My parents bought me my first acoustic guitar in 1974, when I was 10 years old. It was quite a financial sacrifice for a family of modest middle-class means with

My parents bought me my first acoustic guitar in 1974, when I was 10 years old. It was quite a financial sacrifice for a family of modest middle-class means with four kids and a car with no muffler. I’ll never forget it, and will forever honor such an unconditional act of love and generosity.

Many of you also provide for your kids’ musical aspirations unconditionally every day, and encourage them to play guitar. My guitar was a Yamaha nylon-string acoustic, and I can still recall the price tag of $100. That was a lot of money back in 1974. We couldn’t afford the chipboard case, so I proudly hauled it out of the music store wrapped up in my dad’s CPO jacket.

I still have this guitar and proudly display it in my collection. I’m a sentimental cat. When I look at this guitar, it reminds me of my parents sacrifice; it gives me an appreciation for a supportive musical upbringing. As many of you already know, sharing music with your kids is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding gifts you will ever give—and believe me, they will remember. Very few of us start out playing a pre-war Martin, so somewhere in all of our relentless pursuits, there is a starter acoustic. I firmly believe that the happiest people in this world do not necessarily have the best of everything, but they learn to make the best of everything they have.

As PG pays tribute to the continuing evolution of the acoustic revolution with our annual acoustic issue, we marvel at the incredible acoustic builders who continue to raise the standard. They are committed to building us better instruments. As I’ve said before, many of history’s best acoustic instruments are being built right here, right now, and we are the beneficiaries. What I really dig is how so many of these builders respect the designs of traditional acoustic predecessors while embracing modern technology, alternative materials, and forward thinking to create a new level of quality. So give it up for the builders who through their perspiration provide us with the gift of inspiration.

PG’s acoustic issue pays a well-deserved tribute to the builders who lead us through the evolution of the acoustic revolution. We hope you join us in doing the same.

Nuff Sed,

Trent Salter, Publisher

An ode to favorite amps

For gearheads rolling along the twists and turns on the highway of tone, the amplifier is like the gasoline that fuels the machine. It’s the essential foundation of your personal tone. A great amplifier makes you play great. Considering all the tone-related addictions we suffer, the relentless pursuit of amp tone is one of the most obsessive.

This issue of PG celebrates one of the most cherished, respected and desired amplifiers in amp history: the Marshall JTM45: Jim Marshall’s first amplifier—the holy grail of tone that started it all. The JTM45 is still available in a reissue, which is a faithful reproduction right down to the GZ34 rectifier circuit found in the original. There is something about the original that captures the attention of so many talented boutique builders, who have passionately pursued the vibe of the JTM45. In that spirit, Steve Ouimette leads us on a comprehensive tour of the legendary JTM45 as this month’s cover feature.

This feature inspired a trip through my own tone memories, allowing me to recall a few of my favorite vintage amps. I have an extreme weakness when it comes to acquiring vintage amps, but when it comes to vintage Marshalls, I could definitely use some therapy. I’m a British high-gain, brown-tone tweaker full tilt. Somebody, please frickin’ help me.

Vox AC30
I have never owned an original, but I have played and even recorded through a few. This amp is hailed as one of the most recorded amps in rock history, and with good reason. Many tone addicts get sucked into the AC30 vortex by the inspiration of Queen’s Brian May. That tone is undeniably one of the most unique and recognizable in history. The reissued AC30 Custom Classics sport a master volume that’s a welcome upgrade to the originals.

Fender Tone Master
These were introduced in the early ‘90s as part of the new Fender hand-wired custom shop amps. I was always a fan of Fender amps, especially blackfaces, and I have bought, sold, traded and even bought back a handful over the years. But I never really thought of their amps as a higher gain alternative until I plugged in to a Tone Master. Damn near angry, incredible brown-sound overdrive on channel B. Loud and powerful with attitude galore from that huge power transformer. I recall interviewing Richie Sambora when he recorded Undiscovered Soul in 1997, and the way he raved about the Tone Master. He used these amps in the Bon Jovi era as well.

Soldano SLO-100
Mike Soldano is considered one of the pioneers of high gain. The SLO (Super Lead Overdrive) 100 is a benchmark in the evolution of the high-gain amp. The first time I played through one, I nearly wet myself. That’s what the SLO is all about. The Super Lead Overdrive 100 is still available and hasn’t changed in over 15 years. Smooth, silky and gnarly overdrive is the lasting legacy of the SLO.

