I’m pleased to say I’ve started writing again for Guitarist magazine and its associated website, musicradar.com. Years ago, I contributed a regular monthly column, and now I’m back writing features that look quizzically into the nooks and crannies of guitars old and new. I’ll post details below of my work for Guitarist as it’s published. But before I go, I looked up the last column I wrote for Guitarist back in the day, and it ended like this: << You’re never too old to stretch your imagination or broaden your knowledge. Memory can be a factor in all this, or rather which bits of your imagination and knowledge you choose or manage to remember. One famous musician I interviewed told me of a secret fear. He was terrified that one day he’d wake up, pick up his guitar… and wonder what on earth it was for. Er, which end do you blow down, then? >>
Relics: The Art of Ageing … A browse through the history of the relic guitar, where brand new instruments are roughed up to simulate the effects of ageing. See Guitarist‘s February 2020 issue.
By Rick Landers, posted at Guitar International in 2011
Any guitarist who has walked the aisles of the nearest Barnes & Noble or roamed the guitar related entries at Amazon.com has seen the name Tony Bacon. For the past couple of decades Tony has been linked to well-researched tomes on Gibsons, Fenders, Gretsches, and thousands of pages about cool, historic, unique and downright weird guitars.
Digging in deep to offer readers accurate and interesting information on the world’s most famous and obscure guitars is not an easy road. One must pore over old magazines, interview guitar industry experts, get some quality time with top celebrity guitarists, then check and double-check every fact, and then present the material that’s grammatically correct, aesthetically pleasing, and presentable in a form to successfully meet the market. It’s damn hard work, but at the end of the day must be very satisfying, and Tony Bacon by all accounts should be delighted.
Our office at Guitar International carries a load of Tony’s books that serve as reference books, as well as recreational retreats when we need a break from guitars to, well, our favorite pastime – guitars. So, we decided to talk to Tony about writing books, guitars, the entry of ebooks to the publishing arena, as well as his search for the world’s most valuable guitar.
Rick Landers: Getting started as a writer these days is pretty easy, in a time when nearly anyone can start a website and start writing. But, when you began your career, publishing outlets were not only limited but very competitive. Tell us about the challenges and the strategies you used in order to get your books in print and how that’s changed over the years.
Tony Bacon: My first book was Rock Hardware, published back in 1981, but my first dedicated guitar book, and one that I think many of your readers will know, was The Ultimate Guitar Book, published in 1991. Nigel Osborne and I produced the book for Dorling Kindersley, a big general-book publisher. The success of that made us consider the situation in a way that many musicians at the time were thinking about record companies: Why should we do books for a big publisher when we could do it ourselves?
So Nigel and I set up Balafon and started producing our own books, distributed in the US through Miller Freeman, who then published Guitar Player and other magazines. Our first four titles were The Fender Book (1992), The Gibson Les Paul Book (1993), The Rickenbacker Book (1994), and The Bass Book (1995). I think that with these early ones we created a new kind of guitar book.
I came to book publishing from journalism, while Nigel was already designing and creating books. I think it was that professional experience and attitude, combined with a passion for guitars, which made our books different. Today, as you say, anyone can “publish” their ideas and views on the net. That’s a wonderful development that has some positive impact on us all. But, on the other hand, a lot of what you see on the net is opinionated and not researched. Everyone’s an expert.
My favorite question to pose when someone offers some theory as fact is this: “How do you know that?” If the answer is along the lines of “Oh, I just know … ” then I know it’s safe to ignore it. Our values at Backbeat UK and Jawbone of accuracy and attention to detail still count for a lot, I think – and perhaps even more these days.
Rick: What steered you toward writing non-fiction, rather than writing novels or creative short stories?
Tony: As I say, my background was professional journalism. I worked for a number of British musical-instrument magazines in the 70s and 80s, so I knew how to write about technical subjects in an engaging and entertaining way.
I was aware of some of the “new journalism” trends at that time, where writers like Tom Wolfe and others used some of the techniques of fiction writing in their non-fiction work, and I like that approach. I used it to some extent in my 2008 book Million Dollar Les Paul, for example.
Rick: How did you begin writing something like The Ultimate Guitar Book?
Tony: The UGB was a mammoth job of organization, and every book I’ve worked on subsequently has involved the same kind of careful, painstaking approach. Our guitar books generally combine three broad areas: the main story, the pictures, and the reference section.
