Holiday Gear Finds 2022
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
The new Gibson Les Paul™ Standard 50s Faded returns to the classic design that made it relevant, played, and loved -- shaping sound across generations and genres of music. It pays tribute to Gibson's Golden Era of innovation and brings authenticity back to life. The Les Paul Standard 50s features a satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish that gives it the look and feel of a long-treasured musical companion. It has a solid mahogany body with an AA figured maple top and a rounded 50s-style mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard and trapezoid inlays. It's equipped with an ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic bridge, an aluminum Stop Bar tailpiece, Vintage Deluxe tuners with Keystone buttons, and gold Top Hat knobs with dial pointers. The open-coil Burstbucker™ 1 (neck) and Burstbucker 2 (bridge) pickups are hand-wired to audio taper potentiometers and Orange Drop® capacitors.
The PRS SE Standard 24-08 is a mahogany-body workhorse guitar with powerful humbucking and true single-coil tones in one instrument. Its PRS TCI “S” pickups are paired with a 3-way toggle switch and two mini-toggle coil split switches that individually split the humbuckers into true single coils for a total of eight pickup configurations. Players can enjoy two full octaves thanks to the 24-fret, 25” scale length rosewood fretboard and wide thin maple neck, and the PRS patented, molded tremolo gives players added flexibility and control over their playing. With sonic range and rock-solid reliability, the PRS SE Standard 24-08 will keep you playing without compromise.
Explore new guitar voicings and open tunings with the new Kaepo™, Gruv Gear's creative tuning guitar capo! Removable fretting pads can be set to any combination for nearly unlimited possibilities. Move the Kaepo quickly up and down the fretboard like a regular capo, without any tedious clamping or setup. Adjust the 7 individual fretting pads without any tools. Kaepo is also compatible with Gruv Gear's new Twistune™ rechargeable color tuner, for quick and convenient tuning on-the-fly. Works with most 6- and 7-string acoustic and electric guitars.
The Gruv Gear Kaepo is available on its own or bundled with the new Twistune tuner. Combine two or more Kaepos to open up even more tuning creativity!
The FlyBy Ultra comes packed with sleek upgrades while keeping the break-away laptop bag design of the original FlyBy. New features include an ultra-tough 1680D Ballistic Nylon exterior, reflective trim for visibility, waterproof zipper tape and new, larger compartments. The FlyBy Ultra also brings ergonomics to the next level with a luggage pass-through, and upgraded straps.
This is the tour pack that DJs and digital creators around the world carry and swear by. Get ready for the ultimate creator experience.
JBL 3 Series MKII powered studio monitors make JBL performance available to every studio. The JBL Image Control Waveguide and refined transducers offer stunning detail, precise imaging, a wide sweet-spot and dynamic range that enhances the capabilities of any workspace. Featuring patented technologies derived from the JBL 7 Series and M2 Master Reference Monitors and, sporting a sleek, modern design, JBL 3 Series delivers outstanding performance and an enjoyable mix experience at an accessible price. Special sale pricing begins Thanksgiving day with the 305PMKII at $109 EA, 306PMKII at $149 EA, 308PMKII at $199 EA, and the LSR310S subwoofer at $299.
Oh no! Stripped a tiny screw on your favorite guitar? Or even worse, scratched your guitar when the wrong screwdriver slipped? Never have that awful feeling again. StewMac has put together the ULTIMATE screwdriver set for every guitar owner. They tracked down all of those tiny specialty and hard to find bits—and we added a few of their favorite problem solvers. The StewMac Guitar Tech Screwdriver Set replaces a whole drawer full of bulky tools with exactly what you need. The set includes 36 essential bits for guitars, basses, and more, plus an easy-grip handle and extender. The included compact hard case is spill-proof and easily fits in your toolbox or guitar case (it’s a must-have for gigs). You won't find this at any hardware store—it’s only at StewMac.
Xvive’s U2, U3 and U4 wireless systems make going wireless easy, reliable and affordable, all with high-fidelity 24-bit/48kHz sound! They all recharge with any 5V USB power source, broadcast over a range of up to 90 feet, and have an imperceptible 5 ms of latency.
U2 Guitar Wireless System is the go-to plug-and-play solution for guitarists and bassists, giving you five hours of trouble-free wireless freedom on a single charge.
The U3 Microphone Wireless System turns any dynamic microphone into a wireless mic, in seconds. It can also be used to replace an XLR cable in other applications—for example between a mixer and a powered speaker cabinet!
The U4 In-Ear Monitor Wireless System gives you a beltpack receiver for your in-ears or earphones and a transmitter to connect to the mixer; up to six musicians can use the system at a time, even with separate monitor mixes.
