Friday, October 17, 2014

Randy Rhoads and His Very Unique Guitars

Randy Rhoads is another on the list of the most influential rock guitars that ever lived. And yet he is another guitarist that, tragically, left us when he was way too young.

Randy and his Mom's school
Rhoads grew up in a family that was very musical. Both of his parents were music teachers and pianists. His parents divorced when he was quite young. His mother raised her kids on her own. She made her living teaching music at her own school.

Randy began taking classical guitar lessons there at age 7.

He soon became interested in the electric guitar and took lessons from his mother's friend, Scott Shelly, right up to the point where Scott told her that he could no longer teach Randy since Randy had become a much better player than he would ever hope to be.

Kelle & Kelly Garni & Rhoads
Randy met Kelly Garni in middle school. Both boys were considered outsiders since neither fit into any definable category of high school groups. Randy taught Kelly how to play guitar and the two formed a band.

They spent their summers playing at high school parties and local shows doing covers of songs by Mountain, Alice Cooper, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie songs.

Rhoads and Garni had an "ah-hah" moment at an Alice Cooper show when the realized what could be done with their talent.

Rhoads was a bright kid. He began teaching guitar at his mother's school and playing gigs at night. He was also able to continue school and was fast-tracked to graduate.

In 1972 Rhoads and his friend Kelly Garni recruited singer Kevin Dubrow and drummer Drew Forsyth and put together what would become one of the first neo-classical metal groups known as Quiet Riot.

At the time Rhoads was playing a cream coloured 1972 Gibson Les Paul Custom that his band mates had purchased for his use. Rhoads was only 16 years old! This became the guitar that he used throughout his career.

This guitar was a unique instrument as the body was actually made of four pieces including two layers of mahogany with a thin layer of maple in the middle and a carved maple top.

When it was new it was white, but over time the paint oxidized and took on a cream patina. Rhoads made a few changes to the guitar by replacing the original brass switch-plate and adding Grover tuning machines.

Gibson T-Buckers
The standard humbucking pickups on this guitar were known as T-buckers, named after the T-shaped tool that produced the forward bobbin.

During most of the ‘70’s Rhoads played guitar with Riot, but he also played in another band called Xciter which featured guitarist George Lynch. Both men were interested in guitar techniques and equipment.

George Lynch & Karl Sandoval
Lynch had acquired a handmade V shaped guitar with one pickup and a tremolo bar. The neck radius was flat. Rhoads decided he needed a guitar similar to the one Lynch was playing. This guitar was built by a California luthier named Karl Sandoval. At this time Karl Sandoval was also a guitarist playing music similar to what Rhoads and Lynch were playing.

Wayne Charvel
Sandoval had learned his craft by working with Wayne Charvel.  What was interesting about the guitars that Sandoval was making was that the necks were actually Danelectro necks that were bolted to the V shaped bodies that he had designed. By experiment, Sandoval determined a player could pull a high E string up with a tremolo on a Danelectro neck and it would not go out of tune.

This was due to the fact that Danelectro necks were almost flat. The fretboard radius of a Danelectro was 14". This was at a time, when most Gibsons had a 12" radius and some Fenders had a 7.25 - 9" radius.

Sandoval with unfinished V
Sometime in the summer of 1979, Rhoads visited Sandoval and shared ideas of his own guitar based on the one Lynch were playing. Rhoads did not want a bolt-on neck. He wanted the guitar to share characteristics of his Gibson. He also wanted a Stratocaster tremolo. He wanted HIS instrument to have a different headstock, a unique colour and above all; an identity. Oh yeah, he wanted polka dots.

So Sandoval set about locating a Danelectro neck. Danelectro guitars have stood the test of time and a lot of this has to do with the i-beam truss rod that is glued in the neck, just under the fret board. Not only does this give the neck strength, it gives it sustain as well. It also contributes to the weight of the guitar.

Since Rhoads wanted a Fender tremolo bridge with a sustain block, this guitar had to be thicker than most V shaped guitars.

