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
I wrote extensively about putting together a stereo system and the ups and downs I went through to finally settle on something worthwhile, for a large room. But I had an itch to have some good sound in my den, which is where I do most of my work these days at home, and spend quite a bit of time with Cecelia. It’s where the fireplace is and books are as well as her “office” which is a desk with a lamp and actually a pretty nice setup. She seriously considers it her work office, and that wouldn’t be a misnomer. She gets some good work done there. She drafted the manuscript for her first autobiography there as well as some peace accords.
I cut TV out of my life years ago, and haven’t missed it one bit. I’ll watch videos on YouTube, movies, and shows periodically on Netflix, or a DVD, but cable and a subscription is history. After having satellite with hundreds of channels to choose from, and still having trouble finding anything worth my time, I realized it was a futile and wasteful endeavor. The hardest part is finding places to watch college football games each Fall, but other than that, it’s bliss.
What I find myself doing instead is reading, working or tinkering around on a laptop while listening to music. I have music playing around me almost all day. I have a stereo in my office I listen to Spotify and random Dead shows on during the day, and then always have music on at home. There are a lot of speakers around here.
What I like as much as listening to music is finding gear to listen to it with. Matching items up sonically isn’t too difficult if you know what you’re doing. Make sure 8 Ohm speakers are driven by an amplifier that works best with 8 Ohm speakers, and reading the specs tells you the story of the speakers, or amp, preamp, or whatever. I love researching, and searching for, the perfect sound setups. I don’t have an insane budget, but I have some nice stuff, and not all of it costs an arm and a leg. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the performance and design of some lesser-known manufacturers who are cheaper than more recognizable names. A lot of times the reason the names are so recognizable is that they have and spend a ton on marketing, which they pay for by charging premium prices for sub-premium products. Think Bose and Beats.
What I got for the den is a set of Wharfedale Denton speakers, which are simply incredible. Red mahogany cabinets. They look amazing and sound even better. Shipped from Britain with a pair of white gloves, of course, to keep them tidy. (British components seem to be winning the day; I have a Cambridge Audio CAX-60 amp as well, made in Britain.) I’m breaking them in now, and their sound is unrivaled in their competitive arena. They could charge 3 times what they do for these speakers and justify it. They are incredible. My Klipsch Heresy’s sound good too of course but they’re LOUD and BIG and I use them in the large living area when Cecelia or I need to rock out. These are warm, rich and full sounding. The speakers are special edition 80th anniversary Dentons so they have a Tungsten grille cover. The speaker cabinets are beautiful mahogany, and go with the sub I’m going to match them with, which is a Polk HTS 10, a retro-looking downward-firing 10-inch sub that should do the trick nicely. The Wharfedales have plenty of bass themselves, but can’t pull off what a good subwoofer can do. I’m eager to hook that sub up. For a sub-$1000 system, it doesn’t get any better. No way.
The integrated amp is a Sabaj A4. A What you ask? A very versatile, affordable, sturdy, appropriately powerful amp no one’s heard of. And it’s not going to win any design awards. But it works beautifully. And has an output for a sub, 5 inputs, including optical and headphones. It has a Bluetooth receiver and you can control the bass, treble, brightness of the display, and more. Usually, it’s just going to be a little black metal box that has a blue glowing line below a very understated display. It’s as unobtrusive as they come. It also comes with a remote and some poor instructions in small print, unfortunately for my aging eyes.
As usual Mediabridge 14 gauge cables. The speakers allow for bi-wiring, so I might rig it up so that a short piece of cable is going through the open posts. I’ll be interested to see whether it makes a noticeable difference. As the speakers wear in there should be a little more warmth to them.
What I’ve done, instead of bi-wiring them which I see as unnecessary for my use case, is to replace/supplement the metal jumpers on the posts with heavy gauge speaker wire. That reduces any perceived graininess, for sure. I also am using my BO6 with the Sabaj amp, because the Bluetooth pairing with the Sabaj was giving me fits. I could sometimes get it to pair, but the BO6 signal is so strong it overrides everything else in the house. And with a lot running on Bluetooth around here, it gets annoying. But if you get some Wharfedale Dentons, I’d recommend jumping the high/low pass posts with good speaker wire instead of what’s supplied.
