Sunday, October 1, 2017

Surf Guitar - Instrumental Guitar Music

The British Invasion


In 1965 the British Invasion was in full force, and so was the guitar boon. As a 13 year old boy, I had to have a guitar, and so did many of my friends.




The Surfaris


The popular British groups were mostly vocal groups. So, back in those days, to learn guitar we turned to guitar groups such as The Ventures, Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, The Chantays, and of course The Surfaris.





The Surfaris - Wipe Out
The Surfaris had written, recorded and performed the one-hit wonder “Wipe Out”. This simple 12 bar tune had only four notes that were repeated in the I, IV, and V position. If a guy had any sense of rhythm at it was simple to learn, and a great starter tune for all those young garage band guitarists.

An early publicity photo of
The Ventures
Those of us who wanted to take a further plunge into Surf guitar stepped up to learn songs by The Ventures, such as Walk, Don’t Run (both versions) or The Chantays song, Pipeline,  or Dick Dale’s Miserlou, or The Marketts song Out of LImits. All you needed was a good ear, and some ability to play basic guitar.

Dick Dale
Credit should be given to Dick Dale for the creation of Surf Music. As a young man, Dale had two passions; playing guitar and surfing. He was born in Boston, with the name Richard Monsour. His family lived in an Arab/Lebanese community in Quincy Mass, where he learned to play traditional music that was taught to him by his uncle. One of these songs was known as Egyptian Muslim Girl in Arabic, but translated to Miserlou in English.

While growing up, Dale learned to play traditional instruments. And this is where he got his rapid picking technique.

By his teen years, Dale's father got a new job and moved the family to El Segundo, California. There Dick got involved with surfing and taught himself how to play guitar. And he became a master of both skills.

Dick Dale and The Del-Tones
He changed his surname to Dale, dabbled for a while in Country and Western music, before finding a niche by creating music about surfers and surfing. He then put together a band and called it Dick Dale and The Deltones.

By 1961 Dick Dale had become so popular in the city of Newport Beach that he was able to get permission from the owner of the Rendezvous Ballroom to reopen the shuttered establishment and put on a series of dances that he called Stomps. These events were very popular, drawing crowds of up to 4,000 people at each dance. Dale played this venue for a six-month stretch.

Dick Dale and the Del-Tones
During his sets, he kept blowing up his amplifiers, since his style of playing pushed those amps and speakers to the breaking point. As a result he got in touch with Leo Fender and Freddie Travares. Both men came to watch him play and after the shows, the men all got together to discuss what could be done.

Dick Dale with original Stratocaster
The result was the creation of the Fender Showman amp, which had transformers that could withstand Dale’s aggressive and extremely loud style, and also had a 15” JBL D130F heavy duty speaker, and boosted an output of 100 watts RMS.

This was the amplifier that Dale needed, and it went on to become the staple of most Surf bands.

Fender Reverb Unit
The other device that Dale, and many other Surf bands used was a outboard Fender Reverb Unit; model 6G15. This was a tube powered device that utilized a 12AT7 preamp tube, a 6K6 power tube, and a 12AX7 tube as the reverb recovery tube. This unit was usually placed on the floor, so it would not rattle on top of the amp and make noise.

It featured three controls; Dwell, Mixer, and Tone. This was usually the only effect that Surf bands used.

Surf music was meant to be played clean and loud. Any distortion came from the tubes in the amplifier.

The Chantays

Dale was a Californian. So were the members of the Chantays. Surprisingly,  some of the most well-known Surf bands were not from California, or even near an ocean.



The Marketts
The Marketts were more or less a studio band that played songs written by producer/songwriter Michael Z. Gordon. In 1961 Gordon put together a group of musicians from his home town of Rapid City, South Dakota called The Routers, and the group went on tour.


The Routers eventually moved to California and were signed by Warner Brothers Records, where they had a hit record called The Pony.

The Marketts aka The Routers
Gordon went on to write another tune that he called Outer Limits. This instrumental had a catchy recurring four note theme, which sounded too close to the theme song of a very popular television show called the Twilight Zone.

Around the same time the song was released, the Twilight Zone’s creator, Rod Serling, had developed another science fiction/mystery show called The Outer Limits. Not only was Mr. Serling not amused with the song, he thought the song’s title infringed on his new show's trademark name. Serling sued and to settle the song was re-titled Out of Limits.

