A few weeks ago, I reviewed a book titled The Gibson Les Paul: The Illustrated History of the Guitar that Changed Rock. The book includes a generous helping of artist profiles, Les Paul history, and great pictures, and I enjoyed it. The publisher, Voyageur Press, has kindly offered to give a copy of the book away to a lucky Guitar Lifestyle reader.
To enter win the book, all you have to do is fill out the form below.
* Contest is limited to US and Canada residents.
* Contest will run until midnight EST on 8/2/2014.
* Winner must provide valid email address and must be willing to provide valid mailing address in US or Canada if chosen.
* Winner will be selected at random and notified sometime on 8/3/2014.
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We all have our favorite guitarists out there, but the problem with them (or us) is that favorites change and they can change pretty often. What we loved as young guitarists sometimes don’t do it for us anymore as we age.
But INFLUENTIAL guitarists, those don’t change. They may not always be our favorites, but they will always be responsible for part of your guitar upbringing. They’re the ones that inspired you to pick up the guitar, or dictated the shift on your learning path to other genres, or the ones that rekindled your love of the instrument during a dry spell when you were uninspired. In short, they are the ones who helped shape you and your playing with their own.
With this in mind, I put together a list of my own Top 5 Influential Guitarists. I even roped Jon into adding his Top 5 as well, but I’m curious what yours are! Share your list in the comments with how they influenced you. Don’t be shy – this is a safe place.
In descending order:
5) Nick 13 of Tiger Army
Tiger Army came into my life with a fantastic merger of genres I loved that always seemed separated by time and style: punk and rockabilly. I have always been a fan of oldies from the late 50s and early 60s, but it just didn’t have the same level of energy that got me like punk did. In walked Nick 13 and blended the two in a delay-drenched tone with vintage instruments and a whole lot of attitude, and gave me a different outlook on what punk could be.
Check out this video from their sophomore effort, II: The Power of Moonlight called “Incorporeal.”
4) James “Munky” Shaffer of Korn
I’ve always wanted to play guitar at some level, but it was Korn and Shaffer specifically that made me say “enough,” and finally get the ball rolling. Korn was my education in guitar. Shaffer thrashed about on stage, giving himself to emotion, not necessarily musicianship, and the band was never out to show off. It seemed very much more like a cathartic experience for the band – a freak show of people simultaneously working out their demons – than an actual band like we’ve always known, and I loved it. After listening to the first album, I knew I had to play guitar as soon as possible, and it had to be an Ibanez (incorrectly pronounced), and, if possible, it had to have seven strings. Eventually I got a hold of an RG7620 and loved it for the most part, but the locking bridge drove me right up the wall and I ended up getting rid of it. To this day, it’s the only guitar I regret selling.
Korn was the first music I had ever heard that felt uniquely mine. It wasn’t in my dad’s CD collection, nobody from school was listening to them, and they weren’t cool at all when I found them. They lit a huge fire in me for music in general and it was because of them that I branched off to other varieties of metal, eventually stumbling onto the massive institution known as Metallica, and a little further down into punk and the Misfits in particular. Korn was the door that led to every single influence that came afterward, so I feel like I owe Shaffer quite a bit. Maybe I should get an Apex 20 as a way of saying “thank you.”
Check out this video from their first album, Korn, entitled “Blind.”
3) Keith Merrow of Conquering Dystopia
This may sound like a slight, but hear me out: Keith Merrow, for all his insane songwriting and riffing abilities, strikes me as an Everyman. Here is a guy who wasn’t confident enough in his music to put it out until his friend goaded him into it and he wasn’t a professional. He was doing all this amazing stuff with a family and a day job. He was releasing whole albums in his spare time and building a truly grass-roots fan base by word of mouth and some seriously great video editing skills to accompany his seriously great guitar work. He seems humble, and he’s always been friendly to me, but perhaps even more importantly, he’s been unknowingly acting as an inspiration. Maybe I’ll never be as fast at playing, or thrash quite as hard as he can, but I CAN do better than I currently am. I can write better music than I have been, I can play faster than I was last week, and I can get better at recording and editing. Videos (and their editing) don’t scare me anymore. I am always trying to write (words!) better than I have been previously.
Keith Merrow isn’t an untouchable guitar god that was birthed under the bright lights of an arena, nor groomed by major labels – he is all fire, homegrown, and is my personal example that even someone with those kinds of skills probably started or resided in my wheelhouse at one point or another, and progressed from it. Just like I will.
To hang on to this example in a non-creepy way, I had to order his signature Schecter. Also, because it jives the most with what I personally look for in a guitar spec-wise.
Check out this video to see exactly what I’m talking about regarding his skills.
