The Devil made me do it!… Chasing Tone on a Saturday Night

I love that Starwarsian phrase that my friend JL coined (either he coined it or he’s lying… again…kidding): “the sickness is strong with him”. Of course, we’re talking about the tendency for guitar players to chase tone with multiple aquisitions. I have friends like that! (yes you, JR!!!) Not me, of course. But I know people…

Last night I went to my long time (younger) pal’s CD release and he gets a killer, killer, tone. He’s not “one of us”… he’s had the same rig for a few years now (not unusual, my bandmate MB has played the same white Strat for 15 years now) – a recent red ES-335 dot neck (more on that later), and a 1966 Fender Tremolux Head through a 2 x 10 cab. I know. I sold him the Tremolux/cab. I also sold him a Dr. Z Brake Lite attenuator – but you’d swear he never uses it… the band was LOUD! But “GOOD LOUD!”. He’s a wonderful player, this I.R., and he’s honed in on a magical tone with this rig. I have to tell you that I felt superior last night, because, of the mostly older crowd, it seemed like all those over 60 had their fingers in their ears! Hey, if it’s too loud, you’re too old. Ha! I should tell you that the only time I actually saw a headstock broken before my eyes was from the stage (that I was sharing with our young IR), when he carelessly grabbed his beloved Gibson ES-335 off it’s stand… lost his grip… and the guitar fell forward and hit his pedalboard, breaking the headstock. Oh well, some rock stars claim that their guitars sound better after having had the headstock glued back on. Oh yes, he then did it again later down the road! X2. Same guitar… sounding 4X better maybe?

Anyway, last night, also playing in another town, was “not quite as young” PF. He’s also a killer player, but unlike IR, he changes gear like he changes his underwear (at least, I hope “like he changes his underwear”). I must confess that I fall into this second group. And although alot of what I do is for Blue Hugh Music, I do have my own multiple gear cravings. My store allows me to be an enabler, and I’ve been know to drive 4 or 5 hours round-trip on the spur of the moment to deliver a guitar – provided the universe is calling me to do so (don’t get your hopes up!) 🙂 I should tell you that since it seems like the appropriate place to randomly insert some guitar porn, I recently got back a very beloved and toneful instrument – the exquisite Gustavsson P90 Bluesmaster Gold Top. Not coincidentally, also owned by PF at one time. Behold:

2004 Gustavsson P90 Bluesmaster Gold Top

Gustavsson “up close and personal”.

I feel better already! 🙂

So back to Saturday night… I also made a stop at my friend RDs rancho – that was to deliver a particularly toneful brown 1962 Fender Super amp. While we were playing his exquisite Suhr “S” guitar – attractively finished in the traditional “early Campbell’s soup can” colour, RD mischieviously (as it turned out) said: “here, try this amp…” Now I always thought my Retro King sounded superior to any 18 watt Marshall clone, but last night, sweet mother of Robert Johnson, RDs 18 watt Marshall 1974x combo (if you must know, also with Mercury Magnetics transformers as a later upgrade) sounded like the music of the spheres… I MUST HAVE ONE! So here I am today, a pitiful sight, ordering my 3 Mercury transformers and scouting for a local Marshall 1974x that I can scoop up…    oh, woe is me! Only Nigel would understand this AMPLIFIER obsession!!! Time for more porn… this time “amp porn”… see you next time… and BEHOLD!…

1962 Fender brown Super amp with 2 x 10″ Jensen speakers

“Jason Becker – Not Dead Yet”

Who is this man? Why is he not dead yet? And why did Carvin just issue a Jason Becker Signature model guitar???

The Carvin Jason Becker Model guitar.

I have waited a long time – relatively speaking – to write this post. I guess things just had to “ferment” in my brain. It’s been about a month since I saw the movie: “Jason Becker – Not Dead Yet”. I highly recommend it! It was life changing for me! So let me fill you in. But before I do, I’d like to dedicate this post to S.L. – she reads this dang blog, and doesn’t play guitar, or know about all this techie rubbish that we get SO into here (not your average “gear-head” profile – which we sometimes joke as being a 40+ year old male who still lives at home with Mom and Dad)! This woman has courage!

