Friday, October 16, 2020

Eddie Van Halen


Eddie Van Halen
Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born January 26, 1955 and passed away on October 6, 2020. In my life time I can recall only two guitar players that changed Rock guitar technique forever. One of these players was Jimi Hendrix. The other was Eddie Van Halen. 

In 1972 Eddie co-founded the rock band Van Halen along with his brother, Alex Van Halen, and their friend, bass player Mark Stone. They went on to become one of the world's most popular and game changing rock groups.

Van Halen "tapping"
on guitar

Eddie Van Halen's specialty was called two-handed tapping. Though Eddie did not invent the tapping technique, which is a method of playing guitar by tapping the strings on the fretboard with the hand that one usually strums or plucks the strings, he certainly perfected it.

Eddie Van Halen "Eruption"
This style was first featured in the 1978 instrumental solo on the Van Halen song  “Eruption”. This brought Van Halen enough attention to be recognized in a Guitar World poll as one of the “100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time.” 

Tapping was a technique used in Turkish folk music. It has also been used by flamenco guitarists for at least a century. Even Western virtuosos like violinist Paganini used this technique on both violin and guitar. 

Steve Hackett, the lead guitarist with Genesis in the 1970’s, is "widely credited with inventing two-handed tapping" for Rock guitar. He was a big influence on Eddie. 

When asked about this, Hackett said, "Eddie and I have never spoken about it, but yes, he has credited me with tapping. George Lynch said in an interview that he and Eddie saw Harvey Mandel tap at the Starwood in the 1970s. 

Jimmy Page

Eddie also cited Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin as a big influence, saying in an interview with Guitar World: “I think I got the idea of tapping watching Jimmy Page do his "Heartbreaker" solo back in 1971. He was doing a pull-off to an open string, and I thought wait a minute, open string pull off. I can do that, but what if I use my finger as the nut and move it around? I just kind of took it and ran with it.” 

Jimmy Webster

A guitarist named Jimmy Webster that demonstrated Gretsch guitars in the 1950’s  developed a method of two handed tapping. He was encouraged to play in this style by Harry DeArmond, the inventor, manufacturer, and owner of DeArmond pickups, as a way of testing his company’s products. 

Prior to him, Roy Smeck, who was a guitarist, but mainly known as a ukulele player, used the two-handed tapping technique. 

In 1969, Emmett Chapman invented an instrument called The Chapman Stick. This instrument was played exclusively by tapping the bass and treble strings. 

Eddie Van Halen and his brother Alex were born in Amsterdam. The family later moved to the Dutch East Indies. They left due to the racially prejudice threats experienced by Eddie's mother, who was half Indonesian.

Alex and Eddie Van Halen

In 1962 the family immigrated to the United States and settled in Pasadena, California. The family all became naturalized citizens. Eddie was always proud of “living the American Dream.” At the time, none of the family spoke English, and arrived with only $50 and a piano. 

Eddie Van Halen’s father was a professional clarinetist, and sent Eddie and his five siblings for piano lessons. Like many people I know, Eddie learned from watching and listening instead of reading music. His teacher realized this and suggested that Eddie might do well on a different instrument. Later on Eddie bought a guitar, and his brother Alex bought a drum kit. 

In elementary school they formed a band called The Broken Combs and played cover songs that were popular at the time. Eddie played piano and Alex played saxophone in this group.

By 1972 Eddie and his brother Alex formed a new band. Two years later they called the band "Van Halen" and they became a staple of the Los Angeles music scene playing in well known clubs.

Van Halen in 1972-73
By 1977 Van Halen caught the attention of a Warner Brother record producer and were offered a recording contract. The Van Halen album reached number 19 on Billboard’s Pop Music charts. Their song Jump reached #1 in 1984 and they received a Grammy nomination. 

