RSS

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Bein’ with Bacon

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016
Tony Bacon has written more guitar books than I can count. There must be at least 50.

Tony Bacon has written more guitar books than I can count. There must be at least 50.

telebook

Tony Bacon has written so many guitar books that I’ve lost count. Dozens for sure. The very first guitar book I ever bought was his “Ultimate Guitar Book” back in the early 90’s. He has written about just about every guitar there is. Gibsons, Fenders, Gretsches, Rickenbackers, Ibanez and plenty of general books about guitar history. He has written about specific guitars like the Telecaster, Stratocaster and Les Paul. No other writer has published anywhere near the number of guitar books and they are generally very well conceived and executed. I received an email from Tony a few weeks ago asking me to share some of my knowledge of the semi hollow ES models (335, 345, 355) for his next book.

Why another ES-335 book? I’d like to take a little credit for being the head cheerleader for the model over the past decade or so. They have never been more popular than they are today. The only 335 book on the shelves today is Adrian Ingram’s “The Gibson ES-335: It’s History and It’s Players”. I don’t know Mr. Ingram and I don’t know the circumstances behind the writing and publishing of the book. My opinion about it is somewhat mixed. I thought it looked cheap and rushed. The photography was horrendous and amateurish in many cases. But, on the positive side, he covered a lot of ground and I give him credit for getting into some very arcane details. While Tony Bacon’s books are usually extremely well photographed and well written, he usually doesn’t dig deeply into the really small stuff. I appreciate the fact that Mr. Ingram did. Perhaps not to the extent that I have in my blog but I’ve never tried to cover the entire history of the model. I don’t think I’ve ever written about 335’s from the late 80’s and 90’s at all. I don’t write much about the Norlin era either (other than the 81-85’s). So, to answer my own question, another 335 book-with great photos and a comprehensive history would be a welcome addition to the guitar enthusiasts library. Is that what Tony Bacon is doing? I hope so and,  based on his bibliography and the fact that he is reaching out to me,  I’m optimistic that it will be excellent.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. “Why aren’t you writing the book?”  Pretty simple, really. The only book I could write is a book about the “Golden Era” of 335’s. My expertise is based almost entirely on my hands on experience with the guitars. I’ve owned somewhere around 500 ES 335’s, 345’s and 355’s built between 1958 and 1965. Add in a few dozen from 66-68 and from 81-85 and I probably approach 600 or so. I’ve taken every single one apart. So, I know what parts showed up when and I know what changes were made and when they made them. But ask me what changed between 1974 and 1975 and I’ll have to change the subject. I just don’t know because I haven’t seen that many.

I have had two long phone conversations with Tony and a few emails to clarify some of the more arcane stuff. You know I love the small stuff. In fact, the very first thing Tony and I discussed was why I became “obsessed” with the 335 (his word, not mine). I explained that it was the guitar I really coveted as a teenager that I could never afford (I played a 62 ES-330 as a kid). When I finally decided to buy one (in the early 90’s), I started reading about 335’s online. The internet was pretty new and search engines weren’t too highly developed but I found Clay Harrel’s very comprehensive and informative Vintage Guitar Info site. I probably learned as much from him as I did from taking 600 guitars apart. But there was a hitch and that hitch set me on the path to learning everything I could about 335’s. I wanted a 335 with a wide nut and I didn’t want to spend a ton of money either. I had a young son and a mortgage and a brand new business and money was pretty tight. I learned from that site that the nut width went to 1 9/16″ in 65 and widened back out to 1 11/16″ in 1968. 64’s were pretty expensive, so I figured I would acquire a 68. After looking at about a dozen of them, I concluded that the information was erroneous. 68’s don’t have a wide nut. So, I knew that there was more information to be learned and I set out to do so. I still write posts about new stuff I’ve learned and I continue to learn.

