Blog Archives

ONE WEEK LEFT: Enter to win a Brian May Red Special Guitar!

Guitar Player magazine is hosting a contest to win a Brian May Red Special Guitar!!

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Prize Details:
First Prize: A Red Special Guitar signed by Brian May. This Brian May guitar is faithful to the spirit of Brian’s original ‘Red Special’, an instrument that has achieved iconic status and a unique place in rock history, and designed by Brian May himself. Retail value $2000

Second Prize: A copy of the book, “Brian May’s Red Special” Retail value: $30

The contest ends next Monday, April 13th!

Click here to enter the contest!

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Listen: Tom Wheeler on the Flo Guitar-Enthusiasts

Tom Wheeler, author of The Fender Archives talks with Jeff Floro and Scott Sill of The Flo Guitar-Enthusiasts, an LA Talk Radio Show. In the podcast, the hosts and Wheeler talk about all things guitar!

>>LISTEN HERE<<

00103138Welcome to The Fender Archives – part history, part archive, part scrapbook, and part treasure chest. You are invited along on a research expedition, a sort of archeological dig through several sites: file folders in Fender’s offices; the family archives of Don Randall; author/curator Richard Smith’s collections; the photo galleries of John Peden and Fretted Americana; jammed metal cabinets in a sweltering warehouse near the Corona factory; and the home of the late Bob Perine in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, just blocks from the beach where he and Ned Jacoby took now-iconic photos of high school kids, surfboards, palm trees, and chrome-clad rocket-ship guitars in Shoreline Gold and Daphne Blue and Candy Apple Red.

The Fender Archives looks at the company from the inside. Handwritten letters, production totals, personal logbooks, in-house memos, Leo Fender’s drawing-board sketches, financial reports-such documents are freed here from long confinement in cardboard boxes and filing cabinets, dusted off, and promoted from background to spotlight.

The Fender Archives sheds new light on the inspirations for revolutionary instruments and amplifiers, their sometimes difficult births and growing pains, the environment into which they were unleashed upon the world, and the motivations and personalities of key players.

Listen: Lisa S. Johnson talks with Pat Francis

Rock Solid host Pat Francis chats with Lisa S. Johnson about her new book, 108 Rock Star Guitars!

>>Listen Here<<

00127925Armed with a macro lens, an incredible eye for detail, and a truly groundbreaking vision, Lisa Johnson’s guitar art is taking the world of fine art photography on a rock-and-roll ride. A compilation of Johnson’s stunningly personal and intimate portraits, 108 Rock Star Guitars features the guitars of rock-and-roll luminaries, including Les Paul, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Nancy Wilson, Bonnie Raitt, Chrissie Hynde, and many others.

Far from still life, Johnson’s work conjures the abstract yet also possesses a very sensual and ethereal feel that intentionally illustrates intimate wear-and-tear details. Her unique presentation personifies and captures a musician’s true spirit in these musical extensions of the artist’s body. This ultra-deluxe, coffee-table photo book reveals through Johnson’s signature macrophotography style the etchings, totems, and personal touches of each featured guitar. It is a rare perspective that few people outside of the musicians’ stage crew have seen.

Alongside these images, Johnson provides personal anecdotes describing her 17-year journey to photograph these iconic instruments, documenting her travels from the backstage hallways of some the world’s most famous concert venues to the artists’ private homes. 108 Rock Star Guitars is a music and fine-art photography aficionado’s private backstage pass to witness up-close these six-stringed works of art.

The Fender Archives: A Scrapbook of Artifacts, Treasures, and Inside Information

Hal Leonard Books is proud to announce The Fender Archives by Tom Wheeler.  In his introduction, Tom describes this unique book which looks at the company from the inside out.  Featuring handwritten letters, production totals, personal logbooks, in-house memos, and much more, The Fender Archives tells the Fender story like never before.

