Enter here for your chance to WIN an ISP Technologies Decimator II! Giveaway Ends October 26, 2021.
Decimator II Noise Reduction pedal boasts the most advanced, state-of-the art technology with two new pending patents covering innovative improvements over the original Decimator design. A 1/8 phone cord allows two pedals to directly track the instrument, offering the same tracking performance of our professional ProRack G system. This allows players to use one block of Decimator between the guitar and amplifier and a second in the effects loop. The Decimator II also features improvements in the expander tracking with our new linearized Time Vector Processing™. This improves the smoothness of the release response of the expander and provides the most transparent release response of any noise reduction system available, virtually eliminating any release ripple for incredibly smooth decay of notes.
How the L6-S Custom became Gibson's most versatile tone machine.
What do Al Di Meola, Carlos Santana, Paul Stanley, Dave Davies, Prince, Pat Martino, and Keith Richards have in common? They've all played Gibson's L6-S Custom—an extremely versatile tone generator with a variety of voices wide enough for that diverse cast.
This model, designed in 1972 and released in '73, was the first collaboration between guitar- and pickup-designer Bill Lawrence and Gibson. The idea was to make a very inexpensive solidbody electric that could compete with more costly models—and especially with Fender's highly successful offerings. That's a pretty simple concept, but the L6-S is not a simple instrument. It has a complex pickup-control system, built into Gibson's first solid-maple-slab guitar, with a 3-piece, two-octave set neck, with 24 frets—Fender style—rather than the company's usual 22.
This Gibson really sticks its neck out. In the interest of competing with Fender, it's got 24 frets instead of the company's usual 22.
Until it was discontinued in 1980, more than 18,000 were made, and it's considered one of the finest instruments from Gibson's notorious Norlin era. Instead of the usual 3-way pickup selector, the L6-S uses a 6-way rotary switch to control its tones. The pointer on its chicken-head knob faces down, and rolls from right to left (or bottom to top), looking down the guitar's front. In position 1, both pickups are active and in series. Position 2 fires up only the neck pickup. Spot 3 runs both pickups, in parallel. Position 4 puts both pickups in parallel and out of phase, with the neck pickup's bass limited by a capacitor. (The sonic result is similar to the 2 and 4 slots on a Strat pickup selector.) Spot 5 is the bridge pickup alone, and position 6 is both pickups in series and out of phase.
This is where the action is on a Gibson L6-S Custom. The 6-way selector handles pickup configurations for a wide variety of core tones, while the dials are (top to bottom), master volume, midrange, and bass/treble. And there's the bridge Super Humbucker, which was wound a tad hotter than the neck pickup.
Note the manufacturing quirk on this guitar's headstock. While the guitar is properly designated the L6-S, the nameplate here reads L-6S.
In Lawrence and Gibson's estimation, a guitar this different also required a different set of control dials. The one highest up on the body is a master volume, with a midrange control as the center dial, while the lower dial is a tone control that affects treble and bass, with 10 providing the most treble. The L6-S Custom sported Lawrence's pickups, of course—a pair of his ceramic-magnet Super Humbuckers, with 4-conductor split-coil wiring to accommodate all those tonal variations. At their introduction, these pickups were about as hot as they got, although competitors like DiMarzio and Seymour Duncan were also entering the game. The bridge for the guitar is supposed to be a standard Tune-o-matic, but our model has a Gibson harmonica-style bridge, named for its distinctive shape. Since this L6-S is from the final year of production, that harmonica bridge is likely what was available in the parts bin at the time.
Instead of the usual 3-way pickup selector, the L6-S uses a 6-way rotary switch to control its tones.
The L6-S's debut price was $495, which climbed to $649 in its final production year. In 1980, a new Fender Strat had a list price of $995, so this guitar remained an able competitor. Two more L6-S models evolved from the line. In 1974 Gibson issued the L6-S Midnight Special, with a bolt-on neck, a Schaller harmonica bridge, a strung through-body, and a 3-way pickup toggle with master volume and tone dials. At the same time, Gibson also issued the set-neck L6-S Deluxe, with the same controls as the Midnight Special, but with two of Lawrence's ceramic "tar back" pickups, which got that name due to a black epoxy potting—their primary difference from other Super Humbuckers.
