|October 2, 2012 | Gear
I’m selling off old gear, and I pulled this thing out today and fired it up. A strange feeling, akin to finding a phonograph in the attic and playing ancient shellac records on it. It works perfectly, and I loaded some early 90s hip hop sounds and made a beat!
|May 22, 2012 | Gear
I wasn’t able to find the amazing guitar that the Ukrainian guy in the video below is playing ( the band is called Vopli Vidopliassova, or VV ), but I found this. Oh my god, I want every one of them.
I always wanted one, and I never got around to it when they were going for what they’re worth. Expensive now, like everything old. Oh well. Seen at Preservation Sound, the amazing, comprehensive vintage gear site.
|March 22, 2012 | Gear
I don’t think people are generally aware that Kustom also made guitars. I’ve tried a few of them out, and I think they’re quite handsome, but it’s not hard to see why they’re uncommon : they’re almost impossible to play. If you’ve ever picked up an old Rickenbacker or Mosrite and been surprised by their small scale, imagine a guitar with an even slimmer neck and smaller frets.
|March 11, 2012 | Gear
I had always wondered, and it was one of the first things I asked her when we met. She said she got it at a pawn shop in Canada, and that there weren’t very many of them. Later, I found out more, including information about some other famous players.
|February 13, 2012 | Gear
Another vintage guitar in a beautiful color, with a design so pleasing that the idea of actually making music with it barely occurs to me. I just want to just look at it. Touch it, maybe. This is a 1964 Epiphone Crestwood, and a large number of very detailed photos are here. Good luck finding the correct whammy bar, though.
I once owned a genuine Teisco Spectrum 5 ( the rare and iconic ultimate 1960s garage guitar – mine looked just like this ) which was missing its whammy bar and part of the scratch plate logo. I became obsessed with these missing parts to the point that I couldn’t look at it anymore, and I sold it.
|February 2, 2012 | Gear
I saw this : “ Basically they were a Dutch-built Marshall clone using VERY cheap parts. As they were affordable, the Dutch punk bands bought them and the raspy, tinny sound became the sound of 80′s Holland punk. Guy had a few of them as local bands still insisted on using them in his studio for authenticity, but he hated them. I thought they looked amazing. I want one… I don’t care what they sound like! “ I agree – that’s some serious guitar-nerd eye candy.
|December 3, 2011 | Gear
Records are back in a big way, they keep telling us, and it’s true : vinyl shops are not anymore solely the lonely domain of old dudes who spend their days dreamily recounting the Zappa/ Uriah Heep gig they saw in ’74, but of enthusiastic kids looking for scratchy soul 45s, limited edition pressings of European black metal albums, underground noise cassettes. I collect records myself, and although I did largely give in to the idea that CDs were here to stay ( I distinctly remember someone showing me the first compact disc I’d ever seen in 1989, so I think of the CD era as being from ’89 to about 2005, with near-total obsolescence coming around 2008 ), there was always music I wanted to listen to that wasn’t available on any format but vinyl. In fact, one of the very first things I bought myself when White Zombie started to do well was a Technics SL-1200MKII turntable, which cost me something like $399. That was crazy, extravagant money at the time, and I had a real “ Damn! I earned this!! “ feeling about it. I still use that same 1200, and it still makes me happy. Sometimes, before I put a record on, I pick it up. The thing weighs 25 lbs., and I find the weight reassuring.
All of the artists I’ve worked with lately have recorded with the intention, first and foremost, of making records. They want hand-screened matte cardboard covers, and they want heavyweight colored vinyl. They will, of course, offer the tracks for download, but that’s really an afterthought, because, quite frankly, where’s the fun? It’s just .. air, which becomes a tiny, hard-to-find part of your iTunes library, which you will mostly ignore until your hard drive wears out and you lose everything. Have you backed up your mp3 collection recently? I didn’t think so.