I don’t expect to be writing a book any time soon, so talking to Tony was a good thing. I appreciate when someone of his stature in the guitar community acknowledges that he doesn’t know everything (nor do I) and his reaching out to me shows that he is serious about writing an accurate and comprehensive book about 335’s. I hope it turns out great and sells a zillion copies (and no, I don’t get a percentage-just a mention and a link).

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas at OK Guitars

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

 

cabcrop

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the pad

I was playing my Gibson- not great, but not bad.

I remembered a blues lick and played it with flair

Just like in the days when I had all my hair.

The block necks were hung not too tight or too loose,

As I waited for Santa inside my caboose.

I had them all tuned and I played every one.

The truss rods were perfect, the strings tightly strung.

All of a sudden on the roof of my shop,

I spied an old fat dude just reeking of pot.

He fell off the roof and into the snow.

I asked him right in. Why he came, I don’t know.

There was ice in his beard and mud on his boot,

And I thought only rock stars could wear such a suit.

He took down a red one, just like Eric C.

His fingers flew faster than old Alvin Lee.

It was wailing and screaming all over the town.

I could hear my Dad yelling, “Turn that damn thing down!”

Who knew this weird guy, such a flash with a pick

And a love of guitars, would be old Saint Nick?

I couldn’t believe all the sounds in my ear.

He said, “You get good working one day a year.”

Now Jimi, Now BB, Now John, George and Paul

Would bow to this master, the best of them all.

“You remember that Christmas back in ’63?

When you found a new six string left under your tree?

You started to doubt that I was the truth,

But my gift to you then was a link to your youth.

So for all of the years that would come in between,

Way deep down inside, you’d still feel like sixteen.”

He picked up some cases by Lifton and Stone,

Some old Kluson tuners and a worn out Fuzztone.

“Now, Charlie Gelber you must hear my pitch,

‘Cause this is my time and payback’s a bitch.

The 335 please, the red 59.

I gave you your first one, now this ax is mine”.

And quick as a flash it was stuffed in his sack,

And he waved a goodbye as he snuck out the back.

He jumped in his sled and sparked up a j,

Flew into the sky and was off on his way.

So if feeling sixteen is what sets you right,

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

 

By Charlie and Victoria Gelber

With apologies to Clement Clark Moore

No visions of sugarplums dancing in this head. Just waiting for Old St. Nick

No visions of sugarplums dancing in this head. Just waiting for Old St. Nick

 

 

 

 

From Point A to Point B

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015
This may be the most important part of your tone generation. I don't care how old your wood is (insert joke here) or how hot your PAFs are (insert other joke here), if the saddles are notched wrong, your guitar will sound like crap.

This may be the most important part of your tone generation. I don’t care how old your wood is (insert joke here) or how hot your PAFs are (insert other joke here), if the saddles are notched wrong, your guitar will sound like crap.

Good news and bad news. I set up a lot of 335’s (and 345’s and 355’s). The good news is that they are very consistent and setup is usually pretty easy. When you work with the same guitar over and over again you learn what causes the various problems that can plague these guitars. The other good news is that almost all of the problems are pretty easy to fix. There is no bad news.

Typically, ES-335’s and their brethren rarely have neck problems. Most need a minor truss rod adjustment-usually they have been adjusted too tight and the neck is dead flat or slightly back bowed. A quarter turn counter clockwise is usually all it needs. The exception is late 60 and 61’s. There is so little wood between the truss and the back of the neck that they can crack, often a hairline crack in the middle of the neck between the 5th and the 9th fret. It isn’t a structural issue but it’s something you should look for. I usually dial in a bit of relief-not a lot, just enough to keep the string buzz away. A dead flat neck doesn’t work so well on 335’s.

Another issue is inconsistent output between the neck and bridge pickup. Sometimes the bridge is louder than the neck and sometimes its the other way around. I don’t find that adjusting the individual pole screws does much of anything but raising or lowering the pickup does quite a lot. there is no reason not to raise up the bass side a bit if those strings aren’t punching through as much as the higher strings. I like to start by raising the pickups are close to the strings as I can and then adjusting downward as needed. I sometimes flip the pickup ring on the neck pickup if it isn’t sitting parallel to the strings. That usually flattens it out.

