The Most Priceless Guitar In The World

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by Charlie Doom

Call me petty, call me poor, but I play cheap guitars because I like the way they sound. There is definitely an ease and unspeakable beauty inherent in the expensive guitars; most notably their ability to stay tuned and lack of dead spots on the neck. But the drawback to expensive guitars is that they all sound like expensive guitars; they’re riddled with perfection. That’s where cheap guitars come in handy.

The first guitar I ever had was a $50, ¾ size Gremlin acoustic. After 16 years the black paint on the fretboard is peeling off. I’ve had to Superglue the plastic bridge back to the body at least a dozen times, and the machine heads rattle whenever you play an E chord. But that little guitar can play acoustic lead and the Delta Blues like it was the second coming – the tone and resonance are absolutely divine. There’s nothing else that sounds like it which is why that guitar has been stolen from me, twice. By the grace of Hendrix, and a few bloody noses later, I’ve gotten my guitar back.

I’ve gone through a lot for that little box of Korean-made balsa wood.

But my $50 Gremlin is special and so is my humble Yamaha Pacifica. Everyone who hears them always exclaims, “what kind of guitar are you playing?!” When I tell them that they’re cheap beginner’s guitars, they’re amazed and I’m validated. It’s a good trade.

When you purchase a guitar, what you’re really paying for is an experience — an emotional experience. It doesn’t matter how much your guitar costs because it’s all about the way it makes you feel when you play it. The point is, that feeling you get is not purchased with money, it’s purchased with time and effort. No matter which guitar you have in hand, what distinguishes you from everyone else is being able to find the strength in its weaknesses.

If you can do that, every guitar you touch will turn to gold.

A Brief Look at Priceless Guitars in Music History:

1. Mayonaise
by the Smashing Pumpkins
The signature feedback “whistle” in this now classic rock gem from the early nineties was attributed to a $65 guitar. Whenever Billy Corgan would stop playing, the guitar would whistle, so they incorporated it into the song.

2. “Blackie”
A.K.A. Eric Clapton’s Guitar
Eric Clapton built Blackie using parts from 3 different Strats way back in 1970.  It cost him a total of $300 and the ax has become one of the most famous guitars in the world; selling for almost a million dollars in 2004.

3. Stella Guitars
As played by Robert Johnson
The grandfather of rock and roll played a $12 guitar. That was cheap even by Depression-era standards. Back then, Stella guitars were sold in drugstores, next to the 5 cent soda fountain.

4. Jeff Healy’s Squier
Canadian Blues-Jazz Legend
Jeff Healy made a deep groove in the blues and jazz scenes of the 1980’s and beyond with a $150 Squier Stratocaster on his lap. Enough said.

5. The “Frankenstrat”

by Eddie Van Halen
Eddie built his guitar from scratch using anything, but top-shelf parts and equipment, such as the flawed ash body. It cost him a total of $130.

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Video Guitar Lesson: West Coast Blues – Uptown Stomp

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The full West Coast Blues instructional guitar course by David Blacker is now available for instant download!

Uptown Stomp – Introduction

Great West Coast Blues players can take a standard blues piece and turn it on its ear using rhythmic and melodic ideas from a number of related styles, delivering a unique and authentic sound. Infusing jazz and blues ideas into one cohesive style, “Uptown Stomp” is our first foray into the jazz/blues amalgam.

“Uptown Stomp” is unique in the way it suggests chord changes that don’t actually occur, “implying” chord substitutions. These implied chords are based on substitutions commonly found in both jazz and blues styles. Incorporating this implied chord-change technique into your lead work adds sophistication to your solos while opening up a new world of harmonic possibilities.

Uptown Stomp – Solo: Chorus 1

When it comes to swing and jump blues, there is a single name where both guitar styles converge–Duke Robillard. Duke is a treasure trove of classic phrasing, incorporating the moves of such iconic musicians as Charlie Christian, Tiny Grimes, T-Bone Walker and Charlie Parker. “Uptown Stomp” is heavily influenced by Duke and does its best to recreate some of his signature phrasing.

Uptown Stomp – Chorus 1 Breakdown

This solo features implied chord changes over a straight-ahead, uptempo swing-blues. Implying changes is a key element to this style, adding excitement and sophistication to otherwise standard blues progressions. Focus on chord tones on the downbeat of each change for effective note targeting. Also, playing with an uptown flare requires extending and alerting basic chords with chord tones such as the 6th, 9th, b9th, b5 and #5.

Uptown Stomp – Solo: Chorus 2

“Uptown Stomp’s” second solo adds chromaticism into the mix as well as the effective targeting of key altered scale tones like the #5 and b9. For a crash course on extended blues harmony licks, pick up a copy of Swing by Duke Robillard.