For the central part of the book, the main story, I start with an outline, and then add in detail as I research, interview and learn. An important thing to remember is that you must always be open to finding out new things and not have a fixed idea of how you think the story ought to be.
When I first started writing, we used these strange objects called typewriters, but of course it’s much easier today to work piecemeal on your text, adding and expanding and editing as you go. The pictures are another area where we worked hard to get things right, and I think we introduced to guitar books the idea of high-quality commissioned photography.
We’ve used some great photographers, like Miki Slingsby, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the years tracking down owners and persuading them to have their guitars featured in our books. What’s not to like about showing off your pride and joy in this way?
Anyway, the last part is the reference section – what we call the trainspotter’s guide – and that’s usually researched by Paul Day or Walter Carter. We create a scheme designed to be helpful and useable for identifying and finding out about all the models covered by each book. Again, we try to solve the questions that we think readers will want answered, rather than going off on our own tangents. Generally, we aim for our books to be well written, properly researched, and attractively designed, and to combine factual knowledge with an enjoyable vibe.
Rick: It seems pretty obvious that you must be a guitar player, right? What or who got you interested in playing music, rather than just being a listener?
Tony: I got the bug when I was about 15 – a long time ago – and began playing bass in various bands. Nothing famous or well known, but a hugely enjoyable time. Soon after that I got interested in writing, and it became obvious that I was going to be a much better writer than a guitarist.
Rick: What’s the toughest phase of writing a book, the beginning where you have to first put pencil to paper or the final phase making sure everything’s “perfect” and ready for your readers?
Tony: You have to stay alert all the way through. For me, I find that it’s sometimes hardest between the early stages of ‘got the idea’ and ‘OK, go and do it’. It can seem sometimes that you’re circling the idea and forever putting off starting. It’s remarkable the number of excuses you can find to not begin writing! But once you’re in and running, there’s nothing better.
One of the bits I like best about putting together my guitar books is tracking down and interviewing people to help me tell the story. For my recent book Rickenbacker Electric 12-String: The Story Of The Guitars, The Music, And The Great Players I managed to get to more or less everyone I wanted: Peter Buck, Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty and Mike Campbell, Johnny Marr, Dave Gregory, Mike Pender, and many others. It makes such a difference.
Rick: What about keeping your books up to date? Do you find that it’s necessary to revise earlier versions or are they locked down as published the first time? If you revise your older work, is that a drudgery to have to revisit something you considered done and complete?
Tony: We do revise and update the books regularly, and it’s so satisfying to be able to do that. Again, a music parallel: how often do you get to remix something? How often would you like to tweak a little there, add a touch of this or that here? Nearly all my guitar books cover the current story as well as the past history, so there are always new developments to take care of, too.
Rick: You’ve written with some major focus on Gibsons and Fenders, so I’d guess that those tend to be your favorite guitars, but what others do you find particularly suited to your playing?
Tony: I have three guitars. I know: people usually expect me to have some vast collection. But I’ve seen and played some of the most amazing guitars in the world, and if I indulged myself at every opportunity I’d be destitute.
I don’t have the collecting bug. Well, correction: I do collect catalogues and pictures and info … but not guitars. I like to mess around on my beat-up old Yamaha acoustic—although I really ought to get around to fixing that dodgy bridge.
And I have a couple of 60s Euro guitars featured in the UGB, purely as “lookers:” a Hopf Saturn 63 and a Bartolini pushbutton-crazy concoction. I strongly identify with the remark that the late Don Randall, sales boss at Fender in the classic years, made once when I asked him if he played guitar. “Not so it would hurt anyone.” Exactly.
Rick: There have been some very intriguing guitar designs over the years, Gittlers, the Strawberry Alarm Clock Mosrites, and the artful guitars by Ulrich Teuffel, along with others. Have you dug into that arena or do you prefer the more traditional guitars to write about and play?
Tony: I love all kinds of guitars. I don’t care one little bit about whether I’m “supposed” to like this or that model or revere this or that period. As someone once said about music, there are only two types. What you like and what you don’t like.
Rick: Many new writers are exploring the world of eBooks in order to gain more traction in building their own profit margins, rather than rely on what I understand are relatively small percent royalties typically handed out by print publications. Are you seeing a dramatic shift from print to ebooks as a way to sell and distribute books? Your thoughts on the pros and cons of this medium?
