Thursday, December 17, 2020

Roland Cube Amps for Jazz


A while ago my son in law gave me a Cube 20 to store in my house. I had been reading about the Roland Cubes as budget jazz amps for many years but never taken them seriously. Never even tried one. Big mistake. Obviously, this amp was never intended as a jazz amp so it has some presets that are useless to me (metal stack, metal, distortion, overdrive) and I simply prefer amps without all that rock stuff so I ignored them. But .. after I fumbled around with the Cube 20 for a bit I found the clean setting and there it was, a nice clean useable jazz sound. I had to turn down the highs on the amp a quarter but left the rest flat. I decided to do a recording and miked the amp. The guitar is my ES 175.

A nice enough sound for such a little amp. Sure, you can hear it's a budget amp but with some fiddling around you can get a jazz sound. I took it to a rehearsal but it did not have enough headroom to sound good in a live setting. What do you expect with only 20 watts and an 8" speaker. I decided the 20 is a nice practice amp but not a giggable one. I figured a 12" and more powerful version of it could be gig worthy though. Unfortunately Roland is no longer producing them - they switched to the Katana series - so I had to find a used one. That was no real problem and expensive they were neiher ... I found one that was practically unplayed that I bought for 100 bucks. 

Same routine. After fumbling around and ignoring all the amp and digital effects that are on it I quickly discovered the clean setting (JS clean channel) and bingo ... nice enough sound. The amp was a bit too trebly for my taste with all EQ flat but I simply turned down the high and presence knobs. Both the Cube 20 and 60 do sound a bit trebly and even a bit shrill with the EQ flat. In my experience, the weak spot of a budget amp is often the unpleasant highs and the Cubes are no exception. So you have to turn them down for a classic jazz sound. My Mambo Jazz amp - which is way more expensive - has a more balanced sound in all registers but that is a way more expensive amp.

I miked the Roland Cube 60 and recorded a tune with my Ibanez FG 100. Note the 60 has more bottom end and "body' to its sound than the 20. Probably much more headroom on a stage too, but I still have to find that out. Here's my Ibanez FG 100 played through my Cube 60. In my virtual studio I added some reverb.


The bottom line for these amps is that you get a whole lot more than you pay for. Sure, these are NOT jazz amps per sé but you can get a decent jazz sound of them. I'd go for the ones with a 12" speaker. Like I said, the Cube series has largely been replaced by the Katana series but on the used market there are plenty Cubes floating around. I have seen lots of Cube 20, 30, 40, 60 and even 80s for sale on the web! For, give or take, 100 bucks you get a decent rehearsal and even gigging amp so you won't have to take your top dollar jazz amp with you all the time ... 

For some specs on the Roland Cube 60 click here. 

I still have to do compare the Cube 60 with my Katana 50 but that is for later.



Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Interview with Christiaan van Hemert



He plays both the guitar and the violin very well. He has played with countless high profile gypsy jazz artists. He has toured with the Rosenberg trio for 7 years. He blends gypsy and bebop guitar seamlessly. He is a rising star as an online jazz guitar educator. As such he produces very slick videos with catchy titles and in addition teaches at the Rotterdam conservatory. He has invented his own jazz guitar system. He promotes playing rather than studying theory. What a guy! High time to interview my country man Christiaan van Hemert

Do you perceive yourself primarily as a violinist or as a guitarist?
Last year I would have said "violinist" but now with the Corona pandemic and my YouTube channel being solely about jazz guitar I'd probably have to say "guitarist". Basically I have canceled all my live performances for this year myself after the first 10 got canceled and I am only doing YouTube vids and teaching at my University for now.

How would you define your own style?
It's very much in the middle of gypsy jazz and bebop. I'm greatly influenced by Django, Stochelo Rosenberg and Bireli Lagrene on the gypsy jazz side and by Peter Bernstein, Ulf Wakenius, Martijn van Iterson and Pasquale Grasso on the bebop/contemporary side. I listened to many guitar players but these were my favourites and therefore the most important in my development as a guitarist.


At what age did you start playing the violin? Or was the guitar first? With whom/what did you study? Did you have any formal training?
I started classical violin at age 8. I have a bachelor's degree both in violin and jazz double bass.

When did you first come into contact with gypsy jazz?
My father played Django and Grappelli albums when I was kid and I always wanted to play it but of course I had no idea how to start to learn how to improvise. The real interest in gypsy jazz came when I met Stochelo Rosenberg in 2006/2007. I worked first with him for a tour I did as an arranger/conductor with a large big band combination. He got me interested in learning how to improvise by just transcribing and studying Grappelli solos. I became obsessed and 3 years later I started touring with the Rosenberg Trio as a violinist, which I did for 7 years.