2) Chris Cheney of the Living End
Just a bit after I fell in love with Korn, an Australian band called the Living End hit the US in a pretty big way with their first US single “Prisoner of Society,” and it was the most punk thing I had ever heard at that point, but it was so much more. It was unique in that day’s popular soundscape of Godsmack’s “Whatever,” Metallica’s “Whiskey in the Jar,” and Orgy’s “Blue Monday,” with loud, standard-tuned, hollowbody guitars, a stand-up bass, and a confrontational outlook regarding the generation coming up, while not just being angry. Where the guitar offerings if the day were… Sparse in displayed abilities, Cheney whipped out a fantastic solo that wasn’t just needless “wheedleywheedleywheedley,” but fit the song and truly took it up to the next level like any good solo should.
Upon investigation, it turned out that their first album was packed to the gills with great songs, excellent guitar work, and more than a fair nod to the past both in songwriting an aesthetics. Cheney was what originally had me pulling to Gretsch guitars, but always on the back burner while I was enveloped in nu-metal. Eventually, though, nu-metal became homogenous and there were a LOT of bands that sounded the same or, even worse, devolved to an intolerable level of self-indulgence. This was the time when I revisited the Living End and Cheney’s guitar work, and took a turn in a different music direction, leading me to my number one most influential guitarist.
Also, Australians have a valid points when they complain about their home country: Guitars are ridiculously expensive, they are often forgotten on tours, and literally everything in the country is attempting to kill its inhabitants, even the country itself with its mind-blowing expansive desert of not-much-at-all, but at least they have the Living End, and (as a bonus) access to Chris Cheney’s signature guitar, which even the US doesn’t have access to (presumably because it is very similar to some guy named Billy Duffy’s signature White Falcon). Oh yeah! They also have decent weather, fantastic beaches, intriguing soap-operas, friendly people, a unique history, and a really, really large rock. Pros and cons, folks. Pros and cons.
Check out this video of “Prisoner of Society,” for their self-titled album to see the solo I was talking about.
1) Jim “the Reverend Horton Heat” Heath of the Reverend Horton Heat
In college, I was done with music. A great deal of punk sounded the same, I had given up on nu-metal a while ago, guitar was boring, and I drifted, listless in the void that is a guitarist who doesn’t play guitar or like music. The Living End was the only lifeline to music that I had, and I said as much to a boss at work who replied that if I liked the Living End, I would love the Reverend Horton Heat.
And he was right. Jim Heath is an AMAZING player who has had a long career of writing original material and always striving to progress and reach new grounds sonically. A fan once accosted him, expressing disappointment that he didn’t write more songs like one of his hits (“400 Bucks”) and he said he had no interest in rewriting the song as a different one. He wanted to write new stuff, and go new places, but always to have a common core in the middle – a sound that was uniquely him – a goal any fan could tell you he accomplished.
His songs span from the hilarious to the sexual; from depressing to avant garde; from solo electric pieces to full-throttle rock songs that toe the line between fast-paced rockabilly and flat-out punk rock, but throughout the entirety of his huge catalog, the songs remain entertaining and interesting. The guitar work is nothing short of spectacular and any guitarist could study what Heath is doing and find inspiration and new ideas. He was what made me fall back in love with music and grab my guitar again. Ultimately, it was Heath that has me playing today and everything I’ve done since listening to his album Holy Roller at work that fateful day has been his fault including starting a guitar-centered blog that eventually fell away to being picked up by the best guitar blog on this planet, becoming a host on Six String Bliss, and finally getting my very own Gretsch hollowbody that I have used (per Heath’s example) on any damn genre I want, because it could handle them all, and even interviewing the man for Guitar Lifestyle! You could even say that this post right here is because of Heath, because I wanted to share who made me who I am guitar-wise, and share that list with you fine folks.
Oh! AND he’s got a killer signature guitar that, like him, isn’t strictly tied to the past with appointments that weren’t used on Gretsch guitars together until the early 90s when Fred Gretsch III regained control of the company. Now there’s an anomaly of a Gretsch 6120 out there that is both vintage and modern, two periods pushed together for art’s sake, just like Heath.
Here’s a video from his latest (awesome) album that everyone should pick up, REV called “Scenery Going By.”
So that’s my list! Time to warm up your fingers and get to typing, because I want to see what your Top 5 list looks like!
Father Pepe, a Roman Catholic flamenco-dancing priest in Campanilla, Spain, feeling the spirit.
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John Petrucci has used a wide range of pickups over the years, and even been given a signature set, the DiMarzio Crunch Lab bridge and Liquifire neck. These have been very popular with guitar players all over the world. But John decided that he wanted a different sound when recording the last Dream Theater album.
With a ceramic magnet, and a DC resistance of 10.56 KOhm, the Illuminator bridge model follows in a line of recent DiMarzio creations that are high output and low resistance. The EQ range of 5.5 (bass) , 5.5 (mids) and 5 (treble) gives the Illuminator bridge a nice balanced tonal setup, which should work great for a variety of guitars. John was after an increased mid-range hump and to bump the highs and tighten the lows a little over the Crunch Lab.
I loaded the Illuminator bridge into my 2003 Ibanez RG 450 LTD, with basswood body, maple neck/rosewood fretboard, and Edge Pro bridge loaded up with a Killer Guitar Components brass sustain block. As usual I tested the Illuminator bridge through my Blackstar HT-5 head, running into a 1×12″ cabinet loaded with a Celestion Vintage 30.