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At the Heart of American Music

Welcome to The Fender Archives. You are invited along on a research expedition, a sort of archeological dig through several sites: well-organized file folders in Fender’s Scottsdale, Arizona, headquarters; the family archives of Don Randall; author/curator Richard Smith’s extensive collections at the Fullerton Museum Center and Fullerton Public Library; the photo galleries of John Peden and Fretted Americana; jammed-to-the-brim metal cabinets in a sweltering Fender warehouse near the Corona factory; and the sunny, art-filled home of the late Bob Perine in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, just blocks from the beach where he and Ned Jacoby took now-iconic photos of clean-cut high-school kids, surfboards, palm trees, and chrome-clad rocketship guitars in Shoreline Gold and Daphne Blue and Candy Apple Red.

This book is part history, part archive, part scrapbook, and for some of us, part treasure chest. In a few cases I offer reconsiderations of familiar topics—the origin of the Telecaster, the iconic imagery of Fender’s mid-’60s promo literature, the dark age of CBS, etc.—but for the most part I resisted the temptation to launch into explanations of facts and perceptions I’ve already shared, and others have shared, in numerous books and magazines. I wrote many articles about Fender during my fourteen years at Guitar Player (the Stratocaster alone received a three-installment series and a mult-part cover story, as well as columns by Robb Lawrence, George Gruhn, and others). I had already written extensively about the Fullerton company in The Guitar Book and American Guitars before tackling lengthy hardcover books devoted exclusively to Fender: The Stratocaster Chronicles (280 pages, 225 photos); The Soul of Tone: Celebrating 60 Years of Fender Amps (512 pages, 430 photos), and The Dream Factory: Fender Custom Shop (592 pages, 600 photos).

So the aim here is not to introduce Fender but rather to revisit it, to go behind now-familiar facts, images, and assumptions and shed new light on the inspirations for these revolutionary instruments and amplifiers, their sometimes difficult births and growing pains, the environment into which they were unleashed upon the world, and the motivations and personalities of key players.

Aside from celebrating the amps and guitars that separated the company from its rivals, The Fender Archives looks at the company from the inside out. Leo Fender’s drawing-board sketches and his penciled notations analyzing the costs of his guitars’ every screw and string ferrule, Don Randall’s revealing handwritten letters imploring Leo to evolve prototypes into production models, Freddie Tavares’ hyper-detailed personal logbooks, in-house memos, and financial reports—such documents are freed here from long confinement in steel-gray filing cabinets and nearly forgotten cardboard boxes, dusted off, and promoted from background to spotlight.

Other items include historic patents, memos debating marketing strategies and product design, a 1946 contract setting up Leo Fender’s first distributorship, and a 1964 report from investment consultants to CBS recommending that while the famed guitar company would be a promising acquisition, Leo Fender himself should be nudged aside in favor of a new breed of buttoned-down corporate managers. Never intended to see the light of day, these documents provide new frames of reference. Several are supplemented with excerpts from my interviews with past and current Fender employees and also with Doc Kauffman, Merle Travis, Ted McCarty, and others.

As Fender CEO Larry Thomas says in these pages: “Fender, it’s not about the guitar. It’s about the music. The guitar helps you to get there; it’s about the emotional connection. Fender is at the heart of American music.” Indeed, Fender is more than a brand. The name conjures an edgy, fuel-injected attitude toward creating and performing music that was born in the late 1940s in small-town Fullerton, California, a place of orange groves and oil wells where Hawaiian music met country, and Western met swing.

In the surrounding metro community, America’s post-war economy was being invigorated by the roll-up-your-sleeves, can-do attitudes of returning World War II G.I.s; the mechanical intuition of suburban toolshed tinkerers; and the brainy enthusiasm of aerospace engineers in horn-rims and short- sleeved shirts communing with their slide rules and looking toward the moon. It was the site of America’s first commercial drag strip, and a place where Detroit auto designers came to tap into the hotrod/speedway esthetic when dreaming up what came to be called muscle cars. Like other American cities, Fullerton felt the comfort of “I Like Ike” and Father Knows Best morphing into the zing and zest of Camelot and Carnaby Street; it felt the rock-ribbed red, white, and blue traditions of thrift and economy merging with the fashion and futurism of a Jet Age rapidly

evolving into a Space Age. It was Southern California, a state of mind as much as a geographical location, home to Hollywood, West Coast Cool, the Magic Kingdom, and Tomorrowland. The sun, surf, and tire-smoking hotrod vibe fueled its own twist on a nationwide phenomenon, as pop met a feisty blend of roadhouse blues and hillbilly bop soon to be dubbed “rock and roll.”

