So one of the great things about having a guitar collection is having a lot of different options for capturing the right tone and feel when you’re recording a song. Different guitars have different feels, tone and yes – mojo – that tend to lead you in a certain direction. I’d go even further and say that a guitar is an important partner in songwriting. A great guitar makes it wishes known to you as soon as you begin working the fretboard.
Alan Brock plays the lead guitar on all of our songs. In addition to being a fabulous songwriter, he is a true virtuoso who can coax things from a guitar I can’t even begin to understand. I’m the “utility infielder” in the band – I play rhythm guitar, keyboards and some different instruments here and there.
For this song, I played two guitars. The first is a 1963 Gibson ES-355. For those of you who are rock geeks like me, this model guitar has been played by everyone from Chuck Berry and B.B. King, to Noel Gallagher and Keith Richards. And like any vintage guitar, there’s an interesting story behind it.
I’m lucky to be a good friend of Danny Courtenay, who owns the iconic Chelsea Guitars in New York City for about 30 years. Danny is an encyclopedia of guitar and rock history as well as pretty much anything else that has to do with pop culture in New York. I like to kid him by calling him a Renaissance man masquerading as a vintage guitar dealer. As a result of our long-term friendship, Danny has sourced a number of really great vintage guitars for me over the years and this 355 is no different.
I’m partial to semi-hollow body guitars – probably as a result of John’s, Paul’s and George’s extensive use of Epiphone Casinos. I have several hollow and semi-hollow bodies, but had been looking for the right 355 for a while. To make a long story somewhat short, it turned out that Danny had the parts of a cherry red 355 that he had been keeping for himself for a very long time, but never got around to actually putting together. While he still wasn’t sure he wanted to part with the guitar, he ultimately agreed to put it together and sell it to me.
Of course, only Danny can do the story justice so this is how he describes it:
The guitar The Chipper is using to play this fine song is a 1963 Gibson ES 355 TD-SV that came from me. My name is Dan Courtenay, and I’ve owned Chelsea Guitars here in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC. The guitar sat for 30 years or so, first in my closet and then in storage. Well, why?
When I did really dumb things when younger my long-suffering Mom used to shrug and say
to my Dad “Aww, give him a break. I dropped him on his head when he was just a baby.”
It was her way of diffusing a tense situation between me and my Dad, and tweaking me for doing something so incredibly inane that being dropped on my teeny-tiny infant head was the only excuse possible for my incredibly stupid behavior.
For weirdo guys like me who own guitar stores, who love and play and have great passion for the vintage and rare instruments we acquire, and were dropped on their heads when just a teeny-tiny baby child, a serious dichotomy often develops - namely “What do you mean I havta pay rent? Ya’ mean I gotta sell this thing? No Way!
The beautiful guitar Chip’s using on this cut is just such a guitar. I acquired this guitar over 25 years ago. Some knuckleheaded kid had gotten it from an uncle, and as it didn’t look and play like Eddie Van Halen’s or Roody Kazootie’s or whomever’s guitar, stripped all the parts off of it and left it for dead. I was all over this guitar like a cheap suit - I couldn’t rationalize keeping an all original Gibson 355, as these were very expensive even back in the day - but this one...my favorite kind...a wounded unicorn! (you know exactly what I mean).
I figured I’d slowly and lovingly bring it back to life...I don’t know much, but I definitely know a good piece a’ wood when I hold it in my hands (and in my mind become BB King). This was a keeper! I hid the damn thing in the back of my storage locker, thinking I’d start working on it tuit de suite. Twenty five years later, Matt, my manager, while poking around our locker, looking for something, anything we can make bill money with, pulls it out and “How ‘bout this?” to me.
“NO WAY! I don’t want it - I NEED IT!” Matt rolls his eyes, as he’s heard this song before, and hangs it on our ‘Needs Repair Then Sell The Damn Thing’ rack.
My visions of being BB King Live at the Regal slowly start to dissipate, probably because my Mom dropped me on my head, back when I was just a teeny-tiny baby, a little angel straight from heaven.
Now, What’s His Name owns my wounded unicorn.
So that is how I ended up with this beautiful guitar. The body, Bigsby, tuners and knobs are all original. The pickguard is a replacement made from vintage cellulose and the pick-ups are made by Tone Specific. Everyone has their own opinion about which pick-ups have “the best tone”, but I have to say, these babies are really nice – they give you a really rich tone at the neck and the bridge pick-up can cut glass. Plus, the variatone switch gives you a number of “on board” options to adjust the tone before you get to your pedals and other external sources. It just sounds great and really worked on this song because it contrasts nicely with Alan’s lead guitar, while still blending in. It’s definitely a “keeper.”
The second guitar I used was a 1995 Guild JF30-12, with a natural blonde finish. My wife, Kim, gave me this guitar for Christmas in 1996. I’m pretty sure this is one of Guild’s most popular 12-string models. It’s an enormous guitar with a voice that is slightly bigger than its size. It has a booming voice that is very much the Guild “12-string sound.” And, it’s just a pleasure to play – unlike certain 12-strings. If I remember correctly both Alan and I played this in the chorus of the song. It has such a nice feel and fit in so well with the song we played it twice!
Hope you enjoy the song and the background info. Most importantly, stay safe and let’s please come together and focus on all the things that unite us – not those that divide us. We’re all so much better when we treat others the way we expect to be treated.
Interested in seeing where some of these guitars have come from click below to find out more about Chelsea Guitars - Make sure to tell Danny and Matt that you heard about them from Brock & Sgro. and they will take excellent care of your guitar needs.