Tony: In the book trade, ebooks are currently the big unknown. Everyone thinks they are going to be big, but no one knows yet exactly how it’s going to work, whose “reader” will dominate, how authors will benefit, which types of book will prove most suitable, and so on. Again, I’d draw a parallel with how musicians find themselves when technological developments present an apparent opportunity.
Yes, it appears to be easier to get your stuff out there. But how do you make people aware of what you do, how do you present your material in a professional-looking form, and how do you actually sell it? The printed book as we know it is a highly-developed piece of technology that’s been refined over hundreds of years. The ebook is pretty new, so it’s not surprising that its true value hasn’t been established yet. We’re trialing some of the books in our Jawbone line as ebooks and we’re monitoring how that goes.
Rick: A recent book of yours is about your search for “the million dollar Les Paul.” Do you mind giving us a run down on how that search went and, if you found that valuable guitar, has the market shifted downward to make it no longer worth a million bucks?
Tony: I really enjoyed writing Million Dollar Les Paul: In Search Of The Most Valuable Guitar In The World. The idea was to find out why the Bursts – those amazing Les Paul Standards from 1958–60 – have become some of the most expensive and hallowed guitars on the planet. I looked into the history, the construction, the famous players, the collectors, the reissues, the whole close-knit industry that has built up around these guitars.
And I dug a little deeper into questions like why people collect, how we put values on objects, and why we like to play what our favorite players use. It was a fascinating journey, and I don’t think it would spoil things to say that I didn’t actually find a million-dollar Burst. Or at least one that anyone would admit to. It’s my favorite book of all those I’ve written. The Los Angeles Times called it “a romantic quest for a guitar whose craftsmanship borders on the mythic,” which seems about right.
Rick: Given the books you’ve written about Les Paul guitars, did you ever meet the legendary player behind the name on those headstocks?
Tony: I did meet Les Paul, several times over the years, and Les was always friendly and helpful to me, for which I’m grateful. I enjoyed the way he would always be right there in any story about musical history you cared to throw at him, and I would smile at the way his stories would develop and grow over the years I knew him – but most of all, I Ioved the way he played. He interviewed the way he played, too: humorously, engagingly, and unquestionably the center of attention. I’ll miss him.
Rick: There are hundreds of guitar builders around the world now, but Les Pauls, Stratocasters, and Telecasters still capture the imagination of both new and older guitarists. Are we all just a bunch of conservative traditionalists or is there something magical about those guitars?
Tony: It’s a bit of both. There is magic in the classic designs, for sure. That’s why we call them classics. It’s not an exaggeration to say that guitarists, as a tribe, are pretty conservative. That’s why Gibson has so much trouble getting players to take to its various digital guitars, it’s why Fender dropped its modeling Strat after a short time on the market, and it’s why you don’t see too many other radical remakes about. Those classic designs work, and they work well. Why redesign the wheel?
Rick: With Les Paul and Leo Fender now gone, what builders are out on the market now that will be considered the milestone builders in twenty years?
Tony: I don’t know that and nor does anyone else, whatever they might tell you. We’ll find out in 2030. I hope.
Rick: With vintage values set aside or in a “blind test”, which guitars are going to outperform the others, the ‘50s vintage guitars or the one’s built today?
Tony: It would be good to think that with all the benefits of modern production, with all the leaps in understanding, that the ones built today would surely win. It would also be good to think that all the acres of print written about the special magic of a vintage guitar actually added up to something tangible. I wonder how much of all this is because we can’t ignore the backstory when we pick up something we know is XX years old (and, incidentally, worth YYYY dollars)?
There’s a psychology at work there, of course. If you pick up a 2010 Stratocaster, you should be able to play and feel and sound just as good as you do on a 1956 Strat. But never underestimate the power of your imagination. Vintage-guitar dealers certainly don’t.
Ultimately – and sorry if this seems like a cop out, and sorry to repeat a cliché – but it all depends on the way you, or I, or anyone else reacts to a given guitar. I like this one; you like that one. I think this neck is the most comfortable I’ve ever held; you prefer that one. I reckon this pickup tone is heaven; you run screaming in the other direction. Beauty will always reside in the hands and ears of the beholder.
Rick: Do you have any new writing projects underway that you’ll tell our readers about?