To mount the Danelectro neck to the body, Sandoval came up with an extension of the neck that would be underneath the neck pocket to support the Dano neck. The extension and the neck were glued and clamped into place.

The next problem would be the Gibson pickups that Rhoads insisted should be on the guitar. Rhoads also wanted the Fender Strat-style tremolo. The problem was Fender’s string spacing was wider than Gibson pole pieces. The solution was to use a DiMarzio Super Distortion pickup in the bridge position and a PAF in the neck position. The wiring on these pickups was similar to Gibson and allowed for two volume and two tone controls.

Randy Rhoads other request for his guitar would be to have a harpoon-shaped headstock. Sandoval accomplished this by using the existing Danelectro headstock and using dowels on its sides to graft on pieces of wood then cutting them to produce the harpoon shape. The resulting V shaped guitar had a 25.5” scale and a neck radius of 17” and a very unique headstock.

Within three weeks of receiving the Sandoval V,  Rhoads had broken the guitar. During a show, the strap came loose, the guitar crashed to the floor and the neck broke. He felt bad, but took it back to Karl Sandoval who repaired it for $75. Randy Rhoads to the guitar to England and soon after left Quiet Riot to play in Ozzy Osborne’s new band.

By Christmas time of 1980 Randy Rhoads had come up with an idea for a new guitar. Wayne Charvel had just sold his business to Grover Jackson. Karl Sandoval was moving away from luthiery and developing his own business. And Randy Rhoads had an idea burning in his mind for a new guitar. He sought out Grover Jackson for guidance.

Grover Jackson
Just before Christmas on 1980 he met with Jackson, who had just taken over the reigns of Charvel Manufacturing. The two men talked for hours. Rhoads had brought a sketch showing how he wanted his guitar designed. A few changes were made and then the meeting ended. What Randy Rhoads was looking for was a V shaped guitar with a neck-thru body design, however the bottom wing of the V should be shorter than the top wing.

The first Concorde
This guitar should be decked out with pin-stripes (instead of polka dots.) Rhoads said this guitar would be called The Concorde. The impetus of the name occurred following a trip home from the U.K. via that huge, fast jet airliner that was gracing the skies at the time. Ozzy Osbourne had paid for the flight ticket. Rhoads hated flying and this would be a quick way to get home.

There was no question in Grover Jackson’s mind that this request was do-able. But at the time, Jackson was concerned about the look of the guitar and how his new company would be represented.

1970's Charvel
Charvel was producing Fender style guitars with bolt-on necks. That was the image the company was presenting and sales were good.

Jackson just spent a lot of money to acquire Charvel and he was not going to do anything to hurt the business.

Grover Jackson

So Grover Jackson called Rhoads and asked if he would mind putting a different name on this guitar.

To his surprise Rhoads said that would be alright. Rhoads had always admired the Gibson Explorer and wondered if an Explorer head could be modernized and made to look more aggressive. Grover Jackson went to work on building the guitar shortly after the holidays. Randy Rhoads returned to England.

The body was cut using the technology of the day, which consisted mostly of pin routers. Charvel at the time was building B.C. Rich guitars and applied the beveled edges to the Rhoads instrument.

Once a prototype was built on a piece of Baltic birch, it was time for the real build. This was done with a maple center block that was glued to two maple wings. It was a heavy instrument. The neck joined the body at the 14th fret. There were 22 frets on a compound radius ebony fretboard. This fretboard was shaped by hand to achieve a 12” radius at the necks bottom, which tapered off to a 16” radius.

The fret wire was very narrow. The neck featured pearl block inlay and binding. The nut was 1 11/16th inches. This guitar had a tremolo, but it was not made by Fender, it was handcrafted by the company’s metal smith Bill Gerein.

The bridge was made of brass with a heavy brass sustain block. The pickups consisted of a Seymour Duncan Distortion model at the bridge and a Jazz model in the neck position. The output jack was placed on the outside edge of the lower wing.

The pickup selector switch was located on the upper wing along the outer edge. The guitar was painted white with black pinstripes and undercoated with polyester and finished in polyurethane.

