Saturday, April 23, 2016

Lonnie Mack - Dead at age 74 - Rock's First Guitar Heroes

Lonnie Mack
Lonnie McIntosh known to all as Lonnie Mack died yesterday at the age of 74 of natural causes. He was one of the first “guitar heroes” and an influence on countless players including me.

The Wham of that Memphis Man
As a kid I’d put his LP, The Wham of that Memphis Man, on the record player and turn the speed down to 16 2/3’s to slow down his licks so I could copy them on the guitar.

Lonnie remained active in the music business, mostly playing clubs and touring with band members that had remained with him for year until 2004 when he retired.

In 1963 he went into a recording studio in Cincinnati, Ohio called Fraternity Records. After a session had finished, Lonnie and some other players stuck around and laid down a few tracks which included his own instrumental version of Chuck Berry’s Memphis and another instrumental song called he called Wham. What emerged was one of the greatest instrumental guitar albums of all time.

Lonnie with his unmodified Vee
Lonnie's biting guitar style, use of a Bigsby vibrato and trademark sound became legend and were copied by musicians worldwide including Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman, Mike Bloomfield, Ted Nugent and so many others.

In the mid 1950’s Lonnie started playing in clubs all over the Midwestern United States; mostly in Ohio, Kentucky and his home state of Indiana. That first LP that I have mentioned went on to be rated one of the 100 Best Rock n’ Roll records of all time.

Mack released his final LP in 1990; Lonnie Mack Live - The Attack of the Killer V.

Throughout his career Lonnie played his 1958 Gibson Flying Vee. The serial number on it was 007 as it was one of the first made by the company.

1957 Flying V prototype
Gibson had  manufactured prototypes of the Flying V in 1957, under the direction of Gibson president Ted McCarty. This was during an era when America was entering the race for outer space. Cars had fins. There were TV shows about rocket ships and even Walt Disney had hired scientist Wernher von Braun to pique America's interest in space exploration. Gibson decided to get in on this action with some modernistic guitar designs that had an almost aerodynamic look by offering 3 futuristic guitar designs. Lonnie Mack played the Flying Vee.

1958 Flying Vee
The original 1957 prototype had a rounded bottom. It was made of mahogany and was a very heavy instrument. McCarty ordered that a large wedge be cut be made in the bottom end of the guitar’s body to alleviate some of the weight. This cut gave the guitar it’s Flying V appearance and it’s name.

Because blond colored furniture (and blond women) were all the rage during this era, light colored Korina wood was used instead of mahogany.

The guitar was introduced in 1958 along with the Moderne and the Futura (aka The Explorer). It was a dismal failure. The design was too much for the guitarists that wanted their guitars to look…well,like guitars. Due to slow sales, only 98 guitars, production only continued until 1959. Some left over units were sold up through 1963.

Lonnie with his unmodified V
Lonnie McIntosh was a country boy who grew up in Harrison, Indiana which was only 20 miles west of Cincinnati. At 13 years of age he had a quarrel with a teacher and was promptly dismissed from school. All Lonnie wanted to do was play guitar. He hung out at a store in Norwood, Ohio, called Hughes Music. Norwood is mid-sized blue-collar town just outside of Cincinnati and used to be home to a GM plant.

Lonnie Mack in the mid 1960's
The owner Glen Hughes would talk to Lonnie and discovered that Lonnie was interested bow and arrow hunting. Mr. Hughes pulled out the latest Gibson catalog that he had received and showed Lonnie the arrow shaped guitar. Lonnie was in awe. He had to have that guitar.

Hughes put in an order to Gibson and he drove from Cincinnati to Kalamazoo, Michican to pick it up. Lonnie got one with the serial numbers 007.

The story goes on that Lonnie wanted a vibrato put on his V, but due to the guitars design there was no place to mount the unit. The best vibrato unit in those days were the ones made by Bigsby.

Glen Hughes had a stainless steel bar cut and bent so part of the unit was mounted on the guitars body and the end of the unit was attached to the crossbar that ran between the sides of the V.

