Friday, January 16, 2015

Jersey Boys Guitars - The Original Four Seasons Guitars

If you haven’t seen Jersey Boys, please do so. It is not just a walk back to through the early days of rock and roll and doo-wop music, but a great insight into all the drama that goes on within a band of musicians. If you want to understand how we got to where we are musically today, learn your roots.

Despite my research, I cannot find much information on the instruments played by Tommy Devito, Nick Massi, Charley Calleo and Joe Long. So I have checked out photos and videos of the group and read their history, from a guitarist perspective.

Tommy was the guitarist throughout the original groups history, until he was asked to leave and his share of the group purchased by Frankie Valli and Bob Guadio.

Nick Massi was the main bass player and bass singer for the group.

Charley Calleo, was the also a bass player with the group when Massi was not around. Calleo became the groups musical arranger and deserves a lot of credit for a wonderful job. He stepped in again to play bass shortly after Nick Massi quit.

Joe Long was the Season's final bass player. He can be distinguished by his excellent left-handed technique on the bass guitar.

The Variety Trio
The movie of the Jersey Boys opens with DeVito playing a 1950's model Fender Telecaster. Judging from this photo of The Variety Trio, the movies artistic director was spot on as you can see DeVito with a Tele, his brother Nick DeVito playing an unidentified archtop acoustic and Nick Massi playing an upright bass.

The first group that included Frankie Valli and Tommy DeVito was called The Four Lovers. (the video in this link has the players in a mirror image) The bass player and acoustic guitarist are unidentified.

Here is an early staged publicity photo of the Four Seasons. Tommy Devito is playing a Gibson LG-3 and Nick Massi appears to have a sunburst Guild D-140.

A professional photograph of The original Four Seasons shows Tommy DeVito holding a beautiful white Fender Jazzmaster and Nick Massi fingering an equally beautiful Fender Precision bass.

A 1962 video of Big Girls Don’t Cry shows DeVito playing a Gibson ES-355 and Nick Massi playing a new (for that year) Fender Precision bass. This is a different P-bass since the pickguard appears to be anodized and the neck is maple.

This 1964 video from the Dick Clark TV series "Where The Action Is" when the production was done in the UK. You can see Joe Long playing his Fender Precision Bass with the stacked knobs and Tommy DeVito is now playing a Danelectro Coral guitar.

This is video of their hit Rag Doll that was shot in a London park appears to be from the same "Where The Action Is" show. Once again Joe Long playing his favorite Fender Precision bass while Tommy DeVito is playing that Danelectro Coral guitar.

A clip from the 1964 movie The Beach Ball shows Nick Massi back in the group, but he is playing a fake Fender Precision bass guitar. Judging from the headstock and  close ups of the instrument you can tell it is not a Fender. Tommy DeVito is playing a cheap blue Asian guitar; possibly a Teisco.

Perhaps to the Seasons credit these were props from the movie.

This 1964 clip shows Joe Long playing an Ampeg bass on a TV show and Tommy DeVito playing a white Fender Jaguar.

This TV clip is of the Seasons playing a medley of their hits.  Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito are sporting matching Gibson instruments. Both are beautiful sunburst guitars from the 1963-64 era. DeVito is playing a Gibson Firebird VII while Nick Massi is holding down the bass on a Gibson Thunderbird bass.

Prominently displayed next to them is a Gibson Titan III guitar amplifier, which had a 65 watt head matched to a separate cabinet that contained one 15” speaker and two 10” speakers.

While the bass is being played through a Gibson Atlas IV. It had 2 – 6L6GC tubes, so I estimate it at around 40 watts. The speaker contained one 15” model.

I assume this was an obvious plug by Gibson as I can find no other videos of the Seasons visibly playing through amplifiers.

A video of Working My Way Back To You shows Joe Long once again with his Ampeg bass guitar and Tommy DeVito playing his white Fender Jaguar.

This 1965 clip from the Ed Sullivan Show shows the Seasons playing white instruments. Tommy DeVito is playing his white Fender Jaguar, while Joe Long is playing a Hagstrom F400 bass, which in my opinion is an underrated bass guitar.

I can only find one image of Charley Calleo playing bass with the group. Calleo is playing a dark Fender Precision bass with a white pickguard alongside Tommy DeVito who is playing a white Fender guitar.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of the Jersey Boys, it centers around Tommy DeVito’s connection with the mob and how he got in way over his head with a loan shark. By his own admission, DeVito spent some time in prison.