Starting off on the dirty channel, the Illuminator bridge provided a very full, balanced tone. It has a raw crunch that is reminiscent of a classic PAF style pickup, while still within the modern realm. The Illuminator bridge has a really open sound thanks to its moderate resistance, and a hard hitting attack thanks to its tight low end provided by the ceramic magnet. Unlike some higher output pickups the Illuminator bridge doesn’t get all fizzy on the high end. Power chords very sound muscular and have a real punch to them. Some very heavy sounds can be conjured without having to dial in too much distortion.
The Illuminator 6 has a great deal of clarity and presence that allows it to really sing. Complex chords ring out with every note clearly making its mark. There is a real dynamic quality to the Illuminators too. Pick or strum softly and the volume and tone roll back a little, dig in and the tone ramps right back up with more punch and presence.
Switching over to lead duties and the Illuminator bridge becomes like a scalpel, ready to cut through the mix. It’s tight low end and full balanced tone ensures that it doesn’t get too thin or shrill on the higher end of the fretboard. There are plenty of harmonic overtones that pop out when playing, which only get more prevalent as the gain goes up, making natural and artificial harmonics easy to find and utilise.
Over on the clean channel the Illuminator bridge is very bold and brash sounding pickup. Chords sound muscular and are on the verge of breakup when hit hard. The tone is fairly bright and quite balanced, but may be a bit full on for ‘proper’ clean tones. Roll the guitar’s volume knob back a little and the tone hit’s a sweet spot with a warmer edge and almost Tele like spank when doing single note work.
Splitting the Illuminator bridge with the neck model takes you closer to Strat territory with a pretty bright quacky tone that works great for funky and bluesy stuff. The split setting also works brilliantly for those clean metal sections using some subtle chorus effect.
Overall the DiMarzio Illuminator bridge is an incredibly versatile pickup that will cover a wide range of rock and metal styles. It won’t do a strictly clean sound without rolling the guitar’s volume back a little, but pairing it with a suitable neck pickup and perhaps splitting the coils will give you everything else you need, and even give you the ability to create some pretty convincing funk, blues, and probably even country tones. If you are looking for a bridge pickup that can dish out heavy muscular rhythm tones, and sharp leads without getting too mushy then definitely check out the DiMarzio Illuminator bridge.
The Adelaide International Guitar Festival is a unique monolith on the Australian guitar landscape. More like the great European festivals in terms of its approach rather than a G3-like celebration of electric guitar power, it pays homage to the instrument by celebrating the broad palette of sounds it’s capable of, with particular emphasis on world-class virtuoso guitarists outside of the well-trodden rock realm – while also drawing in some of the best that the rock guitar world has to offer too. Over the years the event has included the likes of Ralph Towner, Jorma Kaukonen, The Assad Duo, Pepe Romero, The Atlantics, Richard Clapton, David Lindley, Kaki King, Vernon Reid, Bob Brozman, Xavier Rudd, Adrian Belew, Hoodoo Gurus, The Derek Trucks Band, Lior, Troy Cassar-Daley, The Party Boys, Slava Grigoryan, Ash Grunwald, Grinspoon, Guy Pratt, Manuel Barrueco, Yamandú Costa, Dhafer Youssef, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Christa Hughes, Ben Fink, Karin Schaupp, Oscar Guzmán, Tommy Emmanuel, Jeff Lang and many, many more. This year’s event featured a great assortment of guitarists from a wide range of genres. My girlfriend is from Adelaide and we thought it would be fun to make a huge road trip out of it (stopping at lots of fun tourist stops along the way for the benefit of our 7-year-old… who am I kidding, I just really wanted to see the Big Lobster), so here are my highlights:
Debashish Bhattacharya. An absolute master of Indian classical music, which he performs on a collection of unique instruments including his ‘Trinity of Guitars’ – his lap-slide chaturangui, 14-stringed gandharvi and the anandi, a four-string slide ukulele. Debashish also used a Gibson Super 400 which had belonged to his guru Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra. Accompanied by Subashish and Anandi Bhattacharya on percussion and vocals respectively, the performance was hypnotic, soulful and utterly captivating. It’s tempting to look for links between Debashish’s slide guitar sound and the blues that we’re probably more used to hearing, but ultimately this style of music has an extremely long, nuanced legacy and is a world unto itself. Debashish’s humour, both verbally and within his playful musical interactions with Subashish and Anandi, was utterly endearing.
Chris Finnen and Phil Manning’s performance was a great one-two punch of legendary Aussie guitarists (well, Finnen wasn’t born here but moved here when he was young). Manning opened with an acoustic set featuring some blues classics before Finnen joined him with his slightly Indian-influenced slide guitar, before taking over with an electric set (later joined by Manning). Finnen’s tone, phrasing and knack for ear-catching tricks (harmonics, wah-wah, weird noises) was spellbinding. Truly one of the greats. While Finnen and Manning played “Hey Joe,” Debashish and band strolled in and stood next to my, where I eavesdropped (okay, they had to yell so I had no choice) on them commenting on how great and natural both guitarists were.
