Twisted Sister’s Jay Jay French commissions a who’s-who of guitar and bass manufacturers to create 25 custom “pinkburst” guitars and amps to benefit research into uveitis—a disease responsible for 10 percent of blindness in the US.


Jay Jay French and his daughter, Samantha, cradle the Gibson J-200 and Martin 000-18 flattops he commissioned to raise money to combat the rare eye disease Samantha has suffered from since she was 6 years old.

If you’re a child of the ’80s or hip to Reagan-era hard rock, John French Segall (aka Jay Jay French) needs no introduction. As co-lead guitarist for Twisted Sister, he cranked out fistpumping melodic anthems like “We’re Not Going to Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” that gave voice to the angst and rebellion felt by whole swaths of youth eager to indulge in everything their parents feared and hated. Those anthems brought French and Twisted Sister worldwide album sales of more than 15 million units, in addition to 37 gold and platinum awards from eight countries.

But even if you’ve never been into that particular music scene, you can probably relate to French as a gear nut— he’s famous for his trademark “pinkburst” Les Pauls. If you’re a parent, you’ll probably also identify with what he faces as the devoted father of a 17-year-old girl, especially as you read on and try to imagine what it was like when French and his (then) wife learned that Samantha, then 6, had uveitis—a disease that causes inflammation of the middle layer of the eye and that is the leading cause of blindness among American girls (see “What Is Uveitis?” sidebar on p. 5). Regardless of your musical or gear proclivities, you’ll likely feel pangs of empathy as you contemplate the 11 intervening years of pain, uncertainty, and heartache as French’s family learned to live with the disease.

French didn’t want to just live with it, though. As a restless rocker and a vigilant dad, he wanted to do something to help the cause. So three years ago he began the Pinkburst Project—an effort to amass a collection of one-off custom guitars and amps that could be auctioned to raise both awareness about uveitis and money to fund research for a cure. French commissioned Fender, Paul Reed Smith, Epiphone, Gretsch, Martin, Gibson, Marshall, Vox, Mesa/Boogie, Hartke, Diamond Amplification, Finland’s Ruokangas Guitars, and Orange to design a lineup of 25 exquisite guitars, basses, and amplifiers to that end, while TKL designed one-of-akind cases for the axes, Red Monkey created customized straps, and Harley Hoffman of Kayline Industries supplied the custom vinyl covering for the amps.

We recently spoke to French about his family’s struggle with uveitis, what led him to begin the Pinkburst Project, and what it was like selecting the gorgeous guitars, amps, and accessories that comprise it (we’re displaying selected portions of the project here, but you can view the entire collection at pinkburstproject.org).


The Pinkburst Guitars – Front row (left to right): Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster, Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul, PRS Custom 24. Second row: Ruokangas Duke Custom, Epiphone Jay Jay French Elitist Les Paul, Gibson Custom Shop SG, Gibson Custom Shop ES-335. Third row: Fender Custom Shop Telecaster, Martin 000-18, Gretsch G6120. Fourth row: Epiphone Thunderbird, Fender Custom Shop ’75 Jazz Bass Reissue, Gibson J-200.

Can you take us back to what started all this—Samantha’s uveitis diagnosis?

Samantha was examined at school by a very young doctor who saw something unusual and suggested we see another doctor. I live in New York City, where Dr. Brian Herschorn looked at Samantha and saw it in two seconds. He said, “You’d better sit down.” Uveitis is an autoimmune condition, and a majority of girls with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis [JRA] have uveitis. If you have JRA, you have a 75 percent chance of developing uveitis. If you have uveitis, you have a 20 percent chance of developing JRA. As a parent, you suddenly find yourself learning about something you never heard of.

How horrifying. What happened next?

