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Guitar Musician e-zine     01/18/2006

In This Issue:

  "Barney Kessel was 'Mr. Guitar,' the foremost jazz guitarist of his generation. He had an amazing imagination, his solos were incredible, he swung his tail off, he was a heck of an arranger and could out-read anybody..."

                                                                                  - Larry Coryell - Jazz Guitar

Some Humor

  Bill's Barn

Bill's barn burned down and his wife, Lynn, called
the insurance company.
Lynn spoke to the insurance agent and said, "We had that
barn insured for fifty thousand, and I want my money."

The agent replied, "Whoa there, just a minute. Insurance
doesn't work quite like that. An independent adjuster will
assess the value of what was insured, and then we'll provide
you with a new barn of similar worth."
There was a long pause, and then Lynn replied, "If that's
how it works, then I want to cancel the life insurance
policy on my husband."


A Lesson For The Learning

Interested in guitar lessons? - Be sure and check out the guitar lessons offered by Andrew Koblick at Amazing Guitar


Click here for all products by Vox.

Vox Brian May Special

Amplification with a royal rock heritage

By Charlie Link

Brian May is the master of a distinct guitar tone thick and sweet with singing midrange and treble harmonics. His gear setup has been thoroughly studied by May aficionados in pursuit of majestic guitar sounds. Besides his homemade Red Special guitar and trademark wall of AC30 combos, there are two other pieces of lesser-known equipment integral to May's array. Together, they are known as a Deacy Setup.


Vox Brian May Special Recording Amp

Super tone for everyone
A Deacy Setup is a match-up between two other pieces of gear, the Deacy amplifier and Treble Booster. They are responsible for some of Brian's most noted sounds and orchestrations on record.

Deacy is a little amplifier literally assembled from spare parts. This .45W powered pet amp is named after Queen bassist John Deacon, who built it for May. Put together from parts salvaged out of a garbage bin, the amplifier circuit board was almost definitely rescued from what was once a car radio. This board was mounted in a small '60s bookshelf hi-fi speaker, and in combination with a lantern battery, brought Deacy to life.

With just one input and no controls, Deacy has to be used with another device to control it. For May, that controller is his Treble Booster pedal, another homemade guitar delicacy which actually boosts the upper midrange frequencies, to be exact, and is the second part of this legendary pair. The Treble Booster is also used to provide a signal boost running into the front of his AC30, driving the amplifier's tubes past their limits for super-saturated overdrive.

Which is where Vox and the Brian May Special come in. Guitarists and fans yearning for an outfit that does the same thing as Brian's Deacy Setup now have it. Specified as a recording amp, the VBM-1 boasts multiple uses and comes complete with a modern control layout.


Click to Enlarge

A nice meet and greet
While the controls are mostly of the common sense variety, a short guided tour will reveal some of the niftier advantages the VBM-1 offers.

Input: Plug in here. That wasn't so hard, was it?

Gain: This adjusts the gain of the VBM-1 Booster section, which is an exact replica of Brian May's Treble Booster pedal. It can control the VBM-1, but can also drive the preamp of another amplifier using the Booster Output. Turn the gain control up to produce sweet, upper midrange-heavy overdrive tones that range from round, light fuzz to thick and hard tones soaked in distortion. Conversely, turn it down and you can achieve warm clean sounds.

Booster Output: As stated above, this output allows you to boost the input of another amplifier, just as Brian May does with his Treble Booster pedal and an AC30. You can use this to blissfully drive any amplifier into sonic ecstasy. The only two controls that have an effect on the Booster's output to another amp are the Gain and Gain Switch. Plugging into this output also cuts the output to the VBM-1.

Gain Switch: This two-setting button pushes the Booster into rip-roaring-fun output stage. The High setting produces heavy sounds with a thick midrange and luscious treble. Select the Low setting and you'll hear a smooth and mellow distortion that's responsive to playing dynamics. This switch is very interactive with the Gain knob, so experiment to discover the sound you want. If, however, you're going straight for the Brian May sound, just crank the Gain knob over to 10 (sorry, no 11) and then push in the Gain switch.

Tone: This control is placed after the overdrive circuitry of the Treble Booster and adjusts the overall tone of the amp. It goes from - to +, with 0 being the noon setting. The + side of things adds in high frequencies to deliver a brighter sound with lots of aggression. The - range of the knob dials in the bass frequencies for a rounder sound that's colorful and warm. Setting it to 0 nullifies this circuit. There's a wide variety of sounds to be found here, so play around a while before you settle on just one tone or you'll be sorry.

