As a seven-string guitarist, I come across this situation virtually every day of my waking life. And in
dreams nightmares too.
ME: Dude, you should totally check out the new Ibanez seven-strings.
DUDE: Seven strings? Ha! I have enough trouble with six!
We’ve all heard it, right? How do you respond to that? There are several ways, but you have to be careful because almost all of them make you sound like a douche. Here are some suggestions:
“Well, David Bowie played Space Oddity on a twelve-string, so he’s got a clear five strings on me. And that was in the sixties!”
“Oh the extra string’s no problem, but painkillers from the surgery to attach the extra finger left me doped out for days.”
“It’s not that difficult. All you have to do is imagine you’re playing an eight-string with one less string.”
“Hey, if those dumbasses in [insert favourite 90s Nu Metal punching bag here] could do it, even you can.”
Or my favourite:
“Actually it’s just like a six-string but you can go five notes lower if you want to. It’s not a big deal.”
The last one is probably the most diplomatic.
So I was digging through some old photos the other day and thought I might as well scan this one. It was taken when I’d just turned 11 in July 1989 (today is my birthday and I’m 33).
I was in fifth grade, and I was singing the song “Cry In Shame” by Johnny Diesel and the Injectors at a school assembly during Book Week – Diesel was one of my early guitar heroes. Naturally, being book week everybody had to dress as a character from a book. I was dressed as a rock star from Smash Hits magazine. I like that my audience includes a policeman and a princess. My god, I loved that grey stonewash denim jacket so much.
See that red guitar strap? I knitted that myself. It didn’t last too long but I thought it was pretty bitchen.
Oh and the guitar is a 60s Ibanez student acoustic that my next door neighbour gave me. It’s pretty beat up and not particularly collectible but I still have it and it’s kinda cool.
Note also the ultra-sophisticated microphone stand.
So what about I Heart Guitar readers? When did you start playing? Got any photos (embarrassing or otherwise) of your early gigs?
Here’s the song I was singing:
Okay, so, I went to university in Canberra, right? (Canberra is Australia’s capital city, if you’re not familiar with our sociopolitical and geographic minutiae). Canberra’s an interesting place. When I lived there, it was all about the Three P’s: Porn, Pot & Pyrotechnics. The industrial suburb of Fyshwick was a porn mecca, marijuana was decriminalised and you could buy fireworks from stalls at Belconnon Mall. Come to think of it, I don’t think I partook in any of those things cos I was too busy studying, Your Honour.
Anyway, one of the best things about Canberra (apart from all-day breakfast at Cafe Essen, the coffee at Tosolini’s…), was the band The Way Hip Antelopes. I have their 1998 CD Everlasting Why, (which I coyly bought from one of their vocalists, Kate, who worked at a CD store near uni – It was one of those ‘Oh, you’re the girl from the CD, and you’re working at the store I’m buying it from… this is a little uncomfortable’ things) but I don’t know if they ever expanded beyond the local scene, which is a huge shame because I think they were really ahead of their time, and hell, if the Byron Bay Bluesfest crowd got a hold of them now, they’d be playing all over the place.
Their sound was a mix of middle-eastern melodies, lush acoustic guitar arrangements, folkish leanings, complex-but-grooving drums (Ben, the drummer – I used to get in his ear when he worked at the same CD store as Kate), in-the-pocket basslines courtesy of Loki (who served me many an ale at the Phoenix, if I recall correctly), soaring, sometimes-jazz-tinged male lead vocals and ethereal, atmospheric female harmony vocals (the latter of which are sadly missing from the only video I could dig up, a from a 2004 reunion show at The Phoenix). Man, when they were on they were fucking on, and there was nothing greater than seeing them at a venue like the Gypsy Bar. Nothing! (Man, the Gypsy Bar was awesome. Were you there? Then you get it, right? If you weren’t, dude, you missed something).
