Friday, November 21, 2014

Jeff Healey - A Unique Guitar Player

There have been more than a few self taught guitar players that play standard guitar on their lap. Thumbs Carllile comes to mind. And so does Jeff Healey.

Jeff Healey grew up in Toronto, Ontario. When he was only one year old he developed a rare cancer of the eyes called retinoblastoma.

Both eyes had to be surgically removed. He began playing the guitar at the age of three.

This is when he developed the style of playing the instrument flat on his lap. When he first started playing the guitar, Healey often played country music in the style of Chet Atkins and Luther Perkins, but his musical experience was wide-ranging.

He played guitar and trumpet in all the jazz and concert bands in his high school. While in high school, Healey and his friends liked to listen to music by guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Albert Collins, and Buddy Guy. Although he did not graduate from high school, Healey privately studied music theory, earning a certificate in harmony and arranging.

Healey claimed, because his unconventional style of holding the guitar made other band members uncomfortable. He formed his first band at age 15. Blues Direction played cover tunes at local venues. However Jeff really loved Jazz; the old time version.

At one point in his career he hosted a Jazz and Blues show on the FM radio station CIUT. The format on this show consisted of Jeff’s collection of vintage over 30,000 78 rpm gramophone records.

Jeff moved on from Blues Direction and formed the Jeff Healey Band with drummer Tom Stephen and bassist Joe Rockman and they played at local Toronto night spots.

Shortly after its formation, the Jeff Healey Band toured extensively, giving between 200 and 300 concerts annually in Canada for about two years. Not wanting to bore audiences visually, Healey adopted a more active concert style, roaming the stage, picking strings with his teeth, and playing with his guitar behind his head.

One night in late 1985 Healey and a friend went to hear Texas bluesmaster Albert Collins at a club in Toronto. Healey's friend convinced Collins to let the then 19-year-old Healey sit in for one song;

Collins kept Healey on stage for an hour and invited him to come back a few nights later to play with Collins's friend, guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. After the latter performance, Healey was flooded with calls for club dates. This is when he quickly put together The Jeff Healey Band; a trio with drummer Tom Stephen, whom he knew from jam sessions, and studio bassist Joe Rockman.

When BB King heard him play, he told Jeff, "I've never seen anything like it. Your execution is the best I've ever seen. Stick with it, and you'll be bigger than Stevie Ray Vaughan, Stanley Jordan, and B.B. King."

The Jeff Healey Band made a video demo tape with a Toronto based production company. Bassist Tom Stephen presented the tape to New York City record producers but he returned, unable to spark any interest—or so he thought. Several weeks later, however, the Jeff Healey Band was approached and signed by Arista Records. A contract was inked with Arista Records in 1988.



Jimmy Iovine
Healey was fortunate enough to team up with Jimmy Iovine as producer of his first LP. Iovine was asked to line the band up to appear in a movie that needed a soundtrack. The script called for a young blind blues-rock guitarist. It turns out the movies writer had seen The Jeff Healey Band play in Toronto and knew just what he wanted. The band set out to record the soundtrack which debuted as their first album.

Jeff was offered speaking parts in the Patrick Swayze film Road House. The Jeff Healey Band was asked to record the soundtrack and was offered speaking parts in Road House, a film starring actor Patrick Swayze.

This same year The Jeff Healey Band recorded the LP; See The Light. From this recording, the group had their first and only hit song; Angel Eyes. Angel Eyes hit number five on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1989. Road House opened the door for The Jeff Healey Band.

They  made guest appearances on the major TV talk shows. The group was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.





Receiving Juno Award
In 1990 The Jeff Healey Band won the Juno Award for Canadian Entertainer of the Year. The next albums were Hell to Pay and Feel. From these recordings, Healey and the group had ten charting singles between 1990 and 1994.






U.K. EP
Healey was fortunate enough to record a version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps which featured George Harrison and Jeff Lynne on backing vocals and acoustic guitar. The album, Hell to Pay,  also featured Mark Knopfer and Paul Schaeffer. Four of the songs on this recording were Healey originals.




Healey's final album for Arista was 1995's Cover to Cover. This was a collection of blues and rock covers such as the Beatles' "Yer Blues" and Stealer Wheels' "Stuck in the Middle with You," rearranged to fit Healey's stomping blues style. Although it became a number one Blues album, it did not dent the pop market.

Healey’s days in the Pop – Blues/Rock market were numbered. In 2000 Healey released another LP called Get Me Some. It is apparent in this album that Jeff began to concentrate more on Jazz than Rock.

