Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bob Brozman - National Steel Guitars

Santa Cruz, California native Bob Brozman passed away at his home this past April 24th. He was only 59 years old.
Perhaps some readers may not be familiar with Brozman as his style of playing guitar was very eclectic.

Much like Richie Havens, Brozman interests lie in Folk Music. However in his case the type of folk music he performed and studied included Gypsy, Jazz, Calypso, Blues, Ragtime, Hawaiian and Caribbean music. 
Brozman collaborated with musicians from Africa, India, Japan, New Guinea, Trinidad, and other islands.
In addition to performing, his studies in ethnomusicology led him to an adjunct professorship at the Department of Contemporary Music Studies at Macquarie University in Sydney Austrailia.
Brozman was a fount of knowledge when it came to American music of the 20th Century.
He recorded numerous albums, books and video tutorials. He was a three time winner of the Guitar Player Magazine Readers Poll.  Brozman kept up a steady world wide tour schedule and founded guitar seminars. 

His tours were remarkable. He was very recognizable from his dark hair and dark beard. Bob Brozman generally performed solo with several of his silver plated National guitars , his National ukulele, and a Bear Creek lap steel.
However there were times when Bob would play with a group of musicians that did not speak any other common language except music.

Brozman is best known for his use of National resonator instruments from the 1920’s and 1930’s. He also used a Weissenborn hollow neck acoustic as a lap steel and a baritone version of a National Tri-cone resonator guitar and a National resonator concert ukulele.  

He was not only the worlds preeminent  authority on National steel string resonator instruments, Bob was an amazing instrumentalist.
Brozman developed a love for world music as a boy, listening to Calypso songs from Trinidad and the traditional music of Hawaii that he acquired on 78 rpm recordings. 

His field of undergraduate study was ethnomusicology at Washington University of St. Louis. During his college years he would trek through the southern United States to learn jazz and blues from musicians that were playing in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
During these days he learned how to play slide guitar, using a home-made slide that was actually the neck of a wine bottle.

As a music anthropologist Bob was very interested in what happens musically with the guitar when it is left behind in a country and culture that knew nothing about the guitar.

In an NPR interview that was done 10 years ago, he told radio journalist Marco Werman, “I made it into this book called ‘1000 Great Guitarists of All Time,’ the little paragraph under my names says, ‘Brozman will never be well known because he plays too many kinds of music.”

Brozman was a contributor to several guitar publications and did instructional videos for Happy Truam’s Homespun Tapes. Bob Brozman was also associated with and endorsed Bear Creek Guitars. Bear Creek makes accurate and extremely well made reproductions of Weissenborn style hollow body lap steel guitars as well as steel string guitars and ukuleles.

Bob Brozman may have been better known throughout other parts of the world than in the United States.

Brozman was one of a kind. (March 8, 1954 - April 24, 2013)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Richie Havens - The Guild D40

Richie Havens, a long time member of the New York folk scene of the '60s, died Monday morning from a sudden heart attack. He was just 72.

The world first took notice of Havens’ amazing voice and rhythmic style of guitar playing when he performed at the 1969 Woodstock Festival.

In those long ago times there were white singers and white groups and black singers and black groups.

The Color Line was seldom crossed.

Then Richie Havens came along and sang music written by George Harrison. He sat on a stool and played guitar like a folk singer. But he possessed this brilliant soulful baritone voice that was unique from all other singers, black or white.

Watch his performance at Woodstock and you will see the crowd was spell-bound.

Woodstock was a thrown hastily thrown together production.

The folks that put on the event had no idea this would draw so many people and were totally unprepared.  Havens was the first act to perform.

His performance was extended to 3 hours that day, since many of the other performers that were unable to reach the site due to the teaming crowd.  Much of what he sang that day was improvised on the spot.

Richie Havens was a native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn in 1941.  As a young man he was drawn to the beat and folk scene in Greenwich Village and Washington Square.  In the 1950’s he performed in Beatnik clubs reading poetry, drawing portraits and singing.

