The Lost Art of Rock Guitar in the United Kingdom

Back to the Future?

I saw something very amusing in the WH Smiths at Paddington Station recently. Future Publications has just released a book and DVD in Newsagents called “Play Guitar Now – Metal” which despite its title is actually a very concise look at all the popular Rock guitar techniques of the 1980′s. Tapping, Sweep picking, Alternate picking, Legato Runs, Riffs, Solo’s, Modes and Scales are all included. It was clearly aimed at young guitarists, but featured the work of players who’s heyday was well before they were even born (Im talking the 1970′s and 80′s). Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, Lynch, Vai, hell it even namechecked fusion god Al Di Meola….. I was so shocked at this I almost spat my Costa Coffee over a disgruntled commuter when I saw it.

Having bought the DVD I found it was a concise and very well presented selection of all the popular guitar techniques I aspired to learn as a nipper (and eventually did). But back then there was no internet and most tuition tapes and videos were pretty thin on the ground), I had to listen to my Vinyl over and over again and actually work this stuff out for myself, it took a long time to learn it and even longer to integrate it into my playing style. The idea that someone in 1986 when I was working this stuff out by ear would show all this to me….slowly and concisely would have been like a gift from the gods themselves.

The DVD is presented by Martin Goulding who is an exeptional player and teacher and makes a lot of information approachable and digestable. But I find it amazing there is a demand for this stuff at all. Perhaps we are being lied to.

If you were to only accept the narrow word of our Media Elite, you would think no one had any interest in such music, but clearly they have. As someone who’s playing style essentially fuses Classic Rock melodicism and fire with post punk’s icy texturalism and space I’ve always found myself something of an outsider compared to the players I saw in other bands at gigs both back in the 90′s and even now. I remember a guy coming up to me in a rehearsal room in Nottingham in 2005 and asking me about what guitarists had influenced me. I was really shocked, flattered and even bemused when this young 22 year old started feverishly writing down names like Alex Lifeson, Van Halen, John McGeoch, George Lynch, John Sykes and Neal Schon as I dictated notes and reccomended albums to him.

I blame the UK’s Media for this sorry state of affairs, successive UK Television, Radio and Magazine people have tried to pretend that Rock music with guitar solo’s and riffs does not exist…..no matter how many albums or concert tickets are sold. For example Journeys “Don’t Stop Believing” was on every best of AOR and American Rock complilation album released in the UK when I was a young lad. But according to the Guardian newspaper, no one in the UK knew the song existed until the TV series Glee. This is an out an out fucking lie.

I find this Stalinist-ist rewriting of history most sinister. Even Allan Yentobs BBC series on the history of the guitar also dismissed Hard Rock and Metal Music as some sort of curious American footnote, when its actually the driver and prime mover that influences the Guitar industry at every level. Something Yentob would have known if he’d actually bothered to look in a guitar shop and talked to some guitarists rather than pursuing his own agenda.

Meanwhile various careerist indie bands have chased the tail of whatever was credible from this month to the next and the result is the most lacklustre period in British Music ever. One only has to scan the musicians classifieds on Gumtree and Join My Band.com to see the same boring as fuck influences listed and repeated over and over again. Oasis/Kings of Leon/Coldplay yawn.

Outside of perhaps the Metal scene, the guitar has been reduced to the most uninspiring of voices, now lowered in the mix to such an extend in popular music one can harly hear it above the drums, no wonder the ukelele is popular again ( it is that “pick it up and can’t play but I have a cool haircut so I must be an artist” amateurism that has been a desease feeding on British Music since Punk).

I really hope lots of young guys and girls get into the techniques shown in this magazine, but I also hope they grow beyond them, mix them up with other things and in time find their own voices and that however those voices come out they are not drowned out by the Marxist scumbags of the UK Media who are killing off both art and aspiration in British Life.

Gary Moore: RIP & the sadness to come

In the 80's with a PRS

I was sad to see that Gary Moore passed away last week on holiday in Spain, from the various press accounts it looks like he’d suffered a heart attack in his sleep after one brandy too many. he was 58 years old.

