Tag Archives: van halen

Coming To Terms With The Status quo

This guitar is called an “Invicta.”

invicta

This particular Invicta was made in 1980 by a company called Electra. For a while, Electra  (and some others) were making copies of Gibson and Fender guitars. A trademark-infringement lawsuit ensued, and Electra started making different guitar shapes. This one cheekily blends the body shape of a Les Paul and a Telecaster. They used this basic shape for a number of models with different features.  If you’re interested, check out this link to see different Electra models: http://www.rivercityamps.com/electra/

Side note: Someone bought the rights to Electra guitars a few years ago, and has started manufacturing several models (and variations) again. I have no personal experience with these. 

I got an Invicta very much like the one I photographed, either the summer before or after 8th grade (I forget which). It was the closest thing to a Gibson Les Paul that I could imagine owning, and it was on that Invicta that I learned to play solos that sounded like I knew what I was doing. I felt (and somewhat resembled) like this kid:

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The status quo of electric guitars has always been held by Gibson and Fender, hence the imitations that have happened over the years (including a robust market of counterfeits). Up until I was about sixteen, I was a dyed-in-the-wool classic rock fan. Van Halen’s 1984 album  changed the guitar status quo overnight, and soon enough, the trends changed (later still, in Cincinnati, Ohio). The classic rock sound and look was no longer cool.

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Eventually, I bowed to the trends, and started yearning for something a little more modern. I got a “shredder” guitar, and started incorporating the techniques and tricks of that genre. I lent and eventually sold the Invicta to my friend Aaron, who still has it. My shredder guitar is long gone. It’s interesting to me, in hindsight, how the status quo was Gibson/Fender in 1984, and “shredder” guitars, or “super-strats” in 1985. Seriously, there was a point where those classic Gibson/Fender guitars were just hopelessly passé. The trend continued relatively uninterrupted until Grunge arrived like a dam breaking, and the Gibson/Fender status quo returned.

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Interestingly, music styles have become the influencers of guitar types, instead of the other way around. And you BETTER have the “right” guitar for the gig. What do country players use? Telecasters. What do hard rockers use? Les Pauls. Texas blues? Strats. Think a roots-americana type band is going to love it if I show up to a gig with my emerald green Ibanez RG? Nope. Wrong gig, dude.

wrong gig

True story: I was invited to audition for a heavy rock band a few years ago, and, based on older photos, they were reluctant to extend them an invitation until I showed them I had shoulder-length bleached-blonde hair (this did not end well for my hair). I received a notification of what types and brands of guitar equipment were expected… no mention of my capabilities or tones. They wanted a Gibson or PRS guitar, and a Marshall, Mesa, or comparable amp head. I had a couple of cool Gibsons, but my vintage AC30 was not invited! I actually considered getting a Plexi or a Dual/Triple Rectifier. Reason and good advice prevailed. I politely declined the invitation. That band never went anywhere anyway.

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Here’s my point (finally). As artists, when we seek to engage people by bowing to the status quo, we’re engaging in a sort of law of diminishing returns. In a world of Les Pauls, the Stratocaster stands out (and vice versa). In a world of standard classic rock guitars, Eddie Van Halen’s “Frankenstein” super-strat stood WAY out. And then, in a world full of copycat super-strat type guitars, the classics, all of a sudden, stood out.

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It isn’t just guitars, its artistry. I’m really impressed by music artists who do something that is both unique and approachable. It’s such a difficult fine line. When the status quo goes left, an artist should choose a direction based on inspiration, not imitation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that left is bad or that right is good. It does mean that mimicry leads to a location that gets crowded quickly, and listeners eventually relocate.

