Friday, November 28, 2014

Andres Segovia's Guitars

Andres Segovia is the epitome of classical guitar playing. He is the standard by which other players are measured. There may be those that are better, however when we think of classical guitar, we think Segovia.

Andres was born in the southern part of Spain known as Andulusia. His first experiences with guitar were with the flamenco music played in town. Flamenco music was the popular music of the day. At age ten, Andres was living with his uncle and aunt and a decision was made to move to Granada so that Andres could get a formal education. It was here that he received his first guitar.

Apparently at this early age, Segovia was already playing and performing on the guitar. His first guitar was from his friend Michael Ceron in exchange for teaching Michael all he knew about playing guitar. The guitar was build by luthier Benito Ferrer of Granada.

When Segovia was twelve he heard flamenco guitarist Gabriel Ruiz Almadovar playing the classical music of Tarrega. When Segovia met Almadovar he was told, “Did not you know that this music and others of various composers are in print?” This lead Andres to search libraries, shops and even private homes for the music for the guitar. His search for Tarregas composition came to a dead end.

It can possibly be explained because Tarrega never played music by any of those who had written for guitar. His aim to popularize the guitar and its music with his own music transcribed compositions of others.

Young Segovia carried the ideal throughout his life of not just popularizing the guitar, but also compositions of other non-guitar composers that he transcribed. Due to economic problems and the difficulty of finding a worthy instructor, Segovia moved to Cordoba and decided he would be his own instructor and pupil.

Failure during a 1909 performance gave him the push to continue by studying with some friends who were piano instructors. He believed that by studying scales and some proven piano techniques he could better his ability to master the guitar. By years end he gave another performance with much improved results.

At this time he set his goal upon mastery of the classical guitar. In his own words, “Suddenly I decided to become an apostle of the guitar.”

He then moved to Madrid. He knew that the Benito Ferrer guitar was not sufficient to meet his goals. In Madrid he went to the shop of Manuel Ramirez and asked to see his best guitar with the intent of renting the instrument. Ramirez laughed at the boy. He had not even brought a letter of recommendation.

1912 M. Ramirez
It was then Segovia started playing the instrument. One of the customers in the shop at the time was Don Jose del Hierro, a violin professor at the Royal Conservatory. He congratulated him on his technique and suggested that his skill was lost on the guitar, why did he not learn violin?

Segovia stood his ground and let the professor know that he was devoted to the guitar saying that he had walked in the steps of Francisco Terrega.

It was Terraga who devoted his life to the guitar with little hope of glory or vanity. At this point Manuel Ramirez was moved and effectively said, “Take the guitar kid. It’s yours. Make it flourish in your hands with your good work. Pay me back with something other than money. Do you understand?”

1912 M. Ramirez
It is important to note that the reputation of Ramirez in 1912 was not quite the legacy it is today. The professional guitarists were playing guitars built by Torres and all the artisans of the day were copying his work. Suffice to say, this does not take anything away from the excellent instrument that Segovia was given. He made use of the M. Ramirez guitar through 1937.

Miguel Llobet
By 1915 Andres Segovia gave a concert at the Paris Conservatory and in 1916 in Barcelona. By 1919 he did a successful tour of South America. Perhaps it was fortunate that another famous classical guitarist, Miguel Llobet was popular at the time.

Llobet was also an innovator that was transcribing folk works for the guitar and composing his own pieces. This strengthened public interest in the guitar.

In 1921 Segovia was introduced to Alexandre Tansman, who wrote a number of guitar works for Segovia, including one that won a prize at the Siena International Composition contest years later in 1952.

In 1924 Segovia visited the German luthier Hermann Hauser Sr. after hearing some of his instrument played at a concert in Munich. Four years later, Hauser presented Segovia with one of his personal guitars for use during his first United States tour and other concerts in 1933.

Charlie Byrd
Segovia passed this guitar on to his close friend Sophocles Papas, a U.S. Representative. Papas in turn gave it to his classical guitar student, Charlie Byrd. Byrd used the guitar on several recordings.

Fritz Kreisler
The 1928 United States tour was arranged by the popular Viennese volinist, Fritz Kreisler. Kreisler privately played guitar and encouraged Segovia to come to New York City. As a result of this debut tour the Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos composed his well-known Twelve Etudes and dedicated them to Segovia.

Heitor Villa-lobos
This also cemented a lasting relationship as Villa-Lobos continued to write for Segovia. Segovia also befriended composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco in Venice who went on to compose a number of guitar works for Segovia.