Most everyone named McIntosh is knick-named Mack and Lonnie McIntosh soon became Lonnie Mack.

On March 12, 1963, Mack had played guitar on a recording session for a girls group called The Charmaines at Fraternity’s recording studio. The allotted studio rental time had twenty minutes remaining, the group invited Mack to take advantage.

Lonnie and the other session players put down two songs on tape that evening and one was a rocking, uptempo guitar version of the Chuck Berry song called Memphis Tennessee.

At that time Mack's job was performing behind another Fraternity artist named Troy Seals. Seal went on to become a well known Nashville song writer.

Mack had forgotten about the session, however someone at Fraternity did not. They liked it well enough to issue it as a single. Seals had just heard from a friend that Lonnie’s song was climbing the charts. By the summer of 1963 Memphis charted in at number 4.

Lonnie Mack
Mack released a follow up called Wham, that became one of his signature tunes. Wham reached number 24 on the Billboard charts. In an interview Mack states he put it together from two songs he had been writing. Lonnie followed up with an LP called The Wham of that Memphis Man.

The album cover shows Lonnie leaning on the bottom of his upside down Flying V. This was before the Bigsby unit was installed.

Magnatone 260
Mack also was fond of his Magnatone amplifier. Just about everyone else was using Fender amplifiers, but Mack loved the True Vibrato effect of the Magnatone. This was engineered using circuitry similar to what was found on electronic organs that caused the pitch to continuously alter. Fender’s vibrato was actually tremolo since it caused the sound to be turned off and on.

Mack said that he was going after the Hammond organ sound that was prevalent in Gospel and Blues.

When Lonnie Mack was playing at clubs in the mid 1960's. He originally used a Magnatone 260 to get his signature sound. This amp had the true FM vibrato, but no reverb.

Gene Lawson
Lonnie later ran his Flying V into an old blonde Fender Reverb Unit then into the Magnatone amplifier. For the road this was a Magnatone M-9 that was modified by a fellow named Gene Lawson.

Lawson removed the amplifiers speaker and put in a step down preamp. The signal from the Magnatone was then sent to a blonde Fender Bandmaster head which powered two blonde Fender Bandmaster 2 x 12” cabinets. I am told that all of the Fender equipment had the “wheat grill cloth on them.”

And that is how Lonnie got his unique sound back in the day.

Later on as Lonnie began to play larger venues he used a Boss chorus pedal through a large amplifier,

Eventually Lonnie settled on a using a Roland JC 120 amplifier that he placed on top of two matching speaker enclosures.

2003 Concert
Lonnie Mack attempted to paint his Flying Vee red, which wound up with a pink hue after it dried out. He eventually got the red colour on the guitar.

Lonnie playing #007
Lonnie loved that guitar and once said he dropped it out of the rear end of his van while driving and the guitar remained in tune.

One time after a bad show, Lonnie told the story the he got mad and threw the Vee in a trash can. A fan fished it out and returned it to him five minutes later.

That guitar is now worth at least six figures, not just due to the fact it is an original 1958 Gibson Flying Vee, but the fact it is Lonnie Mack's Flying Vee.

Mack said that he has played the heck out his Flying V; the back of the neck is scarred up. The guitar has been re-fretted and new pickups were installed back in the late 1960’s.

The back side of the Wham LP

There are couple of interesting facts that have resulted from Mack’s career in the mid 1960’s.

First of all Memphis was the highest rated guitar song. Much of its popularity is due to the popularity of the electric guitar at that time.

Throughout his career Lonnie had recorded with The Doors, as a bass player and played on concert bills with them.

He also recorded with James Brown (who also record most of his hit records in Cincinnati, Ohio at another company), Ronnie Hawkins and Doby Gray.

Lonnie with Keith and Ron

He played concerts with Roy Buchanan, Albert Collins, Ron Wood, Keith Richards and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

This is a recent video featuring Gene Lawson, Mack's original drummer

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prince Has Died - The Guitars He Used Throughout His Career.