The Festival Gala featured the Australian String Quartet performing Boccherini’s “Quintetto No. 4 Fandango” with Pepe Romero; Slava Grigoryan performing (careful how you say this) “The Garden of Forking Paths,” which was written for him and the string quartet by Shaun Rigney and inspired by Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges; and the Máximo Pujol Trio playing Pujol’s own suite for strings, guitar and bandoneon, “Luminosa de Buenos Aires.” The evening began with the 23-strong Aurora Guitar Ensemble playing a set of playful compositions under the guidance of Dr Paul Svoboda. Grigoriyan’s performance was more meditative and textural than we’re probably more used to hearing him (my grandma-in-law didn’t like it, sorry Slava!); Romero demonstrated his complete mastery of rhythm and phrasing; and Pujol’s Pizzola-inspired piece was an inspiring, multi-layered, exhilarating ride and one of the highlights of the festival.
On the final night of the festival I caught Stochelo Rosenberg Trio. The night was again kicked off by the Aurora Guitar Ensemble augmented with local Adelaide players to create the 80+ member Adelaide Guitar Festival Orchestra, joined at the end by Slava and Leonard Grigoriyan. Svoboda and his crew should be applauded for giving so many guitarists such an amazing experience of playing for such a big audience, and choosing and arranging such varied and fun material. It was probably an odd pairing, given Stochelo’s world-class virtuoso gypsy jazz skills offsetting the more direct, measured pace of the Adelaide Guitar Festival Orchestra’s set. Rosenberg and his new trio (featuring the incredible Sébastien Giniaux on second guitar) ripped through a set of amazing gypsy jazz tunes, including quite a few Django Reinhardt numbers, pushing each other to higher and higher levels of virtuosity. Rosenberg’s performance was exactly what I needed to see at the end of the festival: an incredible musical experience in its own right as well as motivation to get home (after a stop at the Naracoorte Caves, because underground chambers full of fossils are totally metal), pick up my guitar and play.
Check out what Jackson Guitars posted on their Instagram: a pair of DK2M Pro models, one with a green swirl finish and one with a Tigerstripe vibe. Jackson says these will be coming this fall to an authorised dealer near you.
© 2014, Guitarz - The Original Guitar Blog - the blog that goes all the way to 11!
Please read our photo and content policy.
More than once I had found myself perplexed by a fret that would not gracefully seat itself completely in a fret slot. More often than not the problem was the slot being too shallow for the tang on the fretwire. I saw the slots to an appropriate depth when making a dulcimer fingerboard but by […]
I don’t often post about stuff that’s super-local here, since I Heart Guitar has readers from all over the place, but Pure Pop Records is a place that’s quite near and dear to my heart: a record store with a comfortable, homey vibe and a great supporter of live music. Today they’ve announced that they’ll be moving on from their longtime home in Barkly St, St Kilda following a long-running battle against noise level regulations (as St Kilda residents will know, all it takes is one grouchy new resident to move in to a long-established live music area, make a complaint, and decimate an entire creative ecosystem…), but Pure Pop will find a new location. Below is the message that was sent out:
Good afternoon my beloved Pure Popsters
Here we are. After all the trials and tribulations of the last 9 years
here at 221 Barkly Street it has come to an end – for this location at least.
Rumours and speculations have been flying thick and fast about the future of Pure Pop Records and I’m sorry it’s taken so long to set the record straight. The reason is that in the past I’ve sent out progress reports and had the rug pulled out or new obstacles placed in front of me.
This time I wanted to be sure that I could tell you all where we’re at and what we’re doing about it
Case in point….
I sent an email out to brickbuyers a couple of months ago outlining that everything was set and ready to go. Planning permit issued, finance approved, architectural drawings done and ready for submission for a building permit (which was assured by council as they had worked in consultation with the architects and acoustic engineers). All we needed was the signature on the plans by the owner of the building before submission. I was then told by the landlord that he would not allow the renovation to take place. He has refused to give a reason for this decision. I was absolutely devastated. I have fought tooth and nail at great financial and emotional expense for years and to encounter this just as I was nearing the finish has been quite heartbreaking. The only thing he would tell me is that “All along I never said yes”
Now bear in mind that the landlord was aware of our plans every step of the way. It was nearly three years ago that the council informed us that we would have to soundproof the rear courtyard or cease having live music. From the start I have consulted with him, taking in his suggestions and informing him of my progress.
He was told that we had to enclose and soundproof the area – he didn’t object. He was told that we had to demolish the existing stage that was there when we moved in – he didn’t object. He was told that we were applying for a planning permit with the council to do the renovation – he didn’t object. He was told that we were starting a huge fundraising campaign to pay for the renovation – he didn’t object. He asked to meet with the architect to go over the plans, which we did. Myself and the architect went to the landlord’s house and noted the changes he wanted made to the plans, which we then made – he didn’t object.
