Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Oscar Peterson On Guitar

In the mid 2000s I came across a video of a young guy playing over an insanely fast Oscar Peterson solo. It was really an extraordinary feat and I was surprised to find out it was a countryman of mine named Wim den Herder. This solo generated quite some publicity for him. Over the years I kind of lost touch with his career but when I did recently, I found a few astonishing videos and info on him. When he was just 13 years old, he won the Dutch National Guitar Awards and in 2003 he began his jazz studies at the Amsterdam Conservatory, from which he graduated in 2008. In 2009 Wim founded The Guitar Academy, a guitar training school. Upon revisiting the spectacular Oscar Peterson solos once gain - there were a few more than I thought - I decided to ask him about his motives to tackle such hard stuff on guitar. Dudes, if this won't blow you away in terms of dedication and practise regime, I'm not sure what will ....

How did you get the idea to play Ocar Peterson on guitar? 

When I heard this solo (Just Friends) I immediately thought that it would be impossible to reproduce it on guitar. But I had tried this earlier with a solo when I was 16. You decide to stick firmly until you can do it. That decision and the discipline is extremely motivating. Either you fail or you become a better player.

How long did it take you to get the first Peterson solo under your fingers?

It went faster than I had expected. It took me 16 hours to figure out the 60 seconds of the solo and another 8 hours to record it. So after 3 days I had it on Google video and later Youtube.

What happened then?

It was the best thing that had happened to me. I got mails from Paul Reed Smith and Oscar Peterson's daughter. Later Jennifer Batten even recognised me backstage. When I invite guitarists over to Amsterdam, I always send them the vid first. A video like that that going viral  opens all kinds of doors. Its impact is hard to measure but of course it made me a better player.

I noticed a video of a live performance of that solo. What's the story on that?

When I was to play that same solo live on stage, I studied it at 115% speed, because live your level of playing always goes down a bit. This way I had the feeling that I could do more than was required. This took me another week of studying, about 25 hours.
By the way, many people think when they see a number like that "oh, that's not too bad" but try focusing on ONE solo like that for 25 hours. It feels like a very long time.

What other Oscar Peterson solos did you study later?

I recorded another three solos. Sweet Georgia Brown, The Boogie Woogie and one of which I do not know the name. I called it "Tribute to Oscar Peterson."

 Sweet Georgia Brown


Boogie Woogie

Tribute to Oscar Peterson

Pfff ... Totally insane stuff. On your Youtube page I came across a Rhythm Changes etude. How about that one?

What you do every day will grow over time. It was a bit like going on holiday and sorting out what to take with you ... By this I mean that the list becomes longer and longer but by sheer force of repetition you are able to remember all the items. I composed a new chorus every year. It eventually grew into a 5 minute lick with 3000 notes. I think improvisation is not completely free. You learn all kinds of stuff by composing and then putting it all together live on stage. Just like an expert in a talkshow who has gained knowledge over the years. Every day you can compose a perfect solo and live you use the material available. Live improvisation is about 10% freedom and about 90% preparation.

How did your career go after that?

It was much more subtle than just the attention the videos generated. I was able to play better lines and I got better at jam sessions. I had all these licks under my fingers. Also, in excersises like that you often you end at the third and then you have to think of something new. One of the best ways to learn how to improvise is to play transcribed solos!

You are not the typical archtop guitarist. Most of the times you are playing an acoustic guitar. Why is that? 

I prefer the sound of Maton guitars: open, lots of clarity and with more expression. In addition, I like styles that are guitar oriented like metal, blues, fingerstyle and gypsy jazz. In jazz, guitarists often try to sound like horn players and roll off the treble and leave out vibrato. I think that diminishes the sound of the guitar itself. Probably just a a matter of taste.

What are you up to these days?

I'll be demonstrating "Wimpicking" at Troy Grady's Youtube channel shortly. Wimpicking is a technique which allows you to play multiple guitar parts simultaneously with only one pick. It becomes even possible to strum and play a bass line at the same time with a pick, three to four, like this:

Or you can play a power chord and a melody like this:

The secret is that you can do this if you break it up into small parts (usually 4 notes) and then if you practise real slow, eventually you can do it. Over time you'll be able to do it fast with 2560 notes! Just take your time.