By 1992 Van Halen won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance for the album Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. The band charted 13 number one hits on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart, and Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

Eddie Van Halen Invention
Eddie was involved in other projects outside of his band with some other notable rock artists. Eddie Van Halen was also an inventor and he held three patents, all related to the guitar. One of these was a folding prop to support a guitar in a flat position, to aid in two handed tapping. He also invented a tension adjusting guitar tailpiece, and an ornamental guitar design for a headstock. 


The Frankenstrat
Later Eddie put together his own guitar which he called The Frankenstrat. The maple neck cost $80, while the body, which he found in a pile of seconds at Boogie Body, and bought it for only $50 since the wood had a knot in it. The tremolo arm was originally taken from a 1958 Fender Stratocaster. He later replaced it with a Floyd Rose arm. 

Eddie installed a single Gibson PAF (patent applied for) bridge pickup from a Gibson ES-335, which he enclosed with paraffin wax to prevent feedback. 

The Frankenstrat was originally painted black, but Eddie later recoated it with Schwinn red bicycle paint in 1979. He used tape to get the the unique striped effect. 

Eddie used a variety of pickups including 1970s Mighty Mites, which were made by Seymour Duncan and were designed as copies of DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups. Eddie also used Gibson PAFs in the Strat, one of which was rewound by Seymour Duncan in 1978. 

In 1992 Eddie inked a deal with the Peavey Company to design a tube amplifier called the 5150. The amps unusual name came from the California Law enforcement code for a mentally disturbed person. 5150 was also the name that Eddie had given to his home studio. The Peavey deal lasted until 2004.  Peavey renamed the amplifier the 6505. 

The 5150 amplifier has five cascading pre-amplifiers and achieves some of it’s sound due to it’s lowered fixed bias. Lowering the voltage to the tubes and gives more control over the gain setting. Prior to this Van Halen had used a Variac on his Marshall amplifiers to lower the voltage achieving what he called “The Brown Sound”. 

Before joining forces with Peavey, Eddie had endorsed Charvel and Ernie Ball Music Man instruments. In 1996 Peavey introduced a guitar that Eddie had aided in designing and called The Wolfgang Guitar which was named after Eddie’s son.  


For Van Halen's 2012 tour, and early 2015 television appearance's, he used a Wolfgang USA guitar with a black finish and ebony fretboard. For the 2015 tour, he used a white Wolfgang USA guitar, which was designed by Chip Ellis. These guitars featured kill switch that allowed Eddie to get some stuttering volume effects.

For the Wolfgang's pickup selection Eddie used a variety of pickups including 1970s Mighty Mites, which were made by Seymour Duncan and were copies of DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups. Eddie also used Gibson PAFs, one of which was rewound by Seymour Duncan in 1978. 

In an interview with Guitar World in 1985, Eddie stated that his guitar sound which he called "brown sound" is "...basically a tone, a feeling that I'm always working at . It comes from the person. If the person doesn't even know what that type of tone I'm talking about is, they can't really work towards it, can they?" 

In an interview with Billboard magazine in June 2015, he stated that with the expression "brown sound" he is including his guitar sound and also the sound of his brother Alex's snare drum, which he thought "...sounds like he’s beating on a log. It’s very organic."

Valerie Bertinelli and
Eddie Van Halen
In 1993 Van Halen met actress Valerie Bertinelli at a concert in Shreveport, Louisiana. The two married in California a year later and had one son that they named Wolfgang. 

By 2005, Bertinelli filed for divorce in Los Angeles after four years of separation. She said this was due to Eddie's addiction. The divorce was finalized in 2007. 

The following year, Eddie proposed to his girlfriend, Janie Liszewski, an actress and stuntwoman who was also Van Halen's publicist at the time. They married in 2009, at his Studio City estate, with his son Wolfgang and ex-wife Bertinelli in attendance. 

Eddie Van Halen struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse for much of his life. He began smoking and drinking at the early age of 12.  He stated that he eventually needed alcohol just to function. Eddie entered rehabilitation in 2007, and later shared in an interview that he has been sober since 2008. 