The biggest and most common problem in setting up a 335 is dead strings-usually the B or the G. In my opinion, the most important element contributing to the great tone of a 335 isn’t the pickups. It isn’t the construction either. It’s the nut and the saddles. I don’t care how great the pickups are and how wonderful the old wood is…if the saddles and nut aren’t just right, it’s going to sound like crap. Call the saddles point A and the nut point B. It seems like a really small thing but if the strings don’t vibrate freely, you get lousy tone and lousy sustain. These are the things everybody chases. Getting your strings to ring out and keep ringing out is the key. It all happens between point A and point B. So, if your guitar isn’t sounding the way you want it to, the first thing to do is figure out if the problem is the nut or the saddles.

If the strings are sounding dull and lifeless (and you’ve changed them recently) you probably have a problem with the saddles or the nut or both. First, if they sound dull open but not when fretting, then you know it is the nut. That usually means the slots are binding and not allowing the strings to vibrate freely. Widen the slots slightly and see if that helps. Gibson nuts were often to tight from the factory. If it sounds dull even when fretting, then its probably the saddles. More often than not they have notched and renotched and widened a few times and changed a few times. Too deep a notch will cause the string to vibrate less freely. Too narrow will do the same. Too wide a notch will often rattle but it won’t usually cause a dead string. I make the saddle notches as shallow as possible and still hold the string in place. If the string isn’t sticking out above the notch, it’s too deep. I try to have at least half of the wound string above the notch. The plain strings are also slightly above the notch. The B and G strings are usually the worst. If the saddle is not too deep and it still sounds terrible, try widening the slot slightly. If that doesn’t work, get a new saddle and start over. You can sometimes file the saddle down to make the slot less deep but there’s a limit to that because it will affect the string height.

If this is scary for you, have your luthier or tech do it. There is no reason for a 335 from the era to sound dull. I’ve gotten every single one I’ve owned to ring out and sustain (as long as the neck is straight and the frets are good).

If the saddles are notched correctly and your guitar sounds dull on the open strings, it could be your nut (enough with the jokes). Get the nut and the saddles right and then you can worry about the rest of the package.

If the saddles are notched correctly and your guitar sounds dull on the open strings, it could be your nut (enough with the jokes). Get the nut and the saddles right and then you can worry about the rest of the package.

Liberte´, Egalite´, Fraternite´

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

French flag

Best Buys

Friday, October 9th, 2015
Big neck 65's are always a good deal. Even better as Gibson keeps raising their prices. I've had a few that will hold their own again a 58-59 dot neck.

Big neck 65’s are always a good deal. Even better as Gibson keeps raising their prices. I’ve had a few that will hold their own against a 58-59 dot neck.

It has always surprised me you can pay $40,000 for a great old vintage 59 335 that plays great, sounds great and will probably hold its value for some time and, at the same time, you can pay under $10,000 for an early 65 that will hold its own in playability and in tone. And really, what’s the big difference? Mostly the tailpiece. The other changes are actually pretty minimal.

The construction of a 59 is a little different-the neck set is shallower and the body is a bit thinner. Do these changes make a difference? Maybe but not a significant difference. There are some who feel the shallower neck angle makes for better tone but the shallowest neck angle is a 58 and, while they are held in high regard, they don’t reach often the lofty prices of a 59. The thinner body is only marginally thinner and most folks don’t even notice it. Then theres the cutout under the bridge pickup that was supposed to make it easier to install the harness (which it does by a lot). Does that change the tone appreciably? It seems to change the acoustic properties slightly but it really doesn’t change much once its plugged in-at least not to my ears. It does knock off an ounce or two of weight if that’s any consolation.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a 59 and I understand the great desire of most collectors to have one but if playing (and having some money in the bank to pay your mortgage) is more important than having the one everybody wants (complete with bragging rights), then an early 65 is a great deal. With Memphis 335’s rising in price north of $6000 (sticker price, anyway), the 65 starts looking like a smarter buy. The pickups in an early 65 (nickel covers) will be the same as PAF’s. later 65’s usually have the poly coated windings which are still good pickups.