Prince Rogers Nelson known to all as Prince died today at his Paisley Park recording studio and home in Chanhassen, Minnesota after experiencing flu-like symptoms. Prince was an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist, guitarist, vocalist and record producer. In short Prince was a prodigy.

At 18 years of age he was given not just a recording contract with Warner Brothers Records, but free reign to the production of his first album. He was known for his flamboyant stage work, wide vocal range and his variety of styles that range from pop to funk to rock to soul to hip hop and disco. His latest venture was to tour with a big jazz band.

Prince was briefly hospitalized Friday after his plane had to make an emergency landing at Illinois' Quad City International Airport. Authorities confirmed today that they were dispatched to the Paisley Park studios this morning, where they found the singer unresponsive in an elevator. Their attempts to revive him failed and he was pronounced dead at the scene. He was only 57 years old. Throughout his career Prince used several different guitars in his stage act.

One of the guitars was a distinctive Telecaster style instrument that had an ash body surrounded by a dark tortoise-shell binding on its top and bottom.

The plastic pickguard appeared to be tortoise-shell. There was also a thin strip of binding material down the center of the body, from the end of the bridge to the rear of the guitar. The headstock was very similar to that of a Fender Telecaster, except for the brand, which said Hohner.

The other feature distinguishing this instrument from a genuine Fender was its bridge. Instead of the typical Telecaster bridge, this guitar had a bridge similar to that found on a hard-tail Stratocaster. Surrounding the bridge was an oval of plastic that matched the pickguard. It was a very distinctive look.

Most of us know that Hohner is a German company well known for their excellent harmonicas, accordions, and reed based instruments.

During the 1960’s Hohner branched out into manufacturing the Pianet electric piano and the Clavinet, which was an electric version of the 17th century instrument called the clavichord, which simply described is a smaller version of a harpsichord. In the 1970’s, I was unaware they were manufacturing guitars.

Hohner, founded in 1857 by Matthias Hohner, became the world’s largest producer of harmonicas. The company continued under his family heirs through the 1965. By the 1970’s the company branched out into electric instruments.

It was in the early 1980’s when Hohner joined forces with the Sabian Cymbal Company and Sonor. Due to declining sales, the company underwent massive lay-offs in 1986 and the Kunz-Holding GmbH & Co acquired most of its assets.

By 1997, the assets became the property of K.H.S. Musical Instruments Co. Ltd., based in Taiwan. Most of the manufacturing moved to Asia, although some high-end products are manufactured in Europe.

This guitar was made by a Japanese factory called Moridaira that was founded in 1967 by Toshio "Mori" Moridaira. This company produced some high quality reproduction guitars to by "badged" by other companies. In this case it was Hohner. This Tele copy was originally known as a H.S. Anderson Mad Cat.

There were only about 500 of these guitars produced in the early 1970's.

Later on these would be made in Korea by the Cort Company as The Prinz guitar. Prince used his original Japanese model early in his career on records and in the movie Purple Rain.

When I first saw the film, I was astonished that someone who could afford to play an expensive, big-name instrument would be playing this knock-off by Hohner.

However, I have friends and know of pros that continue to stick with the instruments they started out playing.

I later learned Hohner designated this instrument the Hohner TE.

Through the years, Hohner continued to offer the guitar.. Changes occurred to make its appearance more like a Telecaster. The bridge changed to a metal plate with a six adjustable bridge saddles. The colours changed and the binding on the rim disappeared.

Hohner continues to offer a well-made version of this instrument, now known as the Prince guitar. The headstock has changed to include the German-cut, popularized by Roger Rosmeisl.

Prince had changes made to his Hohner that included the installation of Kinman Broadcaster pickups, accomplished by changing the routing of the pickguard and bridge plate.

The Kinman units come with a pre-wired harness, which replaced the original controls. You can see the neck pickup has exposed pole pieces, much like the bridge pickup.

As his fame grew, Prince commissioned some custom guitars. The first being built in 1983.