So let’s back up a bit… in the 80s there was a young man who really didn’t want anything else in life except to play the guitar. He was a shredder, but the scope of his knowledge and technique went WAY beyond that. Call him a genius, a savant, … something like that. He’s probably best known as the guy who replaced Steve Vai in David Lee Roth’s band (big shoes to fill!). It was around this time that Jason began to experience the early symptoms of ALS – or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Unbeknownst to the band during the recording of that album, Jason Becker went from a “one take” player to needing a couple of cracks at it. It’s heart-wrenching that Becker – on the verge of reaching his goal, his dream, had to abdicate from the David Lee Roth Band, due to the advancing disease. Fast forward… Jason Becker became virtually immobile – unable even to breathe on his own. But the story doesn’t end there. Given only 3-5 years to live, Jason Becker has gone way over 20. He communicates, composes music, teaches, releases albums, is very involved in the Yogananda spiritual community… he’s a FORCE!

Let me stop the narrative here to just say that you really have to see the movie (it’s out and for sale on December 18th – and I’ve pre-ordered 3 copies!). The movie wasn’t depressing for me, and it, and it’s star Jason Becker, are a total inspiration! How so? For one thing, personally, it embarrassed me that I invest so little time in becoming a better guitar player. Even the modest gift that I have, should be nourished – the universe knows when we squander these talents. So now, I practice a lot more! Also, I love Becker’s sense of spirituality and the unseen world. I’ve done a lot of reading and some spiritual “practice” – so I “get it”. The people I chatted with, as I left the cinema after our screening, all seemed energized by the movie! That’s a good sign. So rather than more blah, blah, blah from me, just watch the dang movie when you can…

Next time, we’ll talk about gear… oh, hang on, I think I hear my Mom yelling at me to clean up my room… gotta run…





Have You Heard The “Gristle King”?

There are some guitar players who just inspire one to pick up the guitar and play… and then there are the kind who make one say: “why do I even bother?”. Jeeze, I don’t want to sound negative, but Greg Koch is one of the second kind… he’s just a “savant” – and he is not only a technical master, he plays with humour, and musicality! Greg Koch is “on the radar” alot these days – perhaps because, other than being a “Fender Official Clinician”, he’s just done a whole whack of on-line guitar demo videos for Wildwood Guitars… and a bunch of shows with Joe Bonamassa. You just have to watch this youtube video… the Led Zeppelin stuff is hilarious. Mercy! The sounds Mr. Koch gets out of his Fender Telecaster! (he unabashedly refers to himself as “Greg Cock” – rather than taking  the easy way out and pronouncing it like it’s spelled… “Koch”). Just check this out…

Oh my!!! Steve Vai hailed Koch as a genius… I love that Tele tone! Really edgey and nasty. Certainly not “thin” – a potential pitfall for those of us who fancy the first production solid body. When Koch spanks the plank you get the feeling that there’s nothing he can’t do – and on a Tele too!!! What’s with that? If you’ve never thought about a “B Bender”, Koch might inspire you to go in that direction. Recently, I’ve been spending at least a 1/2 hour to an hour every day just working on my banjo rolls – pick and 2 fingers – with the logic that, while perhaps not immediately applicable to my playing, it can’t hurt. It will certainly increase the facility of my right hand – even while playing Albert King licks. I think Greg Koch is a testament to that theory. He’s got a bitchin’ right hand roll that he seems to have incorporated heavily into much of what he plays.

I encourage you to check out Greg Koch futher. I find him to be such a musical player – even though he has a ton of technique. Oh ya… I love what Greg Koch says about Eric Clapton… and I am paraphrasing here: “even if Clapton hasn’t learned a new lick since 1979, his foundation as a player is so musical – look at the Beano album and Cream and the Dominoes – that he can still play a few notes and it’s better than someone who can play 32nd notes with precision…”. Given what Koch is capable of, I have to respect his opinion as an educated opinion with alot of weight.