For more info on these and other Xvive products, visit www.xvive.com and Play Free!
Engineered for great tone and long life, our proprietary, featherweight coating keeps strings sounding and feeling new for longer. Tone-killing elements like corrosion, dirt, oil, and sweat are no match for Elixir® Strings.
Our Phosphor Bronze with NANOWEB® Coating is rich and full-bodied with sparkling high-end clarity and a smooth feel.
See a line up of all of our acoustic guitar strings here - https://www.elixirstrings.com/guitar-strings#acoustic
Revolutionary Design and Features:
Optimize your pedalboard layout with durable, snug fitting, strong and lightweight risers. Tailor your pedalboard to fit your stompbox collection and your style of playing!
Space Saving, Easy Wire Routing:
Our riser footprint is virtually the same as the pedal for which it was designed. Whether it's Boss, Wampler, Strymon, MXR, Ibanez, Electro Harmonix, Walrus, Earthquaker Devices, TC Electronic, JHS or any of the popular pedals, our risers take up no more space than the pedal itself. An added benefit of the Elephant Foot design is the ease with which you can route signal and power cables. There's plenty of space under each riser and multiple attachment points for tie-wraps.
Unique Features of Elephant Foot Risers
• Strong yet lightweight
• Cables route easily underneath
• Anchor point for tie wraps
• Hidden screw holes for a super-strong connection to either wood or metal pedalboards
• Works with hook & loop, cloth cable ties or tie wraps
• Unique Pedal "Frames" for your first row of pedals
• Risers can be customized
• 3D printed from eco-friendly PLA
Available in seven standard colors and custom colors available on request.
Benefits of Elephant Foot Risers
• No more accidental pedal stomps
• No annoying pedal wobble when stomping
• No more sloppy pedalboards
• Optimized Pedalboard layouts
• Easy, neat cable routing
• Custom riser sizes available in multiple colors
• Preserve resale value of pedals
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
XPND is the pedalboard that adapts to you. With XPND's patented telescoping technology, you can easily adjust the length of the board to add, subtract, and rearrange pedals how you want, when you want.
The original Cloudlifter® Mic Activator® adds tons of ultra-clean gain to dynamic and ribbon microphones and are the perfect stocking-friendly gift for any musician (or yourself)! Made in the USA. Get Lifted. Get Gifted!
The Horus-WB-FX is the latest model to be developed within the popular Caparison Horus range.
This newly designed fixed bridge version features a carefully considered body construction featuring a Walnut top and an Australian Blackwood back. This unique fusion produces a full rounded tone with a sweet emphasis on the upper mids ensuring clarity, focus and a distinct separation of notes, even with the most extreme gain-saturated down tunings.
When combined with an upgraded Caparison designed, sustain rich, high mass bridge (which effortlessly copes with a myriad of acute tunings and string gauges) Jescar jumbo stainless steel Frets and a specifically designed set of Caparison pickups, the Horus-WB-FX is more than capable of producing arena filling rock tones or creating more subdued, distinctively rich and bell like cleans.
The Horus-WB-FX plays like an absolute dream and features all of the beautiful aesthetic qualities that you have come to expect from Caparison Guitars. The striking body design is complimented by three stunning new finishes and also comes with a choice of either an Ebony or Maple fret board..
The Woman Tone is Aclam’s tribute to Eric Clapton’s amazing sound during his Cream era. The sound that turned him into a god. An accurate approach to the unique tone he attained with a simple yet effective combination of a P.A.F equipped Gibson and 100W Marshall stacks all the way up.
- Eric Clapton's Cream Sound in a box:
Aclam has distilled and bottled in a stompbox the key elements that shaped Eric’s rig. Reproduce his unique rhythmic and solo tones, fine-tuned using both live and studio recordings of Cream.
- Artwork by The Fool's Guitar artist: Marijke koger:
Responsible for the psychedelic decoration of Clapton’s Gibson SG nicknamed “The Fool”, Marijke has created a unique artistic interpretation of the Woman Tone that looks stunning!
- Custom humbucker pickup simulation circuit & tone control:
A pickup simulation circuit emulating the tonal characteristics of a P.A.F style pickup has been incorporated to reproduce the “Woman Tone”. With its buffered input, the guitar signal won’t be affected. Use compressors, fuzzes or whatever effect you want in front of the Woman Tone, and it will retain its tonal characteristics.
- Touch sensitive plexi-inspired overdrive using discrete components:
Inspired by Clapton’s 100W full stacks it results in a powerful overdrive with a great British character! Designed having blues-rock in mind, it will perfectly suit any guitar player seeking a vintage tone!
