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Guitar Musician e-zine     07/27/05


In This Issue:


  "... I would just like to say that Ritchie Blackmore did a bunch of great stuff guitar - wise. I'm happy to play the solo from 'Highway Star'. I always thought it was one of the most exciting guitar solos I'd ever played ..."

                                                                  - Steve Morse / Dixie Dregs / Deep Purple


Some Humor

  A couple from Minneapolis decided to go to Florida to thaw out during a
particularly icy winter. They planned to stay at the very same hotel
where they spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier. Because of hectic
schedules, it was difficult to coordinate their travel reservations. So, the
husband left Minnesota and flew to Florida on Thursday and his wife was to fly
down the following day.

The husband checked into the hotel. There was a computer in his room, so
he decided to send an e-mail to his wife. However, he accidentally left out
one letter in her e-mail address and without realizing his error, he
sent the e-mail.

Meanwhile .. somewhere in Houston, a woman had just returned home from
her husband's funeral. He was a minister for many years and had been "called
home to glory" following a sudden heart attack. The widow decided to
check her e-mail, expecting messages from relatives and friends. After reading
the first message, she fainted.The widow's son rushed into the room,
found his mother on the floor, and saw the computer screen which read:

To: My Loving Wife
Subject: I've Arrived
Date: 29 January 2005

I know you're surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now
and you are allowed to send e-mails to your loved ones. I've just arrived
and been checked in. I see that everything has been prepared for your
arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then! Hope your journey is as
uneventful as mine was.

PS: Sure is hot down here!

 


 
Click here for all products by Line 6.
 

Variax 300 Modeling Guitar

Line 6's wizard guitar made affordable for all

By Seth Lazaroff

Two years ago, Line 6 introduced the first modeling guitar. With a single knob and a five-position blade selector, it provided access to incredible models of classic acoustic and electric guitars, resonators, even a sitar and a banjo�28 models in all. With the Variax 300, Line 6 has made this astounding technology available to the fiscally challenged bar gigger in a sweet-playing, great-looking axe. As icing on the cake, the models on the Variax 300 can be controlled from the PODXT Live.

Musician's Friend Hands-On Prodict Review: Variax 300 Modeling Guitar Poor boy blues
When I reviewed the Line 6 Variax 500�the original Variax�in 2003, I was totally blown away by its cutting-edge technology. The sound quality of the guitar models was surreal in its precision. The guitar played great, looked great, and offered so much flexibility I could hardly balk at its price tag. I lusted after it, but I didn't buy one.

My main axe is a vintage LP, and in my setup the Variax would be perfect to fill in all those critical parts my usual guitar just can't handle�SRV's biting single coil tone on "Pride and Joy," say, or the sitar on "Paint It Black," or the banjo on "Man of Constant Sorrow." The acoustic guitar tones are phenomenal as well. The Variax gives you the magical ability to dial up any signature tone the song requires. But its price was just too steep for my pocketbook.

Here comes the sun
Two additional years of painstaking production refinements have enabled Line 6 to squeeze the exact same astounding technology that was in the original Variax down to a price that makes it silly for any full-range guitarist to do without one. Being a full-range guitarist myself (just ask me), I've already placed my order for a new Variax 300.

Until it gets here, I'm hanging on to the one Musician's Friend sent me for review. I'm like a kid in a candy store with all these amazing sounds at my fingertips. Particularly impressive are the models based on the vintage single-coil/single cut, electric 12-string, acoustic 12-string, tri-cone resonator, electric sitar, and banjo. Just a twist of the knob and I'm playing a whole different instrument.

Click to Enlarge Material world
Of course, sound isn't everything. This guitar has it going on in the touch department, too. The bolt-on maple neck is fleet and silky to the touch with a matte finish on the back and a flawless rosewood fretboard with 22 perfectly set and dressed frets. The action is low with no buzzing�it arrived perfectly set up.

Individual piezo-bearing saddles are fully and easily adjustable for height and position. Sealed in-line tuners are stable, geared low, and need only one string tree. The neck joint is sculpted to stay out of your way and the double cutaways are designed for effortless access with a deep rear scoop on the treble side. It's a very comfortable guitar to play, lightweight with a deep waist carve for your ribs and a nice rounded lower bout for your forearm. The balance is just right on your knee or on your shoulder.

Click to Enlarge What is most impressive about this guitar physically is its resonance. You can feel the kind of vibrant resonance that only comes from good wood and a tight neck joint. The string-through-body bridge no doubt enhances the vibration and helps provide this guitar's nearly limitless sustain. The chromed, knurled control knobs are placed in a familiar row on the tailing edge of the pickguard for easy pinky swells.

While this guitar is not huge on the flash, it's a long way from a plain Jane. Its unique body style is well balanced visually and the swooped three-layer black-and-white pickguard is the perfect enhancement. The lack of pickups gives it a very clean and distinctive appearance. The fretboard dots have a subtle orange cast for a smoldering three-dimensional effect.