A Tribute to Eric Pykala

Eric Pykala at the ’93 NAMM show

I didn’t want the opportunity that Hugh has given me here to pass and not fulfill what I think is the smallest of tributes to a friend and musical companion.

My pal, former business partner, repair guru and my sometime musical co-conspirator Eric Pykala passed away recently.

This Sunday, a few of Eric’s family, friends, former co-workers and ex-bandmates will gather in a small room in Newmarket to celebrate the life of a well-liked soul.

We will play and sing, tell stories of Eric to use as a balm on our own souls to ease the grief of his sudden passing.

Eric was part of the fibre of the southern Ontario music scene for decades. Whether it be by playing and singing his heart out at a gig, providing sound and lights to touring bands, serving customers at the 12th Fret in Toronto, repairing guitars at The Arts in Newmarket or arriving at your door with his roving “Guitar Doctor” setup to massage your beloved instrument into a finely tuned, purring baby. Eric literally was everywhere. A couple of years ago, he had moved to London to be near his parents and help them out in their day to day needs. More recently he was employed by Walter’s Music in London as their tech.

Eric and his brother Paul were best friends and musical partners for their entire life. They had a band for any type of gig required and a song list that numbered in the hundreds. Eric and Paul were the guitar, bass and voices of the band and then they would fill in the blanks with talented players that fit the gig.

We have lost some of the glue that binds us as a community of musicians and music lovers by Eric’s passing. Eric was always promoting and supporting his musical friends and colleagues. Giving them respect, promotion and admiration that is all too often lacking in our circles. I have to add a anecdote of my own here. A couple of years ago, my nephew Chris, went into the Arts with a couple of guitars to be setup and repaired for his boss at the time. Chris was directed to the basement of the store where lessons and guitar repairs resided. Not knowing each other, Chris handed Eric the said guitars to be worked on. Chris looked up and saw a picture of myself posted on the wall in the shop. He asked Eric, “Do you know that guy in the picture?“. Chris told me he said, “Of course I do and that my boy is one of the best guitarists in this country”. To which my nephew said, “That’s my uncle”. 

Which brings me another enduring quality of my pal Eric……..colourful stories. Eric could tell ’em with the best of them. A raconteur of the highest level. Mr. P could keep you enthralled for hours telling tales of ……life on the road, rare sitings of vintage instruments that he held in his hands, playing dates with rock deities, new gear love, custom builds and thoughts on their improvements over stock and how he had just got off the phone with…….well, anyone from Paul Reed Smith, to Aspen Pittman, to Sterling Ball, to David Gilmour and on and on. He could command a room for hours and you would vary between dis-belief, jealousy (oh how I wished it had been me that did/saw/held/played that) and hilarity.

Eric and I shared a passion for music, guitarists and guitars. We were even business partners for a while. He was part of a small team that brought PRS guitars to prominence in Canada, Soldano amplifiers into the country, that made Groove-tube and Hipshot products accessible in Canada, and more quality high-end products available to Canadians.

He was a totally positive fellow. Always thinking about the good side of things. He could elevate the mood in a room with his booming voice and infectious laughter.

One of my favourite memories of Eric was from the 93′ NAMM show. Eric was a huge rockabilly fan. We had tickets for the Fender Concert one night with Buddy Guy and Danny Gatton. He was so excited to see his hero, Danny Gatton that night. Well, not only did we see Danny but as it turned out, Danny came and sat right beside us for Guy’s set. We introduced ourselves and I took a picture of him and Danny together. The smile on Eric’s face was incredible. I’ll always remember that.

Eric had a few lines that are like signature phrases for him. One I love is….”We’re having WAYYYYYY too much fun“.

Well, we’ll try Eric, to have WAYYYYYY too much fun in your honour on Sunday. I’ll be bending a note for you.

Pete Faragher

Who The Heck Is Jimmy Wallace?


…oh, no, that’s right… that’s Jimmie Walker!