A hot new gear company from Canada, Templo Devices jumped on the scene with their flagship lithium-battery powered amp aimed at electric guitarists.
Focused on creating problem-solving products with tonal excellence, they've since released several small-batch pedals with wide appeal. Including SPLYCE, a versatile mini-mixer for using a microphone with a guitar rig, the atmospheric TRIPLO modulation pedal and the REEL DEAL tape preamp, as well as their exciting upcoming release, the Pocket Studio Compressor. There is always something exciting coming from this northern innovator.
With plenty of great deals for the holiday season, they have a little something for everyone.
Meet the Taylor GS Mini, one of the world's most popular acoustic guitars: a smaller body and a compact feel with a big, bold tone that punches far above its size. Based on a scaled-down version of our Grand Symphony body shape, GS Mini guitars boast solid tops and a variety of tonewood options serving up different flavors of vibrant acoustic tone. The GS Mini family is also home to the GS Mini Bass, a super-compact four-string acoustic bass with a slinky feel and a punchy response. Whether you're looking for a campfire guitar, a songwriting tool or just a great-sounding acoustic that's up for anything, the GS Mini has you covered.
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
The TASCAM DR-05X stereo handheld recorder is a great-sounding portable recording solution with helpful workflow options. Use the TASCAM DR-05X's built-in omnidirectional condenser microphones to capture vibrant stereo recordings anywhere, anytime. Use Auto Recording mode to automatically engage recording when audio signals reach a certain level. Use the Overwrite function to make easy punch-in audio replacements. Or use the TASCAM DR-05X as a 2-input/2-output USB audio interface with your Mac or PC. Whatever your portable 2-channel recording needs are, the TASCAM DR-05X has you covered. It's a fantastic and easy way to record your ideas, rehearsals, or gigs. Simply remove the SD card and pop it into your computer and send your song ideas to bandmates or collaborators. It's small enough to take with you everywhere and fits easily in a guitar case or small bag.
The cardioid MD 421 has been one of Sennheiser’s most popular dynamic microphones for decades. The large-diaphragm, dynamic capsule handles high sound pressure levels, making it a natural for recording guitars and drums. The MD 421's full-bodied cardioid pattern and five-position bass control make it an excellent choice for most instruments, as well as group vocals or radio broadcast announcers. One listen and you'll know why it’s a classic.
Every once in a while, a product comes out that makes you go “Wait… WHAT?!?!”. Well, those words are music to our ears! This game-changing pedalboard allows you to power all your pedals, including pedals that need isolation and different voltages, with a single power source. Yep, either our rechargeable battery or AC adapter fires up all your pedals without additional power bricks. No more Velcro carpet to rip pedals off! You can literally change pedals on the fly. But the flexibility of EARTHBOARD doesn’t end there – Our Lifeline Tether carries power off the board to connect a WAH, or daisy-chain multiple EARTHBOARDs together. EARTHBOARD comes in 2 sizes: double row (holds 12 standard size pedals) and single row (holds 6 standard size pedals). They are available as Complete Pedalboard Systems (includes all necessary components to play) or as a Build-a-Board and "ala cart" accessories!
See video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3iwDgLnN6w&t=8s
The Nobels ODR-1(bc) has bass cut, 9-18 volt input, and glow-in-the-dark knobs. The ODR-1 is rated the best overdrive by Nashville studio guitarists and creates a natural, tube-amp style overdrive that is versatile, amp-like, and affordable. The ODR-1 has been on the market for over 30 years and remains the number one choice. Creates crunchy rock and blues sounds or extra boost for soloing without smothering the natural character of your guitar's tone. The Spectrum controls optimizes tones from single coil chime to powerful humbucker rock. When adjusting the Spectrum control up or down the circuit ensures you have plenty of clarity and full dynamic range.
Bass cut switch
Solid metal chassis
Nobel's remote control jack switching system
German Engineering. Made in China.
Click here for Audio Clips
Modeled after Orangewood’s full-size Oliver guitar, the Oliver Jr. is a scaled-down version of Orangewood’s best-selling grand concert model. But don’t let the small body fool you. Sporting a beautiful, woodsy solid mahogany top, this junior guitar sings a bold and bright tone that’s easy to love. Whether you’re looking for your new travel companion or simply want a compact guitar to live near your couch, you can’t go wrong with this perfect-sized guitar.
Prefer a full-size model? This holiday season, every Orangewood guitar includes a professional set up and free shipping right to your door with a premium gig bag included. Plus, get extended holiday returns until January 31st. That’s over 60 days of commitment-free playing, so you can gift a guitar that they’re sure to love.