With uveitis, all roads lead to Dr. Stephen Foster at MERSI, the Massachusetts Eye Research and Surgery Institution. We went to Boston and he explained the prognosis. The problem with this disease is that many doctors throw topical steroids at it, but they can cause blindness if they’re overused, because they cause cataracts. Dr. Foster’s research said that systemic chemotherapy drugs are the way to go. Because of the connection to juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, they had to do a lot of tests to ensure that Samantha had nothing else, so it was an entirely long-term thing, with constant observation and multiple doctors— including JRA specialists—to monitor her while she was on medication. The two systemic drugs are cancer drugs—Methotrexate and Remicade. They use drops to lower the inflammation immediately and systemic drugs to hold back inflammation. A certain percentage of girls between 17 and 18 go into remission, because the body’s immune system develops and the body stops it. You take your child to checkups every three, six, and nine weeks, and you pray that the cells did not come back. And then come the drops to pull them back, and how many cells and floaters are in the back of the eye, and with every step backward, your heart sinks.

Methotrexate and remicade are potentially toxic, right?


Yes, absolutely. Methotrexate did not work. Remicade is a wonderful drug with two problems. First, it costs $20,000 a dose—or $19,700 if you have insurance—and is administered intravenously in a cancer ward. Second, it lowers the immune system so much that you get sick all the time. But it holds back the inflammation. Samantha went to New York-Presbyterian Hospital for a threeyear period for the monitoring of possible juvenile rheumatoid arthritis complications that come with uveitis. But she would look around at kids with cancer and say, “They are way worse off than me.” She went through treatment, was clear for six months, and then it came back with a vengeance and she had to start on a new drug called CellCept. It’s an organ-rejection drug that she took for two or three years, and it held the inflammation back. Her vision is 20/20 now with contacts—she’s nearsighted, like her parents—but she has the beginning of cataracts because of the eye drops.

CellCept is self-administered, so the efficacy is debatable, because my daughter had to take three pills twice a day and not eat for two hours before or after taking the medication. There had to be another way. So now she is on HUMIRA, which is injected every two weeks by a doctor, and she has responded well. She’s been on it for four months and her eyes are clear. She will stay on it for two years and then wean off of it and see what happens.


The Pinkburst Amps – Front row (left to right): Orange Rocker 30, Vox AC15C1, Fender TV Twelve,
Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb. Second row: Marshall JTM-45 Bluesbreaker reissue, Vox AC30C2,
Fender ’65 Twin Reverb reissue, Diamond Amplification Positron head and cab. Third row: Hartke
HA2500 head and 410XL cabs, Marshall JCM800 head and 1960A 4x12 cab, Marshall 1959 Super
Lead reissue head and 1960A cab, Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier head and 4x12 cab.

Does she still see Dr. Foster?

Dr. Foster sees her, as does Dr. C. Michael Samson, of New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, who was trained by Dr. Foster. Dr. Herschorn, Dr. Samson, and Dr. Foster are in the loop with Samantha, her mother, and me.

With your touring schedule, were you able to attend her appointments?


Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster – “The color is custom hot pink with cherry sunburst,” says Fender’s John Cruz. “The body is mahogany with crème binding. It features a tummy cut on the back, however I did not include the arm contour found on most Strats. The neck is pretty much the same as the Tele, which features a mahogany neck with Indian rosewood fretboard, large C shape, 12" radius, and 6105 fretwire. It also features a clear Lexan pickguard with my custom-wound J.C. Limited pickups—which are top mounted.”
Twisted Sister stopped performing in 1988 and retired until 2003. My daughter was born in 1993, and I was her nanny for four years. For 10 years, I took her to school and picked her up every day. My dad was a traveling salesman, and I swore I would never have a child if I was on the road. Samantha and I are very close. I was still married, and I had the luxury of being home all the time. In 1999, the problem was discovered and we were there. In September 2003, my wife and I divorced and she moved four blocks away, so Samantha stayed with me every other day and I took her to and from school. By the time Twisted Sister started playing weekends again, we played June through August and it was very easy to do. I was very fortunate that my schedule allowed me to be on top of this and never miss a doctor’s appointment. My ex-wife is English, and the corporation she works for moved her back to the UK. So Samantha went to school in England at 14 and we found a specialist there. She will be back here to go to college in the US in 2011. I traveled to England a lot and went to her doctor appointments, too. There was never a lack of maintenance from her mother and me.