So where are you, Way Hip Antelopes? Are you all still around? Do you Google yourself every now and then to see who remembers? Cos I remember, and I friggin’ miss you guys.
We’ve been together for a long time. I still remember the first time I saw you. It was in the form of a double-neck 12/6 string, from the era in the 1970s when you made successful, competitor-unnerving Gibson and Fender replicas. I thought you were gorgeous. I heard Steve Vai talk about you in 1990 and I knew we were right for each other. I finally got to hold you myself in 1993 when Father Christmas gave me a Japanese-made, Edge-loaded Jewel Blue RG370. It was a rare guitar with unusual specs and an unusual country of manufacture for an RG370. I liked knowing you were mine, that I had something nobody else had. I didn’t want to think about how many other people in my town had played you as you hung on the wall of Custom Music in Lavington. I guess others must have strummed your strings before me, maybe even executed a devastating flutter on your whammy bar. Maybe you even liked it. I guess you knew deep down that I already had a Status brand Stratocaster copy – that you weren’t my first electric guitar. But we were blissful in our ignorance.
As time went on I acquired more Ibanez guitars and I loved them all dearly. I’ve leaped about onstage with an RG7620, I won a shredding contest hosted by Allans Music and Triple M using my RG7420, and as a member of Cereal Killer I shared a bill with Rob Balducci at Jemfest, armed with my UV777BK and Jem7VWH.
I can understand if you were hurt when you heard last week that I’d traded my Jem7VWH for a Fender Stratocaster. Really, I get it. We’d been together for so long, and my love for you was so strong that when I worked at World of Music, teaching guitar but more importantly (to you) performing set-ups and repairs, I was known to staff and customers as ‘Captain Ibanez.’ There was nothing about you I didn’t know, whether it be the names of the guys at the Custom Shop who crafted exquisite instruments for my heroes throughout the years (Mace Bailey, Rich Lasner, Tak Hosono), or the correct angle at which to set an Edge series trem (ignore the surface of the unit and instead judge by the knife edge inserts, making sure they’re parallel to the body). But to be honest, as much as I loved it and as comfortable as it was to play, the Jem just wasn’t for me. There was a time when I told myself it felt like it was designed for me: It seemed to fit my body and get completely out of the way as I executed flurry after flurry of sweep-picking crescendo. But I think I started to realise that that was the problem: it was too passive. It just lay there, letting me have my lustful way with it on special occasions but not particularly getting in on the act itself. I started to feel that the fire, the passion for that Jem was waning, even though it was super-hot and would let me do whatever I wanted with it. So I did what just a year ago I would have thought unthinkable.
But here’s the thing, Ibanez. Even though I’m one Ibanez down (and to be honest, I’m kinda thinking of trading my RG550MXX Roadflare Red in for a Telecaster, and I certainly have my eye on more than a few Gibsons – and how could I claim to be an objective guitar reviewer if I only loved one company?), I’m still an Ibanez Guy. I still love you. Really. I will never part with my Universe, because her and I have a special connection. Ditto my RG370. And super ditto my Talman TC825 with Bisgby, which has tremendous sentimental value as well as absolutely killer tones. And my two RG7s I mentioned before will always be with me because they sound great, play great, and mean something to me. Sure, I’m also on the fence about my original black 1987 RG550, but that one sounds monstrous and I’d be pretty nuts to sell it, even though a few friends have made some pretty flattering offers.
So what it comes down to, Ibanez, is that although I may from time to time visit another, you’re still my baby. It’s like Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed. Everyone knows Gene parties down with other girls. I’m sure Shannon quite happily encourages it, maybe because she knows he won’t change, or maybe simply because it’s nice to get him out of the house every now and then when she just wants to sit down with the latest Vanity Fair or to make a little caterpillar out of M&Ms and then eat him up one segment at a time (don’t be ashamed, Shannon, we all do it). I’m sure if Gene and Shannon were married he would stop his dilly-dallying around with other girls, and if I ever become a famous shredmeister and you come knocking on my door for an endorsement I would proudly stand with you and say ‘I do,’ forsaking all others. But until that day, let’s keep this Gene/Shannon thing going. And you can play with other guitarists too. Are we cool?
