Sunday, May 27, 2007

Le Salon de MitMoi III - "Guitars: The Beat Boys"

And when my mind is free you know melody can move

And when I'm feeling blue the guitar's coming through to soothe me

Thanks for the joy that you've given me

I want you to know I believe in your song

Your rhythm and rhyme and harmony

You've helped me along

You're making me strong

Bill Withers, Give me the Beat Boys

Time after time we find ourselves talking about music. How it makes us feel, helps us recall a memory, or express an emotion. I've often wondered what it's like for the student of music and the performer. Do they get more out of the music than just the "listener"? How does it effect them? Are their reactions different than mine? Tonight's guest is MisterGuitar. With a name like that I knew there had to be a strong love in him for this particular instrument of sound.

"What was your first electrical guitar?"

My first electric guitar was very memorable 1983 USA Fender Stratocaster.

People familiar with Fender CBS (as in Columbia Broadcast System, the TV company) know this was the year Fender decided to cut production costs. In 1983 they got rid of the jack plate and put a tone knob in place of the jack. They also wired the guitar differently and it had a totally different Tremolo System.

People used to scoff at these instruments. I liked them because the design change and different tremolo led to more wood and more sustain. Plus I actually liked the bridge on them! They didn't have a route on the back like a normal Strat does.

Here's a clip of someone playing a guitar just like it.

How did you acquire it?

Once I had a "real job" working in a chemistry lab, I bought the '83 from a music store in Downtown Raleigh off Peace Street. This was the days before Sam Ash, Guitar Center, and Musician's Friend. I purchased it before I got married. After I got married, I sold it to buy a washer and dryer. It was a harbinger of things to come in my married life.

What guitar is your favorite in you collection right now?

Hmm Probably my Stevie Ray Vaughn Strat.

It is a special Strat, made of higher quality materials than most strats, but the reason I love this guitar is it just sounds so good! For one thing it has more wood in the body than your current "off the shelf" strat.

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Stratocasters now typically come with what is called a "bathtub" route. It's a large hollowed out area under the pickgaurd that is routed out for pickups. Back in the 50's and 60's they only removed "just enough" wood to fit the pickups in. The bathtub route came much later as a cost saving measure because some people preferred strats with humbucker pickup configurations rather than single coil (a bigger pickup). This way they only have to have one kind of guitar body on the shelf to make all the different models.

I also have this guitar strung with a set of 11's which is a heavier gauge string than I normally play. (Usually 10's, but I also have a Telecaster with 12's on it) This gives it a much bigger sound. The pickups on this guitar are what they call "Texas Specials". They are over-wound to give them a much hotter sound than a standard pickup. It also has a Hendrix style left hand Vibrato which is pretty unconventional. The neck is fast, and.. well, the guitar just sounds awesome! I have sworn that I would live on the street before I ever sold this guitar. You would have to pry it out of my cold dead hands.

Explain to me how an electrical vs acoustic guitar works.

Typically acoustic guitars work using acoustic amplification. Essentially they are large wooden boxes with a sound hole behind the strings to amplify the sound. The wood is very dry and seasoned for resonance.

Electric guitars use electric pickups. Pickups are essentially bar magnets wrapped with a coil of wire. This is then fed to an electrical amplification circuit. Not unlike the amplifier in your radio or car stereo.

The lines between acoustic and electric guitars are kind of blurred now as acoustic guitars are increasingly coming mic'ed or have Fishman Piezo type pickups. Another modification blurring guitar distinctions are the semi-hollow guitar bodies like the Gibson ES-335 (Chuck Berry's Guitar) That is they are hollow with sound holes, but have a solid block in the middle and electric pickups. Clear as mud eh?

Bass, Lead, and Rhythm guitars. What's the difference?

The bass guitar is basically the same as a regular guitar minus the top two strings. It's tuned identically. BUT it is played much differently. Lead is more about fills, vamps, and melody lines. Rhythm guitar is the wood that it's all built from, and Bass is the glue that holds it all together. Think of the bass as the bridge between the drum player and the rest of the band. Bass is all about being rhythmic and being in sync with the drummer.

What guitar do you lust after.

A Gibson Tal Farlow. It was a very limited edition guitar. It was very expensive at the time and didn't sell well. They became very popular with collectors so Gibson did another limited production run back in the 90's out of their custom shop to meet demand for them. They sound WONDERFUL! They are one of the best, most mellow jazz guitars ever! Second only to a vintage Gibson L5 or ES-175. I got to play a used 90's model way back and I just thought... WOW!

Where does music "take you" when you play? Do you get "lost" in the music when you play?

Away from my current life. Which is typically a mess. A little known fact to a lot of folks is I am constantly battling depression. My music and guitar habit is healthier than a drug problem or Prozac. I'm sure I'd have either, or both, if I didn't have this outlet.

Are you only able to escape the day-to-day world when you improvise on a song?

No. I play a lot of cover tunes. Typically the way I am feeling either motivates me to write songs, or play a certain song describing my feelings. I'm kind of a closet emo in that way.

Is it a particular part of a song that aids in the escapism?

Usually during certain lyrical parts. I've taken up trying to sing as well now, and I am starting to find my voice. As my confidence has increased I have noticed my voice is sounding MUCH better. And a lot of it is I'm singing something that means something to me.

What are your 3 favorite musical styles to play on the guitar?

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It requires technical competency in music theory, but also soul, because you have to be able to improvise with feeling. Every jazz performance is unique because they are different. Each is it's own creation. To me this is the essence of music. I would use Grant Green as a good example of this. With albums on Blue Note covering Gospel, Country, Latin, and a plethora of other song styles, his improvisation skills are second to none! I would cite "It's Your Thing" off the, "Ain't it Funky Now" Album. I love the improv on this. One of my favorite tracks of all time...


This is my first love. While simple in theory with only 3 chords and a 12 bar format, this music is pure emotion. Using string bending, practitioners can almost make the guitars speak! A call and response type approach is used a lot as well. I would cite Buddy Guy on this one. If you have ever heard his version of "Things that I Used To Do". Pure emotion!


This is just wonderful stuff. In the hands of a skilled finger-style guitarist, a guitar can sound like a symphony. On this one I have to cite the original "Mister Guitar" Chet Atkins. Some of his early work on the RCA label you are like "how on EARTH did he do that?!" Specifically I would cite the pull-off runs in "Main-street Breakdown" as one of those "wow!" moments.

What sensation do you feel when you're playing?

Release. Period.

It's like having good sex, being loved, happiness, warmth, and relief all rolled up into one.

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So, tell me, what's your favorite guitar, favorite style of playing, and what do you feel like when you play?


Anonymous said...

I just learned a lot more about a guitar than I ever thought I wanted to know ! Very interesting - it would be neat to sit and listen to each one of his explanations as he plays them. TP

krisis said...

It's a funny thing, but I totally don't feel like I'm participating in the same hobby as people who collect electric guitars.

I mean, I love playing a great electric, but I always feel like most of the personality is in the neck (up to personal preference) and the electronics (which are replaceable). Acoustics have so many little elements making up their sound and projection, and they mature.

That said, I do allow for the idea that I might find the acoustic for me, and afterwards be more interested in electrics, since I've found unplugged monogamy. I guess we'll see.

OMG, will you interview me sometime?