Friday, December 17, 2010

RIP Captain

Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, dead at 69
- from the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Musician and artist Don Van Vliet, who performed a complex brand of experimental rock under the name Captain Beefheart, died Friday. He was 69.

The Michael Werner Gallery in New York confirmed Van Vliet's death in California due to complications stemming from multiple sclerosis. The gallery exhibits his paintings.

Van Vliet was probably best known for the album "Trout Mask Replica," which was released in 1969 by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band.

The album's angular, dissonant take on blues rock and Van Vliet's growling, surreal lyrics put him outside the mainstream, but staked his place in rock history.

Rolling Stone magazine recently ranked "Trout Mask Replica" number 58 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album was produced by fellow experimental rock pioneer Frank Zappa, a high school friend from the desert town of Lancaster, Calif.

"Record producers have always been certain that Don Vliet was just a hype away from the big money," according to a 1970 profile in Rolling Stone. "But Beefheart stubbornly continues what he's doing and waits patiently for everyone else to come around."

By shunning commercial success and a more accessible sound, Van Vliet became a role model for subsequent generations of musicians. His music is cited as an influence on the rise of punk, post-punk and new wave. Beefheart is also claimed as a kindred spirit by free jazz musicians and avant-garde classical composers.

In the 1980s, Van Vliet turned full-time to art. He painted in a raw, expressionistic style and showed his acclaimed work widely even as he withdrew from the public eye.

He is survived by his wife of more than 40 years.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Big In Texas

We've got a new reason to celebrate around the tonebender shop these days. Scott Davis and Bonnie Whitmore, the guitarist and bassist for Hayes Carll, singer/songwriter extrordinaire from Houston, are playing tonebender instruments out on their tour this December.

They graciously agreed to run the telecaster and P-bass through the paces, beat 'em up a little, and experiment with our tone. We're hoping to get some reviews to post here, you know we'll put 'em up, good or bad.

Scott is playing the tonebender single humbucker-sized P90 equiped telecaster with the single volume knob only setup option through a Fender Twin. Bonnie is playing the tonebender DarkStar equiped P-bass through a GK400/Mesa 15 rig.

So far the results appear to be good. Here's a little sample for y'all from their appearance last Friday on Imus In The Morning on Fox Business Network.

More to follow as we get it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gins at the front

It's been said here before, these guys are a gracious, giving bunch. They are proving it once again by spending Thanksgiving week in Iraq and Kuwait playing a show a night at 6 different military bases for our troops. Words can't describe how proud we here at tonebender are to know these guys. Thanks for gettin' 'er done for our troops this holiday season - rockin' the desert.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ol' Number #8 Comes Home

In 2002 I made a telecaster, the eighth guitar I'd built, but the first tele. It was a gold metalic bodied, maple necked beauty, complete with a Merle style mother-of-toiletseat white pearl pickguard, Kent Armstrong pickups and chrome hardware. A real nice piece. Sounded great and I learned a lot building it. The first pic here is from the original build on my workbench.

I kept it for about 6-7 months and eventually sold it to a guy named Phil that I worked with. He was quite happy with it and he also had me custom build a really nice red strat with a rosewood neck and rosewood fretboard.

In late 2003 Phil had both guitars stolen from his home. He suspected some guys he'd hired to do some work there had taken them. They left the cases, so the crime wasn't discovered until weeks later when Phil went to play one of the guitars. There were no serial numbers on my builds other than #8 in sharpie in the neck pocket of the tele and "TBP 07/02". He talked to the police and they said that there wasn't much they could do.

In 2005 Guitar Center called me at the shop. My buddy Randy there said he had one of my guitars that they had taken in on trade. They were putting it out to sell and he wanted to know what the retail value was on it. It was the red strat with the rosewood neck and rosewood fretboard, Lace pickups, and custom knobs. No serial number, no police report and no recourse for the victim in this case. Or was there?

Brian, who now owned the strat brought it to me for a tune-up and to hear the whole story about the guitar. He was a very compassionate collector and understood how screwed up this deal was for Phil. He ended up selling the strat to Phil for what he paid for it. Phil had originally gotten the guitar at my cost so now he was into it for retail and very pleased to get it back. Brian remains a great customer and has brought many treasures to me for setups and mods.

The gold tele was sighted by my friend Moldy, at the local Four Points Swap Meet in 2005. He described it to a 'T'. I went there next two weekends but had no luck finding it.

