Archives for category: Bluesman Vintage Guitars

Wanda Jackson at Mercy Lounge 2010

Easter is all about a renewal, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and what it means to us. Nashville itself is a town of resurrection, a place where Jack White has produced two great albums by Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson and where the underbelly that was East Nashville is the place to be.

Speaking of East Nashville, Bob Dylan came here in the Sixties to make a 180 in his career and where Robert Plant came just a couple of years ago to do just the same.  Speaking of which, I have heard that he has set up shop with Patty Griffin in Austin since the Band of Joy tour.

What is Nashville to me? A Californian-slash-Alabama bluesman? I started making the drive up to Nashville quite often starting in 2006 from Birmingham. I liked the fact that you could wander from one honky tonk to another and check out all the Telecaster blasters playing through mostly Fender tube amps almost any hour of the day.

I finally made the move after getting positive feedback about my songwriting abilities from a local publishing head at the end of 2007.

It was a very surreal world, where one Saturday morning, wandering around a guitar show, I ended up talking to Scotty Moore about how many Bill Black Combos, Bill really had.  The next minute, I am jamming on my 1936 Gibson Electric Hawaiian down on Lower Broad when Little Jimmy Dickens comes wandering out of nowhere and watches me jam for about 10 minutes, throws a $20 dollar bill into the vintage case and says. “Keep it up!” Mind you, I’m not making this up. In fact, if you are from Nashville, you know what I mean and are probably saying, “So what.”

I realized that everybody had a story, whether it was the Baskin Robbins on Lebanon that said Porter Wagoner used to come in all the time, or a snapshot in the window of Robert Plant stopping in to check out the guitars.

So what do I like about Nashville, now that I have been here a few years?

Strange Karma down on Lower Broad celebrating the bassist birthday!

Let’s see, there is more diversity than what outsiders would think, for starters, I have met a ton of Aussies and I, seriously, have never met one I didn’t want to hang with whether it was Anthony Snape or Strange Karma. I wonder if it was like this when Keith Urban first came here and was playing at the Guitar Bar? Did the Aussies start coming after Keith’s success or is Nashville a big magnet?

As far as diversity goes, you can get world class Indian Cuisine, of which I am all about Tamarind on Demonbreun. I’ve ate Indian food all over the place and that is about as good as it gets.  There are several ethnic communities here, whether it be Egyptian Coptic Christians or Somalis, the list goes on and makes for Eateries that go way beyond the meat and three.

Something is in the water in East Nashville, with several upstart, one of a kind places like Far East Nashville, not only your typical Vietnamese Pho and Vermicelli bowls, but, the actual family recipes fixed by the owners brother, in a totally unique way.

Porter Road Butcher Shop makes some amazing sausages featuring probably the best Andouille Sausage this far north of Bayou Country.  In fact, that is what I had for Easter. I could have whatever I wanted, so, I faxed three eggs with some sharp Vermont Cheddar and some of that Andouille Sausage on the side.

Nashville is a vinyl fanatic’s pipe dream, wandering between Grimeys, The Groove, Phonoluxe and the two Great Escape locations there is no reason to ever come up empty handed. In fact, there is a plethora of radio station promo copies which are usually on heavier, better quality vinyl.  Record Store Day is almost like a city holiday where a huge migration descends mainly on Grimeys by the thousands. My only gripe would be, is there no bootlegs? Back when, I used to travel over to Berkeley to Moe’s Bookstore and get vinyl Beatles bootlegs as well as concerts and demos engraved onto vinyl by everything from Queen to Aerosmith to The Clash it was something nobody else had.

Music is everywhere, as I laid down to bed the first few months in Nashville, I could hear music in my head like never before, like ghost radio stations, it seemed like there were thousands of songwriters who had passed on and never left Nashville, they were just trying to get that next big hit. It seemed as if there was singing in the netherworld and all you had to be was a little bit spiritually aware.

Tommy Tutone and Mario at Nashville Amp Expo

I think there are more Telecasters in a 30 mile radius than the whole state of California, where they were invented.  If you can’t find the perfect Telecaster, there are boutique builders from Mario Guitars in Murfreesboro to Chad Underwood in Lexington, Kentucky.

As far as electric guitar parts go, Rock Blocks Guitars has a wall of supplies juts minutes away.