Volume: Yup, it's a volume pot.

Recording/Headphone: This output jack gives you the ability to direct record or plug a pair of headphones in for private practice sessions.

Ext. Speaker: The ability to plug into an exterior speaker or guitar cabinet is nice, but probably wouldn't do much if you wanted to use it as your main stage amp. Remember, though, this is a 10W amp intended for the inside of a studio or bedroom. Besides, it's covered in white vinyl. You'd never get it clean again if you carried it anywhere near a bar or club.

The dirt
Brian May was adamant that the VBM-1 would achieve at least three things before he would allow it to go into production. He wanted it to sound exactly like his homemade Deacy Setup. Vox 100% achieved this goal. The second thing was that he wanted the amp to have a little more power, control, and flexibility. With the incredible boost, recording, and practice features, they achieved this as well. The third thing was that the combo would be as affordable as possible, and they did that too. For Queen and Brian May enthusiasts, this amp is the ticket. Its purchase will put you in possession of the completely unique Treble Booster sound (which makes the deal worth it all by itself), and a practice and recording partner that's bred for rock 'n' roll.


Brian May Special Specifications

  • Dimensions: 13-1/3"W x 11-13/16"H x 7"D
  • Weight: 12 lbs.
  • Power: 10W (RMS)
  • Speaker: 6-1/2" custom-voiced, full-range speaker
  • Inputs: 1/4" input jack
  • Outputs (all 1/4"): Booster Output, External Speaker, and Recording/Headphone out
  • Controls: Gain, Tone, Volume, Gain (High/Low) Switch, and Power
  • Switch (with LED)



What is the BB Box?

Steve Becker; New London, CT

Q: Great Blues DVD, John McCarthy! My playing has progressed 100% in two months! What is this BB Box I here about all the time? I don't want to be missing something that I should know.

A: The BB Box is a five note section that is in the middle of the 1st and 2nd Minor pentatonic scales. You can find it by play the last five notes of the second position Pentatonic scale. BB King made this famous by playing entire guitar solos using only these notes. This is the theory that "To be a great lead guitarist it's not most important to be able to play a thousand notes but to be able to play five notes and make them sound like a thousand!"

Hope this helps!

Yours in Music
John McCarthy
Rock House


Exclusive Interview with Michael Chaves

Michael Chaves Spotlight InterviewMichael Chaves might not be a household name, but chances are you've heard his playing. A veteran player on the L.A. scene, Chaves has played on albums by and toured with artists like John Mayer, Rufus Wainwright, Sarah McLachlan, Iggy Pop, and many more. Now a member of Low Millions, Chaves is putting most of his energy into taking the band to the big time. We spoke with Michael recently on a number of subjects, including his beginnings, his gear, and his influences.

Q: Tell us about your first experiences with playing music.

Michael Chaves: I'll tell you exactly how it happened. When I was maybe seven or eight, I think one of the first songs I played on a '66 Fender Mustang, which belonged to my older brother. I still have it�it's a beautiful guitar. It's the red one with the racing stripes on it. I think I played "Day Tripper" by the Beatles on it and slowly, I tried to teach myself. I think there was a turning point in 1980 when my older brothers brought the first U2 record into the house, Boy. When I heard it, I was a 10-year-old kid, but it really, really changed my life. I learned that entire record; not only on the guitar, I learned the drums, I learned the bass, I was singing along to it. I knew that record backward and forward as a 10-year-old. And from there on, it's kind of obvious in the tones I go for. I really, really like what the Edge does with things, you know?

Q: Did getting into bands and playing with other people come easily?

MC: I think when I was 12 I was in a classic rock cover band doing that whole bit of Cheap Trick's "Surrender," "Purple Haze," and Zeppelin tunes. That was 1982.

Q: You mentioned you were playing the Mustang. What did you have for an amp in those days?

MC: I owe my brothers so much when it comes to gear. They both had guitars and amps in the house. There was a mid-70's Silverface Deluxe Reverb, which they bought brand new. That was the amp at that time.

Q: Do you remember the name of your first band?

MC: I think it was called Stonehenge.

Q: You mentioned what a big influence The Edge has been on you. What other players do you admire and pick things up from?