Last month I saw it on Craigslist. The hardware had been swapped out for gold units, but it was unmistakeably my tele. I didn't have enough cash right then and the seller wasn't into trading for it. I did not tip my hand as to the story behind this guitar, just in case...

I called Phil and left him a message. Never heard back from him. The guitar reappeared on Craigslist this month. I arranged to meet the seller and buy it. The guy said he'd had it a couple of years. I told him the story and left carrying my old friend to the car.

The second pic here is how it looked when I brought it home with the gold hardware (ick!). I took the whole thing apart while watching Sunday Night Football with the wife, right on the family room coffee table. Yesterday I rebuilt it with Cream T's BG wind custom pickups from my buddy Thomas in Norway. Back to the chrome hardware, added a black pickguard.

It plays as good as it looks. Sounds fantastic. It will stay here indefinitely as the tele pickup test-bed. It has earned that duty and will undoubtedly see action in the studio as well.

Ol' Number #8 came home.

UPDATE: Here's Ol' #8 in action last night at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, Scott Davis doing the string bending with Hayes Carll and The Gulf Coast Orchestra.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Too Old?

Forwarded in an email from a friend, old one but still funny, or maybe not, Hey wait a minute, I resemble a lot of these...


• It becomes more important to find a place on stage for your fan than your amp.
• Your gig clothes make you look like George Burns out for a round of golf.
• All your fans leave by 9:30 p..m.
• All you want from groupies is a foot massage and back rub.
• You love taking the elevator because you can sing along with most of your set-list.
• Instead of a fifth member, your band wants to spring for a roadie.
• You need your glasses to see the amp settings
• You've thrown out your back jumping off the stage.
• You feel like hell before the gig even starts.
• The waitress is your daughter!
• You stop the set because your ibuprofen fell behind the speakers.
• Most of your crowd just sways in their seats.
• You find your drink tokens from last month's gig in your guitar case.
• You refuse to play without earplugs
• You ask the club owner if you can start at 8:30 instead of 9:30.
• You check the TV schedule before booking a gig.
• Your gig stool has a back.
• You're related to at least one member in the band.
• You don't let anyone sit in.
• You need a nap before the gig..
• After the third set, you bug the club owner to let you quit early.
• During the breaks, you now go to the van to lie down.
• You prefer a music stand with a light
• You don't recover until Tuesday afternoon.
• You hope the host's speech lasts forever
• You buy amps considering their weight and not their tone or "cool" factor.
• You can remember seven different club names for the same location.
• You have a hazy memory of the days when you could work 10 gigs in 7 days and could physically do it!
• Your date couldn't make it because she couldn't find a babysitter for the grand-kids.
• The set list has to be in 20 point type.
• Your drug of choice is now coffee.
• It seems impossible to find stage shoes with decent arch support.
• You fart on stage and don't laugh.

Sad but true...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Kzoo Renew

I saw a Silvertone acoustic on Craig's List a month or so ago. I invited the seller over to see my shop and some things I had for trade bait. The Silvertone was OK, just not what I wanted or thought I'd seen in the small pic on CL.

He said that he had another guitar for sale but that it was hammered and in need of alot of attention. What he pulled out of his car next was this. A mid-late 30s Kalamazoo archtop that someone had used paint stripper on the sides , back and neck AND a wood chisel to scrape the old finish off. The top had been spared this torture, however it had issues as well.

Sometime in the 40s someone had installed an early pickup. These were primitive P90 style units and used screw-on coaxial microphone cable to connect to the amplifier. There was a nasty 3/4" x 1" hole in the side of the guitar surrounded by four 1/4" holes spaced 2" apart to hold the jack plate on. The pickup rout on the top had been patched later as well as the volume pot hole. This appeared to be a nice patch job, however the wood and finish didn't match well enough to hide it in any way.

I made him a pitiful offer for it. He said it was old but probably no good to anyone so he took my money and I sat looking at this sorry piece of music history, thinking that I'd probably just thrown $100 out the window for a chunk of ugly wood that had undoubtedly been destined to be nailed to a wall in an Applebee's somewhere in LA, or worst yet, the firewood pile at someone's home here in the valley.

I did a little research on this piece and learned that it was made by Gibson in the 30s as an entry level instrument. $30 back then, with a case for an additional $15. The Gibson name version was $50. In excellent condition these Kzoo's sell for around $1000 now. The condition of this one still had me convinced that I had paid with my heart and not my brain (again). The new "stray" sat in the case for a week or so while I worked on some other pressing projects.