Looking at the Musical Instrument section in Craigslist can be eye opening. You never know what you will find, anything from a 1964 Fender Precision sold by the bass player in Cinderella after a career’s worth of touring to a Gold Top Les Paul owned by Duane Allman. If there is a vintage Sho-Bud Steel around, no doubt, eventually, you’ll see it on Craigslist.

Southside Gentlemans Club at Burt's Tiki Lounge, newly acquired Dr. Z Stang Ray in the backline. 2009

My favorite personal story is about my Dr. Z Amplifier. I had been writing and playing my own brand of Ragtime Blues when I moved to Nashville. I had been using a 45 Watt Samamp from Birmingham when I got here and it was just too much. I was ready for a little 30 Watt or less combo. There are so many and I just decided to try them all. I brought my arch top with me and made the rounds from Corner Music to Gruehn Guitars to Rock Blocks. Finally, when I plugged into this Dr. Z Stang Ray at Rock Blocks, I had met my match, a simple tone stack, where you could really fill out the bass and a simple good looking black with white trim amp.  The speaker had been changed out to a Cannabis Rex and it had a sound all its own.

The price tag was $2100. I didn’t have $2100. In fact, even with selling some gear, donating blood and street gigging down on Lower Broad, I still probably would be $1000 a way. I needed that amp. I put it in God’s hands. It’s okay to say that in Nashville isn’t it? Well, that’s what I did, true story. I prayed and said, I’ve tried all the amps out that I can think of and that is the one that sounds right then tucked it away.

Well, things looked bleak when I lost my job in 2008, in fact, really bleak, I left Nashville, worked five months in Memphis, then that company went bankrupt and I ended up taking a job with a national company in Utah and moved out of Tennessee.

I never gave up on the music, I got my five piece ragtime blues band together in Utah, playing at Burt’s Tiki Lounge, finding some great musicians from an add I put out in Craigslist. On a whim in early 2009, I looked up the Nashville Craigslist and found that exact Dr. Z Stang Ray for sale. Guitarist, Gary Ishee, had put an add up that read something like this;“I bought this Dr. Z Stang Ray earlier this year at Rock Blocks and I need to sell it.”

It looked identical. I called him up and explained that I was stuck out in Utah, but, that I knew the amp and through our talk, he knew I was the real deal. I wired the money to his bank account including the cost to ship it. I bought it for $1250. I was able to come up with that only because I went out west to a company on a bad stretch, because of the economy, they let me have all the overtime I could handle. I got the amp in a big Roland amplifier box from UPS in Farr West, Utah and it was the exact amp. I sat there and cried. It was the exact same amp, in fact, the only amp I ever prayed about and I will include the picture of my group, The Southside Gentlemens Club playing at Burt’s Tiki Lounge a couple of months later with the amp in the backline.

Thank you Brad Paisley for input on the AC30 hybrid design, what a great amp. I still own it and fire it up almost every day in hopes to lay down some tracks here soon.   

Okay tracks, let’s talk about that. I was in Utah almost a year, when I came out here on vacation in September 2009. I had hoped to move back to Nashville someday, maybe when the economy got better, but, on a whim, I had kept in touch with a realtor, who didn’t give up on me, even though, I was out in the Rocky Mountain West. I will drop his name, because Kenneth Bargers is an amazing Realtor. He emailed me faithfully every month some houses I would be interested in.  When I was here for a week in September 2009, Kenneth Bargers took me around on two afternoons to look at houses.  I felt like I was back home, I wanted to be back in Nashville, I did not want to get back on the plane.

Daniel Turner

We found a house I really liked. The last night I was in town, I was hanging around and moping by the pool at the airport Courtyard over on Elm Hill Pike, not wanting to leave Nashville. I decided I needed to go do something, pull myself up by my bootstraps. So I got dressed and headed over to Commodore Grille to check out some songwriters. Cowboy Jack Clement was in the round and it gave me goose bumps. I thought, if I had stayed at the hotel, I would have missed this.  I decided I need to get back and I was heading out the door when I heard somebody call my name. “Brad!” I looked up and it was Daniel Turner, one of my music friends from Birmingham, Alabama walking in. I said to him, “What are you doing here?”  He explained that he was going to be playing the next round. It was a great reunion of old friends. I have so much respect for Daniel as an all around musician. He can play, write and sing. If anybody could make a great classic country album, he could. He has such a great voice, but, he had really been influenced by a lot of the Alabama Blues that is around Birmingham.

