A Sunburst Solidbody, Straight from Sears
With such a flashy flame top, the Silvertone 1445 was built to catch the eyes of department store shoppers.
I don’t know what’s going on lately, but I’m breaking down all over and my shoulder is the latest to crumble. When I was a kid I would practice guitar in my bedroom near a radiator with an ungrounded amp plug and I’d get a zap right through my guitar and into my hands. Well, my shoulder pain is like that now, only without the cool story of rock ’n’ roll survival. I simply woke up one day like this. After a few weeks of discomfort, I figured I’d try out a new pillow, since mine are flattened like a wafer. I ventured out to the mall and, much to my sadness, saw the local Sears store shuttered, with weeds growing up from the sidewalks and concrete barriers blocking the large glass doors. I know I don’t get out much, but, man, was I sad to see the Sears store I’d known since childhood closed-up like that. My wife was laughing at me because apparently it had been closed for some time. But since I seem to exist on a separate timeline than most folks, it was all news to me.
The 1445 combines an elegant sunburst top with surfy accoutrements and makes a few noticeable nods toward both Fender Jaguar and Mosrite styles.
In the parking lot, I stretched my shoulder and gave some thought to Sears and department stores in general. Back in the day, I would see stacks of new vinyl records in the store, alongside the classic, huge hi-fi stereo systems. I feel like I grew up during a great time, where I had one foot in a bygone era and the other foot pointed towards gigantic technological breakthroughs like computers. But I also feel kind of bummed about missing out on the whole electric guitar/department store connection. My good buddy Mike Dugan recalls those times, and while most kids were charging towards the toy section, he was checking out the electric guitars and amps. Can you imagine?
“I feel kind of bummed about missing out on the whole electric guitar/department store connection.”
For those of you who also missed the Sears guitars, here’s a quick primer: They were almost all branded Silvertone and, in the late ’50s and early to mid ’60s, were manufactured by either Danelectro, Harmony, or Kay. By the tail end of the ’60s, a lot of Silvertone guitars were Japanese imports that were priced and aimed at beginners. I’ve always felt that the Silvertone guitars were a bit on the conservative side of the spectrum, and there weren’t many crazy designs or finishes.
The headstock on this 1445 , with binding and its sloped shape, is an elegant touch for a beginner’s guitar.
This Silvertone 1445 model hails from around 1969. It’s a cool 3-pickup model that features an offset shape with some exaggerated lines. Built at the Kawai factory, the guitar has an ebony fretboard and some standard Kawai appointments, like the in-house vibrato, electronics, and pickups. There is an on/off mini switch and volume knob for each pickup as well as a single tone knob. Around this time, Kawai was starting to cut corners in subtle ways, one of which included underwinding the pickups, which, in most cases, resulted in a thinner sound. Luckily, the series wiring in these guitars can produce quite the powerful sound. The finish is a nice-but-kinda-blah sunburst with some flamed wood. The flame veneer was a new thing for the Japanese guitar makers at the time, and I think there was some elegance attached—especially for a guitar targeted toward beginning players.
Strapping on one of these late-’60s 1445s is a familiar-feeling experience, offering up a cross between a Fender Jaguar and a Mosrite vibe. Often, Kawai electrics of this era were neck-heavy and the headstock would take a dive on you when slung around your shoulder. But the 1445 features a thicker body with a thin laminated neck. Kawai had basically perfected that laminate-neck-making technique, mostly to prevent warping, and these guitars usually hold up very well, even though the necks on are quite slender and narrow.
The Silvertone triple-pickup 1445 cost $78.95 in the 1969 Sears winter catalog and only lasted for a few years. I’ve seen all sorts of variations on this model, like bound bodies and necks, different colored pickguards, and different knobs. I suspect a lot of you out there started on a Silvertone. One has to marvel at the sizable influence Sears stores had on generations of folks. I’m really going to miss that local Sears and the feeling of nostalgia it evoked. Not quite like the electric zaps flowing into my shoulder right now, but still powerful!
Thurston Moore’s Anthems for the New World
The new album By the Fire, featuring Moore’s 6-string "secret weapon" James Sedwards, unleashes a psychedelic blast of Jazzmaster-fueled positivity.
Thurston Moore is onstage cranking up one of his signature Fender Jazzmasters to a darkened room at Rough Trade East, London's record-shopping mecca. The space is empty except for a sound and camera crew, there to document a slimmed-down trio version of his band—with My Bloody Valentine's Deb Googe on bass and Jem Doulton on drums—in gritty black-and-white for the livestream launch of Moore's new album, By the Fire. With his adopted city on the verge of another lockdown, and his home country in the throes of a bitterly contested presidential election, the stakes couldn't be more dire. But Moore and his mates aren't there just to shake their fists or chew the scenery.
“I'm thinking about fire as this emblematic action," he says, “but this record is not a big angry protest record. It's actually going the other way. I wanted it to be a good energy, as a political move against all the bad energy in the air. I always say putting records out is a political move. There's a responsibility to it, especially if you're past the age of 19 or 20. I'm 62, so I think there's a dignity in that exchange. That's probably not something I was so articulate about or aware of as a younger person, but it's interesting to me now because I see that as something very real. When you put records out, or if you're working in a discipline of creative impulse, and you're creating something to be in the marketplace, that's a bit of a responsibility. So I always see it as very political."
Tracked almost entirely at Total Refreshment Centre, a multi-use art space, and Paul Epworth's the Church Studios, both in London, the sessions for By the Fire concluded just before the pandemic hit, but they capture a band that, after three albums together, is clicking and communicating on a deep and visceral level. “The music I'm bringing into this group is not wholly dissimilar to the music I brought into Sonic Youth through the years," Moore says. “It's just more contemporary, more now. It all comes from the same lineage and the same vocabulary. It's always progressing in a certain way, but it'll always have that similarity, that recognizable factor."