Van Halen In Concert
Suffering from lingering injuries due to past, high-risk, acrobatic stage performances and crashes, Van Halen underwent hip replacement surgery in 1999, after chronic avascular necrosis of the femur. He was diagnosed with this condition in 1995, and it became unbearable. 

He began receiving treatment for tongue cancer in 2000. The subsequent surgery removed roughly a third of his tongue. He was declared cancer-free in 2002.

Eddie Van Halen
He blamed the tongue cancer on his habit of holding guitar picks in his mouth, stating in 2015: "I used metal picks – they're made of brass and copper – which I always held in my mouth, in the exact place where I got the tongue cancer.  I mean, I was smoking and doing a lot of drugs and a lot of everything. But at the same time, my lungs are totally clear. This is just my own theory, but the doctors say it's possible." 

In 2012, Van Halen underwent an emergency surgery for a severe bout of diverticulitis.

Recovery time required due to the surgery led to postponement of Van Halen tour dates scheduled in Japan. 

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications 2020 (text only)

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Harley Benton And The Hard Luck Kings. Who Are These Guys?


Harley Benton and The Hard Luck Kings

Just about every time I get on any social media platform I am deluged with advertisements for guitars offered by Harley Benton and The Hard Luck Kings. Who are these guys? 

Is there an actual guy named Harley Benton? And what about those Hard Luck Kings? There are times I could relate to those hard luck guys, but who the heck are they? Inquiring minds want answers, so I began a search for the truth. And here are the results. 

Thomann Farm in Bavaria

Harley Benton guitars
are a brand created by one of the largest music retailer in Europe; Musikhaus Thomann. This company is located in the town of Treppendorf, and is a part of the village of Brurgebach, in the German state of Bavaria. 

Hans Thomann Sr and Family

In 1954  a Mister, or Herr Hans Thomann
quit his job as a traveling musician. He was playing trumpet as a traveling musician, and he worked in some of Europe’s finest circuses. He also worked on his families farm. 

During the 1960’s Thomann began travelling throughout Germany to sell brass musical instruments. He eventually converted part of his farm house and barn into a music showroom. 

Thomann Hot Deals

By the early 1990’s he began printing out flyers with “Hot Deals” and distributing them through the mail.  The company's goal was to offer quality musical instruments at great prices.

In 1997 the company created it’s internet site and store, which helped bypass Germany’s BTX postal system. 

By 1998 the company acquired RoadStar, which was Europe’s largest mail order music retailer. I remember RoadStar advertisements during those days.

That same year the family's home was sold which allowed the company to create a larger facility. 

By 1999 the first call center was opened. 

In 2003 a new logistic center was built. Since then the company has continued to grow and win awards ever since. And it continues to be run as a family business and has been run by Hans Thomann Jr since 1997. 

Musikhaus Thomann has created many of their own brands of musical instruments, and among them are Harley Benton stringed instruments. 

These include student grade guitars and basses, also mandolins,banjos, lap steels, electric violins, and harmonicas. Thomann offers other brands as well including Epiphone, Gretsch, Dusenberg, Gibson, Fender, and Maton.

However Harley Benton instruments are the house brand and they are built in Asian countries that include Vietnam, China, and Indonesia. I am told that the best Harley Benton models are built in Vietnam. 

The company is very conscientious about quality control and applies the same standards that Fender, Epiphone, Ibanez and other companies do for quality standards. 

I am told that some Harley Benton models are heavy, although the bodies are generally made of basswood or Sapele (which in m opinion is rather heavy when compared to Mahogany).

Harley Benton Guitars
I am also told that the neck radius is rather flat. I own a classical guitar which also has a flat radius. Most of my other instruments have a .12” radius, although my first guitar, a ‘57 Stratocaster, had a very round .9” radius. 