You were also lucky to have insurance—they don’t give cancer drugs away as samples.

We are very lucky, because Remicade will bankrupt you. It is the most expensive drug in the world. When you’re a parent whose child has a chronic disease, you have enough battles to fight, and it becomes an even tougher challenge due to the financial strain if you don’t have insurance—which is another reason I want to raise research dollars.

Which leads us to the Pinkburst Project. One day you woke up and thought . . .

I’d had my pinkburst Les Paul signature model for a long time, and at a NAMM show I was introduced to John Cruz from Fender. I told him I had a pink Les Paul and asked what it would take to build a pink Tele with rosewood—a custom guitar. He looked at me as if I were nuts. The guy who happened to be standing next to him was someone I hadn’t seen in 30 years—he was the kid who delivered my first Les Paul to me. It was eerie! I have an Epiphone Les Paul, and I had a Gibson Les Paul painted pink by a local luthier named Steve Carr in 1979. He’s the same guy who made the Axe bass for Gene Simmons. I had this boat-anchor, thousand-pound guitar delivered to me in a parking lot in Long Island, and there I was with the same guy standing next to John Cruz. John said, “Okay, I’ll make the Tele.”


Gretsch G6120 – “The guitar is basically a stock 6120 made from maple — top, back and sides,” says Fender Master Builder John Cruz. “It also features a maple neck and rosewood fretboard. It already had the traditional thumbnail inlay installed on the guitar. I did not want to try and change this beautiful design, and I convinced Jay Jay that he would love it the way it was. He agreed. After the custom paint was applied, I installed the Filter’Tron-style pickups, stock wiring harness, Bigsby tremolo, custom-painted pickup covers, and a clear Lexan pickguard. This guitar was stunning to look at, as well as play. As with all the other guitars, Jay Jay was speechless.”
I wanted it to look like my Gibson, and he matched it. The Tele arrived and I had the two guitars on stands in my living room. I thought, “Imagine if I could get other companies to do this—and we could sell them and donate the money to MERSI because they have so few research dollars.”

Is this your first fundraiser for MERSI?

I’ve been involved in auctions for the hospital. They do simple auctions where people donate typical things, and I donated guitars. This time, I wanted to do more.

How did you involve other manufacturers?


John was working on the Tele at his bench in California, and people would see it in the factory. I called him about a Strat, and then I talked to Martin and Gibson. By then we were in our second year of guitar models. And then came basses—and they all had to be pinkbursts. I could have bought guitars and had them painted, but the key was having the manufacturers make official guitars. That’s what matters to collectors—that they get that official slip. Once I explained the reason for this, everyone was onboard.

Did you request common features from all the manufacturers?


My wish list included trapezoid fretboard inlays—which we got on all but three of the guitars—rosewood fretboards, and matching colors. But, as Obama says, it involved the art of compromise, to a degree. So I had to compromise. Some of the guitars were made in China and had certain set inlays, fretboards, etc. After three years, I’d say this is quite a success story, with 99 percent of my wish list fulfilled.

Does each piece have a unique serial number or identifying stamp?


Every amp has a brass plaque with the Pinkburst Project logo, and every guitar has a custom-made TKL case with the project logo. Everything was so disparately made that the custom shops put their own numbers on them. All the serial numbers are available on the website.

So you didn’t make any other special requests— for instance, regarding necks, pickups, or frets?


