Music is a lifelong pursuit, and all of us who love guitars and the sounds they make are in it together.
When you pick up an issue of Premier Guitar, you’re chasing music. And I’ll bet that’s something you and I have been doing, whenever we can, our entire lives. Driven by love, curiosity, and the excitement of discovery, we pursue the sounds that thrill us or might thrill us, and the more we learn or find, the brighter the flame grows.
For me, the first sparks happened in my parents’ kitchen, where my mother, Rose, listened to WEXT, a country station broadcasting from New Britain, Connecticut. There, I learned that music takes you places, like Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” and introduces you to the vastly different lives of others, via songs like Johnny Cash’s“The Ballad of Ira Hayes.” TV also became a path of exploration. I was only 6, but I remember seeing—and hearing—the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and not exactly understanding (all that screaming!), but grasping that rock ’n’ roll was something I should look into. Soon, Shindig! and Hullabaloo introduced me to the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, Herman’s Hermits, and the giant whose birthday I share, Howlin’ Wolf. (June 10 … feel free to send cards!) The Johnny Cash Show spotlighted Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Derek and the Dominos. And The Midnight Special turned me on to virtually every major rock and R&B artist of the early ’70s, and sent me down a lifelong rabbit hole of blues and soul when Ray Charles and Ike & Tina Turner appeared. My first allowances—50 cents and eventually $2 a week—were spent on music. (First album: The Sound of Johnny Cash, for $2 at Woolworth’s, and I still own it. It features my first guitar hero: Luther Perkins.)
Shortly, I discovered there was such a thing as music journalism, and I fell for the writing of Robert Palmer and Lester Bangs, and found a magazine called Musician, where I would eventually make my bones as an editor. Each of these discoveries enflamed the chase, and by the time I got to college, I spent part of nearly every weekend combing new and used record shops from New York City to Hartford. I was also able to get to Manhattan easily from school in Bridgeport, to experience the punk revolution. And so it went, and still goes—that unquenchable pursuit of musical discovery.
Somewhere along the line, a guitar fell into my hands, and a new dimension slowly and painstakingly (I am far from a natural) developed—where I could be part of that great musical continuum in a deeper way, and where, eventually, I learned the wordless language of musicians. It’s a rich tongue that conveys so much emotional information without as much as a single vowel. The dialog of sound. It is amazing, powerful, profound, and unlike anything else. If there is real magic, it is in listening to and playing music.
That magic has taken me many places. I went from seeing bands at CBGB to playing its stage many times. I played the New England clubs that I would sneak into when I was underage, catching G.E. Smith with the Scratch Band and other regional heroes. Eventually, the music I played took me across the country and to Europe, and to the stages of Bonnaroo and Memphis in May and France’s Cognac Blues Passions and Switzerland’s Blues Rules and so many roadhouses, dive bars, and breweries and barbecue joints you’d think I wouldn’t remember them all, but I do.
The point is this: Music is a lifelong adventure. We are in the chase together, no matter how different we may seem. The sound of it thrills us, and I’d be surprised—shocked, actually—if it hasn’t taken you somewhere. As guitar players, even those of us who’ve never left the couch have been transported. Tell me you’ve never played a song, plucked out a melody, or slammed out a favorite riff and suddenly found yourself completely removed from your surroundings—in a kind of reverie. And make no mistake, even if you’ve never played a gig and have a hard time forming an open-position B chord, you’re a guitar player. No one should be judging you (although I know it’s hard not to judge yourself).
It’s an honor and a privilege for us at PG to offer signposts for your chase—to introduce you to new players or reintroduce you to ones you love, to turn you on to new guitar music, to shed light on new gear and how to use it, and make using the gear you own even better. We do not take this lightly. And we love the chase every bit as much as you do.
The silky smooth slide man may raise a few eyebrows with his gear—a hollow, steel-bodied baritone and .017s on a Jazzmaster—but every note and tone he plays sounds just right.
KingTone’s The Duellist is currently Ariel Posen’s most-used pedal. One side of the dual drive (the Bluesbreaker voicing) is always on. But there’s another duality at play when Posen plugs in—the balance between songwriter and guitarist.
“These days, I like listening to songs and the story and the total package,” Posen told PG back in 2019, when talking about his solo debut, How Long, after departing from his sideman slot for the Bros. Landreth. “Obviously, I’m known as a guitar player, but my music and the music I write is not guitar music. It’s songs, and it goes back to the Beatles. I love songs, and I love story and melody and singing, and there was a lot of detail and attention put into the guitar sound and the playing and the parts—almost more than I’ve ever done.”
