Tag: guitar player

Hooked: Zach Person on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood”

Hooked: Zach Person on Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Texas Flood"

The rising blues-rock riffmeister cops to his early obsession with SRV’s iconic number that consumed his teenage brain and is still infused in his own guitar-playing vocabulary.


“I Don’t Care How the Guitar Sounds”

Division of Laura Lee’s Viktor Lager on his No. 1 concern when playing live. Plus—his latest Mascis-inspired Jazzmaster mod.

Rick Holmstrom’s Bent Blues

Rick Holmstrom’s Bent Blues

Rick Holmstrom says he spends “a lot of time not listening to guitar. I like trying to imagine the guitar taking the place of saxophone, Ahmad Jamal’s piano, or Mose Allison’s piano. Like Billie Holiday, who does those weird little micro bends that the great singers do—how can you get a feeling like that on the guitar?”


For Holmstrom, the answer is a style that blurs the lines between traditional blues—the genre where he’s invested most of his nearly 40-year career—and a place on the edge of the envelope, where chromatic lines, finger-crafted imitations of slide, microtonal bends, and a devout belief in the unerring power of the groove telegraph his vision. Those elements plus his clean and spanky and typically Tele-driven tone have made him Mavis Staples’ music director since 2007 and caught the ear of Ry Cooder. His ability to conjure the spirit of Mavis’ late dad, Pops Staples, on her renditions of Staple Singers classics is uncanny, yet still retains Holmstrom’s distinctive flavor.

While his resume most certainly slants toward the old-school—he’s toured with harmonica aces William Clarke, Johnny Dyer, and Rod Piazza, and recorded with Jimmy Rogers, Billy Boy Arnold, and Booker T. Jones—he’s also added spectral playing to the R.L. Burnside space-straddling classic Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down and recorded a solo album in 2002, Hydraulic Groove, that seamlessly wedded funk, trip-hop, ambient electronics, and roots music. In a less conservative place than the blues market, it would’ve been widely heralded as the masterpiece cognoscenti know it to be.

Bubbles – Rick Holmstrom

Now, he’s got a new instrumental album called Get It! that’s a funky and emotive showcase for his style; chasing down his passion for the almighty groove but doing so along his distinctive path where bends get weird (“Weeping Tana”), melodies swing hard (“Robyn’s Romp”), the great spirits of the genre are summoned (“King Freddie”), the strains of Morocco echo (“Taghazout”), and hip-hop-sample-worthy rhythm tracks (“Kronky Tonk”) do some heavy lifting.

Holmstrom’s journey started as a kid in Fairbanks, Alaska. His father, a local DJ, exposed Holmstrom to the blues, soul, and R&B that would define his career. No doubt the Staple Singers’ hits like “I’ll Take You There” and “Freedom Highway,” both part of Mavis’ live sets today, were on heavy rotation.

“Let’s get past all this existential, post-apocalyptic doom and have a funky good time.”

Cooder played a role in his arrival as Mavis’ musical right hand. “My band opened up for Mavis on the Santa Monica Pier,” he relates. “We get off the stage, and the promotor says, ‘Her band is stuck at LAX, but Mavis is here. Can you back her for a few songs?’ We didn’t really know her songs, but we played three or four.

“As I was walking off the stage, a guy with yellow glasses tapped me on the shoulder, and it was Ry Cooder. Ry was producing a record of Mavis’, and he liked the way we played with her. He kept telling Mavis, I guess during the session, ‘I really dug that band that played with you.’ Then our first gig with her, unbelievably, was The Tonight Show. [Laughs.]”

Holmstrom’s individuality is even more surprising considering he cut his teeth during the 1980s blues explosion. While he was digging on Chicago, New Orleans, Stax, and Motown, everyone else was fixated on a particular player out of Austin, Texas. “I didn’t want anything to do with Stevie Ray Vaughan,” he says. “And that’s no diss at all. He’s a really great guitar player. But when he came out, I was like 12 years old. Playing was still an option for me. Then he came along, and it was almost enough to give up guitar.

