january 2013

Darryl Jenifer and Gary “Dr. Know” Miller of Bad Brains discuss their trailblazing fusion of disparate styles—from jazz to soul, reggae, punk, funk, and metal—as well as how their new album, "Into the Future," totally lives up to its name, and what it’s like to be both legends and underdogs more than 30 years into their career.

Photo by Frank Okenfels III

When it comes to bands who’ve altered the course of musical history with mind-blowing creativity and yet somehow never really gotten their due, Bad Brains is right up there with Spirit, the Velvet Underground, Moby Grape, and the Stooges. Despite these bands’ stylistic differences, each shares the distinction of dragging modern music kicking and screaming in a fresh new direction and heavily influencing countless bands that went on to greater fame and fortune.

To be fair, in the case of Bad Brains, the fault wasn’t entirely that of fate or a fickle music industry. The band’s lack of mainstream success has had at least as much to do with their two-edged eclecticism and the unpredictability and substance-abuse issues of lead singer Paul “H.R.” Hudson—a savant who, in his heyday, could seamlessly channel the most alluring elements of Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley, Johnny Rotten, and a rabid old-school hip-hop emcee.

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Capable of delivering clean and responsive to overdriven tones, Ashdown''s CTM-300 is an an all-tube, 300-watt beast that boasts some modern enhancements, while still giving a nod to the amps of old.

Back in the day, if you wanted serious volume and tone, you had to schlep some heavy-duty and very heavy amplifiers. This was thanks to those mighty transformers powering all of those wonderful vacuum tubes—all housed on a thick chassis and protected by a solid-wood frame. Just ask any bassist what they used back in the day to compete with those stacks of Marshalls or Hiwatts. Though the comments may be accompanied by a groan or wince, they’ll likely reminisce about the good ol’ days when they moved SVTs up and down multiple flights of stairs.

Today, many bassists swear that tubes are still the ultimate transmitter of tone. Yes, there are plenty of digital pedals and preamps on the market that emulate the sound of tubes at work—and many are getting better at doing so—but no microchip has truly succeeded in replicating the natural compression and dynamic warmth that tubes provide.

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As far as bright colors and fancy appointments, the Fred Gretsch Company led the way. Gretsch achieved the pinnacle of luxury and style with its pièce de résistance, the White Falcon.

A stunning 1958 Gretsch 6136 White Falcon, serial #26356.

The exciting changes in the popular music of the 1950s also called for electrifying transformations in musical instruments. As the electric guitar became increasingly prominent, the top guitar companies battled to come up with the most innovative and attractive designs.

As far as bright colors and fancy appointments, the Fred Gretsch Company led the way. Gretsch achieved the pinnacle of luxury and style with its pièce de résistance, the White Falcon. The 1955 Gretsch catalog announced that “Cost was never considered in the planning of this guitar. We were building an instrument for the artist-player whose caliber justifies and demands the utmost in striking beauty, luxurious styling, and peak tonal performance and who is willing to pay the price.”

Gretsch’s special representative—the guitar promoter and demonstrator Jimmie Webster—designed the White Falcon. Webster drew ideas from a variety of sources including the gaudy Bacon and Day banjos of the Jazz Age. The 17"-wide body was finished in luminous white with gold sparkle binding. The gold-plated hardware included fancy jeweled knobs, Grover Imperial tuners, and a striking new tailpiece with a V-shape similar to the one used in the ’50s Cadillac logo. The gold pickguard was engraved with a flying Falcon.

LEFT: Designed by Jimmie Webster, the White Falcon represented the apex of the Gretsch line. With its six wheel saddles and threaded mounting bar, Webster’s Space Control bridge allowed a player to adjust string-to-string spacing to accommodate fingerstyle or plectrum technique. MIDDLE: The White Falcon’s tailpiece bore more than a passing resemblance to a ’50s Cadillac logo. RIGHT: In 1958, a horizontal Gretsch logo replaced the original vertical one.

This 1958 White Falcon has features typical of that year’s model—a gold sparkle horizontal headstock logo inlaid in the white Nitron plastic veneer (changed from the original vertical logo in ’58), Neo Classic thumbprint inlays in an ebony fretboard (changed from the original feather engraved hump-block inlays in ’58), Patent Applied For Filter’Tron humbucking pickups (replacing DeArmond single-coils), and a gold Space Control bridge (replacing the original Melita).

A new White Falcon sold for $675 in 1958. This guitar’s current value is about $20,000.

You’ll find lots of compelling photos and lore in 50 Years of Gretsch Electrics: Half a Century of White Falcons, Gents, Jets, and Other Great Guitars by Tony Bacon, The Guitars of the Fred Gretsch Company by Jay Scott, and The Gretsch Book—A Complete History of Gretsch Electric Guitars by Tony Bacon and Paul Day.

Original price: $675 in 1958
Current estimated market value: $20,000

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