I’m sad to say that despite its innate awesomeness, I just wasn’t really connecting with my Ibanez Jem7VWH on that deep level, and rather than let it sit around being unloved, today I traded it (plus some $$$) for this brand new Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster Reissue in Olympic White. Yay, new guitar day!
This is quite a different guitar to most in my Ibanez-heavy arsenal (although I do have a super-cheap Status Strat copy and a Telecaster made out of parts), but one can’t just play pointy metal axes all the time, right? When I decided I needed a Strat (inspired partly by Richie Kotzen and partly by the DiMarzio pickup upgrade to my Status copy), I looked around online to familiarise myself with the various models, and I decided that the things I like in Strats aesthetically are:
3 single coils
6-screw vintage tremolos.
I considered a few different models: This American Vintage ’62; the American Vintage Hot Rod ’62; the John Mayer and Eric Johnson models; even theCustom Shop 1965 Stratocaster (I really dig that transitional logo, but the budget didn’t really allow for that one). I dropped into World of Music in Brighton East and tried almost every US Strat in the place, including a few that fell outside my desired parameters. I was very taken by an HSS American Deluxe Stratocaster (and the American Deluxe Telecaster, which I really, really liked but since I promised myself I was getting a Strat, I decided not to buy that one …this time around, hehe). I played the ’62 first, and I came back to it after trying all the others, and it was love at first chord. So now, in addition to my Ibanii, I’m a proud Fender owner for the first time.
On paper, the American Vintage Hod Rod ’62 was probably on top of my ‘want’ list because it features similar specs to the ’62 but with a 5-way pickup switch (the non-Hot Rod version has a vintage-correct 3-way switch); a reverse-polarity middle pickup for hum-cancelling 2 and 4 settings; a flatter 9.5″ fretboard radius instead of 7.25″; and medium-jumbo frets. I also hear the back of the neck is huge, which is something I really dig about my Telecaster. But after spending some time in the store with the American Vintage ’62, it just felt right. We bonded, sparks flew, everything got all slow and soft-focus, and I think I heard ‘Dream Weaver’ playing in the background.
Case candy includes a cool old-school strap, an equally old-school lead, a 5-way switch in case you want to upgrade so you get those 2 and 4 pickup positions, and the ‘ashtray’ tremolo cover that everyone always took off anyway.
Huge thanks to Brett and everyone at World of Music.
I’m not sure when it happened. Some time between chaining a few distortion pedals and a graphic EQ together for pure evil Dimebag Darrell tone when I was 16, and my 27th birthday or thereabouts, I started to hear the call. Quiet at first, maybe a little distant and muffled, but definitely there. It got louder over the years, and increasingly raspier and sharper. Then before I knew it, there it was:
I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of it before. Maybe it was because I spent my teens in an era where amp distortion was king, and even pedal distortion was relatively frowned upon as being synthetic. Maybe it was because I thought of fuzz as, to paraphrase Dethklok, ‘grandpa’s distortion.’ But whatever mental roadblock was coming between me and glorious fuzz gradually started to shift, and now I can’t get enough of those little germanium or silicon-chipped wonders.
Last week in my Cool Preamps They Don’t Make Any More post I mentioned the very first Guitar World I ever got – the March 1991 edition with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill on the cover. That magazine was hugely influential to me – I’d just begun high school and had got an electric guitar for Christmas 1990. I was not yet 13 and I felt like a whole new world had opened up within those pages. It was time to put aside Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dino Riders and Voltron, and to instead devote my excitement towards Valley Arts, Hamer and Seymour Duncan.