Uptown Stomp – Chorus 2 Breakdown

A key lick that highlights the change from the I to the IV chord appears in the fourth measure, creating tension through its use of the C’s #5. The b5 played just before the change to the IV chord voice leads perfectly into 9 of the IV chord–a half step down to the eighth fret on the B string. Be sure to check out the slide from b9 to the 9 over the G in the turnaround, creating a similar kind of tension.

Uptown Stomp – Solo: Chorus 3

West Coast players tend to cop licks and melodies from horn players more than fellow pickers, giving them a more sophisticated than usual approach to a blues progression. For extended listening in this vein, check out Up At Minton’s by Stanley Turrentine.

Uptown Stomp – Chorus 3 Breakdown

This tune’s third solo incorporates a slide into the major 7 played over the I chord, resolving to the 6 to add a jazzy feel, in addition to some tasty voice leading into the IV chord. Having some solid major-based melody licks gives you a much wider spectrum to impart different feels.

The full West Coast Blues instructional guitar course by David Blacker is now available for instant download!

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A Song to Die For: The ‘My Way’ Killings

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franksinatraA strange and shocking story caught our eye in today’s New York Times: Sinatra Song Often Strikes Deadly Chord.

What’s happening is that there’s been a long string of killings in the Philippines, all following karaoke performances of “My Way.”  Karaoke is wildly popular in the island nation, though the Frank Sinatra signature (penned by Paul Anka) is now harder to find on a machine. Belting out a boozy rendition has led to several people being shot, stabbed, or beaten senseless.

If songs are written to express and evoke emotions, one has to wonder if there’s something going on in “My Way” that brings about murderous rage. There’s no obvious explanation. It’s not like people are getting killed after singing “Electric Avenue” or “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The Times article mentions a terrible rampage after one karaoke performance of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” — and while that poky folk tune doesn’t justify murder, it’s at least a little easier to make the causal connection.

Is it the unapologetic machismo of the “My Way” lyrics, as suggested by the owner of a vocal school in the Times story? Is the song held in such reverence that angry, armed audiences just can’t bear the sacrilege of a bad performance? 

Karaoke gives anybody a chance to be a vocalist on a spotlighted stage, if only for a drunken moment. Its appeal is not far afield from the fantasies of non-musicians fulfilled by playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Most of us musicians, we get it but don’t get into it. Let everybody enjoy a star turn. But to our Filipino friends we have to say, for pete’s sake, pick a different tune. Or stay home and write a killer song of your own.

– Rich Maloof

The Punch-In is edited by Rich Maloof, who has a long history with TrueFire as artist, educator, and producer. Rich’s body of work as a published author and as Editor in Chief of Guitar magazine has been distributed and translated internationally.

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Daily Kindling: Goodbye Gibson?

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gibson guitar logoThe Winter NAMM show is in full swing as we write. In case you don’t know already, NAMM is the semi-annual trade show of the National Association of Music Merchants; or, as we musicians think of it, the biggest candy store you’ll ever see. On the convention floor in Anaheim, CA, hundreds of manufacturers show off their product lines and new gear, and dealers place orders for the instruments you’ll be drooling over in their store windows. Wildly talented players demonstrate the new wares, famed endorsers perform live, and industry big-wigs rub elbows. For the musical-instrument community, NAMM is ground zero.

And that’s why it’s a shocker that Gibson does not have a visible presence at NAMM for the first time anyone can remember. The only public display from the venerable guitar institution is a shared space in the Monster Cable booth, where Gibson is showing a few signature models and the questionable Dusk Tiger guitar. We reported on The Punch-In last autumn that Gibson might be on the selling block. Now insiders at the show are murmuring that Gibson could shutter its windows by this summer.

If you think Gibson guitars are expensive off the rack, just wait till every one becomes a collector’s item.

We’ll have more news from the floor, and TrueFire will have exclusive footage from the live events our crew is producing at NAMM, including All-Star Guitar Night. Meantime, here’s a small handful of new products that have caught our eye.

  • Godin Guitars, the revered guitar co. from Quebec, is expanding its line and upgrading several existing models.
  • Gator Cases announces the terribly cool “Bone,” an ergonomically shaped, powered pedalboard that will retail for just $69.99.
  • Iconoclast guitarist Reeves Gabrels (David Bowie, Tin Machine) is showing off his new Reverend Signature guitar. Reeves will be performing at All-Star Guitar Night.
  • Vox debuts new VR amps in the $500 – 800 range. Long famous for their class-A amplifiers, Vox is also releasing new solid and semi-hollow guitars.
  • PRS Guitars is celebrating its 25th anniversary in high style with a gorgeous new Custom 24, plus other anniversary models, new Tuxedo amps, and more.
  • Budda has a new line of 3-Channel amps.
  • ESI Audiotechnik muscles its way into the handheld-recorder niche with its Rekord M, which is smaller than a cell phone.
  • And for anyone who finds a typical acoustic just doesn’t have enough strings, and standard tuning is way too high, Taylor has released an 8-string Baritone.
  • Thanks to industry vet HP Newquist for an inside word from the show floor.