There’s another guitar out there that should cost more than it does. Consider the early Epiphone Sheratons. The construction of the early ones is identical to a 355 and the electronics are always mono. Mono 355’s are not cheap. early Sheratons generally are. They are rare, for sure but I don’t think you could pay more than $12,000 for one unless it’s a blonde. I’ve had at least 4 or 5 early ones in sunburst-all in the $10K-$12K range with one of the best necks ever carved (big vee). The later ones with the mini hum buckers can be had for even less. The nut stayed wide well into 65 and some 66’s have at least 1 5/8″ nuts. The profile gets very thin-like the 355’s but the playability and tone are usually excellent. The Sheraton was a very expensive guitar in its day and was not very popular probably because of the price. There were only a few hundred made per year. That brings me to the blonde ones.

Recently, I acquired a 1964 Sheraton in factory blonde (only 400 numbers from Claptons 335!!!). Imagine a blonde 64 mono ES-355. That would probably be a $25000 guitar or close to it if it existed. They made 18 Sheratons in blonde in 64. That makes it rare. It has one PAF and one patent number mini hum bucker. The tone is quite wonderful-like a PAF with more mid and a little less bottom. The neck is a lot like a 61-62 ES-355-wide and thin. Why is this guitar so undervalued by collectors? Mini hums? Long, sort of ugly headstock? Fancy inlays? I dunno but it’s a deal.

Great deals don’t stay great deals forever. There was a time not long ago that a 68 gold top was a cheap compromise for the buyers who wanted a 50’s gold top. Now a 68 is a big collector guitar and the early 69’s are getting up there as well. The larger point is to judge a guitar on its merits, not on its price or the demand for it. Granted, the demand often has a lot to do with the quality but there are definitely quality guitars out there, at reasonable prices, that low demand has kept affordable. Play one and see for yourself.

Why don't these cost more. A 64 355 mono is a $12000 guitar in red. A blonde would be twice that if you could find one (none officially exist).  Rivieras can be a deal too but they are not easy to find with a wide nut.

Why don’t these cost more? A 64 355 mono is a $12000 guitar in red. A blonde would be twice that if you could find one (none officially exist). Sheratons are perhaps the best deal out there for a semi hollow 60’s guitar. Rivieras can be a deal too but they are not easy to find with a wide nut.

Rule Number One

Friday, September 25th, 2015
Up until this week, this was the prettiest girl on the block. I swore I'd never sell it but I had a rule that was designed to keep me from having too many guitars.  This 59 Sheraton was my favorite until I sold it.

Up until this week, this was the prettiest girl on the block. I swore I’d never sell it but I had a rule that was designed to keep me from having too many guitars. This 59 Sheraton was my favorite until I sold it.

I haven’t been a guitar dealer for very long. I started buying and selling ES model guitars (and some others) as a hobby in the early days of Ebay. That was probably 1998. The first vintage guitar I bought off Ebay wasn’t even a Gibson-it was a 62 Epiphone Crestwood-cost me $550. I sold it a few months later for $1000 and decided that this might be a fun way to supplement my income as a film editor and director. For the next ten years or so, I bought and sold a few guitars every year-no more than 7 or 8 a year and started concentrating on my favorites-the ES thinlines. The problem was, I was accumulating a lot of really nice guitars. Problem, you say? Well, yeah. If you’re trying to make a few bucks, keeping the guitars you love is a bad business model and that’s what I was doing. When I decided to take the guitar dealer thing seriously (and wind down my editing business), I had to make some rules.  Otherwise, I would end up with 100 guitars (and no money). So I made a rule.