Killing floor
Plugged into a standard guitar amp via its standard quarter-inch output jack, the Variax 300 rules. But connect it to the Line 6 PODXT Live via the guitar's proprietary computer output jack, and it becomes a true marvel of the 21st century. The PODXT Live provides all the amp models and effects of the PODXT on the floor with an expression pedal and special tweaking so it will sound great either through an amp or straight into the board.

The PODXT miraculously controls the models on the Variax. All of the presets in the PODXT automatically select the proper guitar model on the Variax 300. If you select "Cold Shot" for example, the Spank-5 guitar model is automatically selected on the Variax. When you turn the model selector or move the blade switch on the Variax 300, control returns to the guitar.

This is an incredibly cool feature. Just pick or create the exact sound you need for the part in question and save the whole thing�including the guitar model�in the preset patch. When you're playing, the touch of a foot button will call up everything just as you need it. It's so quick you can even do call-and-response jams with yourself using different guitar setups. I tried "Dueling Banjos" switching between the banjo and flattop models�it was a hoot!

Thank you
With the Variax 300, Line 6 has made a huge host of classic guitar sounds available to all of us out here playing in the trenches. Without sacrificing any playability, the Variax 300 has a much friendlier price and all the electronic magic of the original model. It's the ideal second guitar for every working guitarist. For my money, it wins on all counts. Bravo, Line 6!

 

Features & Specs:


  • Contoured agathis body
  • North American maple neck with rosewood fingerboard
  • 22 medium-profile frets
  • 25-1/2" scale length
  • 12" fingerboard radius
  • 1.69" nut width
 

GUITAR Q AND A

 

Can I Use a Pick To Play Bass?

Kyle Peterson; Maui, HI

Q: Is it wrong to use a pick to play Bass guitar? I see most bass players using their fingers to play but I think it is easier and sounds better when I use the pick. I just don't want to do something that is totally incorrect that will affect me badly in the future.

A: It is totally legal to use a pick to play Bass guitar! Some of the best players in the world use a pick to play and here are some of the reasons.

I just finished shooting two new Bass DVD's "Metal Bass" Level 1 & 2 with Dave Ellefson the Bassist of Megadeath through their glory days and learned a lot about this topic.

Using a pick will allow you to play unison riffs with a Guitarist with ease and accuracy. One of the main reasons that Dave uses a pick is that it creates a sound that cuts through the mix and makes it easier to hear within a song.

I suggest that you learn to play with a pick and also to use your fingers, there are certain times that using your fingers will be the perfect thing to accent a song and create the perfect Bass line.

Hope this helps!

Yours in Music
John McCarthy
Rock House


 


 

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson ascended into the pantheon of guitar luminaries in the mid 1980s, when his native Austin took center stage in the country's musical consciousness. Coming up around the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Billy Gibbons, Johnny Winter, and Jimmie Vaughan, Johnson first received national attention at the age of 20�in 1974�lighting it up with the fiery fusion of The Electromagnets. But since the age of 16 he'd already been a member of Mariani�a hard-driving rock band that shared stages with the likes of ZZ Top and Deep Purple.

Musician's Friend's Artist Spotlight Exclusive Interview with Eric Johnson His work with The Electromagnets was so . . . electric and . . . magnetic that it got Eric on the cover of Guitar Player magazine. Since then his star has steadily risen with early studio gigs on the albums of major artists like Christopher Cross, Carole King, and Cat Stevens; collaborations with heavyweights like Chet Atkins, Steve Morse, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Adrian Legg, and Dweezil Zappa; and a growing body of top-notch solo work, both acoustic and electric.

Johnson won a Grammy for "Cliffs of Dover," (not to mention a number of nominations) and was the only artist ever to have three instrumentals from the same album reach top ten status. From his Austin home, Johnson spoke with Musician's Friend about his new album, his musical loves, his signature Strat�, and how he consistently gets better tone than any guitarist alive. His laid-back manner is more like that of a favorite cousin than a man with three decades' tenure as a musical icon.

In Part One, Johnson tells us about his guitar tone, jamming around with Stevie Ray, cutting an album that has to be perfect, and transferring his piano knowledge to the guitar.

Musician's Friend: How did you get the gig with G-3?

Eric Johnson: They just called me and asked me to do it. I think it was Joe's idea. They decided to put it together and they just called me. We did a couple of tours.

Q: So were you with them on the first G-3 tour?

EJ: On the first one, yeah.

Q: Did you know Joe before that?

EJ: Yes. A couple of years before that I did a U.S. tour with him.

Q: You two were playing together just on the same ticket?

EJ: Same ticket. We just didn't really play together. Each band. I played and then he played.

Q: Good player and he's a really nice guy, too.

EJ: Yeah.

Q: You're known as the King of Tone. Of course we all try to get different sounds for different songs, but your tone seems to always be distinctively yours. Are there any special tonal qualities you're looking for across the board?