I still buy CDs, occasionally, because I like to have a hard copy. The CD itself is trash, a fragile thing that holds the data, but sometimes people put a little thought into the packaging, and the result can be an object worth owning. Usually not, though, and if a disc comes in a jewel case, I throw the case away and put the booklet and CD in a paper envelope, which takes up 1/3 the space and doesn’t have those little plastic teeth that always break. God, I’ve always hated jewel cases. If I think a band can sell CDs ( which depends on the popularity of the artist, but also on the age group of the fans ), I will recommend that they make as short a run as possible ( disc manufacturers are falling all over themselves to stay in business, and making as few as 100 can now be slightly profitable, if you can shift them ) – if they sell, great, and if they don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Still, hearing your band back on a CD, or over the internet, can’t begin to compare with what used to be milestones for musicians : hearing yourself on the radio for the first time, and, especially, dropping the needle on a record that you made.
And now, this : here’s a 45rpm 12″ ( best fidelity! ) from Star & Dagger, which is Sean Yseult’s new band. Side A’s got In My Blood, a track from their forthcoming album, and side B has Stories and S&D’s take on Out Of Focus, the Blue Cheer psycho-blues stomper, both of which were recorded by me. This is a pretty cool item – limited to 500 copies, with a fully illustrated inner sleeve and clear / blood-red vinyl. Some of the discs, like my copy, shown below, have a sort of ” blood pooling on the bathroom floor ” effect, while others will have more of a ” crime scene splatter ” look. You can order a copy from New Orleans’ Last Hurrah records, which is here.
These sessions were hassle-free : a tight band, and lots of guitars, specifically Dava’s 1974 Gibson SG. Also in use are my 1978 Marshall head, Marshall cab ( stock, except I replaced two of the greenbacks with G12-65s .. you’ve heard this cabinet before, on Fu Manchu’s The Action Is Go LP ), and my Big Muff, pot-dated to 1980. I have several of these pedals, including a ” ram’s head ” model, but I refer to this particular one as The Killer Fuckin’ Death Big Muff. Finally, this : on Stories, that’s my loopy, rubber-bandy fuzz solo that fades in around 2:57. They handed me a guitar and said, ” here, play on this “, which I did, not thinking much about it, but as soon as people started to hear the track, I got a lot of comments like, ” This is the first time you and Sean have played together since White Zombie — dude, that’s huge! ”
01. Star & Dagger : Out Of Focus
01. Star & Dagger : Out Of Focus
02. Star & Dagger : Stories
02. Star & Dagger : Stories
|October 22, 2011 | Gear, Stuffs
This, from Modcult. This Toto song just came up on my iTunes shuffle and it made me think about how crazy it is that there’s this handful of engineers who’s work has had this huge, incredibly outsized impact on how popular music sounds: Moog, Scholz, whoever wrote the Antares autotune routine, whoever put together the sample set for the Fairlight CMI ( ORCH5 ), Roger Linn, etc. So I was looking up who designed the original Eventide Harmonizer ( fair or not, Toto puts you in the mind of old Eventide hardware ) and I found this on the Eventide webpage about the H910, the original Eventide pitch processor that is on old Bowie tracks, etc:
” Early customers included New York City’s Channel 5 putting an H910 to work, downward pitch shifting the audio portion of ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns that were sped up to squeeze in more commercials. “
Elsewhere on the internet, it says that the idea was that if you sped up the tape, you could edit in a few more commercials, but the audio would end up being all pitched up, so you need to be able to do a pitch-without-time-change to get the dialog and such back to normal human sound. The thing is, how many people saw I Love Lucy when it was originally on? How widespread was this practice? Do we all know Lucy’s madcap pace from these sped-up reruns? Is this the comedy equivalent of a sped-up martial arts sequence? Maybe in the original, Lucy looked like a slacker when she wasn’t able to keep up with the assembly line at the bon-bon factory. How much of its manic energy comes from being replayed sped up?
|October 18, 2011 | Gear, Stuffs
I recently reconnected with Thom Moore, who was my guitar tech for a while back in the 90s. He’s retired now, but he was a super-duper elite road crew guy who toured with Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and a million other acts. In the course of one conversation I said something like ” I don’t know how familiar you are with the recording process, but .. “, and he proceeded to fucking school me. He’s a nice guy and he didn’t do it in a spiteful way, but, you know, consider me humbled. Here’s what he wrote.