Tony: There’s always something new; that’s one of the things I like about doing this. I wear two hats, really: I write books, and I publish books. I co-own two publishing imprints, Backbeat UK and Jawbone. At Backbeat UK, we devise and produce books for Hal Leonard’s Backbeat imprint, and these include all the guitar books that we’re talking about here, as well as books about songwriting, playing instruments, technical guitar stuff, and so on.
At Jawbone, our own imprint, we publish what we call ‘reading’ books about music and musicians. Personally, my latest book, for Backbeat, is The Stratocaster Guitar Book: A Complete History Of Fender Stratocaster Guitars, and I’m currently working on a new one about Flying Vs, Explorers, Firebirds, and their pointy progeny. Our latest batch of new Jawbone titles includes Becoming Elektra: The True Story Of Jac Holzman’s Visionary Record Label by Mick Houghton. So it’s never dull around here.
Rick: Let’s finish up with one of those stupid “what if” questions – just for fun – You get a chance to meet and get a personal guitar lesson from a top Telecaster player, a Top Les Paul player and a Top Stratocaster player – Who are you going to choose for each? (The players can be dead or alive).
Tony: Let’s see – this sort of thing tends to change depending on what day you ask me and what I’ve been listening to – but right at this moment it would have to be Peter Green on Les Paul, Jeff Beck on Strat, and Albert Lee on Tele. Oh, I’ve just noticed those are all Brits. Can I cheat and have another three Americans? Just to balance the books? Yes? OK, let’s add my today’s-faves: Neil Young on Les Paul, Bonnie Raitt on Strat, and Denny Dias on Tele. Actually, mention of the fabulous Mr. Dias has got me itching to hear Countdown To Ecstasy. I should go … .
I write features for Guitar Magazine and its website, guitar.com. Recently, I put together six oral histories of classic guitars, from the Les Paul to the Rick 12, based on my interviews archive. I’ve also written some general features, from a Jimmy Page guitar-ography (is that a word?) to a Leo Fender birthday profile. To help you find out more, you might want to pay a visit to an index of my stuff at GM‘s guitar.com site—click here to take a look at what’s on offer—or, if you prefer, you’re quite welcome to have a good old rummage below, where you’ll find direct links to all of my individual articles.
● ORAL HISTORIES …
A series of six features that tell the story of some classic guitar models, all drawn from my interviews old and new.
An Oral History of the Fender Stratocaster has extracts from my interviews with Jeff Beck, Bill Carson, George Fullerton, Dale Hyatt, Karl Olmsted, Don Randall, and Forrest White. Read it online here.
An Oral History of the Fender Telecaster rounds up extracts from my interviews with James Burton, George Fullerton, Dale Hyatt, and Don Randall. Read it online here.
An Oral History of the Gibson ES-335 boasts extracts from my interviews with Larry Carlton, Luther Dickinson, Don Felder, Mark Knopfler, Seth Lover, Phil Manzanera, Ted McCarty, Eddie Phillips, and Mike Voltz. You can read it online here.
An Oral History of the Gibson Les Paul features extracts from my interviews with Billy Gibbons, Ted McCarty, Jimmy Page, and Les Paul. Read it online here.
An Oral History of the Gibson SG gathers extracts from my interviews with Tony Iommi, Johnny Marr, Ted McCarty, Tony McPhee, Barry ‘The Fish’ Melton, Jimmy Page, Les Paul, and Derek Trucks. You can read it online here.
An Oral History of the Rickenbacker 12-String features extracts from my interviews with Suzi Arden, Dick Burke, Mike Campbell, Francis (F.C.) Hall, John Hall, Roger McGuinn, and Mike Pender. You can read it online here.
● OTHER FEATURES …
Abuse & Misuse of Gear … From slicing speaker cones with razorblades to turning guitars into splinters in a collision of angst and art, a short guide to six-string rule-breaking. Read it safely here.
Fender’s Search for the Next Great Guitar … This is a look at the brand’s ongoing quest for a mix of features that might provide the next Strat or Tele. Read all about it here.
Jimmy Page’s Led Zeppelin Guitars … Here’s a trip through the instruments Jimmy used in his career as Zep went from club gigs to superstardom. Read it here.
Leo Fender: The Guitar Genius Who Couldn’t Play a Note … I wrote this succinct profile of the great man in 2019 on what would have been his 110th birthday. Click here to read it now.