He released three CD’s of traditional American jazz music of songs from the 1920’s and ‘30’s.

In this venue he also played trumpet, which he also played in live performances.

He started a new group called Jeff Healey’s Jazz Wizards. He also went back to hosting radio for the CBC and did a show called My Kind of Jazz. The show went on to air in repeat performances. Jeff went on to tour and also perform at a Jazz club he opened on Bathurst Street in Toronto called Healey’s.


This club later moved to 56 Blue Jays Way and was renamed Jeff Healey’s Roadhouse.

Throughout the years Healey had toured with many other performers including The Allman Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, BB King, ZZ Top, Steve Lukather, Eric Clapton and Deep Purple.

He had planned on an extensive tour of Europe, but his health issues precluded him from continuing In January of 2007 cancer caused two metastatic tumors to develop in his lungs and he had two tumors removed from his legs.

By March of 2008 cancer had claimed his life. He was only 41 years old when he passed away.

A month later his last album, Mess of Blues was posthumously released. This was his first rock/blues album in eight years. Healey was honored by being inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame.

In 2011, Woodford Park in Toronto was renamed Jeff Healey Park.

Healey played a black Fender Squire Strat, a white standard Strat, and a black Jackson six-and-twelve-string doubleneck on his lap.

His right hand picks and strums, while his left runs wildly across the strings of the headboard. "I tried playing guitar the normal way, but I just wasn't very comfortable," declared Healey in an interview with Oregon Statesman-Journal reporter Ron Cowan, "so I decided to hold it in my lap and work out all the chords that way." Healey’s equipment was rather sparse compared to some of today’s artists.

For guitars Jeff mainly used Japanese made Squier Strats with Red Evans pickups. Later in his career he did use custom made U.S. Strats, with 3 single coil Evans pickups. Later on he swapped them out for Seymour Duncan SH-5 humbuckers that allowed him to coil tap.

Jeff had a double neck Jackson guitar. Jeff may have briefly used an Ibanez guitar.

With The Jazz Wizards, Jeff used a vintage Gibson L-12 from between the 1930-40’s period. Jeff Healey preferred Fender Pro-Tube Twin amplifiers.

On the road he used reissued Fender Black Face Twin Reverb amps. He also was known to use a Marshall JCM 800 and a Matchless Super Chief.

With the Jazz Wizard, he did not need all that power and he used a Fender Pro Jr. His effects use was also very minimal.

Early on Jeff utilized DOD pedals and later switched to Boss pedals including the following: Boss BD-2 Blues Driver Boss OD-1 Overdrive Boss Chorus Ensemble pedal Boss Compressor sustainer Boss Digital Delay Boss GE-7 Equalizer Vox Wah pedal

He also made use of a wireless system to connect his guitars with the amplifier.

He may have made use of a Leslie speaker in the studio. On stage this was replaced with the chorus pedal.

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This is from the Road House Movie

Sunday, November 16, 2014

ESP Guitars

ESP Guitars aka ESP Company Limited is the trade name of Kabushiki Gaisha, a Japanese guitar manufacturer that builds electric guitars and basses. The company is based in Japan and also in the USA and builds distinctive products for each prospective market.

Like many other companies, ESP only build mass produced guitars and basses, but custom shop instruments as well.

Hisatake Shibuya

The company had its beginning in 1975 when Hisatake Shibuya opened a shop in Tokyo called Electric Sound Products. His store sold replacement parts for guitars. He gained a good reputation for providing high quality parts.

Shortly after opening his shop began crafting their own guitars under the ESP brand and Navigator brand in the Japanese market. Ronnie Wood became aware of ESP instruments and began using them. By the 1980’s ESP replacement parts were introduced in the USA.

ESP 400 Series 1984

By 1984 ESP began building custom guitars for well known artists including Vernon Reid, Vinnie Vincent and Bruce Kulick. Around this same era ESP introduced the 400 Series to US markets.


They also began making bodies and necks for Kramer Guitars, Robin Guitars, Schechter Guitar Research and DiMarzio.



By 1985 guitarist George Lynch discovered ESP guitars while touring Tokyo. He was looking for a replacement neck and walked into Mr. Shibuya’s shop.

The result of this encounter was his Kamikaze guitar, which became ESP’s first signature model. This was followed by several other models including the M1 Standard, MI Customer, Horizon Custom and Surveyor bass.