Back in 1981, when Moore co-founded Sonic Youth with Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo (with drummer Steve Shelley coming on board in '85), the band was so aggressively underground and anti-establishment that none of them even considered the possibility they'd have a legacy to look back on, let alone the accolades for sparking a transformative New York art-punk movement that still reverberates loudly to this day. That experimental ethos informs the music that Moore brings to his current band, with a couple of key differences: where Sonic Youth was more of a democracy, Moore is now calling the shots. And, on top of that, he has stunt guitar-savant James Sedwards riding shotgun.
The ex-Sonic Youth co-leader hits the limits of his well-traveled 1959 Jazzmaster's fretboard while playing Riot Fest in 2015. Photo by Chris Kies
“James is such a high-technique guitar player," Moore raves. “I mean, he wakes up and he has guitar for breakfast—he is the guitar, you know?" Brit aficionados of experimental music would concur. Sedwards' own adventures with his mathy noise-rock unit Nøught, which emerged from the same artsy Oxford scene that spawned Radiohead, are the stuff of local legend. The band often draws comparisons to American post-rock acts like Shellac or Slint for their freeform sonic ferocity, while Sedwards' approach to the guitar—always inquisitive and seemingly insatiable—prompted none other than John Peel, during a filming of his 1999 series Sounds of the Suburbs, to praise Sedwards as “the first person who's not been a footballer that I've been jealous of."
Sedwards didn't make the Rough Trade set, but he makes his presence felt on By the Fire. Not surprisingly, Moore recognized their potential as a team—Sedwards also favors a Jazzmaster, and is an avowed Sonic Youth fan—early in their collaboration. “If you listen to the first record we did," The Best Day, released in 2014, “for the title song, I thought it would be cool if James stepped forward and possibly played a lead or something. And what he did was so incredible, I was just like, 'Oh, this guy is a secret weapon, and I'm really under-using him here.' So I've slowly been asking him to shred some leads here and there. I don't want to do it on every piece, but he does come up with something new every time."
On the whole, By the Fire signals something new for Moore and the entire band. The album feels rooted in a spiritual mood of bliss—a good deal of that stemming from the vivid lyrics of poet Radieux Radio in such songs as the opening “Hashish"—but Moore is also painting with a much wider brush than he did on 2017's Rock n Roll Consciousness. Where that album tapped into an accessible thread of avant-garde rock with echoes of the classic canon (Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Velvet Underground), this one runs with that notion and raises the stakes, from the heavy-booted rawk of Black Sabbath (“Cantaloupe," which pivots on a searingly Iommi-like solo from Sedwards) to the extended noise explorations, reminiscent of Moore's mentor Glenn Branca, that propel the nearly 17-minute “Locomotives." Add the electronic soundscapes of Jon Leidecker (aka Wobbly, also of Negativland) and the further contributions of Steve Shelley (who lends a hard-driving backbeat to the trance epic “Breath"), and By the Fire delivers on multiple promises Moore made to himself when he was mixing the album.
“We do have this intrinsic nature of wanting to communicate," he explains, “and to keep each other safe, and to find harmony amongst all the distortion that's in the air. By the Fire is a very simple title as such, but it's definitely about communication. That's just the nature of the record. It was all done before the pandemic, but the thing is, it was put together during the pandemic, so to be in quarantine defined a lot of the narrative, too, as far as how I sequenced it, and just the vibe of it. It's informed by this time of contemplation and anxiety—this new world we're living in together."
TIDBIT: Although Moore's new release was recorded pre-COVID, he explains that “it was put together during the pandemic, so to be in quarantine defined a lot of the narrative, as far as how I sequenced it, and just the vibe of it. It's informed by this time of contemplation and anxiety—this new world we're living in together."
At its core, how does this band function differently from the way Sonic Youth did?
Well, Sonic Youth was a thing unto its own. It was a sum of its parts. Even though I might have been the instigator, we grew up together, and there was no hierarchy in the band. That's something that I don't think can be repeated, and I'm not really willing to repeat it. I didn't really want to start a band again and have that kind of relationship.
I spent 30 years playing with Lee Ranaldo, and Lee is such an amazing guitar player, and he was always looked upon as possibly the lead guitar player in Sonic Youth. And if there was one, it was him, but that was never the relationship we had between all of us. Lee had his own voice, so we called him the Lee guitar player. With James, there's nothing he really plays like Lee—and I never really wanted to have that replicated anyway, because I thought that would be rather a clunky thing to do. It just didn't feel right.
When I started talking to James, I knew he was quite a different guitar player than Lee is, so that sets the music apart. Deb does that with her bass playing, too. I never tell her at all what to play. She just somehow finds that magical root that drives the song. So I've been really loving playing with this group. It's been like eight years, almost. We've been together longer than most groups, historically, you know? With Steve and Jem, the drummers have changed around a little bit, but James and Deb and myself have been a nucleus for quite some time now.
For one thing, you've talked about turning James loose on guitar solos, and he takes a pretty massive one on “Cantaloupe."
That was just a simple song—something that I wrote really quickly and thought, “Oh this is cool; let's do this as a band." So I showed it to the band and we put down the basic track, and I said to James, “You know, this section would really smoke with a lead." And he did it in one take. He went in there, in the alternate tuning [C–G–D–G–C–D], laid it down, and I was just like, that's ridiculous. So he has that ear and that ability. He can shred in that really traditional way, but he always has this edge, this sense of jumping off the experimental cliff, you know?