Email Specials from December 2004

Fri 12/3/2004 ~ Maple necks, rosewood fingerboards, and the Vox Apollo bass

 

When we talk about Fender guitars we often use the terms "maple neck" or "rosewood neck." What's unusual about this is that we in the guitar biz are generally quite precise and scientific with our descriptions, yet these two phrases are not exactly accurate. All Fender necks are maple. It's only the fingerboards that can be maple (which is light colored) or rosewood (which is dark).

You see when Leo Fender first designed his Teles, Strats, and P-Basses, they all had maple necks with maple fingerboards. Unfortunately the lacquer coating on Leo's guitars was very thin, and it quickly wore off. The result was that dark spots started to appear on the fingerboard from regular play wear. (From string corrosion...) (And dirt from your fingers....) If you watch the old Ed Sullivan repeats, there's a really cool Jerry Lee Lewis appearance. His guitar player is using a `50s Strat, and from a distance it looks like a rosewood fingerboard. But during a very quick close-up (keep your finger near the pause button!) you can see that his entire maple fingerboard has turned dark. THAT guy played a lot!

Anyway, in 1959, Leo decided to install a rosewood fingerboard on the maple necks, which would hide any play wear. It was a clever and easy fix to the fingerboard discoloration problem.

In late 1962, no doubt in a cost-cutting move, the rosewood used for the fingerboards became much thinner. (Rosewood costs more than maple.) The 1959 through 1962 rosewood fingerboard guitars, with the thicker rosewood, have since become known as "slab boards." (As per the aforementioned "precise and scientific" descriptions used by guitar biz folks.) (I'm not sure where the term came from. I always think of Dr. Frank N. Furter and ...."So......come up to the lab.... And see what's on the slab....")

I mention all of this because on Tuesday night I asked Scott to record some bass parts for this year's Flashcat Christmas Record #24, and he used a 1962 slab-board Jazz Bass that we have here at the store. After the session he told me that the slab-board Jazz Bass necks are the finest feeling bass necks ever made in the history of mankind. Scott personally owns a fabulous 1964 Jazz Bass, which he loves. But there is some can't-quite-put-your-finger-on-it magic about the `59-'62 slab board basses. As if, for a brief period of time, the perfect bass neck had been created.

At that point in the recording session, as we were pondering the mysteries of the universe, and bass guitar necks, I figured I'd lighten things up with some comic relief. So I pulled out my Vox Apollo IV Bass. Vox, as you know, made wonderful amplifiers... and wacky guitars. The Apollo Bass neck is without a doubt the skinniest bass neck ever made. If we in the guitar biz were the kind of folks who made up names for things, this would be known as a "pencil neck." (Here's a picture.) The Vox neck is nearly unplayable in its thinness. Scott and I chuckled about the justifiable expensiveness of the Jazz Bass, and the what-were-they-thinking?-ness of the Vox. I said, "Well, that's why you never see anyone playing a Vox Apollo!"

 

Two hours later, as I poured my evening glass of wine, I turned on the TV and started to watch "The Late Late Show." It's not one of my faves but Ben Stein was on, and I like him, so I watched. After the commercial they introduced the musical guest, Aimee Mann. As usual, she was playing her old Gibson J-45. But when they panned over to the bass player.... yep, I couldn't believe it either... he was playing a Vox Apollo bass! Sometimes life is just plain strange...

 

In honor of basses, this week's email special is a bass amp. I inadvertently doubled my order on this model and I have too many. I can't tell you the brand... but it's a 60-watt Bass amp... and you should be careful lifting it into the back seat of your car so you don't accidentally dent your car "fender."

 

See you soon,
Carl

 

PS: Starting in 1967 most Fender instruments could be ordered with either maple or rosewood fingerboards.

PPS: We started recording The Flashcat Christmas Records back when we were gigging five nights a week. Even though we now only play once a year, every Christmas we still write and record Christmas songs for the Fan Club. This is the 24th year! It's a lot of fun and it helps get the season started on a merry note. Email your address and I'll mail you a randomly chosen CD.

PPPS: Customer Web Site:
Between The Waters

Fri 12/17/2004 ~ Click tracks and extraneous band members

 

I was watching TV the other day and saw a band called Modest Mouse playing on some awards show. The first thing I noticed was that the drummer was wearing headphones. This, of course, means "click track." There are several reasons that a drummer would listen to a click track... perhaps he's not good enough to keep the beat steady... or maybe someone in the band is so obsessed with the exact tempo of the studio recording that they want to make every performance identical... but the most common reason is that the band is playing along with backing tracks. In some cases, young dancing pop singers, for example, almost the entire show is pre-recorded. (After all, you would hardly expect them to dance AND sing at the same time!) As I listened to Modest Mouse I was a bit surprised that they were not only playing to a click track, but you could actually hear it in the mix. The "click" was the sound of a high-hat hit, which kinda blends in... but it was louder than the actual sounds of the drummer! You could see him playing different high-hat patterns, but all along you heard a steady, loud "tick tick tick." At least they weren't being shy about it!

Then I noticed the guy in the back, next to the drummer, playing congas. I didn't understand the point of that guy. After all, if you're going to be playing along to a recorded drum track, why not just put the congas on there, too? The conga player was just extraneous. (It brings to mind the big question: If you're going to play "live" along with pre-recorded tracks, where do you draw the line? Just percussion parts? Just percussion and keyboard parts? Just percussion and keyboards and background vocal parts?? )

The extraneous conga player, though, reminded me of other extraneous band members. I don't know why, but the first one who came to mind was the other guy in Wham. The "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" band was George Michael and "the other guy." George Michael later went on to solo fame, both on and off the field. The other guy (I think his name is/was Andrew Ridgely) went on to obscurity. I believe there were several other 1980s groups that had guys who just "danced" in the bands...

 

And, although she was of a different persuasion than the aforementioned mates, I then thought of Linda McCartney. When solo Paul first showed up with Linda on keyboards, many (okay, MOST) of us said, "What the???" After all she barely played and hardly sang. We were annoyed. But then I saw an interview with Paul. He said he had worked hard for years to be successful, and, at that point in his life, he just thought it would be fun to have his girlfriend in the band. (Although they were already married, I believe he really used the term "girlfriend.") I was touched. He was right. It was fun for him... It was fun for her... and if it bothered us, well, maybe we should be worrying about more important things. From that point forward I never thought a disparaging thought about Linda.

 

So.... maybe the conga player In Modest Mouse is someone's boyfriend... Or maybe he owns the PA... Or the click track machine...

 

Playing in a band is a lot like actual life. When you're young, and struggling, you have to make sacrifices. You have to work hard, and go on the road and sleep in a van. You have to fire the drummer who isn't pulling his weight, and get someone who musically fits. When you get older, though, you should slow down and enjoy where you are. You should kick back and spend time with the people you love.

Wherever you are in life's journey, it's Christmas. Spend some time with the folks you love.

 

See you soon,
Carl

 

PS: The next two Fridays are Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Things will be too hectic for the email special. Have a Great Holiday and we'll see you in 2005!!!!!

PPS: Customer Web Site:
The Cynics


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