Blues bassist Danielle Nicole chimes in with PG staff and reader John Seabolt on what amazes them about their favorite guitarists.
Question: What about your favorite guitarists make them great?
Guest Picker - Danielle Nicole
The Danielle Nicole Band.
Photo by Denis Carpentier
A: Beyond the fact that he listens intently, my guitarist Brandon Miller knows what to play, and especially, when not to play. He is knowledgeable and confident enough to give the song what it needs to tell the story, not necessarily what he wants.
Current obsession: I am trying to locate as many vintage left-handed basses, that haven’t been modified, as possible before collectors get a hold of them. It always kills me that people will collect these beautiful, rare, and vintage guitars, and then just lock them away for no one to ever play.
Reader of the Month - John Seabolt
John with the Zemaitis that belonged to Charlie Starr.
Photo by Tara Bone
A: My favorite guitarist is Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke. Although he can bring the heat and ferocity in his playing, for me, it’s his phrasing and the way he writes his music. Whether its straight picking or slide, it’s complex in its simplicity. Then at times it’s, “Wow, how in the world did he do that?!”
Current obsession: I have fallen in love with a ’55 Gibson ES-175 with a single P-90. I haven’t pulled the trigger on obtaining it though. Although, I can’t help but be really turned on by the newly announced EVH SA-126, and can’t wait to get my hands on one to test drive it!
Assistant Editor - Luke Ottenhof
Photo by Stewart Weston
A: My favorite guitarists do this thing that makes my mouth hang open in a half-giggling grin when I see it live. It’s one of the best sensations, and it corresponds to that thing—maybe it’s a front-and-center lead, or a new tone they kick on, or a chord voicing they reach for—that elevates the band to a level of euphoria that escapes description. With some little bit of how they manipulate the instrument, they create a totality of experience, even for a few seconds, that’s perfectly in tune with all the other elements around it, and feels like it makes all the cells in my body vibrate with excitement.
Current obsession: I got a few guitar maintenance tools for Christmas, and since then I’ve gone off the set-up deep end. Sometimes, I feel like I’m really getting the hang of it. Other times, I feel like Sid in Toy Story, and my guitars are the poor, deranged toys on the operating table.
Graphic Designer - Naomi Ruckus Rose
A: I’m rarely impressed with shredding for the sake of shredding. I admire guitarists who know when to hold back and let a song breathe. To me, it shows creativity and awareness when guitarist’s solos dance with the melody or song instead of using soloing as an opportunity to showboat their skills. Do what’s best for the song, not what’s best for your ego.
Current obsession: Collaboration. I have a deep sense of DIY possession when it comes to the songs I write and produce. But, just recently, I’ve been sending my songs to talented friends to have them record parts for me. It goes against my internal programming, but I think the outcome will be better than I’ve expected. I have a new sense of excitement with my music production now.
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Dig into the weird wiring of the Hofner Beatle Bass and 172 guitar.
Hello and welcome back to Mod Garage! In this column, we will have a look at the famous HA2B control-panel wiring from the German Höfner company (often written as “Hofner” without the German umlaut). The control plate became famous on the Höfner violin bass—the model 500/1 that was released in 1956 and is often referred to as the “Beatle Bass” because of Paul McCartney.
Höfner also used this wiring on a lot of their early solidbody electric guitars, like the famous model 172. These models were covered in colorful vinyl rather than receiving a paint job. The demand for electric guitars was very high in the ’60s, and a paint job was very time-consuming and expensive, so this method was a welcome alternative to cut costs and save time. The vinyl is still an eye-catcher today.
My first real electric guitar was such a Höfner, a later model without the control plate, but still covered in gorgeous red vinyl. Eventually, I removed the vinyl and put some dilettantish paint job on it. When I think about it today, I feel like a lemon.
Frank Meyers recently wrote a cool column about the Höfner company and its history, which appeared in PG’s March 2023 issue, so if you want to find out more about them, please check it out.
So, let’s have a look at the control plate and its very special wiring. It might be considered weird from today’s perspective, but at the time, this wiring was state of the art. The control plate itself and the fancy “tea cup” knobs are still available today—it is called HA2B with an additional letter indicating the color of the plastic control plate, e.g. B (black), C (cream), T (tortoise), and so on.
Photo courtesy of L’instrumenterie, Baptiste Zermati, Villeurbanne, France (https://linstrumenterie.com)
This wiring is designed for a guitar with two pickups and sports an individual on/off switch and volume control for each, plus a rhythm/solo switch, resulting in a total of two pots and three switches. Please note that the plate is labeled in English and not in German, which clearly shows that Höfner was targeting the international market while still selling large quantities inside Germany.
Here is a short summary of what the individual controls are doing, using Photo 2 as our reference:
• neck pickup volume pot
• solo = full output signal / rhythm = output attenuated to about 70 percent
• bass off = bridge pickup on / bass on = bridge pickup off + treble filter
• treble off = neck pickup on / treble on = neck pickup off + bass filter
• bridge pickup volume pot
The way the bass and treble switches are wired up is the real weird part. Back in the day, a neck pickup was often referred to as the bass pickup and the bridge pickup the treble pickup. In this case, the bass switch is for the treble pickup and vice versa. So when the bass switch is off, the bridge pickup is on; when it’s on, the bridge pickup is off. And when the treble switch is off, the neck pickup is on; when it’s on, the neck pickup is off.