“All you had to do was look around and see all these guys that were copying him. Everybody had a Strat, a hat, some boots, and a Super Reverb,” he explains. “So, I got a big hollowbody with a single P-90 and no cutaway and tried to learn saxophone and big band horn-section melodies.”

In forging his own way, Holmstrom sidestepped the blues-shred of those years. Preferring to let his parts breathe, he fills that space with … nothing. Check out his solo on “Looky Here” from Get It! The guy sometimes drops out for a full measure. He even ends the solo by basically not playing at all for the last two bars. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t a guitarist who inspired this restraint.

Looky Here

When Rick Holmstrom was writing his new album, Get It!, the songs started with him developing melodies by singing them, then transposing them to guitar.

“Years ago, we were playing in Boston with Mavis,” Holmstrom recalls. “We got there a night early, and Ahmad Jamal was playing. He would break down a melody and only use two of the notes. It draws you in because you’re not hearing all the notes that could be there. Your brain is allowed to imagine the rest. That was a life-changing gig for me.”

Like his playing, Holmstrom’s songwriting is also decidedly non-guitar-centric. Instead of plugging in, turning up, and going for it, he says he listens. “When I’m making up songs or getting a groove going, I’ll hum or sing to myself,” he says. “Then I’ll think, ‘Where does this melody go next?’ I’m not playing the guitar at that point. I’m humming it and singing it to myself. ‘Does that flow? Okay, now let’s go back and learn that on guitar.’”

Of course, the contemporary zeitgeist—not just a quest for melody—also played a role on the creation of Get It!

Rick Holmstrom’s Gear

Guitars

  • 1953 Fender Telecaster with Ron Ellis neck pickup and ’50s Fender lap-steel bridge pickup
  • 1955 Les Paul Special with phase switching
  • 1940s Gibson ES-150
Effects
  • SIB Electronics Echodrive
  • ’60s Fender Reverb Tank
  • Milkman The Amp (used as a preamp for the rented AC15 when touring)

Amps

  • 1950s Valco-made 1×10 Bronson combo modded to tweed Tremolux specs (with 6V6 tubes)
  • Fender silver-panel Vibrolux (with 6V6 tubes)
  • Vox AC15 (rented backline when touring, with EL84 tubes)
Strings
  • D’Addario (.011–.050)

“It was January ’21 and my previous record, See That Light, hadn’t even come out. Then the insurrection happened, and it started to drive me nuts,” he says. “I’m watching MSNBC and reading The Times and stuff, and it was really bugging me. The only thing I could figure to do was get creative and get my mind off it. I booked a session and started making drum loops of grooves that I thought might work.”

While the world’s events have led some artists to exercise their struggles via dark, introspective works, Holmstrom went the other way. Get It! is all about having a good time, feeling free, and reminding us of a simpler, joyful way of looking at the world. “I wanted this record to be something you might put on when you get your friends together or when you’re having a barbecue,” he says. “Let’s get past all this existential, post-apocalyptic doom and have a funky good time.”

“I’ve gotten to the point where I hate guitar pedals.”

While the album is crammed with great blues, songs like “Surfer Chuck” and “Taghazout” play with ’60s surf rock, sultry Middle Eastern motifs, and whatever else caught Holmstrom’s fancy. “FunkE3,“ in particular, with its percolating Meters-style groove and stylistic shifts, shows how far Holmstrom and crew can go.

That one had been hanging around a while. “We did a tour years ago with Mavis, where Joan Osborne opened, and we also backed Joan,” Holmstrom relates. “One of our background vocalists said, ‘Man, why don’t you walk her off with an instrumental, and then, boom, go right into the Mavis set?’ So ‘FunkE3’ is the song I started working on and ended it up being that [transitional] song a lot of nights.”