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    Branding: Musical Identity as a Career Move

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    by Rich Tozzoli

    slashOn this past Veteran’s Day, the Punch-In ran a handful of videos featuring performances of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Slash was featured in one of them, and in a very rare move he performed without his trademark top hat. Or, we should say, the hat wasn’t on his head — it sat on a nearby guitar stand. And while it was very cool to see Slash honor the hats-off tradition for the national anthem, it also got us thinking about what that signature stovepipe hat is all about: Branding.

    Yes, we mean “branding” in the crass, capitalistic, Madison Avenue sense. Of course, the marketing term is based on the red-hot iron brands burned into the hide of livestock. Those indelible marks were used to create a permanent stamp of identity, and that’s exactly what promotional branding is all about today.

    If you thought branding was the exclusive domain of Coca-Cola and Apple Computers, well, think again. It also works wonders for that one-and-only guitarist with a top hat, black curls, and a low-slung Les Paul.

    Black Magic Marketing
    Another great example of a successful brand is Carlos Santana. Did you know he also sells Carlos brand perfume, handbags, and women’s footwear? No fooling. That’s not to mention his Santana Reserve Brut wine and a chain of Maria Maria restaurants with a guitar on the marquee.

    carlos santanaYou might chuckle (we did) but do you get why Carlos can sell all of those products when they have nothing to do with music? It’s because he has cultivated a marketable identity. He’s not selling a sound or a song — he’s selling Santananess. He is remarkably consistent with his brand, too: his album covers, clothes, guitar inlays, and his website all share a look and an image. It all started with his sound, but Carlos (the musician) and others like him have parlayed a musical signature into a brand that can be easily identified — and then promoted and sold. The mention of their name conjures a sound and an image all at once. Slash. Metheny. Flea. Hendrix.

    And you are…?
    So, we have to ask. What’s your brand? How do you distinguish yourself? Is your guitar playing unique in its own right? Do you augment your professional image with some non-musical signature like clothing or artwork — and is it consistent across your blog, your cover art, and your MySpace profile?

    Can you describe your musical approach in just a few words? If someone caught your show and wanted to tell a friend about you, what would they say?

    Just Do It
    300px-Jumpman_logo_011If it’s a little tough to accept that our well-loved art form of music is so entangled in marketing, consider it another context. Think about the brands of certain sports figures, and what they represent: Michael Jordan, Shaq, Allen Iverson, Deion Sanders, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter and so on. These guys each have a certain “packaging” that is immediately recognizable. Their appeal is shrink-wrapped for the consumer. These people have turned their talent and image into a unique brand that, to be blunt, helps them make money.

    Are they so different, really, from Jimmy Page, Robert Smith, the Edge, Eddie Van Halen, Ace Frehley, or Larry “Mr. 335″ Carlton? Regardless of your personal likes and dislikes, or your distaste for mixing money and creativity, there’s no denying that the recognition factor is a valuable asset.

    Create…and Cultivate
    Now step back and think of a few things that might help you build recognition in a media-blitzed world filled with competition. What small lessons taken from the giants mentioned above might be used to help promote yourself and/or your band? What would separate you from the pack and give you an edge?

    eddie_van_halenWe mentioned Slash at the outset — his image since the first day the Guns ’n Roses broke has remained consistent, helping to brand Slashness in our minds. For the Edge, it’s been the use of delay and a perennial knit hat. The same applied to Eddie Van Halen for years, with his insane technique, that big grin, and “Frankenstein” guitars covered with bicycle-tape stripes. If you saw EVH playing a sunburst Telecaster, it would be like, whoa, that’s odd! So, what small detail would help you foster a consistent and memorable image? It could be as simple as a cool sticker on your guitar (Tom Morello) or eyeshadow (Robert Smith, Billy Joe Armstrong). It could be a totally unique guitar tone (Bill Frisell, SRV). While the possibilities are nearly endless, it’s important to try to do something to make yourself unique.

    You Be You
    Finding something that makes you stand apart from the crowd may not be so easy. If it’s any good, it will probably take some work and serious thinking time. Learn from others, both inside and outside of the music business. Observe how they do what they do on television, in print, and elsewhere in the media. Step back and examine yourself as you identify what your USP — Unique Selling Proposition — might be. Then act upon it and keep the message consistent.

    Our last bit of branding advice is to think about your strengths as a player. Consider what makes you proud as a creative person. Bear in mind, you don’t have to change who you are or what you create to establish a great brand. On the contrary, you want to hone in on those unique identifiers — and then capitalize on them.

    Rich Tozzoli is an accomplished engineer, mixer, producer and composer. He has worked with artists such as Ace Frehley, Al DiMeola and David Bowie, among many more, and is the author of Surround Sound Mixing for ProTools. Rich is also a lifelong guitarist and composer. His work can be heard regularly on FoxNFL, HBO, and Discovery Channel.

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