Apparently once the guitar was shipped to Randy Rhoads in the U.K. there were some problems. For on thing, it was too heavy; it was too big. Due to the guitar joining the body at the 14th fret, Rhoads was having trouble accessing the upper register.

Believe it or not, Rhoads was also concerned that his guitar playing fans may think that he destroyed a Gibson Flying V to build this guitar.

Rhoads sent word to Grover Jackson that he would like to build a second guitar. His aim was for the new model to be narrower and slightly more radical. In the fall of 1981 Randy and Grover got together again. Grover was prepared with three neck-thru-body sections with headstock already cut. The wings were separate. As if they were working on a puzzle, the men moved the wings here and there; sanded off some wood, and drew on the wood until they got it right.

Jackson took a block of wood and cut it on a band saw and carved out the body. Then the building began. Randy Rhoads had to go back to begin the Diary of a Madman Tour with Ozzy Osbourne. By the time the tour had reached the United States, Ozzy’s tour manager Sharon Arden (now Sharon Osbourne) had upped the ante by investing in full stage production. The rehearsals were being held at studios in Hollywood before the opening night in San Francisco. Jackson had the second Concorde guitar completed. This time the shorter, lower wing made the upper wing more pronounced.

It was odd that Randy was somewhat hesitant about fully embracing the new guitar. He would play it through portions of the show, then put it down and play a different guitar. He seemed to be warming up to it. We will never know if Randy Rhoads would have put away his other guitars and played this new model exclusively. For two months later he was killed in a plane crash.

Randy Rhoads was only 25 years old when the news broke that a rockstar had tragically died in an airplane accident. For it was on March 19, 1982 despite having a phobia about flying, Randy Rhoads perished in a fiery crash after taking a joy ride in a Beechcraft Bonanza. Ozzy Osbourne and his touring company had spent the night in the mansion of Country singer, Jerry Calhoun. Adjacent to the mansion was an airstrip. Tour bus driver Andrew Aycock held an expired pilots license and without permission apparently offered to fly Calhoun’s private plane.

During the flight made three passes over the home in an attempt to buzz the other band members. On the third pass, the plane clipped the bus and nose dived into the home. The plane burst into flames, killing Aycock, Randy Rhoads and 58 year old Rachel Youngblood, the tour’s seamstress and hairstylist.

Karl Sandoval maintained his business known as Sandoval Engineering. He is still building guitars and teaching luthiery. He currently offers the 30th Anniversary Sandoval V; the guitar based on the original design he built for Randy Rhoads.

Grover Jackson eventually sold the Charvel/Jackson brand name to Japanese music conglomerate IMC and left the company in 1990. In subsequent years he worked for Washburn Guitars.

In 1996 he joined RIC Rickenbacker Guitars  helping them to develop use of the CNC routers. About a year later he went on to work at some other firms including G&L, Tacoma and Sadowsky guitars. In 2010 he worked on that years models for B.C. Rich. The late Bernie Rico was one of his friends.

Since 2012 he is building and selling his own brand known as GJ² Guitars.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Paul Galbraith - The Most Interesting Guitarist in the World.

Paul Gralbraith is a most interesting and unique guitarist.

He started classical guitar studies at a young age and by the time he was 17 years old he had won the prestige’s Silver Medal at the Segovia International Guitar Competition.

Andrés Segovia, who was present, called his playing "magnificent." He went on to launch a solo career and has played with some of the world’s finest orchestras all over the world.

He has toured the U.S. as a soloist with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra. His playing is quite unique. He developed this style around 1989 when he designed a guitar in collaboration with luthier David Rubio.

He calls this The Brahm’s Guitar. His guitar has eight nylon strings; four bass and four treble strings. It is supported by a long metal endpin that sets on what he calls, a resonance box.

He plays this instrument in the same fashion as one would play a cello. Due to his unique style the instrument features “fanned frets” and a tone bar that transfers vibrations to the endpin.

Galbraith has recorded numerous CD’s which include the Bach Lute Suites. His double CD of Bach Violin Sonatas and Partitas arranged for guitar won him a Grammy nomination.