I knew that the chisel marks and other harsh gouges and dents were now part of this piece. I'm not a miracle worker with re-fin's like my old man was with antique furniture. I decided to stain it as close to what was left on the top and keep a relic feel about it. I would touch up the top as best I could, I was really limited in my ability to do much more. I figured at the very least it'd be a conversation wallhanger in my livingroom.

My buddy David at Stringwalker saved the fretboard. I will not mention here what his suggestion was for this piece of firewood. He was happy that I hadn't spent too much on it. Got a new rosewood adjustable height bridge for it, some Kluson 3 on a plate tuners, made a nut, and before patching the giant hole in the side of it, installed a small piezo pickup inside under the top and an endpin jack.

Did the re-stain with some interesting but top secret stain concoctions, gave it a good top coat or two of some satin nitrocellulose lacquer. Let it cure for a couple of days in the shop before restringing it and bringing it in the house to play.

It sounds great, the neck feels fantastic, the vibe is strong with this piece. It looks great on the wall and begs to be played as you pass it. It is no longer firewood. It is worth what your heart says when you look at it, hold it and play it. No price guide can pin this one down now. It 's not a collector's piece, rather a player's piece.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Fun Suckers

Fun-Suckers and Dream-Squashers

During our lives we will encounter folks that will fall into these categories noted above. They are largely ignorant to their titles and their effect on others. A few are deliberate about it, but for the most part the rest just never take into account how broad a path they cut with their actions and words. At times we will all be guilty of being one of these people to someone else. Hopefully we learn from these episodes or reflect upon ourselves when someone else does it to us.

You will run into these folks in every part of your life. At work, sometimes at home, at your recreational activities, hobbies, etc… They whine about little things all the time, never quite satisfied with themselves or others, their equipment, their family, their job, the environment around them, the myriad of things in their world that are out of their control, the economy…you name it and it’s some kind of a problem for them. They drag this baggage into the “fun zone” and they become Fun-Suckers (sucking the fun out of something for the others around them).

I guess that at some point in our lives we decide how much of this stuff we are willing to put up with. Along with that we have to decide how much we give out as well. What’s it all truly worth to you in the grand scheme of things. Water off this duck’s back in many more things than it used to be.

Work is different, it’s essential to our survival. You will probably meet more Dream-Squashers there than anywhere else. They take the advances you’ve made it your work and try to pull the rug out from under you. Set you back to the beginning. It’s all on a big wheel. I have to bend there and do what I can. Can’t expect it to be fun, just make the best of it. Bring home the bacon and a roof over the place where you cook it.

Playing music and working on the instruments is fun. It’s a stress buster and great way to find a balance in life. It evens out the bending we do daily at work. “If it stops being fun, I’m out” is one of the things you’ll hear around me concerning the music stuff. I refuse to let something I love to do for the fun and enjoyment it brings fall victim to the Fun-Suckers and Dream-Squashers. I also try very hard to not be one of those people to others involved with me in bands or whatever. Undoubtedly there will always be those that will view me that way when I choose to protect “my fun” and draw a project to a close due to some FS/DS. That’s unavoidable I guess.

Learning from these experiences will color my future choices in this area and hopefully limit the amount of broken projects down the road. I hope all of you have success in this area as well.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Latest Links and Featured Pages

We've added a link button on the righthand nav sidebar to Jaimie Muehlhausen's "Ones That Got Away" guitar blog. Great reading and pics, interesting instruments and shared experiences worthy of your attention. Links on his page will take you to his graphic arts business page (wow!), his music groups pages, and a couple of the funniest pages on the interweb. Check 'em out!

Next up is "Ugly Bass Player". Slade McComb's newbie-friendly, information-packed web forum about all things bass related. Lurk there for awhile and you'll be pulled into participating with ease, this is a unique site for the beginning to experienced bassist. Gear classifieds, and more.
"No Depression" has been one of the premier magazines featuring roots / Americana style music for years. Visit their web version and artist pages for a great selection of articles and music.

Friday, May 28, 2010

No Chocolate Cake

Cake is good, Cake the band AND cake the food. Another band we here at Tonebender love is The Gin Blossoms. Yes, they were big in the 90's. Did you know that they are still a big draw on most major venues country-wide? They have put out an album in 2006, Major Lodge Victory, which did very well and now have new one ready for release this summer titled No Chocolate Cake. Their world-wide internet following is tremendous. The music reaches across all ages, it's infectious and they never seem to have a bad show.