Marshall JCM800
Introduced in the ‘80s, the JCM800 solidified the Marshall brand as a legendary rock amplifier. I am a proud owner of an original model 2205 two-channel, 50W lead series with channel switching. She’s a rare one, and I will never part with her, so don’t even ask. In the early ‘80s the JCM800 line was a pivotal launch for the company, unveiling highly sought after features, such as an effects loop, and most importantly, a master volume. The legendary overdrive and distinctive throaty midrange of the JCM800 make this amp a milestone on the road of rock history. I used to add an original MXR Micro Amp in line to put a bit more hair in an already formidable gain circuit.

Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier
Here is another design that was instrumental in the launch of the new metal and alternative tones of the mid-nineties. I am a proud owner of one of the earlier models: two channels, with the original armadillo chrome front. The Rectifier is known for its incredibly heavy, thick, overdriven channel, as well as its glassy and shimmering clean channel. A Strat through the clean channel of this amp is to die for. You can almost get this too clean. Vintage-Modern switches on both channels add to the tone palate, in effect, giving you four channels of highly distinctive Mesa rectified tone. This one is certainly responsible for launching the modern day-rectified tone.

These are just a few of my favorite vintage, and soon to be vintage, amps. I could go on all day, but I don’t have the bandwidth. There are more worth mentioning, for sure—Laney AOR 30, Matchless DC-30, Mesa SOB (Son of Boogie), Orange OR 50H, Roland Jazz Chorus, Fender Twin, Carvin X-100… well, you get the idea. This could truly be a three part series.

When it comes to amplifiers, I say crank ‘em up and piss off the neighbors. Dare ‘em to call the cops because, damn it, playing through a great amp will make you strong like bull! Smell that tone, melt the frickin’ tubes. When the smoke alarm finally goes off, and your kids ask, “Dad what’s that smell?” look at them and say proudly, “Smells like tone to me!”

Nuff Sed,
Trent Salter, Publisher

Trent reminisces on some sonic milestones that influenced his tone

I believe that at one time or another, each and every one of us experiences moments of divine tone intervention— occurrences that inspire us and forever shape our concept of tone. It can be a power chord, a passing riff, or some type of hook that sucks you into the twilight zone, kicks your ass and spits you back out—something you hear on the radio or television, in a club, or at a local music store. Who knows, perhaps even in an elevator somewhere after a visit to the dentist, while you drool helplessly on the person standing next to you. Regardless, you can undoubtedly recall when and where these fortuitous moments happen to you. Such occasions become turning points along the path of your relentless pursuit of tone, as cherished as memories of your first time crawling into the back seat at the drive-in when you were 16. I can certainly recall my own moments, so I thought I would share them with you. Here are my top five pinnacle moments of divine tone discovery:

1. Montgomery Ward Home Stereo, circa 1974. I couldn’t afford an amp, but I had a cool Harmony copy of a Gibson Byrdland Guitar. My first drummer had a Montgomery Ward home stereo in his basement with a 1/4” instrument input on the front, so I thought I’d experiment by plugging my guitar directly into it. Holy horse nipples, Batman! It was one of my earliest experiences of playing through an amp that would actually distort with increasing volume. The tone was so raspy and overdriven; it was an awesome feeling. Eventually, I blew up that stereo, and the drummer’s angry mother threw a shoe at me. (Funny how an amplifier sounds best right before it blows up.) It would not be the last time I blew something up, or had something thrown at me.

2. Kiss Alive, circa 1975. It was the very first album I ever purchased. I paid for it with money I made mowing lawns, and I was addicted from the first play. I loved Ace Frehley’s tone and the energy of that record. It inspired me to buy my first Japanese Les Paul copy. My parents thought I needed therapy when they saw me becoming a Kiss freak—to this day they believe it’s the reason I’m as weird as I am. I joined the Kiss Army, started painting my face and sticking my tongue out all the time. I still have that double EP on original vinyl. I loved it.

3. “More Than a Feeling,” Boston, circa 1976. Riding home from football practice in my sister’s Ford Fairlane, I was in seventh grade and had just formed my first band. I recall that song coming on the radio, and I cranked it up through the Jensen Triaxials (remember those?). I had never heard such a frickin’ huge guitar sound. It literally took my breath away—not only because of the amazing tone, but because of how “up front” the guitar was in the mix. I bet Tom Scholz kept nudging the guitar faders up during mixdown when the engineer went to the bathroom. Scholz’s thick tone and unbelievable sustain led me to the discovery of my first Rockman.

4. “Do You Feel Like We Do,” Peter Frampton, circa 1977. Still celebrated as one of the greatest live albums of all time, Frampton Comes Alive! was my introduction to the Talk Box and a three-pickup Les Paul Custom. I recall the tone on this particular track was very inspiring, and Frampton’s silky smooth style was so incredible, I still get goose bumps when I hear it—Nuff Sed.