Paul Galbraith has been a featured guest on NPR’s All Things Considered.

When not touring, he resides in Switzerland with his family. He was a resident of Brazil and is the founding member of The Brazil Guitar Quartet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

John Lennon's Paper Back Writer Guitar Gretsch 6120 to be Auctioned

John Lennon with His Gretsch 6120
According to the British publication, The Telegraph, a guitar once owned by John Lennon and used to write The Beatles' 1966 hit 'Paperback Writer' is expected to fetch around £600,000 at auction later this month.

The Gretsch 6120 was given to Lennon's cousin David Birch as a gift in 1967 and will now be auctioned off at Le Meridien Hotel, Piccadilly, London on November 23.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Birch explained how the instrument came into his possession. Visiting Lennon at his home in Weybridge, Surrey, Birch told his famous relative that he was looking to start a band of his own. "I was just cheeky enough to ask John for one of his spare guitars," he stated. "I had my eye on a blue Fender Stratocaster that was lying in the studio but John suggested the Gretsch and gave it to me as we were talking.''

Lennon's cousin David Birch
Birch's mother Harriet was the younger sister of Lennon's mother Julia. The two lived near each other when Lennon lived with his Aunt Mimi in Woolton. Lennon most notably used the Gretsch 6120 on 'Paperback Writer', which was recorded in April 1966 at Abbey Road Studios for the album 'Revolver'.

Currently, the guitar only has two documented owners – Lennon and Birch. Bidding for the item begins on November 14.

Take note of a few blemishes on this instrument. The pickguard is missing. Below the neck pickup is a black plastic grommet that covers the hole where the mute would usually be placed. Above the neck pickup volume knob on the lower bout there is a hole. This originally housed the lever that operated the mute to raise or lower it. Due to the provenance of this instrument, I doubt if these will be a factor in its sale.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Guitars of Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of those kids that when they a guitar, pour their heart and soul into playing. Guitar was his life. Like his contemporaries, Jimi Hendrix, Danny Gatton and Ray Buchanan, Stevie Ray’s life was tragic. His career spanned a brief seven years, yet he remains one of the influential guitar players and singers of our era. Stevie Ray was a power house that had the potential to go on for years, if his life hadn’t been cut short.

Vaughan received numerous accolades as a player and was featured in many magazine articles, especially those having to do with the guitar. His young life ended in a twist of fate that harkens back to Buddy Hollies story,

Last concert
Vaughan begged for the last seat on a helicopter that was transferring the performers back to Chicago. His older brother Jimmie and Jimmie’s wife made reservation to be flown back after a concert both brothers had played with Eric Clapton. 

There were three seats reserved for Stevie and his family, but three members of Clapton’s crew had taken the seats, leaving only one remaining seat. Jimmie and wife took the next copter. The night was foggy and the dew was building up. Apparently the visibility was bad.

The pilot guided the helicopter over a golf course at low altitude. He somehow crashed into a 300 foot high ski slope.

The impact killed all aboard. There was no fire or explosion. The passenger’s bodies were scattered on the slope. An autopsy revealed that Stevie Ray Vaughan died of multiple injuries that he would have never survived. Vaughan was only 35

Stevie Ray Vaughan grew up in Dallas Texas. His older brother Jimmy Vaughan was his inspiration. Stevie Ray was born to play the blues.

Triple Threat
The Austin music scene was thriving so Stevie moved there, where he played with numerous bands before forming his own group called Triple Threat.

Double Trouble
After hiring drummer Chris Layton and bass player Tommy Shannon, Stevie changed the group’s name to Double Trouble. He played with them until the end.

In 1982 he gained fame when he performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival. A year later he released the album Texas Flood, which sold over a half a million copies.

Stevie Ray Vaughan had trouble with substance abuse for much of his life. He finally became sober in 1986. It paid off sine he went on to headline concerts with Jeff Beck and a few years later with Joe Cocker.