Ruokangas Duke Custom and Diamond Amplification Positron – The Duke Custom from Finnish builder Juha Ruokangas features a Spanish cedar body and neck, an arctic birch top, and a calibrated set of custom Häussel alnico 2 pickups. “I met Juha Ruokangas at a NAMM show and fell in love with his guitars,” says French. “I bought one for my personal collection. I told him about the project and he wanted to be involved. My girlfriend said, ‘Why would he not be included? You think his guitars are the iconic guitars of the future!’ She was right. Juha is a supreme boutique maker whose heart is in the right place. So that also meant we needed an iconic, futuristic boutique amp. My friend David Wilson suggested Diamond. In conversations about the project, they suggested a new model, the Positron, and decided it would be serial number 001 to make it special to match in pairings with the Ruokangas guitar.”
I left it up to the discretion of the builders. With John Cruz, for example, he put in the Twisted Tele pickups. That was not me saying, “I want this fretwire and 400 windings on the pickups.” All I asked for was the most iconic models, and it was interesting to see what each company chose as iconic. They are all beautiful works of art, and I strongly doubt that any of these instruments will be used. They will be collected and displayed.

Are there any other ways that you’re planning to raise money year-round and from musicians who would love to own a pinkburst but can’t afford one?

Red Monkey made straps with the logo, and they will probably make extra ones to auction off and help the cause. They are affordable for someone who just wants to do something to help. The possibilities of other things are endless, but we had to focus on the singular reason or it would drive me crazy. I had to keep my eye on the ball or lose my mind. People say, “How much will this make?” It could bring in the minimum bid or it could bring in way more. If they’re all sold, it will probably make enough to send a nice check to the hospital. If enough people read about it and understand the uniqueness, then it can appeal to the vintage guy, the collector, the one-of-a-kind guy, someone who wants a pairing. I tried to get gear that would create a passionate connection to a broad base of people. The guitar and amp companies were very fair, and some didn’t charge me at all. I was surprised at some of the largesse that was shown to me.

With this project, I found something that is more important than my life. Putting myself out there on my daughter’s behalf has been so rewarding. It resonates with people. MERSI needs research dollars. People need help. I can’t thank all the manufacturers who participated enough. It is one thing to sit at your desk and dream of an idea, and quite another to have it realized. In addition to the philanthropic aspect to the Pinkburst Project, as a guitar player and collector, this is a dream come true. Many of these companies’ products have provided years of pleasure and satisfaction to me through the very same guitars, amps, and cases that are featured in this collection. I will remain a collector of many of the models represented in the Pinkburst Project—as well as other fine instruments and amplifiers—for the rest of my life.

The Pinkburst Auction
The Skinner Auction House in Boston will host the Pinkburst Project auction May 1, 2011, to benefit ongoing work at the Massachusetts Eye Research and Surgery Institution on behalf of the Ocular Immunology and Uveitis Foundation.


Epiphone Jay Jay French Elitist Les Paul (LEFT) and Thunderbird Bass (CENTER) – “When Jay Jay approached Epiphone about contributing a special guitar for this project, we were more than happy to help,” says Epiphone’s Jim Rosenberg. “Jay Jay and Twisted Sister have been die-hard supporters and users of Epiphone product for almost a decade now—not to mention that the cause is a worthy one. Contributing one of Jay Jay’s signature Les Paul pinkburst guitars was obviously a cornerstone of the concept and a perfect fit. However, when I found out he was gathering an assortment of instruments and had not considered a bass yet, a Thunderbird in pinkburst immediately came to mind.” The Les Paul features a Twisted Sister logo inlay on the headstock, Gibson-manufactured components, a long neck tenon, and a solid maple top. Fender Custom Shop ’75 Jazz Bass Reissue (RIGHT) – “I took a little different approach in the construction of this bass, as I really did not want to steer too far away from the original look of this classic,” says Fender’s John Cruz. “The body was again made of mahogany, but I decided to make the neck with quartersawn maple for better stability, with a 12"-radius Indian rosewood fretboard, trapezoid inlay and Fender logo inlayed into the peg face. I used our medium jumbo fretwire for this because I felt it worked better with the playability of a bass.”