It is also said that the newer Harley Benton instruments are superior to the older ones. The company goes the extra mile to make certain the frets are properly dressed, and the electronics are in good order. 

Harley Benton DIY Kits

The guitars are relatively inexpensive, and the company even offers DIY kits for those who want to customize their instrument. 

I will put in this caveat. There are some great reviews for Harley Benton guitars, and there are some negative reviews. I am told that if you are dissatisfied with your purchase, the company will return your money. The company moto is the customer is always right.

Harley Benton also offers several low power amplifiers and speaker cabinets. And the company aslo offers guitar effect pedals. One of the pluses is that you are buying directly from the manufacturer.

 Now, who the heck are those Hard Luck Kings? 

Hard Luck Kings was founded by Southern California resident Mark Goldstein, who’s said to have a  passion for rebel culture and rock n roll.

Hard Luck Kings
This led in 2010 him to create a unique guitar company
. His vision was to create guitars that are conducive to punk, rock, or country, and convey a sort of rebel image. 

Goldstein was a vice president for DW Drums prior to starting Hard Luck Kings. He says his company now offers several different guitar models including the Bossman, Bombshell, Southern Belle, Spider, Fat Daddy bass and the Lady Luck.

All of our guitars are traditional body designs, however each has it’s own custom fret marker. 

Chop Chop Strat &
Coupe DeVille LP

They also offer a Chop Shop series that include Rosewood fretboards, and the Coupe DeVille series that come with Ebony fretboards. 

Goldstein says that Hard Luck Kings is purposely underpricing the competition considering you’re getting the guitar which we professionally set up, and we pay shipping costs in the USA and Canada. The company also offers guitar cases at reasonable prices. 

He says he is constantly get told by consumers & pro’s who receive our gear that our prices are way too low. However, in these rough economic times we’re trying to give the consumer a great value at a fair price. 

Everything Hardl Luck Kings offers is currently available online at or you can check the “Dealers” section on our site. 

We also recently loaded our apparel into one of the Southern California’s premiere Harley Davidson Dealerships, Barger Harley Davidson. 

Hard Luck Kings Series 21

The company is currently working on some HLK Kustoms which are our guitar models with custom paint jobs and and real high end components. 

Goldstein is proud of the fact that he has never run an ad in a print magazine, and has a large following on Facebook at

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications 2020 (text only)

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Some Of The Weird Amplifiers That I Have Had The Pleasure To Have Known


I'm the kid with the Stratocaster
I started playing guitar when I was 13 years old.  Shortly afterward I began hanging out at the local music stores to take lessons and check out the new guitars and amplifiers. If I wasn't able to get there, I would call the stores bugging the heck out of the salesmen hoping they would tell me all about the latest gear. 

This past year I’ve had to rely on the internet since many music stores have temporarily closed, and I am leery to visit those that are still open. I’m doubtful if Guitar Center sanitizes all those guitar necks and the strings. I hope I'm wrong. I don't know if one can catch COVID from playing guitars that others have touched, but I ain't taking any chances.

Through the years I have come up close and personal with some of the most unusual guitars and amplifiers ever created. Sometimes I shake my head and ask myself, “who in the world came up with this idea?” So here are a few amplifiers that I’ve had the pleasure to have known. 

1969 Fender Bantam Bass

Around 1971 I came across this seemingly normal looking Silverface Fender amplifier at a local music store. It is called The Fender Bantam Bass amplifier. From outward appearances it looked like a Fender Bassman in a combo enclosure. 

The obvious difference from the amp's front was the addition of a mid-range control that is not found on a Bassman. However if you looked at the back of the amplifier you found this very weird 15" trapezoidal Styrofoam coned speaker which was manufactured by the Yamaha Corporation.

I am told these speakers were not very dependable and frequently blew out when the amp's 30 watts were pushed to hard. However if you are looking for a bargain, and are willing to swap out the speaker these amps are a bargain and selling for around $700, which is muchless than the price most vintage Silverface Fender amps are going for these days. 