Rare Bird: The Gretsch White Penguin Story … The scaled-down sibling of the White Falcon is one of the coolest Gretsch models of all time, though on launch it proved almost as flightless as its namesake. Read it here.
Signature Guitars: From Les Paul to Rob Chapman … The history of more than a century of artist models, from guitars for vaudeville stars to YouTube phenoms who build new brands. You can read it here.
I write interviews for Sound On Sound (SoS). As I’m sure most of you will know, SoS is a well produced and long-running magazine that covers everything about audio recording technology. I’ve always been interested in how people use recording gear to make great records, so when the idea came up to start a series of interviews for SoS, it seemed a good opportunity to investigate the all-important human side of the process. Many of us love to explore the ins and outs of new and vintage gear, but the best kit in the world will prove useless if there aren’t talented people about who can make sure the lovely tech is put to artistic ends. Anyway, have a look below and you’ll find links to my SoS interviews so far.
● Dave Cobb: Producer & Engineer … The producer of Rival Sons, Jason Isbell, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and more talks to me about RCA Studio A, great mic pre-amps, and Grammy awards. SoS link here.
● Greg Fidelman: Producer: Enter Soundman … Recording Metallica and the 80-piece San Francisco Symphony orchestra live at 2019’s S&M2 concerts for the subsequent movie and audio releases. SoS link here.
● Laura Sisk: Engineer … Laura talks in detail about her work on Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell album, and along the way notes the value of keeping noise in its place. SoS link here.
● Devin Townsend: Musician & Producer … An interview about the scope and limits of sonic ambition, notably as it relates to Devin’s typically adventurous 2019 album Empath. SoS link here.
● Butch Walker: Producing Green Day … When a band have been producing their own hits for a decade, it takes a brave producer to jump into the hot seat. That brave man is Butch Walker. SoS link here.
● Matt Wiggins: Recording & Mixing Engineer … Matt discusses the ins and outs of working with everyone from Paul McCartney to Adele, from The Horrors to Usher. SoS link here.
● Steven Wilson: Remixing Classic Albums … A wide-ranging chat about Steven’s work polishing records by King Crimson, Roxy Music, Jethro Tull, Yes, XTC, Tears For Fears, and more. SoS link here.
This is an extract from my interview with Ken Parker for my book Electric Guitars: Design & Invention. These days, Ken is back to making great acoustic archtops, but our chat centred on his design for the Parker Fly electrics first seen in the early 90s.
TB: The headstock design of the Fly was one of its important elements, I think.
KP: OK, let’s go back to Turkey, whenever it was, a thousand years ago. They were building uds, or the precursor to an ud, and because they didn’t have Monster cables and amplifiers, they had to do everything they could to get the thing to bark and speak so it was useable. And one of the things that you need to do is to reduce the weight of the vibrating object so that you can accelerate it with the very small amount of energy that you have in a little bitty string. If you can’t accelerate it, then it’s not gonna move any air, and nobody’ll buy it. So these things were built very lightly, and if you look at their heads, they’re tiny, as small as they can get. You look at a lute, the pegbox is this little arts & crafts project, where a million little pieces of thin wood are stuck together, just barely enough to hold the tuning pegs.
TB: What’s the reason for that?
KP: Weight is completely unwanted in that area. Also, when a guitar player or bassist puts their hand on the neck, whether they’re sitting or standing with the instrument, you’ve just made a gigantic modification in the physical attributes of that instrument. You with your boney bag of protoplasm that we call a hand, you have just colossally modified the structure. And every time you move your hand, you reconfigure that modification in a very important way. The influence of this bag of protoplasm with bones in it is gonna change where the nodes of vibration are on the neck. Everybody that I know talks about instruments as if they’re on a stand somewhere, or in some anechoic chamber; nobody says we lean over them, fat people envelop them, skinny people don’t, lightweight people and kids have little hands, giant men have giant hands … these are huge differences.
TB: How do you allow for that, though? Because there are so many differences and potential changes.
KP: I would submit that the guitar is possibly the most complex design project in instrument making. And I know people are gonna laugh and say what about a harpsichord. Yes, but a harpsichord, you only want it to do a certain kind of music, nobody’s doing hip-hop on a harpsichord.
TB: Let me make a note to get my harpsichord hip-hop project going.