What is Uveitis?
In layman’s terms, uveitis is inflammation of the uvea—the middle section of the eye. The third-leading cause of blindness among girls in the US, uveitis is rare and incurable, but with early detection it can be treated. Because there are no physical symptoms, it goes unnoticed by the patient until their vision is impaired.

Jay Jay French’s daughter, Samantha, now 17, was diagnosed at age 6 during what her father describes as “a very routine, rudimentary eye exam at school.” Further examination was recommended, which led the family to the Massachusetts Eye Research and Surgery Institution in Cambridge, where Samantha came under the care of Dr. Stephen Foster. “MERSI specializes in inflammatory diseases, and Dr. Foster is the leading specialist,” says French.

Uveitis is often associated with other medical conditions, including infection, trauma, and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis—and particularly juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. In patients with the disease, the immune system attacks what it mistakenly perceives as foreign bodies, resulting in severe inflammation that must be treated with pain medication, steroids, and, in extreme cases, potentially dangerous drugs. “Behind the uvea lie hundreds of thousands of capillaries, the smallest capillaries in the body,” says French. “If uveitis is not caught quickly, the immune system kills the lens and causes glaucoma and blindness. You can hold it back, and in some cases it goes away for reasons that doctors cannot understand.”

According to French, who has immersed himself in learning about the disease, little is known about uveitis. “It’s not a ‘sexy’ disease with hundreds of millions of dollars in research. Lack of detection adds to our country’s medical costs. As the parent of a child with a chronic disease, I know enough to explain to people what they need to do. I also know enough to tell them that early detection is the key. If treated early, chances are that a person will have normal sight for the rest of their life. Samantha is still in treatment and has preserved her eyesight, but had the cellular damage not been diagnosed, she could have been blind by now.”

For more information on uveitis, visit uveitis.org, uveitis.net, and the Massachusetts Eye Research and Surgery Institution at mersi.us.


Gibson Custom Shop SG (LEFT) – “I worked with Jay Jay on three guitars,” says Gibson’s Steve Christmas, “the Les Paul Standard, the SG Standard Reissue based on a 1962, and a ’63 ES-335 Block Reissue. All three were built in the Gibson Custom Shop by our Pro Shop luthiers. All three have a slim-taper neck and are standard production models with the Pinkburst finish—which has never been duplicated on any other models in the Custom Shop.” Marshall 1959 Super Lead Reissue and 1960A 4x12 (CENTER) – “Marshall has been my company exclusively for 35 years,” says French. “When I told them what I wanted, they said, ‘You’re family. We’ll do whatever it takes.’” Orange Rocker 30 (RIGHT) – The class A, 30-watt Rocker features two EL34-driven channels, a Celestion Vintage 30 speaker, and grill cloth screen-printed by Jeron Moe at Eloquent Creative. “I spoke to Alex Auxier from Orange Amps at NAMM,” says French. “One day he called me and said, ‘What’s the name of that disease again? My best friend’s girlfriend has it. We want to be involved.’”

Fender's John Cruz on Making Pinkburst Project Guitars, Basses, and Amps
Master Builder John Cruz from the Fender Custom Shop in Corona, California, first met Jay Jay French at the Winter 2007 NAMM show. He was in the midst of conversation with co-workers outside the Fender booth when the guitarist approached him.

“Jay Jay walked right up to me and joined in on our conversation,” says Cruz. “He was telling me about this wacky dream he had about having a pinkburst guitar custom built for him. He said he had a huge array of Gibsons but really had not had a great Fender to add to his collection—especially with the left-field specs that he was thinking about. He wanted a Telecaster in a hot pink color with a cherry-red burst around it. He wanted most of the appointments that were on all of his Gibsons to be present, as well. He sent me his Gibson Les Paul to use for reference, which helped a lot in getting the color right. I told him, ‘Your sick dream is my pleasure.’”


