The crew over at FretBase are always on top of the latest Rock n' Roll movies. They've got a write up of the widely anticipated film "It Might Get Loud" featuring three of the hottest (and loudest) guitarists around: Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White. All I can ask is where's Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap?
I've written about JemSite before, it's a great resource for Ibanez fans. But they also publish articles about music and guitars that are of interest to any guitar player. Here's an exerpt from an article called "Never Underestimate the Power of Your Guitar."
I got my first electric guitar, an extremely cheap made-in-China model, on my fourteenth birthday. It came with an equally crappy 15 watt transistor amplifier with a reasonably high gain built-in overdrive. Was I thrilled when I played on it for the first time! I instantly felt the potential of an electric to astound people with simple power chords played through a distorted amp, and I was quite satisfied with it for a while, until I thought about how I wanted ‘real’ guitars such as Fender and Gibson models. Every day I dreamt of finally owning a Strat or a Paul in the near future...
My uncle happened to be a session musician for a number of local show bands. He celebrated by inviting a few of his musician friends over so they could play some songs for the guests. I brought my guitar with me because I was told beforehand that there would be a jam on that day. I patiently waited for the people to set up, hoping that I would be able to play with them. Being an amateur at the time, I thought I was the best guitar player in the place and so it was natural for me to display my “amazing skills”. One guy was not able to bring his guitar along so I lent him mine, but I was hoping he’d finish early so I could have my turn with the band...
The moment he started playing, I just sat on my chair with my jaw wide open. He played the guitar like a god, and to say that he is good was like saying that Jessica Alba is cute! What amazed me even more was the fact that he was using MY guitar, but it doesn’t sound the same when I use it! He was only using a very digital Zoom pedal and a solid state Hot Cabs amplifier, but the damn guitar sounded HUGE. He ripped, tapped, swept, and slid across the fretboard like hell, and I was having difficulty thinking about how he was able to make my cheap guitar produce so much tone! From that day on I practiced guitar seriously for three more years, and I still firmly believe that tone is in the fingers the way I did back then...
Remember, it's not about the gear, it's about the player. You can read the full story over at JemSite.
After 25 years, Spinal Tap is back! Following on the recent "Unwigged & Unplugged" Tour Spinal Tap has just released a new CD / DVD combo "Back from the Dead." As the title track lyrics boldly proclaim: "Give me reincarnation or give me death!" More apt words were never spoken.
The packages includes 19 songs featuring 6 new tunes as well as re-recorded and re-worked oldies (a funked up version of "Sex Farm", Reggae version of "Listen to the Flower People") that are not only better, they're louder! The album also includes guests artists Keith Emerson, Steve Vai and John Mayer and a pop-up diorama. All this for $10. Honestly, it's a steal.
Rob Reiner's "This is Spinal Tap" remains one of the greatest rock 'n' roll movies ever made. The fact that many incidents in the film were inspired by real bands only makes it funnier. If you like Spinal Tap, pick up "Back from the Dead."
And if you're in London, get ready for Tap's "One Night Only" World Tour to be held at Wembley Stadium June 30. Opening for Spinal Tap will be The Folksmen. Featured below is a video excerpt from the DVD featured on YouTube.
In my quest to have guitars stashed at relatives houses around the country, I picked up my best bargoon yet: a $100 Strat in Scottsdale, Arizona. Ok, it's a slightly used Squier model made in China. But for the price, I think this is the best of my cheap guitars so far, with better action and playability than the Epiphone SG 400 or the Epiphone Les Paul. Finding the right guitar wasn't easy though. It took a couple of hours of trying out every cheap guitar in the area before I settled on this particular one. And admittedly, you can buy a garden variety Squier Strat for around $200 new, but I decided to see how low I could go by buying used.
My expectations were admittedly pretty low given the goal of keeping this on the low-end of the budget. Since I was keeping this at my brother's place, it was likely to become the adopted guitar of my two young nephews who were graduating from Guitar Hero to real guitar. But I'm quite impressed with the quality of this guitar. It's got the classic Strat sound with three single coil pickups and an easy to play neck.
Unlike the earlier Squier Bullets, the more recent Squier Strats are of decent quality and certainly a good value. Of course, buying used has its risks. You need to test out the guitar and make sure there's nothing wrong with the neck, action and electronics. But if you don't mind spending an hour or two time trying out different guitars, you can sometimes get lucky. You'll need to venture beyond the usual Guitar Center store in order to get a great deal. And if you're not comfortable testing different guitars, make sure you bring someone with you.