Thanks for the interview Wim!

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Gibson ES 300

Many of you will have seen and heard my latest acquisition, a 1947 Gibson ES 300. I had to trade in my 1963 Barney Kessel though. She did not come cheap and I am not a collector ... But what a stunner she is. 72 years old and still in mint condition. Truly a closet queen. Even the original frets show little to no wear. She spent decades in her case in a collection. No longer so! This baby deserves to be heard! For, she's the Godmother of the laminate Gibson ES guitars as we know them!

highly figured top, back and sides
Some specs first. My new blonde beauty showcases a 17”-wide body with highly flamed maple top, back, and sides; a 1-piece mahogany neck; a 20-fret bound 25 1/2” scale rosewood fretboard with split parallelogram inlays; a bound headstock with a pearl crown inlay; P 90 pup in neck position, multi ply pickguard.  She still carries the old Gibson script logo. Gibson introduced the new block logo in the same year. The blondes are very rare.  I did not find any production numbers on the ES 300 apart from the fact that only 83 ES-300 examples in natural finish were built in 1948. On the current vintage market, the blondes are considered more desirable and therefore more expensive than the ones that have a sunburst finish. 

old script logo

But let's have a look at some guitar history see to find out where the ES 300 stands in the Gibson lineage.
1936 ES 150

The first ever Electric Spanish (ES) guitar introduced by Gibson was the ES 150. The year was 1936. It was a 16" archtop that was fitted with a CC pickup.. The smaller ES 100 appeared in 1937 and the more ornate 17" ES 250 after 1938.

1940 ES 300
In 1940, the ES-250 was replaced by the ES-300. It featured the same 17”-wide maple body and carved spruce top as its predecessor, but now a new long diagonal pickup was added. The market did not like it much and in 1941 a shorter but still diagonal pickup debuted in 1941. Because of the outbreak of World War II in december of that year production of electric guitars gradually ground to a halt.

After the war, a line of Electric Spanish guitars was reintroduced during 1946. It included a modified version of the older 1940 ES-300. The new edition was made from laminated maple and a mahogany neck. Gibson figured that carved solid spruce was not necessary for an electric guitar, for, string vibrations were amplified by a pickup anyway. The ES 300 was equipped with one of the newly designed P-90 pickups in the neck position. Later, in 1949, the ES-300 got a second bridge pickup. Vintage Guitar Magazine states that early post war models were highly transitional. Some had P90 pups with adjustable poles, others with no poles at all. Also, some were constructed with highly figured woods whereas other examples were constructed mostly using mahogany, sometimes for all of the body. I remember playing such an all mahogany ES 300 a few years ago. The modern block logo was introduced during 1947-48 and the multi ply pickguard replaced the bound one in the same year.

For a few years, the ES-300 stood as the fanciest electric archtop in Gibson’s lineup. It was the guitar that Django Reinhardt used during his US tour with Duke Ellington.

Gypsyjazz UK writes:"Django arrived in the U.S on 29th October 1946 to tour with the Duke Ellington Orchestra as a guest soloist; the tour would transit the East coast and would include 2 concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York ... Django arrived in New York without a Guitar but the William Morris Agency acquired a Gibson ES-300 with a hybrid amplifier just before their 1st Concert on 4th November." 

Listen to the recording above. Don't be fooled by the pics. Django is playing a Gibson ES 300 here. Wow, and how great and modern he sounds on it. Note that lick at 0.47  Joe Pass has stolen from him later and that you hear often in Joe's playing. You can also hear that Django lick in a Joe Pass etude from his "On Guitar" book here. And that flurry of notes at 2.09 is incredible for that era. It is so bebop ... Note the applause of the audience after it. They recognize the greatness of what they are hearing.

The reign of the ES-300 ended in ’47, when a new model The ES-350, a cutaway version of the 300, became the new top electric model. By the time the ES-5, yet another electric archtop king, appeared in ’49, the writing was on the wall. Few pros were using non-cutaway electrics and the 300 was discontinued in ’52.