With relatively little back wear, this guitar either had a careful owner or owners, or saw little action. If that's the case, it's a pity, but the L6-S seems ready for anything.
This month's guitar comes in Gibson's classic tobacco burst finish, but the L6-S Custom was also available in natural, ebony, silverburst, and cherry sunburst. The asking price is $1,495, which falls on the more affordable side of today's range of about $1,400 to $1,700 for the model. Our L6-S Custom is a charmer to play. It balances extremely well, with a lower bout of about 13 1/2" across and 1 1/4" thick. And the neck feels better than of lot of Norlin-era necks, with a thin taper below the headstock that gradually widens. For hot vintage Gibson sounds from the '70s, it's hard to beat the L6-S Custom.
The circuit design on this Supro Lexington is among Valco's strange but adventurous experiments.
The old Valco company holds a real fascination for me. Back in the day, the U.S. had major guitar companies like Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, and Rickenbacker. And then there was the slightly odder, slightly weirder Valco, which set out to compete with the higher-profile brands, but always approached the endeavor with a really strange game plan.
For instance, in the late '50s, Valco coated guitars in a plastic "no-mar" finish which prevented wear but deadened the sound. If a guitar was getting too heavy, they simply drilled relief holes in the back and covered them up with a plastic cover. Even the pickups used on most Valco guitars were different. They looked like humbuckers, but were actually single-coils that had unique dimensions, so simple pickup swaps were just about impossible. And while other manufacturers were experimenting with different tonewoods, Valco went with fiberglass guitars—later popularized by Jack White. In a lot of ways, Valco was one of the most interesting guitar makers from the heyday of electric guitars, and there are rare gems to be mined from those days of odd.
Now, Valco might not be a household name to many of you, but the Supro, National, Oahu, and Airline brands might ring a bell. Similar to many of the Japanese companies back in the day, Valco rebranded its guitars based on who sold them and where they sold. Supro is probably the most popular and most common of these brands, and their instruments are where I started to love the logo with the lightning bolt.
Sure, they look like humbuckers, but this guitar is actually loaded with three single-coil pickups.
See, many years ago, I saw this 1968 Supro Lexington and really became entranced. This looked sort of like a Stratocaster but had three humbucker looking things! In my mind, that made for one mean-looking guitar, and, at 16 years old, I was all about that. People always talk about yard-sale finds, but this guitar was probably my one and only cool yard sale find, ever!
This model first appeared in the 1965–'66 Supro catalog and was simply called a "shaded"—instead of "sunburst"—No. S545. A few catalogs later, these were dubbed Lexingtons and always came in three-, two-, and one-pickup varieties. Retailing at around $200, they were pricey but didn't compare to any other guitar from the time. Rather than having adjustable truss rods, almost all Valco guitars had "Lifetime Kord-King" necks, which sported a rather robust metal U-shaped rod that extended through the neck. The design worked pretty well, but if the neck wasn't set up properly at the factory, the guitar was going to have lifetime issues!
Is there a cooler logo than Supro's vintage lightning bolt design?
Additionally, these Lexingtons sported a rather complex control system called "tone shading," which was like a high/low tonal option for each pickup. But all the tone shading really covered up some amazing tones from the in-house-made Valco pickups and rendered just about all tonal options … well … kind of blah. Fortunately, these guitars can really be saved by removing all those tone-sucking caps and wiring everything point-to-point, which allows this model to shine. The Valco pickups were always hot and added a bit of sizzle that Fender single-coils could never really produce. The controls are one volume and two tone knobs, plus two rocker switches for each pickup—one for on-off and one for high-low tones.
A good way to date these guitars is to look at the vibrato units. If there is a separate bridge and vibrato, then it's an earlier model, but if there is an all-in-one unit, it's from the later '60s. Interestingly, the all-in-one unit was designed and made by the old Japanese Matsumoku factory, and I suspect that Valco was sourcing the wood bodies from Matsumoku as well, in typical cost-cutting Valco fashion. Either way, if you can get your hands on an old Lexington and get the electronics sorted out, then you might get a bit of that tingly feeling I had back in the day. Ah, to be 16 again!
