Paul Stanley's Preacher from Washburn

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There's a good interview in the latest issue of GuitarWorld magazine featuring Paul Stanley of KISS talking about his latest guitar, the Preacher series from Washburn.  Stanley helped provide input into the design of the Preacher and he comments on the classic elements that make a good rock guitar. 

"Too many guitars are either poorly deisgned or just goofy looking.  They're different for the sake of being different, but they don't stand up in terms of design...

"For me, a great pickup means you can hear each string when you strum a chord.  I never liked pickups that just put out this blaring, white noise distortion.  All the guitar players I love, when they hit a chord, you heard each string.  So I prefer either a real vintage pickup or one that's just a little souped-up.  But when you get into superdistortion, super-duper-distortion and super-unbelievable distorion pickups, I'm not interested.  They're not musical pickups.  They serve a certain kind of music well, but they don't suit what I do..."

The high-end PS9200 model guitar features a mahogany body, Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickups, set neck with ebony fretboard, Grover tuners and gold hardware.  Coming in at just under 4 grand, it's an expensive guitar, but it looks absolutely stunning and is available in black or white. Other models in the series, including the PS7000 and PS7200 are a bit more modest in their specs, but still feature the mahogany body, Grover tuners, but use Egnator pickups and come in at a more affordable $1249.  Still not cheap compared to the average Strat or Les Paul.

Stanley used the PS9200 guitar on his latest solo album "Live to Win" and on tour in 2006 and 2007.  It's a good album and if you like late stage KISS with an updated sound, you'll feel right at home with it.

Unfortunately, the GuitarWorld article is not yet available online and Mr Stanley keeps blowing me off every time I try to get a confirmed interview schedule.  Ok, so I admit, I'm jealous that GuitarWorld has more pull than I do.  You can't fault me for tryin!


Slash on WSJ

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Slash, lead guitarist from Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver, is out promoting a new memoir, aptly titled "Slash".  Oddly enough, Slash gets an interview and lists the rock albums that most influenced him in the grand the bastion of corporate reporting: the Wall Street Journal.  I'm sure interviewer Bob Hughes, who also interviews corporate stiffs, is a headbanger from way back. 

But if you do like Slash, check out the newest Velvet Revolver release Libertad. There's plenty to like.  It combines the best of G N' R and Stone Temple Pilots with a modern sound. 

What's next... The Sex Pistols on Leno?  Oh yeah, that was two weeks ago.


Six Pack with Marcus Ryle of Line 6

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Marcus Ryle, Senior Vice President of Research and Development, co-founded Line 6 more than ten years ago along with partner Michel Doidic.  Marcus is responsible for all product development and research initiatives at the company, including the POD modeling system, ToneCore effects pedals, Variax modeling guitars and the Vetta and Spider series of amplifiers.  According to MI SalesTrak Line 6 has become the second largest amplifier supplier after Fender and a recognized innovator in guitar sound. 

Marcus is also a classicly trained pianist and has worked as a professional musician recording with the likes of Chicago, Lee Ritenour and Chaka Khan.  Continuing with our "Six Pack" interviews, Marcus took some time out of his weekend schedule to give www.guitarvibe.com readers a behind the scenes look into developing new products at Line 6 and some of the challenges of combining modern modeling technology with classic tube amplification. 

Q: You've got a background both as a professional session musician and as an engineer. How do you draw on those elements in your role at Line 6?

Marcus: For me, they’re directly connected. I’ve always been drawn to music and technology, and the purpose of technology for me has always been to serve music. At Line 6, there are lots of people with a similar point of view, so there’s lots of great collaborative inspiration.

Q: How do new products get created at Line 6? Are you purposefully looking to disrupt competitors in existing markets? Or is it based on speaking with customers and dealers about what they want?

Marcus: The source of new product ideas can come from anyone in the company, or from anywhere outside. We talk to musicians about what they would like to achieve, what impedes their creativity, as opposed to asking what products they want. We then brainstorm about how we can best meet these needs. Disruption becomes a natural byproduct of the process if musicians embrace our solutions.

Q: You've been working with Bogner Amplification on a new Spider Valve amp. What's it been like to combine digital modeling with tube-based amplification?