By the way, one of the most famous solos in rock and roll history was played on a Gibson ES 300. Yeah, I am talking about Danny Cerone's  solo in Bill Haley's "Rock around the Clock."

Enough history now. How does it sound? Well, pretty darned good.
I have always preferred Gibson ES guitars and, like I said earlier,  this is the Godmother of them. The sound is unmistakably vintage ES. Woody, rich and very classic. This guitar breathes bebop!

Here's "Body and Soul"on the ES 300.

And here's "Round Midnight." 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Interview with Erwin van Waardenburg from the Guitar Company

A few weeks ago I purchased a stunningly beautiful 1947 Gibson ES 300 at The Guitar Company. Of course that was a great opportunity to ask Erwin, the owner, some questions. So here we go ...

You started to collect vintage guitars at a pretty young age. How did that go about?

I was quite young when I began collecting and studying vintage guitars. It all started when I was about 10 years old. My brother and sister already played guitar and my father asked me if that was something I would like too. I liked ACDC and Led Zeppelin a lot so it seemed like a good idea. Together with my parents I bought my first guitar at Dijkman in Breda. It was a Silvertone SG model.

When I was 14, I once went shopping with my parents im Antwerp. There was a small store where I saw and fell in love with a Gibson Les Paul double cut. I started saving and checked the store regularly if the guitar was still there. Finally I could buy it and though I paid too much for it, at 14, I was the proud owner of a Gibson guitar.

My first real vintage guitar I bought when I was 15. At the time I was already infected with the vintage virus and I borrowed money from my parents to buy a 1971 Gibson SG special. I was only allowed to play it after I had repaid my debt.

What music do you play yourself?

My first project was a Surf band. After that I played in a rock and blues band. But my real love was rockabilly and country music so I was soon in a band that played that type of music. Right now I would like to start a bluegrass band.

You have a passion for Gibson hollow bodies. Why is that?

I have a passion for Americana. Bluegrass, western swing, jump blues, country, rockabilly. I used to listen to Brian Setzer a lot. On holiday in Germany I bought my first Gretsch. After that I owned several non vintage Gretsch guitars, White Falcons, Black Falcons, 6120’s, Country Classics, Country Gentlemans, Duo Jets, Firebirds etc. I could not afford a collection so it was a matter of buying and trading in. I must have tried out all of the Gretsch models. Then I came across a Gibson ES-225T from 1956 and I was hooked on vintage guitars. Now that was a guitar with mojo. The neck only had 50% of the original finish and it felt and looked great. I sold all the Gretsches and started to collect vintage Gibson hollow bodies. I once even sold my car to be able to afford a guitar.

You own what is probably my dream guitar, a 1950s ES 350. How did you acquire that one?

That’s a nice story. I have always thought the ES 350 was the ultimate Gibson hollow body. I had been looking for one in Europe but to no avail. So I placed an ad and forgot about it over time. One night an older gentleman called me and told me he had one. Let’s call him Frank. Frank had seen the guitar being played by Lloyd Davis on his European tour with Willis Jackson. Apparently Davis died in Antwerp during that tour and the guitar went back to the USA. However, via a befriended trader, Frank was able to purchase it in 1980.
When I visited Frank to buy the guitar I had to audition. At first he did not like what I was playing but when I played some jazz on it, he changed his mind and we agreed on a price. It has been my favorite guitar ever since. It turned out to be that the guitar I had been looking for so long was just half an hour’s drive away.

What are other favorites from your collection?

I have owned many great guitars over the years. Many ES models from the 40s and 50s and 1950s Les Pauls. A highlight was last year when I found a Les Paul from 1959 in the Netherlands.
Right now I have a 1961 Gibson ES 335 for sale. An insanely resonant guitar.

What was your worst buy?

A 1956 Gretsch Firebird. It had all kinds of issues – a screw was drilled in the neck pocket - and I had it restored for a lot of money. Later I had trouble selling it and had to let it go for way under my asking price.

