Email from February 2012

Cool Guitars on The Grammy Awards!


Friday 2/17/2012


Last week someone asked me what a Producer does.

I explained that sometimes an artist is high on something (not necessarily drugs, it could just be self-importance) and they have what they think is a spectacularly creative idea. A producer's job is to say either, “Yeah, that will work!” or “Maybe we should think about this a little more…”.

You see, when you're in the spotlight, you tend to be surrounded by entourage-“Yes”-people. So it never hurts to actually pay someone to give you an honest opinion. And, hey, you can always ignore them and go with your original idea anyway.

I'm gonna go with “ignoring the producer” as the explanation for Nicki Minaj's performance at the Grammy Awards last weekend. I won't pain you with the details, but I read one review that said, “The Nicki Minaj performance made me want to fill my ears with cement, then superglue my eyelids together, and punch myself in the face.”

BUT… we can't really complain because the rest of the Grammy show was spectacular, especially from a guitar standpoint!

It started out strong, with Bruce Springsteen. Bruce was using his re-issue Tele, instead of his original, but a big smile came over me when I saw the guitar Patti Scialfa was playing! It was an early 60s 3/4-size Kay acoustic, with an added sound-hole pickup. I'm sure you'd recognize the model. It's very similar to the Harmony Stella, with painted-on fingerboard “inlays” and painted “binding.” The Kay version is a little fancier than the Harmony since it also has a painted-on “pickguard” with a musical note. Here are some pictures of the Kay model. These photos also show the guitar's painted-on “wood grain,” but Patti had the even cooler all-black version. Over the last 30 years I've sold a lot of these at Pittsburgh Guitars. In the old days they'd go for $39. Today, now that people recognize their vintage American-made quality, they tend to bring $150. And it was wonderful to see one in the first song at the Grammys!

Bruce was followed by Bruno Mars, and Bruno's James Brown-inspired routine was one of the highlights of the evening. I don't know much about the B-man, but I'm a fan now. His bass player was using a beautiful red P-Bass, and he and the guitarist (white Tele) doubled the main riff of the song. If the song is still on youtube, it's worth checking out. I loved it! It was so powerful it would have been a tough performance for any musician to follow. (Luckily, a non-musician was next: Chris Brown lip-syncing while jumping on assorted boxes.)

Next was Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt with a duet. And it was great. Alicia Keys played a vintage Wurlitzer electric piano. (I know there are some super new electronic keyboards out there, but I haven't heard one that actually captures the sound of an old Wurlitzer.) And Bonnie Raitt used a fabulous early 1950s single-P-90 ES-175, in Natural! The guitar had a stunning vintage look to it. I've only ever seen her with a Strat, but here are pictures of her many years ago with what looks like the same guitar. The one on the Grammys was definitely a stage guitar, since you could see that she had foam in the f-holes to help prevent feedback. That 175 was my second favorite guitar of the evening.

A few acts later the Foo Fighters did their usual rockin' thing. Dave Grohl's signature Gibson model (a DG-335) is basically a Gibson Trini Lopez model in blue. (The Trini Lopez guitar was a Gibson ES-335 with a Fender-style six-tuners-on-one-side headstock and diamond shaped f-holes.) I still haven't warmed up to the Pelham Blue color of Dave's guitar, but you've gotta love Dave. He always puts out 100%, and his comments when the band won should be inscribed in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Like the Mars' band, Foo bassist, Nate Mendel, was also using a red P-Bass.

Next up was Maroon 5, proving how difficult it is sing “Surfer Girl.” It took them halfway thru the song to get the harmonies right. (And that's why you rarely see bands cover Beach Boys songs!) But they did have a black Rick 4001 bass, the only Rickenbacker on stage that night. The tall blonde guy next to Adam 5 may have been using a matching headstock custom color Fender Jazzmaster. It was kinda hard to tell since he didn't get any camera time.

The second half of the Beach Boys medley featured Foster The People. The lead singer has received complaints about his visual dorky-ness, but he did hit the notes better than the Maroon band (kinda). (See parentheses above.) And Foster The People get extra credit for wearing vertically-striped shirts and using matching white guitars, just the way the Beach Boys did in their glory years. FTP had a white Strat, a white P-Bass and a white Jaguar. (They also had a vintage Wurlitzer piano.) If only for the shirts and matching guitars, I want to learn more about this band.

The third half of the Beach Boys medley was The Beach Boys. But they kept referring to it as a “reunion.” My belief is that if your band had five guys and two of them are now dead, you can't really call it a reunion. Just my opinion. Meanwhile, they sounded good, but the only interesting guitar was Al Jardine's white Les Paul Custom. That didn't strike me as a Beach Boys-type guitar (see Foster The People) but it was the only Les Paul Custom at the show.

From an instrument perspective there were then a few non-electric guitar acts: Paul McCartney did a slow song with an orchestra; Taylor Swift played six-string banjo (tuned like a guitar, so you don't have to learn new chords!); and Katy Perry danced with a bunch of dancers.

Following Katy was a Glenn Campbell tribute. The first act, The Band Perry, had the first (and only) sunburst P-Bass of the evening. Next, Blake Shelton's band had a guitar you don't often see, a Paul Reed Smith solid-body electric 12-string. (Right behind Blake was a Seafoam Green P-Bass.) (The P-Bass was clearly the most used instrument of the evening.) And at the end of the tribute, Glenn Campbell performed, and though he didn't play guitar, his vocals sounded great.

After all of this great playing we had to sit through the aforementioned Nicki Minaj performance-art segment. (Hey, I bet Yoko liked it!)

And finally Paul McCartney brought the show to a close with The Beatles' “Golden Slumbers”/”Carry That Weight”/”The End” medley. During the trading-solos guitar segment at the end of “The End” McCartney and his guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray were joined by Bruce Springsteen, Joe Walsh and Dave Grohl. Rusty played his vintage natural 335, Brian played his Les Paul goldtop, Bruce used his Tele, Joe Walsh played his 1959 Les Paul TV Junior and Dave used is his Dave Grohl signature model…. and...

And last, but not least, Paul McCartney played the lefty 1960 Les Paul Sunburst once owned by me!

I've seen Paul play that guitar in person for decades, but it still felt special to see it on TV, handed to him for the finale of the Grammys.

And I suddenly realized: Paul can buy any guitar in the world… And he has chosen to use that Les Paul for twenty years. So, we can safely conclude that he's happy with the guitar. And since I was a part of its journey from the Gibson factory to Paul, we can therefore say that I have helped to make a Beatle happy!

Considering how happy The Beatles have made me, it's pretty sweet to have helped bring some happiness to Paul. Yeah!

See you soon,


Some links:

Glen Campbell as a hot young guitar player.

Another reason to like Dave Grohl:
Last year The Foo Fighters traveled around the country and played in fan's garages. I don't know of another big-time band who would do this: Garage Tour.

Dave's comments at The Grammy Awards.

Dave as a youth, on drums.




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