” I played in bands as a teen, but I soon knew I couldn’t keep up with the top cats. At the time I was at an art school that had a very primitive sound studio outfitted with a basic 3-channel mixing board and an EMS VCS-3 “ Putney “ synthesizer. I got hooked. I built a basic lighting system for some friends in a local band. We cut some demos at a local studio that Glenn, the drummer, was friendly with. I started hanging out at the studio and assisting on some projects, picking up as much knowledge as I could. One day, Glenn asked if I could go with him to the studio to help set up his kit. The session was for a band called Cap’n Swing, made up of Ric Ocasek, Ben Orr, and Greg Hawkes. The session went well, and they thanked us for our efforts. By that time, Some friends from MIT had designed and built a 16 channel recording / mixing console, and we jumped at the chance to have an edge on the competition. The console had an early MXR flanger and phase shifter, and I had an Echoplex for delays. One night Glenn invited Ric and Greg to the club, and they were impressed with the mix and sound quality. ”
” Early in 1977, Cap’n Swing, who were now called The Cars, sent a demo tape of Just What I Needed to Boston radio stations, and the DJs started pushing the track big-time, playing it on every shift. The week after that, there was a feeding frenzy as all the labels descended on the Kenmore Square club the Rat, trying to be the ones to sign the band. Elektra got the nod, and The Cars were on their way. ”
” Two weeks later, the band was playing the Rat again, and I drove into Boston to check them out. During a break I saw Ric at the bar. I introduced myself and he remembered me. He asked me how I liked the set. I told him the songs were great, the performance was awesome, but the mix wasn’t clear, the vocals didn’t stand out, and the sound lacked punch and focus. He told me that he’d heard similar comments from label executives and a number of patrons who were longtime fans. He then asked me what I was doing the following weekend, and if I would travel to a gig in New Hampshire so their manager and some fans could see what I could do, which is how I became their FOH mixer. A month later, I flew to London to help record the first Cars album, and I was assistant engineer on all of their albums from that day on. ”
“ After the third album went triple platinum, the band bought the old Intermedia Studios on Newbury Street in Boston. I assisted on the recordings, but I was about to get more education. It took 8 months to renovate the old studio : walls were knocked down and the control room was completely re-designed. We kept all the old tube compressors & equalizers, and installed a new Neve console and outboard effects, bringing the place up to date in every sense of the word. ”
” When it was all finished, Roy Thomas Baker flew over, and over the course of a year he taught me the tricks of the trade, things like placing mics at varying distances in long rooms to get slap effects. This was before all the modern reverb and delay devices became available, and we had to be creative to get special effects. It was an amazing time, but the downside was that Roy always monitored in the control room at ear-splitting volumes, and I’m sad to say my ears haven’t stood the test of time. However, I wouldn’t change a thing. Those were some of the best days of my life. I have a wall of platinum albums, Golden Reel awards for recording, and great memories. ”
|October 15, 2011 | Gear
Ohm Recording Facility, Austin, TX.
For real – if you play music and you’re over, say, 30, I’m betting that at some point you had one of these.
Due to my big interest in 1970s Ibanez guitars, especially the ‘lawsuit’ models, Rob Nishida ( artist guy at Ibanez ) had an 11×17 print made for me from the original slide of this photo of Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls playing his Rocket Roll V.
|August 7, 2011 | Gear
My Roland AD-50 Double Beat fuzz wah, which I plugged in last night for the first time since, oh, the late 90s. A large percentage of the noise-feedback-mayhem on Astro-Creep : 2000 and assorted one-off WZ tracks was created with this pedal.