EJ: Well, I just try to go for a tone as pure as I can get. Just a nice big warm sound that's really natural.

Q: So by "natural" you mean you're trying to get the sound of the guitar rather than the sound of the equipment in between?

EJ: Yeah, just where the EQ's flattened out natural, like trying to mimic an acoustical instrument, like a saxophone or piano or violin. I use those acoustic instruments as points of reference to mold what I want to do. So you know it's electric but it doesn't sound processed or too electric. Unless I'm going for a specifically processed effect, I want the sound to be as natural as possible.

Q: You grew up in Austin when that scene was really heating up. Tell us about those early days in Austin.

EJ: It was great! Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan and I hung out and played different clubs. Christopher Cross is from Austin. Johnny Winter used to play here all the time. There were all sorts of different styles of music, too. It was country, blues, jazz�pretty much everything.

Q: What years are you thinking of?

EJ: Late '70s or '80s, the old period in there.

Q: Do or did you have close personal friendships with any of those guys?

EJ: Yeah, most of them I did. I knew Stevie. We weren't close personal friends, but we were friends. I knew him and we hung out a little. He was a really warm and really nice guy. We had a lot of mutual friends so we saw each other pretty often. A lot of people knew him better than I did.

Q: You jammed with him some.

 

Musician's Friend's Artist Spotlight Exclusive Interview with Eric Johnson

EJ: Yeah, we did a little tour then I'd come out and play with him on his shows. And we did a little jamming sitting around a couple of times�that kind of thing.

Q: Were your styles very compatible? Was he a fun guy to play with?

EJ: Oh yeah! I'd go out to hear him play at Soap Creek Saloon a lot. We had different styles but we appreciated and enjoyed the same kind of music.

Q: You had some similar roots, some of the same heroes.

EJ: Exactly!

Q: Speaking of heroes, I've read that you were a big Hendrix fan and a Clapton fan.

EJ: Right, definitely!

Q: How have you incorporated those influences in your playing?

EJ: The people that I really loved, I just took all the different styles and sort of molded them together to make my own style. Anybody that I really admired I wouldn't really be afraid of copying them note for note, which doesn't do much for an original thing. But it teaches you how to understand and digest where they're coming from. Once you've done that, you can move on to another place which is developing your own style. I would just study a lot of people and try to copy them note for note and then turn it into my own thing.

Q: Cream is doing some shows in the UK in May, maybe they'll extend it and do some dates in the U.S.

EJ: Yeah that would be great. Is Clapton going to use a Gibson? [laughs]

Q: Probably.

EJ: Oh good!

Q: In an interview in 1986 you said that you felt your playing was too regimented and that you wanted to learn to relax and really expand your boundaries. Would you say 19 years later that you've accomplished that?

EJ: To a certain extent. I think it's an ongoing process and I'm always in the process of learning different stuff. Different scales and concepts and stuff. But I've still got a ways to go, that's for sure. I think that ultimately that's the place you want to be�where you're freer. You develop the scope of what you can do to the point where you can step into that freedom and kind of forget about what you've learned because it's there at your disposal. You have the wherewithall to pull it off.

Q: Do you feel like you can do that a lot better now?

EJ: I feel like I can always do it better than it used to be, but there's still a lot of room for growth. I'm learning more all the time. And sometimes you learn that what you learned was not the best way to learn it. So then you take a back step and you wind up farther along than you were because you took a back step. You rethink it or redo it and then you go to the next step.

Q: A lot of fans who put your playing on a pedestal will be surprised to find out that you're still learning and that you're sometimes taking back steps.

EJ: Yeah, I think we are all still learning and the moment we think we are not that's not a good place to be, because you've kind of stifled yourself. It's humorous, the moment you start to think it's all coming together is like the moment you've started building your own little glass illusion. You live an illusion, which becomes clear when you break that bubble and look at reality. Any given day, any given place, you can go out and hear any guitarist and there's something to learn from them. It doesn't matter if they do one chord or 10,000 or if they are fastest player in the world. If you open your eyes, you're going to see something. And you'll go, "Wow, I didn't think about it that way." But accepting reality, rather than our illusions of ourselves as players, can make it more exhilarating and more fun to play.

 

Musician's Friend's Artist Spotlight Exclusive Interview with Eric Johnson

Q: Do you remember the last time you got in a situation where you thought you were totally out of your depth?

EJ: Oh yeah, like when I go jam with a jazz band on some complicated thing with tons of chord changes. And I'm crawling to the bathroom or something. [general laughter] Feel like you're treading water. [more laughter] Yeah, but uh, it's good to get yourself in those situations.

Q: You do that very often? Go and jam with some hot jazz guys?

EJ: Not as often as I should. I do a little bit, though. Whenever I have the nerve for it. That makes you start learning more and you get better at it.

Q: Over the years you've been an opening act for other people and you've had plenty of opening acts for you. How does the opening band or the band you're opening for affect your playing?