Rule number one-and I don’t have a lot of rules-is DON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH A GUITAR. That was me saying it very loud. And it applies to every guitar I get. And it’s not easy. There have been no less than a dozen guitars that I would love to have back but rules are rules. The blonde 59 Sheraton, the first red 59 ES-345, the red 59 Bigsby 335, the stop tail 59 355, the blonde 63 335, the 53 J-200 and at least one SG and a 69 gold top that sounded like no other guitar I’ve ever owned. Now there’s another in the house and it breaks my heart to think it’s going to go out the door. But, as I mentioned, rules are rules (keep telling yourself that). What does one do to cope with all the beauties that want to stay forever? Well, there are other vintage dealers who don’t have huge collections, but there are also plenty of dealers who do. I have no keepers. Not a one.

It’s pretty simple. I have loads of guitars in my collection and I play them all. The difference between my collection and most collections is that mine are all for sale. But I can play any guitar I want whenever I want.  I always have a dot neck or two, a 64 and usually a few 345’s if I’m in the stereo mood. And there are Strats and Teles and the occasional Jazzmaster, early Epis, SGs and Les Pauls. So, I can play just about whatever I want just like the guy with the great collection. The difference is that mine keeps changing.

So, what is this guitar that’s messing up rule number one? It’s a 335 that checks off all the boxes for Charlie’s perfect guitar. Big, but no too big, neck. Blonde, of course. Nice figure that doesn’t scream too loudly (no sluts here). Thin top and shallow neck angle (I believe the shallow angle necks sound better). Well balanced PAFs and stop tail. It is simply the prettiest girl on the block…no the prettiest girl in town…no more like a super model you don’t have a prayer of dating. And not just a pretty face-a killer player with spectacular tone. Please don’t buy this guitar.

They don't get better than this. Stunning, near mint very late 58 335TDN. Birdseye and blister figuring everywhere. All original. This is probably the cleanest, prettiest blonde 335 on the planet and I want to keep it. But I won't

They don’t get better than this. Stunning, near mint very late 58 335TDN. Birdseye and blister figuring everywhere. All original. This is probably the cleanest, prettiest blonde 335 on the planet and I want to keep it. But I won’t.

Arrested Development

Monday, September 21st, 2015
This came with my 64 Princeton amp that my Dad bought for me along with a 64 Fender DuoSonic. The amp is gone but the owners manual lives on.

This came with my 64 Princeton amp that my Dad bought for me along with a 64 Fender DuoSonic. The amp is gone but the owners manual lives on.

 

This has nothing to do with 335’s but everything to do with our shared guitar mentality.

When I was 13, I loved to play really loud. The louder the better. My amp back then was a 64 Princeton which, when cranked to 10 was fairly loud-loud enough to drive my father up the wall but not so great trying to cut through the rest of the band. Then I went and visited my friend Lex and he had just gotten a Vox Mark VI guitar and a Deluxe reverb. This was probably 1965. His Deluxe Reverb was loud and it was only on 3. “Can we crank it up to 10?” I asked. “No, I don’t want to blow the speaker and plus my Mom will kill me.”  So, I never heard Lex’s amp turned all the way up but I knew, to the core of my pimply faced adolescent being, that loud was good. Loud was closer to god. Loud was hot and loud was cool.

When I got the Princeton, the instruction manual showed all kinds of amps on the cover and so I knew that they made amps even bigger than the Deluxe Reverb and I couldn’t imagine how much louder an amp could be than Lex’s Deluxe but I sure wanted one. The instruction manual, which I still have, was titled “How to Enjoy Your New Fender Custom-Engineered Amplifier.” On the cover was a Deluxe Reverb, a Pro, a Twin Reverb and a blonde Dual Showman with a blonde reverb unit. There was also what was probably a Bandmaster or a Tremolux, also in blonde. They were all bigger than the Deluxe and, presumably, louder. I wanted the Dual Showman but not in blonde-the black, to a 13 year old was way more cool. And how loud was it? Fender didn’t publish their power ratings back then but it had to be really loud.