When did you start to study jazz music seriously?
I had jazz violin lessons with a teacher starting at age 13 but I never really got the hang of actually playing it. I mostly picked up lots of jazz theory which led to my career as an arranger. Playing the actual music didn't really start after I met Stochelo Rosenberg.
I did study jazz double bass which is pretty weird, now that I think of it. I found that to be a pretty easy thing to study but not long after I graduated I actually sold my bass and never played it again. I didn't really enjoy playing it. I know, very weird!

How is it even possible that you play two instruments so well?
I actually play 7 instruments, of which 5 on a semi professional to professional level (violin, mandolin, guitar, double bass and bandoneon). I just studied each one for thousands of hours, that's basically it.

How has your musical career developed over the years?
From classical violinist to jazz double bassist, to tango bandoneonist to conductor/arranger to jazz violinist to jazz guitarist. I have played concerts in all those styles in too many countries to list. Right now...it's all YouTube.

When did you start teaching?
I was offered a job by the Rotterdam University of the Arts in 2009.

Do you consider the gypsy jazz language as much different from the bebop language?
Yes, although a lot of it is also determined by which guitar you are playing (Selmer or archtop) and if there's a rhythm guitar or drums behind it. Since my vocabulary is in the middle, it's easy to adapt to both styles.


When you teach do you primarily focus on the gypsy style of jazz? What if people want to learn bebop?
It's really a 50/50 mix. My Patreon site is a good example of this. Every time I produce a bunch of Gypsy jazz lessons in a row some people start asking for more bebop lessons and the other way around. I think my Patron has probably a 60/40 distribution of pure Gypsy versus pure bebop/contemporary players.


Can you tell us something about your current activities as an educator?
Right now my university is trying to adapt to the Corona times and focusing a lot of attention on online presentations, video performances and entrepreneurship. Since I have built an expertise in this field I teach courses on that. I also function as an a member and chairman in exams for all departments (classical, jazz and world music).

From your videos, I noticed you have some very interesting ideas on jazz pedagogy. Could you share some of them?
I don't really believe in learning how to play jazz by studying lots of theory. That was the first route I was presented myself and it didn't work. Still, I did become quite knowledgeable in music theory, which is a handy skill to have teaching at a University.  Being able to actually play the music came through emulating the people I admired and listened to every day. So that's what I try to teach on my channel: great solos, phrases, licks, chord voicings, timing and ideas I pick up by transcribing solos that I love. I try to stay away from music theory as much as possible.


Is it true that gypsy guitarists like Stochelo and Bireli know no theory at all and that they often do not know the names of the chords they are playing? If so, how did they learn the trade?
All true, they start out by connecting certain licks/phrases to specific chords shapes without using any names (they don't know the names). They keep working on new tunes, with new chord shapes and learning more and more phrases. In the meantime they gain more and more freedom with the phrases and find personal ways of playing them.

What is the main reason people should work with your instructional videos, so ... why are they effective in your opinion?
The main reason is that you'll be busy with good sounding music with a guitar in your hand from the first minute you spend on my lessons until the last minute. No boring theoretical exercises, pointless scales or bland arpeggios. Just awesome phrases and tips on how to use them yourself.

Do you work as a performing or recording artist as well? With whom do you play regularly? Violin or guitar?
I have played violin/viola on countless film scores. I have been a sideman on many album in both tango and jazz. Currently I'm recording an album with jazz pianist Guillaume Marcenac as a guitarist. There's also a series on my YouTube channel with a recording project I did during quarantine called "The Quarantine Series". Lots of jazz and tango there as well. I'm also an experienced recording/mixing and mastering engineer so I work quite a lot on that side of the equation as well.

Do you ever gig as a mainstream jazz player in a regular jazz setting? Do you adapt your style if you do?

Yes I do. I don't really adapt my style since my vocabulary is already adapted to both styles, I just change to an archtop.

Your top 5 jazz albums please ...
  • Django in Rome (any compilation of these recordings, Django and Grappelli at their most genius and great old style piano playing by Safred)
  • Nat King Cole Trio (any album, always gets me in a good mood, great arrangements, great singing, great piano playing and pleasant guitar playing)
  • Where Are You (Sinatra, not jazz but I had to mention it. Sinatra's singing here is heart breakingly beautiful and Gordon Jenkin's arrangements here are works of art)
  • "Signs of Life" - Peter Bernstein (but I could have put many Bernstein albums here because I haven't heard one I didn't love)
  • "Two The Max" - Ray Brown Trio with James Morrison (amazing playing by everyone involved and so swinging, it's really a must listen).
Any future plans we should know about?
There's still a bunch of past plans that were canceled. I try not to plan ahead at this time. I stick with my YouTube channel for now and we'll see what the world is like this time next year.