A week later he called and said that he wasn’t going to give permission for the renovation,
with the line “I never said yes.” I am exploring my legal position in regards to the recovery of funds spent with his tacit approval, no matter what he says, on the renovation of his property.
I have put it in the hands of solicitors (working pro bono) and they have kindly told me they’ll look at it thoroughly and leave me to do what I have to do to……
…….it took a week or so for me to find any sort of silver lining in this situation.
Luckily I had put off the signing of a lease extension until after the building permit was issued. That means Pure Pop can get out of theses premises by August 31 without breaking a lease.
So that’s what Pure Pop is going to do. The search is on for new premises. I have already looked at a few places and rejected them for a number of reasons – nearby residents, too small, too big, zoned for retail not hospitality, etc, etc – but the search continues.
All of the plaques for the brickbuyers have been made and engraved. They’ve been sitting here at the store just waiting to be put up on the new wall for a year now. All it means is that they’ll be going up on a different wall.
So Pure Pop Records will be leaving 221 Barkly Street, closing the doors here on August 17.
Up until then, everything is on sale, not only our collection of CDs and vinyl, but fridges, CD racks, sandwich press, glass washer, everything!
We will also continue to have gigs right up until we close.
The last week here is going to be huge. We will be bringing back many of the regular performers who have not only entertained us over the years but have become firm and loyal friends of all of us at Pure Pop. Stay tuned for news of the lineup.
I will be continuing to put on shows at other venues as “Pure Pop Presents…” while on the search for the new venue.
Lastly, I ask that if you guys in your travels around the area see any vacant spaces, please drop me a line. I may have already checked it out but chances are I might not have.
Please don’t grieve over losing Pure Pop.
No one has lost Pure Pop except the landlord of 221 Barkly Street
We will return!
Don’t let the name throw ya: the Gibson Les Paul Standard of 2014 is a very different guitar to a 1959 Les Paul Standard, the guitar that launches a million riffs. But in a way the use of the name here makes perfect sense: there are all sorts of design enhancements on the 2014 Standard which represent what a guitar can be in 2014, rather than 1959, in terms of tone, playability and tuning stability, and Gibson has seen fit to apply the Standard name to this new evolution of the instrument. So what exactly is so different?
For starters, the Les Paul Standard’s mahogany body is given Gibson’s Modern Weight Relief treatment, a series of strategically-drilled holes which tame the Les Paul’s traditionally back-bothering weight down to more manageable levels. The top is made of Maple (and there are three levels available: Standard, Standard Plus and Standard Premium), and the neck is mahogany with a rosewood fretboard and 22 cryogenically frozen frets.
The first obvious concession to updated playability is the asymmetrical ‘60s Slim Taper neck (which is more of a teardrop-shaped profile than a regular ‘60s Slim Taper neck) and a compound radius fretboard which goes from curvy and chord-friendly at the lower frets to flatter and more bendable at the higher frets.
The pickups are a pair of Alnico 5-loaded Gibson BurstBucker Pro humbuckers, and the two volume and two tone controls have push-pull switches which give you single coil options for each pickup, a phase switch for haunting, hollow, liquid twin-pickup tones, and a ‘Pure Bypass’ switch which sends the bridge pickup signal directly to the output jack for maximum power, instead of going through volume and tone pots which rob the signal of a bit of guts. Oh and the Standard features Min-ETune self-tuning technology, which is natural and unobtrusive, giving you all sorts of instant tuning options both stock and custom right there at the press of a button.
We all know what a great humbucker-loaded Les Paul sounds like and the Burstbucker Pros deliver it in abundance: warm, punchy bridge tones, rich sustaining neck tones and plenty of sustain. So the real surprises here are the single coil and out-of-phase settings, which really open the guitar up to become the ultimate studio tool. The out-of-phase mode in particular really shines: it’s almost like a fixed-wah-wah tone or a carefully voiced parametric EQ, and it’s capable of some very expressive, articulate sounds whether played clean or dirty. And the Min-ETune system lets you instantly go from standard to dropped and altered tunings, or to simply adjust your tuning between songs in a much more efficient way than the old Robot Guitar system.
This is pretty much the ultimate Les Paul in terms of tone, giving you everything from classic vintage sounds to modern, up-to-the-minute textures. This really does set a new standard for what a Les Paul can be, so the more you play it, the more the name makes sense. If you want something more like a ’59, try the Les Paul Traditional, which keeps many of those classic specs alive. But if you want a guitar made for now, check the Standard out.
Working with Jam Track Central, the great Guthrie Govan has just released an instructional program that can teach you some of his trickiest tracks.
Watch Govan play snippets of the songs “Plucky Seven,” “Man Alive” and “Five to Three” and try to play along with him in the video after the jump.
The Venezuelan Waltzes by Antonio Lauro really grabbed me when I was playing classical guitar a little more seriously, back in the late 1970′s. I have recently resurrected them and have been playing them on the steel-string guitar. This really gives them a different character and feel that I hope you enjoy.
Waltz #1 (Tatiana) is not as popular or famous as #2 or #3 but includes many of the interesting techniques and harmonies of the others.