Thrown together by the fates, aspects of these seemingly random, combustible elements would tangle and mingle at the Fender flashpoint, ultimately igniting new musical styles, new attitudes, and new cultures across Orange County, across America, across the world. It all happened in ways no one could have predicted.

History, chronicle, scrapbook—perhaps in some way The Fender Archives is also part memoir. While readers of any of my books will get a hint of my perspectives and tastes, this one is more intimate. It reflects more of my personal experience with Fender instruments, a reimagining of musical possibilities during my own formative years, and my scores of conversations with the people who founded the company, resurrected it, and carry it forward.

Many of my tastes and viewpoints are shared by the global guitar community, of course—we revere our Telecasters and Deluxe Reverbs—but the emphasis here on, say, early and mid-’60s Fender lore admittedly reflects one impressionable teenager’s fascination with a world of gleaming, swoop-body guitars and a distant Southern California as evoked by visionary marketers and an arty photographer with photogenic daughters, a bitchin’ T-Bird convertible, and ready access to the beach.

I approached my previous books the way any historian works, sifting and prioritizing facts and attempting to provide context. I’ve done the same here, while also acting as a sort of museum curator—selecting and arranging artifacts so as to let them speak for themselves, sometimes emphatically. In addition to text and photos, dozens of artifacts are embraced here in envelopes and sleeves, some chosen for historical value, others for dazzle, nostalgia, or sheer fun. A note on organization: the Table of Contents is merely a listing of major topics; dozens of subtopics are scattered throughout in scrapbook fashion.

I believe that taken together, these bits and pieces reveal new insights into what Leo Fender and his colleagues and descendants contributed and continue to contribute to guitar, to music, and to world culture. Putting this book together revealed many new insights for me while evoking a flood of memories. Perhaps it will do the same for you.

—Tom Wheeler

Martin Guitars 180th anniversary

On November 6th, 180 years ago, C.F. Martin set up his own guitar shop in New York City. The rest is history. In honor of today, here is the foreword of Inventing the American Guitar, by Peter Szego and Robert Shaw. 

Christian Friedrich Martin was one of eight million Germans who emigrated to the United States between 1820 and World War I. Martin came to New York, a major center of industry, finance, and entertainment, to pursue success. Looking for freedom from the restrictive economic model of his native Germany’s guild system, Martin realized that there was a growing market for musical instruments in New York. The city also offered him a global trade network that made it easy for him to obtain raw materials, to import musical items for resale, and to ship finished guitars around the globe. Yet, the cultural landscape of the city was far different from what residents and visitors experienced even a generation or two after Martin. Although New York already had a bustling music scene, many of the city’s most venerable music institutions and venues would not be established for some time. The New York Philharmonic, the nation’s oldest symphony orchestra, was founded in 1842, three years after Martin moved to Pennsylvania. The Metropolitan Opera was not organized until 1880, Carnegie Hall would not open until 1891, and Juilliard would not begin educating young musicians until 1905. C. F. Martin arrived even before Henry Steinway, the music manufacturer perhaps most closely associated with the city, who came to New York City from Braunschweig, Germany, in 1850 to build pianos.

When Martin arrived, the city was in the midst of an economic boom that was the result of the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Although New York had been the largest city in the United States since the first census was taken in 1790, its growth accelerated tremendously in the early nineteenth century, topping one hundred thousand residents in 1810 and doubling to more than two hundred thousand inhabitants by 1830. Although the area of the city was confined to the southern tip of the island of Manhattan, with most of the island consisting of estates and farmland, the population would grow to more than half a million citizens by 1850.