In the past I’ve been quite negative about Gary on this blog, which has mainly reflected my frustration with some of his quotes in the press for example on the release of a blues album in 2007 Gary declared that older musicians should just not be playing hard rock music etc (try telling that to Rush, AC/DC, Kiss, Whitesnake etc etc). This blog also thinks he made a pickle out of selling the Peter Green Les Paul, which seemed to be an incredibly naive decision (Gary got very angry about the buyer Phil Winfield of Maverick Music trying to commercially exploit one of the most famous electric guitars on earth, this blog suggested at the time that floating the guitar to private investors would have enabled Gary to keep the guitar and yet still make money from it, why none of Gary’s people didn’t think of that is quite beyond me, I thought Rock N Roll managers were supposed to manage after all).

But his brief 2 times in Thin Lizzy aside the Gary Moore I grew up with is the solo artist from the 1980′s albums Victim Of The Future, Run For Cover and Wild Frontier. Here was a singer songwriter in the Hard Rock idiom who had guitar chops to die for. I saw him live twice in the 80′s and each time it was a 90 minute lesson in tone, dynamics and phrasing. he was fucking loud and yet the playing still had intimacy. It is this Gary Moore that I will mourn. I liked Still Got The Blues, but to me why bother, Clapton has never publicly aknowledged Moores playing neither when he was alive or posthumously. So why pay tribute to such an insecure man in the first place.

But the real sadness for me is that Gary’s death is just the beginning of the end. Gary is a second generation blues player, one of the guys who picked up the guitar after hearing The Beatles,Stones,Cream, Clapton and Hendrix, thats a pretty exclusive club of some of the greatest players of the last 40 years. Dave Gilmour,Eddie Van Halen, Alex Lifeson, Steve Lukather, George Lynch, Toni Iommi, John Sykes, Michael Schenker, Neal Schon…. All men in their late 50′s or early 60′s now. Once they have passed on, there will be little in the way of successors. All we will have outside of the Metal World in mainstream culture is careerist indie bands with haircuts and skinny jeans and TV Pop talent show winners, with no one to look up to or be inspired by will be left, the guitar will finally slip into the role of fashion accessory rather than musical instrument and the kids will certainly not be allright.

Joe Satriani dumps Peavey for Marshall

Lots of OMG shock horror on various guitar forums at the moment. Joe Satriani has apparently decided to dump his longstanding endorsement of Peavey amps and use Marshall JVM410′s on the upcoming tour of the new “Supergroup” Chickenfoot. Despite having the Peavey JSX signature series heads made to his exacting specifications, Satriani has decided to go for the new(ish) 4 channel head from marshall.

Now lots of people are pointing out quite correctly that Satch doesnt actually use the 2 distortion channels on his own amps & instead uses his own signature distortion pedal, made by Vox…. The Satchurator through his Peaveys clean channel and that its unlikely that there will be much difference in tone through the clean channel of a JVM.

Whatever the reason its good news for Marshall, who, thanks to the exchange rate and a much revamped product line, seem to be regaining ground lost in recent years. But all this news has done to my mind is point out the absolute nonsense surrounding Endorsement deals and the “signature” product industry as a whole.

Its quite common knowledge that a guitarist may be endorsing one brand of amplifier or guitar, while actually using another. The biggest culprits for this racket must surely be Laney & Crate, who whenever I see the artists in their adverts onstage its usually with another brand of amplifier. When Oceansize mentioned how good Laney were in a recent issue of Guitarist, it was embarrissing to see in the accompanying pictures of their backline a Marshall JCM2000 head perched atop a Laney 4 x12 in the background. Crate are also comical in the way most of their endorsers either endorse cabinets only and use another brand of amp ( Marcos Curiel from POD with a Mesa dual rectifier) or just practise amps (Lita Ford/Yngwie Malmsteen). In the early 90′s Bon Jovi’s Ritchie Sambora had a wall of Fender Tonemaster heads onstage and hidden behind them 5 rackmounted Marshall JCM800′s . Even Status Quo allegedly have Vox AC30 chassis built into Marshall JCM cabinets.

