During the recording of the last album, “Querida“, I recovered and used an old ‘friend,’ the Fender Telecaster guitar to try some ‘cues‘ on the title track. It always surprises me what a set of new strings can do for a guitar. It had been a few years since I have played the guitar (forsaking it for work with the Native American-style flute), so I wasn’t altogether confident about laying down tracks with it. But the results became my favorite, and title track at the last minute before going to press with the album.
“Project: Beneath the Mask”
Musical Equipment Notes
This time, as I return to the studio on a project with the working title, “Beneath the Mask,” I am consciously bringing the guitars with me. At the time of this writing, I am working on the first track, and have brought a wonderful sassafras flute in low A made by Leonard McGann of Lone Crow Flutes. I was dosing-off one night and heard in my mind’s ear the flute having a musical conversation with an electric guitar. The guitar licks were thick and smooth – thicker than the Telecaster might make. So I went for the Stratocaster — an American-made Texas Special with a double-coil pickup in the bridge position.
This particular guitar has been set-up by excellent luthier, Paul Stebner of Guitar Remedy in Orange County, California. Paul has done a lot of inspired work for me over the years. I found that usually, stock guitars require that work to play well, especially when purchased new from a retail store. Typically the necks are not set-up with the strings close enough for me, the intonation is not perfect, and the frets are rough and chunky.
I purchased this particular guitar at Guitar Center a dozen or so years ago. I can remember grabbing one like it off of the wall of guitars and plugging it in to a VOX AC30 amplifier. I loved the look of the guitar — the ash grain of the body showing through the red sunburst finish. But – it sounded just OK.
I put it down and went out and looked on the wall and there was another, just like it. I brought it into the practice room and plugged this one in. It was better, but I needed something else — something more — something to really justify the purchase.
Almost disappointed, I went out to look at the wall a third time, and way in the back of the store, I thought that I saw another Stratocaster like the first two. That’s a little unusual, even for Guitar Center. So, for the third time, I plugged a guitar into the AC30. “Oh, My!” I said to myself. “It sounds like chimes!” I couldn’t believe my ears.
I turned the guitar over to look at the finish on the back of the guitar; It was deeply scratched, perhaps by some customer who really wanted to rock-out while wearing an over-sized belt buckle.
The sales guy said, “That’s OK. Go ahead and buy it, and we’ll have another one shipped to you.”
I said, “No way! I’ll take this one — even though it has been mauled.”
We concluded the typical Guitar Center crapola deal by arguing whether or not Fender includes a case at no extra charge, and whether the dings would be discounted. True-to-form, they wouldn’t budge until I produced the Fender catalog that clearly showed the instrument shiped case-included.
Paul half-surprised me by saying, “this is the best neck that I have ever seen on a Fender guitar; it’s virtually perfect!”
“I know,” I said.
“And, by the way,” Paul continued, ” I was able to buff-out some of the scratches, but not all of them.”
Anyway, the instrument didn’t disappoint.
This may sound a little stupid (it does to me), because as a boy, I would have done anything to be able to afford a guitar effects pedal like a Fuzztone. I can’t tell you how many hours my friends and I would browse the now-gone, iconic Ace Music in Santa Monica. The two brother-owners, Hank and Jack were patient with us, knowing we had little money to spend. But I guess they instinctively knew that little boys do find ways to get their heart’s desire and would eventually be back with the cash — and boys become men with even more cash! And over the years, we did return – until it was gone.
Nowadays, I do my browsing on-line; I don’t have the desire to argue at Guitar Center, and TrueTone Music in Santa Monica is not (unfortunately) convenient.
I was browsing zzounds.com to replace a defunct 20 year-old MXR Dynacomp Compressor and remembered, “I used to have a bunch of pedals … I wonder if they survived the move from California?” I went to the storage locker and found the old pedals – cobwebs inside of the cases and a patina of age on the surfaces. I checked the 9 volt batteries; surprisingly there was no leakage or corrosion and the Blues Driver battery still worked! So I arranged the effects to start this project:
The result? I plugged-in the ‘Strat,’ tuned it, queued-up a rhythm track and hoped for the best:
Notes on the “Why”
I have adopted a habit of pondering the why’s of what I do. The how’s do not seem as important any more. I think that dragging-out the guitar and effects pedals again repairs some of the threads of time in the fabric of my life. My childhood musician friends are mostly gone. My father, who was at once an obstacle and enabler of my musical pastimes is long-gone.
These guitar riffs seem to penetrate the fog of time and reconnect me to whom and what I once held dear. I don’t fight it; I embrace it. I let my heart break. And in doing so, the music oozes out like sap from a cut pine branch.
Notwithstanding the vaulting emotion of the last paragraph, I have just hung-up the telephone with my Mother who has informed me,
“You know why you started to play the guitar, don’t you? It was because of me! Your father and I bought matching souvenir guitars on a trip to Mexico, and your father had the bridge replaced at Wallach’s Music City (Sunset and Vine) so that I could play it.
You took the guitar away from your own mother as I was playing scales one day saying that I ‘was so tone-deaf that you couldn’t stand it any more!'”
Mother is right. If I hadn’t commandeered that guitar, I am sure that I would have even more ‘issues’ than I do today. She played much worse than she sings — and sources close to her would suggest that she sings like the character Lili Von Shtupp (played by Madeline Kahn) in Mel Brooks‘ feature film, “Blazing Saddles!”