Even with a wide breadth of styles on Get It!, the album’s sound and production are the secret behind its gleefully old-school character. Inspired by classic ’50s and ’60s blues albums, the musicians tracked together, in the moment, without overthinking. “I was always trying to make things sound like Chess Records in the ’50s—like that Little Walter, Muddy Waters kind of thing,” Holmstrom says. “You can tell it’s three instruments really close to each other, with some bleed.” The other two musicians in the room were Steve Mugalian on drums and Gregory Boaz on bass.

Holmstrom’s commitment to tradition also permeates his guitar sound. From beginning to end, he smothers the album with vintage-style amp tones from a small combo with a split pedigree. “I used a very tiny guitar amp called a Bronson. It’s a weird Valco-made amp from the ’50s. I had a buddy of mine turn it into, like, a mid-’50s tweed Tremolux. It’s a great-sounding, magical little amp.”

Despite the wide range of gain used throughout the new album, the Bronson’s onboard tremolo, a tube-driven SIB Electronics Echodrive delay, and a 1960s Fender Reverb Tank are all the effects Holmstrom used. Even that may have bordered on too much for him.

“I’ve gotten to the point where I hate guitar pedals,” he says. “I absolutely hate them. Ideally, I would love to plug straight into an amp. No 9-volt power, no wall warts, no skinny little power cables that are going to break right before the gig. I would rather use my hands.”

“I was always trying to make things sound like Chess Records in the ’50s—like that Little Walter, Muddy Waters kind of thing.”

So how does he get all his sounds? Like everything else, the old-school way. “I turn the volume of my guitar down and pick a lot with my fingers. Then, if I turn the volume on the guitar all the way up and pick with a pick, it’s pretty gain-y.”

Not surprisingly, Holmstrom also prefers vintage guitars. Save for a couple of tunes, the entire album was recorded with only one of them. “The album is all my ’53 Tele except for two songs,” he says. “It’s the variety of sounds you can get out of them. ‘All About My Girl’—that’s the neck pickup. It sounds like it could be a hollowbody. The middle is pure Stax or Motown, and then the bridge is whatever you want.”

As versatile as the Fender Tele is, the songs “King Freddie” and “Pour One Out” begged for something different. And though that something else—a 1955 Gibson Les Paul Special—is also a drool-worthy vintage piece, this one was different. “It has an out-of-phase, push-pull tone knob on the bridge pickup,” Holmstrom says. “I can blend the amount of out-of-phase so that it’s not completely nasally thin. It’s what Peter Green did, I’m sure, with his Les Paul. All points lead back to the blues, really.”

Erlee Time – Rick Holmstrom

In this live performance video of “Erlee Time,” from Get It!, Rick Holmstrom demonstrates his playful bends, joyful sense of melody, and the vintage Tele tone that’s part of his signature.



Black Pumas’ Adrian Quesada on Using a Pick: “I Was Just Shredding My Nails”

The soulful guitarist talks about his flamenco and classical background, and shares what he learned from Thurston Moore.


Hooked: Nili Brosh on Extreme’s “Decadence Dance”

The Danny Elfman shredder details how an older brother opened her eyes to Nuno Bettencourt’s “funky-metal persuasion” beyond “More Than Words.”


When They Heard About This Article About Learning Guitar, The Experts Shook

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Most people who’ve played the guitar want to learn to play well.Not a lot of people have an innate ability to play without being formally taught.You will always be learning new things in your skills to be a better guitarist. The following tips can be added to practice sessions to make you in becoming a […]

Rig Rundown: Mammoth WVH

Rig Rundown: Mammoth WVH

Wolf Van Halen and longtime master builder Chip Ellis discuss prototypes for EVH’s SA-126 and Wolfgang bass. Plus, the rest of the band show off their rockin’ wares.


Following in a parent’s professional footsteps is daunting. Imagine re-treading that ground in the public eye. Now conceptualize walking in the footsteps of one of the greatest guitarists to ever live. Succeeding on any level seems impossible. So where do you start when trying to find your own voice on an instrument your dad basically reconstructed?