KP: Yeah, ha ha. You have a certain repertoire you’re gonna play. If you have a guitar, you can play anything. So many different ways of playing a guitar. It’s what makes it so viable. In furniture – I used to make furniture – in furniture making there is nothing as hard to build as a chair. For the same reason. You’re gonna have a little kid sit in it, and the next person might weigh 350 pounds, and they’re gonna sit in it and lean back. People with different length limbs and torsos: it’s just really complicated. It makes designing a dresser look really simple. Or a dining room table. But the chair is really a bitch. In the world of instrument making, I submit that guitar design is really a bitch.
TB: The guitar is the chair of the instrument world.
KP: Yeah, exactly. So if you go to a good trade show for hand builders, like the Holy Grail show or something like that, you’ll see so many different approaches to solving these problems, to try and address the guitar to meet the needs of whoever. If you’re copying an L-5, well, you’re in no danger of having a shred guy fall in love with you. But to me it’s always seemed really important to build the most versatile instrument that you could build, so that people could do anything they want with it.
TB: That was part of the Fly. Even aside from the design and intention of that instrument, one of the most significant things about it was that it was aimed to be mainstream, and to me that’s one of the most interesting things about it. Looking back now, that’s why it was such an important instrument in the history of the guitar.
KP: Well thanks. I didn’t really think about it that much until I did the ’14 and ’15 Holy Grail shows, and I had a lot of builders come up to me and say: Your work sat me on my ass and gave me the inspiration to know that I could scratch my head and change things and it was OK. And I just loved that. I don’t have any letters, people didn’t write me … well, maybe a couple of letters. But mostly you don’t hear that stuff. It just happened over and over again in this group, and I thought wow, that’s … how great is that, you know?
Here’s a list of all the brands covered in Electric Guitars: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. Major brands get the full treatment, at some length; smaller brands are necessarily shorter.
A Acoustic; Airline; alamo; Alembic; Alvarez; Ampeg; Aria.
B Baldwin; Bartolini; BC rich; Bigsby; Bond; Brian Moore; Burns.
C Carvin; Casio; Chandler; Charvel; Coral; Custom Kraft.
D Danelectro; D’Angelico; D’Aquisto; Dean; De Armond; Domino; Dwight.
E Eggle; Egmond; Eko; Electar; Electra; Electro; Epiphone; ESP.
F Fender; Fenton-Weill; Fernandes; Framus; Futurama.
G G&L; Gibson; Gittler; Godin; Godwin; Gordon-Smith; Goya; Gretsch; Grimshaw; Guild; Guyatone.
H / I / J Hagstrom; Hallmark; Hamer; Harmony; Harvey Thomas; Hayman; Heartfield; Heritage; Hofner; Hondo; Hopf; Hoyer; Ibanez; Jackson; James Tyler; John Birch.
K / L Kapa; Kawai; Kay; Kent; Klein; Klira; Kramer; Krundaal; LaBaye.
M / N / O Magnatone; Martin; Maton; Melobar; Messenger; Micro-Frets; Mighty Mite; Modulus; Mosrite; Music Man; National; Ovation.
P Parker; Peavey; Premier; PRS.
R Rickenbacker; Rick Turner; Robin; Roger; Roland.
S Samick; Schecter; SD Curlee; Shergold; Silvertone; Spector; Squier; Standel; Starfield; Steinberger; Stratosphere; Supro.
T Teisco; Teuffel; Tokai; Tom Anderson; Travis Bean.
V Vacarro; Valley Arts; Vega; Veillette-Citron; Veleno; Vigier; Vox.
W / Y / Z Wandre; Washburn; Watkins; Welson; Westone; Wurlitzer; Yamaha; Zemaitis.
Here’s a sample two-page spread (pages 24 and 25) from the first edition of The Guru’s Guitar Guide, and then below that is a list of all the brands included. As you can see from the sample, some of the entries are very brief indeed; the Eko entry here is one of the longer ones. As I said elsewhere here, don’t expect a fancy production, great pictures, or detailed text. This is hard info for guitar nutters only.
Brands in the Guru’s Guide:
A Alembic; Alligator; Ampeg; Angelica; Antoria; Applause; Arbiter; Aria; Arirang; Aristone; Asama; Audition; Auroc; Avon; Axe; Axeman; Axis; Azumi.