DeVito was forced out of the group in 1971.  Frankie Valli paid off the debt, which was nearly a million dollars, by striking out on his own as a solo performer. Bob Guadio spoke about the deal on NPR radio and said that Valli had to earn twice that amount because the earnings were taxed.

Subsequently once DeVito and Massi left there are no further videos or still photos of the original group and their guitars.

The Four Seasons stayed together releasing several hits under the Frankie Valli name or pseudonyms such as The Wonder Who and the Valli Boys.

After releasing a disastrous concept album called The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette the group left the Phillips Record label to go with Motown. They recorded under the MoWest label but the relationship was not at all solid. There venture with Motown may account for The Spinners version of Working My Way Back To You which became a hit.

Before exiting Motown, Valli tried to purchase the entire catalogue from Motown but only was able to purchase My Eyes Adored You for $4000. Of course this became one of Valli and Guadio's best loved songs.

Joe Long left the group in 1975 recording his last song, Who Loves You. Frankie started a new core band with drummer and singer Gerry Polci and bass player Don Ciccone, who had a hit song with a group called The Critters. John Paiva was the guitarist.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Les Paul's Black Beauty and Artistry In Guitars Auctions

The Associated Press

The 1954 electric guitar that served as the prototype for Gibson's iconic Les Paul models is going on the auction block.

The Paul-designed guitar known as "Black Beauty" features gold-plated hardware. Paul made frequent modifications as he refined its sound over more than two decades of use.

Guernsey's Auctions is offering the guitar Feb. 19 in New York City. The auctioneer calls it the most significant electric guitar ever made. Its market value will be determined at auction.

The famous jazz, country and blues guitarist played it in concerts, recordings and on the "Les Paul and Mary Ford" television show. Paul, whose hits songs included "How High the Moon," died in 2009. He gave the instrument to his friend, guitar technician and builder Tom Doyle of Wantage, New Jersey.

In Les' own words, he wanted Gibson to build a guitar that was similar to the original Les Paul model, but this time in black, so it would match his tuxedo.

As you can see this is not a typical Les Paul Black Beauty. This one was customized to Les's specifications with Lo-Z pickups and special poteniometers and switches.

Another auction is taking place at Guernsey’s Auctions on April 2 and 3rd.

This is called Artistry in Guitar and features a collection of approximately 300 beautiful instruments.

This collection was assembled by one man over a period of four decades.

The auction will be held at New York City’s Bohemian National Center.

The instruments include 50 historic Martin guitars including an 1840’s Martin & Coupa, an OM-28, F-9, 00-45, D-28, D-45 and a very rare OM-45 Deluxe.

The Gibson line up includes Super 400’s, SJ-200’s, L-5’s, Nick Lucas models and a one of a kind Super 400 flattop. The auction includes a dozen D’Angelico guitars such as New Yorkers, Excels, a Special, a Style A and a mandolin.

The auction price list ranges from $244 to $366,000.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Lee Sklar's Bass Guitars

If you have listened to any Rock or Pop Music, you have heard Leland Sklar play bass. You just may not have known it was him that you were listening to.

Lee Sklar is an A-List Hollywood studio bass player and has been one since starting his career in the late 1960’s by playing on James Taylor’s recordings and concerts. He has played on more than 2000 albums and at 67 years old, he is still in demand.

Leland Sklar was the bassist on recordings of Linda Ronstadt, Hall and Oates, Jackson Browne, Phil Collins, Clint Black, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Hoyt Axton, Carol Bayer Sager, Roger McGuinn, Stephen Bishop, Bette Midler, Randy Neuman, Suzy Bogus, The Oak Ridge Boys, Sarah Brightman, Aaron Neville, Dolly Parton, Georgio Moroder, Bonny Riatt, Lee Retinour, Johnny Rivers, Dianna Ross, Helen Ready, the Doors, Barbara Streisand;...

...and the list goes on. And these are but a few of the performers for whom he has laid down the bass lines.

As you can see, he has been a very prominent player. Additionally he has collaborated with film makers and television producers on soundtracks, such as Hill Street Blues, Knight Rider, Simon and Simon, Forest Gump, Kindergarten Cop, My Best Friend’s Wedding and many others.

Leland Sklar began playing piano at the age of four. When his instructor determined there were too many piano students, he asked Sklar if he would like to play string bass. He said yes to the bass and has never looked back.

Sklar went on to study music at California State University, Northridge and this is where he first met James Taylor. When they started playing music together they anticipated this would be a short-term gig. However when Taylor’s career took off with the song Fire and Rain (on which Sklar played bass) and Sklar became Taylor's go-to bass man.