In 1935 Segovia gave his first public performance of Bach's Chaconne, which is a very difficult piece that Segovia had transcribed for guitar. After this composers recognized his genius and dedicated works for guitar to him.
By 1981 Segovia, the kid from Andalusia was enrobed by King Juan Carlos I of Spain who gave him the hereditary title of Margues de Salobrena.

Segovia lived in semi-retirement but would occasionally work into his old age. To be a student of Segovia was quite an honor, although I am told he was quite a task master.

Segovia's Grave
He died at age 94 and is buried in his home town in Andalusia.

Segovia described his 1937 Hermann Hauser Sr. guitar that was gifted to him from the famous German luthier as “The greatest guitar of our epoch.”

The luthier had sent him 2 guitars every years for the next 13 years. Segovia’s remarks were always similar. “This is a very faithful copy (of his M. Ramirez) but with no soul.”

Finally this Hauser guitar was received to the Maestros ecstasy and put to use in his concerts and recordings for the next quarter century.

Segovia was very demanding when it came to his instruments. He had been inseparable from this instrument until 1961 when a microphone fell on it during a recording. From then on he claimed it never sounded the same. His initial meeting with Hauser was in 1924.

Segovia’s final guitar was made in the workshop of the Ramirez dynasty in Madrid, Spain. The work was overseen by Jose Ramirez III. Journeymen builders did most of the work. Ramirez had trained them in their craft.

This guitar was actually built by Paulino Bernabe. It has his initials stamped inside the guitars heel. In 1969 Bernabe left Ramirez and set out on his own, becoming one of the most sought after luthiers of the latter 20th century.

This guitar had a 650mm scale with a wider fingerboard. It was given the designation by Ramirez of “1a” as a model standardization. The top was spruce, the back and sides were rosewood and the fretboard was ebony. The instrument is very light as is the construction.

It was restored by luthier Aaron Green for the Metropolitan Museum. The sound is said to be dark, but with a sparkling quality.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Jeff Healey - A Unique Guitar Player

There have been more than a few self taught guitar players that play standard guitar on their lap. Thumbs Carllile comes to mind. And so does Jeff Healey.

Jeff Healey grew up in Toronto, Ontario. When he was only one year old he developed a rare cancer of the eyes called retinoblastoma.

Both eyes had to be surgically removed. He began playing the guitar at the age of three.

This is when he developed the style of playing the instrument flat on his lap. When he first started playing the guitar, Healey often played country music in the style of Chet Atkins and Luther Perkins, but his musical experience was wide-ranging.

He played guitar and trumpet in all the jazz and concert bands in his high school. While in high school, Healey and his friends liked to listen to music by guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Albert Collins, and Buddy Guy. Although he did not graduate from high school, Healey privately studied music theory, earning a certificate in harmony and arranging.

Healey claimed, because his unconventional style of holding the guitar made other band members uncomfortable. He formed his first band at age 15. Blues Direction played cover tunes at local venues. However Jeff really loved Jazz; the old time version.

At one point in his career he hosted a Jazz and Blues show on the FM radio station CIUT. The format on this show consisted of Jeff’s collection of vintage over 30,000 78 rpm gramophone records.

Jeff moved on from Blues Direction and formed the Jeff Healey Band with drummer Tom Stephen and bassist Joe Rockman and they played at local Toronto night spots.

Shortly after its formation, the Jeff Healey Band toured extensively, giving between 200 and 300 concerts annually in Canada for about two years. Not wanting to bore audiences visually, Healey adopted a more active concert style, roaming the stage, picking strings with his teeth, and playing with his guitar behind his head.

One night in late 1985 Healey and a friend went to hear Texas bluesmaster Albert Collins at a club in Toronto. Healey's friend convinced Collins to let the then 19-year-old Healey sit in for one song;

Collins kept Healey on stage for an hour and invited him to come back a few nights later to play with Collins's friend, guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. After the latter performance, Healey was flooded with calls for club dates. This is when he quickly put together The Jeff Healey Band; a trio with drummer Tom Stephen, whom he knew from jam sessions, and studio bassist Joe Rockman.

When BB King heard him play, he told Jeff, "I've never seen anything like it. Your execution is the best I've ever seen. Stick with it, and you'll be bigger than Stevie Ray Vaughan, Stanley Jordan, and B.B. King."

The Jeff Healey Band made a video demo tape with a Toronto based production company. Bassist Tom Stephen presented the tape to New York City record producers but he returned, unable to spark any interest—or so he thought. Several weeks later, however, the Jeff Healey Band was approached and signed by Arista Records. A contract was inked with Arista Records in 1988.