Out of Limits
Like many touring bands from that era, the song was actually recorded by session players in Los Angeles, including drummer Hal Blaine. This method saved the record companies money and put out recordings that were professionally done. Out of Limits went on to sell over a million copies. Gordon went on to write some lesser known surf songs. He later became famous for writing film and television music.

The Chantays

The Chantays started in 1961 as a group when they were still high school students in Orange County, California. A year later they had a hit record with their song; Pipeline. The Chantays had a few other minor hits, but will forever be remember for their one big hit.



The Chantays on Lawrence Welk

Pipeline was so popular that it was recorded by many other artists. The Chantays other claim to fame was being the only Rock/Surf band ever to be featured on The Lawrence Welk Show.


The Ventures 


Perhaps the biggest instrumental surf music band of all was not from California. Members of The Ventures all lived and worked in Tacoma, Washington.



Don Wilson and Bob Bogle
Don Wilson and Bob Bogle had a chance meeting in 1958 where they discovered they both played guitar. These guys bought a couple of used guitars from a pawn shop and started playing at bars and small clubs.


Nokie Edwards at right
They went to see guitarist Nokie Edwards, who was playing at a nightclub and asked if he would join them as a bass player.  He took them up on the offer. They called themselves The Ventures.



The Ventures with Howie Johnson
The band later went through several drummers before settling on a guy named Howie Johnson. The drummer that originally played on the recording of Walk, Don’t Run, was Skip Moore. Moore left the group to work at his families gas station

Next George Babbitt joined the group, but had to leave, because he was too young to play in nighclubs.

Babbitt went on to become a 4 Star General in the US Army.

The Ventures with Mel Taylor
Johnson played with The Ventures until he was injured in an automobile accident. He was replaced by Mel Taylor.

Back when Wilson and Bogle met Nokie Edward, he was already performing a Chet Atkins song called in his nightclub set called Walk, Don’t Run. This song was actually written by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith.

The Ventures Walk, Don't Run
The Ventures took their version of this song to a recording studio and laid down a track, along with a B-side called Home, and had the company press some 45 rpm records, which they shipped to record companies and radio stations.

The tune was eventually picked up by Dolton Records and went on to become #2 on the charts. It was later redone by The Ventures with an updated surf guitar arrangement and released again as Walk, Don’t Run ‘64. This song became one of only a handful of recordings that charted twice on the Billboard Hot 100.

Walk, Don't Run
Walk, Don’t Run became required playing for all garage bands in the mid 1960’s. It’s theme was slightly more complex than other surf songs, as it went from a minor to a major mode. The Ventures went on to produce many more albums, and even TV themes, however the early recordings were generally surf based music.


The Pyramids (with Dick Clark)
Another one-hit wonder band was The Pyramids. These guys were from Long Beach, California and scored in the Billboard Top 20 with their self penned song called Penetration. The group went on to get a part in the Bikini Beach movie, playing another song they had written called Bikini Drag.

1964 Fender Showman 15" JBL
Most Surf groups used high wattage Fender amplifiers, usually a Showman, or Dual Showman. The only outboard effects were the stand-alone Fender Reverb unit. The sound also sometimes relied on the amplifiers onboard tremolo/vibrato circut.

Mosrite Fuzzrite
In 1964, The Ventures were working with Semie Moseley, and he gave them a Mosrite Fuzzrite pedal, which was used on a few songs; notably the 2000 Pound Bee (Although one source cites that the fuzz pedal used by The Ventures was made by a pedal steel player named Red Rhodes, that joined them on the album The Ventures In Space).

Interestingly, Moseley had hired a young man to help design amplifiers for his company. So Alexander Dumble is rumored to have modified The Venture’s Fender amplifiers.

Early photo of The Ventures

During their early years, The Ventures played late 1950 era Fender guitars; a Jazzmaster, a Stratocaster, and a Precision Bass.


Mosrite guitars had already become popular in California, due to the double neck model that Joe Maphis and Larry Collins played on a California television show called Ranch Party.

Gene Moles with his Mosrite
Semie Moseley, the guitars creator, also made a single neck version. Nokie Edward saw a local guitarist named Gene Moles playing one of these new Mosrite guitars. Edwards was fascinated with the sound and design and asked if Moles would introduce him to Moseley. On their first meeting Nokie Edwards walked away with a Mosrite guitar.


