Jessica is a favorite. She is a 2014 120th Anniversary Gibson Les Paul Standard Plus model. Gibson has offered a variety of finishes over the years but this my favorite. Some are subtle, some aren’t. Some pronounce the tiger flame and some gloss over it. Some Les Pauls are solid colors, and the most expensive, like the gold-tops, which many guitarists painted black. The solid colors are ho-hum to me, even with their patina and cracks. And to downplay the beauty the wood can offer is boorish and a tragedy to me, who loves the earthiness and organic qualities that acoustic guitars have. I prefer acoustic guitars in fact and only got back into electric with the acquisition of Jessica.
The brilliance and seriousness of this instrument are what set it apart, to begin with. I keep the pickguard on it because I find myself having a stronger attack with the pick that would blemish the finish, to use poetic words, which is appropriate when describing this masterpiece. Known for eternal sustain, and a thick, fulfilling sound thanks to the humbucking pickups, I can’t imagine the experience of playing an electric guitar being any greater than with Jessica. If that weren’t enough, she has auto tuners which I hadn’t ever even considered before but adds a magical concierge characteristic that eliminates the worry of ever being out of tune, which should be a primary concern for any player. No matter how good you are, you won’t sound good if you’re out of tune. And the electronics that go into play and are precisely perfect are a wonder to me. To tap a button and have the tuning keys wind themselves into tune with a small buzz like that of a Shakespeare fishing reel when a fish strikes are very cool and satisfying. It tunes each string, then flashes in cadence to say “All set- Go!” is awesome and a really nice little situation.
There’s no way I’ll ever let this guitar go. She has great sustain, but I have greater. And if you couldn’t figure it out, her name is derived from the equally untouchable Dickey Betts song of the same name, written about/for his little girl.
Said Red Molly to James: “That’s a fine motorbike.”
Richard Carpenter is an excellent songwriter, and like most songwriters, goes through life not getting the recognition for his work. But the royalty payments help ease that suffering of the ego. One of the main reasons the Grateful Dead have been so successful was their association with prolific genius-level lyricists from the very beginning. Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh weren’t slouches by any means, and their solo albums prove that, at least with Jerry and Bob “Ace” Weir. But for the main complex arrangements that were meant for public consumption John Barlow and Robert Hunter, as well as a few others in the circle, were there and ready all the time, and quietly helped produce some amazing work. Barlow had an exceptional life beyond his insane success as a songwriter.
Richard Carpenter is another prolific wordsmith, and artists regularly dip from his well. Del McCoury is a fine man and artist and songwriter, but his touch on 52 Black Lightning is indelible. And as good as it is, I think it would even be better done with a baritone or meatier instrumentals. I’d like to hear Eddie Vedder give it a go.
So anyway, that brings me around to this guitar of mine, whose name is “Red Molly.” A 2018 Fender Telecaster Professional electric guitar with a maple neck. No tremolo. I am the original owner and will care for it as such.
I’m not a maniac about Fender guitars, electrics or even certain models. But this is a guitar I’ve always wanted for several reasons. It’s bright red, which is a given. But it also takes me down roads that have been walked by The Smiths, and a zoo of other notable players of varying genres that have used this make and model. The sound and tone is unmistakable, and with a beefy maple neck, it’s super-fun to play. You can do anything with it. It’s also pretty light, compared to my Les Paul. But the build quality, fit and finish, sound, playability, and craftsmanship make it a stunner. It plays itself, and it takes you for a ride you don’t forget.
One of my favorite guitars I have is a limited edition 2016 Fender American Standard offset Telecaster in Lake Placid Blue with a maple neck.
All of my instruments I have are favorites or else I wouldn’t have them. I don’t have the budget to own anything like that aren’t favorites. But I have reasons to acquire the instruments I do, and the reasons are pretty concrete and sound. This one fits them all, and it’s an amazing guitar to play and hear.