Jimmy Iovine
Healey was fortunate enough to team up with Jimmy Iovine as producer of his first LP. Iovine was asked to line the band up to appear in a movie that needed a soundtrack. The script called for a young blind blues-rock guitarist. It turns out the movies writer had seen The Jeff Healey Band play in Toronto and knew just what he wanted. The band set out to record the soundtrack which debuted as their first album.

Jeff was offered speaking parts in the Patrick Swayze film Road House. The Jeff Healey Band was asked to record the soundtrack and was offered speaking parts in Road House, a film starring actor Patrick Swayze.

This same year The Jeff Healey Band recorded the LP; See The Light. From this recording, the group had their first and only hit song; Angel Eyes. Angel Eyes hit number five on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1989. Road House opened the door for The Jeff Healey Band.

They  made guest appearances on the major TV talk shows. The group was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

Receiving Juno Award
In 1990 The Jeff Healey Band won the Juno Award for Canadian Entertainer of the Year. The next albums were Hell to Pay and Feel. From these recordings, Healey and the group had ten charting singles between 1990 and 1994.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Healey was fortunate enough to record a version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps which featured George Harrison and Jeff Lynne on backing vocals and acoustic guitar. The album, Hell to Pay,  also featured Mark Knopfer and Paul Schaeffer. Four of the songs on this recording were Healey originals.

Healey's final album for Arista was 1995's Cover to Cover. This was a collection of blues and rock covers such as the Beatles' "Yer Blues" and Stealer Wheels' "Stuck in the Middle with You," rearranged to fit Healey's stomping blues style. Although it became a number one Blues album, it did not dent the pop market.

Healey’s days in the Pop – Blues/Rock market were numbered. In 2000 Healey released another LP called Get Me Some. It is apparent in this album that Jeff began to concentrate more on Jazz than Rock.

He released three CD’s of traditional American jazz music of songs from the 1920’s and ‘30’s.

In this venue he also played trumpet, which he also played in live performances.

He started a new group called Jeff Healey’s Jazz Wizards. He also went back to hosting radio for the CBC and did a show called My Kind of Jazz. The show went on to air in repeat performances. Jeff went on to tour and also perform at a Jazz club he opened on Bathurst Street in Toronto called Healey’s.

This club later moved to 56 Blue Jays Way and was renamed Jeff Healey’s Roadhouse.

Throughout the years Healey had toured with many other performers including The Allman Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, BB King, ZZ Top, Steve Lukather, Eric Clapton and Deep Purple.

He had planned on an extensive tour of Europe, but his health issues precluded him from continuing In January of 2007 cancer caused two metastatic tumors to develop in his lungs and he had two tumors removed from his legs.

By March of 2008 cancer had claimed his life. He was only 41 years old when he passed away.

A month later his last album, Mess of Blues was posthumously released. This was his first rock/blues album in eight years. Healey was honored by being inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame.

In 2011, Woodford Park in Toronto was renamed Jeff Healey Park.

Healey played a black Fender Squire Strat, a white standard Strat, and a black Jackson six-and-twelve-string doubleneck on his lap.

His right hand picks and strums, while his left runs wildly across the strings of the headboard. "I tried playing guitar the normal way, but I just wasn't very comfortable," declared Healey in an interview with Oregon Statesman-Journal reporter Ron Cowan, "so I decided to hold it in my lap and work out all the chords that way." Healey’s equipment was rather sparse compared to some of today’s artists.

For guitars Jeff mainly used Japanese made Squier Strats with Red Evans pickups. Later in his career he did use custom made U.S. Strats, with 3 single coil Evans pickups. Later on he swapped them out for Seymour Duncan SH-5 humbuckers that allowed him to coil tap.

Jeff had a double neck Jackson guitar. Jeff may have briefly used an Ibanez guitar.

With The Jazz Wizards, Jeff used a vintage Gibson L-12 from between the 1930-40’s period. Jeff Healey preferred Fender Pro-Tube Twin amplifiers.

On the road he used reissued Fender Black Face Twin Reverb amps. He also was known to use a Marshall JCM 800 and a Matchless Super Chief.

With the Jazz Wizard, he did not need all that power and he used a Fender Pro Jr. His effects use was also very minimal.