Why did you start The Guitar Company?
I am crazy about vintage guitars. I read about them every day. Much to my girl friend’s annoyance haha. When I was still very young I was buying and trading in guitars all the time. I met many people and built up some kind of network. Sometimes I made a profit. 
After my studies (art academy with specialization online marketing) I started a design agency. So I already knew how to market a product and when I noticed the average offering of local stores I thought I could do a better job.
With the Guitar Company I want to focus on quality vintage guitars. I rather have 30 good guitars than 100 medicocre ones in my collection. It’s the only way to stand out in the market.

Where do you get your guitars?

Many clients think I buy from the USA. But the truth is that I get most of my guitars from my personal network.

Do you have any tips for buying a vintage guitar?

Knowledge is power. Focus on the guitar you want. Many great books on vintage guitars exist so be sure to study your literature. Do not buy from Ebay just like that. It takes experience to see if a guitar is original or if any repairs were done on it or are needed. A bad purchase can cost you a lot of money. For your first vintage guitar you had better seek out a vintage specialist.
And another thing. A vintage guitar is not a good guitar by definition. It is important to ask yourself if the guitar is really going to make you happy or if it is a worthwhile asset to your collection.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Guitar Company

Last  year I paid The Guitar Company in Breda a visit to check out some guitars. I promised the owner, Erwin van Waardenburg, that I would return later to check out his new location in Etten-Leur.

Last week I noticed an ad for a 1947 Gibson ES 300 and it happened to be a guitar that was for sale at the Guitar Company. The guitar looked so gorgeous that I was very interested and quickly made an appointment to check out that blonde beauty. Erwin promised me to bring his own 1952 ES 350, a model that I had never played and was very eager to hear! Together with Eva (my daughter) we made the trip on a sunny sunday.

Of course the ES 300 was great in all respect. Mint condition, no issues at all and even the original frets showed little sign of wear. A closet queen! I could hardly believe my eyes when I first saw her. Such an old guitar in such a great condition. And she sounded like you'd expect from a P90 equipped vintage Gibson. Classic bebop sounds. Like a real lady, she was not cheap so I had to leave my beloved 63 Barney Kessel behind to be able to afford her but I quickly knew she going with me. I'll do a separate Blog entry on the ES 300 with plenty of specs on this model later so I'll move on to the other guitars that I played. 

The second guitar I played was a blonde 1952 Gibson ES 350, the cutaway version of the ES 300 What a great axe. It had a super comfortable neck with plenty of wear - I always like that - and it was equipped with two P90 pups and, like the ES 300, simply oozed bebop. Apparently it once belonged to Lloyd Davis, who recorded with Stanley Turrentine and Willis Jackson a.o. In the market for vintage ES jazz boxes, this is probably the most desirable guitar money can buy. But with prices ranging from 8-10 k on the market, they are not very affordable instruments ... If you can live without the cutaway, the ES 300 is probably just as great. The big difference with the ES 300 is the neck. The 300 has a mahogany neck and the 350 a maple one, thus making the 350 an all maple guitar.

The next guitar was a bit of surprise to me. Erwin handed me a 1958 ES 225 and it took me only a few seconds to realise just how great it sounded. I mean, I am not used to playing thinlines that sound so huge. I am familiar with the ES 125t but the ES 225 is really a big step up from that model. It hardly sounded like a thinline and was more in vein with the 300 and 350 that I had just played. Big fat boppy sounds. And that from a thinline ...

Next was a 1952 Gibson ES 295. The quintessential rock and roll guitar. I had actually never played one earlier. Basically it's a 175 with some fancy appointments, like gold finish, different tailpiece, ivory colored pup covers and a pickguard with gold floral design. To me, it just sounded like a regular 50s ES 175. Fine sounding vintage guitar but you have to be willing to pay a hefty premium for the 50s rockabilly mystique ...

The last guitar I checked out was a 1961 Gibson ES 335. At 22k, by far the most expensive one in the house. Though I once owned an 80s 335, my experience with vintage ES 335s is limited. This one is probably kick ass but I simply prefer hollow bodies. It did sound pretty big for a 335, so much I noticed.  

For a short impression watch the vid below. However the lofi sound hardly does the guitars justice. And my playing is not very focused ...

We drank coffee, talked guitars, jammed some and then ....I went home with a beautiful 72 year old lady! Thanks Erwin (The Guitar Company) and thanks Eva for driving me and taking the pics!