So who is Jimmy Wallace?… Legend in the Les Paul Guitar community, fine player, vintage dealer, organizer of the Dallas International Guitar Festival, early friend to SRV, member of Bugs Henderson and the Stratoblasters (later just the Stratoblasters)… Here’s a youtube clip of Jimmy (while it’s up..) and he’s really got the schiznitz!…

Anyway, the thing that started all this was my “accidental aquisition” (dang ebay auction!) of a guitar that Gibson made for Jimmy in 2011. It was his demo guitar for the “Jimmy Wallace PAF” pickup ( although, regretfully, at this point in time, they seem not to have gotten off the ground). This guitar is a beast! A little less than 8lbs of pure tonal bliss with one single Jimmy Wallace PAF pickup mounted in the bridge position only (the Rev. would LOVE this guitar!) – and quite a “looker” too.

Gibson Jimmy Wallace Les Paul 2011

This all started for Jimmy Wallace in the early 80s when his store special ordered Les Pauls to his specs (he took Gibson his ‘Burst as inspiration) … all the resulting guitars had “Jimmy Wallace Model” on the truss rod cover and the serial numbers were done in a vintage inked-on style – and starting with an “8” (representing 1958) or later, a “9”, on some examples. Features like thin cutaway binding, bigger necks, ABR-1 bridges, beautiful figured tops (you get the picture) were standard. These guitars were made right up until the mid-1990s. Here’s a picture of the first one, a 1980. It’s recently been for sale for $15,000 on Ebay and at Route 66 ClassicGuitars:

First Jimmy Wallace LP from 1980



Two Canadian Guitar Heroes and their Guitars

Through the years, I’ve been lucky enough to get my mittens on quite a few cool and iconic guitars. Two of the most interesting have been the mongrels “played to death” by two of my favourite guitar players: David Wilcox (’65/’56 Stratocaster) and John Bride (’62/’56 Stratocaster).

If you’re a Canadian (and you’re old enough), you might remember John Bride tearin’ it up with the Cameo Blues Band in Toronto at the Hotel Isabella’s Cameo Lounge in the late 70s/early 80s. John set the tone (quite literally) for rockin’ blues at that time, and as a twenty-something kid who tended to follow the Cameos on a weekly basis, I was mezmerised by JB’s sound – the blue ’62/’56 Strat through a Black Face Pro Reverb and an Echoplex. A huge part of his sound was the Alembic Strat-o-blaster (I think Alembic was the Grateful Dead’s business venture… but I digress…) – an on-board pre-amp that replaces a Stratocaster’s output jack without modification. You can see the Strat-o-blaster on John’s blue guitar in the picture, and there’s actually a newer reissue version right there on David Wilcox’s guitar – but I don’t believe he ever used one. Some people would argue that John Bride’s Strat – a 1962 body, 1956 neck and a mix of 50s parts and 60s pickups – is worn out! It’s pretty badly beaten up, definitely, but you just plug the guitar in, flip on the Strat-o-blaster(which has it’s trim screw set all the way up!) and go to John’s favoured bridge/middle notch position, and the sound is ALL THERE! Such a full and punchy sounding guitar – but very much a pure Stratocaster in tonality! If you want to check out the Cameos on CD, not too many years ago they released their “All Play and No Work” – you can get it on-line at CD Baby. They’re all fine, fine musicians… I really recommend it! (Hey, where’s my royalty cheque?) 🙂

David Wilcox’s 1965 Strat was a guitar that I gigged with solidly for about 10 years – that was after Wilcox (aka: David K. Wilcox – so we won’t confuse him with his US namesake) used it for at least a couple of decades – and recorded many of his hits with it. It’s pictured on the covers of the albums: “Bad Reputation”, “Out Of The Woods”, and “The Best of David Wilcox”. I had a chance to see Wilcox live again a couple of years ago, and he’s still a “force of nature” –  a master of that fingerstyle roots & boogie tradition. Why is he not world famous? At some point, I sought out a 1965 neck – actually, a “Dec65B” big headstock neck – to replace the ’56 neck that Wilcox had played the guitar with for all those years. I thought the ’65 neck made the guitar sound better (maybe a bit myopic on my part, considering that changing the player back to David Wilcox would also make the guitar sound better!!!), so I left it there!Below are a couple of pics with each of the necks…