I have heard several of the new tunes when they played locally and this should be another great album by the guys. The music they make is something they love, not just a job like so many other bands. This enjoyment comes through in their live performances. All of the band members are true gentlemen and a pleasure to interact with.

Jesse Valenzuela uses a Tonebender custom tele on stage and in the studio in rotation with some of his other favs, and Bill Leen favors a Tonebender DarkStar P-bass for a majority of the touring shows and studio work. Scott Johnson has demo'd a couple of TB guitars at shows and had great results and positive comments for me on them. Robin Wilson, the lead singer, and John Richardson, the drummer, have both commented on the great tone of the instruments the other guys are playing.

So look for No Chocolate Cake out this summer and listen for the Tonebender tone on some great new tunes by these great musicians.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Just who is this "Stella" anyway?

Thirty Dollar Stella. Sounds cheap and easy. Not necessarily the case. Simple perhaps. Reasonable. Accessible to the masses or those inclined to relax and listen would be more like it.

An Americana music project hatched in the So Cal high desert by two musicians jonesing to experiment with a simpler way to kick out some jams. Roots stuff, things from our musical beginnings.

Old school. A front porch vibe, or perhaps from the floor of the hole-in-the-wall watering hole down the road a spell. Real tunes from real folks with some real feeling in them, from a simpler time and place.

Old instruments, musicians and recording techniques. A slower pace to the process, less dubs, more "one-takes". Run what you brung.

Relax and set a spell with Stella, she'll set your mind right.

Y'all come back now...

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Musicians and "The Swim"

I have had the pleasure over the last 30 years of playing bass with several outstanding guitarists. In that that time I have also played with some people that merely own a guitar, some that can only play a guitar and some that should not be allowed to touch a guitar. Those last folks are subject matter for another time.

The top 10% are what I recognise as musicians, not just players. They are the gifted, diligent music craftsmen that listen to all the aspects of the band and the tune being played, understand and process them and drive the rest of the players to a higher level almost every time they play.

These guys (girls included but simplified for this piece) are what tend separate a good band from a great one. There are many bands out there that can sound just like someone else and be a good backround music jukebox in a bar on a Saturday night. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's the band with the musician leading it, or if you're lucky several musicians in it, that will make people stop talking and listen. More like a show / concert than a basic dancehall atmosphere tends to permeate the room and soon some of the focus of who's picking up on who shifts to "who's that on the guitar? These guys are good!".

The musicians I'm talking about seem to have had ear for this stuff early on. They either studied or practiced a lot as youths and it wasn't the same study / practice torment that the rest of us went through with Math or History. It was a somewhat insatiable quest for "the riff of destiny" or a piece of Robert Johnson's soul.

It was and in most cases still is something that does not have an end to it. That can be view by some as torture, like swimming in the ocean endlessly, spotting land only to have it stay on the horizon forever. Or for others it can be as if they at one point reach the island only to find it crawling with unfaithful lovers and sleazy show promoters.

Some will eventually start swimming away from this. Some will swim half-heartedly the rest of their lives playing much the same way and unknowingly transferring that learned cynicism to the audience and their peers and stop swimming later unfulfilled in their quest.

Some will swim with renewed purpose and find an unending arpeggio of islands full of new opportunities and new twists on the thing they love most - the total package of all things music. These folks will periodically look back and reflect on the good (and the bad) of the swim and feel satisfaction, accomplishment and humbleness that few others can appreciate.

Now I started this with guitarists in mind, partially because I get to observe and interact with them a lot in the swim, but it certainly applies to all the other players and musicians out there as well. I have been swimming too, and I can tell you that quite a bit of it has been a great adventure.

To all the great musicians I've been privileged to meet and play with over the years so far, thanks for letting me swim with you and learn a thing or two. Some of you know that you're great some are still looking for land to validate your journey. I hope you all find it and can reflect on it positively before the swim ends.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Kill the Drummer

This was actually on the best of Craigslist:

"Looking for someone special who would kill my drummer for $100.00. Do not fear any negative consequences for this act. Any self respecting law enforcement agency would gladly turn the other cheek once they hear this guy "play". I am tired of hearing his 70's style fills put in the wrong spot and ending one half beat early or late depending on how much he's had to drink.

I am tired of him standing up behind his drums between songs and ripping his shirt off and flexing his muscles at wedding receptions where we were hired to play Air Supply, Carpenters, and Ann Murray songs because "chicks dig the pecs, dude".