The first thing about it is that it’s American-made. I don’t necessarily have anything against foreign made-instruments – I own a few. But the market itself treasures American-made. Go figure. Secondly, It’s perfect for getting a certain sound for the persuasive ways I’ve gone about learning music, and the people whose style and technique and sound I like to emulate most on guitar. Those people are Jerry Garcia, Dickey Betts, Jack White, and of course Johnny Marr. And a few others like John Mayer, Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, Bob Weir, and so on, depending if I’m trying to play rhythm or lead or whatnot. Each has a distinctive style and is a master of the instrument with discernable techniques that they employ either physically or with electronics or gear or with the actual instrument itself. But this guitar is a tool to pay tribute to Johnny Marr.
Garcia has played Stratocasters, Telecasters, and ended up mostly playing custom instruments that allowed him to do what he wanted optimally. Bob Weir owns over 100 guitars, but sticks to several that give him a certain sound, and Dave Matthews likes Taylors and Jack Black has a truckload of different impressive guitars as well. They all do, but they usually grab just a couple when they head out onto the road.
Johnny Marr uses Rickenbackers a lot, and I’m in the process of having one built for me, and it will be my crown jewel and hopefully in my possession in May 2019. A black Jetglo 360 12-string with maple neck, of course. But he also plays telecasters and acoustics to get that signature Smiths sound, along with some masterful tweaking of pedals and effects, as seen in the above link. I could watch that video for days.
When I was looking for that Rickenbacker I also decided I wanted a couple of other electrics as well. I’m not much of an electric player, but this is a fun road I’m heading down. I’ve owned a bunch of electrics before but nothing to speak of at length – just pawn shop quality beaters to learn on. These guitars are for serious playing so they’re the best these manufacturers offer, and they’re either new or in mint condition. I’m not even a huge Fender fan, although I’ve owned both acoustic and electric versions before. I don’t intend to get a Stratocaster and I even still own a klunky Fender acoustic. But I did want to get a Telecaster, which I did, and I wanted a very specific one, which I found, and will write about in due time. But during the search for that, I came across this guitar, which is a mashup of a Jazzmaster, which is argubly one of the best electrics you can have, and a Telecaster, which have a long list of reasons of being great that are discussed in Facebook groups and on Guitar forums to the Earth’s end. I also have a Les Paul, which is required for any Allman Brothers song, and it’s just unbeatable to play. It feels so much more refined to me than any Stratocaster.
The deep arctic/Lake Placid blue is an awesome color for this guitar with the maple neck, and the depth of the paint job reminds me of that of a Ferrari or Porsche, with 10+ coats. Photos don’t do it justice. But with the simple singing voice of a Custom Shop Twisted single-coil neck pickup and a vintage-style Custom Shop single-coil Telecaster pickup and chrome hardware, it’s gorgeous looking and sounding. These were made in 2016 as a limited edition too, which shouldn’t hurt the resale if I ever am forced to go that route. And every guitar has to have a name, right? You’d better believe the name of this one is Stella Blue.
I run it through a Yamaha THR10C Boutique Amplifier, which is perfect for getting the Smiths sound I want without a bunch of pedals and crazy gear (even though I have a bunch of pedals and gear I do run through it when needed). I love this amp. I’ll do a write-up on it sometime too because I spent a lot of time researching gear before finding and settling on it.
One of the things I’m beginning to do is take a deep dive into music. Making it, to be specific. I’m interested in teaching my daughter about music and she shows an interest, thankfully. From birth, she’s been surrounded by and exposed to me and my amateur efforts on guitar and my non-stop soundtrack of my life. I always have music playing it seems.
I don’t care if Cecelia hates guitar, but surely there’s an instrument that will interest her (although I think it’s guitar) and to that end, I have all sorts of instruments lying around the house. Ukelele, banjo, mandolin, xylophone, mouth harp, slide whistle, tambourine, castanets, and quite a few others. Cecelia has already wanted to jam with me on guitar, which of course was one of the best moments of my life.
