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June 2011 Letters

Shout Out For Sister Rosetta Kudos to Premier Guitar and Michael Ross for featuring Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Forgotten Heroes [May 2011]. I stumbled on Sister Rosetta Tharpe a few

Shout Out For Sister Rosetta
Kudos to Premier Guitar and Michael Ross for featuring Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Forgotten Heroes [May 2011]. I stumbled on Sister Rosetta Tharpe a few years ago while watching the [2001] movie Amélie. She was featured in a video montage scene (playing the song “Up Above My Head”) in the movie. My jaw dropped when I watched her play and perform (great showmanship!). Up until then, when I thought of the invention of rock lead guitar, I thought of Chuck Berry. Now it’s pretty obvious there was a co-creator—her name was Sister Rosetta Tharpe. It’s great to see her contribution to the evolution of guitar recognized.
—Al "Ancil" Palacio
via email

What a coincidence, Al! Amélie is how I first saw and heard Sister Rosetta, too. She blew me away! I thought, “I’m a guitar freak—why don’t I know who this is?” In fact, that experience was the impetus for creating the Forgotten Heroes series. Innumerable guitarists—and not just the big names we’re used to hearing/ reading about all the time—have served as living milestones in the evolution of guitar as we know it. And no guitarist— no matter how well read or how long they’ve been around—can possibly know them all. Forgotten Heroes aims to give those key players their due by introducing them to a new generation and adding more context for those who only have a cursory knowledge of them.
—Shawn Hammond

A Rush from Our Rush Rig Rundown
Just caught the interview on Alex Lifeson’s gear on Facebook. That was super informative and covered a lot more than I thought they’d talk about. I liked that you rolled those questions at him in an organized “input to output” fashion so we could get the whole overview. Just wanted to let you know I really liked it and thought you did a super-pro job!
—Dan Volpe
Chicago, Illinois

Thanks, Dan! It was a fun interview. And it’s nice to have someone notice the amount of preparation that goes into these Rig Rundowns. —Rebecca Dirks

Your Aha! Moments

Thanks so much for the last two months’ articles of “What Was I Thinking” and “‘Aha!’- Moment Redemption” [Tuning Up April and May 2011, respectively]. I particularly liked the Learning by Osmosis feature, which is something I’ve been doing most of my professional career. I’m much more interested in exploring what goes on inside the heads of my heroes than emulating their phrasing note-for-note. I’ve had two significant “Aha!” moments in my playing and writing lately.

  1. I try not to get “locked in” on a particular riff/hook and then close the door on it and say, “that’s it.” I find that if I stretch it—take it in different directions and not just accept it as finito—that there are endless opportunities for embellishing it. Use a different key, use it as a verse rather than a chorus (or vice versa), use it as a bridge for a different song rather than making a song out of it . . . you get the idea. Explore, explore, and explore. Parenthetically, I find that most of these nuggets started out as something else. They are what I term “happy accidents.” Usually when I write something that works and is actually noteworthy, I was trying to do something else.
  2. I’ve expanded the idea of Flesh Tones to apply to plectrums, as well. Being pretty much a late-’70s arena rocker, I had come from the Billy Gibbons school of “spank the plank” with the hardest pick you can find. I almost exclusively used Fender Extra Heavy or Dunlop .121 picks. But in an “Aha!” moment in the studio with my acoustic guitar, I found that I could achieve a much richer and singing tone by backing off to mediums or even lights. It made a huge difference in the audio map of the tracks. I’ve also gone to using the finger approach for electric to achieve some dynamics in my studio work. I’m not adept enough yet to leave the picks behind in a live situation, but I’m finding that there is an entire new sonic world to be explored with the use of my fingers on my Strat and Tele.
Thanks for the tips.
—John E. Mausen
San Francisco, California

I am so relieved somebody else thinks like me about covers. I have felt a little bad about not knowing a certain song when somebody finds out I play guitar. As you suggest, I listen to my favorites (Satriani, Paul Gilbert) and let that tone, selection of notes, and playing dynamics seep into what I create. I met a guitar teacher and showed him one of my songs and I was pleasantly surprised to hear from him, “Wow, that sounds like Satriani.” It made me feel so proud that I could be compared to such a demigod of rock! Of course, I am nowhere near Satriani, but your point is to let your influences be influences and not something to copy note-for-note.
Rock on,
—Edgar Cancel
via email

In our May 2011 review of the new Fender Pawn Shop Series guitars, we should have referred to the ’72’s bridge pickup as an alnico unit and the neck pickup as a new Wide Range humbucker. Similarly, the Mustang Special has Enforcer Wide Range humbuckers with downsized Wide Range covers.

Keep those comments coming!
Please send your suggestions, gripes, comments, and good words directly to You can also send snail mail to Premier Guitar, Three Research Center, Marion, IA 52302. Please remember to include your full name. Selected letters may be edited for clarity.