Jump straight in and explore 100 presets, the CODE50 has all you need to start performing and recording with. 50W of power that’s portable enough for you to practice at home or in the garage. Sync with your phone or online so it’s always with you for those creative moments. This fully digital amp is loaded with 14 MST preamps, 4 MST power amps and 8 MST speaker cabinets for you to create sounds that suit you. Using the Gateway App you can connect via Bluetooth to control CODE and stream music from your iOS or Android device. MyMarshall has a global library of user presets that you can upload to and download.
Catalyst® 100 is a 100-watt, dual-channel 1x12 combo amplifier that performs like a traditional guitar amp—while providing the increased versatility of a modern amp. Catalyst 100 offers six Original Amp Designs—ranging from pristine clean to modern high-gain—crafted using our renowned HX® sound design techniques to ensure exceptional tone and feel. Ideal for stage or studio.
• 100-watt, dual-channel 1x12 combo amp (with optional LFS2 footswitch)
• Catalyst 100 operates like a traditional amp—but provides increased versatility
• 6 Original Amp Designs—pristine clean to modern high-gain
• Dedicated Boost and Reverb sections (6 reverb types), 18 Effects (3 types)
• Power attenuator (half power, 0.5 watts, Mute) for reduced volume
• XLR line output for pro connection to P.A. or recording devices
• Effects loop and Power Amp input for integrating external devices
• MIDI In via DIN connector
Every Tool You Need in One Acoustic Pedal
We created the Venue DI so you can travel light, set up fast, and sound incredible anywhere you plug in. The Venue DI gives you complete control by combining a full-isolation DI output, 5-band EQ with adjustable low & hi-mid bands, variable clean boost, and chromatic tuner all in one acoustic pedal. With its all-discrete signal path, hi-graded semiconductors, and exclusive use of audiophile grade film capacitors, the Venue DI is on par with the world’s elite preamps and provides a studio quality sound for the stage.
The LP-6 V2 is Kali's best-selling studio monitor, and it's made its mark in studios across the globe ranging from humble home setups to state-of-the-art recording facilities.
Kali's innovative 3-D imaging waveguides create a crystal-clear stereo image, and also help the speakers to perform their best in challenging acoustic spaces. Kali-programmed boundary EQs take this a step further, tailoring the sound of the speaker for its placement on stands, on a desk, or close to walls.
With accuracy and translation at the forefront, the LP-6 delivers transparent, full sound that gives you a complete picture of your mix. Whatever you mix on the LP-6, you can be sure that it will translate nicely to other speakers, earbuds and headphones, car systems, or whatever else your listeners are using for playback.
The H90 Harmonizer® is Eventide's next-generation multi-effects pedal. Whether you want high-quality bread and butter effects or experimental sounds unheard, the H90 has everything you need to inspire your creativity with an intuitive UI designed with players in mind. Discover why top artists and producers have chosen Eventide through the years with 62 effect algorithms and hundreds of Program combinations curated for a variety of instruments and genres. With its comprehensive I/O and flexible routing options, the H90 is designed to be the heart of your rig.
Wilkinson's R series range of pickups are the result of Trev Wilkinson's years of creating and listening to thousands of pickups. Time spent with legendary and iconic individuals such as Seth Lover and Leo Fender, with whom Trev questioned about all aspects of sound, construction materials and production methods. All this combined knowledge has been the template for the R Series range of pickups, a pickup range Trev is proud to place his signature on, and say " These are the finest pickups Wilkinson has produced in the history of the company".
Featuring Single Coil's for both S and T style guitars, P90 and Humbucker models, the R Series has era specific models to capture the tone and vibe of the time and the players that influenced generations of players and Hybrid designs to influence future players.
For a limited time only, get two FREE expansion packs with the purchase of a five-piece guitar rack. Showcase your collection while safely and securely storing seven to ten guitars. The Hercules GS525BP-HA205 is covered with Specially Formulated Foam rubber at all contact points and features a one-piece design that sets up and tears down easily. The guitar yoke is designed for acoustic, electric, and bass guitars with four pick slots on each yoke. This special pack comes with a total of seven guitar yokes leaving room to expand to ten. Available while supplies last.
Ultimate DSP 2 channel noise reduction pedal. Patented technology that will remove the 50Hz or 60Hz and all associated hum harmonic components with total transparency. Combined with the patented Decimator G technology and dynamic sliding low pass filter, the Hum Extractor is the pinnacle of noise reduction technology. The Hum Extractor technology is dynamic in operation which compares the level of the audio signal to the hum harmonic components. Dynamically removes hum components when they become dominant. Made in the USA.