B Baldwin; Baleani; Bambu; BC Rich; Bert Weedon; Besson; Blade; Blundell; BM; Bond; Boogaloo; Bozo; Broadway; Burns.
C Cairnes; Celebrity; Chandler; Charvel; Charvette; Chris Larkin; Cimar; CMI; Colt; Columbus; Commodore; Contessa; Cort; Cradftsman; Crown; CSL.
D Daion; Dallas; Dan Armstrong; Danelectro; Davoli; Dean; De Whalley; Dynelectron.
E Eccleshall; Egmond; Egypt; Eko; Elite; Encore; Epiphone; Eros; ESP; Europa; Excetro.
F Fender; Fenix; Febnton-Weill; Fernandes; Fingerbone; Firefox; Framus; Franconia; Fresher; Freshman; Frontier; Frontline; Futurama.
G G&L; Galanti; Geoff Gale; Gherson; Gibson; Gilson; Gittler; Godwin; Gordon Smith; Gordy; Graffiti; Grant; Grantson; Grenn; Gretsch; Grimshaw; GTX; Guild; Guyatone.
H / I Hagstrom; Hamer; Harmony; Hawk; Hayman; Heart; Heartfield; Heritage; Hofner; Hohner; Hondo; Hopf; Hoyer; Hurricane; Ibanez; Immage.
J Jackson; Jarrock; Jax; Jaydee; JB Player; Jedson; Jennings; Jerry Bix; JG; JHS; John Birch.
K Kasuga; Kawai; Kay; Kent; Kimbara; Klira; Kramer.
L Lag; Larrivee; Launay King; Levin; Lew Chase; Lincoln; Lion; Lynx.
M Madeira; Manson; Marina; Marlin; Martin; Maton; Maya; Melody; Merlin; Miami; Michael; Michigan; Micro-Frets; Mighty Mite; Mirage; Montana; Moonstone; Morch; Mosrite; Munroe; Music Man; Musima.
N Nadine; Ned Callan; Nerve; Nightingale; Ninja; Northworthy.
O Oakland; Odyssey; Optek; Orange; Ortbit; Ormond; Ovation; Overwater.
P / Q Pack Leader; Palmer; Pangborn; Patrick Eggle; Paul Reed Smith; PC; Pearl; Peavey; Pete Back; Pickard; Profile; Pulse; Quest.
R Raver; Regal; Rickenbacker; Rickmann; Ritz; Riverhead; Robin; Rockson; Roger; Rosetti; Rotosound; Royal.
S Sakai; Sakura; Samick; Sanox; Satellite; Saxon; Schecter; SD Curlee; Seiwa; Selmer; Shadow; Shaftesbury; Sheltone; Shergold; Sierra; Signature; Simms-Watts; Sola-Sound; Spector; Squier; Staccato; Stagg; Star; Starforce; Starway; Status; Steinberger; Sumbro; Sunn; Super Twenty; Sylvan; Synsonics.
T Takeharu; Tanglewood; Teisco; Tempest; Thomas; Tokai; Tom Anderson; Top Twenty; Travis Bean; Turner; Tuxedo.
V Valley Arts; Vantage; Veilette-Citron; Vester; Vigier; Virtuoso; Vision; Vox.
W / X/ Y / Z Watkins; Welson; Westbury; Westone; Wilkes; Wurlitzer; Yamaha; Yamato; Zemaitis; Zenta.
I’m intrigued by simplicity. And I’m intrigued by the way the best designers often aim for simplicity … and how that can be the hardest thing to do. For me, it applies to guitars, it applies to architecture, it applies to cooking, it applies to a lot of the things I love. So I wrote a book about the first one of those, and here it is. It covers the story of electric guitar design from the instrument’s birth in the 20s and 30s to the crowded scene today.
I’ve dug down deep into my research files and looked around at where we are now. I’ve tried to get to many of the interesting bits of guitar design by considering not only the obvious headline instruments – the Telecaster, the Les Paul, the Rick twelve, the Flying V, and so on – but also some of the whackier guitars by people like Antonio Wandrè Pioli in the 60s. I’ve taken on board later developments such as the 80s superstrat by Kramer, Jackson, Ibanez, and others, and I’ve moved the story on to today, among other things dissecting the continuing vogue for vintage reissues and aged relic’d guitars. What I’m aiming for is a new way of looking at electric guitar history.