And in 2021, he found himself equally expressing his yin-and-yang artistry by releasing two albums that represented both sides of his musicality. First, Headway continued the sultry sizzle of songwriting featured on How Long. Then he surprised everyone, especially guitarists, by dropping Mile End, which is a 6-string buffet of solo dishes with nothing but Ariel and his instrument of choice.
But what should fans expect when they see him perform live? “I just trust my gut. I can reach more people by playing songs, and I get moved more by a story and lyrics and harmony, so that’s where I naturally go. The live show is a lot more guitar centric. If you want to hear me stretch out on some solos, come see a show. I want the record and the live show to be two separate things.”
The afternoon ahead of Posen’s headlining performance at Nashville’s Basement East, the guitar-playing musical force invited PG’s Chris Kies on stage for a robust chat about gear. The 30-minute conversation covers Posen’s potent pair of moody blue bombshells—a hollow, metal-bodied Mule Resophonic and a Fender Custom Shop Jazzmaster—and why any Two-Rock is his go-to amp. He also shares his reasoning behind avoiding effects loops and volume pedals.
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
Blue the Mule III
If you’ve spent any time with Ariel Posen’s first solo record, How Long, you know that the ripping, raunchy slide solo packed within “Get You Back” is an aural high mark. As explained in a 2019 PG interview, Posen’s pairing for that song were two cheapos: a $50 Teisco Del Rey into a Kay combo. However, when he took the pawnshop prize onstage, the magic was gone. “It wouldn’t stay in tune and wouldn’t stop feeding back—it was unbearable [laughs].”
Posen was familiar with Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic—who specializes in building metal-body resonators—so he approached the luthier to construct him a steel-bodied, Strat-style baritone. Eich was reluctant at first (he typically builds roundneck resos and T-style baritones), but after seeing a clip of Posen playing live, the partnership was started.
The above steel-bodied Strat-style guitar is Posen’s third custom 25"-scale baritone. (On Mule Resophonic’s website, it’s affectionately named the “Posencaster.”) The gold-foil-looking pickups are handwound by Eich, and are actually mini humbuckers. He employs a custom Stringjoy set (.017–.064 with a wound G) and typically tunes to B standard. The massive strings allow the shorter-scale baritone to maintain a regular-tension feel. And when he gigs, he tours light (usually with two guitars), so he’ll use a capo to morph into D or E standard.
Another one that saw recording time for Headway and Mile End was the above Fender Custom Shop Masterbuilt ’60s Jazzmaster, made by Carlos Lopez. To make it work better for him, he had the treble-bleed circuit removed, so that when the guitar’s volume is lowered it actually gets warmer.
"Clean and Loud"
Last time we spoke with Posen, he plugged into a Two-Rock Classic Reverb Signature. It’s typically his live amp. However, since this winter’s U.S. run was a batch of fly dates, he packed light and rented backlines. Being in Music City, he didn’t need to go too deep into his phone’s contacts to find a guitar-playing friend that owned a Two-Rock. This Bloomfield Drive was loaned to Ariel by occasional PG contributor Corey Congilio. On the brand’s consistent tone monsters, Posen said, “To be honest, put a blindfold on me and make one of Two-Rock’s amps clean and loud—I don’t care what one it is.”
The loaner vertical 2x12 cab was stocked with a pair of Two-Rock 12-65B speakers made by Warehouse Guitar Speakers.
Ariel Posen’s Pedalboard
There are a handful of carryovers from Ariel’s previous pedalboard that was featured in our 2021 tone talk: a TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Noir, a Morningstar MC3 MIDI Controller, an Eventide H9, a Mythos Pedals Argonaut Mini Octave Up, and a KingTone miniFUZZ Ge. His additions include a custom edition Keeley Hydra Stereo Reverb & Tremolo (featuring Headway artwork), an Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain oil can delay, Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay and Pitch Shifter, and a KingTone The Duellist overdrive.
Another big piece of the tonal pie for Posen is his signature brass Rock Slide. He worked alongside Rock Slide’s Danny Songhurst to develop his namesake slide that features a round-tip end that helps Posen avoid dead spots or unwanted scratching. While he prefers polished brass, you can see above that it’s also available in a nickel-plated finish and an aged brass.
Life—and playing guitar—is really about the art of storytelling.