The builder, David Husain, was employed at the Knute Koupee music store in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He created The Cloud Guitar. As I have done further research I find the builders name is Dave Rusan, I leave both names and links to both sources.

This is the guitar with the extreme upper horn. The original seems to have a white finish. The wood for the entire instrument was maple. It has a 24.75” scale with 22 frets and a 12” radius. The two pickups are EMG’s. The bridge pickup is an active humbucker and the neck has a single coil pickup. Schaller made all the hardware.

This includes a tune-o-matic style bridge and tailpiece and machine heads. All hardware is gold plated. The controls are simple; one volume, one tone and a 3-way pickup switch. The nut on the headstock is brass. The entire instrument, including the neck, is painted one colour.

The original instrument came in a white finish and featured spade symbol fret markers. It was seen at the end of Purple Rain. Unfortunately, it became a casualty during a concert.

Prince had thee other Clouds made, although some of these underwent multiple paint changes. The next version has a black paint job; however, the fretboard is natural maple. Another Cloud Guitar has a peach finish with small black dot markers.

Prince gave this away as a price. Prince later commissioned a blue Cloud guitar that he called Blue Angel. Like the peach version, this also has black dot markers. Another black Cloud produced, that had an entirely black finish with “bat” fret markers.

The next Cloud had a yellow paint job. Finally, another blue Cloud guitar was produced. This time the knobs were gold plated and the body’s profile was rounded. The Yellow Cloud sold for $18,750 in Minneapolis.

There is a White Cloud on exhibit at the Smithsonian. Others are at various Hard Rock Cafes. Prince named the four Cloud guitars, North, South, East, and West.

Schecter guitars offered copies of the Cloud guitars for sale on Prince’s website. However, the website recently shut down. Some of the Schecter guitars have bolt-on necks, and some have through-the-body necks. The bolt-on instruments have a 25.5” scale. None of the Schecter instruments has the “Love” symbol.

The other guitar identified with Prince is the Symbol Guitar. This instrument was custom built by German luthier, Jerry Auerswald. This guitar made from antique maple and has neck-through-body construction.

The neck scale is 24.75” and the fretboard has 24 medium jumbo frets.

Mr. Auerswald installed EMG pickups on this guitar similar to those on the Cloud guitar. The luthier custom built the bridge and installed Schaller machine heads, with custom-made buttons. The original guitar came with a gold finish.

Prince had his guitar technician built two more of the Symbol instruments. The tech accomplished this by taking measurements of the original instrument and sending them to Schecter. One guitar was white and the other was painted black over the mahogany bodies.

Due to Prince’s guitar acrobatics, the guitars did not last too long. He would throw the instruments in the air and let the guitars drop to the ground. Thus, the horns snapped off and the techs would patch them up.

Much like the Cloud guitars, the tech-made Symbol guitars underwent repainting. At times, the guitar were not only black and white, but also yellow, gold, orange and of course, purple.

Auerswald designed another guitar for Prince. This one is known as the Model C. It is a very unique instrument with two distinct features. The obvious is the stabilizer bar that runs from the body to the headstock. This is very reminiscent of the first Roland Synth guitar. If you look carefully you will notice no tuners on the headstock. The tuners are at the end of the bridge.

Prince has used several other guitars, which include a Fender Stratocaster that has an entirely gold finish. This instrument recently fetched $100,000 at a charity auction held this past April.

Prince and Hamilton

The buyer was race car driver Lewis Hamilton. The proceeds are benefiting the Harlem Children’s Zone, a non-profit organization that serves over 8,000 children and 6,000 adults.

Sadowsky with Prince's reproduction guitar
Update 09/2016. I just read in the latest issue of Vintage Guitar Magazine that luthier Roger Sadowsky built 6 guitars for Prince. He was commissioned by Prince after the artist could no longer find any H.S. Anderson Madcat guitars. Sadowsky made six guitars for Prince, two of which were reproductions of the Hohner H.S. Anderson model.
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