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July 2016
Guitar Talk, Pt. 2 Different Guitars, Different Styles

A very intelligent musician once said that talking about music is like singing about football, and for this next section I’m kind of in that quandary. Guitars and how they sound is not really an objective point of view, in fact, what sounds like one thing to one person can be exactly opposite of what someone else hears, but this is my blog so let me flog away on it.

I enjoy the differences in guitar tones, probably why I have so many of these wonderful instruments, but to my ear each one has a distinctive sound and feel. On the acoustic side of the ledger there are my Martins and then my Gibson/Epiphones. I have three distinctively different sounding Martins, not only that one is a twelve string, which automatically sounds different, but the size of the body and width of the neck also influences the sound and how it feels to play. I love my twelve string, probably the hardest guitar I have to play because of the pressure it takes to get a pure tone when playing it in standard tuning. Slide is a whole different animal, and those tones are unmistakable. There is a great blues guitarist names Kelly Joe Phelps, plays six string and Dobro and when he plays a twelve string he makes the sound of angels emit from those strings, I have more of a standard blues technique, ala Huddie Ledbetter known affectionately as Led Belly. Having those sympathetic strings added to the mix just makes the sound huge.  Speaking of six strings and Dobros, I love my martin with the serial number that can’t be traced so I think it was a prototype of their cutaway acoustics. It, even with it’s smaller and thinner body is so right for slide, and sometimes it even has a older almost silver tone like sound, but I’m sure that just the way that roger mics it, and we have mic’d it so many ways I think I’ll let roger tell you about that aspect since its his area of expertise.  My two Dobros are completely different. One is wood with the resonator and has a picture of surfers and palm trees on the back, and that’s because I think it was first designed to play Hawaiian music, slack key with a little slide like you would hear in traditional Hawaiian tunes, and then there’s the new all metal one that is just blues at its best. A little dirtier sound but it really rings out. My understanding of the Dobro or Resonator guitar was that they were built to play in bands where they weren’t mic’d up. Finally my A. Davis guitar, one of the best sounding instruments I’ve ever owned. It plays like a dream and the tone is just sweet as honey, A. Davis is a little known luthier whose guitars are works of art as well as sounding fantastic.

On to the electrics, and the biggest difference is the pickups, single coil or humbuckers, a duel coil pickup that produces a thicker and more sustain, and of course less hum, one coil is out of phase with the other thus cancelling the excess hum you get from the pickup catching interference, being a single coil fan I get those buzzes and hums, but then I’m a srat man. I have now only 4 real strats and two are very old, so I’ve had clones made for me to take on the road. My Brown one is made like my 1972 strat using the exact dimensions and hardware even down to the brass nut, and my distressed blue one is made to play like my original black one, a 1969 strat that I turned into a slide guitar, but it has original hardware like a 1964 strat. I tune this one standard, I also have a 1987 strat plus and a 92 strat plus, I love the 1987 teal one as it has that original strat sound, but by 1992 they had changed something in the lace sensor pickups that kind of lost that loving feeling for me. The truth of the matter is I’ve had numerous strat like guitars made but only the ones that Seth Mayer         has made for me have that true strat sound. I’ve got a Les Paul Jr. that I used on the nova train recording, and of course my Gibson ES175 from the 1950’s, somehow I managed to change the sound on it when I changed tailpieces, I was young and stupid to do it but live and learn, it had the most unbelievable sound and I did manage to blow up a couple of amps with it …. Hmmm blown up amps …. As for the difference in sounds, simple explanation is humbuckers thick and fat and sustain out the wazoooo and single coil, brighter with more bite, but both really can sound sweet when not overdriven, and of course the type of wood on the body makes a difference, a hollow body guitar like my ES175 can create a lot of feedback, a lighter weight wood won’t have as much “body” as something a little heavier. And there’s the necks to consider, rose wood fingerboard or maple, they all have a different feel and sound, but the most important difference in sound comes from one thing only - YOUR FINGERS.

Fan Questions:

Robert McGreevy:  Do you actually take your ‘favorite guitars’ with you on the road?  Aren’t you afraid they will get damaged or lost?  Do you use less valuable ‘road’ guitars?