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So what the Invicta represents to me, is a time when a company tried to do something that was different, incorporating bits of what was known  with something inspired and different. I truly enjoy playing different types of guitars, because the unique shape and sound of each type somehow prompts me to play differently. I can’t NOT play ripping solos on an Ibanez RG. I can’t manhandle my 1941 Epiphone archtop the way I fight a Strat or Tele. While these are all common shapes, the Invicta stands out in my guitar-stable, as a whole different breed. I enjoy that it inspires different approaches while delivering what is still classically mine.

Isn’t that the kind of instrument we should all be looking to play?

What’s the instrument that makes you play differently? Is there some cool lesser-known brand or model that really turns you in an unusual  direction? What about different sounds? Where are you finding those? I’d love to hear about them.

Guitarists – What Do You Take From Your Influences?

What Do You Take From Your Influences?

I was 11 when I learned Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven.” Up to that point, I really had no concept of what could be done with a guitar, and I was stunned by the beauty of this music I had never heard. To this day, Jimmy Page remains my biggest influence, though I don’t really sound anything like him.

It was sixth grade, and it was as if a veil had been removed from my ears. Suddenly I was REALLY HEARING the music on the radio. The next year, MTV went on the air, and suddenly I could SEE Rock and Roll… and guitars; beautiful awesome guitars! Prior to this, and even for several years after, it was almost as if showing rock bands on mainstream network TV was inappropriate.

 

MTV didn’t have enough material to fill their programming time, so they showed concert footage. It was there that I saw The Who for the first time, and Rush and Triumph and Van Halen. Through produced videos, I saw Lindsey Buckingham with Fleetwood Mac, and some teenagers called Def Leppard and U2. As MTV grew, guitars seemed to wane in importance as the 80′s went in the direction of Madonna and Michael Jackson. But by then, I was a guitarist, tried and true.

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I have three main spheres on influence on my playing: classic rock, shredders and early metal, and what I once heard someone call the “guitar anti-heroes”

The classic rock genre is easy, because it’s where I started. There’s Page and Hendrix and Clapton, Brian May and Pete Townshend and Alex Lifeson. Lifeson in particular carried me into and through the 80′s, where the others didn’t do much that was new or different.

It was Van Halen who changed the game for me (and millions of others). The early metal bands caught my ear, particularly Iron Maiden with Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Vivian Campbell’s work with Dio floored me, and then Vai and Yngwie and Satriani appeared and floored me again. I thought I was doing well keeping pace with them (for a teenager) until I discovered Nuno Bettencourt. That’s when I knew I couldn’t keep up. The consolation at that point was that I had a girlfriend who was WAY more interested in my songwriting and singing.

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It was then that something clicked for me. It was all about “the hook.” Peter Buck and Lindsey Buckingham and The Edge and Andy Summers and Mike Campbell and modern Alex Lifeson all suddenly made sense to me. I started writing guitar hooks into each song, and people really connected to that. When I ended up in the band I toured with, it was because my guitar hooks gave voice to the instrumental passages where our fantastic singer wasn’t actually singing. Every part became identifiable.

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It was Page that taught me atmosphere and the incorporation of unusual chord voices. Hendrix taught me soul and swagger. Clapton gave me heart. Brian May gave me dexterity. Alex Lifeson gave me unconventional thinking.

Van Halen gave me freedom. Vai let me get weird, and Satch pointed out the beauty of melody. Nuno made me reach farther to reconcile funk with rock, and have fun with it. Peter Buck brought me back to the value of a jangly rhythm. Lindsey showed me how to get out of the way of the song. The Edge taught me how to make small things carry a big sound. Andy Summer let me use my jazz training to up-end stale pop formulas. Mike Campbell taught me how to write phrases that speak without words, in the middle of wordy songs.

Image result for mike campbell guitar

 

I finally got the chance to put it all to work, to take it all out into the world, sort it out, and apply it in front of hungry listeners. I think it worked. I had a pretty good run with it. I developed a style that reflects those influences and became a pretty unique blend of them all.

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Who are your main influences, and what did you take from them? How do you apply it to what you do? How well does it work? I’d love to hear about it.