Mosrite
Ventures Model
Before long, Edwards struck up a deal with Moseley to build guitars under The Ventures logo. This arrangement lasted from 1963 to 1965, when the model name was changed to the Mark I. However The Ventures continued to tour with Mosrite guitars from 1963 to 1968.

Briefly Mosrite had attempted to build and market an all transistor amplifier under The Ventures banner. However it failed, due to design problems. After the agreement between Mosrite and the Ventures ended, The Ventures returned to playing Fender instruments.

Wilson Brothers
Ventures Model



Later in life, the group had arrangements with Aria Guitars, and Wilson Brothers Guitars to produce Ventures model guitars.








Aria Ventures model



And later in their career, The Ventures enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in Japan; the same country where Aria guitars are manufactured.




The Chantays


The Chantays played matching 1960 model Fender Stratocasters and a Fender Precision Bass from that same era after they became famous.



The Chantays

Prior to that one of the players used a 1961 Kay K580 with a single coil pickup. The other player had either a Valco or Airline single pickup guitar. The Chantay’s bass player had a 1960’s model Precision bass.


This group used Fender Showman amplifiers that were built between 1960 - 63 that were covered with white Tolex and had maroon grill clothe. Before that they have a Fender Deluxe amp, and a Danelectro/Silvertone style Twin Twelve amplifier, and of course the Fender reverb units.

The Pyramids
The two guitarists in the Pyramids played 1960 Fender Stratocasters. One player was left-handed and played a red strat, while the other right-handed player had a white strat. The bass player had a sunburst Precision bass with a black pickguard. This group also used “blonde” Fender Showman amplifiers.

Dick Dale's Stratocaster

Dick Dale was given a Fender Stratocaster by Leo Fender. The story goes that Dale visited Fender at his office and announced that he was a guitar player, but did not have an instrument. Leo procured a Strat and has Dale to play something.

Dick Dale's Stratocaster

Since Dale was left-handed, he flipped the guitar upside down and to Mr. Fender’s amusement played the guitar in this manner. Dick Dale had learned to play guitar with the large E string on the bottom and the small one on the top.

Mr. Fender must have been impressed because he had a left-handed Stratocaster built for Dick Dale. However Dale always strung it like it was a right-handed guitar.

Dale's set up - original Showman amp
 - Dual Showman cab - reverb unit

Dale and Leo Fender had lengthy discussions on building guitars, amplifiers, and even combo organs. As previously stated, this was how the Fender Showman and Dual Showman were developed. At Dale’s suggestion the Tolex was changed from white material, to a light brown colour, which showed less dirt.


Dick Dale’s mid 1950’s Fender Stratocaster was originally painted Olympic White with a red tortoise shell pickguard. It is odd, since most models of that vintage had maple fretboards, Dick Dales model was perhaps the first of that era to have a rosewood fretboard.

Dale modified the guitar by removing all of the pots, since he felt they took away from the volume, and he always kept the guitar at full volume anyway.

His guitar had the older 3-way toggle switch. Dale had another switch installed that turned the middle pickup on or off. This enabled him to use the middle and neck pickups or the middle and bridge pickups simultaneously. Dick Dale never used the vibrato. He blocked it off with a piece of wood.

Dick Dale's repainted Stratocaster
Sometime in 1963, Dale had the guitar repainted with a gold sparkle finish. He also changed pickguard to a plain white one. It has remained that way for years, and Dick Dale still uses the same guitar in his concerts.

Though Dick Dale was mainly thought of as an instrumental guitarist, he also sang on many of his early recordings.

1960 Fender Jazzmaster


Many of the California Surf and instrument guitar players preferred the Fender Jazzmaster, because of its pickups, which had a warmer sound than Stratocaster pickup and some of its other attributes.





1959 Fender Jazzmaster
One of the other features that made this guitar desirable to Surf players was it’s dual circuitry. The switch on the guitars upper bout enabled the player to chose the lead mode, in which both pickups acted conventionally, or the rhythm mode, which worked only on the neck pickup.

In this mode, volume and tone were controlled by the roller switches on the upper bout. This also activated a capacitor in this circuit that gave the guitar a warmer tone with more of an acoustic feel. The other difference was the use of 1M linear taper potentiometers for the lead tone control, and a 50 k linear taper potentiometer for the rhythm tone control.

