Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ugliest Guitars 2008

The fine folks over at Guitar have recently posted their picks for the Ugliest Guitars of 2008.

Personally speaking, the ultra-clunker count is down considerably from previous lists. But there are a few outstandingly twisted examples of musical passion gone awry. My personal favorites are: the Prince & The Revolution Gone Woodshop (#19); the Driftwood Coffee Table w/ Summer Camp Art Custom Pickguard (#10); the religiously-themed "He Made A Guitar out of a Discarded Wine Box" / Floral esprit (#2); and the creme' de le' creme' . . . the "Heel Boy" White Labrador as a Viking Ship Bow monstrosity (#6). BAD DOG!

Like 'em or not, they're always worth a good chuckle. - - J.

Toast of the Tone

When I see unique gear / equipment, I often find myself asking, "how in the hell did THAT come about." But a vintage toaster . . . as a guitar amplifier??!! Really - I thought I'd seen it all.

The folks at Hottie Guitar Amps apparently saw a need for a toaster-housed guitar amplifier, and by golly, they jumped on that train - - big time! What ensued is something of a novelty, though well-rooted in terms of functionality. All things considered, one might begin to wonder a bit about a person who would drop $200 on a what I would term as conversation piece, more or less.

Hottie starts out with a vintage American toaster housing into which they install solid state amplifier circuitry, a 6" speaker (Jensen MOD), and a line out (*to drive an external cab). If anything, it's an ingenius idea, and most certainly from the aspect of saving those classic American toaster chassis from the landfill. But the real question - - how does an amplifier in a toaster sound? Actually, not as bad as one might think. Here's a You.Tube link to Hottie's Guitar World demo video.

My take: the line-out sound ain't half-bad, in kind of a C.C. DeVille (Poison) meets Joey French (Twisted Sister) kind of way. The toaster-only tone . . . eh, not so good.

Anyway you slice it (*man, I just kill myself), Hottie's toaster amp breaks new ground in the world of appliance-based music gear. One thing's for certain: breakfast will never be the same!! - - J.

Loud Magnetic

While browsing the 'web the other day, I came across an interesting tidbit Metallica's latest release "Death Magnetic". Seems that fans think the album's "too loud". Yes - you heard me right. Metallica fans saying that something is too loud.

Having developed some understanding of the processes of recording over the past few years, I can relate to the physical aspect of sheer volume gobbling up some of a song's fidelity. Hard rock bands, in general, have been amping up their initial mixes for years - and the results haven't always been pretty. However, when fans of a high profile act like Metallica start meowing their laments about an album's sound mix / fidelity, there may be a reason to take notice. Or better yet . . . post an online petition requesting of the band that they re-mix the album. Statistics indicate over 16,000 fans have now digitally "signed" the petition, meaning that its not just an isolated issue with a handful of fans.

In response, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich is quick to point out that, "there's nothing wrong with the sound quality". And I think he may have a point. Ultimately, my question is this: just when did Metallica fans decide that their armchair music production abilities actually mattered in the bigger scheme of things? Or better yet - that a musical juggernaut like Metallica actually cared what they thought. Really folks, you don't spend (25) years of your life playing speed-metal (*the first (7) or (8) at shitty, smoky, puke-filled, hole-in-the-wall clubs in Podunk, USA), to have to listen to wanna-be record producers tell you how to mix a fuckin' album.

Although I'm not a staunch Metallica fan, I've always been impressed with their approach to music. As in, "we do it OUR way". In the circle of metal culture, few bands have flown as close to the fire as Metallica has. So much so, that one might go as far as saying that they were/are the Led Zeppelin of their generation. Really. Think about it. In metal, who's bigger?

I don't expect that Metallica will cave into populous demands and re-mix "Death Magnetic". I will, however, enjoy reading about it. - - J.

More on the internet:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Somewhere Over The Rainbow . . .

There's an old saying about rainbows - - you chase enough of them, eventually you'll come across a pot of gold. For young Dorothy Gale, the "treasure" at the end of her rainbow was returning to her Kansas home. Standing in her way - a wicked witch, a crazy wizard, flying monkeys, and lions, tigers, and bears - - OH NO!