Marcus: Working with Reinhold Bogner has been a lot of fun, as well as educational and inspirational. Reinhold has a tremendous knowledge of tube amplification, but more importantly, he has incredible ears. We share an inherent quest for tone, without regard to what technology it takes to get there. It has been exciting to combine the “best of both worlds” of modeling and tubes in the creation of the Spider Valve family.

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Now that the product has been announced, some folks have been asking the obvious question “why”? Many people have gotten the impression that Line 6 was “anti-tube”, but a simpler way to describe us is “pro-tone”. Modeling has evolved tremendously since we started, and we are quite proud of the fact that the tonal capabilities of our products have ended up in the hands of some of the best guitarists in the world, and on countless best-selling records.

Equally important to us is providing guitarists with choices on how that tone gets delivered. In the recording environment, the entire signal path can be captured with modeling – from the guitar body & pickups, stomp boxes, preamp, tone stack, power amp, speakers, microphone, and the environment it is recorded in. The “delivery” of the tone in the studio is via studio monitors or headphones. Performing live, many guitarists like the tone delivery to be through a PA system, monitoring through wedges, stage fills, or in-ear monitors. Others want their tone delivered right through the power amp and speakers in their guitar amp.

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For the last forty years, the two choices for power amplification in a guitar amp have been tubes or solid state. When we first introduced modeling amps, we took all of the advantages of solid state amplification and optimized it for the best tonal delivery possible. But the feel and responsiveness of tube amplification is an option we also wanted to provide. Thanks to Reinhold’s collaboration, we can now deliver great tone through your choice of solid state or tubes, while also being able to deliver the best direct tone possible.

Q: Guitarists are notoriously conservative. With Line 6's use of modeling, it's sometimes considered too radical by those who want vintage sound from vintage gear and seem reluctant to try anything new since the 1960s. Do you think this is changing with younger players who have grown up digital?

Marcus: It’s human nature to be reluctant to change behavior. Younger people are often more open to new technology because they haven’t spent decades repeating one particular behavior. But there’s nothing wrong with someone not wanting to try something new. If a guitarist is content with their tone, there’s no need to change it. But more and more people of any age are discovering that modeling provides the best and easiest path to a wide range of great tone, and ultimately that benefit draws people to try something new.

Q: What was the reaction at Line 6 when Fender announced the VG Strat? It felt like they were sending a shot over the bow with their marketing messages about not requiring special cables or a users manual.

Marcus: What’s that quote about the sincerest form of flattery? Seriously, it’s not clear to me that their marketing message was a shot over our bow – Variax does not require any special cables (it can run on batteries, just like the VG Strat), and since it only has one extra knob compared to other electric guitars (to select models), I don’t think it requires a user manual either. But unlike the VG Strat, Variax can also be powered through a standard stereo ¼” cable, or from a PODxt Live.

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And unlike the VG Strat, Variax can be optionally connected to a computer and let you create your own guitar model by moving pickups, changing bodies, etc., and create any alternate tuning you want. Maybe Fender thinks this is complicated? Or maybe they weren’t talking about us at all. But either way, we just look at Variax as providing more options (if you want them), and ease of use at the same time.

Q: A lot of the recent innovation has been around amps and effects, with new versions of the POD etc. When can we expect to see something new in the Variax line up?

Marcus: Well, of course we can’t talk about potential future products. But I can say that we are always exploring new ways to provide a wide range of tone for musicians. The only thing for sure is that there will be more products from Line 6, but you’ll just have to wait and see.

Argh!  Ok, I tried to get some hints on future Variax models!  And although Marcus denies it, maybe there are some "unannounced top secret products" in the photo at the top of this posting.  The Line 6 Spider Valve is expected to be available in October.  More information is available on line at Line 6.


Six Pack with Greg Kihn

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In the Bay Area of San Francisco Greg Kihn is equally famous as an 80's rock star (Jeopardy, The Break Up Song) and as a DJ on classic rock station KFOX where he's led the #1 rated morning show  for more than ten years.  As if that's not enough, Greg has also put on a series of "Kihncerts" around the bay area attracting bands such as The Who, Boston, Eddie Money, Pat Travers, George Thorogood, Foghat and others along side his own Greg Kihn Band (GKB).   On Saturday September 22nd, KFOX will host the "Summer Sendoff" concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre featuring Greg Kihn Band, The Doobie Brothers, Steve Miller Band and more.  Tickets start at under $20 which is a great deal. 

