Oli Brown

February 1st, 2010

Oli Brown

2010 has sparked a renewed interest in the guitar for me. I have just bought a new Marshall Class 5 Amp (in British Racing Green!), ordered new bits for my Telecaster (Glendale bridge and saddles), and bought some smoking new music too (Joe Bonamassa’s The Ballad of John Henry). This new interest even made me leave my house on a cold, wet Monday in February to go and see a young blues slinger called Oli Brown.

I shuffled on down to Champions in Bournemouth to see 19 year old Oli, in an evening of blues hosted by the Bournemouth Blues Club. Supported by local combo The Reptiles, Oli Brown looked like being an interesting young blues musician, and I listened to his album Open Road on my way to the gig.

What really struck me about Oli Brown, is his fire and passion for his music. He is not just another hot shot guitar player. He is a great vocalist too! I think the mark of a great guitar player is their rhythm chops, not just how many notes they can fit in a bar. Oli really blew me away. His performance and that of his band was first class. Backed by Simon Dring on drums and Roland Bacon on Bass this three piece band rocked the place.

Oli Brown Blackstar amp

I was struck by Oli’s command of his Vanquish guitar. Using a Ernie Ball medium thumb pick he made his Blackstar combo sing. He doesn’t need a truck full of effects either: just an original Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer and a Boss OC3 Octave Pedal.

Oli Brown pedalboard

Oli Brown has just finished recording his new album with legendary producer Mike Vernon, who as well as producing the Blues Breakers album (The Beano Album) has also worked with: David Bowie, Duster Bennett, Savoy Brown, Chicken Shack, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, John Mayall, Christine McVie and Ten Years After! I can’t wait to hear it!

I urge you to go and see the Oli Brown band. I urge myself to go and see him too in May as part of the “New Blues Generation UK Tour” alongside the equally talented and young, Esquire touting Joanne Shaw Taylor and Virgil and the Accelerators. Watch out, this could be the start of a whole new British Blues Explosion! Bring it on.

Django Reinhardt

October 8th, 2008

Jean “Django” Reinhardt (January 23, 1910 – May 16, 1953) was an illiterate, Belgium born, gypsy jazz guitarist.

His unorthodox playing style evolved from a gypsy caravan fire in 1928 where Django suffered severe burns and partially lost the use of two fingers. Ironically his injuries were instrumental in making Django one of the most unique and admired guitar legends ever to walk the earth. After the fire Django locked himself away to convalesce for 18 months. Bed-ridden he dedicated himself to reinventing his guitar playing around his disability. Because of his disabilities he now played solos with only 2 fingers of his left hand, his third and fourth digits helped out only with his chord playing. According to some guitarists it is exactly this reason why Django was such an amazing guitarist. The theory being that Django was nano-seconds quicker simply because he only had to choose between 2 fingers in his lead guitar playing.

Reinhardt joined up with Parisian violinist Stéphane Grappelli In 1934 to form the “Quintette du Hot Club de France”. Joined by rhythm guitarists Joseph Reinhardt (Django’s brother) and Roger Chaput and bassist Louis Vola. They had no percussion section so , they would use their guitars as instruments of percussion as well as Djangos groundbreaking gypsy jazz guitar licks.

Django’s Guitar

Django would play lead and Joseph would provide the groove similar in a way to the brothers Young. Angus and Malcolm have the benefit of electricity and use their Marshalls, Gibsons and Gretsch Guitars to such great effect.

Django played mainly Selmer acoustic guitars strung with 10-46 gauge steel strings, and the thickest plectrums preferably made of tortoiseshell!

Django played a Gibson L5 with a DeArmond pickup for a short time during his tour with Duke Ellington.


“Before the advent of amplification, Selmers had the same kind of appeal for European players that the archtop guitar did in America: it was loud enough to be heard over the other instruments in a band. The “petite bouche” model has an especially loud and cutting voice, and even today it remains the design preferred by lead players in Django-style bands, while the accompanying rhythm players often use D-hole instruments. (This was the lineup in Django’s Quintette du Hot Club de France during its classic period in the late 1930s, and it remains the pattern for bands that emulate them.)”

I would love to build my own Selmer.

The influence of Django Reinhardt

Jimi Hendrix is said to have named the Band of Gypsys because of Django’s music.

John Etheridge played with Django’s old violinist, Stéphane Grappelli.

Angus Young

September 2nd, 2008

Angus Young

Angus McKinnon Young, only made it to number 96 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. He made it to number 3 in my list. I don’t think the Rolling Stone’s list is a true measure of just how influential Angus has been as a guitarist. Maybe, my list swings too far the other way, but it’s my list!