These days, the search for "true" vintage gear is akin to a trip through Oz - wrought with danger at every turn, and usually minus the magical part where you actually find something incredibly cool. Friend and String Bean Music proprietor Phil Feser recently found himself the exception to that rule by his acquisition of two sparkling examples of vintage Fender amplification: a 1953 wide-panel Deluxe and a 1958 Deluxe. The circumstances by which these grizzled, Fullerton-made warriors came back into the fold remain classfied, and respectfully so. However, once you plug plug in - and behold the pristine timbres of fifty years passed - you soon realize that the real story is less about the find, and all about the tone.

Written words do little justice in describing the auditory nirvana of a vintage Fender amp, and most especially when you're standing face to face with it. Besides the thrill of seeing and hearing the genuine article, one is instantly struck with a deep respect for the humble simplicity of the design. Modern-day manufacturers still use the same circuitry for their own products, hoping to capture even a smidge of that elusive vintage mojo.

Driving home the "work horse" persona of these two amps were several make-shift "modifications". The '53 sported a kitschy, but effective floral upholstery grille cover; and the '58 had been spray-painted (*yes, I said spray-painted) gold; its handle - wrapped lovingly with several layers of cloth athletic tape (hopefully I got those mods on the right amps). Looking at the two side-by-side evokes some interesting thoughts, particularly those of modern-day collectors - staring in disbelief at the undoubtedly primitive customization efforts. But there is a certain charm to vintage gear that has met a similar fate - mostly in the fact that they were looked upon as musical "tools", and not as potential museum pieces. And as any good Tin Woodsman will tell you - what really matters is the heart that beats inside of it.

Armed with a sassy new ESP Vintage Plus Strat, Phil brought these gems to life. Running both in stereo with a *new* DigiTech Hardwire Stereo Reverb pedal, the tone hung ever-so-thickly in the air. Tone that only comes as the result of having 50+ years of electricity run through it; of components being exposed to decades of heat, humidity, and gradual wear; and of generations of legendary music being projected through their sturdy chassis. This, my friends, is the true definintion of vintage; the end of the tonal rainbow. Treasure to hear and behold.

I, too, was fortunate enough to savor the pleasure of playing through these two amps (*on the same, buttery-smooth ESP Strat), and I smiled that big, wide Jon Nelson smile as those lovely vintage timbres tickled my ears. Yes indeed, there's no place like tone. - - J.

Hirsute it on the X

Thought I'd drop this little blurb in behind the ZZ Top concert review.

This past July, that Lil' ol' Band from Texas signed onto American Recordings, most likely with the hope of re-tooling their somewhat stagnant studio presence of the past decade or so. If you are not familiar with American, its headed by none other than uber-producer Rick Rubin - who like the ZZ boys, sports a solid mass of chin shrubbery.

Most recently, Rubin played an integral role in revitalizing the career of 70's pop icon Neil Diamond, and prior to that, produced a legendary trio of releases with the late Johnny Cash. Rubin's production credits have crossed many genres - from rap to alternative, country to metal, and everything in-between.

One of the trademarks of Rubin-produced sound is his innate ability to reduce music to its "purest essence"; to strip down the layers of un-needed production hoodoo - and look directly into the soul of the artist(s) and their music. This, I think, will bide well for ZZ and their forthcoming release, as most of their recent material has lacked some of the bare-knuckled bravado present on classic releases such as "Tres Hombres" and "Deguello".

The Top's most recent studio effort "Mescalero" (2003) isn't totally devoid of an attractive hook or two. But stacked up against their early to mid 70's catalog, it's like a lonely AMC Gremlin sitting in the back of a lot full of '57 Chevys. Easy not to notice.

Some of Rubin's more notable rock production gigs include work with AC~DC (Ballbreaker); Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (Echo); the Red Hot Chili Peppers (Blood Sugar Sex Majik, Californication, Stadium Arcadium); Audioslave (Audioslave, Out Of Exile); Jakob Dylan (Seeing Things); and last but not least, Metallica (Death Magnetic). Did I mention that he's also worked with that politically-charged trio of country goodness - aka the Dixie Chicks . . . of which his efforts garnered three Grammy Awards. Yeah - didn't impress me either.

Having shot through a circuit of solid summer and fall performances, The Rev. & Co. hopefully have their chops honed to gritty perfection - and are primed and ready to hit the studio with their surfer foot gas pedal to the floorboard. Rumor has it that the upcoming release will meld elements of their classic 70's style / tone with the pop sensibility and hooky-ness of the Eliminator-era material. Which to me sounds like some good, old-fashioned bump n' grind - ZZ style. A how, how, how . . . J.