I walked out of AZ Music with the Strat, a cheapo Behringer practice amp and a strap for a total of $150. If you're looking for a cheap guitar, you could do a lot worse than a slightly used Squier Strat. Especially if you've got kids who want to try out a real guitar.
Update: Here's a video of my nephew Cameron, a year and a half later, talking about what he likes about the Squier Strat. He's not an expert on Strats, but he's pretty enthusiastic about it.
Guitar god Steve Vai, who seems to regularly make the cover of Guitar World a couple of times a year, will be appearing later this summer at the National Guitar Workshop (NGW) in Purchase, NY to lead a couple of workshops on prog rock guitar, bass and drums July 19-24. This is a rare opportunity to learn from one of the innovators of modern rock. NGW has truly outdone themselves pulling in top notch artists this year.
You can also check out Vai's classic album "Flex-Able" now hitting it's 25th anniversary.
The National Guitar Workshop summer program starts June 27 in McLean Virginia with additional sessions in Los Angeles California, Chicago Illinois, Austin Texas and at the main campus in Purchase New York, where Steve Vai will be appearing July 19-24 along with James Hogan and other instructors.
Ok, my apologies for taking so long to post this. I'm behind in my blogging, what can I say? Too many gigs, too much travel. Also, I'm updating some of the reviews to include updated videos.
At any rate, I did manage to see the surviving members of The Dead play at Shoreline Amphitheater on Thursday May 14. I'm not a deadhead (this was my second dead show, last one about 20 years ago), but there have been times in my life where I thought The Grateful Dead were pretty good. I've always enjoyed "American Beauty" and the "Grateful Dead" (e.g. Skull & Roses) live CD. That said, I think about half of The Grateful Dead's material is excellent and half is somewhat uninspired. That may be sacrilege to those who have committed their lives to following the Dead, but even that's got to be getting old since Jerry Garcia died back in '95.
The setlist was decent, including classics like "Ship of Fools," "Friend of the Devil," "Morning Dew," and "China Cat Sunflower," "I Know You Rider," "Scarlet Begonias" and "Fire on the Mountain." I though the second number "US Blues" has always been fairly lame and it doesn't get any better live. But as with most dead concerts, about half of it was brilliant and half of it bordering on dull.
But even with that caveat, I gotta say when it works, it is pretty impressive. I think a lot of people dismiss The Grateful Dead's musicianship and in that regard, the band is really unique in what they do. And despite Jerry Garcia's passing, the four surviving members (Phil Lesh on bass, Rob Weir on guitar, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann on percussion) have a musical chemistry that is unique, inspiring and perhaps more resilient than anyone would have expected. Add to that the impressive guitar and vocals of Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule), and you have a band that still has as much firepower as they did twenty years ago. To be clear, Warren Haynes isn't Jerry Garcia (and he's not trying to be), but he brings an intensity and freshness to the band that builds on the foundation that was layed down over many years.
Today's posting is a guest review by my brother-in-law of a Fender 70's Vintage Reissue Stratocaster. I've updated this post to include a recently shot video review also.
In 1982 I made the huge mistake of trading an American made ‘70’s Stratocaster for an acoustic guitar. Being both a newlywed and a starving artist prevented me from owning 2 guitars at the same time. This Christmas, Santa Claus helped "right the wrong" by putting a hecho en Mexico Fender '70s Stratocaster Reissue guitar under the tree. It's practically a carbon copy of my first Strat, this one has the same maple neck/maple fret board with bullet truss rod, classic oversized headstock and deep gloss cream white paint finish.
The new guitar plays and sounds just like the original with the added feature that I don’t have to fiddle around to get the "in between" settings for that twangy mellow sound unique to the Stratocaster. Modern technology has allowed these Mexican made retro Strats to feel and sound as good as the original ‘70’s model. I’ve seen some reviews that praise this guitar but lament the "Made in Mexico" sticker on the back of the neck. Funny, I remember people in the early ‘80’s mentioning the same thing about Japanese made cars. Just remember, the times, they are a changin’.
I’m no EC or SRV but playing this reissue Strat offers excellent sound and tone quality that harkens back to the original 70s’ model I used to own. I’m no expert on vintage American Strats but I can't feel or hear any difference between my reissue "Jalepeno Hammer" and my old "Stars and Bars" made-in USA version.
Unless you’re a die hard Strat junkie, or a collector with a big budget, the money you can save on a Mexican built version that sounds, looks and behaves like the original, can pay for a new amp or a year of music lessons kid. The way I see it, modern technological know-how applied to a classic design makes the reissue Strats as good or maybe even better than the original. And certainly more affordable. I sold my original strat many years back, and there's no way I could buy it back today.