My guitar collection has grown to be ridiculous, impressive and one reason I can’t turn back now. I’ve been playing guitar for decades, and at times been much better than I am now. I’m very out of practice. While I was married, I sort of dropped all my hobbies and interests, but I’m slowly picking them back up now that I’m only taking care of 1 child and not three, which consumed my time I previously dedicated to personal pursuits.
Immersing myself in musical influences is one way I think keeps me focused and gives me goals to strive for. I also can see how certain things are played. One of the guys that keep popping up in my quest to shred is John Mayer.
I’ve written about him on this website before. He’s been on my radar for a long time, and I used to go see him gigging in Atlanta before he hopped on a rocket to explode out of the guitar stratosphere. I really think he’ll go down as one of the all-time best guitarists ever. His songs may not be for everyone, but he can play anything, with anyone, in any style, and has become a serious master of the instrument. And he’s young enough so that he has a lot of open road before him. He’s filled in for Jerry Garcia which is one of the biggest tributes to his playing abilities there is, I think. But he keeps reaching higher and he’s serious about the music and instrument. He’s let go of his ego and filled with creativity and ability.
When I juxtapose him with, say, Dave Matthews, I see Dave as kind of out of fresh ideas, middle-aged, burned out and ready to kick back and enjoy the fruits of his labor. John Mayer, like Bob Weir, has too much music left in his soul to do that. He’s a font of artistry that is far from running dry like other musicians that came on the scene around the same time he did. The way he’s learned was to lock himself in a room and play for hours on end. He got some loopers and just started playing and making jams. That’s the way to do it. And I’m doing the same thing with my limitations kept in check and ever-present. But like John Mayer, I’ve got a lot of miles yet to cover, and this isn’t a race. It’s a journey on which I collect things along the way to make each leg of the route even more fun and better.
This is a cut from an intimate gig he did as Bill Buchanan trying out some stuff from the Continuum album and showcases his awesome style:
I had the opportunity to go see Bob Weir and the Wolf Brothers perform at the Louisville Palace Theater last night, and it was a memorable experience. I was able to sit in while they did their soundcheck, and had a front-row seat. Doesn’t get much better than that, other than just hanging out with the band, which I don’t know what I’d do, even if I had the chance. What do you say to the guy whose guitar playing you’ve emulated for 35 years that doesn’t come across as absurd?
The soundcheck was fun. He taught the bass player “Passenger” which I found funny. How could he not know that song and be playing with Bob? Even if you don’t know how to play it, he acted as he’d never heard it. May not have, for all I know. I don’t know anything about the Wolf Brothers, and still don’t other than they’re pretty hairy and play a drum set and an upright bass barefooted.
The show lasted 3 hours. That’s a long time for a guy Bob’s age to stand up there and play and sing as he did. He once said he knew he was put on this Earth to make music, and he’s living up to that statement. He carried the whole show, playing both acoustic and electric. All the Grateful Dead songs he played I noticed were played on a stratocaster that had a skull and roses guitar strap. He switched between 2 strats and an acoustic whose make I couldn’t see because of a device on all the headstocks of his guitars, which I think holds picks, even though he grabbed spare picks from the mike stand. So I don’t know what they were. Traditionally, he plays Alvarez acoustics, but you never know. He says he has over 100 guitars.
I know Radiohead has a huge following, and I’m not the first to point out any of what I’m about to point out. But I simply am always amazed at how wonderful they are as a band, and commercially they have done “OK” but their best work, by far, is the stuff you’ll never hear on the radio. Of course. It’s for that reason I pretty much ignored them for so long until I stumbled upon their “In the Basement” recordings. Which I advise anyone to give a watch/listen to.
Even though a lot of their sound is attributable to electronica, it still stands on its own when stripped down to the minimum, as with this video of Thom Yorke and a guitar:
I will never tire of hearing the song Reckoner. Since it’s hard to interpret the lyrics in falsetto here they are:
Can’t take it with you
Dancing for pleasure
You are not to blame for
Dare not speak its name
Dedicated to all human beings
Because we separate
Like ripples on a blank shore
Because we separate
Like ripples on a blank shore
Take it with you
Dedicated to all human beings