5. “Eruption,” Van Halen, circa 1979. Although accolades for this stunning bit of tone history can be somewhat overstated, you cannot deny its impact. I can remember hearing “Eruption” for the first time and thinking, “This changes everything.” While everyone else flipped out about the hammer-ons and dive bombs, I flipped out on the tone. That natural tube compression on this piece of history was undeniably badass. It’s still regarded as one of rock’s greatest tones—and it created an entirely new generation of guitar players. Not since Hendrix had the industry experienced such an influential guitar hero.

Musical styles certainly come and go (I’m still trying to figure out how my twelve-year-old daughter went from Hannah Montana to Slipknot in less than six months). Regardless of changing styles, though, tone is tone. Discovering tone is a continuous journey, and it usually starts with inspiration from an artist. Premier Guitar strives to present you up-close and personal sessions with the artists who have inspired so many moments of divine tone intervention. We aim to truly drill down with gearcentric players who are willing to share their personal tone secrets. This issue is certainly no exception, featuring two of the very best: Alex Lifeson and Adrian Belew, two cats who certainly know tone.

It is inspiring to be inspired, so enjoy PG’s artist coverage, as well as our news, stories, gear reviews, audio and video at Speaking of inspiration, check out the twins in photo below: a matching pair—Ibanez Korina Explorer and Vee—early lawsuit models to die for.

Nuff Sed,

Trent Salter, Publisher

An orthopedic surgeon who builds guitars? Must be fate...

I’ve always been a firm believer that when it comes to the admiration and appreciation of guitars, there is literally one degree of separation among us. And man, do I have a cool story to support this theory.

Needless to say, we’ve been pretty jacked up about putting together this month’s hot rod theme issue. The resurgence of those eighties tone monsters reminds us that now, more than ever, we are enabled and encouraged to create the guitars of our dreams. Whether you’re turning a gank repair opportunity into a complete visual makeover, expanding the tonal possibilities of your favorite axe or creating a suppedup beast from the ground up, you are limited only by your imagination and your wallet. Back in the day, we were on our own. Do you remember Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo duct-taping that Big Muff to the body of his Strat in the early seventies? I can recall hot-rodding my $100 Japanese mail order Strat copy in the eighth grade—it had a natural finish with a knock-off large seventies headstock. The single coils were lame, so I routed a hole big enough to cram a Dimarzio Super D in the bridge. That’s a standard surgical procedure today, but boy was I scared to go down that path back then. I pulled it off, though—it sounded great, but geez was that route job crude! I had to pull a pickup ring off of an old Aims MPC 38 Les Paul copy (remember that built-in fuzz and phase shifter?) to conceal the mutilation.

So get this—as my nostalgia and the excitement about the production of this issue were coming full circle, I fell flat on my ass. Literally. We’re talking slip-on-the-ice, up-in-the-air and crash-back-down carnage, Fred Flintstone style. I broke my ankle in three places! The cracking sound is something I’ll never forget. Son of *****, that’s going to leave a mark.

Dr. Paul Dayton and his hand-built guitars
Something uncanny happened in the emergency room. As Dr. Paul Dayton, DPM, was checking out my x-rays and telling me that I had also ripped all the tendons and connecting tissues in my ankle, and fractured my Fibula (son of a *****!), he offered the inevitable small talk. He asked what I do for a living. Imagine our mutual surprise and genuine interest—FUBAR leg situation notwithstanding—when I told him I publish a guitar magazine and he told me he makes guitars as a hobby. The conversation quickly turned from hot-rodding my ankle to hot-rodding guitars. Dr. Dayton is a thirty-year veteran guitar player, collector and a pretty darn good guitar builder. I mean, this cat is into it. He has two sons who share the passion, too. My next visit with the doc was a pre-op consultation and a chance for him to show off two guitars he had just built. He cuts his own body blanks and does all his own routing from scratch. He even does his own finish work and assembly. Before I knew it, they were wheeling me in for surgery while Dr. Dayton and I were still talking about flamed maple, lower ohm pots, neck radius, pickup choices, etc.

The surgery went well. A few ankle screws and bolt-on necks later, our conversations about intonation are getting deeper, and my ankle is showing signs of recovery. The moral to this story is simple: the sanctuary of tone and the undeniable passion for guitars is universal and always just around the corner. I look forward to continuing my newly found gearhead friendship— perhaps we’ll hot-rod a few guitars together after we finish hot-rodding my ankle. The guitar doctor was in when I had my mishap, and I am grateful. I’m also damn glad I didn’t break my arm.