Vaughan’s guitar playing tools, his choice of guitars and amps were most interesting and SRV favored vintage equipment. He also preferred very loud amplifiers with a clean sound.

He did not make much use of effects pedals. His tone was clean and dry and he relied on the natural headroom produced by a clean Fender amp.

He linked amplifiers together to make his sound big. At times he employed a rotating speaker.

Number One Through the Years
Throughout his career he relied on Stratocasters. His main guitar was simply known as Number One. His bandmates called it Stevie’s “first wife.” This guitar was a work in progress, since Vaughan and his guitar tech  kept rebuilding it. The original guitar is rumored to be a 1959 model, based on the date stamped on the pickups. However the body is marked 1963 and the original neck has 1962 penciled on its end. This guitar was a gift from the owner of Ray Henning’s “Heart of Music” store in Austin Texas around 1973.

Stevie Ray Vaughan used it on all of his albums. There is a burn mark at the bottom of the headstock where Vaughan had wedged a cigarette between the strings and left it there too long. The neck has a thick D profile. The nut width was very wide at 17⁄8 inches.

The radius was 7.25”. It had been refretted many times. The relief at the 9th fret was .012” The nut had been changed to a bone nut. Stevie Ray’s friend and guitar tech, Rene Martinez took care of all of his guitars. At some point a piece of stage rigging had fallen on Number One, damaging the neck. Rene replaced the neck with another one off of a guitar that Vaughan called Red.

As a tribute to Hendrix, Stevie Ray put a left-hand bridge saddle on the guitar so the tremolo bar would be on the top of the guitar. After Vaughan’s death, the original neck, which had been saved, was reinstalled on Number One. Jimmie Vaughan now owns this guitar.

Prior to his death, Stevie Ray Vaughan had been asked by the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation if they could create a model of this guitar as a limited production. Vaughan collaborated with the Fender Folks for this Artist Signature model.

Vaughan was killed at the time of production and Jimmie Vaughan asked Fender if they could have the guitar ready so it would be offered in 1992. Fender Custom Shop builder Larry Brooks put 600 windings on each pickup and made sure the polarity of the middle pickup was reversed to reduce hum. This guitar was a little different than the original.

The body was alder and the neck was maple, but it came with a pau ferro fretboard. The standard strings are .010 - .046 light gauge models. Stevie Ray Vaughan generally used medium gauge strings that were .013 - .058. It is rumored that at one point in his career he was using .018 - .072 gauge strings. The guitar was finished on schedule and it was one of Fender’s more popular models.

Stevie Ray’s other Stratocaster was known as Yellow. This was a 1959 Fender Stratocaster that was formerly owned by the lead guitarist from Vanilla Fudge; Vince Martell. Martell sold it to a guy named Charley Wirz who proceeded to hollow out the guitars center to make room for humbucking pickups.

Wirz eventually fashioned a new pickguard and placed a single Fender Strat pickup in the neck position and painted the body yellow. Wirz gifted the guitar to Vaughan in 1983. The pickguard had SRV under the strings. Vaughan did not use this guitar as much as some of the others. Yellow was stolen in 1985 at the New Albany International Airport. It was recovered and is on display at the Las Vegas Hardrock Café.

Sometime in 1983, Vaughan purchased a 1962 sunburst Fender Stratocaster. Vaughan had the guitar repainted fiesta red by the Fender Musical Instrument Company.

In 1989, Stevie Ray Vaughan made a few modifications by putting a “SRV” sticker on the pickguard and installing a left-handed neck. This guitar was named “Red.”

Billy Gibbons sent Stevie Ray Vaughan a custom made Fender Stratocaster style guitar in 1984. This guitar was made with a neck-through-body and arrived with EMG active pickups. Vaughan liked the guitar, but did not care for the active pickups. Later that year he replaced the pickups and Gibson –style top hat knobs.

Note the white knobs
The fretboard on this guitar is made of ebony, with mother-of-pearl inlay that spelled out Stevie Ray Vaughan. This guitar had a beautiful red-flamed top. The body was not contoured, so the top and back were flat. The guitar was built by luthier Joe Hamilton, so it became known as The Hamiltone. It was also known as the Main guitar.