I like looking inside old fuzz pedals. Holding with early 20th century design philosophy, the simple circuit boards are always tiny compared to their big, clunky die-cast boxes. Simple technology came in a large, heavy, value-for-the-money container, with lots of empty space around it to sink off heat. The circuit in my Fuzz Face (oh yes, you’ve heard it – it’s all over Fu Manchu’s The Action Is Go) is very small, and the one in my Shin-Ei FY-2 Companion is positively miniature.
↓ EFFECTORS from the 1978 Roland catalog : I also have a Bee Gee and a Bee Baa.
|July 20, 2011 | Gear
Back in August 2009, I wrote a story called An Old Guitar Lives Again, which continues to be one of the most popular posts on this site. The subject of the article is, in fact, enjoying a robust second life at the studio, where it is handled by many players and has made it on to couple of tracks. Since you enjoyed the post so much, I thought I’d follow it up by letting you hear the Old Guitar in action.
First, an old-school thing that the Old Guitar was more or less originally intended to do, through a cranked-up little amp. 1:22 to 1:56 :
01. Rik Slave & The Phantoms : Test Of Time
01. Rik Slave & The Phantoms : Test Of Time
Next, a different kind of solo on a modern rock track, recorded by my partner Drew. 2:18 to 2:43.
02. Robert Fortune Band : Everybody Wanna
02. Robert Fortune Band : Everybody Wanna
Since you asked, a lot, here’s my White Zombie early guitar timeline :
Guitar #1. Gibson Firebird : purchased for $200 at the south side Guitar Center, Chicago, in 1986. At some point it had been stripped of its finish and covered with white latex house paint, its metal parts were corroded, and it had been played a LOT. The serial number was long gone, but it had trapezoid fret markers, full-size humbuckers, banjo tuners, extra-thin headstock, and it came with its original case – black tolex, white logo, purple velvet interior – so, a 1972-1979 Firebird V.
At that time, electric guitars weren’t really collectible unless they were rare variants (I remember that there were certain Fenders which had a particular cachet ; custom colors with matching headstocks were desirable, as were Jazzmasters and Jazz Basses with block inlays and reverse maple necks.), had originally been very fancy and expensive, or were particularly good players. Les Pauls could push an amp the hardest, especially if you raised the pickups as far as they would go, so those were good. Everything else was just an old guitar, which you could buy at a pawn shop. Look at photos of bands from the 80s ; rockabilly guys had beautiful old Gretsches, which nobody else wanted. Metal players routed out 1960s Stratocasters to install locking tremolo systems and active pickups.
This guitar, while it looked like it had been stored in a basement in Manila (or underwater, possibly), was within my meager budget, and it had that voodoo quality that you learn to recognize after you’ve been playing for a while : you can pick up a guitar, and by the heft and balance of it, the way it feels in your hands, the way the wood resonates when you tap it — you just know when you’ve got a good one. You don’t have to plug it in. You don’t even have to play a note.
I tossed all the hardware except the pickups and tuners (I know, I know, but remember, that stuff wasn’t worth anything in 1986), stripped the latex off, and spent days carefully applying thin coats of dark blue spray paint. I got a new black pickguard, chrome tailpiece and tune-o-matic bridge, knurled chrome knobs, and I had it all put together at a little guitar store in my neighborhood (I cringe, now, to think of how I used to bug the guys who worked there, but what else was there to do? All the boys and girls who want to be in bands still do the same thing) and it looked great, triggering a collective ooooh every time I took it out. It sounded great, and it was unbelievably easy to play. A keeper.
I moved to New York at the end of 1987, sat out the following year (worked, took the bus, failed to meet anyone who wanted to start a band, wrote long letters to dispersed friends, went to CBGB by myself), and joined White Zombie in the beginning of 1989. I quickly acquired a more suitable pointy-headstock-and-locking-tremolo guitar (see Guitar #2), but the Firebird served as my on-stage spare through early 1990, when the headstock snapped on the way back from our first European tour.