Thanks for the interview Christiaan!

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Joy Spring

 

One of the tunes that I always return to is Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring." You could say that I am a bit obsessed with that tune. I remember studying Clifford's solo on the classic take with Max Roach note for note way back in the 90s when I was starting out on jazz. I played the solo over and over and still could not duplicate the dreaded double time bars (17-23) in real time for years ... Such beautiful and sometimes dazzling bebop lines. How on earth did he come up with those on the spot? Clifford is telling a marvellous bebop tale with a beginning and an end. With questions and answers. With all kinds of rhythmic variations and little surprises. A bebop masterpiece. The tune was first recorded in a studio session led by Clifford on August 6, 1954, at Capitol Recording Studios, in Los Angeles, with Harold Land (tenor sax), Richie Powell (piano), George Morrow (bass), and Max Roach (drums). 

If you are interested in lifting a few II V licks from Brownie's classic solo click here for a tutorial I made many years ago.

I played that solo for years but only in 2019 was I able to record it in real time over the original track, in unisono with a scat lady singer. 

And then there is Joe Pass' take on this classic tune ... It appeared on a live recording made in Los Angeles in 1964. The whole album is classic Joe Pass and over the years many references have been made on several internet fora to this particular recording as being among the best recorded jazz guitar sound ever, if not THE best. I have written on that particular sound earlier here.  The whole album is easily among Joe's best work and features essential Joe Pass listening! For a full transcription of his solo on "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" (tabs included)  click here

Joe plays the head of "Joy Spring" in the lower register. Ever since I heard him do that I have played it like that as well. For a transcription (tabs included) of how he plays the head click here.

Joe has always been a huge inspiration to me, especially the "Joy Spring" album. That sound is in my head. Here's my own take on "Joy Spring." I keep going back and back to that tune. Joy Spring forever!







Sunday, November 29, 2020

1952 Gibson ES 350 versus 1998 Gibson Tal Farlow


My last entry from august was about the vintage ES 350 that I purchased last winter. I have always been fascinated by this model ever since I heard Tal Farlow's classic trio recordings from the mid 1950s. 
We all know that Tal designed his own "Gibson Tal Farlow"signature model in the early 1960s in collaboration with the Gibson company. It was modeled after the ES 350 that he had played until that time. 

I have owned a Gibson Tal Farlow for 15 years and always loved it. At the time it was the closest I could get to a vintage Gibson ES 350, a model which was pretty rare in Europe and totally unaffordable for me at the time. 

Back to the present day. So I have had the 350 - the "original Tal Farlow" one could say - since early spring and have made several recordings with it already. It is of a much lighter build than my Tal - which is very typical of 1950s ES guitars -  and therefore more resonant. It actually has a very nice acoustic sound for a laminate guitar. The Tal is heavier and of a stiffer build but .... still sounds great plugged in. Of course the question I have always asked myself is "how does my (contemporary) Tal Farlow compare with the "real" thing, my 1950s ES 350? 

Firstly, one has to consider the fact that the Tal's specs are not exactly the same as the 350's. The body of Tal's signature model is of a heavier build, is slightly less deep and it has humbuckers whereas the 350 is fitted with P90 pick ups. There is a wooden bridge on the 350 and the Tal has a TOM. Secondly, one could argue that sound is "in the fingers" and that the same player will sound more or less the same on different guitars. And then there is the "vintage" thing, old woods dried in the open versus later oven dried woods and different production methods ... There are many variables in the equation that probably make it impossible to isolate the influence of one particular variable. All that is true. Still, it is very interesting to me and fun really to find out how they sound in a side by side comparison. 

I recorded both guitars through my Mambo 10 jazz amp with the same settings and with all EQ flat, both on the guitars and the amp. I have the same strings on them (0.12 TI Jazz swings) and I used the same pick even. I was especially interested in tonal differences in a bop style of playing so I went for single lines over a loop on the progression of "Some Day My Prince Will Come."

Tell me what you think. From listening to the tracks, I think that Gibson did a very good job on the re-issue Gibson Tal Farlow. The differences are there yes, but the similarities in sound are even more prominent. Amazingly so really, 1952 versus 1998 ... O yeah, for a realistic assessment use some real speakers dudes ... 







Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Gibson ES 350


It's s been a very long time since I posted something on my Blog. As a matter of fact this is the first post of the year. Not sure why that is, it just happened. So I have some catching up to do. I have had this wonderful Gibson ES 350 for half a year and have not even shared that fact here.               

                 

Ever since I first listened to Tal's 1950s trio recordings in the mid 90s I have been in love with this model. Those woody and punchy bebop sounds just blew me away ... The guitar that Tal played at the time was featured prominently on the cover of his album "The Swinging Guitar of ..."and it was a Gibson ES 350. In the early 60s Gibson used the ES 350 as a blue print for his own signature model "The Gibson Tal Farlow", a model I have written on several times earlier. Still, the 350 remained a dream guitar for me for decades. I noticed they were expensive and very rare - especially in Europe - and therefore I settled on a beautiful 1947 Gibson ES 300 a few years ago. I did not think I would ever own a 350 and the 300 was close enough for me.

And of course, only a year later there she was ... After not having seen a 350 in my country for sale for over 20 years - a 300 is rare enough in these parts - I got a message from the owner of the Guitar Company that he was willing to part with his personal guitar, a blonde 1952 ES 350. I knew the guitar because I had already played it when I obtained the ES 300 from him. At that time it was not for sale because it was in his personal collection.

I was generously allowed to try out the 350 for a week and after a lot of thinking I decided to take the plunge and bought it. I have had it for over six months now and have sold the 300 in the meantime. The 350 is a dream come true and ... mine is a blonde to boot!

Let's go back to the model itself. After the war. The ES 300 was Gibson's top model in the ES series. The ES-350 was introduced in 1947 as a cutaway version of the ES-300. When this instrument was made a cutaway was still a novel offering; all of Gibson's (and basically everyone else's) previous electrics were built on non-cutaway bodies. As players figured out that amplification made those notes up the fingerboard more musically useful, the cutaway became a defining feature of a professional guitar in the 1950s. In many ways, this instrument set the standard for the "Gibson look" of that era.

Originally the ES 350 featured a single P-90 pickup and a trapeze tailpiece. It was called the ES 350 Premier. A second P-90 was added in 1948, and a switch to a Tune-o-matic bridge was made in 1956.

Let's have a look at the specs of the 350 over its 10 year career. The model was discontinued in 1956 and was then replaced by the ES 350t.

Body Material: Laminated maple body and top, full-depth 17-inch/21″ long. Neck Material: Two piece maple neck with walnut center strip. Fingerboard Material: Brazilian Rosewood with double parallelogram inlays. It seems a few 350s with spruce tops were made too but these are even rarer.




  1. 1947 ES 350 Premier:1 P-90 pickup, trapeze tailpiece with pointed ends and 3 raised parallelagrams, laminated beveled-edge pickguard, triple bound top and back, single bound peghead and fingerboard, double-parallelagram fingerboard inlays, crown peghead inlay, gold plated parts, sunburst or natural finish.
  2. 1948 ES-350 specs:2 P-90 pickups, 2 volume knobs on lower treble bout, master tone knob on cutaway bout.
  3. 1952 ES-350 specs:standard Gibson 2-PU knob configuration of 2 volume knobs and two tone knobs and a 3-way switch.
  4. 1956 ES-350 specs:Tune-o-matic bridge. 

Mine is a gorgeous blonde1952 with 2 P90 pups and with the master tone knob on the cutaway bout and the 2 volume knobs on the lower bout. 67 blonde ES 350 have left the Gibson factory in 1952 so it's a pretty rare bird.                                                   

I have made quite a few recordings with it over the last months. Below is my latest vid. I ran the 350 through my Mambo 10 amp and added some reverb later. All EQ on both the guitar and the amp were set flat. 













Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Mystery of Wes' Blonde L5 Solved





As you may recall, a few days ago I posted a story about a blonde 1960 L5 associated with Wes Montgomery that I played at the owner's house. And indeed, it was the guitar that was undoubtedly featured on at least one album cover of him, I concluded. If Wes owned it or ever recorded with it I was not sure of and I thought that was to remain a mystery. Not so! A French guitarist reacted to my Blog post with an article that had been written about the guitar in a French guitar magazine and it gave some definitive answers as to what the association of Wes with this particular guitar really was. It even stated the serial number!

So the article was in French but fortunately my French is good enough to be able to read and interpret most of it directly. If you can read French, just click on the article on the left. If not, carry on ...