Acoustic Image Contra bass amp

Earlier this decade Jazz guitar and bass players were looking for a small dependable amplifier. The Acoustic Image Company was founded by a sound engineer. The company makes amps that are very compact, loud, and can be easily transported in a backpack. 

Acoustic Image Contra amp

The original Contra Series Bass amp pumped out 300 watts into a 5" front firing" driver, and a 10" "down firing" driver that was located on the base of the amplifier. Yes, the speaker faced the floor. This amp came with two little feet that elevated the amp's front end a wee-bit to allow the sound to bounce off the floor. 

On the other end of the spectrum was an amplifier created by the Ampeg Company for Jazz guitarist Johnny Smith. Not enough can be said regarding Smith's contribution to the Jazz guitar. His style is still taught and studied. 

Through his career Smith utilized several amplifiers, but perhaps the most unusual was his "Fountain of Sound" Ampeg model JS-35. This 35 watt guitar amp came with high, volume, treble and bass controls, three inputs, an off-standby-power switch, and a 15' Ampeg speaker. 

The odd thing was that the amplifier was designed with four detachable legs so the amp lay flat like a table. The speaker pointed straight up supposedly allowing the sound to flow around like "a fountain of sound". The amplifier never really caught on with the public. Smith later endorsed a different amplifier that he sold through his music store.

When the Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, every adolescent in the United States wanted to be a rock star. Companies scrambled to get guitars from any source they could. The Sears company was already ahead of the game since they owned The Harmony Company, which built guitars and other stringed instruments for Sears and other retailers. Sears which sold musical instruments under the Silvertone brand also shopped out their amplifiers to several manufacturing companies. One these manufacturers was the Danelectro company who offered two different models of guitar cases which had built in amplifiers as early as 1963.

Silvertone 1448/1449

The 1448/1449 model included either a one pickup (1448) or two pickup (1449) guitar that came with an amplifier in the case. The amp had a 5" speaker, a single volume control, a single input, an on/off switch, a rectifier tube, a power tube, and a preamp tube. It probably put out 3 to 4 watts. The guitar/amp retailed for an affordable $67.95. 

Silvertone 1457

The model 1449/1457 included a two pickup Danelectro made Formica guitar, but with a much better amplifier built into the case.  This amplifier contained an 8" speaker, along with a rectifier tube, two 6V6 power tubes, and a 12AX7 preamp tube, The controls included a volume, and a tone control, and two tremolo controls; strenght and speed. This amp had two inputs, and an input for a footswitch fo the tremolo effect, and an on/off switch. It came with a larger transformer. It pumped out a little more power, probably 8 to 10 watts. It sold for $99.95 for the guitar and amp combination. 

Remember the Fender bass amp with the Yamaha Styrofoam speaker that I just wrote about?  

TA90, TA60, TA30, & TA20

In 1970 the Yamaha Corporation offered a whole series of amplifiers that included trapezoidal Styrofoam speaker baffles. To make things even weirder, these amps came in triangular wedge shapes. The Yamaha TA series included the TA20, TA30, TA60, TA90, and TA120 solid-state amplifiers. 

1970 Yamaha TA30

The TA30 was enclosed in the wedged shape cabinet with the control panel on the amplifiers top and the inputs were on the side. The amplifier section was housed at the cabinet's base, with the speaker mounted above it. The TA30 was a 30 watt twin channel amplifier. 

Yamaha TA60

The speaker was supposed to represent the shape of a human ear. To me that is a stretch of the imagination. These speakers were used in Yamaha organs of the day. The TA20 amplifier was a single channel version with a smaller speaker. 

The TA60 pumped 60 watts of power into two of the Styrofoam speakers. The TA90 consisted of a PE90 head, and the TS90 cabinet which housed three Styrofoam speakers. 