TKL Cases – All Pinkburst Project guitars come with a custom TKL case adorned with the Pinkburst Project logo (the one shown here holds a pinkburst Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul), and a Red Monkey Pinkburst Project leather guitar strap in pink, white, or black.

The guitar was finished in February 2008, and by that time the Pinkburst Project was under way. “I remember this guitar sounding incredible and really did not want to see it leave my hands,” says Cruz. “Jay Jay received the guitar and was very excited about the whole vibe. He started showing it to other musicians and manufacturers, who were blown away and really wanted to be involved.”

Next was the custom Stratocaster, which Cruz describes as “My favorite guitar in the world. Jay Jay wanted the same appointments as the Tele to be present. It really seemed weird to be putting trapezoid inlay on a Strat, but we are the custom shop, where your dream is our specialty.” French’s next request from Fender was a ’75 Jazz bass. “He chose that because he had a real ’75 and loved the way it felt, sounded, and played.”

The last guitar was a Gretsch G6120. “I really do not build Gretsch guitars, but I spoke with our Senior Master Builder, Stephen Stern, about what I was doing,” says Cruz. “He said he had a cancelled order for a 6120 in his area that needed a home. It just needed to be finished up with detail sanding, and then to be painted and built.”

With the Gretsch complete, Cruz thought Fender had come through on everything French wanted. Then came the final request: “Jay Jay said, ‘I gotta have matching amps to pair with all these guitars.’ I said, ‘Dude, you’re killing me.’ So I spoke with [thenartist relations manager] Alex Perez about his quest and he was glad to help out. I got to see these beauties right before the chassis was installed. They stood out like a sore thumb. The women here at the plant fell in love with them, as did everyone else. They all knew I had something to do with this project and have since not looked at me the same way. Thanks, Jay Jay, for tarnishing my reputation!”

Cruz looks back on the two-and-a-half-year undertaking with great pride and some humor, but he also has quite a heart for the cause and obvious admiration for French’s efforts and determination. “The whole idea gave me a great feeling about what this long-haired, Twisted Sister-vest-wearing, thug-looking guy was up to,” he says. “I hope whoever gets these babies will enjoy them as much as I did putting my all into them.”

Guitars for Vets organizers Patrick Nettesheim and Dan Van Buskirk help veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder find hope again through music.

In the time it takes to read this story, another US serviceman or servicewoman will lose their life. It won't be to an IED on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan. It will be to suicide on the battlefield of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression—right here at home. Every day, 19 soldiers take their own lives. Fifty percent of our homeless population is made up of veterans, and more than 250,000 veterans now suffer from PTSD. A 2004 Department of Defense study estimates that 17 to 20 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq “suffer from major depression, generalized anxiety, or PTSD." And according to a 2008 report cited in Tears of a Warrior: A Family's Story of Combat and Living with PTSD—a book the Veterans Administration uses in its PTSD treatment program— roughly 40,000 troops have been diagnosed since 2003.

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In part two of our interview with producer/engineer Ken Scott, Premier Guitar turned the floor over to Beatles-hungry musicians with a desire for details.

If you had the chance to ask questions about recording the Beatles, what would you want to know? In part two of our interview with producer/engineer Ken Scott, Premier Guitar turned the floor over to Beatles-hungry musicians with a desire for details. Mr. Scott was gracious enough to respond to their queries.

How much did the room sound of Studio 2 have to do with the ambience of the White Album?

Any room has a certain amount to do with what goes on. “Yer Blues,” as we discussed [in part 1], was recorded in the small room. “Piggies” was recorded in Studio 1, which was huge. “Martha My Dear” and “Dear Prudence” were recorded at Trident, which had a totally different sound, so it’s hard to say what affect the room sound of Studio 2 had, because the album is so varied. If they were playing quieter, there was more pickup of Ringo. If they were loud, you wouldn’t hear as much of the room.