I think we are in an age where some of the finest, most consistent guitars are being made both in factories and by individual makers. For this reason, while I’ve thought vintage guitars were intriguing, I’ve never really bought into the hype that they are worth, in some cases, 100 times more than a new guitar of “equal” specs.
The truth is, though, I had never played any truly vintage guitars until recently. I’ve now played a few vintage guitars, and I realize that there’s a little more to it than hype.
What I’ve found is that there does appear to be something special about a good vintage guitar. I played through a couple of examples from Gibson and Fender and was surprised about how they felt. It’s hard to put into words exactly what was different about them, but there’s definitely something about them, whether it’s vibe or wood that has aged or something else. It’s probably a lot of things.
To give a specific example, I was able to play a 1963 Strat that was really beat up, with various modifications. The body looked like it had been dragged behind a car. However, the neck felt better than any neck I’ve ever played before. It was well worn and extremely comfortable. The body was very resonant and had a nice attack to it. There are some guitars that when you play them just feel right. This guitar was like that.
That’s not to say that all vintage guitars are great. There are certainly some duds, just like there are some duds being made today. When I was playing the Strat a few weeks ago, I also played through about five different 50s era Telecasters. I didn’t like any of them. One was very heavy, and the rest just lacked whatever it was that the Strat had.
However, when you find a good one, there’s a little extra vibe to them that new guitars don’t seem to have. Again, it’s hard to explain what it is. There’s also something special about playing a guitar that has a lot of history. It’s fun to imagine where the guitar has been and what stories it could tell.
Unfortunately, most vintage instruments are priced out of the range of normal people. It’s hard to find a 60s Strat or a 50s Telecaster that is below $10,000, and you certainly aren’t going to find a vintage Les Paul that regular players can afford.
For that reason, I’m glad that the factories and boutique builders of today are producing such high quality instruments at relatively low prices making them accessible to most of us. Even the import guitars are much better than they were just 10 or 15 years ago. There are nice guitars being made at just about any price point.
However, if you ever have a chance to play a vintage guitar, I think you’ll find what I’ve found: No matter how nice a new guitar is, there’s a vibe and feeling in a good vintage guitar that a new guitar can’t replicate.
By: Robert Cavuoto
With band members from around the globe including the U.K., Russia, Spain, Uruguay and New York, The Blackfires truly are an international and inspirational band. They’re not only making great rock music with a new vibe, but also extremely well educated.
With members touting a PhD with degrees from Oxford and Columbia, trained in philology, and film-making. The list goes on.
Leading this band of international pirates is Andrey “Cheggi” Chegodaev, with a soulful voice akin to Robert Plant and Ian Gillian with captivating onstage antics.
On guitar is the charismatic Englishman Anthony Mullin, who has jammed with the of Brad Whitford, Joe Perry, Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, and Orianthi among other superb guitarists.
His ties with Aerosmith helped secure an opening spot at a recent Aerosmith show in Moscow, when the rockers were on their Let Rock Rule tour, boasting other opening acts such as the likes of Rival Sons and Slash on all North American dates.
Also on guitar is Spanish born Hector Marin who has a more schooled approach to delivering intricate leads and rhythms, that are in the realms of Iron Maiden & Thin Lizzy.
Then there’s Grasebo Doe from Uruguay who’s a rock-solid rock bass player. Rounding out the band is drummer Joe Mitch from America or more accurately New York City! His stick action tends to be a secret weapon in the arsenal of The Blackfires.
With their EP Live from The Cutting Room already out and a second full length CD due to be released this Fall, the band has been drawing attention from some notable music heavy weights like Aerosmith and California Breed, Glenn Hughes’ and Jason Bonham’s new band.
Having caught their act at a recent gig opening for California Breed (on their second show ever) I arranged an interview with guitarist Anthony Mullin. Anthony offered Guitar International an update on the band and what we can expect from the group in the near future.
Cheggi also called to give us a few more ideas as to what’s happening with The Blackfires.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me a little about the band’s origins?
Cheggi: We started the band in 2011/12 when I came to New York from Moscow to pursue a music career. To organize a great band is always a challenge, especially in a new country, with no connections.
So, I posted an ad on Craigslist that read something like: “I’m a frontman, whoever wants to conquer a world with me, jump on board”. I got a response from a drummer. Later he confessed to me, that he only replied to the ad to find out who the “psycho” was that thought he could conquer the world. [Laughing]
Later, a friend of the drummer who played bass also joined. All we needed was a charismatic guitar player. I searched through the Internet and found Anthony Mullin’s profile on a social networking site called Bandmix.com.
Unfortunately, Bandmix only provides an obscure email address and makes you pay for their service to get the email. So I added all the possible email options like yahoo.com, gmail.com etcetera.
I didn’t get a response for a month. When Anthony did reply, I thought it was a sign! I didn’t even know who he was, but I knew he was gonna be in the band. Later Anthony brought his friend to the band as a second guitarist. That’s how it all started.
Anthony Mullin: I didn’t realize Bandmix had obscured my contact info and wondered why no one was sending me emails.