Click here for video
With the multi-touch display integrated with HILAVA OS, the LAVA ME 3 provides easy access to play and customize tons of built-in effects and loops.
Comprising eleven of Brian Wampler’s favorite delays, the Wampler Metaverse is a full-featured, small-footprint multi delay stomp box that is fully programmable, preset capable, has stereo inputs and outputs, allows full MIDI control, and has an expression input that you can assign to ANY of the parameters. The Metaverse also comes with a software version of the pedal via a set of 11 AU and VST3 plugins compatible with most popular DAWs - FREE to all customers that register their Metaverse online.
• Studio quality conversion 48 kHz Sampling rate with 24-bit audio
• Full 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response
• 11 Studio-quality vintage and modern delay effects
• Simple user interface
• All parameters controllable via an outboard expression pedal
• 8 onboard preset locations to save your favorite patches, 128 total via MIDI
• Full MIDI control with CC and PC commands
• Stereo or Mono I/O
Gator's Transit Series acoustic gig bags provide rugged case-like protection without sacrificing the lightweight portability of a bag. The red soft-lined interior and thick foam padding safeguard your guitar from drops and bumps, just like a regular case. A weather-resistant blended fabric exterior protects against the elements and features backpack straps, each with a concealable zipper pocket to switch between backpacking and briefcase carry modes. So for the gear you love the most, Guard it with Gator.
Experience exceptional clarity and articulation in a Filter’Tron format with Lindy’s unique Fralin’Tron design. Featuring a focused single-coil vibe with a rich, warm midrange and crisp attack, you’ll wonder where this pickup has been all your life. When Lindy started designing the Fralin’Tron, he did so with a particular goal: to get as much clarity and articulation as possible out of this design.We’re thrilled with the result! Our Fralin’Tron features a scooped midrange and defined bass and highs. In addition, you can expect more nuance out of the wound strings, unlike the original design. Furthermore, the treble strings have a round, warm quality, making our Fralin’Tron perfect for all styles of music – from clean to dirty. Lastly, this pickup features a dynamic and punchy attack that gives you back what you put into it.
The DL-225 is handcrafted exclusively from all mahogany, producing a warm and brilliant sound. The soundboard of the DL-225 features a vintage bracing pattern resulting in outstanding projection and tone with brilliant highs, strong midrange and subtle but full bass. The DL-225 has an extremely bright and dynamic sound. This guitar has the sound of a large body guitar. In a fingerpicking demonstration comparison we did with a name brand dreadnought the DL-225 was +3 dB louder.
Its smaller size and depth make the DL-225 a very comfortable guitar to play.
Click here for video and audio examples
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
If you are looking for a single pedal solution with multiple degrees of gain from light overdrive to full out saturated fuzz tones, then you’ll surely love the Ratsbane. The Ratsbane is based on a true benchmark sound amongst guitarists that has been heard on thousands of famous recordings.
In typical Wampler fashion, Brian improved the circuit’s flexibility by adding two new switches. The Gain switch offers three distinct choices. In the middle gives you the “stock” gain for this pedal. The left position offers a firm, yet smooth boost in gain, whereas the right delivers an insane level of creamy distortion. The Voice switch subtly alters the compression and clipping of this pedal. It tightens the distortion to be more manageable with greater levels of gain, while rolling back some of the fuzz qualities, to deliver a modern, high gain distortion.
Click here for video clips
Fender unveils a more accessible homage to Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready's prized '60s Stratocaster.
As one of the founding members of Pearl Jam, McCready’s unique style became his signature sound and helped the band to stand out from their contemporaries throughout their long and hugely influential career. Created in close collaboration with McCready, this signature Stratocaster guitar pays tribute to his unique blues-inspired style and serves as a testament to his extraordinary artistry and sonic finesse. Built in Ensenada, Mexico, this signature guitar marks the second collaboration with the award winning guitarist following his Fender Custom Shop Limited Edition Mike McCready Stratocaster released in 2021.
The Mike McCready Stratocaster features a hand-crafted, heavily Road Worn lacquer finish over an alder body, recreating the battle scars Mike’s own Strat has earned over three decades of grueling, sold-out tours and legendary performances. The comfy 9.5” radius slab rosewood fingerboard on a slim “C” maple neck are shaped to match McCready’s treasured 1960 Strat, while the custom Mike McCready Stratocaster pickups are voiced to replicate Mike’s vintage single-coils for the same timeless tone, passion and energy that define his signature sound. The vintage-style synchronized tremolo, bent-steel saddles and cold-rolled steel block ensure the purest Fender tone and performance.
- Custom Pickups: This custom pickup set is voiced to sound like his beloved 1960 Stratocaster. Warm and articulate, this custom pickup set nails McCready’s signature tone and sounds great for any style of music.