Was there anything different about the way it was set up acoustically—more live or dead?

Every session was set up exactly the same way, at least to start with. At Abbey Road you followed your predecessors, who had determined the best place for everything. On occasion we changed it slightly, but what they spent years finding out was normally the best.

Did they generally record with the floor uncovered or with rugs?

Always with rugs. In Studio 2 it helped with the drums at least not sliding forward too much. With the wood floor there was no way to stick spurs in without ruining it. Generally there weren’t rugs throughout, just under their instruments, so when needed there was enough ambience from the room.

Were there issues using sensitive condenser mics on cranked AC30s, etc.?

No, I certainly never had a problem with the U67s and U87s.

Did each Beatle have a particular intrinsic idea about what they thought both a guitar and amp should sound like? Did they walk into the studio and plug into whatever was there and just play, or did they fiddle around with settings a lot?

They would always walk in, plug in and work through the songs to determine what the songs would be. Then they might change guitars and amps, and we’d EQ it once we knew the direction of the song and what was needed. In the early days, they didn’t have much gear to mess around with, and they didn’t have the time. They were doing sessions from 2:30 to 5:30 and 7 to 10. When they eventually gave up touring, they didn’t have to worry about budgets or time anymore and people gave them plenty of gear.

On the title track to A Hard Day’s Night, is the solo on George’s 12-string Rickenbacker doubled by harpsichord or something?

That was George Harrison on the Rickenbacker and George Martin on piano at half speed. When you play it at normal speed, that’s what you hear.

What can you tell us about “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from White Album? Any details on the crazy cool guitar solo by Clapton?

Clapton only played on the one track, and with regard to the recording, I have no recollection of him playing! It’s one of the most historical moments in Beatles history and I have no recollection of it at all! I do remember that Eric didn’t want his guitar to sound like a normal Eric Clapton guitar solo, so we used an effect designed by Ken Townsend, which was called either ADT, automatic double tracking, or phasing or flanging. Each is dependent upon how fast you moved this one dial. Chris Thomas remembers sitting and turning the dial fast every time we had to run the track, so that it would make Eric’s guitar sound weird. It’s the original tape flanging used a lot at Abbey Road.

Were there times when you felt that the White Album was a collection of four solo projects under one label?

I guess so, because at the time that overdubs were being done, it was just the songwriter there, controlling everything. The basic tracks were cut as a band. They were together and had a great time. On a couple of occasions, yes, it felt like four solo albums, but overall it was a band project.

What did John use on “Revolution” to create the fuzz tone? Was it a fuzz box or did he blow a speaker?

Neither. They were overdriving two of the mic preamps on an EMI REDD desk that was being used at the time. I was a mastering engineer at the beginning of the White Album recordings, and I happened to go to Studio 3, where they were recording that track. John, Paul and George were all in the control room and had their guitars plugged directly into the board, and Ringo was all on his own on the drums in the studio. Geoff Emerick came up with a very cool way to distort by going in one preamp to overload and into another preamp to distort it even more.

Do you have a favorite Beatles song, and is it one you worked on?

I have several favorites. “We Can Work It Out” is my favorite from Paul. From George, “Something.” From John, “A Day In The Life” and “Strawberry Fields.” From Ringo—not a Beatles song—“It Don’t Come Easy.”

What, if anything, would you have changed on the original recording of All Things Must Pass?

On the original, at the time I would have changed nothing. It was made the way George and I thought it should be made. Thirty years later, in his studio, laughing together, we would have changed it drastically. Neither of us understood why that much reverb was put on anything. We discussed doing it “Un-Spectorized,” taking off the reverb and making it more dry, but the reissue had to be as it was, and all too soon afterward, George got sick and never had a chance to do it.

What is your opinion of Let It Be: Naked?