- White Body
- Neck Maple, "U" Shape, (Gloss Polyurethane Finish)
- Fingerboard Maple (p/n 013-7002), 7.25" Radius (184mm)
- 21 Vintage Style Frets
- 3 Vintage Style Single-Coil Strat® Pickups with Alnico Magnets
- Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck), Tone 2. (Middle)
- Pickup Switching 5-Position Blade
- Bridge Vintage Style Synchronized Tremolo
- Machine Heads Fender®
- Hardware Chrome, Pickguard 3-Ply White
- Scale Length 25.5" (648 mm)
I'm finding the high gloss finish on my maple fret board version of the reissue so smooth and accommodating that I’m having a heck of a time putting the guitar down. I rate this one a nine on ten!
Update: I've added a link to a video on YouTube that demonstrates the 70's Reissue Strat so you can see and hear this classic guitar in action.
Following up on my earlier post on the Santa Cruz Blues Festival, the highlight of the day came when BB King arrived on stage to close out Saturday's show. King had played two other bay area gigs that week. At 83, he moves a bit slower than he used to, but he's still got the chops on guitar. Many in the audience, myself included, felt priveleged to see such an historic and influential musician live.
BB King's influence on rock and blues guitar cannot be overstated. Alongside Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters, BB King put his imprint on music in a fashion that paved the way for Eric Clapton, Jimmi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and many others. With a career that spanned more than 50 years and 15,000 gigs, you can hear the influence of his minimalistic style and powerful vibrato in almost any modern blues rock guitar solo.
Much of the power of King's set came from his 8 piece band including a great horn section and rhythm guitarist. It's clear that these are top-rated veteran musicians who could be headlining venues on their own. Nonetheless, they provide a great introduction and a tight musical groove for King to show off his stuff.
At 83, you don't expect to see King dance around on stage. And sometimes his vocals seemed to fade into the background. But when he rips into a solo, it's clear that his musical abilities are still wonderfully intact, both on new songs as well as from his classic blues repertoire. He told a few good stories along the way but not to the point of being a distraction. In fact, I was surprised that he played a full 90 minute set and still offered to sign autographs. You could tell he was getting a little tired on occasion, but the audience just adored him and I'm sure that's part of what keeps him out of retirement.
For me, the highlight of the show was his signature song, "The Thrill is Gone," which I was able to capture on video.
BB King continues to tour through the summer in Europe and the US. At this point you just never know how many more gigs there will be. And if he's not playing in your town, pick up the re-released DVD Live at Montreux 1993.
Memorial day weekend held the annual Santa Cruz Blues Festival with one of its best lineups ever including Jackie Greene, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and BB King --and that was just the first day. The festival is put on by Bill Welch, owner of Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz, and has run for 17 years at Aptos Village Park. I managed to catch Saturday's show, which I'll cover here in two separate postings.
First of all, I'm not a big fan of hanging out all day at a festival, but Santa Cruz is a pretty laid back place. Officially gates opened at 10:00 am, the first act was on at 11:00 and I got there sometime around 1:00, just in time to catch the tail end of the second act, Ruthie Foster. While all tickets are general admission, I splurged for a "Gold Circle" ticket ($100) which gets you a folding chair somewhere within 50 rows or so of the stage. Despite the fact that I wasn't particularly early, I was able to find an empty seat in the third row, which was far better than I would have expected and made it all worthwhile.
Local San Francisco blues rocker Jackie Greene did a great set including original songs from his recent albums "Giving Up the Ghost," "Gone Wanderin" as well as a covers of The Velvet Underground's "Waiting for my man," The Beatles' "Taxman" and even some Grateful Dead. (Green toured with the Dead a few years back, so what the heck.) I managed to get some photos of Jackie Greene and his band, but unfortunately, I didn't shoot any video. Nonetheless, here's a link to a nice acoustic number on YouTube.
As good as Jackie Greene was, it was just a taste of what was to come from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, one of the greatest southern blues guitarists I've heard in a long time. I managed to capture a couple of decent videos of KWS ripping it up on YouTube. It was a phenomenal set, from the very start. Lead vocalist, Noah Hunt, has a perfect voice for this band, with a style that is reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix and perfectly complements Shepherd's guitar playing.
Everyone in the band was having a great time and the crowd was totally energized by the performance, especially on Shepherd's searing solos. Key songs included Dylan's "Everything is Broken" and the radio hit "Blue on Black." Kenny Wayne Shepherd's 90 minute set alone was worth the price of admission for the whole day. The band is touring through the US this summer, so be sure to check them out.
The closing act on Saturday was BB King, and I'll cover that in a separate posting.