Yamaha TA120

The Yamaha TA120 was a stereo amp that housed two 60 watt amplifiers and four Styrofoam speakers. This amp was mounted on a detachable roller dolly. I have come across only a few of these TA amplifiers since they were a short-lived venture. 

I remember being a 13 year old kid waiting to take my guitar lesson at Dodd's Music Store in Kentucky. The store had been a jewelry store, but when the guitar craze hit the owner decided to dedicate the store to guitars and amplifiers. 

Magnatone M15A

One of the amps that caught my attention was a Magnatone M15A amplifier. These amps were different than the Fender models that store stocked. The top of these amplifiers appear to be made of a plastic material. 

M15 Control Panel

The two channel control panel had a silver appearance and was laid out much differently than Fender amps of 1964. 

This particular model housed two 12" speakers. It had a wheat colored grill cloth that went around the sides of the amplifier. 

Another model in the store was the M15 which had three 8" speakers, one of which was dedicated for reverb.

Lonnie Mack with Magnatone
and Fender amps

What I didn't know at the time was that my guitar hero, Lonnie Mack, used one of these amplifiers to get his sound.  He paired it up to drive a Fender Bandmaster.These Maganatone amplifiers had true vibrato, which actually frequency modulation vibrato, which shifted the pitch, as opposed to Fender's version; Tremolo; which interrupted the signal. 

Originally Magnatone was marketing their amplifiers to accordion players, but the stereo vibrato made a wonderful guitar effect. (In later year Lonnie Mack used a Roland JC120 with additional speakers, since it was a louder and more roadworthy amplifier).  

Mike Matthews

One of the music businesses most flamboyant business owners is Mike Matthews, who is the founder of Electro-Harmonix, the company that is famous for all those great guitar pedals. Around 1971 Matthews determined the need for a battery powered amplifier to be used at venues that did not have access to electricity. 

The only battery powered guitar amplifier available at the time was the 3 watt Pignose. 

Mike Matthews
Freedom Amp

Matthews came up with the Mike Matthews Freedom Amplifier. These amplifers were available in three versions; a guitar amplifier, a bass guitar amplifier, and a PA system. All were available in three power options, AC, AC/DC, and DC only. 

Mike Matthew Freedom Amp

The guitar amp, which is the only one I am acquainted, with, pumped 55 watts of power into a heavy duty 10" CTS speaker. It is covered with black Tolex, with black grill cloth.  There were three control knobs; Volume, Tone, Bite, two inputs and an on/off switch. This little beast ran off of 40 - D cell batteries.

Can you believe it!  40 D - Cells! 

Matthews Freedom Amp
The amp sold for around $200 when it first was offered. It ran on transistors on a circuit board, and was wired to the transformer and speaker.  At the time most stores sold D batteries in a twin pack for $1.25. Forty batteries would run $50.00 and they probably would last only six to eight hours. It was not very practical.

Mike Matthews
Dirt Road Special

Later on Matthews came out with a similar amp that ran on AC power.  This was The Mike Matthews Dirt Road Special. This amp pumped 25 watts into 12" Celestion speaker. It had only one input, a Volume, Tone, and Bite control. The neat this was that it came with a built in Small Stone Phaser that had a Rate control.  All for $250 in 1977.

The Small Stone was a popular effect at the time. Once again the amp was covered with black Tolex, and had a black grill cloth. 

Around 1990 an updated version of the Matthews Freedom Amp came out in a smaller version with a pine cabinet, a printed circuit board, and a wall charger.  

The Dirt Road Special was also updated and offered in 2019. Power rating for the reissue is 40 watts RMS, and the amp has built-in reverb instead of a phase shifter.

Over the years I have come across a lot of amplifiers and owned a few. I cannot say these were my favorites, but they were certainly were the most unusual.

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further information.
©UniqueGuitar Publication 2020 (text only)

Here is the original recording of Lonnie Mack's Memphis through his Magnatone amp.