It was a different way of looking at the album. There’s no right or wrong way to make a record. Some of it I like and some I don’t, and it’s just another look at it. It was OK’d by everyone around and connected with the Beatles, so they must have liked it. There’s good and bad about both versions. I have no problem with something like this as long as the original is still available. I feel the same about mono and stereo versions. So many people never got to hear the music the way the Beatles heard it. We did it all in mono. Stereo back then was Saturday morning with the television on the BBC channel in one corner and the radio on the BBC station in the other corner and you’d spend an hour listening to trains pass by, or a car, or the high spot, a stereo tennis game. Everything was mono until Abbey Road.

Do you prefer the mono mixes on the White Album to the stereo ones?

Probably. I’m still awaiting the mono re-masters from EMI, and I have yet to hear them. From what I remember, yes, because that’s what we spent all the time on. On the White Album they became interested in stereo mixes, because fans would buy both versions and write and tell them of all the differences, so they began making mono and stereo mixes with planned differences.

What do you think of the new remasters?

I have only heard them in stereo and they’re really good, just not as good as the original vinyl. I like vinyl; there’s a warmth to it.

What was it like when John McLaughlin plugged in at the start of a session? Steve Morse? Davey Johnstone?

When we did [Mahavishnu Orchestra’s] Birds Of Fire, John very much had his sound set. He plugged into his Marshall, turned up fairly loud and played. It was very live with very few overdubs. Visions Of The Emerald Beyond took a little more time to get the right tones, but it was still pretty basic.

With Steve Morse it was really different. Very purposefully, I wanted to spend a lot of time not just getting guitar tones per song but for each individual section—a sound for verses, then choruses, if you like, and so on through for solos. I spent a lot of time honing in with Steve, and not much of it was particularly live. I got Rod [Morgenstein] going first, with the others playing DI, and we did overdubs from there. It was very much pieced together accordingly.

With Davey, once again we were recording quickly. There was a certain amount of picking tones for sections, but a lot was done live, so we didn’t change that much. I remember working on one track on his solo album [Smiling Face] with Gus Dudgeon. I can’t remember which track, and a sound wasn’t happening. I finished up with an acoustic guitar, but it was too thin. It had a pickup on it, so I put Davey in the drum booth and fed the guitar through a Leslie. When we mixed the mic’d acoustic with the Leslie sound, it was exactly what was needed. But on Elton John’s albums it was straightforward. We did pre-production at Chateau d’Herouville in France, and from the beginning we were all working on what the songs should be. It was a very collaborative effort. As soon as Elton wrote a song, we’d do pre-production, so I’d say we had a much better idea of the guitar sound for Davey from the get-go.

Would you agree that there is an art to being a sideman?

Absolutely there is an art to it! And it doesn’t lead to being voted number one best guitar player, which says absolutely nothing about your playing.

Is anything more than 16 tracks the "devil's workshop”?

No, it’s not. If 93 tracks are 100 percent needed, that’s fine. What I can’t stand is people not making decisions and ending up with a multitude of tracks that they never use. It makes mixing far more complex. Learning on four-track, from the get-go I had to know what we were heading for, and I had to make decisions, which people don’t do these days, whether it’s four tracks or 192. It’s how we determine the use of them. If the tracks are essential, then it’s no problem. If they’re just jerking off, then basically it does become the devil’s workshop—even if it’s 16 tracks and you only needed eight and the other eight are filled with rubbish.

Here’s an example of what it used to be like, and, believe it or not, it did actually work back then. When George Harrison was recording “What Is Life” with Phil Spector at Abbey Road, they were running out of tracks, so George came to Trident where I was working, and we finished it there. Working with George was always a joy. When he did backing vocals, it was all George. It was tedious, but it was so much fun. We would double it and bounce those down, and double some more and bounce those, getting the mix as we went along. It was a real juggling act to get all the voices on using only an already half-filled 16-track tape, but we had made the decision about what was needed and went for it. Nowadays, every vocal would be on its own track and mixing would be a nightmare.

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