EJ: Well, it can kick you to do a better show if the opening band is really good. I usually I like it when the other act is a different kind of music so that you don't overwhelm people with the same kind of stuff. It's like banging people over the head if I come out and do the trio thing for two hours with the amps on 10. Sometimes it's nice if you have a different type of music to start it off with. On the other hand, when I do acoustic touring it's usually better if the opener is acoustic as well. In that case it seems to work better when it's kind of the same kind of music.

Q: I saw Willy Porter open for you this year.

EJ: It was great! Yeah, he did a bunch of shows with us.

Q: Did you guys get a chance to play together?

EJ: No not this time, but I hope sometime. It was so quick we just never got the opportunity.

Q: Speaking of heavy-duty guys, we were talking with Steve Morse a few weeks ago. You played on his album Stand Up?

EJ: Oh yeah. Right.

Q: What was it like playing with Steve Morse?

EJ: He's great. Yeah definitely, he's a hero of mine, too. He's so versatile. He's just so good at everything he does. I really enjoyed playing on that. I haven't talked to him in a while. I'd like to talk to him. We've crossed paths here several times in the last couple years but you know like he'll be in the same town I'm in the same night. But then I don't see him for a while.

Q: You ought to give him a call. He's a really nice guy. Fun to talk to.

EJ: Yeah, maybe. Do you have his number by chance?

Q: Yeah, I'd be glad to give it to you. I'm sure he'd love that.

EJ: That would be great. Do you have the numbers for N-Sync and Jennifer Lopez, as well? I've got to call them. I was going see if Jennifer Lopez wanted to do a version of "Spoonful." [laughs]

Q: She'd like to do it, but she wants Ben Affleck. [general laughter]

EJ: Who are the top three musicians or composers of whatever type who've influenced your personal style?

EJ: I would say Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Hendrix, and then early Joni Mitchell as far as the acoustic stuff.

Q: Joni Mitchell.

EJ: Yeah, when I'm doing acoustic stuff.

Q: Joni's one of the most creative and accomplished artists ever, but you don't hear guitarists citing her as an influence much. So, what's happening with your new record Bloom, is it out or what?

EJ: It's all finished and it's been finished for a while. It's scheduled to come out early June. I think actually June 14 will be when it's in the stores.

Q: Cool!

EJ: It's on Favored Nations, Steve Vai's label. 16 songs. About a third of it is vocal and the rest of it is instrumental. It goes through all different styles of music. It's probably the most diverse record I've ever made. Which�I don't know�that could be a marketing nightmare. But that's OK.

Q: Have you been working on it for a long time or did you just crank it out?

EJ: I have been working on it a long time but the actual recording time has been surprisingly less than usual. I've been working on it for about five or six years. But only in little pockets.

Q: You had been doing the composition for five or six years? But you haven't been really been recording that long have you?

EJ: Well, I'll work on it a little bit, cut a couple tunes and then I'll go off and do something else. We did that live record in between it and stuff. It was 23 songs, it was going to be a double CD. Then I sat down and had an honest listen to it and I took seven of the songs off because they were just kind of mediocre. And it ended up with 16. 16 pieces that I'm pretty happy with.

Q: Wow, that's going to be a great record.

EJ: You know, I like it. I think it turned out good.

Q: Who all you got on there?

EJ: Bill Maddox and Chris Maresh played on it. Tommy Taylor played drums and Roscoe Beck played bass, Tom Breckline played drums, Tal Bergman played drums, and Shawn Colvin did a little singing. Adrian Legg did a little guest spot.

Q: Tell us about Adrian Legg. I've never seen him. But I have one of his CDs that somebody gave me. Just blew my mind.

EJ: He's great. We toured together and he actually did one of the G-3 tours. Then we did some touring on our own. And it was great fun, I really enjoyed it. He was a storyteller. And he imparts humor into his guitar playing. There's this country piece on the new record called "Tribute to Jerry Reed." He's in the middle of it and he as soon as he comes in he sounds like a laughing hyena.

Q: [Laughs]

EJ: A laughing hyena the way he plays. [Laughs] He's just got this kind of humor to it. It's great, you know, "Don't take things too seriously."

Q: I read something about an acoustic album you were recording. It's not the same album right?

EJ: No, totally different record with totally different music. Yeah, I've cut 13 pieces for it.

Q: How many pieces are you going to cut? That sounds like a record to me.

EJ: Well, it is. And I just got some rough mixes of it and I don't know. True to form as I always do. I'm like, "I've got to redo it." I want to pass out some CDs to some friends and my manager and get their feedback rather than just immediately decide to redo it. But my initial thought was I nailed maybe three or four of the pieces and the rest of it I need to redo. Recording goes quicker because it's just me on an acoustic guitar, obviously. But the tough part is I've really committed to making this the beginning of a new concept of trying to record more performance-oriented. So I'm actually playing and singing the stuff live in the studio.

Q: Yeah, if you do it all with overdubs you kind of lose that. Don't you?