The biggest pisstakers in all this though are a tie between

1: Metallica – Kirk Hammetts new signature Randall Head isn’t all he uses, he still confesses to using Boogies live, with the bulk of his tone being created by Triaxis preamps and Dual Rectifiers again, and while James Hetfield talked to Guitarist mag about using a Diezel VH4 as the main amp in the woeful “St. Anger “sessions. His producer Bob Rock told Guitar world it was all done with a Marshall DSL100. Not that I imagine they’d be queuing up to admit to that one…..Ahem.

2: Eddie Van Halen – THe 5150 brand is now ubiquitous, with products made by Fender, Dunlop, Peavey, Musicman & Kramer. The big problem here is while Eddie is a legend, do you really want to buy equipment from a man who hasn’t written anything decent for 17+ years & made all his greatest work on a “parts” guitar costing $50 & an old Marshall plexi?

As with guitars it gets even weirder. Despite having longstanding endorsements with PRS & Gibson. The one guitar Rush’s Alex Lifeson has used as his main recording guitar for the last 2 decades is a decidedly non collectable 52 reissue telecaster. Lifeson bought it in 83 and its on pretty much every Rush record since then.

Obviously a musician has the right to use whatever he or she feels does the job best. But in this world of massive advertising campaigns and marketing hyperbole. It’d be nice to see some honesty rather than PR for a change.

David Gilmour Signature Stratocaster – The Black Strat

Fender recently launched 2 US Custom Shop tribute edition Strats based on Dave Gilmours “legendary” Black Strat, the original guitar was a Stock 69 Strat bought from Manny’s in New York in 1970 and used on most of Pink Floyds classic albums. Atom Heart Mother/Dark Side of The Moon/ Wish You Were Here etc etc. Lots of people are excited about this, half of Future publishings editorial staff are wanking over a CD of ‘Atom Heart Mother’ even as I type. Gilmour has a new live album ‘Live in Gdansk’ to promote and sadly Rick Wright has passed away.

RIP rick. :(

It seems that the whole guitar fraternity are excited by this new arrival to Fenders range. I am a massive DG/Floyd fan, but somehow the hyperbole has vexed me. There are 2 models a New Old Stock guitar and a lovingly bashed up ‘Relic’ addition.

Personally I find the whole relic’ing guitars thing a bit pathetic, if you play live your guitar will get war wounds simply by gigging and being used. The dings and nicks are genuine and tell part of your guitars and therefore ultimately your story. The idea these scars are put on as part of a finishing process is as pathetic as it sounds and when guitarists disagree with me and say “oh but they feel played in” my reply is “BOLLOCKS you fucking girly dentist weekend warrior, get back to stealing my pension with your hedge fund!!!!”

Sorry…;) Rant almost over….

Basically if you strip away the marketing hype. This guitar is a US Custom shop 57 reissue with different pickups, a Callan shortened tremelo arm & block and a clever switch that gives you the neck and bridge positions together. Gilmours original is essentially now a bitsa thats had more surgery than the average Hollyoaks cast member. I had a peruse of (long time roadie) Phil Taylors book ‘The Black Strat’ in Waterstones the other day and the beast has had 3 different necks, several trems and more electronic things inserted into it than Jodie Marsh at an Ann Summers Party. It even had a Charvel neck and a Kahler trem at one point. Here it is hanging on the Hard Rock Cafe’s wall sometime in its history.

dgstr

Somehow though the “legitimacy” of this model has kinda made people forget that they could easily doctor a black used 57 reissue (US or J-Craft) and simply shorten the trem arm themselves and buy some pickups to mount on their aftermarket black scratchplate. I’ve seen quite a few people already doing this and I for one think its great that with a few spares and imagination its possible to accurately replicate a guitar that a well heeled Floyd fan would pay a couple of grand for.