J. Wagner & M. Masciadaro ESP
By 1989 ESP moved their headquarters to New York Citys music row on 48th Street. During the early 1990’s ESP USA concentrated on expanding its signature series of guitars and basses as well as its Custom shop series. The replacement parts business was discontinued.

In 1993 ESP moved their headquarters to Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard. A few years later the LTD series was created to produce high quality guitars and basses and a consumer friendly price. ESP also introduced Korean and Indonesian made LTD instruments. Due to high tariffs ESP quit selling much of its Japanese made guitars in the United States. This resumed in 2000 when trade regulations became more favorable.

1996 LTD

In 1996, ESP started LTD series. These guitars are similar to lower-end ESP guitars, but are more affordable and cater mainly for markets outside of Japan. The 1000 series LTD’s are made on an assembly line in Korea and the 401 series and below are made in Indonesia. The LTD bass guitars, including the B-204 are beginner and intermediate player models, which are built in Korea.


By 2002 ESP was moving up in the ranks and outselling their competition. Much of the could be attributed to Fender buying out Jackson Guitars. Fender had hoped this purchase would increase their sales and presence with Heavy Metal players, however many of the top artists that were using Jackson guitar jumped ship and either endorsed ESP or Dean guitars.

2005 ESP Paramount


By 2005 ESP introduced their Xtone Line which included the Paramount semi-hollow Series.








ESP JH Truckster

This was ESP’s 30th Anniversary and to celebrate they created the James Hetfield Truckster model in their signature line-up.





By the following year ESP was offering 22 new Signature and Standard models at the NAMM Winter Show, which included the ESP LTD EC-500 and ESP LTD B-500.  Artists at the ESP booth that were autographing guitars included Dave Mustaine, George Lynch, Stephen Carpenter, Michael Wilson and Page Hamilton.

ESP hand builds its Custom Shop and Original Series models in Japan. The Standard Series models are made in Japan at the company’s factory.

ESP Grassroots
ESP also builds several lines of guitars that are only sold in Japan. The lower end line is called Grassroots and the mid-range models are sold under the Edwards designation.

ESP EX-50
The ESP EX (extended range) line is a series of guitars that were produced in Europe, Japan and the USA under the ESP logo. These models were very similar to Gibson Explorers and the Gibson Musical Instrument Company took exception.

Numerous sites state Gibson sued ESP Guitars. I cannot find any source to corroborate that fact. However, ESP did make changes to the instruments.

James Hetfield is probably the most renowned user of the ESP EXP series, which he has been using since the late 80's. He further popularized the series with his legendary "EET FUK" EXP and his custom ESP JH-2, a black EXP with diamond plating. 



Currently Musician’s Friend offers 155 different ESP models.










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Sunday, November 9, 2014

T.K. Smith Guitars


I know quite a few finger-style guitarist and look forward to their posts on Face Book. They usually include a clip of a song they are working on which is great because I have always been a visual learner.

A few months ago I began seeing posts of someone playing a guitar that looked like Paul Bigsby just made it. The guitar not just looked great, but sounded wonderful. Of course the guy playing it was a pro.

I asked around and found out the guitar was made by T.K. Smith. Now Smith is a very interesting character and has been building and repairing guitars, amplifiers, cars and surfboards his entire life.

Currently he lives in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree California. This is where his shop is located. He is one of those hidden treasures that create excellent guitars. T.K. Smith states he grew up in the Los Angeles area and has spent a lifetime making a living through creative endeavors.

In the 1990’s he had a company called Smitty’s Customer Surfboard. He focus on shaping and glassing ‘60’s style long surf boards and developed quite a following.

He has been playing guitar since he was in junior high school and played professionally in various bands in his area such as The Smith Ranch Boys and the Golden Hill Ramblers. It was during this time he learned to build guitars and amps by taking them apart.

He spent time looking for vintage equipment to get “that sound” and eventually decided to fabricate his own parts. To that end he started up TK Smiths Electronic Guitar Service.

He offers custom builds, pickups, pickup inlay, set up, modification and an array of guitar parts. Smith builds and winds his own pickups and has fabricated his own vibrato, based on the Bigsby version. Smith is a craftsman in every sense of the word. He spent part of his career working as a Disney “Imagineer”.

Smith is a woodworker, carpenter, welder, and fabricator. Beside’s building fantastic guitars, his other passion is restoring old cars. A number of folks that I have know swear by his guitars. He can take an old guitar and make it new.