As a German immigrant, Martin used his connections within the German community to establish himself in New York. The population of German immigrants and German-Americans was already more than 24,000 in 1840. That population exploded over the next two decades; by 1855, New York City boasted the third largest population of German-speakers in the world, behind only Berlin and Vienna. When the Martin family relocated to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, they again chose a place with a large German population that made the transition easier.

Martin opened his music store and lived in the same building at 196 Hudson Street, in an area of New York City that is now known as Tribeca, near the entrance of the present day Holland tunnel. During Martin’s time in New York, this was a growing residential and commercial neighborhood built on land that had been farmland owned by Trinity Church. The 1830s, when Martin was establishing his business, were tumultuous times in New York. In July of 1834, the city erupted in anti-abolitionist riots, and the nearby Laight Street Presbyterian church and the home of its pastor Samuel Hanon Cox were targeted and vandalized during several days of rioting. The church was a mere two blocks from the Martin shop. In December 1835, the Great Fire of New York City destroyed seventeen city blocks, and perhaps as many as 700 buildings. As a result, many New Yorkers looked to move their homes and businesses farther uptown, and many flocked to the area around Martin’s workshop. Then, in May 1837, a financial panic hit, throwing the city and the nation into a years-long recession that contributed to the Martin family’s decision to leave New York.

However, New York City remained an integral part of the Martin story even after the family moved to Pennsylvania. The city remained the most important market for Martin instruments, and it was necessary to maintain the business connections he built while living in the city. New York was so important for Martin that the city name continued to be stamped on his guitars long after his death.

C. F. Martin was similar to many other immigrants who came to New York City in the nineteenth century, embodying many of the ideals of the time.

He was a highly skilled immigrant who sought a freer economic system; an entrepreneur who tried several business models; a successful businessman who built a manufacturing company; and an innovative craftsman who combined his own knowledge with ideas that he encountered in the United States.

 Jayson Kerr Dobney

Associate Curator

Department of Musical Instruments

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Inventing the American Guitar is the first book to describe the early history of American guitar design in detail. It tells the story of how a European instrument was transformed into one with all of the design and construction features that define the iconic American flat-top guitar. This transformation happened within a mere 20 years, a remarkably brief period.

The person who dominates this history is C. F. Martin Sr., America’s first major guitar maker and the founder of the Martin Guitar Company, which continues to produce outstanding flat-top guitars today. After emigrating from his native Saxony to New York in 1833, Martin quickly established a guitar making business, producing instruments modeled after those of his mentor, Johann Stauffer of Vienna. By the time he moved his family and business to rural Pennsylvania in 1839, Martin had absorbed and integrated the influence of Spanish guitars he had seen and heard in New York. In Pennsylvania, he evolved further, inventing a uniquely American guitar that was fully developed before the outbreak of the Civil War.

Inventing the American Guitar traces Martin’s evolution as a craftsman and entrepreneur and explores the influences and experiments that led to his creation of the American guitar that is recognized and played around the world today.

Squier Showcase: Celebrating 30 Years!

In 1982, Fender revived an old guitar-string name for its new line of Japanese-made electric guitars. Thirty years and millions of guitars later, Squier is almost as important to the company as the main Fender brand.

In celebration of the budget brand’s 30th anniversary, we’re showcasing some of Squier’s more experimental guitars, as featured in Backbeat’s own Squier Electrics: 30 Years of Fender’s Budget Guitar Brand If you like what you see, please check out the full text here.

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Squier Electrics: 30 Years of Fender’s Budget Guitar Brand

Guitar pundit Tony Bacon reveals the stories behind the original (and collectible) Japanese-made Squier Series models, the way that Fender has often been more adventurous and experimental with Squier, away from its protected main brand, and the famous musicians who have chosen to play Squier instruments, from Courtney Love and her Venus model to blink-182’s Tom DeLonge and his one-pickup/one-control signature Stratocaster.

Full of the luscious pictures, absorbing narrative, and collector’s data that characterize Bacon’s best-selling instrument books, Squier Electrics is the only guide to one of the most popular guitar brands of recent times. Available for purchase here.