This results in the following: When both switches are in the off position, both pickups are engaged (in parallel), and when both switches are in the on position, both pickups are disabled, which works like a kill switch to mute the whole guitar.
This is, for sure, one of the fanciest guitar wirings ever. But believe me, compared to some wirings that were used in the electric guitars of the Musima company in the former GDR, this one here is as harmless as can be.
"There is no law against experimenting with the values of the caps and resistors to tweak the tone to your personal preferences."
Let’s have a look what’s under the hood:
2 x 250k audio pots
3 x DPDT slide switches
1 x 270k + 1 x 100k resistors for the solo/rhythm switch
1 x 0.01 uF treble cap
1 x 0.1 uF bass cap + 1 x 8.2k resistor
You can use any cap and resistor you want. I like to use small film caps and 1/4-watt metal film resistors. It’s nice working with these parts because they are small enough to fit the control plate.
The wiring works as follows:
Solo/rhythm switch: While the solo position has full signal output, the rhythm position engages two resistors to reduce the output to approximately 70 percent by bleeding some signal to ground.
Bass switch: In the on position, the bass capacitor and the resistor filters some highs off to ground.
Treble switch: In the on position, the treble capacitor filters some bass off to ground.
So, here we go for the wiring:
Illustration courtesy of SINGLECOIL (www.singlecoil.com)
This is the real deal circuit that Höfner used in the early ’60s. The modern overhauled wiring of the HA2B circuit looks very similar, but uses a 0.1 uF treble cap and has no additional resistor in-line with the bass cap. To my ears, the vintage version sounds better, but this is a matter of taste and there is no law against experimenting with the values of the caps and resistors to tweak the tone to your personal preferences.
I would like to thank Baptiste Zermati from the L’instrumenterie company in France for the photos of the vintage Höfner 172—a big shoutout to him.
That’s it! Next month, we will talk about the brand new PRS “Dead Spec” Silver Sky wiring for John Mayer and how you can adopt this for your own Stratocaster, so stay tuned!
Until then ... keep on modding!
Our columnist considers why we love to accumulate so much gear.
I’ve got stuff. Lots of stuff. It fills up my home and my shop. One of the many things that I’ve collected over the years are backstage passes. My occupation has taken me to a lot of shows—sometimes two or three a night. I’d come home and throw the evening’s pass into a box on a shelf in my coat closet. When the box got full, instead of tossing it, I’d put it away and start another one. This went on for decades. I probably just saved those passes for the same reason I’ve wound up with a lot of things—I like stuff. But not just any stuff. I like good stuff, quality stuff, interesting stuff. As a consequence, I have a lot of it. I’m betting a lot of you do too. Maybe you started young, by collecting trading cards. Maybe you came to it later in life. Maybe you’re thinking of tossing off the anchor and sailing away free.
In my dreams, I have a grand garage sale. I see table after table of NOS tubes, capos, cords, pedals, and straps, all laid out neatly and tagged with reasonable prices. There would be cabinets full of tools and electronic gizmos from ages past. I imagine a spread of guitars on stands and amplifiers lined up neatly like buildings on a boulevard—all plugged in and ready to demo. I’d say goodbye to all those years of guitar and automobile magazines organized neatly on my bookshelves, along with books about those two subjects. There would be a section for microphone and music stands, photo lights, cameras, and microphones. It would be a picker’s dream come true. Somehow this exercise gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling, and I’m not sure why, because I love my stuff.
So, why do we cling to these artifacts? You might say it’s your hobby, or if you are a pro, they are work tools. But that’s not the whole story. When I started playing, guitarists didn’t have collections. Professionals had one or two main guitars and maybe a 12-string. If you broke a string onstage, you’d either change it while talking to the audience or grab your one backup guitar. Studio cats might have accumulated a small array of stringed instruments (like banjos or mandolins) that they could deploy as needed in order to secure more work, but even some of the legends would borrow when the situation called for something different. Running parallel with the normalization of mass consumerism, it has become acceptable to own more than one or two guitars—maybe even 20.
"When I started playing, guitarists didn’t have collections. Professionals had one or two main guitars and maybe a 12-string."
That’s probably why when you think of the classic acts, you naturally picture those players with a certain guitar. John Lennon had his black Rickenbacker and George Harrison had his Gretsch. Paul McCartney is forever associated with Höfner. Clapton you have to define by era, but a few, like his “Fool” SG and his Bluesbreaker Les Paul—superseded by his now ubiquitous Stratocaster—were and are touchstones. When you think David Gilmour, you see a Strat. Likewise Rick Nielsen with his Hamer “Explorer” and Randy Rhoads on a white Les Paul. As different as they are stylistically, Elvis Costello, Thurston Moore, and J Mascis converge on the Jazzmaster. I could go on. For the first 40 years of its existence, the electric guitar wasn’t much of a collectible. But as we stand here today, most of us have a gaggle of guitars that may or may not be a collection.