Paul:  I used to, but no that I fly to more gigs I am using my Strat plus guitars, the ones made in 1987 and 1992, as opposed to the 1969 and 1972 Strat’s that are worth so much more.

Scott Fulton:  For slide, do you prefer one make of guitar strings? 

Paul:  I used to use sets that I would put together for slide, heavier gauge and the three wound strings were flat wound, for the G string I would use an unwound 20.

Guitar Talk, Pt. 1: Show & Tell

Paul’s Strat takes a solo trip to Puerto Rico

 

I’ve been playing guitar now for 55 years, and sometimes I wonder how many of these wonderful instruments have I owned over all that time, I’m thinking well over 50 but that’s just a guess. One that I know for sure was my first electric guitar that I bought used when I was 13, a beautiful 1957 Gibson ES175 that I have actually enclosed a picture of.  Yes, that’s me in Laurel Canyon playing the beast. It was an ungodly orange thing but sounded beautiful.  I’ve since had it redone with a sunburst finish, but my mistake was changing the tailpiece and that changed the sound drastically. Oh well, live and learn I guess. I played that guitar for 6 years and even did my first professional gig at the Whiskey A’ Go-Go, but from there I got a Les Paul junior that I used for a few years in my garage band, The Led Enema, until I broke the headstock. That was when I finally got my first brand new Stratocaster in 1969, that I still own today and used it all through my career with Little Feat. One day it took a trip on its own, thanks to Delta Airlines, and spent 6 months in Puerto Rico.  I immediately went and bought another one in 1974, a used 1972 Stratocaster that I  still have as well. By some miracle Delta Airlines returned my black Strat, so now I had two and was on my way to collecting guitars. 

Now I needed an acoustic guitar for the arsenal. Took a trip down to the guitar center where I got my 1969 strat and pulled every Martin D28 out and opened all the cases. Danced around and strummed each and every one of them, and the one that rang longest was bought on the spot, It’s a beautiful thing, and was most useful when I recorded Missin’ You on the “Time Loves a Hero” record, and after that it traveled all around the country with the original Bluesbusters, myself and Catfish Hodge, just honky tonkin’ around the east coast. There’s been 3 dobros, oops now its four since I just was given one, a wonderful Martin D 35 12 string from sometime in the late 60’s or early 70’s – and my latest Martin I’ve been recording with is a Martin single cutaway 14 fret guitar like none I’ve ever seen. I have tried to find the age through their serial number list but its not there, I think it may have been a proto type for their OMC-28E series, but so far I haven’t gotten any reply from Martin about it, but it sings like a bird. Thanks to Gibson and Epiphone, I have gotten an endorsement and therefore a boatload of acoustic guitars, the workhorse that I travel with always is my Epiphone EJ200 and its just a really good sounding electric acoustic guitar in all kinds of situations, from concert halls to small clubs. There is one more acoustic guitar that I am partial to and that is a custom A Davis guitar that has the most incredible tone, but it was so expensive it will never see the belly of a 747, this is my home and recording guitar only.

More electric guitars over the years were a couple of Yamaha electric guitars, like a Gibson SG that they gave me  in Japan on a tour there when Lowell was alive, a few music man guitars that Leo Fender gave us when he sold fender and started music man, another Les Paul junior and a telecaster that was made for the blue brothers movie, a new Epiphone Sheraton and at least 4 custom made guitars the latest of which are 2 sweet Buzz Feiten creations, one with Strat like pickups and one with humbuckers, just getting used to that super nova right now. Wow 55 years has certainly seen a few axes in these hands and I am sure I’ve left a few out but then it has been 55 years – next blog I will talk about the sounds of the different guitars.

 

 

Chris T.:  What’s your favorite all around acoustic

 

Paul:  My favorite now is my Martin cutaway

 

Do you have many Gibsons?

 

Paul:  I've only owned 1 Gibson acoustic,

 

One off luthier builds?

 

Paul:  Yes an A.Davis guitar that sounds amazing

 

What’s your favorite Strat & why?  Trem or no?

 

Paul:  My teal blue has been my go to guitar since 1987

 

A strat plus, one of the first and I do use the tremolo bar

 

Maria H.:  Do you name your guitars?

Paul:  Never have I named a guitar, however with my guitar techs we've had a code, like blue (standard tuning) brown (open A) black (open G) so that's kind of a name I guess