My guitar rig at the time consisted of a Status Stratocaster copy (no, I don’t think it’s the same Status that makes those awesome headless basses – but if anyone knows something about this brand, please share!) and a Marathon MX3 amp. The amp had two controls: Volume and Tone. The only time I got anything close to distortion was when I turned the amp up all the way – certainly not gig volume, but louder than could be permitted in a crowded house despite the amp’s paltry three watts.
I’d seen effects pedals here and there, but somehow I’d got it into my head that amps needed to have special circuitry in order to ‘take’ effect pedals. I saw a Dean Markley amp in a music store catalogue and it had a lot of jacks on the front that I couldn’t quite read since the picture was so tiny, but I’d convinced myself that they said ‘Chorus,’ ‘Digital Delay,’ ‘Reverb’ and ‘Distortion.’ (Now thanks to Google I know it was a Dean Markley K-50 and the jacks were actually ‘Phones,’ ‘Footswitch,’ ‘Line In’ and ‘Line Out’). However, I remember reading Denny Laine’s Guitar Book when I was about 10, and in it he mentioned something about fuzz and wah wah pedals that could be connected between a guitar and an amp. I filed that away for later use (not realising of course that this is how every effect pedal hooks up, not just wah and fuzz. Oops).
So anyway, somewhere near the end of that first Guitar World magazine there was a little black and white ad for the Jim Dunlop ‘Jimi Hendrix System’ Octave Fuzz. “Fuzz, you say?” was my immediate reaction. “You mean that effect you can hook up without needing a special jack for that effect? Hot damn!” I remember taking the magazine to my dad and being all like, “Hey dad, can you buy me this?” I thought if it was good enough for Jimi Hendrix, it was good enough for me. Little did I realise it was actually never used by Hendrix in his lifetime, but was inspired by Roger Mayer’s Octavia octave fuzz. Dad said no, but through a little more Guitar World reading I figured out that you could use any pedal with any amp, and for my birthday that July he took me to a few local guitar stores to find my very first distortion pedal (an Arion Metal Plus – damn I loved that thing! CLICK HERE to see Arion pedals on eBay.). The Jim Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Octave Fuzz slipped to the back of my mind as I spent subsequent birthdays cluttering my bedroom floor with a wah wah, flanger, phaser, digital delay, another distortion when my Arion finally packed it in… and it wasn’t until 2008 that it finally dawned upon me that I should track down that first pedal I ever got really, really excited about.
I was ensnared in a bit of an eBay bidding war for one and I missed out. It was in used condition but still went for somewhere around 70 bucks, if I recall correctly. A few weeks later another one popped up, complete with the box. It was used but appeared to be completely blemish-free. I placed a bid and ended up getting it for a mere $40 USD plus about ten bucks postage, at a time when the Australian dollar was up around 98c US. Score! CLICK HERE to see the Jimi Hendrix Octave Fuzz on eBay.
So what’s the pedal sound like? Gloriously ratty. It takes a bit of trial and error to get the octave overtone effect happening like in Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ solo. The trick is to pick lightly, kinda squeeze the note with your fretting hand as soon as you pick it, and to use the neck pickup. It also helps to wind back the guitar volume a little bit. Switch to the bridge pickup and this toothy, sharp fuzz sound all but obliterates any hint of the octave overtone. Pile it on top of an already distorted amp tone and you get this great dirty edge to the notes, and lots of great-sounding sustain. It’s not a pedal that I would use in every song, but it’s earned a permanent place on my ever-fickle pedalboard, and whenever I stomp on it I kind of feel like I’m engaging a covert secret weapon.
Today the Jim Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Octave Fuzz is no more, at least in that incarnation. Instead you can buy the Jimi Hendrix Octavio, an exact clone of the pedal Jimi actually used on ‘Purple Haze.’ Roger Mayer also still makes the Octavia as well as the Vision Octavia, both of which are further evolutions of the original design, rather than straight reproductions like the exactly-what-Jimi-used Dunlop.