I have the Polk Subwoofer hooked up and I have to say, this is a great system. I’m finding myself listening to it more than the Klipshes and Cambridge setup. It sounds richer and doesn’t fatigue your ears as quickly. The room each system is in is different of course, which makes an acoustical difference. But Radiohead never sounded better. I hear details that I never heard before, even with some nice Sennheiser headphones and my Heresy speakers. Bluegrass sounds great as well, which is usually recorded in a different arrangement. (The musicians are circled around a single mic, or they approach microphones as they take turns.) The Polk sub handles the deep, plunky standup bass notes well and the Wharfedales handle the jangly banjo trebles great. And they image a soundstage really well. Very high and broad for the size speakers. I have them on 32″ wooden stands. The sub has a cool retro look to it, which I like. I might try hooking the Cambridge amp up to the Wharfedales and Polk sub and see what happens. Just to see the difference between the relatively inexpensive Sabaj and the pricey Cambridge.
EDIT: November 20, 2019: I ended up changing something around for the better. The Klipsch 12 in Reference sub bit the dust. That’ll make you wonder. It’s still sitting in some shop across town, in fact. High-end stuff that croaks is frustrating. SO I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. Maybe use it as an expensive coffin.
So to replace it, I got an SVS PB-2000 to match up with the Klipsch Heresies and Cambridge DAC/Amp. SVS makes crazy-good subs, with prices to match, but it’s hard to downscale once you’ve begun going up. That’s true for many things in life, but with audio equipment especially. I’ve spent enough of my life listening to awful-sounding music. It’s like eating McDonald’s every day and saying it’s good enough when there’s a James Beard-winning restaurant around the corner you could eat at every day instead.
Some people might even question the need for a sub. The Heresies do sound good, but I could tell the sub went out when it did. The low end wasn’t James Earle Jones or Barry White low. Baritones were fine, but the bass was missing. Problem solved, and then some.
I didn’t realize how BIG this sub was. I knew it was going to be heavy, at 65 lbs. But the Klipsch was 50 lbs and the Polk is 45 lbs. So they aren’t small. But this thing is massive. The grill cover could be used as a fireplace screen. I began setting it with some drums and nice bass licks, and the sub moves some serious air. That’s the reason I got the ported box instead of the sealed. In a word, it’s thunderous. If you have the means, I highly suggest picking one up.
The 1980’s were interesting from a musical standpoint. The 80’s just left the glittery, blurry-eyed and afroed polyester cocaine-addled disco era behind, along with an impressive flareup of actual punk, as opposed to the punk poseurs of today that would no sooner hit someone over the head with a beer bottle than stick a needle in a vein. Not saying either of those things are worthwhile, but they were characteristic of the movement, which is now thoroughly sterilized for the mall and pop culture of later rebellious and angst-ridden youth. The folk and novelty music movement was appropriately put in its place as well and mostly sold on K-Tel records and 8-track tapes on the American-made television, which had yet to embrace MTV and cable box’s offerings, which began a noticeable decline in American culture in nearly every way. But that’s another post.
Which is largely what we get from musical history. If you hear music from the 1980s these days, it’s usually in a Wal-Mart or as a backdrop to some “retro” commercial and is one of a lot of crappy artifacts that somehow have persisted into the 2010’s and beyond. “Girls just want to have fun,” and that bubblegum crap sucked back then, and it still sucks. I don’t know who makes the decisions to keep those songs alive, but they must be a deaf associate of the devil himself. If you blindfoldedly threw a dart at a list of songs from the 80’s you’d likely hit better efforts. The world at large was celebrating Madonna, Bon Jovi, and hairspray, while I was sitting in a dark room in rural Virginia quietly listening to The Smiths and Jesus and Mary Chain.
I present here a Spotify playlist I’ve put together from the 1980’s that I feel represents a pretty unappealing but bubbly and poppy era much better. Better than the brown and rusty, dirty yellow 1970’s for sure, however. What persists in my mind from 1980’s pop culture, which I did my best to remove myself from in every way and did an excellent job of, was neon dayglo colors, jelly shoes, Wayfarers, raggedy girls fashions along with ultra-tight designer jeans, mesh shirts, acid washed denim and really gay and stupid men’s hairstyles. This of course was a time that calling your friends “gay” and “a retard” was a funny, largely innocent slight to them and not a reason for snowflakes to incite riots in the streets as it’s become today. Cultural shifts at work. The Meatmen wouldn’t even be able to record in a studio today, most likely.