During the folk years of the early 1960’s he played guitar and sang in Village folk clubs. He was discovered by Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman who signed him to a recording contract.

By alluding to the fact he played guitar, I have to say that he never actually learned the guitar in a conventional manner. He used the guitar as an accompaniment instrument for his incredible voice.

Havens tuned his guitar to an open chord fretting the neck with his first finger and massive left thumb.  He played guitar like it was a drum with a fierce right-handed strumming attack.

A year later Havens appeared at the 1968 Isle of Wight concert.

Havens’ breakthrough hit was his passionate and fast version of the George Harrison song, Here Comes The Sun that was released in 1970.

Throughout his career Richie Havens played Guild guitars. Perhaps he may have been influenced by the fact they were made in New York City. His favorite model is the Guild D40. Because of his heavy-handed right hand attack, Havens Guilds were usually badly scarred on the top.

In 2010, Guild Guitars put out a Richie Havens model D40
This is a beautifully made in the USA dreadnaught instrument that features a solid Sitka spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides, rosewood fretboard, a bone nut and saddle and a double pickguard.

The headstock has a polished ebony cap with Guild’s crown inlay and the Guild logo, all of which are inlayed. A FishmanMatrix Infinity pickup system is included. The guitar is available in a natural or black finish (Havens played both.)

Richie Havens continued to tour through his 70’s.

On March 12, 2012, the singer announced on his Facebook page that he would stop touring due to his health concerns.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Vo - 96 Acoustic Guitar Synthesizer by Paul Vo

1930's Vivitone Electric
Ever since the 1920’s, guitarists have sought to make their instrument sound different.

Witness the Vivitone guitar by Lloyd Loar, the Dobro by the Doperya brothers,all the early electric guitars by various inventors and all the stomp boxes and signal processors, both analog and digital.  

All were designed to make the acoustic guitar sound louder and different.

I profiled the Moog Guitar back in June 2012. 

Unlike most synth guitars The Moog Guitar uses proprietary infinite sustain technology and harmonic blending to coax new and exiting sounds out of this instrument. 

The Moog Guitar works best with the customized strings that give optimal sounds based on the strings metallurgy.

Some of you may recall the Moog Guitar was created by Paul Vo. Mr. Vo has taken guitar technology to “infinity and beyond.”

Recently Mr. Vo has developed a new way to modify the sound of instruments with his most recent invention, the Vo-96 acoustic synthesizer.

Last year Vo unveiled the concept of turning an acoustic guitar into a synthesizer with his LEV - 96.  Through the new Vo – 96, Mr. Vo has taken acoustic guitar synthesis a step farther.

The battery powered Vo – 96 fits on the lower side of an acoustic guitar’s sound hole and extends to the bridge.

The Vo – 96, like its predecessor works on “vibration control technology.” The unit physically alters how the strings vibrate, creating a whole new soundscape.

Core 96 Module
Most synthesizers use microprocessors to alter digital waveforms or with analog, alter the oscillation of the waveforms to mimic sounds of instruments. 

Roland technology uses the strings vibration to send signals via the hex pickup to the synth unit. The guitar becomes more of a controller.

Vo has changed the way to modify a guitars sound. This can be applied to other stringed instruments as well.

Normally magnetic guitar pickups turn the vibrations of a string into electronic signals that are then amplified.

Vo’s unit takes the vibration or waveform that the guitar string is producing and has the ability to determine 16 different harmonic partials per string. 

Each string can be separately controlled. Multiply this time 6 strings and the result is the Vo-96 can control 96 harmonic channels.

All this is done in real time and creates a myriad of possible sounds.

The unit is not for sale. As of this writing, it is just a concept.

The LEV-96 is a reality, but is being beta tested by guitarists such as Phil Keaggy and Kaki King.