Early on Jeff utilized DOD pedals and later switched to Boss pedals including the following: Boss BD-2 Blues Driver Boss OD-1 Overdrive Boss Chorus Ensemble pedal Boss Compressor sustainer Boss Digital Delay Boss GE-7 Equalizer Vox Wah pedal

He also made use of a wireless system to connect his guitars with the amplifier.

He may have made use of a Leslie speaker in the studio. On stage this was replaced with the chorus pedal.


This is from the Road House Movie

Sunday, November 16, 2014

ESP Guitars

ESP Guitars aka ESP Company Limited is the trade name of Kabushiki Gaisha, a Japanese guitar manufacturer that builds electric guitars and basses. The company is based in Japan and also in the USA and builds distinctive products for each prospective market.

Like many other companies, ESP only build mass produced guitars and basses, but custom shop instruments as well.

Hisatake Shibuya

The company had its beginning in 1975 when Hisatake Shibuya opened a shop in Tokyo called Electric Sound Products. His store sold replacement parts for guitars. He gained a good reputation for providing high quality parts.

Shortly after opening his shop began crafting their own guitars under the ESP brand and Navigator brand in the Japanese market. Ronnie Wood became aware of ESP instruments and began using them. By the 1980’s ESP replacement parts were introduced in the USA.

ESP 400 Series 1984

By 1984 ESP began building custom guitars for well known artists including Vernon Reid, Vinnie Vincent and Bruce Kulick. Around this same era ESP introduced the 400 Series to US markets.

They also began making bodies and necks for Kramer Guitars, Robin Guitars, Schechter Guitar Research and DiMarzio.

By 1985 guitarist George Lynch discovered ESP guitars while touring Tokyo. He was looking for a replacement neck and walked into Mr. Shibuya’s shop.

The result of this encounter was his Kamikaze guitar, which became ESP’s first signature model. This was followed by several other models including the M1 Standard, MI Customer, Horizon Custom and Surveyor bass.

ESP  USA president, Matt Masciandaro
By 1989 ESP moved their headquarters to New York Citys music row on 48th Street. During the early 1990’s ESP USA concentrated on expanding its signature series of guitars and basses as well as its Custom shop series. The replacement parts business was discontinued.

In 1993 ESP moved their headquarters to Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard. A few years later the LTD series was created to produce high quality guitars and basses and a consumer friendly price. ESP also introduced Korean and Indonesian made LTD instruments. Due to high tariffs ESP quit selling much of its Japanese made guitars in the United States. This resumed in 2000 when trade regulations became more favorable.

In 1996, ESP started LTD series. These guitars are similar to lower-end ESP guitars, but are more affordable and cater mainly for markets outside of Japan. The 1000 series LTD’s are made on an assembly line in Korea and the 401 series and below are made in Indonesia. The LTD bass guitars, including the B-204 are beginner and intermediate player models, which are built in Korea.

By 2002 ESP was moving up in the ranks and outselling their competition. Much of the could be attributed to Fender buying out Jackson Guitars. Fender had hoped this purchase would increase their sales and presence with Heavy Metal players, however many of the top artists that were using Jackson guitar jumped ship and either endorsed ESP or Dean guitars.

2005 ESP Paramount

By 2005 ESP introduced their Xtone Line which included the Paramount semi-hollow Series.

ESP JH Truckster

This was ESP’s 30th Anniversary and to celebrate they created the James Hetfield Truckster model in their signature line-up.

By the following year ESP was offering 22 new Signature and Standard models at the NAMM Winter Show, which included the ESP LTD EC-500 and ESP LTD B-500.  Artists at the ESP booth that were autographing guitars included Dave Mustaine, George Lynch, Stephen Carpenter, Michael Wilson and Page Hamilton.

ESP hand builds its Custom Shop and Original Series models in Japan. The Standard Series models are made in Japan at the company’s factory.

ESP Grassroot/Edwards
ESP also builds several lines of guitars that are only sold in Japan. The lower end line is called Grassroots and the mid-range models are sold under the Edwards designation.

ESP EX (extended range) LTD
The ESP EX (extended range) line is a series of guitars that were produced in Europe, Japan and the USA under the ESP logo. These models were very similar to Gibson Explorers and the Gibson Musical Instrument Company took exception.

Numerous sites state Gibson sued ESP Guitars. I cannot find any source to corroborate that fact. However, ESP did make changes to the instruments.

James Hetfield is probably the most renowned user of the ESP EXP series, which he has been using since the late 80's. He further popularized the series with his legendary "EET FUK" EXP and his custom ESP JH-2, a black EXP with diamond plating. 

Currently Musician’s Friend offers 155 different ESP models.