TONY BACON
is a leading author on instrument history and a co-founder of Jawbone Press. His books include Paul McCartney – Bassmaster, 60 Years Of Fender, The Ultimate Guitar Book, The Stratocaster Guitar Book, Electric Guitars – The Illustrated Encyclopedia, and many others.

Up Close and Personal with Guitarist Neil Giraldo

Although he is nearing the half-century mark, Cleveland-born Neil Giraldo hasn’t lost even one tiny molecule of his celebrated intensity and swagger. The chugging, churning onslaught of guitar that helped propel his musical and life partner Pat Benatar toward mega-hit status in 1979 and beyond remains unbowed in the new millennium. This is a man who loves to play and who loves to play hard. In honor of his birthday today, we’ve decided to feature an exclusive interview with the legend, as published in Guitar Player Presents 50 Unsung Heroes of the Guitar. Enjoy!

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What’s your main guitar at the moment?
I use GMP guitars. I don’t have a Spyder model or anything like that, but they’ve made a few different guitars for me. I usually ask for P-90 pickups, but I have some humbucker models for live shows. You know, onstage with lighting rigs and dimmer racks and everything—well, P-90s aren’t really happy with some of that kind of stuff. But normally, I go for P-90 models, and that’s usually what I record with. I also ask for a Bigsby and locking tuners.

What about amplifiers?
Onstage, I use a Line 6 Pod and a Line 6 Flextone combo. I like the two devices working together, because the Pod reacts a couple of milliseconds after you attack the note, which actually helps fatten up the sound a bit more. For effects, I go with the onboard models. I don’t use any pedals. In the studio, I may use my Marshall combo. I crank the Master Volume and keep Volume at about 12 o’clock. If I need to drive the amp a little bit more, I stick in a Fulltone Full-Drive 2 to drive the front end a little harder. I don’t use it as a distortion pedal—just as a preamp.

What about strings?
I use D’Addario strings. I go with .012–.058, sometimes .060. Pretty thick. I go with the highest G I can get that isn’t wound, and I tune to Eb. If I do tune to E, I’ll swap out the high stings for a .011 set, but I’ll keep the heavy gauges on the low strings, because I like to hit the low strings pretty hard, and I don’t want them to go out of tune.

To me, one of the most identifiable aspects of your style is your slightly snickered rhythm-guitar approach. It seems that you like to push and pull the groove and sometimes throw surprises into your rhythmic accents. Where did that come from?
I don’t know, but I’m glad you picked up on it, because I love to play rhythm guitar more than anything. I love rhythm so much. I think it has to do with the fact that I’m a frustrated drummer. When I was a kid, I would play drums to Simon and Garfunkel records because they never really had any drums on them, and I would try to find a way to get inside the rhythms they did.

Another odd thing is that I could never figure out parts from records exactly the way they were played. I’d get, say, a Yardbirds song, and I could sort of learn it, but I’d end up putting my own spin—my own little parts—into the mix until it really didn’t sound much like the parts on the record.

So you weren’t exactly the best cat to pick for a cover band, then?
No—I was terrible [laughs]. When I was playing in local bands when I was a kid, people didn’t want me in their groups because they were looking for someone who could play straighter. There would always have to be another guitar player in the band who would play the correct parts. It’s goofy, but I guess I was never interested to do things the “right” way. I’d be thinking. “You know, I think they should have played this part instead.”

How do you conceptualize a groove for a song?
I think of the rhythm, the drums, the tempo, the swing, or the “roll,” as I call it. But, again, I don’t think about it too much. I just do it. And, you know, on all the records I’ve ever done, I’ve always kept the guitar and drums going down together at once. I would never, ever overdub my rhythm guitar. I’d have to play live with the drums to get my parts to work together.

Who are some of your favorite rhythm guitarists?
Pete Townshend—definitely. I also love Jimi Hendrix. When I would listen to his stuff on vinyl, I would skip over the solos because I didn’t care about them. Give me any song on Axis: Bold as Love. Listen to that rhythm stuff!

You have a very aggressive rock-guitar sound, but it never seems to get in your lead singer’s way.
Yeah. I don’t know how to explain that. I don’t know why that happens [laughs].