I became infatuated with Roy Buchanan’s incendiary playing when I was a relative youngster, after finding a copy of Guitar Player with Roy on the cover. He looked more like one of dad’s disheveled friends than a star, which intrigued me enough to pick up Roy Buchanan and Second Album—the first time I heard the war between angels and demons channeled through wood and steel.
A few years later, my friend Stuart Stack and I hopped in my dad’s battered ’67 Comet to see Roy play the Pinecrest in Shelton, Connecticut. The opening band was unmemorable, but then came the wait. One hour. Two hours. And no Roy.
Suddenly, the sold-out crowd began parting behind us, and I turned to see Roy coming through the human sea, with a Fender case dangling from his left hand. As he passed, saying hi and excuse me, the aroma of distillery accompanied him. Stu and I looked at each other. This was not going to be good.
We were right. It was amazing! Roy took the stage and quickly summoned every demon and angel at his call, sending overtone squeals to the sky, supercharging his chords on standards like “Green Onions” with one of the crunchiest “clean” Tele tones I’ve ever heard, and dancing up and down the fretboard like the Nicholas Brothers. (Look them up on YouTube. It’ll be worthwhile.) He even delivered “The Messiah Will Come Again,” with its heartbreaking melody, stoic monologue, and explosive finale. We became fans for life.
A few years after that, when Roy had signed with Alligator Records and cut a firestorm called When a Guitar Plays the Blues, I interviewed him after another casually brilliant—and sober—performance at a club called Jonathan Swift’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After the gig, Roy and I adjourned to the motor lodge where he was staying in Harvard Square. Roy wanted to do the interview in the lobby, where, luckily, the coffee table, two chairs, and hot pot of java that were its only appointments were available.
He was a delightful person: soft-spoken, articulate, his eyes bright with humor and life. And about half-way through, for obvious reasons, I asked him if he believed the guitar had the power to channel the spiritual world.
“Well,” he replied, “the ghost of Jim Hendrix appeared to me and saved my life.” I was instantly all in. Roy went on to explain that after a gig he’d played in D.C. one night, when he was so wasted by booze and other vices that he felt near death, some college students—seeing he was in a bad way—invited him back to their place. Once there, they offered a cure: LSD.
It was the first time he dropped acid, he said, and in addition to the colors and weird audio transformations, he started to see a kind of mist, and Jimi appeared. He warned Roy, reflecting on his own death, that if Roy kept on this path he would die, and that the time to quit and get sober was now—or he’d no longer be able to serve a higher calling with his guitar. Roy promised Jimi, who he’d never met before, that he’d find a street called straight.
I asked Roy if he believed Jimi really appeared, or if it was just the acid. Roy said he wasn’t entirely sure, but he thought it was real … or at least real enough.
I’ve told you that story because, well, that’s what I’ve done my entire life—told stories. One of the great joys of interviewing musicians and gear makers is finding interesting stories and passing them along, but only after you’ve relished them yourself for a while. And if you love chasing musical adventures like I do, then you also create a few stories of your own along the way.
Every page of PG—even regular features like Gear Radar and Tools for the Task—is a story. What’s new, what’s good, what’s useful? We want to tell you what we’ve found. And some of our best storytelling is in our reviews, which are really accounts of musical explorations, where our writers share the memories, references, and sonic triggers they experience and, when the gear is good, the very tangible joy they feel in playing.
We can all relate to that, because there might be nothing better than picking up a guitar and letting the stories—or the angels and demons—inside it talk. In that sense, we’re all deep storytellers … and if the ghost of Jimi Hendrix happens to appear, well, that’s a bonus!
Send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view.
PG has been a home to some truly legendary guitar-music journalists. Andy Ellis, whose writing I first eyeballed when I was in high school, was a colleague when I landed my gig here six years ago. Joe Gore was also a longtime contributor whose writing I’ve admired for decades. And, during his tenure, Shawn Hammond, who left his post as PG’s chief content officer for a new career (we all love and miss you Shawn!) with the previous issue, exemplified the qualities of editorial exceptionalism: vision, precision of language, deep knowledge, and an open heart. The latter should never be underestimated, because if we bring an open heart to what we do, it will connect with others.
I’ve named just a few, but within the PG family, I believe other legendary careers are underway. Time is always the reckoner of such things. But the heart is the mechanism that drives everything. An open heart allows us to hear and understand music in ways that we might not if we’re unwilling to really listen, fully. It does the same when it comes to hearing and understanding each other. And in the world of guitar, we truly all have something to offer, and hearing, understanding, and sharing brings all of us joy.