There are but a few requirements a user would need once the Vo-96 goes on the market.

You have a steel string flat top acoustic guitar. Your guitar should have a standard sound hole in the usual position.  A standard guitar sound hole of near 4 inches in diameter is necessary.  At its closest, the sound hole edge should be located at least 3 inches away from the raised wood of the bridge of the guitar.

The spacing of your strings at the bridge measured between the E1 and E6 strings should be between 2 1/8″ to 2 3/8″ or 2.125″ to 2.375″.  

The guitar body must not be unusually thin. The Vo-96 reaches 3 inches down into the instrument measured from the top surface of the guitar.

The waist of the guitar – the narrowest portion of the body – must measure at least 8 1/2 inches across.

Most common acoustic guitars will meet these standards.

The one thing that could be an issue is string height. There needs to be adequate room under the strings for the Vo-96 unit. There needs to be at least a 1 centimeter clearance. This is about the width of a AAA battery.

The features of the Vo-96 include:
  • 12 physical sensor actuator channels, 2 per string
  • 96 virtual channels of harmonic control, 16 per string
  • Capacitive touch interface with LED status indication and lock-out
  • Power, harmonic blend and note duration touch-sliders
  • Adjustable modulation effects with instant preset save/recall
  • 6 quick-change presets in 3 sets of 2 using odd, even and all harmonics
  • 3 harmonic arpeggios unique to six presets independently triggered on 6 strings
  • Hex random harmonic modulation with average rate and amplitude adjust
  • Hex Tremolo with separate triggers per string and rate touch-slider
  • Bluetooth Wireless connectivity for firmware updates and TBD advanced features
  • No moving parts - built to last as long as your guitar
  • Attaches and removes without marring your guitar
  • Designed to run on optional internal battery power or external power adaptor
  • Optional 4/hr advanced LiFePo4 battery with integral charging
  • Hardware platform has large uncommitted resources for firmware expansion 
It is a very interesting concept to utilize Bluetooth Technology instead of a guitar cord connected to the amplifier or even a radio controlled signal.

Kaki King with the LEV - 96

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bizarre Guitars

Gibson offered The Reverse Flying Vee from 2007-2008
I have reviewed some weird guitars in the past, but these guitars are just downright bizarre.

Some of the guitars were handmade and I suppose the builders were expressing the artistic side of their creation.

What were the folks that work for guitar production companies thinking since they have to weigh the cost of creating a product to make certain that it will sell against just being creative.

There has not been much of a collector market for Fender Katanas or Gibson Corvus'. Thinking back, there wasn't much of a market for those instruments when they were first offered.

May I present 25 of the most bizarre guitars I could round up.

I have no idea who made this one-o-a-kind Star Ship Cruiser with triangular pickups, missiles and a lever to beam-me-up-Scotty. I might be wrong, but I bet the builder memorized every episode of Star Trek and Star Wars.

This U.K. model is a Burns Stream-liner offered for sale in 1959.  It is reminiscent of Kay guitar offered in the 1960's. Jim Burns made some wonderful guitars and is considered the Leo Fender of Britain. But he did make a few guitars that were just plain silly looking.

Antonio Pioli was an Italian sculptor and guitar manufacturer that built guitars in the 1960's. His nickname was Wandre. He made some really unusual guitars. Check out Buddy Miller sometime. He plays Wandres. This bug shaped guitar is just downright buggy.

This is a 1965 Gretsch Astro Jet model 6126. I think the company was struggling at the time and attempting to find a marketable instrument. This looked like someone thought, "Hey let's start with a Gibson SG design and add a huge swollen upper bout. And put four tuners on one side and two on the other. That way we won't face a lawsuit." Despite being somewhat bizarre, it is a very nice playing instrument.

Kramer guitar offered these bad boys for sale in 1986. I cannot imagine they sold many of these guitars. Actually I don't think they were ever offered to the public. They are flat out ugly, but I will give them kudos for making the pointiest guitars ever produced.

