The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Out In The Black-Face, Pre-CBS Fender Deluxe Reverb Zone

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: "Tom Waits was in here the other day," I heard the proprietor of the musical instrument store in Petaluma tell one of his employees. "He was looking for some turntables for his son." Standing over by a wall of shiny new Gretsch guitars, I couldn't help but smile, imagining the gruff-voiced Waits searching for a DJ setup to give his son for Christmas. Over the years, I've spent a fair amount of time in guitar stores, a lot of time in used guitar stores and, to tell you the truth, a lot more time obsessing about guitars. And amplifiers — old pre-CBS black-face Fender amps, and the even older tweed amps. And strange effects pedals, with names like "Big Muff" and "Rotovibe." One time, when I was in Nashville, I was checking the want ads and found a little used Fender amp at a good price. The next thing you know I found myself in some kinda hippie-punk crash pad, buying the damn thing from some guys who had a band, but seemed to be more focused on their weed consumption. In San Francisco, there was this one-room used-guitar store of sorts that this guy named Steve maintained (for all I know, he's still dealin' used instruments out of that dump). It wasn't really a guitar store — just a room in an apartment building. Anyway, Steve always had about 100 guitars hanging from the walls, but they were, for the most part, really fucked up. You'd try these things and the neck would be warped on one, or the wiring didn't work on another. You'd be like, "Steve, got anything good?" And if he thought you were serious about maybe parting with some cash, he might bring out something good. He was into barter. If you actually found something you liked, you could give him some cash and maybe an old guitar that didn't really work very well and, oh, an old stereo amp for it. I snared a '64 Gibson acoustic for a couple of hundred dollars one time — that was a score. And I managed to separate Steve from not one but two black-face Fender amps (did a barter/cash deal for one of them) that I still cherish for each one's distinctive sound. Which is at least half of what this whole guitar/amp thing is all about — cool, weird-ass sounds. Sure, you can go buy a new version of a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp. They've duplicated every last detail. But it doesn't sound like the funky old one I bought off Steve. You plug a Fender Strat into my old Deluxe and crank up the reverb dial to about five and get the tremolo going at a cool slow speed and start picking some earthy blues, and you get something that might have crawled out of that foggy swamp in "The Hound of the Baskervilles." The notes have this slightly metallic, spring-reverb-y sound, like they have to go down into the basement and up through a trap door, then up a few flights of stairs and into a Victorian parlor before they come out of the speaker for you to hear. It's like the old amps add a little grit to the notes. And then there's the style thing — the other half of the whole guitar/amp deal is about. Guitars with pearly white pick guards and gold fleck paint, with outrageous red sunburst finishes and inlaid necks and bizarre whammy contraptions and oddly angled head stocks. A cool lookin' guitar can inspire you to write a cool song. It used to be (I'm talking early '90s now) that you couldn't get a decent new electric guitar for less than about $800. But that changed a couple of years ago, when Danelectro began producing new versions of their classic guitars with the lipstick-tube pickups, the ones rockers from Jimmy Page to Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker have used for years, and selling them for as little as $250 (now they've even got a $199 Hodad model). These guitars look and sound real fine. They bring flash back to cheap rock guitars. They make it possible for a kid to buy a cool-looking guitar and make some real rock 'n' roll noise. Hell, forget about them turntables, Tom. Get your kid one of those Danelectro deals. I think I saw a pretty nice used tube amp, too, off to the side of the store, kinda near that wall of shiny Gretsch guitars...

Datastream: Damage Manual vocalist and Ministry member Chris Connelly will see a new album — his first in three years — released on February 6, 2001 by Invisible Records. The album, Blonde Exodus, by Chris Connelly and the Bells, was recorded in Chicago and features guest vocalists and musicians. The album moves from "bitter torch songs through paranoid rock and pastoral travelogues" according to the Invisible Records Web site. .... I got a kick out of Ann Powers' clever review of the Offspring's recent Roseland performance, which was headlined "The Teen-Age Angst of the 35-Year-Old Man." Wrote Powers: "There is a point where the average man's midlife crisis parallels the existential angst of a typical teenage boy. Anger at being misunderstood, a wish to flee home and family, an irresistible attraction to supposedly unsuitable women — these impulses inform the work of both John Updike and Eminem." And, according to Powers, they inform the work of the Offspring too. ... It was a shock, to say the least, to learn that Staple Singers founder Roebuck "Pops" Staples had died Tuesday (December 19, 2000) at the age of 84. Staples developed a distinctive, tremolo-heavy electric guitar style that influenced such guitarists as Robbie Robertson, Ry Cooder, J. J. Cale and Eric Clapton. Staples led a group that got its start singing gospel, but in the '60s helped pioneer socially conscious soul music, scoring hits with such masterpieces as "I'll Take You There" and "Respect Yourself." The Associated Press quoted Staples as once saying about the move from gospel to soul: "We just kept on singing and praying, and we let our music carry the message. When people realized that our music still had the message of love, our audience grew — old people came back, and new people kept coming."

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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