1968 Supro Lexington Guitar Demo #3
- Develop a stronger fingerstyle technique.
- Understand the elements of counterpoint.
- Impress your friends with your classical chops.
Steve Morse is one of the most prolific and fascinating guitarists in the business. There's a reason why so many high-level players including John Petrucci, Jimmy Herring, Joel Hoekstra, and Andy Timmons list Steve as a major influence and inspiration. A deeper dive into his playing and songs will reveal a very refined technical and compositional approach steeped in classical studies.
Casual fans know Steve as a powerful rock guitarist, who has added his fiery, chromatic-laced lead work, tasty rhythm, and atmospheric tones to rock royalty Deep Purple, Flying Colors, and Kansas, along with his own projects—most notably the Dixie Dregs.
The classical influence of Morse's playing is where I want to focus. Below, I've touched on a few examples in the style of some of Morse's more well-known songs, both with the Dregs and his namesake trio. Each of the examples showcases his clever composing style and innovative classical approach which will help expand your arsenal of guitar tricks.
Even if you're a devotee of using a pick and never tried playing fingerstyle before, adding classical techniques and approaches to your rock playing can open new doors and help you evolve into a more adventurous and confident musician. Plus, with so many incredible players using their fingers (like Tosin Abasi, Derek Trucks, Jeff Beck, and Mark Knopfler), you might end up loving the tone and ditch your pick altogether!
I recently caught up with Steve for a chat in which he graciously shared his thoughts on guitar playing, creating a unique voice, making a name for yourself, and never giving up.
Just the Two of Us
This is a great classical guitar/bass duo track from Southern Steel. This excerpt (Ex. 1) is based on the comping behind the bass solo by super-bassist Dave LaRue. The tune starts in the key of E, but for this excerpt, it modulates to G. Over an alternating G5 bass part, I add some two-note chord voicings over the G pedal. From there, it modulates to A for a moment, before landing back home to E.
Steve on Originality: "I want to play music that perks your ears up. Be as original as possible, and if it sounds like something else, it's out."
The Burst and the Baroque
Another fun guitar/bass duo, this wild composition from Coast to Coast brings an Irish/Scottish flavor to the table. This example in A (Ex. 2) features a small burst of speed from the picking hand. Keep your a-m-i fingers (ring, middle, and index, respectively) ready to keep those tremolo bursts clean. It might sound difficult at first listen, but try it slowly, and you'll find it much easier with practice.
This is another example (Ex. 3) based on the comping under a bass solo by LaRue. Even though this is meant to be an accompaniment, it stands alone as a beautiful arpeggio exercise, starting with an Emaj7/9 chord, then modulating to C/F with really rich open voicings. The C/F chord shape calls for some ambitious pinky stretches, so approach them slowly, and go one note at a time.
"The choices you make musically and in writing are a big part of your success." — Steve Morse
Break It Down
Ex. 4, inspired by a track from his solo record, High Tension Wires, is a great example of a part getting more and more exciting as it unfolds. It sounds more intimidating than it actually is, so begin with breaking it down into small chunks, and add more as you get comfortable with each phrase. Keep the thumb even with the bass as you play the chords above. Most of the chord movement is intuitive, and once you get it under your fingers, it's really satisfying to play!
"Everyone is influenced by what they hear, see, and feel, but you have to put in time day after day to make it meaningful." — Steve Morse
Ex. 5 is based off a great guitar/violin duo from the classic '78 Dregs release, What If, and is proof that improvisation can weave itself seamlessly into a classical setting. The guitar trades fours with Dregs violinist extraordinaire Allen Sloan. The rhythm starts with a D major pattern for four measures, and the guitar responds with a nice low-string lick outlining the changes. The progression repeats again with the same rhythm, and on the second solo reply, two-note harmonics are utilized to nail the chord changes.