The final feature that made the Jazzmaster most desirable was it’s long-armed vibrato. The vibrato in Surf  music of the day was used subtly to enhance the end of musical phrases.

1960's Fender Stratocaster


The Fender Stratocaster seemed to be the preferable  choice for Surf bands as their lead instrument. It was usually played with the bridge pickup activated to get the best sound for this genre.




Fender Flatwound strings



Strings were also important to Surf players. They preferred heavier gauged flat-wound strings.






Difference - roundwound - flatwound


These strings were great for recording, and perhaps live playing, since there was no string scraping noise.




Dick Dale preferred regular extremely heavy gauged guitar strings as part of his sound. His preference was .016, .18, .20, .39, .49, and .60 gauge strings, with the .60 string being the first string.

One other aspect of surf music that may seem odd today, but was downright cool to a kid in the 1960’s was that while the groups played they also did a sort of synchronized dance; moving the guitar necks up, down, and side to side, while stepping back, forth, and sideways sometimes kicking a leg up and down. It is damn silly looking now.

Over on the other side of the world, there were a couple of groups that were prominent in instrumental music, which sounded very close to Surf music.

The Shadows

The Shadows were originally formed as the band that backed popular British singer Cliff Richards on his recordings and shows, and worked with him from 1956 to 1968.


However the group charted with several instrumental hits on their own. Most notably was a 1960 song called Apache. It was a great song.

The Shadows band included guitarists Bruce Welch, and Brian Rankin, aka Hank Marvin. They added bass player Jet Harris, aka Terrance Harris, and drummer Tony Meehan.

Apache - The Shadows
The song, Apache, was written by Jerry Lordan, went on to become a number 1 hit in the UK and abroad.

The Shadows had several more hit songs. Perhaps the best known player from the group was Hank Marvin. He was one of the first players in the UK to own a Fender Stratocaster.


VML Easy Mute and Trem bar
Marvin later modified this guitar to include a device called a VML Easy Mute Vibrato. This features a longer trem arm with an extra bend at the base. It allowed the player to hold onto the bar while picking the notes, and muting the bass strings with the palm of one's hand.



The Shadows - Burns/Baldwin Guitars
At one point Marvin and the Shadows played Burns of London/Baldwin guitars, but later went back to Fender instruments. They always played through Vox AC30 amplifiers., and used a Watkins Copicat tape echo unit.

Telestar Satellite - 1962
In 1962 Bell Laboratories launched the first of two communications satellites into orbit around the Earth. Both satelited were called Telestar. The world was in awe and so was a British record producer/sound engineer named Joe Meek.



Joe Meek

Meek had a rented flat above a leather goods shop in Northern London. There he kept a lot of recording equipment. One electronic instrument that he had on hand was called a Clavioline.


Joe Meek's Clavioline
This was a small electronic keyboard, which came with an amplifier and a stand. The Clavioline was only capable of generating one note at a time. Joe Meek used this instrument to compose the theme to a song he called Telestar.


Joe Meek and The Toranados
Meek recorded this song in his apartment and accomplished part of the arrangement by splicing in recordings of the computer like language that the satellite was transmitting back to Earth. He interspersed this with the theme music that was played on Clavioline, guitar, bass, and drums. He must have recorded the musicians there after the shop had closed.

His recording was laced with a lot of echo and reverberation giving the illusion that this song was being played by a much larger group in a much larger hall.

The group of musicians that recorded Telestar were known as the Toranados. They went on to do live performances of Telestar and other songs and were featured on LP's.

The Toranados
Some of the members were session players in the British recording industry. These members included Clem Cattini on drums, Alan Caddy, who played the lead guitar part on a double cutaway Chet Atkins Gretsch model (also a Duo-Jet), George Bellamy who played o rhythm guitar on a mid 1950’s acoustic Gretsch model 6030 , that had an aftermarket pickup built into the pickguard (also seen with a Gretsch Anniversary), Heinz Burt, who played bass on a Framus Star bass guitar, and Geoff Goddard who played the Clavioline and did the vocal.

The Original Telestar Record
The Telestar song sold over 5 million copies and won awards. And though it was not a Surf song, it was a very important instrumental in rock/pop music history for this period.

Click on the links below the images for sources. Click on the links in the text for more information.
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JLM said...

I put a set of those Fender flatwound Master sound strings on my guitar in 1969 and still have some of the envelopes like the one shown.