Forgetting about Angus’s stage presence, which alone, makes him one of the most entertaining performers ever to rock a stage. What is it that makes him so special as a guitar player?

That Angus sound

The true signature of the Angus Young sound is one that has stood the test of rock n roll time. Forget your phasers, delays and fuzz boxes. The essence of his sound is his fingers. Not diluted by racks of effects. This is the ‘true’ sound of rock and roll. His sound owes as much to Chuck Berry rather than the million other of his contemporaries. In essence Angus uses the same sort of guitar rig as Chuck.

Eric Clapton became a living God, armed with a Gibson and a small Marshall amp. Playing with testosterone fuelled blues licks, gleamed lovingly from his idols like Freddy King. Clapton managed to get a sound so true and pure from his, (by todays standards) primitive setup, that amplifier designers have struggled ever since to beat with master volumes, transistors and hi gain pre amps. They all missed the point. This is the sound of a high output guitar, running through a low-gain amplifier, but with no cap on it’s power stage. This is the sound of speakers running near to the point of destruction. This is the sound after the pre-amp. This is the sound of a tube amp singing. Harmonics and overtones in abundance. It’s also the thunder of the room shaking in resonance to this tone.

Angus understands this. He is the master of the volume, but without using master volume. With the release of Rock N Roll Train, from the forthcoming Black Ice album. YouTube has been alight with guitarists showing us how to play like Angus. Some have got close, but many somehow miss the boat. Technically they have the chops, but what works for Joe Satriani is not the secret to the sound of Angus. Back off on the distortion and your getting close. Back off to the point of getting a clean sound, then when you dig in you get glass like distortion. Try playing an open G chord, can you hear every string? Angus can. For solo’s the volume goes up, but it is the rhythm that excites me so much about AC/DC.

The Rock and Roll Rhythm

There is one special effect, that you just can’t buy for your guitar rig. Money talks, but Malcolm Young swings. When ever you look at Angus, his older brother is not far behind. In fact, you could argue that Angus wouldn’t be Angus without Malcolm. These brothers in arms, are a perfect example of what it means to play in a band. They play together, as a team. United in their goal to rock the audience. Many young players miss this point, so focused on showing off, wanking all over their axes, leaving the audience cold. The Young brothers however, strip it down to the primordial funk that is rock and blues.

My music teacher asked the class to bring in our favourite record so that he could analyse it and show us how it was constructed. I took in Highway to Hell. The so-called teacher played the chords on the piano, and made some cutting comments about the lack of sophistication in the songs composition. Like so many music critics he missed the point. Their may indeed be only 3 chords in the song, but just like the blues, that is all you need. Any more is just wanking. Sure, some genres of music demand more theoretical compositions. But what makes AC/DC so special is that they have never followed the crowd and put in a power ballad, because that’s what everyone else does.

In fact, you can play AC/DC songs on a piano. Harry Vanda and George Young (another Young brother!), the early AC/DC producers, would make sure that the songs worked on piano first, before the band would lay them down on the multi-tracks. So, although they might seem simple, they worked hard on getting the songs right. If you could play it with 3 chords instead of 4, then they got closer to the very essence of what rock and roll truly is.

No matter how much training one has had, it won’t make you a rock and roll singer. Pavarotti for all his brilliance would never have been able to fill Bon’s shoes. This is not “look at me” musicianship. This is way beyond that. I am sure Angus has over the years picked up many different influences from jazz and other genres. But when Angus dons the school uniform, the AC/DC school cap is so highly tuned to deliver their trademark sound. Everything else is pure twiddle. They might not win awards for songwriting, but then they don’t play for the critics. They play for the millions around the world that hang on to every note that Angus wrings from his sweaty SG.

Today, at a party you can play thousands of different songs from your iPod. Put Highway to Hell on, and something magical happens. Those in the know will grin inanely at each other. The production cuts through better than many other songs you could play. Many are just slightly over produced, that long reverb may sound great in the studio, but it is just another mask to the true vibrancy of blues and rock. At full volume there is no space for twaddle or padding. AC/DC have no other settings to dial in. The interplay between Angus and Malcolm allows no waffle. Just pure rock, hard as you like.

How to sound like Angus

Ditch the effects pedals. Just plug straight in. Dial in to the point of distortion, then back off a turn. Grab a thick pick and let your fingers do the talking. At first, you might feel naked, suddenly exposed without the cover of fuzz. Yet, as you get used to it, you’ll realise that there is a whole world of tone available to your fingertips. Dig in harder it gets nastier, but all the while remember that the most important thing is how you play, not how fast or how many different scales or modes you can fit in.