“The main thing, when I started doing this, was that I wanted to find my own sort of sound and not do everything dad did,” says Wolfgang Van Halen. “When it came to guitar, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just wanted to sound like myself.”

After 15 years in the family band (and working alongside Mark Tremonti for his solo project), that’s what Wolf did when he wrote and tracked all the instruments on the 15 songs for his debut album, Mammoth WVH, released last year. (The title is a nod to the original name of his father’s and uncle’s iconic band during 1972-’74.)

Things have changed since we last checked out Wolf’s setup. Back in 2012, when PG got the special treat of swooping into Bridgestone Arena to check out the rigs of Eddie and Wolf. We got to see the various Wolfgang models dad brought out, and Wolf’s custom-made one-off basses constructed by master builder Chip Ellis.

Now Wolf is playing guitar and singing lead. He’s flanked by two additional guitarists (Frank Sidoris and Jon Jourdan), while bass and drums are handled by Ronnie Ficarro and Garrett Whitlock (respectively). There’s still a lot of his dad’s thumbprint on the band’s setup, but there’s two new things afoot. This tour saw two new prototypes unveiled: a signature semi-hollow for Wolf and beefy, humbucker-loaded basses were being road-tested (or, as the Van Halens say, in the “crash-testing phase”).

“Through writing and recording that first album, and having fun, I ended up tracking most with a 335 and that semi-hollowbody sound became the baseline for all of Mammoth WVH,” says Wolf. So, he and Ellis sought to combine reverence for the EVH legacy with something fresh for not only Wolf’s sound but to expand the company’s appeal. “I want to make something that has the DNA of the EVH brand, but something that they don’t offer.”

Before a headlining show at the Signal in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on May 17th, PG traveled south down I-24 to see what was percolating in the EVH and WVH camps. We were fortunate enough to be joined by Ellis and Van Halen, who talked about the development of the new SA-126 semi-hollow guitar and then focused on the new thunder-stick 4-string prototype that’s being “crash tested” by bandmate Ronnie Ficarro. Additionally, we cover the setups of riff warriors Sidoris (also of Slash feat. Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators) and Jourdan (To Whom It May), who fly the EVH flag but bring their own shine.

[Brought to you by D’Addario XS Electric Strings.]

Mammoth Signature

The basis for Mammoth WVH’s core guitar tone was formed around a Gibson ES-335. Wolf tracked with that guitar the most and it helped him find his own sound, separate from his father’s. But wanting to keep things in the family, he and longtime Fender/EVH master builder Chip Ellis aimed to put the 335 heartbeat into a Wolfgang package.

Some notable Easter eggs in the guitar’s design are fret inlays that appear as M (looking down the neck) but also work as W—or E— depending on your eye angle. The SA-126 model name honors Eddie’s birthday (1/26/55). The f-hole is actually a subtle e-hole, and these guitars feature eye-hook strap buttons. (The first prototype had standard strap buttons and a side-mounted input jack, but has since been changed.)

Each one of the guitars you’ll see have different neck profiles, pickup voicings with varying heat levels (although all are humbuckers), tonewoods, and finishes. It’s worth noting that the pickups Wolf and Chip are enjoying the most are not the hottest. They said in the video that dialing back the output allowed the instrument to have a fuller, wider sound. Additional known specs (which could change at any minute) include quilted maple tops (but standard maple on this one), ebony fretboards, brass harmonica-style bridges, and 24.75″ scale lengths, and for this run all the prototypes took EVH Premium Strings (.009 –.042). (D’Addario manufactures all EVH-brand guitar strings.)

This guitar is the third prototype and was special for Wolf and Chip to put together. Eddie’s main live axe during Van Halen’s last tour was a white relic’d Wolfgang model, so they wanted to do something honoring his legacy. “It was emotional, and it felt great to build this guitar,” declares Ellis. “It was a full-circle kind of moment for me.”

Old But New

Here’s a close-up of the relic’d body for Wolf’s third SA-126 prototype, showing off the e-hole.

Backside Burns

A look around back reveals some impressive scars.