- Signature Finish: Alder body provides the classic Fender tonewood while the Road Worn finish adds the nuances of a well traveled vintage guitar.
- Neck Construction: The neck is carved to match his 1960 Strat and is reminiscent of the most popular neck shapes in Fender’s catalog, designed for comfort and performance.
- Vintage Tremolo: The six-point tremolo offers proper intonation, full adjustability and easy access to cool vibrato sounds.
- Fingerboard Radius: This radius is slightly flatter than a vintage-style radius but with enough arc for comfortable chording and easier note bending.
Exploring the Mike McCready Stratocaster | Artist Signature Series | Fender
Before electrics became branded in the mainstream as typically solidbodies, there were some early 20th-century models that explored alternate avenues.
When you close your eyes and imagine an electric guitar, chances are you see something like a Stratocaster or a Les Paul: a solidbody, a few pickups, a metal bridge. But in the early 20th century, such popular features were yet to be codified by builders as a part of guitarists’ collective imagination.
Back in the early fervor of electric guitar design, builders experimented out of necessity, trying to create working instruments by any means. When studying these guitars today, their choices might seem strange, but they present many wonderful “what-ifs” or guitar-building roads not taken.
qThe instrument we have here is such a guitar: a 1933 Vivi-Tone. This exact specimen appears in Lynn Wheelwright and Nacho Baños’ The Pinecaster: Early Electric Guitars (1920-1955), which explores the “what-if” history of this period in captivating detail.
“When studying these guitars today, their choices can seem strange, but they present many wonderful ‘what-ifs’ or guitar-building roads not taken.”
Vivi-Tone was a company founded in the early 1930s with the express purpose of manufacturing electric instruments—not just guitars, but violins, cellos, mandolins, and even an electric piano. Interestingly, its co-founder and chief inventor was Lloyd Loar, who in the 1920s famously created Gibson acoustic archtops and mandolins that are prized to this day.
A sliding drawer built into the guitar’s body allows access to the pickup, which is set up under the bridge.
By the ’30s, however, Loar wanted to bring out “pure string tone,” as he called it, through the power of amplification. His patented pickup, which can be found in this 1933 guitar and throughout the Vivi-Tone lineup, works in a distinct way from modern pickups. Here, the bridge itself rests on top of a metal bar that is ever-so-slightly suspended over an electro-magnetic pickup system. When the strings move the bridge, the bridge moves the bar, and the resulting current goes out to the amp. While most modern guitar pickups require metal strings to work, Loar’s Vivi-Tone design could work with any material, steel or gut.
The very first Vivi-Tones, released in 1932, were strikingly revolutionary. Loar, with a utilitarian spirit, did not give them much of a body at all. The skeletal design supported the pickup system, neck, and a thin body that featured only a decorative top—there were no back or sides. However, in ’33, public sentiment forced the company to at least pretend their instruments were traditional. So, the then-newly built Vivi-Tones came with a full acoustic body like you see in this model, which features a spruce top and back, and composite sides. The pickup system can be accessed through a sliding drawer built into the guitar’s body.
Before they folded in 1937, Vivi-Tone built just around 600 instruments.
Thanks to another twist of ingenuity, you can actually play this guitar as an acoustic. The contraption you see by the bridge is a lever you can use to separate the bridge from the internal pickup, cutting off any flow of electrons. Perhaps because the internal spine, pickup, and lever made the top too rigid, the guitar’s back is its own resonating soundboard as well. It not only features two f-holes, but is actually inset from the sides so that a player’s body doesn’t press upon it or interfere with its vibrations.
Up for sale by Reverb seller Jay Rosen Music, this 1933 Vivi-Tone (serial number 220) is one of around 600 instruments built by Vivi-Tone before it shuttered in 1937. When new, this guitar likely sold for around $175. Today, being a surviving example in excellent condition—with its original pickup cable still intact—it’s listed for $10,500.Sources: The Pinecaster: Early Electric Guitars (1920-1955) by Lynne Wheelwright and Nacho Baños, Reverb listings.
The nylon-string guitarist and composer, who famously founded the historic jazz-and-world-music group, adds a fresh chapter to his extensive, illustrious career with his new solo album, At First Light.
What does it mean to have curiosity as an artist? For some, it can mean becoming transfixed with learning the work of a creative idol, or possessing an innate drive to absorb all there is to know about a niche (or all) of music history. Yet, when musically polyglottal nylon-string guitarist and composer Ralph Towner hears “curiosity,” it reminds him not of the pursuit of knowledge, but rather that of writing great music.
A selection from Towner’s new album, At First Light.