Honestly, I don’t know. I know that if I start thinking about it, I’ll f**k up. I know that for a fact. I also know that I hate to be a selfish player. I hate to be a selfish producer or arranger. I don’t like saying, “Hey, look at me! Look what I can do.”

What I’m trying to create in arrangements is the song people want to hear. People want to hear the song, and they want to hear the singer. My job is to make sure it feels great, and that it’s going right to their blood, and that it’s going to rip their heart out.

From a guitar standpoint, what’s the most important thing to ensuring a song rips someone’s heart out when they hear it?
Your playing should really start accelerating so that when you listen to the end of the song, it sounds like the end of the song is coming. It shouldn’t sound like the beginning. What worries me, with all the recording tools that people have, is that they will take a part they like—something that feels good—and paste it throughout the whole song. That’s the part of the guitar thing you have to be really, really careful about. You shouldn’t miss the idea that the end of the song should really be a little quicker and more intense than the beginning. The intensity level should be changing, and I don’t think a lot of people understand that. It’s about doing whatever it takes to move people and keep them involved in the song from start to finish.

Speaking of intensity, you haven’t lost any fire from when I first saw you onstage back in 1980. Many players tend to cool off a bit with time. How have you kept up the enthusiasm and the energy?
I think, mainly, it was a change I made in my life. I was smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, drinking way too much Irish whiskey, and just living that lifestyle. You know—doing stuff to way too much excess. I finally said to myself, “Wait a second. I have children, and I’m getting too old for this. I’ve got to look hard at what I’m doing here. I’ve got to take care of myself.” So I started a serious physical routine that I thought I’d never be able to do. I went from being able to run 20 feet to running six miles a day. Now, I can jump rope for 20 minutes straight. I lift weights.

I do all kinds of physical stuff. This has been going on for the last seven years, and I think it is what gives me the energy and the attitude. If I wasn’t doing the exercise, I don’t know if I’d still be able to be as physical and in-your-face as a player—and that kind of player is the player I still want to be.

Well, that mental approach seems huge. Perhaps some players start thinking, “Hey, I’m 50 years old—I can’t be jumping up and down anymore. It’s not fitting.”I don’t give a sh*t about that. I call it, “last man standing.” Anybody who knows me knows that I’m relentless. If someone tells me I can’t do something, I will do everything in my power to show you that I can. It’s a philosophy I try to live by, and I try to instill it in my children, as well. My playing is no different, because the tone is in my hands and the attitude is in my heart, and I can’t change that. Even though you may be getting old, unless something is physically affecting what you’re able to do, you should stay pretty consistent performance-wise—as long as you’re ruthless enough [laughs].

Do you feel you’ve gotten your due in the guitar-culture world, or do you care about that kind of stuff?
I did care for a while when I was younger. It doesn’t matter to me now. In the mid-’80s, I was doing just about everything—arranging, producing, playing, and so on. It was really my band, but I don’t think anyone knew that or gave me props for everything I was doing to help craft all the hits. The wife and myself were equal partners—we still are—but I didn’t understand why management decided not to do anything to promote the band. But, you know, I get it, and right now it means very little to me whether audiences focus directly on my contributions. It’s far more important that I do great work, and that somebody appreciates the great work— whether they know my name or not.

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Guitar Player Presents 50 Unsung Heroes of the Guitar

Everyone knows the legends – Hendrix, Page, Clapton, Beck, and all the other six-string giants – but the evolution of guitarcraft wasn’t forged purely by über-famous players with large cultural footprints. Scores of lesser-known pioneers such as Tommy Bolin, Danny Cedrone, Tampa Red, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe contributed vast numbers of licks, riffs, solos, tones, compositions, techniques, and musical concepts that inspired generations of guitarists and advanced the art of playing guitar. Their stories are as critical to modern guitar music as is electricity or amplification. Any guitarist seeking to devise a unique and individual sound should study the wacky, off-kilter, unfamiliar, and criminally underutilized creative concepts of the unsung greats, straight from the pages of Guitar Player magazine. Available for purchase here.