The Crown

A shot of the SA-126 headstock.

First Offering

This is Wolf’s first SA-126 prototype. It originally came with a side-mounted input jack and standard strap buttons. However, they’ve since moved the jack to the top (like an offset Fender or ES-style guitar) and opted for the eye-hook strap buttons made famous by Eddie.

Smokey Signature

And here’s the second prototype Chip Ellis built for Wolf, featuring a crisp ’burst glowing like a campfire all night and day.

Keeping It in the Family

It’s no surprise that Wolf is plugging into an EVH stack. His amp of choice for Mammoth is the EVH 5150III 50W 6L6 head matched with a EVH 5150III 4×12 loaded with Celestion G12 EVH 20W speakers. He mentions in the video that he normally lives in the blue channel and only hits the red one for solos.

Stripes

“There’s not too much I need from pedals, but it’s more for fun,” concedes Van Halen. He enlisted every EVH pedal (aside from the 5150 Overdrive that will show up later) for this run, plus a few extras. The Dunlop EVH95 Eddie Van Halen Signature EVH Cry Baby gets worked out for the solo of “You’ll Be the One.” (The recorded solo is through a talk box, but Wolf thought the wah was a simpler stand-in for live performances.) The MXR EVH 5150 Chorus and the MXR Eddie Van Halen Phase 90 have become interchangeable for him. The song “Think It Over” has become a testing ground between the two modulation effects. The MXR EVH117 Flanger gets sprinkled in for select moments, like during “Mr. Ed.” For the solo in “Distance,” he always uses the Boss DD-3 Digital Delay and the EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath.

Can’t Put It Down

“Chip did all the relic’ing, aging, and sanding of the neck and it just feels amazing. It’s hard to put that guitar down,” says Jon Jourdan. The above EVH Wolfgang is a discontinued offering, but he can’t deviate from it because of his connection to this instrument and the sturdiness of the stop-tail bridge that allows him to really dig in with his picking hand. Jourdan plays this guitar for all the standard-tuned songs.

Silver Bird

Here’s Jourdan’s PRS Custom 24 Platinum model that is decked out in an anniversary-year-only finish and boasts a 5-way rotary knob in lieu of a standard pickup selector. It comes with the company’s 58/15 humbuckers and is completely stock. Both of his guitars take Dunlop Performance+ strings (.011–.052).

British 5150

Like Wolf, Jourdan is running an 50W EVH 5150 head. His tube flavor (EL34) brings a little British bluster to the band’s sound. “We all use the 50-watt heads, so even when everything is straight up the middle everything fits in the mix and everyone has a lane,” he observes. Similar to his guitar-playing bandmates, Jourdan’s 5150 head hits an EVH 5150III 4×12 loaded with Celestion G12 EVH 20W speakers.

Open Auditions

In the video, Jourdan admits the style and design of his board makes pedal swaps a bit more work, but that doesn’t stop him from testing out new tone treats. Before this run, he traded in the Frost Giant Electronics Yama for another boost and is already looking to find a nastier, wilder fuzz in place of the Walrus Audio Iron Horse V3. The rest of the stable includes an Electronic Audio Experiments Halberd (used for “Stone”), MXR EVH117 Flanger, and Eventide H9. A Fortin Mini Zuul Noise Gate cleans up the amp and a Peterson StroboStomp HD keeps his guitars in check. A Boss ES-8 Effects Switching System is the reins for the whole system.

I’m the One

“This has actually been a longstanding project with the EVH line and it was something Ed was very passionate about when he was still with us. He was a closet bass player and loved chasing bass tones,” says Chip Ellis.

EVH has hinted at production bass models ever since Chip built several prototypes for Wolf during his run as VH bassist from 2005 to 2020. But no matter the level of buzz generated by public interest, nothing materialized. Then, in early February, they teased the upcoming tour by posting a photo of bassist Ronnie Ficarro rocking a 4-string with the caption: “Check out that sweet Wolfgang bass prototype.”