I went back to my hotel room on cloud nine. I could hardly sleep. I was going to find a way to get back and I did. I interviewed by phone and got a transfer. I found a house on and Kenneth Bargers looked at it for me and on his word, I bought it. In fact, Kenneth represented me at closing in November 2009 and I never walked into the house until the first week of December as an owner. It’s a true story, call Kenneth, if you need a Realtor and you can ask about it. He is the best Realtor in Nashville as far as I am concerned.

Kenny Malone at a clinic at Country Music HOF

Okay, so, I am back. I work hard. I have got to hang with some great musicians and do some great interviews. It’s been a great ride, but, I need to resurrect my own career. Sometimes, I think it would be easier to move down to Pensacola and put together a group from Craigslist and center on a little club or bar to be “our place,” but, there is the dream recording session, the possibility that I can put together, with a little cash or luck, Kenny Malone on drums, “Slick” Joe Fick from The Dempseys on Bass, the violinist I saw at Mike Farris’ in store at Grimeys and get a trumpet player that can play like Al Hirt and get this manic New Orleans meets Memphis circa 1940 music to record. I work hard at the music and I have some great friends. If that part of my career is supposed to “Resurrect,” it will.

For now, I will just enjoy the ride.

– Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN

Teaching some Stevie Ray at Lonestar Amps!

Last Saturday and Sunday, The Hyatt Place Hotel in Brentwood, right off Old Hickory was invaded by over 50 manufacturers of all things electric guitar and then some. The Nashville Amp Expo  kicked off at 11 am on Saturday with the entire Hotel under their control.

This was a lot different than the LA Guitar Show I attended several years ago, which took up the ballroom of The Roosevelt Hotel and was as noisy as a Guitar Center mid afternoon on a Saturday.

An excellent full color Program was available at check-in as well as T-Shirts, goodies and giveaway sign-ups. There was a full two days worth of seminars which I was not aware of since I had not visited the site, but, instead had the flyer attached to the fridge since the summer NAMM. I decided to not look for certain vendors since I would have had to trance up and down the elevator several times.

No, the best way was to go for the 2nd floor and work my way up to the 5th. The layout was great. It was only possible to get a few people into each manufacturers set up in each hotel room. This provided for almost a one on one presentation, sometimes with the door open and sometimes closed, depending on how loud things were getting in the hallway.

Well, I had to start at one end which happened to be Soloway Guitars with Jim Soloway. Jim had a unique approach to building and playing. He had a couple of styles. The Swan with its 15” width gave the appearance of a 16” or 17” semi hollow body with its chambered body raised some curiosity. The unique width of 1 13/16” at the nut and 2 3/16” at the bridge provided some ideas for a fingerpicker like me.  I stumbled a little bit with the “wider than a Martin” feel, but could see some real unique possibilities.

There was a lot to see as I worked my way down and there were certain builders I wanted to get to. One of which was Bluesman Vintage Guitars , since I had met the owner during NAMM at The Wildhorse Saloon. There has been a lot of buzz on the Tele Style guitars being turned out by this local builder.  They even had a giveaway. I haven’t been contacted so I guess I wasn’t lucky on that one. The best piece I found there was a fat neck vintage looking Tele Replica with the typical early Broadcaster finish with plenty of spank and detail. The specially wound Nunley Wade pickups were a double plus. The Timmy Pedal built locally in Murfreesboro, TN was an Overdrive I will remember from that suite.

Richard Goodsell in form on the finest in Atlanta Boutique.

Richard Goodsell at Goodsell Amplification  gave a detailed view of his ideas and different formats of Amplifiers. Where else can you meet with the actual designer and get to play his own Goodsell Serial Number one Super 17 Mark III with a tag that said “Do Not Sell”. Goodsell had a wide variety of preamp formats to fit the output tube configuration. Goodsell probably had the best looking amp, a 10 watt Baby Blue number. I wanted to try out the Black Dog 20 Watt to find out if he was after a JTM 45 or maybe Jimmy’s Supro. Richard did identify his orange amp as very “Supro” sounding. It was all interesting, in fact the most detailed of any manufacturer at the show, but, I had spent so much time with Mr. Goodsell and VIP Guitarist Ted Dillard that I had to go before I ran short on time.  Richard Goodsell brought a wide variety from his headquarters in Atlanta, GA.

