Monday, July 31, 2006

Back on the guitar

After months of playing bass in Caterwaul, I have put it down for the summer and picked up the guitar again. On Sunday afternoon, the Jazzkickers had their first rehearsal of the year: a 3-hour marathon in which we reviewed our material for this year's Employee Giving Campaign concerts at work. Right after that, I went downtown to the Jazz Jook Joint Jamm at Sophia's in Minneapolis, sitting in with Dennis Spears and Debbie Duncan to play some blues. This Friday, I'm joining the rhythm section of the Mike Hachey Band at the University Club in Saint Paul; Carmin Pluntz of the Jazzkickers (and Beasley's Big Band) is leading on saxophone. It's good to be playing out on six strings again!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Enigma Variations

Attended a great performance of Elgar's "Enigma Variations" by the Minnesota Symphony conducted by Osmo Vanska on July 14. The "Nimrod" variation must be one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. Also on the program were Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody" and Stravinsky's "Suite No. 2 for Small Orchestra."

Saturday, July 01, 2006

GAS Strikes Again

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, Fender made some truly amazing Strats and Teles. I liked everything about the American Standard of that era: the neck radius (9.5"), the figured maple necks and fingerboards, the hardware, especially the bridge saddles, and the finishes, especially the white, which would typically change over time to a color that could vary anywhere between vanilla ice cream, banana milkshake, and a pale flesh tone. I still have my 1991 Stratocaster from that time, which I only changed by swapping out the pickups for Texas Specials.

However, I was foolish enough to sell my Tele, but last week on eBay I bought its clone, a 1990 white one that had aged to just that banana color and had the classic, slightly figured maple board. Of course, nothing is simple: the neck pickup didn't work, there was some belt buckle worming on the back, and a small ding on the lower edge of the body. But my guitar tech, the redoubtable Dave Rusan of Prince fame, slipped in a new Lindy Fralin pickup, buffed out the back, deglossed the neck, leveled the frets, and polished it to perfection.

Now it's fabulous, with that true Tele KRRRANG on the bridge pickup, and a warmer sound from the neck. Nothing rings or cuts through the mix like a Telecaster. Played through a Fender Princeton Chorus, it can twang, scream or shout on command. Cosmetically, it's almost perfect; I made Dave leave the ding in the body so I wouldn't feel bad next time I drop it after too many Jack Daniels. It's one of those minor blems that's like a beauty spot on a pretty woman; after one minute you think it's cute and after two minutes you don't notice it.

I will probably never play out with this guitar, because I don't play country or rock 'n' roll on stage any more, but it's a treasure nonetheless. Amazingly, these guitars have really kept their value: the Blue Book rates a good one at over $800, which is pretty much what you paid for a new one back in the 90s. I actually don't like the current Strats and Teles; they changed the neck radius for no good reason. My Strat is currently in the shop having a Earvana nut and new string trees installed, but that's a keeper too. Long live Fender guitars!