What most people think of when they describe the 1980’s music scene is synth, electric drums, glam, and quick little pop hooks, with a visual that quickly sold. The 1980’s were the end of “ugly” bands, with the advent of MTV. If you weren’t TV-friendly and didn’t have ultra-strong musical chops, or really strong connections in the business, you could forget it. Every song had a video to accompany it, and the video sold the song. Marketing took a stranglehold on music in the 1980’s and hasn’t let go since. It’s how people today like Russell Simmons can make so much money selling awful “music.” He’s a great marketer. In my opinion, MTV ruined the interesting, if not exciting, direction music was heading in, despite the company abandoning the video music format that made it so popular. Many, many great artists were left in the dust. Luckily the internet has leveled the playing field once again.
A lot of these songs weren’t part of my library back then although I thought they were commercially catchy and appreciated them on some level. Mostly their B-sides and more obscure songs from the artists, maybe. What I preferred never made it onto the radio, and I didn’t have the resources to compile a comprehensive library of the better music available. Few did, and that doesn’t just mean money. Accessibility was a real problem in the 1980’s before the internet. We quickly forget what it was like to procure Grateful Dead tickets on the morning they went on sale over the phone, or a cassette tape that wasn’t in the Billboard top 10 if you lived in a small town. CD’s weren’t even mainstream at the time, until the late 80’s. A good CD player in the early 80’s would set you back $1000, which is like a billion dollars in today’s money. And no respectable artist would sell out to a point they had the option to release their songs on a compact disc back then anyway. That was for the Debbie Gibsons of the world. That, of course, changed quickly.
Frankie Says Relax
I didn’t listen to many of these songs back in the 1980’s as I did with say, The Smiths or Let’s Active, but they are at least some of the better songs from the 80’s, which should be curated and kept on life support by someone. The way I procured music is unlike any way children will ever have to again in history, which was to order vinyl albums from NYC or LA out of hand-typed underground magazines I got from basically head shops and subculture establishments in college towns and big cities and record them to tapes in my dorm room. I still have my JVC tape player, incredibly.
I didn’t receive any radio stations worth mentioning in boarding school which was in the middle of a huge farm, and at home, in SC we didn’t have any good radio, and we only had two places to buy tapes and albums in my hometown anyway. And they sold whatever was playing on the radio, which was typically pop garbage and heavy metal for stoned teenagers that drove custom vans. I ordered tapes via mail order from Britain and bootlegged tapes. I also managed to have roommates and friends in boarding school with awesome musical taste who I could record from and did often. I still have those tapes floating around somewhere, with the Dead Milkmen and T.S.O.L. well-represented.
The metal scene, which should be mentioned, had some standouts, depending on your definition of “heavy metal.” Back then I didn’t care for any of it, except maybe early Van Halen(Diver Down), AC/DC(Back in Black) and bands with guitar gods at the lead, which was a prelude to my guitar obsession which has since permeated my life. This was around the time I began learning to play the guitar seriously. (I’m still working on it.) But I recognized the virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen and appreciated the simple riffs of Angus Young. Johnny Marr’s guitar work wasn’t lost on me, either.
Led Zeppelin, Rush, the Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton and a handful of other legendary bands were indeed awesome in their own right, and still are, but just didn’t appeal to my state of mind and demographic at the time, which is why I’m not talking about them much. But there was some good stuff here and there during the decade, and I did attend quite a few of their concerts during that time. The Rolling Stones, the Who and even Paul McCartney before becoming a knight put out some good work. And don’t forget Michael Jackson and the Quincy Jones and Motown empires. I’m coming mostly from an “alternative” background, however. And although I did own their albums, they weren’t played nearly like the bands mentioned here.
The journey of good, alternative music in the 1980’s went something like this:
College radio stations would play local bands that were on their way to becoming regionally and even nationally known and played at fraternity parties and campus parties that were regional. Even some well-to-do boarding schools landed some big names. My own high school had REM booked until the school feared it would draw undesirables from nearby Charlottesville/Univerity of Virginia and got another band at the last minute. Think The Replacements, Husker Du, Violent Femmes, B-52s, the White Animals, etc… College prep students would pick up on these groups and music from hanging out on colleges, as we were able to do with a great deal of relative independence, and have older siblings in college that were among the musically privvy. The prep school kids took that music home with them, and it filtered into local private schools, and from there into the “alternative” kids of public school several years later. I had almost graduated from high school in 1988 before the Violent Femmes or Psychedelic Furs hit my hometown’s alternative scene, for example, and that was mostly because of their songs appearing in John Hughes pop films, like Pretty in Pink.
We’ve finally reached a point in time that I fantasized about as an adolescent: when I can pull up any song I want at any time. That’s a luxury that only people from my generation and prior know exists. I recall well lying in bed as a teenager and imagining the future when something called YouTube and Spotify existed.