I would find out just how loud when I bought a used Showman 15 for $300 in 1967. It had a single JBL D-130F and I could blow the roof off the Scotia-Glenville High School gym with the volume set on “4”. But it went to “10”. In the rare instance when nobody was home (I had 8 brothers, 2 parents and 2 dogs), I would open ‘er up and see just how loud it was. 85 glorious watts of electric wonder audible across Collins Lake and probably all the way to the GE plant across the Mohawk River. If we wanted distortion, we tapped the fuzztone. We didn’t totally get the idea of driving the amp into saturation-probably because they were so powerful, we couldn’t get there without driving our audience out the door(which we often did and not just by being loud)

I owned a fair number of amps over the years but the visceral rush from that Showman, an amp so loud it scared you, never really went away.It was just sleeping, I guess. I’ve had plenty of 50 watters in the house-mostly tweed bassmans and the occasional Marshall but they never awoke the beast. Until this week. A guy walked in wanting to sell his deceased friend’s near mint, factory JBL 1965 Twin Reverb. “People don’t use these anymore,” I told him. “They use little amps and run them through the PA.” But I bought it anyway, it was, after all, nearly a museum piece. It hadn’t been turned on in 30 years, so I pulled out the Variac and brought it slowly up to full voltage. It popped and crackled and hissed but nothing caught fire or smelled, so I thought we were OK.  And there it was. That little voice in the back of your head that says “go ahead…crank it up…let’s see how loud this thing really is.”

And, for a few minutes, I was 13 again. And then the neighbor yelled …”turn that f..ing thing down.” Grownups.

They don't look loud. They look like a nice, tame 22 watter. Don't let appearances fool you. A Twin with those ultra efficient  JBL's will hold its own against a Marshall 100 watt full stack.

They don’t look loud. They look like a nice, tame 22 watter. Don’t let appearances fool you. A Twin with those ultra efficient JBL’s will hold its own against a Marshall 100 watt full stack.

 

Investment Grade 335

Monday, August 24th, 2015
Here's a good investment. A 59 dot neck with an issue or two. Same price as 335 shares of Apple stock at today's price of $104 a share as of 3 o'clock today.

Here’s a good investment. A 59 dot neck with an issue or two. About the same price as 335 shares of Apple stock at today’s price of $104 a share as of 3 o’clock today.

With the Dow down 1100 points this morning, it might be time to take a closer look at your investment strategy. Today, you can buy a pretty nice dot neck 335 for the same price as 335 shares of Apple stock. That would be around $35000. That won’t get you a mint 59 but it will get you a near mint 58, 60 or 61 or a really nice (but not mint) 59. So, which would you rather have?

Note that I didn’t say “which is the better investment?” If I knew that, I’d be rich and I wouldn’t be selling vintage guitars I’d be collecting them. Certainly, Apple and a lot of other stocks have been really good investments for the past 7 years or so-pretty much since the market last tanked in 2008 thanks to a bunch of out of control and greedy banks and investors. These same investors took down your home and your vintage guitar collection too. The end of the vintage guitar bubble coincided with that unfortunate market turn. But what about now?

I’m going to use the dot neck market as my reference point. 59 dot necks hit $50,000 in 2008 and blondes were flirting with (and probably exceeded) $100,000. The 335 dot market got hit by 30-35% while the Dow took a 50% nosedive from it’s October 2007 high of 14,164 down to 6594 in March of 2009. If you hung in there with your stocks, you were rewarded with a 6 year bull market and your portfolio probably added another 30% from its 2007 high. If you stayed with your 59 335, you probably got back close to where you were in 2008 but if you bought before that, you are probably, once again, way ahead. The 335 market is still not at the level it was at the peak of the bubble but it is pretty close. Right now, it’s too early to know what the Dow is going to do next and it’s too soon to see if the current downturn is going to affect the vintage guitar market. But I have some thoughts on the matter.