When I got one I was happy, but I was late replying as I had some other auditions lined up. I listened to Cheggi’s vocals and was very very impressed. As my obsessive mind tends to do, I thought “Okay, but everyone puts their best foot forward online – I have to hear him live.” S
So we arranged a jam and that’s where Cheggi brought a drummer, who brought his brother’s band’s bass player. Cheggi asked if I knew Led Zeppelin’s “Rock n Roll”. I was floored that he could pull off Robert Plant like that. That was it for me. I brought my mate to the next rehearsal for the much needed second guitarist spot.
Fast forward through many gigs and in 2012, tensions had risen about the band’s direction, song-writing, and the same old clichéd bullshit that you hear about. Cheggi and I really wanted to carry on as a band, but my friend on guitar eventually chose to leave. But not before firing our drummer. Then the bassist left with him to focus on non-music related work.
Cheggi and I spent most of 2013 auditioning for three new band members, which was pretty stressful. In order to keep the dream alive we played acoustic shows. During that time it was great to see fans coming out and supporting us, it really meant a lot to us.
The solution came late 2013, when Cheggi had reconnected with a drummer, Joe Mitch, from when he first moved to New York City. I thought of a guitarist friend, Hector Marin, whom I met when I first moved to New York City in 2008.
We then invited them both to play and Hector brought his Uruguayan friend, Grasebo Doe, to play bass. We liked the sound and that was it.
Robert: How do you define your music and how do you want it to be classified?
Anthony Mullin: That’s a difficult question, but I think the answer lies somewhere in the “rock” genre for want of a better term.
We’d want to be defined as a rock band, yet appreciated for our idiosyncrasies.
Our music is an amalgamation of all of our influences. I love the blues, Cheggi loves classic rock and opera, Joe is all about Queen, so our harmonies reflect that.
Hector has a degree in music theory and composition and can bring classical elements, while Grasebo loves heavier bands and loves riffs with plenty of low end. I suppose it’s a gestalt of rock that’s reminiscent, but also has a new sound.
Robert: Where do you get your inspiration from when writing songs?
Anthony Mullin: For me, ideas just come to mind when I’m doing something other than music. If I see something, or hear somebody saying a phrase, I often use that as a starting point. I think any experience can be inspirational – good, bad, and mundane.
On rare occasions I can hear fleshed out melodies to songs in my head. I’ll go to my guitar and play what I hear. It happened once while on the phone to my Mum so I had to call her back. I couldn’t pay attention to the conversation.
Aside from that, difficult times in my life have been inspirational like a break-up or a particularly heavy weekend propping up the bar.
Robert: What has the highlight of launching The Blackfires?
Anthony Mullin: Finding this new line-up. I really was grateful to Joe, Hector, and Grasebo for coming in and not only having great musical abilities, but being excited about the project.
For lifting Cheggi and I up when our stamina had waned. It’s difficult to be excited after something suddenly implodes that you thought was going well. I suppose another highlight was opening for Aerosmith in Cheggi’s hometown of Moscow at the Olympic Stadium.
As if that wasn’t enough, the week after being asked by Live Nation to be main support for Glenn Hughes’s California Breed at The Gramercy Theater in New York. We were over the moon. I think we still are.
Robert: What was it like opening for Aerosmith and California Breed?
Anthony Mullin: I moved to New York City to attend Columbia for my PhD. That got me a visa, but at the same time I had plans to start a band.
On a train back from Boston of all places, I ran into none other than Brad Whitford and Eric Johnson. We all chatted on the way into the city and I ended up going to their Hendrix Experience show.
Over the next few years Brad and I stayed in touch and I went to some of their summer shows. A couple of times he even spoke to Steven about The Blackfires. Then early this year I was out in Vegas and got to jam with Joe Perry, which sort of strengthened our relations.
We heard about their show in Moscow and that got my wheels spinning. I asked Cheggi to put feelers out in Moscow and it turns out he ended up knowing someone connected to the promoter for the Russian Aero shows.
We bothered them about including us as a potential opener when they pitched bands to Aerosmith, to which they agreed but assured us there were no guarantees. Then it ended up happening. Short answer: right place and right time, and many phone calls and emails bothering people with your unknown band. [Laughing]
As for California Breed, Live Nation got in touch with our drummer and said they had an opening slot and wanted to know if we would be interested. We said we were and that was that. Ideal coming off the Aerosmith show, which was only a week prior.
Robert: So, persistency pays off! What was it like to play for so many people?
Anthony Mullin: It was a dream come true, plus a mixture of a lot of emotions – excitement, anxiety, and self-doubt. It was surreal.
Approaching the stadium I felt what I imagine slaves felt approaching the Roman coliseum, I felt small. Once I saw the Olympic stadium I thought “Okay it’s happening, it’s go time.”
We didn’t get as much of a sound check, so that added to the anxiety. Even before the first song the crowd was roaring.
Once we dug into that first song there was no looking back. The crowd was giving off so much energy and responding to us that I have to say it’s the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on.