Q: You've played a lot of gigs and shared the stage with a lot of bands. Do you still get excited about playing big venue concerts like Shoreline?

Greg: I haven't been nervous since 1967, but I still get a major kick walking out in front of a big audience. The Shoreline is extra special because of all the great music that has been played there.

Q: I saw several of the Kihncerts and was totally blown away with the show you did with The Who at Shoreline in 2004. I think that was one of their only US shows that year. How did you manage to get them on board?

Greg: Well, I still owe the Who money from 1978 from when I recorded at their studio Rampart in London in Battersea Park. Maybe Pete figured he could collect. Actually I go way back with the Who and they are one of my favorite bands of all time. It's a great honor to open for them.

Q: What should fans expect from GKB this time around at the Summer Sendoff?

Greg: I always try to come up with new material every year. This year I'm working up some of our older songs from the GKB catalogue. People always seem to request them.

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Q: What's it like having your son Ry in the band? He's such a awesome guitar player.

Greg: I am so proud of him. I'd like to point out that we've had many great guitarists in the GKB and Ry is the best of them all. He can play any style. He's even got a college degree in Jazz Guitar! Look out for Ry's solo CD sometime soon!

Q: As a DJ who has been the most interesting musician for you to interview? Do you get nervous interviewing someone like Paul McCartney or Maria Holly?

Greg: I love talking to people and I always try to make it conversational. I try to not ask the standard questions. I never get nervous. Ever.

Q: I've read and enjoyed your books (Horror Show, Big Rock Beat, Mojo Hand). Can we expect any more rock 'n' roll fiction any time soon? How about a tell-all about life as a rock star?

Greg: You read my mind. I just finished my latest novel DEAD AIR and I am going to write my memoirs next. A collection of short stories based on my years being a musician.

I couldn't find any good live footage of Greg Kihn Band, so instead here's a link to Weird Al Yankovic's parody "I lost on Jeopardy."  Whatch for Greg Kihn driving the convertible in the last shot. 


Six Pack with Phil Neal of Lapstick

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A few months back, I took a look at the Lapstick, which I called the ultimate travel guitar.  In Amsterdam, I spent several jet-lagged hours speaking with Phil Neal (above), the mad Dutch designer (by way of Canada) behind the Lapstick.  We talked about his background, his inspiration and what drove him to build an electric guitar that packs so much sound into  20 inches and weighing in at just over a pound.  After much delay, here is my "six pack" of interview questions with Phil.

If you're looking for a guitar that will challenge your playing and get you more practice hours while on the road, check out the Lapstick.  It's not for everyone, but it's a definitely a one of-a-kind electric guitar from a one-of-a-kind designer.  Phil has also created a number of custom modifications for customers including a Lapstick-style bass, humbucker-equipped Lapsticks and so on.

Q: How did you get started with the Lapstick?

Phil: When I turned pro, I had less time to practice.  It's the old cliche.  The pros never have time to practice and can't afford the best gear, either.  You're so busy on the phone getting gigs and travelling.  And if you don't work on technique, it rusts on you.  The guitar is a bitch of an instrument!  You need to practice all the time, two, three hours a day. 

Back in 1992, I was travelling to Spain a lot and I had a lot of downtime getting to and from gigs.  There was nothing in the market to do what I wanted.  So I took the elements I liked from a Telecaster and cut away everything I didn't need.  There's lots of wasted space on a standard electric guitar. 

The first version had a conventional headstock, but the machine heads got knocked out of tune all the time.  It was an octave higher and not a lot of fun to play.  So then I eliminated the headstock.  That got me another four more frets to work with.

I've continued to refine it so that there's no wasted space.  Sometimes I have to give a milimeter here or there, but I'm tough on myself.   I've toyed with the idea of adding a couple of extra inches.  But if you go to full scale, you can't play in a car!  I measured the space and you have just half a meter to work with in a car seat.  In some sense, I failed since the Lapstick is actually 51 centimeters long.

Q: How do you think the Lapstick compares to other travel guitars?