The pundits are saying that the Chinese economy has taken a serious downturn and that has affected the US markets. When stocks go down, money leaves the market and goes elsewhere. It goes to cash, it goes to bonds, it used to go to real estate and maybe some of it goes to collectibles. It has to go somewhere. The downturn of the Chinese economy in and of itself, isn’t going to affect the vintage guitar market because the Chinese don’t buy American vintage guitars. They copy them but they don’t buy them. I haven’t sold a single guitar to anyone in China. Of course, the effects of the Chinese downturn as it applies to American investors may affect the vintage market to a degree.  After all, most buyers of vintage guitars are using disposable wealth-money that isn’t currently needed to live on. The same money that goes into stocks often goes into vintage guitars. I heard time and again that a buyer “needs a day for two to sell some stock” to fund a guitar purchase.

With the market tanking, you might be inclined to liquidate some holdings. You might be inclined to simply hang on. I’m not going to tell you that a 59 ES-335 is a better investment today than buying 335 shares of Apple. But it might be a safer one. People want Apple stock because they feel they can make some money from it. People want 59 dot necks because they really want to own a 59 dot neck. That doesn’t go away when the value dips. A 59 335 is going to be someone’s dream guitar until my generation is dead and buried. Whether subsequent generations will continue the love affair is yet to be seen. But I just don’t hear folks talking about how they can’t wait until their Apple stock arrives so they can – what, look at the stock certificate? Nobody even gets stock certificates any more. You can’t touch Apple stock. You can’t play Apple stock. You can make money and you can lose money. Apple could, conceivably, go to $12 a share. I know-I once owned it at that price. On that day 335 shares of Apple would be worth $4020. Your 59 ES-335 will never be worth $4020. And if it is, let me know. I’ll buy it from you. Oh, and you can’t play the blues on a stock certificate but you can certainly sing the blues if that’s where your money is today.

For the price of 335 of these, you can have the guitar at thetop. What's it gonna be--play the blues or sing them?

For the price of 335 of these, you can have the guitar at the top of this post. What’s it gonna be–play the blues or sing them?

Guitar Royalty

Sunday, August 9th, 2015
Bucky Pizzarelli stops by OK Guitars for a little talking' and picking'. Yes, that's me in the background trying to figure out what chords he's playing.

Bucky Pizzarelli stops by OK Guitars for a little talkin’ and pickin’. Yes, that’s me in the background trying to figure out what chords he’s playing.

There are a lot of perks to actually running a brick and mortar guitar shop. Yeah, there’s rent and insurance and security and all kinds of headaches that go hand in hand with retail shops. Not so fun stuff like the drunks from the local bar who show up to be entertained, marauding bands of 5 to 10 year olds who have somehow gotten away from their parents and dogs with giant wagging tails that put every guitar on a floor stand in great danger. Then there is the fun stuff. There are the instruments that walk in the door-a 63 335, a mint 70 Strat, a 1913 F-4 mandolin and quite a few others. And then, there are the guitarists who walk in the door.

Today I had a visit from the venerable Bucky Pizzarelli, a jazz legend at the age of 89. He played with everybody-Benny Goodman, Les Paul, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show Band, Tal Farlow and tons of others in his 70 plus years of performing. He played for the Nixons, the Reagans and the Clintons. His children are well known musicians as well and he had his daughter, also a guitarist, with him. While generally associated with a seven string guitar, I asked him to make do with a couple of six strings.