The bottom line of the article is simple. Wes never owned this guitar and he therefore probably never played it or recorded with it. The guitar was provided by Gibson for a publicity shoot because Wes was under contract with Gibson and he held the guitar during ONE foto session of which the photos were used for at least 3 albums: Full House, Boss Guitar and Wes and Friends. Actually Wes is wearing the same clothes on all of the pics that you see on the different shots from this photo shoot, though the lighting of the pics may suggest otherwise ...

I ran the text trough Google translate and edited it where it screwed up. An interesting detail in the article is a second clue - next to the veins in the pickguard - that gives away the identity of this guitar. On the inlay of the headstock a small motif is missing, to the right of the amphora, probably where some varnish was sprayed over it. Of course the third clue is the definitive one: the serial number in the article is a match with the number on the guitar.

I was kind of puzzled by the last sentence in the article but my French friend told me it was just a joke. So mystery solved. Still, a very cool guitar huh! I played a guitar that was held by Wes indeed. 


Here's the full translation of the article:

                          Rare Bird Gibson L5 CESN Top Model
If an L-5 cannot be, strictly speaking, considered as a rarity, the copy that we present here is a real one. This guitar, ladies and gentlemen, is a “Top Model who posed in the hands of a top guitarist among the top players, Wes Montgomery." Her serial number is A 32991 and she was born in I960. However, this guitar did not belong to Wes, his L5s always being sunburst and not natural. So here's how things must have happened: the photos of the different covers were taken during one and the same session (Wes is dressed in the same way), and this guitar was probably borrowed, because the photos were also to be used as promotion for Gibson, with whom Wes was under contract. This guitar was then sold a first time before being re-purchased by the present owner."And how can you be so sure that this is the same instrument?" This is where we were waiting for you ... Because, dear friend, we have two clues that allow us to authenticate it without a doubt. First, on the inlay of the headstock a small motif is missing, to the right of the amphora. Or rather, it is not missing, it is under the varnish which has not been removed on that spot. Secondly, the veins of the pickguard, like the fingerprints of the thug, do not deceive: we rarely meet identical patterns. This is what allows us to say that you have before you the model held in the prestigious hands of Wes Montgomery. A great destiny for the L5, which, after holding the top of the hill in jazz, would be at the forefront of epic rock in the hands of the equally prestigious Scottv Moore, this before it was unfaithful to the beautiful eyes of a super 400 CESN, her too...


Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Mystery of Wes' Blonde L5



We all know the sunburst "Heart" L5 that Wes used throughout his career. You see that guitar on many pics and in many vids. It's the one you hear on a substantial part of his recorded output and it's the guitar that Wes is mostly associated with. But how about that blonde L5 that is featured on the cover of Wes' classic album "Full House?" And on the cover of "Wes and Friends?" There's actually several photo's of him holding or playing a blonde L5 CES.

Last year an internet acquiantance I have known for a few years told me he had purchased a severely damaged 1960 blonde L5 CES that had a connection with Wes. He was going to have it restored by a luthier and I kind of forgot about it afterwards. A month ago I noticed he had a winered 2007 L5 for sale and I decided to check that one out. Meanwhile the blonde 1960 L5 had been completely restored so he told me. Of course a visit was highly interesting now. I immediately saw an opportunity to write a Blog post on the blonde L5 that Wes might have played! Was it the one featured on the cover of "Full House?" Off to his place!

Considering the damage it had suffered, the guitar proved to be in really great shape now. And it played like a dream. It was of a much lighter build than the winered 2007 L5 and the neck was the most comfortable profile I have ever played on an L5. What a guitar ... The downside was that after playing the 1960 L5 I lost all interest in the 2007, for which I had come originally. The 1960 L5 was almost a different guitar. Lighter, more responsive and with a superior feel overall.


We  discussed the guitar and the owner showed me a picture of the cover of "Wes and Friends" and it was obvious that the pattern on the pickguard of the guitar Wes is holding was identical to the pickguard on the guitar that was lying on his couch. See for yourself:


There is very little doubt that in my mind that this was indeed the guitar Wes is holding on that album cover. Pfff .... exciting stuff. I played the guitar of course and the owner took some shots and videos with my iPhone. Not super quality but you get an idea.
Laminated maple back

nicely flamed neck
So did Wes own this guitar? Did he play it? Record with it? We don't really know. The only thing we know is that this blonde L5 was featured on at least one album cover with Wes holding it. Maybe the guitar was only used for publicity shots, as some have stated. It's all just guess work. If you know something, let us know!




Here's another short clip with the guitar. Since this clip was shot with an iPhone too, sound quality is so so and not really representative of what the guitar sounds like.