As PG’s new editorial director, I’m excited about the great stories and columns and podcasts and videos about gear and artists and how-to strategies we’re going to continue to craft for you. That’s what’s made this magazine terrific. (There, I said it!) But this gig isn’t just about bringing you in-depth and—ideally—thought-provoking reporting on the sound toys and musicians you love. It’s about spreading joy. And I’d like your help.
This gig isn’t just about bringing you in-depth and—ideally—thought-provoking reporting on the sound toys and musicians you love. It’s about spreading joy.
Consider this an invitation to drop me an email, send a line via socials … a singing telegram? I’d sincerely like to hear from you. What are your likes and dislikes about gear and music coverage? And not just at PG. I’m honestly interested in what interests you. I’d like to get to know you, which, I realize, is a big ask. But it’s part of that sharing thing I mentioned.
And speaking of sharing, it’s a pleasure to share our 2022 rundown of “The Year in Gear.” I always find this annual report inspiring. Sure, it’s ostensibly a catalog of the coolest instruments, effects, amps, and recording tools we’ve reviewed over the previous 12 months, but it’s also a glimpse into the imagination and vision of some of the brightest minds in the musical instrument industry—the people who refine and birth ideas that help all of us play and sound better, and who give us an entryway into the sonic worlds we want to explore, whether those worlds were first traversed by the Ramones or AC/DC or Andrés Segovia or Muddy Waters or Joan Jett or Billy Strings. It also reminds me about some of the gear I’ve wanted to check out myself—although this year I was also lucky enough to review a number of real gems.
It reminds me about our bond, too. We’re all nuts about gear, and we love to chase that obsession. Over the past few years, I’ve especially been fixated on overdrive and fuzz pedals, and amps. Always amps, which are unique and colorful instruments unto themselves, and the last point in the signal chain that helps articulate our musical voices.
We are, after all, a community of voices. So, let’s continue our conversation about the music and gear that we love, and keep it going strong.
Premier Guitar’sShawn Hammond bids adieu after 13 years as editorial director.
It’s crazy how 13 years fly by. When I applied for the editor-in-chief position at Premier Guitar, it was the 2009 holiday season and I was only peripherally aware of the fledgling Iowa-based outfit. Having spent the previous decade working both full-time and as a freelancer for the industry’s biggest guitar magazines, long the power players dominating from the coasts, I could see PG was poised—with help from the singularly awesome team we built—to take the guitar universe by storm. And I was right. Over the ensuing years, long-timers and new hires alike worked side by side to elevate PG to the best in the business, hands down.
As a Salt Lake City native who’d done two stints in the San Francisco Bay area, I’d never been to Iowa, let alone contemplated living here. Known to most as the U.S. “swing state” first to hold presidential primaries in general elections, Iowa—if it ever entered my consciousness at all—pretty much only conjured images of Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, a character portrayed as a naïve farm kid from the tiny town of Ottumwa in the old TV show M*A*S*H.
My always-awesome wife/best friend made the trek out to Cedar Rapids with me on New Year’s Eve that year to see if it was a place and an opportunity we could feel good about uprooting our family of five for. Stepping off the plane, we were welcomed by icy winds and the most ungodly temperatures I’d felt since being caught in a blizzard at the top of Snowbird ski resort as a teen. But, as I’m typing this from the confines of the office I’ve occupied ever since, needless to say it has been all that and more.
I’m honored to have worked alongside—and become lifelong friends with—some of the best people I know. (You know who you are!)
When my role expanded to editorial director a few years later, I entered some of the most rewarding, challenging, and lesson-filled years of my life. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to achieve the career goal I set way back in university, when I chose to major in journalism with the specific aim of one day taking the reins at the world’s best guitar-media outlet. I’m exceptionally fortunate to have been able to go to work every day in a sphere that resonates within me more than almost any other. I’ve gotten to meet many of my musical heroes and to discover many more, and I’ve been introduced to an incredible amount of life-enriching music I never would’ve heard, let alone even been aware of, had I not taken this path.
Most of all, I’m honored to have worked alongside—and become lifelong friends with—some of the best people I know. (You know who you are!) I will miss y’all somethin’ fierce, but “Goonies never say die” … or some such shit. (Interpreted: You better stay in touch, or else!)
For anyone wondering, my love for guitar and music in general have not diminished one iota. I have long been, and will always be, a guitar junkie. But it’s time for me to move on to other work.
Peace and love, friends!