Phil: I approached things from a different point of view.  If I'm arrogant, I would say that the Lapstick is the only travel guitar.  It's not just a portable guitar.  I wanted something I could actually play on a train, in a plane, in the backseat of a car. The dutch trains are quite compact and I didn't want to be bumping into the passenger next to me!

I also wanted something that would make me a better player. When you're in the waiting lounge for a flight, you can strap on headphones and start playing.  With the Lapstick I improved my playing style.  I started venturing into the higher frets.  I did a few gigs after playing the Lapstick and the guys were like "Phil, you were on fire tonight!  What happened?"   And it's because the Lapstick made me more confident and precise in my playing.

Q: Tell me about the hardware you chose.

Phil: The hardware is custom made from a firm in Germany and it's top of the line.  It has an EMG Select humbucker pickup.  A single coil would give you too much interference. It has a tiny pre-amp housed in the back.  Everyone told me you couldn't get a pre-amp into a guitar. But I made it work. It's got built-in clean, distortion and overdrive settings and runs on a standard 9V battery for around 60 hours.  So you can just plug in a pair of headphones directly. And it's got a regular 1/8 inch jack for plugging into a standard amp which requires no battery power.

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The Select is a very quiet pickup, it's perfect for this type of guitar.  It's also used on the Steinberger.  I'm a great fan of Ned Steinberger, Steve Klein.  I met Steve Klein and I can't praise him enough.  I played one of his acoustics. It was an unbelievable instrument.  Steinberger's also great if you want something that's full scale but still somewhat portable.

Q: What music most interests you these days? 

Phil: My great love is blues and R&B.  I play some jazz. I listen to a lot of Miles Davis. I love classical music.  You can play Bach on a Lapstick.  No one said it would be easy.  It's work.  But when you go back to a full scale guitar, then it's easy.  Things you fight for and struggle with on the Lapstick then become much easier on a regular guitar.

I have a band is called Phil James and the Flames and we do a few gigs a month. When I was in bands, I got tired of having guys not show up to gigs, so I figured I may as well be in charge.  My son has been to a few gigs and that's a lot of fun for both of us.

Q. How did you start selling the Lapstick?

Initially I sold through a few shops, like Andy's on Denmark Street in London.  I had worked there as a guitar tech in the late 70's and 80s.  That was a crazy time.  Andy's was a who's who of the guitar industry.  I remember one time Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols came in and sold his Fender Twin reverb amp.  But then their manager came in later and wanted it back!  But selling through retail is a tough business, even for a shop like Andy's.  (Note: Andy's has since closed.)

Mostly now sales are online over the web. It's amazing that you can build a business like this on the Internet.  The first Lapstick I sold online went to a guy in Moscow.  It was on September 7, my birthday, which I took as a good omen.  He had a lot of faith to send the money just reading about it on the Internet!  But he's a crazy guy.  He tuned it to E, which I thought couldn't be done.  Most people tune it to A, some to G.  You could put a set of 9 strings on it and tune it to B if you wanted.  The tension on the strings has to feel right. 

Nowadays, most of the Lapsticks ship to the US, but I have a surprising number of customers from the UK. 

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Q: Who is a typical Lapstick customer? 

Phil: I thought originally the Lapstick would appeal to pro musicians who travel a lot, since that's where I was coming from.  That's about half of the sales.  The other half is from inventive musicians who use it on stage.  I'm not sure I would use it for a live gig.  With the Lapstick, there's nothing to hide behind!  You're really exposed on stage!  The other class of users are beginners.  It's good for kids.  It teaches you to be more precise.  Some folks use it and don't want to go back to a regular guitar.

The Lapstick is like having a kid.  It starts with a night of passion and it takes on a life of its own.  I strarted making two or three and now have built over a hundred.  As a builder, you never know what people will do with an instrument.  I see people out gigging with it, which is something I would probably never do.  But that's the cool thing about it.  It's a little different at first, but everyone who has bought one has gotten used to it and become a better player.  People tell me they have a lot of fun with it.  So to me the project has been a success.

You can find more information about the Lapstick at www.lapstick.com.  There's also a new online forums and videos on YouTube that give you a feel for what it's like to play the Lapstick.  Also, look for new announcements from Phil later this year.