Stevie Ray Vaughan bought a guitar in Norfolk Virginia. He intended to give it away as a prize at one of his shows, but he became attached to it and gave away a different guitar. This is a 1961 Fender Stratocaster with butterscotch finished. His guitar tech, Rene Martinez, added a tiger striped pickguard that resembled one that Buddy Guy had on one of his guitars. Except for the pickguard and the SRV sticker it was stock. It was known as Scotch.

Charley Wirz owned Charley’s Guitar Shop in Dallas Texas. In 1983 he built a custom made Stratocaster style guitar as a gift for his friend Stevie Ray Vaughan.

It was white and had a neck plate which was engraved with the phrase, “To Stevie Ray Vaughan, more in 84”.

This guitar was unique since it had three Danelectro lipstick pickups. This guitar was named, Charley after Charley Wirz.

SRV with Lenny
Perhaps one of the more touching stories in Vaughan’s life regarded a 1963-64 Stratocaster that was a gift to Stevie Ray from his wife, Lenora. Stevie Ray was 26 years old and still standing in the shadow of his big brother Jimmy Vaughan. Stevie Ray met Lenora at a Halloween party when he was playing at a club. There was a brief courtship, they both had fallen hard for each other and were soon married. At the time he was playing with the Triple Threat band.

Jimmie,daughter, Big Jim, SRV and Lenora
Lenora and the guys went to a pawn shop and saw a maple-necked 1965 Fender Stratocaster. It had begun as a three colour sunburst model, but had undergone a rather poor paint job.

Lenora saw how much that Stevie wanted that guitar, but since they were poor and the price was $350, they could not afford it.

Stevie Ray and Lenora
Lenora got in touch with seven people that had agreed to each chip in $50 for a birthday present to Stevie Ray. He was presented with this gift at a birthday party, given in his honor at an Austin Texas nightclub called Steamboat Springs. He took the guitar home that night and within a matter of hours he woke her up and sat on the side of their bed.

Then he asked her to listen to a new song that he wrote (on this guitar) called Lenny, his pet name for her. She states, “It was beautiful, how can you ever stop loving something like that. I’ve never once in my life listened that that song without crying.” Sometime later he received a Charvel neck with a maple fretboard from his friend Billy Gibbons. He installed the neck on Lenny. He also etched his name into the guitar’s neck plate as a point of pride.

On the back of the guitar is an autograph from baseball great Mickey Mantle.  Click here to read the story. 

Stevie Ray Vaughan played a Guild JF6512 on MTV Unplugged and on a song called Life By The Drop.

Stevie Ray Vaughan like the sound of amps linked together. He frequently used two 1964 Blackface Fender Vibroverb amplifiers, one of which had a 15” speaker and the other had the stock twin 10” speakers. These amps were both rated at 40 watts.

Within a year, Fender added two more 10” speakers to this amp and it became the Super Reverb. Vaughan also utilized twin Super Reverbs. He also used a Marshall Club and Country amp that contained two 12” JBL speaker. Vaughan used the Fender amps for distortion and the Marshall for a clean sound. Early in his career Vaughan had befriended and received technical assistance from amp guru César Díaz.

Vibroverb with a 15" JBL
Stevie Ray would play so hard on the low strings that the frequencies produced would cause the vacuum tubes to occasionally spark and smoke. So Diaz had to tweak the output transformers to match Vaughn’s style of playing.

Stevie Ray was very adamant about the way he set the controls; volume at 6, treble at 5 ½ and bass at 4. In order to prevent problems, Diaz would back off the volume control by unscrewing the knob and turning the potentiometer back, and replacing the knob, so it would appear to be at the same level.

SRV's Tube Screamer
Stevie Ray Vaughan did not use many effects he did use an Ibanez Tube Screamer and was not particular about the models.

He used a Fender Vibratone, which is a standalone revolving speaker unit that Fender produced for a while. He also utilized a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, Roger Mayer Octavia pedal and several Vox Wah pedals.