MC: There's a guy out there, a producer and player, named Daniel Lanois, who is my all-time hero, right down to the tone, the finger-picking. I've had the pleasure to meet him. I ran into him in LA and worked in his studios. Not directly with him, but I've been there, and played his guitars and played his amps. I feel so fortunate to run in the circle of musicians that he knows. I can't say enough that I'm a fan of music first, then a musician. When I was in high school, I didn't even know what a producer was. And whether it was Peter Gabriel's So in 1986, or (U2's) The Joshua Tree and Unforgettable Fire, he was the one constant name on these great records that I was loving at the time. I would see "Daniel Lanois" and think, "Who is this guy?" As a teenager I discovered what a producer was and I followed his career from then on.

Michael Chaves Spotlight InterviewQ: Now that you record music, how do you view the role of producer?

MC: During the making of the record, he becomes an unofficial member of the band. He is just as important as the drummer, the bass player, and the singer. He needs to grasp the vision and help the band sort it out. There are a lot of ideas from a lot of people, so somebody's gotta call the shots. He helps synthesize the positions of many people into one. It's not an easy thing to do, especially in a band where you've got four or five great musicians who bring so much to the table.

Q: Tell us about how you adjust your playing when you play with John Mayer.

MC: It's such an interesting dichotomy. We are completely different players, and I think that's why he liked me and why we worked together so well. I can create a foundation for him to just do his thing. A lot of times there were sounds coming out of my amps where you'd think it was a keyboard player, and that lays down a really good foundation for him to just go and do his thing.

Q: It seems like a lot of players can play good leads but have trouble backing someone up.

MC: You're right. The average concert-goer, they're gonna notice that guy who's out front doing his thing, but I agree, sometimes the rhythm section completely gets overlooked. It could be Pino Palladino and Steve Jordan playing in the band and someone at the show probably won't even remember what they looked like.[laughs]

Q: Do you think less-experienced guitarists underestimate the importance of rhythm playing?

MC: Absolutely. I think it's important for anybody who's coming up and learning to fill some space first before you get into that "look at me" phase.

Q: How did you learn those skills?

MC: When I started to form bands in high school and write my own music, I was the only guitar player, so I really tried to fill a lot of space. And that's how I learned to mimic some keyboard sounds, you know, getting some crazy sounds out of the pedals to fill some space. I've always been a fan of the pad, a long sustaining chord coming out of the guitar that just sounds haunting. People look around�"Where is that coming from? There's no keyboard player up there!" [laughs]

Q: Do you get to play a lot of lead in Low Millions?

MC: Oh yeah. In Low Millions I definitely step out a bit.

Q: What was the first major break for you? How did you kind of slip into what you're doing now? How'd you hook up with John?

MC: My first big tour was with a guy named Duncan Sheik.That steamrolled into meeting a lot of different people and a lot of different musicians. It was my mid-20s, and I was just starting to meet people. I had done some records with Iggy Pop (1999's Avenue B), Marianne Faithfull (1999's Vagabond Ways)�all through Lanois's circle of people. There was a Rufus Wainwright record in there (2001's Poses), and I think that might have had a little bit to do with John Mayer's gig. John really loved that record.

Q: So did John call you up for an audition?

Michael Chaves Spotlight InterviewMC: I have a funny story about meeting John Mayer. It was an audition in Los Angeles, and literally the same day I had an audition with the Wallflowers�they were looking for a guitar player. When it rains it pours. [laughs] The funny thing is, I had scheduled the Wallflowers audition a week in advance. I had learned the material. I was ready to go. I was excited about it. I mean, "One Headlight" was a huge tune. To go learn that and play that with Jakob (Dylan) and the boys�I was excited. And then, the night before�it's kinda late�I get a call saying, "Hey, can you come down and audition for John Mayer, he's in town." At this time I didn't know who he was. I almost hesitated because of my schedule. I didn't think I could do it. Plus, I didn't have time to learn the material. So, I said yes and that night I went and picked up the CD. I was instructed to learn three songs, but I was so tired that I only learned two. I just couldn't do it, it was late at night. So I got up in the morning. I had about an hour to actually run some more material, and I ran over "One Headlight" and the Wallflowers material. [laughs]

Q: Because you figured that was more important at that point?

MC: It was just the fact that there's so little time, I'm never gonna learn John's stuff, no way. I need to dedicate a few more hours to that, not one hour. So I brushed up on the Wallflowers stuff. I went to the audition, and I killed it. I walked out of there and thought, "I'm a Wallflower. This is amazing." It felt so good; everything about it was right. Then I go to John's audition and we play, and we play. I even told him that I couldn't learn all three songs. I really didn't wanna half-ass three songs, so I got two of them. So we played the two songs, and he wanted to jam a little more. The gig was offered on the spot, which never happens. You usually go home and get called later, if at all. But, it was offered on the spot. I had to say yes, of course. He was obviously a special cat. Hearing the songs, his melodies�he's a great songwriter. And on top of that, he's an incredible guitar player. He takes some time to really, really get a song together. He's hands-down one of the great songwriters out there. He can write great pop songs, and he connects like no other. I have the fondest memories of playing with John. Just seeing John looking at the crowd and seeing them connect was amazing.

Q: Are you guys still working together at all?

MC: We stay in touch, absolutely. We email and we talk from time to time if we're in the same city. You know he came out to our New York show when we were there. But he's taking time off, and he's making new records. I know he's doing what he has been dying to do�he's gonna go out with a blues trio. He needs to do it, and he should. He's in a position where he can. He can just set the pop thing aside for a minute and go play some guitar.

Q: Have you had the opportunity to work with any of your other heroes?

MC: I can think of a session that I did with Jim Keltner and Greg Leisz�you know, big-time L.A. session cats. And a bass player called Gerald Johnson. He's worked a lot with Daniel (Lanois) and Emmylou Harris. These guys to me have made some of the most influential records of all time, and for me to be in the same room with them was a little scary. It was pretty damn intimidating. There's a producer in L.A. called Mark Howard and he, like Daniel, likes live-in-the-studio recording. When we make records, the whole band sets up and we cut. Run it down a few times and grab the best take. We're looking at each other, we're nodding our heads�it's making music how it's supposed to be made.

Q: When Low Millions performs live, do you stick to the album versions of the songs or do you experiment a bit?

MC: I think it depends on the song. For instance, we've had some success with our first single, "Eleanor," and we stay really close to the record on that because some fans don't really wanna hear what they're familiar with all twisted and bent.

Q: Are you ever surprised at how the audience reacts to what you consider an off night?

MC: Yeah, that's happened so many nights with John. I mean, we're talking over 200 shows a year for three years that I've done with John. By the end there were eight people in the band. With eight people in the band, not everyone is gonna have a good night every night. The thing that blew me away was we would walk off the stage and four, maybe five of us would look at each other and go, "Wow, what was that? It was just one of those off nights, right?" Then I would go to the sound guy, listen to the playback of the previous evening, and say, "Wait a second, are you playing me the right date? Because it sounds great!" [laughs] I don't think you can ever tell from the stage. It might not feel right but it probably sounds OK.

Q: Have you had many of those those magic nights when everybody's on?

MC: Oh, there are a lot of those, man. I can cite instances, or cities at least. I know that has happened in Chicago. I know when we sold out Madison Square Garden with Mayer it was magical, absolutely magical. Everyone was on. The thing is, you know, we're all professionals so we know our bad shows aren't bad, but our good shows are great. [laughs]

Q: How did Low Millions come together?

MC: It's funny because Adam Cohen and I have been writing and recording demos for about five years, since before I met John (Mayer). Some of the demos that we did happened to have gotten a deal while I was out on the road with John. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. The Low Millions record was released last fall when John decided to take a break. I literally left John, I think in Atlanta, got on a plane, and met up with Low Millions in Nashville, and here we are, man. We've been on the road ever since. I actually juggled gigs between Low Millions and John last fall because I was still committed to John for the rest of the year. There were a few gigs here and there. I made half of this Low Millions record in hotel rooms around the world while touring with John.

Q: How did you do that? Somebody sends you tracks?

MC: Adam would send me an mp3 of a song, and I would load it in my Pro Tools. I've got my MBox, a bunch of pedals and goodies, and some Line 6 stuff to try to do the best I can to make it sound good. Sometimes I would have my Champ in the room and I would mic it up.

Q: A Fender Champ?

MC: Yeah, which is a great recording amp by the way. To anybody out there getting into the game, an old Fender Champ is incredible. So, I've literally recorded these tracks, and I would do 10, 11 different ideas and then send them back. Because I wasn't home, and I had to make the record. [laughs] But yeah, he would email me mp3s and I would do my thing and send them back.