1990-91 : we played shows, hustled, got signed, recorded La Sexorcisto, moved to Los Angeles. We brought what we could fit in the van, which, outside of (functioning) gear, wasn’t much. Our friend Damien (the character in the Thunderkiss video in long johns and skull mask, that’s Damien) lived with his grandparents in a big apartment in Brooklyn, where he let me store my meager stuff – the Firebird, a few crates of LPs, some books. The building burned down a couple of months later, destroying everything. As far as I know, there is no surviving photograph of that guitar, either in its original blue/black/chrome incarnation, or after Rob and Sean covered it in glittery/prismatic silver, red, and green flames.
Guitar #2. Charvel 6 : known to fans as the STP guitar, or, 666 guitar.
Basically a made-in-Japan version of a Jackson soloist. It has a faintly clunky, slightly miniature quality that an actual U.S.A Jackson doesn’t, but it is totally playable. Features include neck-through construction, bound neck and headstock, Jackson-licensed Floyd Rose (with a snap-in whammy bar that you were sure to lose), Jackson humbucker and two singles (everybody who bought one of these replaced them). It came with a funny silver plastic case that looked like a NASA equipment container.
In February 1989, right after I joined the band, Sam Ash (or was it Manny’s?) on 48th St. got a big shipment of these and blew them out for $350. Sean and I went up there together and I bought one, and she bought the matching Charvel bass. Now that I think about it, half the bands around then in NYC (Prong, Biohazard, Lunachicks, and more) had one of these on-sale model 6s, or some other inexpensive Charvel. At that time, people didn’t want Gibsons or Fenders, which seemed old fashioned, or cheap garage-band guitars, which everybody appreciated but which were strictly for display. They wanted high-functioning heavy metal guitars, hot-rod parts strats, pointy headstocks. Install a better pickup, cover your guitar with stickers, get your strings good and stretched-out the night before the gig. Go!
There’s not much to say about this one, except that it was solid, a workhorse, sounded pretty good, and was my main guitar from my first show with WZ through my first tour (USA, Summer 1989), second tour (Europe, Winter 1989-1990), recording of La Sexorcisto, and the first half or so of the tour for that album. I didn’t do anything to it except drop an EMG 81 into the bridge and an EMG single into the neck (I left the middle rout empty) - there were mini on/off switches for each pickup, which I thought was dumb, so I installed a Gibson-style 3-way selector. I’ve been asked many times if the White Zombie logo on the headstock is a custom inlay. It’s a sticker, and the question always surprises me, because I had no more access, at that time, to a skilled luthier than I did to a spaceship.
A funny thing about a guitar with a locking tremolo system is that it will often stay in tune better than one with a standard stop-tailpiece (how d’you like that G string, Gibson players?). However, restringing is a drawn-out, even stressful ordeal (you get used to it, but it sucks) and the bridge sometimes requires a daily bit of adjustment to perform really well. I didn’t have a guitar tech until much later, and I didn’t have access to the wealth of information available today about every aspect of guitar maintenance – and I sure didn’t know much about set-up and intonation ; I just wanted the thing to be stable and play in tune, so I put a block behind the trem – actually a piece of hard rubber, so you could pull back just a tiny bit, but basically just dive forward. In 1992, we played MTV host Riki Rachtman’s birthday party at The Palace in Hollywood, as did Pantera. They used our gear because their stuff was somewhere else, and Darrell couldn’t do any of his signature whammy-squeal-harmonic tricks with my guitar, which I’m sure seemed like a toy to him. He reacted with characteristic good humor, but kept catching my eye with a “What the FUCK am I supposed to do with this thing?” look. There’s a photo, somewhere.
What stands out in my mind about that period is how much I didn’t know about my gear, which I was using every day, traveling with, depending on. My Firebird broke in the cargo hold of an airplane because I had no idea you’re supposed to loosen a guitar’s strings when flying. The first time I played in L.A., my Charvel 6 mysteriously stopped working and I had to finish the set with the Firebird (which sounded pretty good, actually). The next day, I was .. to put it lightly, concerned, and L7′s Jennifer Finch, who was kindly showing us around, said, “Well, when’s the last time you changed the battery?” — I was like, “There’s a .. battery?” – I had no idea what ‘active pickup’ meant. In the studio, during the recording of La Sexorcisto, the tubes in my JCM-800 started to glow superhot and then the amp blew — Oh no, what have I done to this thing? Producer Andy Wallace said, “When’s the last time you changed your tubes?” — I had no idea tubes don’t last indefinitely. You can hear a marked difference in tone between the songs on the album recorded pre-and-post amplifier meltdown. Thunderkiss ’65, appropriately, features the sound of a Marshall that’s about to explode.