“I’m definitely curious, but less and less so, the older I get,” he comments. “But I’m still involved in this process of writing, and finding that one little germ that makes the start of a composition.
“I’ve been more obsessive than I’ve been curious,” he continues. “That obsession with wondering, ‘Where does this piece of music go next?’ It’s like writing a story. But I wouldn’t define that as curiosity. Because you’re being curious about something that doesn’t exist.”
It’s no surprise that Towner—who’s amassed a staggering discography since his earliest days with the Paul Winter Consort, and his 1970 co-founding of the still-active jazz-and-world-music group Oregon, and through a busy, parallel career as a solo artist—has cultivated a strong personal understanding of the composing process. And his new release, At First Light, is the latest product of what the now 83-year-old has been honing on the guitar for just over 60 years. Of the album, he says, “I really felt like I could make another statement as a soloist, so there’s just one classical guitar on it.”
“I wouldn’t define that as curiosity. Because you’re being curious about something that doesn’t exist.”
If you’ve played enough classical or jazz fingerstyle guitar, something about listening to solo pieces of that nature—at least, when performed at Towner’s level—can provoke more carefully realized mental images of the craft itself. When listening to At First Light, I could almost picture the acrobatic formation of various chord and interval shapes by Towner’s weathered-yet-steady hands.
With over 100 album credits to his name as either a bandleader, sideman, or solo artist, Ralph Towner felt inspired to make another statement as a solo guitarist on At First Light.
The album opens with an original, “Flow,” which begins with a spacious, impressionistic passage that soon transforms into a more fiendish motif which reveals itself just twice throughout the piece. Towner’s arrangements of the 1960 standard, Jule Styne’s “Make Someone Happy,” the Irish traditional “Danny Boy,” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Little Old Lady”—which, as he comments, was famously covered by comedian and musician Jimmy Durante—mostly wink at their inspirations, intermittently sneaking their respective themes into explorative, pleasantly wandering harmonies. Meanwhile, Towner’s original voice persists on “Ubi Sunt,” which unravels with a seemingly cautious sense of searching; “Fat Foot,” which speaks with the assertive cadence of a downtown urbanite; and the aptly named closing track, “Empty Stage,” which conveys a somehow friendly, harmless angst.
At First Light was recorded in a large, empty auditorium in Lugano, Switzerland, and produced by Manfred Eicher, who Towner’s been working with since the early ’70s. Towner, who currently plays an Australia-made Jim Redgate classical guitar with a cedar top, dislikes pickups in acoustic guitars, eschewing them for external microphones. “Microphones more accurately reproduce the actual sustain of the strings, and pickups, though greatly improved with better technology, tend to make an artificial increase in volume and sustain that make up the very refined nuances that are controlled on the nylon-string classical guitar,” he shares. The songs were recorded with Schoeps microphones, and their sequence on the track list is that in which Towner performed them. “I can hear my hands getting warmer, and my tone getting stronger as the recording goes on. Maybe only I would know this,” Towner reflects.
But long before At First Light, and before he accumulated the over-100 other recording credits he has to his name today, Towner grew up in “semi-poverty”—as he puts it—in Chehalis, Washington, with two older brothers who served in World War II and a mother who taught piano. “I would hear these influent piano lessons from the back room from the time I was very young,” he shares. She taught him piano before he later began learning trumpet around the age of 6, and the two would play duets together—with her on the former instrument and him on the latter.
“On the trumpet, you learn about how to control your breath and what breath is,” Towner elaborates. “The thing that really is important on the more machine-like guitar or piano is to develop and connect it with breath and delivery. Yet, you have to honor what each instrument does, or what it’s capable of doing. To make a piano sing requires a different kind of thing.”
Ralph Towner's Gear
Although his focus has been guitar for the past several decades, Towner is also a trained pianist, and learned how to play the trumpet as a child.
Photo by Paolo Soriani
- Jeffrey Elliot spruce-top classical guitars
- Cyndy Burton spruce-top classical guitars
- Jim Redgate cedar-top classical guitar
- Two 1974 12-string custom Guilds
- D’Addario EJ45 Pro-Arte Normal Tension
He went on to study piano at the University of Oregon, where he says he could barely make ends meet, and worked in a beet-and-bean cannery during the summer. Then, at 22, he heard the classical guitar for the first time when he saw a student performing Bach on the instrument. That’s when he dropped everything and moved to Vienna to study at the city’s Academy of Music, where he devotedly shifted his musical education to the nylon-string, and focused on learning Renaissance, Elizabethan, and lute music.
“Being able to play bebop was almost like … a badge that would get you in the door.”