The current evolution of the company’s bass design dives off the EVH striped basses built for Wolfgang in the 2010s. The pickups are big, hot, monster-rock humbuckers that weigh about a half-pound each. “One of the earliest prototypes had a swimming-pool route and Ed kept wanting to move the pickups further and further apart because we kept getting a bigger variety of tones,” said Ellis.

Both prototypes have mahogany bodies, maple necks, and rosewood fretboards. The neck profiles are pretty close to the ones played by Wolf with Van Halen. A big-mass bridge anchors the strings and there’s actually a blend control between the pickups rather than a standard selector. (There’s a detent that lets you know when you’re in the middle, engaging both pickups.) The volume is push-pull, to coil-tap the pickups, too. Ronnie’s been riding this one during standard or drop-D tunings, since it comes equipped with a handy Hipshot Bass Xtender Key.

Bottoms Up

In a pinch, the bass’ headstock could double as a bottle opener.

Burst into Burst

The finish on prototype No. 2 almost has a Magic-Eye effect, with the opposing bursts rushing in towards each other. Another difference between No. 1 is the inclusion of a standard pickup selector (removing the blend control for a tone knob). Outfitted again with a Hipshot Bass Xtender Key, Ronnie jams on this for D-standard and drop-C songs.

Familiar and Loud

Ronnie Ficarro has been plugging the prototype Wolfgang basses into this Fender Super Bassman 300W head. The coolest part of this rig is that fact is that it’s the exact one Wolf used on the final Van Halen tour with his pops. The numbers you see above the knobs are Wolf’s settings from that VH run, and Ronnie thought it’d be a cool tip of the cap to leave those on the faceplate. In the video, Ficarro admits to being a Rig Rundown fanatic. When he’s feeling a Green Day, uh, day, he’ll open his phone and reference a screen shot of Mike Dirnt’s settings from the Rig Rundown we did in 2013.

Monsters of Rock

The Fender Super Bassman smashes into a Fender Bassman Pro 8×10.

Fundamental for Ficarro

Here’s Ronnie’s pretty basic stomp station: a trio of EVH-inspired pedals—MXR EVH 5150 Chorus, MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive, and the MXR Eddie Van Halen Phase 90—plus an Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork for approximating the low B roar that Wolf recorded on the song “Epiphany.” The non-descript silver box is a channel switcher for the Fender Super Bassman, and Ronnie’s basses are centered by the Peterson StroboStomp HD.

The Green Giant

“I never thought I’d become the green guitar guy, but it’s just become my thing over the last few years,” states Sidoris. Frank had his eye on this Gibson Custom 1964 SG Standard reissue for some time. He originally fell for its olive-drab cloak when he saw it on display during the 2020 NAMM Show in Anaheim. Fast forward through two years and Sidoris re-encounters the SG while visiting Nashville, when he sees it listed on Rumble Seat Music’s website. He went to the store and demo’d the guitar, and it was even better than he could imagine. He uses Ernie Ball 2020 Power Slinky Paradigms (.011–.048) across all his axes.

Stealthy Stinger

Sidoris also plugs into an EVH head. His flavor is the sleek EVH 5150III 50S 6L6. And, similar to the band’s other riffers, he’s relying on Celestion G12 EVH 20W speakers, but he opts for the matching EVH 5150III 100S cabinet.

Stompin’ with Sidoris

Along with his pals, Sidoris has an MXR Eddie Van Halen Phase 90, but changes it up with the inclusion of a DigiTech Whammy Ricochet, Walrus Audio Ages, MXR Carbon Copy, and a Dunlop Volume (X) DVP3. A Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner keeps his Gibsons in check and a MXR Smart Gate tames the EVH.

A Barney Kessel Custom Saved From the Buzzards

A Barney Kessel Custom Saved From the Buzzards

From the sparse, smoky ballads of Julie London to the hard bop of Sonny Rollins, Barney Kessel could back up just about anybody. The bandleader, session great, Wrecking Crew member, and sideman was one of the most accomplished guitarists of his era. His chordal complexity not only got him steady work and accolades, but also a collection of signature guitar models bearing his name.


This 1968 Gibson Barney Kessel Custom is a top-of-the-line example. It’s the higher-end counterpart to the Barney Kessel Regular, both built from 1961 until 1974. They followed a trio of Barney Kessel signatures that Kay sold between 1957 and 1960.

Barney Kessels often became parts donors, with their hardware, tuners, and pickups (original PAFs, Pat. No., and T-Tops, depending on the year) being stripped and sold separately.

Each Gibson model has a hulking 17″-wide and nearly 3″-deep body, with two humbuckers, a Tune-o-matic bridge, and a bound rosewood fretboard. The attractive Barney Kessel tailpiece is also common to both, while the controls will be familiar to any Gibson player: two volume pots, two tone knobs, and a 3-way selector switch. The dual Florentine cutaways—a design first seen in these Barney Kessels and later used in Gibson’s Trini Lopez signature—cut a striking silhouette.

Of the two Gibson Kessels, the Custom alone is dressed to the nines, swapping in gold-plated hardware for the Regular’s nickel, and bowtie inlays for the Regular’s fretboard parallelograms. There’s also a 3-piece maple neck with two pinstripe-thin mahogany strips taking over for the Regular’s solid mahogany. And the Custom tops off its outfit with a pearl headstock inlay in the shape of a musical note.

Such features were a huge upgrade to the art-deco stylings and Kleenex-box pickups of Kay’s Kessel signatures, which Kessel snubbed, reportedly saying, “I don’t play that Kay. It’s a terrible guitar!” Interestingly, he often chose not to play these Gibson signatures, either, instead typically using his favorite 1940s ES-350.

When they were introduced, Gibson’s Barney Kessel Custom model had a list price of $599, while the Regular’s was $399. Both sold in respectable if not incredible numbers, with sales peaking in 1968. However, the following decades were not particularly kind to the guitars. As the vintage market took off for Les Pauls, SGs, and other classic Gibsons, Barney Kessels often became parts donors, with their hardware, tuners, and pickups (original PAFs, Pat. No., and T-Tops, depending on the year) being stripped and sold separately. You can still find Barney Kessel husks on the market—project guitars looking for a new owner to rebuild them. And many of the complete Barney Kessels you’ll find for sale have been rebuilt.

That’s what makes the particular Barney Kessel Custom featured here so special. It’s nearly all original, with Patent pickups intact and even its Custom-stamped hang tags. The only modification is one replaced tuner (along with a couple patched screw holes from a previous replacement). The cherry in its cherry sunburst finish is one of the most vibrant we’ve ever seen, and the condition of the finish overall is in impeccable vintage shape.

Because of the wide array of Barney Kessel Customs on the used market—many with non-original parts—you can find them across the price spectrum, from about $3,000 on the low-end to $12,000 or more on the high. This Custom, listed on Reverb now by Nationwide Guitars, fittingly lands on the higher end, with an asking price of $8,999.

Sources for this article include Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars by George Gruhn and Walter Carter, American Guitars: An Illustrated History by Tom Wheeler, Reverb’s “Player Profile: The Hard-Swinging Barney Kessel” by Greg Cooper, Premier Guitar’s “Gibson and Barney Kessel” by Jim Bastian, and Reverb listings from Retrofret Vintage Guitars and Vintage Correct Parts.

Hooked: Simon McBride on Gary Moore’s “Back on the Streets”

Hooked: Simon McBride on Gary Moore's "Back on the Streets"

The current Deep Purple guitarist explains how he was floored by the song’s speedy pentatonic opening, groovy blues moves, and unique chord choices.


How To Learn Guitar – Some Tips For Success

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Most songs today use the radio have a guitar player in them. It isn’t hard to learn the basics of playing. Read this article to learn more about how to play the guitar well. Start with the basics. Everyone walks before they learn to run. You may need to learn music you like to listen […]