I am tired of him showing up 20 minutes late for rehearsals then pouting until someone helps him load in his drums, then taking 30 minutes to set them up and needing a smoke break every 15 minutes, then wanting to leave early because"this chick is so fine, I can't say no, and she knows record people dude, so it's for the band."

I am totally done with him calling me up at midnight to play me some damned jazz fusion album from 1981, crying and saying how we shouldn't have sold out to "the man"and asking if I know anyone who can get him some weed knowing full well I smoked twice in 69 and never touched it after that. I am sick of him farting on stage where the drum mics pick it up and thinking this shit is funny. I am tired of kicking off slow ballads at well under 80 bpm only to have them morph into the methamphetimine version of flight of the bumble bee, because that's the tempo he "feels" it at.

I am tired of having to carry jumper cables to the gig because "I must have left the dome light on again, dude" instead of admitting his 84 oldsmobile is a worn out piece of crap. I am tired of him asking when he's gonna get a drum solo. I am tired of paying his tab at restaurants because "that chick must have stole my wallet man, but it was worth it 'cause she was a phreak".

I will not move my amp again so he can put another new cymbal on the stage, because "when we learn some fusion I'll need this sound"..........please somebody kill this motherfucker. I can't do it because he's my brother and mom would be so pissed off even though she thinks the band would probably sound better too.

Besides, if you are good at killing drummers, you could probably make a lot
of money in this town."

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Remembering the great Tom "T-Bone" Wolk

T-Bone stands out in my mind as the guy with the hat and the great pocket playing on Saturday Night Live during the 80's. His playing and that of GE Smith was the ONLY reason for me to watch those Hall and Oates videos. Less is more, and he put so much more into the tunes, both with his playing and his style and stage presence. I'm bummed and he will be sorely missed.
Please read on, this give a little more insight into this musician known as T-Bone...
He's Gone; Remembering the great Tom "T-Bone" Wolk
By David Wild - The Huffington Post 3/1/10

The first concert I ever went to on my own was a Daryl Hall and John Oates show, and I've seen the duo dozens of times since then . Sometime in the Eighties when I got to write for Rolling Stone, I took the first opportunity I had to meet my childhood heroes. Fortunately for me, getting to know Daryl & John these past few decades meant I've also had the pleasure of knowing their longtime musical director Tom "T-Bone" Wolk, who's been at the heart of in fantastic band since the days of "Private Eyes."

T-Bone was a guy who was impossible not to love - especially if you cared about music even half as much as he did. He looked like some great character actor or some ultra-cool, Tom Waits-adjacent jazz cat and played bass like some soulful dream combination of Paul McCartney and James Jamerson. T-Bone was also the funky Caucasian playing bass on "The Breaks" by Kurtis Blow, one of the defining funky tracks in early rap history.

For years, T-Bone was also a musical fixture as part of the famed Saturday Night Live Band. Beyond making a massive contribution to Daryl and John's body of work, he worked as a player or producer with many other artists whose music touched my life -- and probably yours too -- including Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Paul Carrack, Elvis Costello, Cyndi Lauper, Willie Nile, Shawn Colvin and Rosanne Cash. As a musician -- on bass, guitar, accordion or anything else you put in front of him -- and as a friend, T-Bone just had the absolute perfect touch.

Today I heard the shocking horrible news that T-Bone died of a heart attack on Saturday. That's about all I know. The irony hit me hard because T-Bone played straight from the heart, and put his heart into everything that he did onstage and in the studio. I last saw T-Bone back in September when I flew in to co-host a special appearance Daryl and John were making with the band on QVC in West Chester, Pennsylvania to promote their upcoming box set Do What You Want, Be What You Are.

I'd flown in on a red eye straight from working on writing the Emmy Awards show the night before, and I was feeling vaguely disoriented when I met up with the guys backstage. But there, standing along with Daryl and John was T-Bone with his familiar face and warm smile.

We spoke about some of the great shows he was doing on Live From Daryl's House, a fantastic online jam session that demonstrated the range of the band as well as Daryl. T-Bone then kindly asked me how I was doing, and I probably made some small complaint about being a little tired from the plane trip -- this to a guy who travelled the world many times in order to make music for people. "We're lucky guys, David," T-Bone told me a smile. "We get to be around the music, and sometimes we even get paid."

T-Bone was right, of course. I was very lucky to know the man. And we were all very lucky to share all the music he brought to our lives.
Word. ~ tonebender