So, do we or don’t we have collections? When I use a good piece of gear, whether it’s a guitar or a chisel, I feel joy. It’s a feeling that goes beyond mere possession, and it’s not just that the widget works. It’s recognizing that years of experience have led me to the point of knowing what quality is and why it’s important. I’ve read that holding on to physical things is hanging on to the past when we should be living in the present. I’m not going to dispute that, but my stuff and I have a grip on each other that’s more like a friendship than a psychological hardship. I’m not a working pro, but music has been my life since I was 12, and I don’t apologize for that.
Should I pare down my tools? Would I be happier without a selection of fine instruments? Perhaps purging the tonnage of stuff that anchors me down would open up a whole new take on life, but I’m not ready. Maybe you’ve thought about this too, but I wouldn’t worry too much. Chalk it up to whatever you like, but I’m fine with it for now, and I adore finding new things that make my life a little easier, and maybe a little more joyous.
The use of samples by hip-hop producers is part of a much longer tradition that goes back to the roots of jazz.
A lot has been made of the fact that a large portion of early hip-hop was based on “taking” pre-existing songs and recordings, created decades before, and presenting them in a new, different light. This process was known as sampling, named for the sampler, which could literally record chunks of time as digital audio and allow users to manipulate it at will via keyboards or drum pads.
The best examples of these machines, which included the Akai MPC60 and Ensoniq ASR-10, allowed users to change the pitch, reverse, chop into pieces, sequence, alter dynamics, and much more. Aside from the technology that made all this possible, the intended usage, as defined by the designers, was not all that different to earlier instruments like the Mellotron. However, what hip-hop producers did with sampling technology and all those extra parameters, was wholly different.
Depending on who one asks, the age of sampling confirmed that hip-hop’s early producers were either truly lazy or geniuses. The lazy part is the most obvious and unimaginative take—they didn’t create the music they sampled, and in many cases, didn’t credit the original composer. The genius part requires a little more open-mindedness and understanding of what was actually occurring, both from a musical and cultural perspective.
Some have argued that, aside from playing traditional instruments at a very high level, there was actually very little difference between what hip-hop producers did and what jazz musicians had been doing for many decades before. Just like hip-hop producers, jazz musicians took existing music, created for one purpose, and manipulated it, transforming it into their vehicle, for another.
In the beginning, this transformation was mostly stylistic/rhythmic, leaving the original song clearly discernible to the listener. But by the time we get to John Coltrane, we were observing jazz musicians who improvised over earlier songs by other composers, which had been transformed to the point of being unrecognizable, even to the most sophisticated of ears. Take, for example, Coltrane’s “Fifth House” (1961), which was actually based on “What Is This Thing Called Love,” a well-known Cole Porter composition written for the 1929 musical Wake Up and Dream.In the case of hip-hop, the goal was to create interesting vehicles for emcees to rap over. One of the earliest examples was “Rapper’s Delight” (1979), where the Sugarhill Gang literally looped an entire instrumental section of Chic’s “Good Times” (1979), transforming it into the perfect vehicle for 14 minutes and 37 seconds of nonstop rapping. Later on, hip-hop producers such as J Dilla contorted the samples used in their productions to the point where, even to this day, fans still argue over exactly where they came from. The most creative hip-hop producers have drawn from far and disparate sources to find the samples they use in their productions.
“Hip-hop producers such as J Dilla contorted the samples used in their productions to the point where, even to this day, fans still argue over exactly where they came from.”
In my opinion, it cannot be refuted that both jazz and hip-hop musicians mastered this process by constantly pushing the envelope. All the while, they constantly used pre-existing art and transformed it to serve a completely different purpose, in aid of a completely different artistic statement. Theirs was a process of re-contextualization and this was central to both musics. Neither jazz nor hip-hop musicians were interested in simply “covering” popular songs, which audiences at the time already loved, in the way that a wedding band might. To go further, many of their transformations were so extreme that it would’ve probably just been easier for them to create completely new compositions. Many of them certainly possessed the ability to do so. So, why did they sample? I would argue that recontextualizing is not unique to literature, jazz, or even hip-hop. It is a fundamental technique employed by artists within many disciplines, and most likely has been for millennia.
The saying “There is nothing new under the sun” is apt. In reality, the actual nature of music is such that everything is based on something earlier. There are precious few artists who have actually created anything which could be considered completely new, and this is even more so the case post the establishment of the modern music industry. How many songs use exactly the same progression, or melody, or arrangements, or drum patterns, or bass lines? This is before we even consider lyrical content! There’s a reason why plagiarism within music is confined to a very narrow set of circumstances. Covering, reinterpreting, or recontextualizing earlier music is what most musicians have done for the vast majority of history.
Like jazz before it, hip-hop provided new leases on life for many long-forgotten songs. That also came with the additional benefit of more profit for publishers, but ironically, in the end, it was publishing that killed sampling. It just became too expensive, with some publishers asking so much for sample clearances that there was nothing left for anybody else. At first, producers tried to “recreate” samples with slight changes to get around this, but a few lawsuits later, it became clear that using samples was over.