Q: But you weren't laying down tracks in mp3, right?

MC: I didn't send him mp3s back. He would send me an mp3 of the rough track, I would import it into Pro Tools, put it on a grid, and because I knew the BPM, I would play exactly to it. Say I did eight different ideas, and I got eight tracks going. Then, I would bounce those down to wav files, you know, huge files that I can't email. So I would either post them on a server for him to download or burn them all to a CD and FedEx it.

Michael Chaves Spotlight InterviewQ: Then he would just lock it back up with the master and synchronize it?

MC: Yep. He would import it into the session, and they now have eight guitar tracks to work with.

Q: Amazing technology these days, isn't it?

MC: I know.

Q: 10-15 years ago, we couldn't come close to what we can do today.

MC: No way. I'd just spend a fortune in flights on my day off! [laugh]

Q: What's your main amp onstage?

MC: It's a 1961 Vox AC30.

Q: How about guitars?

MC: Right now I'm just traveling with a couple of Les Paul Standards with P90s.

Q: What effects do you use on a nightly basis?

MC: Oh, it's pretty outrageous, man. [laugh] You should see us trying to check in a flight with my pedalboards! [laughs]

Q: Which Line 6 stompbox modelers do you use?

MC: I use all of those. I think they're great; they have everything in them and they're programmable. For instance, the different types of delay in the delay unit (DL4), or all the modulation units in the blue pedal (MM4). It's so convenient and they do a good job. I also use the original DigiTech Whammy and the original Ibanez Tube Screamer. I love the Voodoo Lab stuff a lot too.  The Sparkle Drive is great.

Q: Do you have any rack gear or do you stick mostly with pedals?

MC: Both. My rack has pedals in it. [laughs]

Q: How do you switch them all?

MC: I use the Ground Control by Voodoo Lab. It sends MIDI signals, it programs. It's a nightmare when it goes down, it's hilarious. When something goes down, it's really funny because I show up the next day, it's like I'm under the hood of my car or something. I'm in there just going, "OK, what happened last night?"

Q: Do you have a backup in case something goes out in the middle of a show?

MC: Yeah, I do have backup plans in place. There's a button I can hit to just go direct to the amp and bypass everything. If all else fails, I can just go into my reissue AC30, which I also have up there.

Q: What is success to you?

MC: I think I measure success by how I feel night to night. If I'm ever out there and not having fun onstage, if my head's not in it, if I'm not thinking about the show and the music, and having a good time, or if I ever come off and think, "That was work," then I think it might be time to go home. If I had a good night, we made some good friends and good fans, and we had a good show, that's success for that evening. Let's move on to tomorrow. Put it this way�last fall when I was juggling Low Millions and John Mayer gigs, literally in a 24-hour period I would be on a charter plane to Aruba, playing a gig in front of 20,000 people and then hours later I'm back in a van with six guys playing to 20 people. [laughs] It's all fun for me, man.

Q: You have a great attitude Michael, and I'm sure that's had a lot to do with your success in the music industry. Thanks for talking with us today!

MC: No problem! Take care.

Interview provided by


Recommended Listening - A Must For Your Collection!

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Jacksonville City Nights
By Drew Pearce
On the second of three releases planned for this year, Adams finally delivers the record his pedal steel�loving fans have been hoping for since Faithless Street, the 1996 debut from his former band, Whiskeytown. Just two years after cranking out Rock N Roll, an alt-rock record with echoes of U2 and the Smiths, Adams trades in the Marshall stacks for mournful fiddles and honky-tonk piano. The quieter arrangements and dramatic dynamics serve his storytelling well and are a testament to the musicianship of his band, the Cardinals. Such lines as �The trains run like snakes through the Pentecostal pines� might have been drowned out on Rock N Roll. But here, tunes like �Hard Way to Fall� recall Neil Young and the Band, making it clear that this recording is influenced more by country-rock pioneers than Adams� peers. Fans who are drawn to his anthemic pop hooks might not immediately take to sleepy waltzes like �The End� and slow-burning ballads like �Dear John,� his duet with Norah Jones. But Adams croons classic country with so much passion that he�s likely to win over new fans who prefer Waylon and Willie to the Strokes and Franz Ferdinand. (Lost Highway,


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