On Performing Live: "In any setting, if someone is playing music well, people will enjoy it." — Steve Morse
This example (Ex. 6) is my take on a clever transition lick from this track off of the Dregs' major label debut Free Fall. With the key changing on each beat, I start with a descending Esus2 arpeggio followed by an ascending Bsus2 arpeggio. I then continue with a Dsus2 descending arpeggio into an ascending Gsus2 arpeggio. Finally, I play a slightly different pattern between G# and C#, before resolving to a nice Eadd9 chord. Try it slow and keep all the lines as legato as possible, incorporating slurs/pull-offs for the descending E and D arpeggios.
Gotta Get Paid!
One of the nice surprises with my chat with Steve was discovering his first professional paying gig was playing guitar for a handful of musicals in an orchestra theater pit at a Miami playhouse. The gig came through fellow UM classmate Pat Metheny's recommendation while in college. Those gigs helped pay for his flying lessons, a passion of his that has allowed him to fly his band to their gigs.
"Up in the Air"
The solo in Ex. 7 is inspired by the lesser-known guitar duet from the Dregs album Industry Standard. The track was performed alongside Yes guitar legend Steve Howe. Though the original is played with a pick, I ended up using my fingers over the B minor progression to keep the sound consistent between the two halves of the solo.
This example (Ex. 8) was inspired by the second half of the solo, which modulates to A with some elegant trills and pull-offs, before launching into a fiery 16th-note triplet major scale run, and then settling right back into the groove.
Up in the Air
Doing other jobs can actually offer a different perspective on how music affects your life. In between his studio work and touring schedule, Steve has handled a wide range of jobs, from a commercial airline pilot, to digging with a bulldozer, to his current venture when not performing: hay farming.
Ex. 9 is based on the closing phrase of the song. It's a simple but beautiful E major arpeggio with B major chord grips thrown in before shifting back to one more E, with the upper note jumping two octaves in a single lick! This was one of the first songs I ever heard from Steve when he played it live on the original Howard Stern radio show in the '90s. It completely blew me away, and when it reached this final lick at the end of the tune, I instantly became a fan for life.
Lastly, here are two great examples of Steve Morse's definition of success:
"Real success is getting gigs playing your own music."
"Most people who experience success don't realize it because it's a gradual process, like slowly boiling a frog in water."
Maybe the most successful thing about Steve, in my opinion, is his uncompromising vision and determination to "go around people who say 'no.'" Looking over his tremendous body of work and accolades, it's easy to see why fans and musicians worldwide say "Yes" to Morse!
D'Addario is proud to announce the launch of String Finder, a first-of-its-kind tool designed to help players find their perfect string set.
Whether you're a beginner who's unsure where to start, or a seasoned musician looking for a new sound, finding the best set of strings can be a daunting task. To make that process easier and more intuitive, D'Addario set out to create a recommendation engine to guide players through the decision making process. Tapping into their decades of string making expertise, D'Addario teamed up with Cartful Solutions to develop a simple, but powerful tool that sifts through over 5,000 possibilities to identify the best set of strings for each player's sonic needs.
"String Finder was conceived out of the insight that most players, across all levels of experience, are overwhelmed by the number of options available and lack the detailed knowledge to wade through thousands of options to find strings that are best suited for their instrument, playing conditions, and stylistic goals," says Andrew Whitelaw, Global Director of Strategy. "Too often, players default to what they've always used, because exploring is time-consuming, mind-numbing, and expensive. We built String Finder with the goal of taking the guesswork out — making it fun and easy to optimize your performance."
The user experience is simple. Players answer a series of questions about their instrument, playing conditions and style and allow the tool to find the ideal list of strings. Question cover:
- Instrument Type
- Playing Environment
- Strumming Style
Once completed, users receive their results with a "Best Match," as well as other viable options to choose from.
String Finder is currently available for Acoustic, Electric, Bass, and Classical Guitar, Ukulele, Banjo, and Mandolin Players.
The perfect set awaits. Try String Finder today at: https://www.daddario.com/string-finder-tool/