With his foot-and-a-half-long gray beard, bassist Lee Sklar has been one of the most instantly recognizable musicians on stage or in videos for decade. His ability to play pop, rock, jazz, country and easy listening has made him one of the industry's first-call players. Besides who doesn't like a guy that looks like Gandalf.

At 68 years old, Sklar has no plans to slow down. He’s still recording and touring.

Sklar says his favorite bass is a hand-carved  1962 Fender Jazz Bass. He started his career using this Jazz Bass. He refers to it as a "total hippie bass" since he carved peace signs into the body. He was a huge Frank Zappa and the Mother’s of Invention fan, so he had Frank’s picture decoupaged onto the instruments back.

When he first started playing, he was using a little Univox amplifier that had a single 15” speaker.

I'm just taking a guess about his amp based on its age and speaker size

He stuck with the Jazz Bass and the Univox amplifier combination for the first few years of his career.

In 1973 Sklar had a bass build for him by John Carruthers. Sklar acquired a Precision Bass neck, but did not have a body for the instrument. Carruthers made a template by using the 1962 Jazz Bass body and then reshaped the neck to fit onto it.

Sklar also says that he ran across some nice Charvel bodies made out of alder. To choose which body he wanted, he hung wires on them and tapped them, much like a violin maker does. He eventually found one that resonated nicely, so he had Carruthers build another bass.

This one had a first generation EMG pickup on it. (which has apparently been removed) He has two sets of Precision pickups and placed them on the bass where the Jazz Bass pickups would normally set. The frets were stripped off of the neck and then replaced with mandolin fret wire, which is extremely thin. Sklar says this turned out nicely and this has been his go to bass since 1983.

Sklar also had owned a double neck bass that was made for him sometime in the 1970’s by Steve Helgeson. The upper neck is a piccolo bass and the lower neck is a standard bass. The body was made from a single block of burled Birdseye maple.

The lower fret board is made of ebony and the upper made of rosewood. The lower neck is inlaid with mother of pearl and the upper is inlaid with abalone.

The creator, Mr. Helgeson, is a falconer and this inspired him to create this instrument which is known as The Eagle Bass, which is also a remarkable sculpture. Sklar says the bird head-stocks are removable. They are in the shape of eagle heads and are hand carved by Helgeson out of walnut wood.

The eyes in the heads are made of Mexican fire opals with LEDs behind them and they light up.

Sklar’s only regret about this bass is its weight. He says it is very heavy. He had to have a special case constructed for it. But the bulk of carrying it around is too much of an effort. Sklar loves it is a beautiful instrument and he loaned it to the Boston Hard Rock Café. It has since been moved to the Hard Rock Café in Tampa, Florida. They have since purchased the bass from Sklar.

Gibson manufactured the Leland Sklar Signature Bass for only 1 year; 1997-1998. The bass was designed by Mike McGuire and the Gibson Custom Division. It resembled a Fender bass with its double cutaway solid body. It came with a bolt-on 21 fret neck with a rosewood fretboard.

The headstock had 4 on a side tuners with unusual beveling. The bass scale was 34”. The hardware was chrome plated. The 3 controls were volume blend and tone. The bass had two EMG split coil – P-Bass style pickups. The bass comes with a Hip Shot extender that allows the low E to be dropped to D with a flip of a switch.

Leland Sklar Dingwall Bass

Dingwall Basses asked him if they could build a signature model for him. This became his main touring bass. He used it with Phil Collins, Lyle Lovett and the James Taylor/Carole King reunion tour. The Dingwall is a five string bass with fan frets.

Around 2010 Warwick Bass Company contacted him and asked if he would endorse their products. The following year he showed up at the Frankfurt Musikmesse Show, demonstrating the Warwick Star Bass II.

They have produced several models for Lee including a fretted bass, a fretless bass, a double neck bass and an eight string bass. Sklar compares it playing a Hofner, but says that it is easier to play.

Leland Sklar does not utilize many effects. He likes his Boss OC-2 Octave Divider. He says he also has an older TC chorus-flanger pedal. For session work, Leland Sklar claims that most performers want a clean bass sound for their recordings.

He no longer uses his Univox amp. Instead he uses a high-end amplifier made by a New Jersey company called Euphonic Audio.

He claims their amps produce a very big and clean sound.

When asked about any advice he could give to players he says that when playing gigs, especially in places with big PA systems, do not play loud. Let the house guy mix you. You are going to get a better and more balanced sound every time.