While there have admittedly been some articles and/or books written that focus on “the gear of the stars”, there has never been a compilation of renowned players who have described their “trading tools” in their own words – or, via experts (Brad Tolinski among others , Wolf Marshall, and Matt Pinfield) who may add insightful observations. And that serves as a build-up for author (and VintageRock.com contributor) Greg Prato’s new book. Iconic guitar gear.
The structure of the book is simple – for each guitarist listed, an intro paragraph you write will kick off, followed by quotes detailing or discussing instruments, amplification, or effects (and in some cases all three!).
Over 150 guitarists are featured in the book including Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Brian May, Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Kim Thayil, Johnny Ramone, The Edge , Gary Moore, Alex Lifeson, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Dimebag Darrell, Zakk Wylde, Billy Sheehan, Les Claypool and Mike Watt, among many others.
Here are three excerpts from the book for you to enjoy…
Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin, the Yardbirds) – narrated by Brad Tolinski
What better gentleman to get the lowdown on some of Jimmy Page’s most famous guitars from the Yardbirds and Zeppelin era than Brad Tolinski, author of Light & Shadow: Conversations with Jimmy Page.
“Dragon” Fender Telecaster
Times were interesting – especially with these British guitarists. Because they played what they could get – especially in Jimmy Page’s generation. These guitars were imported so there may only be a few Les Pauls available in England at any one time. Or a few Strats – depending on the country’s imports and exports and all the handful of music shops. Most players back then, if the guitar was good and they could get their hands on it, then it was good enough – they would figure out how to get a good sound out of it. And I find that point kind of intriguing — they took what they got and made it work, and they came up with all sorts of fantastic things from it.
So Jimmy was playing tele at the time . And the Tele – the Dragon Tele – he had was actually a Tele he hadn’t even bought. It was given to him. Rock bands back then… it was a whole different world – managers often owned or paid for musicians’ gear. So Jimmy – famously – went to the Yardbirds. And when he went into the Yardbirds, they just gave him Jeff Beck’s Telecaster. [Laughs] “Here’s a guitar…you get this!” I mean, Jimmy had different guitars from his days as a session player. He had a black Les Paul, which he loved, but didn’t want to take on tour – because it was his prized possession. It was too expensive. And touring was pretty bumpy back then – you didn’t even have flight cases, you just checked your stuff in at the airport and there was no protection. Amplifiers, they just threw them in the bag and you just prayed they’d come out the other end… and in one piece.
Billy Sheehan (Talas, David Lee Roth, Mr Big, The Winery Dogs, Sons of Apollo)
Billy Sheehan was undoubtedly the rock bass player who got the most press coverage in the ’80s. And it was one of those rare occasions when the rush of coverage was well-deserved – since he did for bass guitar what Eddie Van Halen did for the other kind of guitar. I’ve had the opportunity to interview Sheehan a few times over the years and was able to get the inside story of his famous “Wife” bass (which predates EVH’s “Frankenstein” by a few years and was also an instrument composed of various parts).
“The Wife” Fender P-Bass (with Teleneck)
I went to Art Kubera Music at 910 Fillmore Avenue in Buffalo and got my first bass. It was great. The smell when opening the suitcase – I still remember it today. I still have the original book that came with it – it says how to check intonation. A little manual that came with it and was signed by the guy who assembled the bass I believe. Then I saw Tim Bogert with Beck, Bogert & Appice and he had what looked like a tele bass neck on a P bass – on the back [of BBA’s self-titled album from 1973]. I spoke to him years later and that wasn’t exactly what it was, but I thought it was.
So I bought a ’68 Telecaster bass – which would be worth a fortune today, it was $200 back then – took the neck off and put it on my P-Bass. And I loved it because it was big and bold and huge and sustainable and beautiful. And then this bass also had the humbucking pickup installed in the neck position – the Gibson tone. I didn’t know how to wire a switch when I put it on, so I only had two outputs and ran two cables through two channels, so I had two cables to two different amps – and that’s how it is to this day. It’s a very handy way of doing it. It wasn’t original – I didn’t know at the time there was such a thing as the Rick-O-Sound bass that had similar wiring. And also all Alembic basses years later when they came out, they were all wired with separate outputs for each pickup.
Frank Zappa – narrated by Steve Vai
Frank Zappa played quite a variety of guitars during his long and tortuous career. But one of his most famous was a particular Fender Stratocaster that had previously been owned – and burned – by Jimi Hendrix (and which Frank posed with in the January 1977 issue of Guitar Player). Here former Zappa guitarist Steve Vai talks about this famous instrument.
Frank was pretty disrespectful with his gear. And as far as I know, he got that guitar after Jimi Hendrix burned it, I think, in Florida at a gig [the Miami Pop Festival, in 1968]. And it came from a tech that went to Frank. And Frank took it apart and put it back together with all sorts of different electronics and everything. And I actually used it as a third spare on tour with Frank. As much as that might intimidate me [knowing that he was playing a guitar that was once played by Jimi Hendrix]it didn’t come close to the music I had to play on it – in terms of being intimidated. [Laughs] I thought it was cool – it’s pretty cool that I play a guitar that Jimi Hendrix owned or played, and Frank Zappa owned it. But the tones have to be right – that was all Frank was interested in. Frank took off the pickup covers – on which the lighter liquid burns. He put in stacked parametric EQs – and I’d never seen anything like it – and he put in two or three of them. And he changed everything – it was just the body and the neck. Or maybe not even the neck – I’m not even sure about that. But Frank was disrespectful – he didn’t care that it belonged to Jimi Hendrix, he used it as a creative outlet. And he did things by putting in that parametrics that were unique at the time.
The 319-page Iconic Guitar Gear is available in paperback for $14.99, hardcover for $24.99, Kindle for $9.99, and soon an audio version narrated by Prato himself.