I haven't got a clue about this instrument. Is it a guitar? Is it a surfboard? Why? I bet the guy is playing Wipe Out.

Another Kramer model. I wonder who commissioned it?  Not only is it bizarre, but part of the "M" would be sticking in the face of the player. Where does the strap go?

I do not know anything about this guitar. It looks well built, but in my humble opinion it is uh...bizarre.

This guitar is played by Sarah Spisak.  Sarah is very attractive and has a big smile, but that guitar??? It looks like something Paul Stanley would play in KISS. The guitar is made by luthier Neal Moser and is the Spawn Model.

This Jackson guitar might be a metal-heads dream, but in my opinion it belongs in the "what-were-they-thinking" butt-ugly category. It looks like the rear end of a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado.

Hey dude, would you and your lady friend mind getting a room. Oh, you say that is your guitar? Excuse me. This the Mermaid guitar by Andy Manson. I'll give kudos for this bizarre creation to Mr. Manson for being an excellent luthier and sculptor. 

This guitar or guitars is just wrong on so many levels. I have never seen conjoined guitar twins. It looks like two 1960's Teisco guitars glued together at the neck.Where are the tuners?  Note the Fender Bantam amplifier.

Whoa man, like far out!  Jerry Garcia should have checked this guitar out. It does make a statement, but is ugly. You can only play it legally in California, Colorado and a few other states, but you need a prescription from your doctor.   

I cannot tell from the picture, but I would this to be a Jackson guitar, judging from the neck inlay and pointy headstock. I for one am happy the age of pointy guitars and boy bands has ended.  Not a very pretty guitar indeed.

Here is another Wandre. Mr. Pioli is two for two in the strange-but-true guitar category. 

And yet another Wandre. This one is a bass model called the Eturian. There appears to be a little atomic explosion above the name Wandre.  Not an attractive or desirable instrument in my opinion.

Wandre scores again with this guitar. It looks like a puzzle that is missing a piece.

I must be intoxicated since this guitar looks like a Stratocaster does when I am hallucinating.  Even the position markers are messed up. It was created by Brian Eastwood (no relation to Eastwood Guitars.)

I dearly love Eastwood Guitars. Those folks have updated and reissued some of the finest old guitars, thus paying tribute to the manufactures history. This is the Eastwood Pete Shelly Model.  Uh, Pete..? Have you noticed the upper half or your guitar is missing.  I give it a big thumbs up in the bizarre category.

I have no idea what the design team at Gibson was thinking when they created The Corvus.  BTW, The Corvus translates to The Crow.  I understand the guitar is a delight to play, but talk about the ugly stick!  The good thing about the Corvus is that it can also be used to open a bottle of beer.

The Italian accordion manufacturer Zero Sette, made guitars for Goya. Many were done in the ES-335 style, some had push-buttons like the kind found on a Waring Blender. This is the Goya Zerosette model 1092P Psychedelic model. The finish is horrendous.

This is an El Daga Art Guitar. It is possibly a Teisco Zenon that was hacked up. In my opinion it is a bit of a hack job.

Once again Mr. Pioli aka Wandre takes the prize with this Rockbasso. It is worth pointing out, the aluminum neck runs the length of the body. The single volume control is mounted on the tail piece.

What we have here is a Lindert Conductor guitar. The body is medium density fiberboard with tweed cloth panels. Why couldn’t Mr. Lindert have stopped there. He just had to put his patented “thumbs up” headstock design on the guitar!

Ben Simon and his "Guitar2-D2" can often be found on the Bedford Avenue L train station in New York.

Perhaps onlookers at stops on the L train and in Union Square are so in awe of Simon’s creation that they forget to drop money in his basket; the massive robo-guitar is indeed quite a sight.

Sporting five speakers, about 70 buttons, 10 dials, the guitar creates a musical cacophony unlike any — judging by onlookers’ faces — heard before.