer, there's also an audio format you can listen to.

The second article comes courtesy of Guitar Player Magazine's online site, and gets into a bit of detail on a few of Page's recording and production strategies. Fully realizing that you could fill a large volume with some of the intricate details of Page's / Zeppelin's recording prowess, this should be looked at as an abbreviated take on a mere handful of highlights. Personally, I find these little snapshots very useful in my own recording endeavors, as it gets me thinking about other ways to arrange / develop songs, as well as techniques that I can use improve their overall tone / sound.

Lastly, it should come as no surprise to anyone that creating a catalog of music as tonally / dynamically diverse as Zeppelin's requires an amazing arsenal of killer gear. I'd featured a link to the Complete Jimmy Page Gear Guide on the Back Forty section a month or so ago, and will also include it in this post due to its relevancy. One of the most interesting things that I've come across in regards to Page's gear involves Zeppelin's juggernaut 1968 debut - most, if not all tracks, were recorded with a Fender Telecaster! Yes, that guitar and a little Supro amp (*which uses a coaxial 6" x 9" speaker - like the ones I used to have in my car!!) were vital elements in shaping some of the heaviest rock tones this planet has ever heard! Anyways - the article is loaded with great information, some of which might surprise even the savviest of gear-hounds. Bon apetit' - J.