When Towner moved to New York City after his graduation in the late ’60s, it was on the piano that he first made a living, and he found that the way for him to do that at that time was by playing jazz. But, “We didn’t have jazz schools back then,” he shares. “It helped to have a friend who was a bass player; that really made a big difference in how I learned and worked on the piano, enough to actually play gigs on it.
“One thing that was important when I moved to New York was to be able to play a passable version of bebop,” Towner continues. “Being able to play bebop was almost like … a badge that would get you in the door.” As one of the world’s biggest “small” towns, the city was fertile in the sense of how quickly that entry led to important connections. “I remember going over to Wayne Shorter’s apartment and we played each other’s music on cassettes or on his piano,” he shares, “and I spent a whole afternoon with him. This was about two years before Weather Report.”
When he lived in New York City following his graduation from the Vienna Academy of Music, Towner found that knowing how to play bebop was what gave him entry into successful musical circles.
Photo by Caterina di Perri
The guitarist’s first big break came when he joined the Paul Winter Consort not long after his New York move. (Only a handful of years later, during their 1971 mission, the Apollo 15 crew named two lunar craters after two of Towner’s early compositions for the group, “Icarus” and “Ghost Bead.”) Shortly after joining the Consort, he was featured on Weather Report’s I Sing the Body Electric, recording the intro to “The Moors” on a 12-string guitar; released a debut album with Oregon, Music of Another Present Era; and a year later, debuted as a solo artist with Trios / Solos (beginning a now 50-year relationship with the ECM label). In the five decades since, Towner has collaborated with artists such as Gary Peacock, Vince Mendoza, Jack DeJohnette, and Bill Bruford, and also distinguished himself with his penchant for playing improvised music on the 12-string guitar, while growing his stature as a nylon-string guitarist.
Today, as a composer, Towner remains fascinated by the creative process. “When you find what’s really an idea that seems to speak, it’s a logic of music,” he shares. “You sort of telescope this first event, and everything that follows is related to the initial idea. It unravels like a story, because you sense when something’s right for where you’re going with it as you go. You wouldn’t write a lyric that would change midstream. So, it’s got a big relation to the spoken word and literary content. There’s a logic to the music that’s also kind of an emotional logic too.”
“That’s an invitation to have a musical accident…. Nothing gets hurt, but maybe your ego.”
In comparing musical compositions to literary content, Towner draws a bit of a contrast to what one might rightfully expect of his influences, given his extensive catalog of instrumental music. He elaborates, “I didn’t even bother to listen to the Beatles at first, for about two, three, four years … and then was really stunned with this kind of doggerel,” he says, continuing, “I used to be very critical of Bob Dylan, always making fun of the way he sang. But then I wised up and started reading the lyrics. I started hearing his delivery when he sang … which is only his, truly his, but was very musical.
Getting back into performing live after the pandemic was challenging for Towner, who said that during his first few return performances, he would get easily distracted.
“Then I discovered pretty recently, maybe 10 years ago,” he shares, “[My wife and I,] we’re in the car and she said ‘Oh, listen to this.’ And she’s quite a fan of English rock, art rock. And I finally heard…. Oh, god, help,” he says, struggling to place the name. “Uh, Led Zeppelin.”
Something else new to Towner is the concept of “imposter syndrome”—a type of self-doubt even Eric Johnson has alluded to experiencing—and he has trouble finding honest examples of when or if he’s ever identified with it. His confidence was indeed shaken, however, by the pandemic, at least in terms of giving live performances. “The first concerts I did [when the world returned to performing] were like, my god, I don’t even know how or where to put my mind, or what I’m playing. I’m thinking like, ‘Gee, did I leave the gas on at home?’ That’s an invitation to have a musical accident. Like a car accident, except it’s music. Nothing gets hurt, but maybe your ego.
Ralph Towner - If(Live in Korea) Pro Shot
Ralph Towner illustrates his impressive dexterity and singular touch on the classical guitar in a live performance of his song “If.”
“I still haven’t had that many concerts, but I think in the last couple, I’ve found out how to begin in that space where you’re kind of hovering above, hearing the music that’s actually coming out of your instrument, but you’re also able to hear it in a distant way, almost as if you’re part of the audience. There’s a little place you suspend yourself in when you’re a performer.”
And while it’s not the first time an artist has described inducing that pseudo-out-of-body experience in order to better express themselves in their music, Towner’s sage perspective proves its worth in the inimitable quality of his playing, whether it’s live or recorded. Looking back on what most would describe as an overwhelmingly full career, he says, “It was like a piece of music in its way, whether it was good or bad. So, when I’m fiddling around wondering what I would have done, I didn’t do anything that I regret at this point.”