Girls in the front row even threw flowers – which never hurts. I think for Cheggi it was even more of a plus coming to his hometown. The prodigal son returned, with the proof that dreams can be realized [he’d left a good job in football journalism to come and sing in NYC]. Both his parents and my dad were there too, so there was a feeling of pride to do that in front of them.
Robert: Any favorite memories or stories you can share of that Aero show?
Anthony Mullin: I have two that standout. Having my dad there to watch was huge since he’s been a massive supporter of my music. He bought me my first guitar, so without him I’m not sure I’d have gotten into music.
Also chatting with Brad – who’s been a huge influence on my playing – before going onstage really was magic. I’ve known him for years now, but to have him waiting there as the house lights went down saying “Good luck have a great show, I’ll be watching from the side here,” these are the moments you live for. Also I reckon there’s no better talisman than before playing the biggest gig of your life so far.
Robert: What’s next for touring?
This summer we will likely be going to Philly, perhaps Boston and Washington D.C.
At the very end of August we’ll be heading to North Carolina to play with some other rock bands. That will coincide with finishing the next CD. Also we just heard from the Gibson Guitar showroom here in New York City, who are having us come in to record an acoustic session.
We’re also arranging a headlining gig at The Gramercy Theatre, which is nice. We love that venue.
Robert: Tell us about the songwriting process for the band? Did each member contribute to the writing of your current release – Live from The Cutting Room?
Anthony Mullin: Live from The Cutting Room is from the previous iteration of The Blackfires, but the songwriting process there was similar to what it is now. All members contributed which is a great thing.
Currently, we are recording our second release which we hope will be a full length CD released this autumn. Everyone has written both lyrics and music for it. Joe came in with a couple of songs almost finished. Hector had a song he’d written which we all liked. Cheggi and I had a couple from our acoustic sessions. The rest came organically through jamming in the studio or fleshing out someone’s riff.
Robert: What do you want fans to take away from your music?
Anthony Mullin: In general I want them to enjoy it and themselves whilst listening to it, if that’s not too much to ask.
I don’t think we take ourselves too seriously, but at the same time we are advocates for rock as a genre and a movement. For getting out there and making music. It’s been a long time but we feel like the music industry scene is seeing rock come back to the forefront, a paradigm shift if you will.
We were chatting with Glenn Hughes backstage at Gramercy, the gig you saw, and he was saying the same thing, that he feels rock is coming back.
The time is ripe for change. Their record just got to number one in the U.K., so he’s taking that as a good sign, as he should.
Also the date we played with Aerosmith is part of their Let Rock Rule Tour, so the message is out there and we want to help spread it. Along those lines, I’m sure you’ve heard of Rival Sons – they also opened for Aerosmith in May.
I was reading an interview with Scott Holiday recently and he said, “That people are aching for rock n roll and that the pendulum is swinging back”. I agree with him and want us to be part of it.
Also having people realize how much work has gone on behind closed doors to deliver the music. A fan in Russia recently told Cheggi that after seeing us open for Aerosmith and realizing our dream, that he too can realize his.
If someone listens to our music and gets inspired like that or to start playing, or take their playing out of the bedroom, even just smile to themselves in enjoyment, then to me that’s a great thing.
Let’s all think back to what made us want to play or what we loved about rock or music in general. I don’t know…pick a song by Queen, Zeppelin, GNR – not an exhaustive list, obviously – but there were elements that got through to you.
Robert: Any favorite songs on the CD?
Anthony Mullin: For me it’s probably “Gambit”. There’s plenty of variety in the song which keeps things interesting, both playing and listening-wise.
There’s a dark intro verse which turns into a lighter, more melodic sound by the chorus. I like that contrast, I reckon it adds to the romantic imagery that Cheggi is singing about. I also like the lead I came up with in the end, as well as getting to trade-off and harmonize with Hector who kicks arse on that song.
Coincidentally, Brad Whitford likes it too, so I’m taking that as a positive sign.
Robert: How did you come up with your name?
Anthony Mullin: When we all met, we each thought that Cheggi looked like Jack Sparrow. He was saying he liked the idea of pirates and so we went with that theme when trying to name our band.
At one point we had Blackbeard’s ship “Queen Anne’s Revenge” as a potential name. From there I got to thinking about pirate flags with the skull and cross bones as a logo. I’ve always liked black as a color, and it’s used in rock obviously a fair bit, as is fire.
I think it all came together from there. We wanted something that sounds rock n’ roll and memorable. I think we succeeded. Glenn Hughes said he liked the name, so we’re happy with that.
Robert: What does success look like to you?
Anthony Mullin: I think success for me is mixture of being persistent toward your goals and then seeing some of them realized. I say some, as even the most successful people still have some failures.
Success is having the motivation, guile, and wherewithal to try toward what you want out of life. Hopefully you achieve the goal or some semblance of it. Even if you don’t, at least you tried.
I forget the quote “the only failure is to have never tried at all” something like that. The success then in those situations might be trying your approach or forging a new path you didn’t even think of beforehand.