He was drawn to a beat up black Gibson L-47 from the forties and played that for a while and then I brought out a big Gibson arch top from 1952 and he immediately said “Super 400” and he was right, of course. He enjoyed that one and commented on how big it is. “This thing is huge”, he said and proceeded to play chords that I, even after 50 years of playing, didn’t recognize. It was effortless. He talked about the guitars he had around the house. “I’ve got a six string Danelectro bass somewhere-I think it’s in the attic…I haven’t seen that one for a while.” He pointed to a 60 Tremolux and said “I had one of those too, way back. Single twelve inch, right?” Right again. Then he played an early 50’s J-45 commenting about how loud it was. “Don’t need an amp with this one”, he said with a big smile on his face.

Then he asked me to play something. Yikes. I’m kind of a hack player but I know what I know. Our mutual friend George Potts, who arranged for Bucky to come by, was at the shop and he and I sang and played a few Beatles tunes. My playing was adequate at best and George’s was better but Bucky commented (favorably) on our harmony and seemed to enjoy the impromptu (and totally unrehearsed) performance. All in all, he was a wonderful and gracious guest and I was thrilled to have him visit.

Yeah, there are a lot of little hassles that go along with having a shop but they are all overshadowed when someone like Bucky walks in the door. He reminds me that there is a lifetime joy in doing what you love. I hope to be playing when I hit 90. His pal and neighbor Les played until he died at 94. Maybe the guitar is the reason these guys live so long. and so well.

Bye Bye, BB

Saturday, May 16th, 2015
Don't matter what guitar you play if you play like BB.

Don’t matter what guitar you play if you play like BB.

A lot of folks with a lot more guitar cred than I have already weighed in on the loss of the great BB King. He certainly was the common denominator that links most blues players, would be blues players and wannabe blues players together. We all stole licks from him and we all tried to emulate his wonderful economic style. BB could play one note that said more than any 20, no, any 100 I could play.  But his skill and technique also points out something that vintage aficionados hate to admit. I was just listening to a clip from 1972 wherein BB was playing an early 70’s 355. It could have been custom but I doubt it. It looked like an off the rack walnut finished 355. And, in case that isn’t enough, he was playing through a solid state (non tube if you’re under 25 and never heard the term “solid state” before) amp-it looked like an Acoustic Control. Vintage guys like me don’t like 70’s Gibsons very much. The quality suffered under Norlin and, while there are still good ones, there seem to be more bad. Not for BB.

I think he proves better than almost anyone that the player transcends the instrument. For hack players like me, I can say that there are guitars that make me a better player and they are mostly old. But for a man like BB King, the guitar is merely the link between the player (and his experience) and the audience. His tone comes from within, not from that wooden box with the strings on it and all the little electronic bits inside. Those of us who play the blues because we know the notes aren’t doing the same thing as a bluesman.

What does a guy from suburban upstate NY from a middle class family know about the blues? Yes, we’ve all had some hard times but that doesn’t make me a bluesman. I don’t know what it takes but I know it when I hear it. Those British kids in the 60’s who co-opted American blues did us suburban white kids a favor. They introduced us to a genre that was right in our backyard that we barely knew existed. There was a time not that long ago when mainstream radio (it was AM back then) wouldn’t play black artists playing what was then called “race music”. They would have white guys (like Johnny Rivers) do covers and those were the songs that made the airwaves up here in the North. By the mid 60’s that was changing but I’m willing to bet that I couldn’t have found BB King on the radio in Schenectady, New York in 1963.

I saw BB King a few of times over the years and he was always entertaining and sometimes mesmerizing. I saw him in his 50’s, his 60’s and his 80’s and while he may have lost a note or two near the end, he still had great command of both his guitar and his audience. And he looked like he was having fun. The blues is rooted in misery but playing the blues is a joy. BB knew that and taught us more than just the notes. So, goodbye Mr. Riley B. King and thanks for the lessons.

This is a little more up my alley. BB with a mid 60's ES-355. No whammy bar necessary.

This is a little more up my alley. BB with a mid 60’s ES-355. No whammy bar necessary. He called the oft maligned Varitone the “magic switch”.