Angus only plays with Gibson SGs and various flavours of Marshall. That works for him. It might not work for you. Sure, if you love that sound, go get yourself an SG. But if like me, you have a Fender that’ll work too. Again, it’s not what you play, it’s how you play. Everything else gets in the way. Everything else is not AC/DC. Everything else is not the music of the brothers Young, and good old fashioned rock and roll.

If you want to listen to how much I sound like the Young Brothers, have a listen to Old School which is my tongue in cheek tribute to the band. After listening, then put on an AC/DC track and see just how it really should be done! Let there be rock!

iPhone App – Guitar Tookit

August 3rd, 2008

Guitar Toolkit iPhone Application

Tuning the guitar has always been a bit of a drag for me. I can tune by ear, but to get to perfect pitch, I need a guitar tuner. I have used pitch pipes and tuning forks, but much prefer an electronic tuner. I have had many electronic tuners over the years, all of them a lot more expensive than my new one. Unlike any other tuner I have ever owned, I will not part with it. It stays with me, welded to me, wherever I go. My new tuner will not get lost or buried away in a cupboard.

Guitar Toolkit

Better still, my new tuner is also a metronome, tuning reference and chord library. The Guitar Toolkit iPhone App is the best guitar gizmo I have ever used. It has a really funky display and is now an essential part of my guitar kit. I have found it to be an inspirational and fun practice and tuning aid. The only drawback is that I can’t plug my guitar lead into my iPhone. I have tried, but hell, on my original iPhone, I can’t even slip a regular mini jack into it, without an adapter. If you are gigging, you might want to hang on to your normal tuner, with a socket. But for practice and showing off in front of your mates, the Guitar Toolkit comes highly recommended.

Read my iPresents review of the Guitar Toolkit.

Blues Guitar from Three Cat Clem

January 29th, 2007

Three Cat Clem

I love the blues. It can lift you up with it’s simple but earthy funk. Three Cat Clem is a fine example of what I like about blues music. Creating a righteous mix out of hard and heavy beats, with some extremely potent blues and slide guitar playing. Definitely one to watch.

Three Cat Clem Links

Gabor Szabo

December 30th, 2006

Gabor Szabo

The Sorcerer

Carlos Santana has for a long while been one of my favourite guitarists. He has that special something that seems to transcend the realms of normal music, and take it to an altogether higher plane. In my quest to learn more about Carlos, I discovered one of his influences, that maybe helped put the magic in his playing.

Gabor Szabo was a Hungarian born guitarist and Carlos was a big fan:

“We used to fool around with ‘Gypsy Queen” because I loved Gabor Szabo so much. I used to see Gabor play a lot in the Bay area. He’d seem to lock himself into a certain position and just put everyone in a spell. He was the guitar player who took me out of B.B. King — otherwise I’d still be with those Chicago and Texas blues cats. ‘Gypsy Queen’ was our way of doing his music.”

I managed to get a copy of The Sorcerer a while back, and really enjoy Mr Szabo’s approach to the guitar, weaving circular, hypnotic patterns, which are deeply infectious and contagious. The Sorcerer was recorded live at the Jazz Workshop, Boston in 1967.

Unfortunately I never got a chance to see him live, but his recordings live on, and will no doubt influence future generations of players. Enjoy.

Gabor Szabo Links

Your top 3 guitarists?

November 7th, 2006

What guitarists would you put in your top 3? If push comes to shove, I would pick:

But what are your top 3 guitarists?

iPod Hi-Fi – my new guitar practice amp

October 31st, 2006

iPod Hi-Fi

My new iPod Hi-Fi may become my new practice amp, when I can find time to practice…

It has a nice tone, add a splash of Guitar Rig and I reckon we should be cooking…

The seat of guitar lust

September 7th, 2006

Look what I heard in the GarageBand Guitar Forum,

“Wood feels musical. I’ve played aluminium and stainless steel guitars that were flawless in sound and action, but they’re cold – literally!

Wood, being an insulator, feels warm, and sunburst colours remind us of nature and warm sunshine.

That’s the seat of guitar lust.”

Kilroy de Geek

D e e p

Moleskine ‘Note’ Book

July 11th, 2006

Moleskine Music Note Book

My new Moleskine

I have for a number of years been a fan of Moleskine notebooks (not Moleskin), I use them for lyrics, song ideas, passwords and other data I really can’t afford to lose. I got a Moleskine Music notebook for my birthday and am very pleased that I did.

Great little Note Book

For a music notebook it is a little small, but what it lacks in size is more than justified by it’s useful pocket-friendly size. My guitar lessons have paved the way for me to use this little beauty. Before, I would have used tab to etch out my music, but now I am a (s l o w) music reader and writer. I will be making good use of this portable note machine, alongside other celebrated Moleskine users like Van Gogh, Chatwin and even Pete Doherty.