The book includes interviews with designers and makers old and new, with selections from my archive of interviews alongside a series of new chats with Ken Parker, Paul Reed Smith, Grover Jackson, Jol Dantzig, Ulrich Teuffel, Pete Malinoski, and Dennis Fano.
You can read an extract from the interview I did for the book with Ken Parker by clicking here.
Click here for an extract from the book posted at Reverb.com and which covers Teuffel guitars.
And click here for an interview that guitarfactorytours.com did with me about matters around and about the book.
Electric guitars have never come about by chance. They look and sound and play the way they do by design. And the people who design today’s guitars draw regularly from the treasury of great instruments created in the 50s and 60s. In this book, I’ve tried to show how those masterpieces happened, why they’re still important, and the effect they have on modern guitar design. Just what does it take to develop and create a classic electric design suitable for the bedroom hopeful or the world-beating rock star?
This is the foreword I wrote for the Ultimate Edition of Beatles Gear, a much extended and revised version of the book that appeared in 2015. It’s almost exactly the same as the foreword that appeared in the book itself.
George Harrison told a reporter in 1964: “I started learning to play the guitar when I was 13 on an old Spanish model which my dad picked up for fifty bob. It’s funny how little things can change your whole life.” I know what he means. I probably thought it was just a little thing when I first met Andy Babiuk. It was back in the 90s, and I needed help with a chapter I was writing about Beatles guitars in one of my books. We got on well and revelled in a common love of all things Beatle, but especially the instruments the group used. Just how did they get that fantastic sound?
Andy told me about the ambitious project he’d started, a book that would cover the entire story of the guitars, drums, amps, keyboards, and anything else the group had strummed, hit, plugged into, blown, or otherwise got a sound from during their brief but illustrious career. My small firm ended up publishing Andy’s big book, and in 2001 it appeared at last: the first edition of Beatles Gear.
Andy had put together something remarkable. What I particularly liked about his approach was that, as a working musician, he was realistic about how The Beatles had dealt with the gear available to them. He was enough of a fan to want to know all the intimate details, but he was clear-sighted enough to know that what really happened was often an oddball mixture of chance, opportunity, and happenstance. Andy has a real knack for finding the stories behind the stories, and he won’t necessarily go along with the accepted “truth” just because that’s what’s always been said about such-and-such a Beatle instrument and how it came to be played on a particular record or tour. We published the book; we were all very proud; soon it became a hit. Now it’s time to remake and remodel.
I once rather cheekily asked George Martin if, on reflection, there was anything he’d change on the Sgt Pepper album. Ever the gentleman, he paused to think. “I would put a much longer gap between the end of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ and ‘Kite’,” he told me. “I think it needs more space. It’s such a poignant song, and that jars a bit. I thought it was hip at the time – so there we are. Another thing: listening on CD, I hear the hiss of the records that were used to dub in the sound effects on ‘Good Morning’. They were taken off discs. You didn’t notice it too much on the vinyl but, my god, you notice it on the CD! Sorry about that, folks.”
If it’s OK for George Martin to even consider redoing a small part of something like Sgt Pepper, then I’m entirely comfortable with what we’ve done to Beatles Gear. I do hope you enjoy this new surround-sound version of the book and all the bonus material. Have a splendid time!
This is a book I’ve been thinking about for a long time – and I kept putting it off because I knew it was going to be tricky. But I’m really pleased I finally got around to it, because it turned out to be a joy to research and write.
Of course it covers the 335, but there’s also the stereo 345, the upscale 355, and the hollow 330, and I sorted out and found stories about the dozens of related models introduced during the six decades that followed the 335’s introduction in 1958.
I did my usual thorough round of background chats with plenty of Gibson people, and the book has interviews with and stories about all the major 335-family players, including Eric Clapton, Dave Edmunds, Dave Grohl, Grant Green, Justin Hayward, Jorma Kaukonen, B.B. King, Alex Lifeson, Bill Nelson, Eddie Phillips, Lee Ritenour, Emily Remler, Howard Roberts, Andy Summers, and more.
I’ve made an extract from the chat I had for the book with Larry Carlton, available for anyone to read – just so long as you can manage to click on the link here.
One online reviewer who gave the book five stars wrote: “Your books keep getting better!” That was so good to hear. And you know what? I tend to agree.