The irony of this signature model for me is that anyone who has seen DG live with Pink Floyd between 87 and 94 will know that his main guitar was not this (it was on loan rusting away in the hard rock cafe at the time), but a red secondhand early 80′s 57 reissue bought from Chandlers (the guitar was ex of Mick Ralph’s from Bad company I believe) and fitted with EMG pickups and a shortened trem arm. I saw Gilmour on the telly at Live Aid using this guitar with Brian Ferry, then on the telly again when Pink Floyd played Venice in the late 80′s and their ‘Earls Court’ residency in 1994.

Again this guitar has been widely copied by keen DG/Floyd enthusiasts for years. EMG actually make a Dave Gilmour DG20 signature pickup set complete on ready to mount scratchplate. I wonder how all those devotee’s with EMG powered 57 strat’s are feeling at the mo. Is it time for a respray and some pickups to be changed I wonder?

Don’t get me wrong, The Black guitar is of huge historical significance. But if your under 40 years old the guitar you most associate with Mr Gilmour is certainly not the black one. The fact that DG lent it to a Burger chain to hang on a wall for several years kinda makes me wonder if it was all that special anyway?

In typical cynical Jeztone style I wonder if this move towards a DG strat was not instigated by Dave Gilmour but by his Roadie Phil Taylor. Guitar techs to big name artists are increasingly powerful people who can act as a point man between artist and equipment manafacturer or Vintage guitar dealer. One of Metallica’s roadies has an Endorsement deal with Mesa Boogie…so I bet he welds some influence over the equipment choices of the bands he’s teching with for sure.

A DG signature based on the red one would have little in the way of difference to a stock Fender guitar, wheras the black instruments long running history of a test bed instrument for new hardware and pickups, makes it more of a Marketing mans dream. In addition it’s use on the classic Floyd albums of the 70′s also makes it sit nicely with the age group of the Doctors/Lawyers and other Baby Boomers with the money to spend £2k+ on a guitar they could replicate for less than half that amount.

Fender ST57 ALGTX

In addition Dave Gilmour is the owner of a 1954 strat, serial number 0001. This guitar was used by Gilmour at the Stratpack 50th Anniversary a few years ago, while there is also claims this guitar is a bitsa, it is still the most iconic guitar in the Gilmour collection. Luckily Fender Japan make a very unofficial reproduction, basically a 57 reissue with Texas Specials and a gold adonized pickguard. A perusal of Ebay should get you one of these babies for around £550 quid, much cooler looking and far less common than a used red strat with EMG’s in ha ha!

While we are on the subject of Strats anyone who read my £500 strat challenge last year will probably be wondering if I ever did buy a guitar? Well the truth is…..after I went out and had a bit of an early 80′s nostalgia trip with my Ibanez Roadstar and Yamaha SG fetish. I’m back on the Strat trail and boy its a hard slog.

The reality is that finding a guitar to tick all my boxes is proving quite a challenge. The problem so far is that any guitar I buy will probably need some modifications in order to meet my needs as a player. Despite Fender making 150+ variations of the same guitar, nothing is quite hitting the mark yet.

Expect an update next month!

John McGeoch: Innovator

McGeoch far left

BBC Radio 2 have gone and made an excellent documentary about one of my all time guitar heroes. Former Magazine/Banshees/PIL guitarist John McGeoch.

McGeoch was the credible gunslinger of post punk and his influence can be heard in the playing of guitarists as diverse as Steve Stevens/John Frusciante/The Edge/Jonny Marr etc etc. He
influenced much of my own style with his work on Magazines The Correct use of Soap and the Banshees Ju Ju Albums.

His main instrument of Choice was the ultra Modernist Yamaha SG1000, combined with Marshall JCM & Roland combos, he also loved kicking in an MXR Flanger and digital delay from time to time.

McGeoch died in 2004, his widow and daughter survive him.

It is ironic that now only years after his death he is being celebrated

Listen to it here