After hearing the detailed sound in Goodsell Super 17 Mark III number one, I really wanted to go direct head to head with Sam Timberlake’s newest   Samamp .  Sam had brought several pieces up from his shop in Birmingham, Alabama including the eye catching round amp. Sam showed us his newest piece, the V.A.C. 40.

Samamp VAC 40 makes its Debut!

 It was wrapped in Espresso brown ostrich tolex with a neutral screen and a cabinet the size of a Bassman that could house 4 10’s but instead had one twelve inch Jensen.

Sam Timberlake,he'll even buy you a beer, Samamp with Ted Dillard

Now this was worth pulling out my Epiphone Broadway from the gig bag that kept hitting people and knocking over drinks.  The idea was to get a bigger sound with the bigger cabinet. The 40 watts gave plenty of headroom and could be dialed back to 3 watts with his proprietary attenuation system. This allowed the amp to play at many different levels but also allow it to saturate sooner as the preamp section and the wattage inter played in a very musical way with some chime without being overly bright.

My Epi sounded incredible without my usual Keeley  Compressor on the front end. In fact, I was so impressed; I’m ready to replace my current Dr. Z Stang Ray  that I am using on my current project. It took me looking over piles of amps before I was happy with that Stang Ray. Sam blew it away with the newest amp that is not even in stock at Corner Music yet.

This was part one of a two punch knockout with Samamp . He had an innocent looking vintage tweed piece called the VAC 23. The VAC 23 at little net weight it was a giant killer. Guitarists from Nicky Moroch  to Tom Hemby  stopped by and kept saying the VAC 23 was the best kept secret of the show. Other vendors were dragging their friends into try it out. The VAC 23 had the ability to set it full out and just back off the volume to create a clean chime. Turn the volume knob on the guitar to 10 and the amp then had great overdrive saturation. The VAC 23 was very touch sensitive. I think this amp will be destined not to just be a show favorite but a classic tube amp in the annals of guitar history.

 Again, I spent too much time at Samamp. It’s too easy when it is that good and you get to watch session men one after the other get a huge smile on their face and just keep playing and playing.

Dennis Weaver, Big Orange Guitar, 1939 Gibson with original Pickup

There were a few dealer s that one would see at Vintage Guitar Shows most notably Dennis Weaver of  Big Orange Guitar strumming on his 1939 Gibson ES 150 with the original Charlie Christian pickup.

Mike Piper at Redentore  (pronounced in exquisite Italian, Ray-dent-ory) was showing skill gained from working with Benedetto in building exquisite jazz boxes. The cool thing about Redentore is they are built here in Columbia, Tennessee. The attention to detail and tone were tremendous. I had to get a picture of the Blonde Santissimo with the Bartolini pickup. I have a thing for Blondes. The thought of getting a world class Jazz Guitar, hopefully a Redentore is still on my bucket list.

Redentore in all its Glory!

Mario’s Guitar Mill suite was buzzing. Tommy Tutone  (think 867-5309) was giving some details on his vintage Fender while checking out the pride of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Guitar Mill is known for featherweight woods (with tagged actual weight) and extremely great playability and tone. The T Styles have either vintage style 3 way switching and optional 4 way switching.

I was looking for a particular T Style that was at The Nashville Vintage Guitar Show and also at their booth at Summer NAMM.

Tommy Tutone with Mario at Guitar Mill Guitars

The Holy Grail at Guitar Mill Guitars

  Alas, I thought they finally sold it. After I gave a description of my all time favorite, the staff at the Guitar Mill suite pointed out the guitar and explained they had changed out the tortoise shell pickguard and knobs. The Holy Grail of T Styles, my all time favorite T Style was still available but my pockets are still short about 2K. At least I got the picture to remind me of that great Fralin loaded piece of perfection.

There were other vendors such as the very upscale George L’s Cables  and connectors. George L is showing that we can get very boutique and strive for perfection all the way down to the cables we use to improve the sound. If you don’t believe me, go to your local dealer and go head to head with the best. Take a George L guitar cable and a Lava Guitar Cables    (with a tagged oxygen rating) and plug it straight into a well made tube amp such as a Dr. Z or Top Hat. You will notice an amazing difference in tone. In my own shoot out the Lava won hands down.