EJ: Well, you can. The really hard thing for me is to get from the beginning to the end of the song without sucking. [laughs]

Q: But usually the guy who's playing hears these things that nobody else hears.

EJ: Well, that's why I want to make five or six tapes of these rough mixes. I'm going to pass them out and get some honest feedback from people. So it's not just me not being able to see the forest for the trees. But there's some good stuff on it. If I can get this performance thing it's going to be breathtaking. It's going to be great because there's so much more vibe in it. I want to start recording everything this way. It's worth it, even if you have to go back and fix a little or overdub a little bit. Go for that big picture of just recording the vibe, like they used to in the old days before they didn't have any choice. Unfortunately we have the choice now with all this hoopla gear. We can paste our lives together and make us look good, like plastic surgery or something.

Q: All the digital pitch correction and quantizing.

EJ: I'm beginning to think we pay a very expensive price for that luxury.

Q: You have some guests on the acoustic record?

EJ: I will probably have some guest artists. I'm still kind of feeling it out, trying to figure out what I'm going to do on that.

Q: Have you got a name for this thing?

EJ: I don't yet. I was thinking about Are You Experienced. What do you think?

Q: I've never heard of that.

EJ: Yeah, I was thinking that might work. I knew it had a successful ring to it. I don't know. [laughs]

Q: [laughs] How about Wheels of Fire? [laughs]. I can't wait to hear that. Send us one of those tapes and we'll tell you what we think. We sure would.

EJ: OK. Well, I might do that.

Q: What kind of stuff is on it? What's it like?

EJ: You know it's totally different stuff. It's kind of folky classical stuff I've written over the years. And there's a couple of covers. I'm doing a Beatles tune and a couple of Simon and Garfunkel tunes.

Q: And you're singing on these?

EJ: Yeah, I'm singing on it. That's the big holdup. [laughs] If it weren't for that it would have been out months ago.

Q: You telling us you can't sing like Art Garfunkel?

EJ: [laughs] No, nowhere near it.

Q: Is it because it's hard to play it and sing it?

EJ: Well, that's part of it. Yeah, it's tough. This has really been an eyeopener for me to try to improve my vocals. With solo music, or with anything you do, whether it's for a 20-piece band or three-piece band, I think that it should be able to hold up qualitatively just with a single guitar and a voice. And then you know you have something rather than hiding behind all the production or whatever. But, having said that, on this record my voice is really up front and it's like all of a sudden you go, "Wow, I've got to really sing like a vocalist." Because you don't have anything to hide behind. You can't just kind of tuck it in the mix and say, "Well, that's good enough." Regardless of whether it's technically perfect or not, it's got to have a persona or some kind of thing about it that makes it cool. It's uncomfortable, but that can be good because then you start looking at what you can do to build the song better. Whatever somebody can learn in their own moment by themselves with just their voice and their instrument and their composition, they always take that for the better when they do the big band thing. It just makes it all the better.

Q: When you started out years ago were you singing much or did you picture yourself just as a guitar player?

EJ: I was mainly just a guitarist. I kind of starting singing by default.

Q: If a new listener is going to pick up only one of your albums, which one would you recommend? Don't say the new one. [laughs] Or you can say it if you want.

EJ: Ah, I can't say that one, can I? I think it would probably be Ah Via Musicom because that has the best honking guitar playing of any record I've done.

Q: What was your favorite on that album? Is there a song that you still love to play every time you play it?

EJ: I like playing "Trademark." I got tired of "Cliffs of Dover," although I still play it because I pretty much have to play it as part of my set. But for some reason "Trademark" is always kind of fun to play. And "East Wes," we've been playing that lately, that's kind of fun. And I still like "Forty Mile Town."

Q: Yeah. "Forty Mile Town" is a really cool tune. That one really caught me.

EJ: Well, thank you.

Q: When you're playing over chord changes, do you work mostly from arpeggios, do you work from chord shapes on the guitar, or are you just doing it by feel? How do you get your ideas?

EJ: Well, I think originally I would just play scales over a song and now slowly but surely I'm starting to play through the chord changes. That's making it a little bit more colorful and more fun for me, as I gradually learn to interweave the soloing harmonically and melodically through the given chord changes.

Q: So, when you do that are you doing it mostly with arpeggios or just with chord shapes within the scales, or how do you think about it visually?

EJ: Well, I try to mix it all up so that you can either have scales or arpeggios or you can invert the arpeggios or invert the scales or play the notes of the chords. Then the way you pick it or the way you tremolo it or stretch the string or play it soft or play it fast. Play it up near the neck or down where the bridge is. I just try to develop all of the ways that you can produce a note. Then you can just weave them all together. Kind of use them for the particular motion you're trying to convey.

Q: How much do you practice now? Or do you practice? And if so, what does your practice consist of?

EJ: I'm trying to practice several hours a day at least. And if I don't I can get bad real fast. [laughs] In no time at all. Within two or three days I'll be back to the folk chords. My repertoire will be "Kumbaya," and "On Top of Old Smoky." [general laughter] And that's it. That's all she wrote.

Q: [laughing] So what do you do when you're practicing? Do you have exercises or do you just work through your repertoire?

EJ: You can practice a whole bunch and not learn much. And then there's the more efficient, smarter practice where you can practice one fourth the time and get five times as much done. And that is pushing yourself beyond the corral of where you are. And the best way for me to do that is to work on new songs but kind of inadvertently have in the back of my head pushing guitar techniques. That works for me because then I can work on music which provides me with more fun. But I'm indirectly working on technique. If I just sit down and spend hours on technique alone I get too bored too fast. I'll stick with it maybe three or four days, but ultimately I'll just not want to do it because it's not fun.

Q: Some people say if you practice scales too much, you'll just sound like you're playing scales when you're soloing.

EJ: I totally agree. Obviously the best of both worlds is if you're a schooled player who also plays beautifully. Like Steve Morse went to school and he plays beautifully. Pat Metheny went to school; he plays beautifully. I think more often than not, there's that danger. Just as there's the danger of somebody that never studies music. They get stuck in a tunnel view if they don't study at all. But the person who studies constantly is just like you said, you hear it in the way they produce their music. So there are two sides of the fence. But ultimately you've got to put the music first.

Q: What is your formal musical education? Where have you picked up your theory and stuff?

EJ: I don't know if theory comes from ear training and so I'm not really good at knowing scales or names of stuff. I studied for seven years playing piano. And one of the most interesting things that was stressed by my piano teacher which, I don't know why, but every time we had a piano lesson she'd be behind the piano and we would be in the class and we couldn't see the keyboard and she'd say "What note is this? What note is that?" Basically she was trying to develop in us perfect pitch. Which I think you can develop. I don't think it's necessarily just something that you're born with. You can develop it, and she was really able to make us develop it. And then she'd play a fourth, a fifth, a seventh, "What is this? What is that?" She tried to develop us so that we'd really understand on a musical level what we were hearing. I think you can understand it more completely if by your ear you know why it sounds the way it does. Rather than just knowing to look at a symbol or read music. I can read music but I'm very poor at it. I really wish I was better if for no other reason than you can sit down and just go through all sorts of literature and learn from it. It's a real chore for me just to read single lines let alone multiple lines.

Q: Do you ever write out guitar parts when you're developing your ideas like in tab or something?

EJ: If I have to write out a guitar part I usually notate it out. Just as a note to myself. If I need to write chord charts or notations for other players, I'll do that. But I'll do it kind of grimacing because I'd rather just not do it. And the only way you get better is to do it more.

Q: Aside from your piano training all those years, did you ever have any specific guitar training?

EJ: No. Because I played piano, when I got my first guitar I sat down and I just played every fret on the guitar. And then I played the note on the keyboard. I would sit there and do it over and over until I could memorize what notes were what on the guitar. It only took a few months to do it. If you've already studied an instrument, then I think it's just sitting down and translating that to the mechanics of the other instrument. That part was relatively simple. But then obviously developing technique takes a lifetime.

Q: Learning the names of every note on the fretboard by heart sounds like an important thing to know, and it's something I don't know. When you lay your hand anywhere on the neck in a chord you can look real quickly and tell which note you're on with each finger, right?

EJ: Absolutely. I do clinics sometimes. When I'm touring if we have the opportunity I'll give a talk and play songs. It's important, but not critical to develop ear theory. If you can, develop it to where you can say, "That's F," or "That's C#." It's also good to get to where you can hear a fifth or a fourth or a sixth and know what it is. The second most important thing is if you look at any fret on any string on that guitar, by process of association and repetition you get to a point where you just automatically know it. You don't even have to think about it. It's kind of like breathing. Anybody can do that. It might sound more insurmountable than it really is. It's just a matter of repetition and association and doing it over and over and over.

Q: But still having fun! [laughs]

EJ: Well, no, fun doesn't have anything to do with it.

Q: It's kind of like multiplication tables, huh? You've got to memorize stuff.

EJ: [laughs] We're not talking about fun. We're talking about the search for excellence or something. Just kidding. That's true. It's gotta be fun. Thanks for reminding me. [laughs]

Q: I read about an old Les Paul that you used when you were playing with the Electromagnets. You said you sold it and you wished you had it back. That was a long time ago and I was wondering if you ever got it back?

EJ: Never did. It is was a '60 sunburst so if I'm sure if I ever found it it would be $150,0000! [laughs]

Q: Especially if they knew you had owned it! [laugh]

EJ: Oh man, it was a nice guitar. I've owned a number of them over the years but that was one I wish I had kept. Because it was a really, really nice guitar. I used it in the Electromagnets. I would end the gig and put it in the case. No special case just a brown case. Because at the time who cared? That was the original case. It was not like nowadays, "Oh you can't look at the original case." I took it on the road and we'd travel 300 miles to play a gig. Next day I'd get it out to play and that guitar would still be in perfect tune. It was just amazing. It was a beautiful-sounding guitar. I recently listened to a tape of it when I played it in the studio. It was just a great-sounding guitar. What was I thinking when I got rid of that? [laughs]

Q: While we're talking about guitars, why don't you tell us about your signature Strat and how that came about?

EJ: I had been talking to Fender for a number of years and they had been approaching me and I just never really did it. I met Michael Frank Braun at Fender and I got the vibe that he was the guy that was going to do it. I don't know why. It's like destiny or something. So about a year ago I decided I wanted to do it. So we started working on it. Michael came down here and he checked all my guitars out and tried to find some symmetry as to why over all the years I kept those guitars. I've been through tons of Strats and I ended up keeping just three old Strats in my whole life. And he found some interesting symmetry between them. So, he used that to design the guitar.

Q: What did he find in common between them?

EJ: All three of them had been routed for humbuckers and had a Floyd Rose put on them.

Q: Oh really?

EJ: No, just kidding. [laughter] The pickups were a certain strength, they were all made of alder wood, and the grain in the neck was a certain way. And tonally they had certain symmetry in the sound.

Musician's Friend Artist Spotlight Exclusive Interview with Eric Johnson Q: So, are you playing one of your new signature Strats on stage these days?

EJ: Yeah, I used it on my last electric gig. I had some people come up after the gig and say, "That thing sounded better than your '57!" I don't know if that made me feel good or bad. Maybe a little of both. [general laughter]

Q: What's on your pedal board?

EJ: I've got an old Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, TC Electronic Stereo Chorus Flanger, Vox Cry Baby, and an old B.K. Butler Tube Driver.

Q: That TC Stereo Chorus Flanger is great. Huh?

EJ: Yeah. I've never found anything I like better. And I have a couple of passive A/B boxes so I can switch between my three different amp setups. I allocate different effects for different amps. For my clean stereo rhythm I just use the TC Stereo Chorus. And then for my dirty rhythm�which is basically like an early Marshall-type Fender-y sound�I use the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face. The TC Chorus only goes through the Fenders for clean, and the Fuzz Face is only for the dirty rhythm sound. And the Vox Crybaby and the Tube Driver only go through the lead Marshall.

Q: Recording these albums, are you doing most of that at home in your own studio or are you recording somewhere else?

EJ: I do most of it in the studio that I built about 10 years ago.

Q: And what do you have in there?

EJ: Well, most of it's done on Pro Tools, but we do have some vintage gear as well�some two-inch analog in a console that I use pretty much. But most of it ends up on Pro Tools.

Q: What specific uses would you use the analog gear for?

EJ: Usually for guitar overdubs.

Q: Why?

EJ: It seems to give it a little bit of an X factor. I don't know what it is. It just gives a little analog vibe.

Musician's Friend Artist Spotlight Exclusive Interview with Eric Johnson

Q: Do you push the tape at all?

EJ: Yeah I cut it pretty hot�plus four, plus five. I have been known�when I'm not careful�to have the meter pegged and then the engineer will come in and say, "What are you doing?!" [laughs] The meter will just be slammed.

Q: So you always work with an engineer in your home studio?

EJ: Yeah almost always. Though sometimes I'll do guitar overdubs by myself, if I have an idea that I want to flesh out. I have an old MCI two-inch setup for 16 tracks. I run it through an old console and I've got it customized where it has a footswitch to punch in and record on. So, I can record on my own.

Q: When you're recording your guitar you've got this special sound. Do you use the same gear so you can duplicate it live?

EJ: Yeah pretty much. Live, I pretty much end up using all my vintage stuff. I say "I want to save this stuff for the studio. I'll get new gear for the road." But I usually end up taking the old amps on the road because they just have the tone.

Q: And when you're playing, tone's everything huh?

EJ: Yeah, I don't know what it is. I have a new Alessandro amp. George Alessandro made a new amp for me that sounds great. And I do have an amp that's called a Fulton Webb that I designed with Bill Webb. He did most of the work, but we designed it together. It's a really nice-sounding new amp. Those are the two new amps I use and they are only ones that I've been able to hang with.

Q: You also endorsed some GHS strings.

EJ: Yeah, they're the Nickel Rockers, 10-13-18-26-38-50. It's wild because most people don't use the Nickel Rockers. But Stevie used the Nickel Rockers, and I've always loved them. He loved them, but a lot of people prefer the Boomers.

Q: What's the difference in the tone of them?

EJ: Boomer's are brighter and twangier. But they seem to go dead quicker. Where the Nickel Rockers might not be as twangy in the beginning, they seem to sustain the same concentric tone for longer.

Q: You change them often?

EJ: If I'm on the road I'll change them every three or four gigs. And if I'm at home I'll usually not change them unless I really have to.

Q: [laughs] What's up on your tour schedule?

EJ: Well, we're going to do a quick little tour of the Midwest in May. And then we've got a month tour June 15th to July 15th. We're going out for a month. And most of those dates are going to be with Buddy Guy.

Q: Yeah, I'm going to have to catch a couple of those. Do you still live down in Austin?

Musician's Friend Artist Spotlight Exclusive Interview with Eric Johnson EJ: I do.

Q: Do you still like it?

EJ: I do like it here. I'm not sure what the deal is. I was telling somebody a couple of days ago . . . We were in Japan and had a day off and we went to Kyoto and saw the hills and the fog over the hills. We went to these castles where the samurai used to live. Then I came in and I played San Francisco and actually went to Portland . And we went in to play some ski resorts up in Vail and Aspen. I was doing solo acoustic stuff. The tour just took in all this beautiful land. Then the tour bus pulled into North Texas in the panhandle where there is nothing but just flat nothing. And I'm going, "Ah, I'm home!" I'm thinking "What's with me? I'm getting sentimental about this after all this pretty land I've been seeing." But I guess I'm just a born Texan. I like coming back here. I think getting to travel it's a good balance. If I didn't travel I might not live in Texas. If I just was always there. I don't know. It's a nice place to come back to.

Q: Is there any piece of gear that you don't own yet and you've always wondered about playing with?

EJ: Not really. I kind of go back to the same stuff. I just use Martin Guitars and Fenders and Gibsons. And then I like the old amps.

Q: What kind of Martins do you have?

EJ: I've got an old D-35, like a '68. It's a really nice guitar. And then I've got my signature Martin that I did with them about a year ago.

Q: Are there any microphones or any gear that you use in your studio that is critical. Like every time you get it out you're glad you got it?

EJ: Well, I have a new M-147 Neumann tube mic. It's a real sweet-sounding mic. And then I have a new U-87 which has a nice FET sound.

Q: What do you use the M-147 for?

EJ: Vocals. Or maybe some acoustic instruments sometimes. I have a pair of U-87s that are good for an alternative vocal sound, and they work pretty well on piano and guitar. For a really close mic I use a lot of old 57s. I like the Shure 57. Then room-wise I'll use a Neumann or something. And the AKG 414 is a nice mic for certain things

Q: You've got a set of drums set up in your studio so you can have somebody over any time?

EJ: I do, I actually do.

Q: And a bass rig?

EJ: Uh huh.

Q: Do you ever play your own bass lines?

EJ: I played bass on three of the songs on the new record.

Q: Does that bother your regular bass player [Chris Maresh]?

EJ: Oh, he's off doing so many different things I think he's kind of like, "whatever." [laughs]

Q: He's pretty darn good isn't he?

EJ: Oh he's great. As to why I played those instead of him, it's kind of silly. He should definitely do it instead of me. A lot of times it will be the middle of the night and I'll rewrite the guitar part. And then the old tracks don't quite match. Obviously Chris could play it better than I could. But I have to change the part to complement the new way I've done the thing. And I'm just in the moment of inspiration trying to get it done. More times it's just pieces of it that I might do to match the guitar change or something.

Q: You haven't played drums on any records have you?

EJ: [laughs] I hope not. In fact the engineer, Richard, is always kidding me about that, threatening me, "Don't you ever start playing those." I guess if I learned how to play . . . But at this point I don't know if it would be a good idea. [laughs] I tried before and it sounded pretty ridiculous. I think the lowest form of a response to something not being good is when somebody says, "That's unlistenable." I think if I played drums it wouldn't be a question of good or bad, it would be a question of unlistenable. [general laughter]

Q: Well, Eric, thanks a lot for your time. It was great talking to you.

EJ: Thank you, man. I hope to talk to you soon.

Exclusive Interview provided by Musicians Friend


Recommended Listening - A Must For Your Collection!

 
Corey Harris, Daily Bread
By Ian Zack
Is it reggae? Blues? Jazz? African folk? R&B? Corey Harris� seventh CD is as hard to categorize as it is pleasurable to experience. The 36-year-old guitarist and singer was first celebrated as a channeler of country-blues spirits, but he�s made it no secret that he seeks a more personal sound�an amalgam of roots styles that crosses musical borders. The 13 tunes on Daily Bread�played on a mix of western and African instruments, including violin, djembe, djun djun, and bamboo flute�are distinguished by evocative lyrics, hummable melodies, and Harris� most soulful singing to date. The title track, an ode to life�s simple pleasures, sets the mood with an opening acoustic-guitar lick that falls somewhere between Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Timbuktu. Among the guest musicians providing a spirited backing are New Orleans pianist/singer Henry Butler and jazz great Olu Dara, who lends trumpet, voice, and guitar to two songs, including the reggae- and jazz-inflected �Mami Wata.� As he moves further from the Delta, Harris will no doubt challenge fans who discovered him at the outset of his musical odyssey. But as Harris has proved time and again, no matter where his muse takes him, he�s one of his generation�s most talented tour guides. (Rounder, www.rounder.com)

 



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