Guitar #3. The WZ guitar : the guitar from the Thunderkiss ’65 video, subject of much speculation, email, and more than one drunken late-night phone call. Lent to the Hard Rock Cafe in the 1990s, finally purchased by them in the 2000s. Spotted in various locations around the world.
This, in a photo I found on Flickr :
In early 1990, the cracking of the Firebird’s headstock forced me to get serious about finding a spare. It would need to be a metal guitar, with a Floyd, but being able to afford something like that, used, even, was out of the question. The Kramer Focus body I’d gotten from my friend Chris for $30 two years previous was an option. On the back of the photo below, which Chris sent me soon after I left Chicago, he wrote (under the banner “Feeling homesick yet?”) : “More about Kramer : I feel some words of praise for Mr.Floyd Rose are in order. Even though the headstock broke off months ago, the guitar is still in tune and playable!”
I met Chris through the Chicago hardcore scene, and during the period where my contemporaries and I were drifting away from punk, then leaving it behind entirely, then scattering to go to college, work, or off to something else, we were inseparable. We both dropped out of school at the same time. I lent him my guitar, which he proceeded to learn how to play better than I could in about 6 weeks. He got me a job at the photo lab where he worked (the contraband-containing metal Kodak film can, see it?), which allowed me to save up enough money – so I thought – to move to NYC. We consumed music voraciously (not only Metallica, Slayer, Venom, the metal bands we were obsessed with, but everything - notice the Residents LP), which we listened to on cheap turntables through big 3-way speakers made of chipboard. Here are guitars (the broken Kramer, to the left, and an early 80s Hamer Special, a common sight in Illinois pawn shops then), and several items that are particularly evocative of the era ; shelves made from stolen milk crates, empty Augsburger bottles, guitar tab books.
I collected some really excellent prismatic hot rod stickers at swap meets (unless we had to get somewhere fast, we always pulled the van over and went to flea markets), which I plastered on the Kramer and sealed down with a layer of urethane. I bought a neck from the ESP shop on 48th St., begged and borrowed other parts, and cobbled everything together. I got an EMG pickup and pots and installed them myself (my first attempt at doing my own soldering), not that I knew how, but I copied the wiring from my Charvel, and it worked. The assembled guitar didn’t intonate correctly, and thus was never quite in tune, and my main guitar hardly ever broke strings (I mean, like, never) so I probably only played it once or twice on stage, although it did make an appearance in some early experiments with tuning down in 1992-93. The guitar tracks on La Sexorcisto are 99% the same set-up : Charvel 6 → Pro-Co Rat → Marshall, but I did use the WZ guitar, which had a twangier sound, for some leads and overdubs : for example, check out the little tri-tone symphony that happens in Starface from 3:24 to 3:40.
As for Chris, he stayed in Chicago and formed a band which was about as different from mine as possible. Trenchmouth ( I did a vinyl-grab of a track I particularly like back in February, which is here) were an indie – that meant something, then – group who evolved from a muscular postpunk sound (think Dischord Records, kind of) into something else that I really can’t pigeonhole : a trippy, dub-inflected, acience fiction vibe that was groovy yet angular (I know that’s not saying anything, I guess you’ll just have to go listen to them). This was the grunge era, yet they were spiffy guys who somehow kept their suits presentable on van tours. I ran into them from time to time. They slept on my floor once, in L.A., and they played me heavy dub and electronic records, music totally outside of my experience. Today, in a widening of divergent paths, Chris, who I talk to occasionally, is a chemistry professor.
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