I realized there was no way I was going to be able to get though everything. Luckily, some doors were closed and so the temptation to mess around with a 65 amp London for half an hour at Blues City Music  wasn’t there. In a way, it would have been a waste since I had already recorded with one of Blues City Music’s 65 Amp London rigs at Leeway Music Studio in Memphis where they are located. They are fantastic, but, I wanted to try something new.

3rd Power, you can't ignore this!

Okay now we’re talking, 3rd Power Amplification and the strangest looking rig I have ever seen. The HLH 100 caught my attention when it was reviewed in another publication. I had to see if I could hear it on YouTube and I found video of Ford Thurston jamming on this triple cabinet rig at Nashville Summer NAMM 2009. Jamie Scott, CEO  & Designer, demoed the stage rig himself. After explaining the center cabinet being ran dry by the tube head and the output transformer being tapped and ran to another stereo power amp, which he had rigged to the two outside cabinets and had a TC Electronics rack piece running the two outside cabs wet I immediately thought of Eddie Van Halen’s rig for the last several years.

Jamie said I was right but that Steve Lukather was probably the first to be known for that. But, when Jamie started throwing down some Van Halen licks, I went back to my original “a-ha”. This could be a modern version of the “brown sound”.  Not to say it wasn’t exquisite because it was. I could see Eddie endorsing this rig himself.  It is definitely eye catching and memorable. The technology behind the design was amazing. The non-parallel wall cabinets and almost studio monitor design were very forward thinking in a good way. It was the complete opposite of building the perfect “retro”.

He did have a new practical “little guy” amp which seemed not only more accessible but still sounded amazing. The new American Dream amp sounded incredible.  Ford Thurston  did swing by and when he changed up his Guitar Mill T Style for a Les Paul and threw down some ZZ Top riffs, I really got the grin. It was cool to see it had a little “Have mercy” in the tank. I would have liked to try it out myself but this appeared to be more of a show presentation than a hands-on demo. Okay. I guess I will have to see if I can find a 3rd Power American Dream in Nashville to mess with myself.

There was something for everybody guitar, but my mind was starting to warp from all the different shapes and tone. I had to start being picky plus I was running out of time. I stopped in the Delgado Guitars room. Maybe a little Nylon Spanish guitar would ease my rocked out head. I spent just a few minutes in there trying out a couple of acoustics.  These are beautiful guitars that have a hand built tradition since 1928. I would like to spend more time at their local shop some time.

Chopper Anderson at Alien Audio Bass nirvana

There was a not a lot of Bass things to be had, but, Chopper Anderson at  Alien Audio was sharing a suite with Simple Amps and while I waited to try out Simple Amps, I talked with Chopper and was shown the workmanship of his local build basses. With two models, the Lunar Bass and Constellation (think Yamaha shape).  The best thing was the preamp section designed by Mo West.

I explained I wasn’t a Bass Player per se but always had a Bass on hand at the house. I did do some Bass duties in a jazz band a few years ago. He wanted me to try it out with his bass rig taking up a corner behind the main display. It sounded great and played great. I suggested he get one in the hands of Victor Wooten. Chopper said that Travis Carlton  is already using one. I saw him play with his Dad, Larry Carlton, at Leipers Fork on the fateful day of the May 1st Nashville flood.  A gig I will never forget.   He sounded great to me. Chopper was very amicable with a Bass novice like me. A player always wants to try something out.  I felt like some vendors understood that and others didn’t.

Simple Amps sounded different than anything else I had tried at the show. The lower wattage amp didn’t seem to have as much character as the Big Iron 6LA. The 6LA had tons of lean headroom. The preamp section sounded different.  Was it “Supro” like? Not quite.  I had to ask and was explained it was similar to the old Magnatone front ends, so there you go.

I made one last stop at Samamp before I left only to hear another guitarist say the “VAC 23 was the best secret of the show”. It was 6 o’clock and time had run out.

Luckily, I had decided to bring one of my own guitars, because, if I had not, I may have had to use some of the strange selection kept by the amp builders, such as an old Dan Electro, a Japanese Les Paul 60’s lawsuit guitar or a Chinese made Firebird sort of. In Nashville, it would have been practical to have a Tele, Les Paul and Gretch nearby for standardized testing.

There were a few builders I wish were there such as Top Hat  or on a more esoteric boutique history thing Dumble Amplifiers  . It was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon in Tennessee.

– Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN