Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy

Originally Published in our Hendrix Issue

By Pat Bianculli

Photos: Gered Mankowitz

It was the 1960’s, and the time had come for the young, both adolescents and twenty-somethings. The baby boomers were coming of age, and there were lots of us. And, we had power; power in numbers, power in music and power to move a nation. The Beatles showed us what was possible with a couple of Vox amplifiers, some twangy guitar strings and a couple of hundred great songs. Folk and gospel anthems told us we were on the “Eve of Destruction”, but in fact, “We Shall Overcome”. There were no songs written before this time, except perhaps for the war-related songs of our parents and grandparents that spoke to us so bluntly. And then, there was Jimi Hendrix.

As this nation of young people, we were all riding on Ben Franklin’s proverbial kite being flown in the storm and Jimi was the key at the end of the kite string. His guitar, his music, his hallucinogenic appearance, galvanized the anger we had for a country that could not stop the killing in Vietnam and the restlessness we felt just because we were young.
Many have come after Jimi, because of him and in spite of him.

But isn’t that what rock is supposed to be?

Together in 1991, Harry Shapiro, author of numerous books on rock personalities and the drug culture of the 1960’s, along with Caesar Glebeek, founder of the Hendrix Information Centre in Ireland, wrote Jimi Hendrix Electric Gypsy. It was revised and updated in 1995 to mark the 25th anniversary of the passing of this iconic musician and human being.

Publisher’s Weekly website writes about the book:
“Hendrix’s drug abuse and death from a probable barbiturate overdose are not sensationalized as the authors concentrate on his formidable music legacy, flamboyant individualism and sense of humor.”

One reviewer on Amazon.com says it all:
“Electric Gypsy” is the only “real” Hendrix biography available.”

The book, almost 800 pages, is a fast-paced account of a very brief creative life. The amount of research documented in almost 250 pages, includes reference notes, bibliography and a technical file listing all of the guitars and equipment that Jimi utilized during his career. We are honored and grateful to Mr. Shapiro for taking the time to answer our questions.

Guitar Connoisseur: This quote, from your introduction to “Electric Gypsy”, really engaged me, “Jimi took the music way beyond the place where he found it.” What would you say is Jimi’s biggest contribution to rock and blues, and then, specifically to the guitarists who followed him?

Harry Shapiro: I think Jimi revealed the possibilities of the electric guitar that had not been seen before. Previously electric guitar was primarily a means of making a guitar sound louder. Jimi transformed electricity, power, and sonics almost into instruments in their own right – it was a fusion of instrument and technology that had not been heard before – which explains why the music sounds as fresh and powerful as it did when it was first recorded.

Jimi was a game changer, not only for guitarists that followed but also for all those who were his contemporaries; Clapton, Beck, and Townshend were all in shock when they first heard and saw him in London. Jimi was influential here on a number of different levels; so technically accomplished, honed over the years through constant playing. But not just on gigs and in studios. The guy lived and breathed guitar. There are stories of Jimi literally going to bed with the guitar, standing by a cooker, frying eggs for breakfast with the guitar around his neck. He just never stopped playing. Then he had a rare gift for being able to translate what he heard in head to the instrument, although in keeping with many artists at that peak level of inspiration and creativity – he was never satisfied and would drive musicians and producer’s nuts by doing take after take.

Jimi too was a consummate populist and fused a number of styles from blues, R&B, soul, and psychedelic rock to produce a sound that was uniquely his own. And on top of all that, was the image – the hair, the clothes, the stage persona. The talent, the vision, and the presentation all came together in one glorious if an all-too-brief moment in time.

GC: One could argue that Jimi Hendrix was the first great American rock export since the start of the late 1950’s. Music had become an imported good due to the British Invasion spearheaded by Beatles. Was the world really ready for Jimi? Do you think that 1967 was the right time?

HS: Absolutely. He was one of the best examples of the right person, in the right place at the right time. Although I don’t believe he was that motivated by or interested in politics, he became a counter-cultural icon – a symbol of sixties freedom and a sounding board of the anti-establishment zeitgeist.

GC: I wasn’t aware of how London played such an important role in Jimi’s life and career until I read your book. The people he met there, girlfriends and musical colleagues as well-formed a coterie of both admirers and protectors for him. What do you think folks like Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck and the like, took away from their musical and personal friendship with Jimi?

HS: London is critical in the story of Jimi Hendrix. When Chas Chandler brought Jimi to London in September 1966, Jimi was almost living rough in New York, hardly making a living, getting by on tomato sauce sandwiches. If he hadn’t come here, the whole story of rock could have been very different. Chas was very clever in the way he marketed Jimi – not sending him out on grinding tours, but picking showcase London club venues and making sure that all the influential music journalists were invited. And it was a very small scene back then, so all the musicians got to hear about Jimi straight away.

It is hard to say what musicians took away from their relationship with Jimi – not least because guitarists can be quite wary of each other – that kind of alpha-male, competitive stuff. Probably Eric was closest to Jimi; there are photos of them together and shortly before Jimi died, Eric tried to give him a guitar he had for him, but they never managed to meet. And Jimi made it a condition of coming to England in the first place, that Chas should hook him up with Eric. The first time Jimi played here was at a Cream college gig in Central London. Eric just put his guitar down and walked off. Any of those musicians who met Jimi would have been struck by his very self-effacing and humble nature who, offstage, would not go out of his way to gain attention – although they surely would have kept one eye on their wives and girlfriends. Jimi fell in love on a daily basis!

GC: From your research into his legacy of recorded material, videos of live performances, etc., does one performance really stand out to you and define the Jimi Hendrix we know from your book? What is it about that performance that makes that happen?

HS: Tough one. Album-wise, it has to be Electric Ladyland – everything I have said about Jimi so far in this interview – the sonic vision, the technical prowess, the sixties looseness, – and of course, the sex (Jimi did love the ladies) and the drugs (copious LSD consumed during this period) all come together on that album – and in particular ‘Voodo Chile (Slight Return) – the power and majesty of that track just leaves your jaw scraping the floor. From that moment on, Jimi becomes less the pop creation of Chas Chandler and more the archetypal rock star – with both good and bad consequences.

For a live performance – maybe Jimi plays Berkeley recorded in 1970. The reason I would choose this is because Jimi could have completely burned out before then. 1969 was a horrible year for Jimi; the heroin bust, break-up of The Experience, lots of legal, financial and managerial problems over the lack of a new studio album, the hassles of building the Electric Lady Studio and the machinations surrounding the Band of Gypsys. Even Woodstock was not an unalloyed success; his performance of the Star Spangled Banner cemented his iconic status, but from his point of view the whole event was a mess. So it was almost a miracle that he could come back so strongly in 1970 and his return to form is highlighted by that concert.

GC: It was at the Monterey Festival in June of 1967, where Jimi’s penchant for burning a guitar at the end of a performance really gained traction. Journalist and musician, Michael Lydon, whom you quote in your book, wrote of Jimi’s performance at Monterey that it was like:
“…five tons of glass falling over a cliff and landing on dynamite.”
And then he quotes Jimi after the show:
“But what do you play when your instrument is burnt? Where can you go next? “I don’t know, man,” said Hendrix with a laugh after the show. “I think this has gone about as far as it can go.”
My question about this festival and this pyrotechnic act…was this as far as it could go? With 3 years left to his very short life, Did Jimi’s career start a “slow burn” or, did he continue to set the world on fire?

HS: Well, Jimi certainly set the world on fire with the rest of his recorded material; Axis Bold as Love, Electric Ladyland and Cry of Love – and there were many era-defining concerts performances including New Years Eve 1969 with The Band of Gypsys. But Jimi soon found himself at odds with his management who continued to see Jimi’s career through a pop prism. And in a sense, they were in cahoots with the record company and fans; everybody wanted to hear hit singles, see the Experience and watch Jimi perform stage antics. In the end, he told a journalist, ‘I don’t want to be a clown anymore’.

Back in those days, nobody believed pop and rock had any shelf-life; the industry wisdom was that it would all soon be over, so you had to milk it for all it was worth before the gravy train left the station. So Jimi never got any peace; the pressure for a studio album after Electric Ladyland was intense; but a year after he had finished recording it, he had nowhere near enough material for the next one. But in 1970, the studio was finished, Jimi was back with Mitch and also Billy Cox and the tour was going well and bringing in some much-needed revenue. What Jimi needed was the time and space to work in the studio; when he got it, he produced Cry of Love. He should have been left alone to work; it wasn’t until Peter Grant took Zeppelin off the road and brought them back more popular than ever that people realized that the fans don’t forget you.

GC: I attended the famous 1970 “Winter Festival for Peace” at Madison Square Garden that you so accurately report in your book. Besides thinking I might have been the only one in the place that wasn’t stoned, my memory of Hendrix’s 3 AM performance was in feeling that the Garden was about to implode when he started playing. The concert was a paradox for me. So many disparate artists: “peaceniks” like Peter Yarrow, Richie Havens, and Harry Belafonte; to music legends like Judy Collins, Johnny Winter and Blood Sweat and Tears. And then there was Jimi, at the very end, delivering this explosive, paint melting off the walls performance. Even then I thought he didn’t really fit. His music was way too large and otherworldly from the roster of artists that preceded him. Even Madison Square Garden could not contain him. Your book brought back a feeling that he was too much for this world. Do you think there were times when he might have felt that way? How might that have impacted his short life and even shorter career?

HS: I think it is fair to say that had Jimi lived – and had he been allowed to almost go into seclusion for a period – he would have gone on to paint a sound landscape that stretched beyond rock, maybe into various forms of jazz and then later probably world music of different sorts. And he would have warmly embraced all the technological developments that came along – that he helped to pioneer. But I think you have to be very careful about imbuing Jimi Hendrix with some divine purpose. He was an extremely talented, visionary musician who first benefited and then felt trapped by all the pop and media hoopla he got caught up in. Don’t forget that Jimi had a great time; he was not some tragic Byronic character; he had everything a young man could desire – and then some. However, back then, he had no protection; everybody had access and everybody wanted a piece of the action. And in the end, he was just flesh and blood.

GC: Your bio makes reference to your work with Drugscope, the leading UK charity supporting professionals working in drug and alcohol treatment, drug education and prevention and criminal justice. With what we know of Jimi’s drug use and his unclear connections to the drug underworld that kept him supplied, can you speak about how your work as a successful author and rock biographer informs this other part of your life as Director of Communications and Information for Drugscope?

HS: I wrote a book called ‘Waiting for the man; the story of drugs and popular music’ which details all the connections between the two cultural phenomena going back to the early jazz days. I have also written about Jack Bruce and Graham Bond, two other musicians whose lives were dogged by drugs. I have also contributed to a number of documentaries on the same subject.

If you know anything about the music business, you almost wonder how people avoid becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol rather than how it happens. It is a brutal business where highly creative and often very fragile, temperamental personalities come smack up against a hard-nosed industry. But working in the drugs field gives you an understanding of how people get into this largely as a coping mechanism against the trauma and stress that artists can face. I’m often asked about whether rock stars have an obligation to society, especially young people – as role models. The answer to this is quite long-winded; but the short answer is – while many guys would like to play like a heroic rock guitarist, they really don’t aspire to lying in the gutter with a needle in their arm.

You can find a link to the author’s book here

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Is Eddie Van Halen the Greatest Rock Guitarist Since Hendrix?

By Andrew Catania

The history rock music will forever be highlighted by a select few who managed to achieve far greater heights than their contemporaries. Jimi Hendrix is one, with the sheer brilliance and expertise par excellence, had no boundaries or restrictions to limit his potential and the magic he was capable of with the guitar.

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With no rules to abide by and no sequences to follow – he was unstoppable, with an unwavering courage to explore and carve musical planes that have never been heard of before. Jimi Hendrix made it worth it, to be considered as the undisputed God of Blues genre and escalated legendary milestones to a whole new height, making it even more challenging for his successors to touch that level of greatness.

It is quite refreshing to note that the post-Hendrix era is populated with a number of names that took it upon them to take forward the ‘Hendrix Legacy’ and took pride in following the path laid by the eternal maestro of Rock/Hard Rock. Eddie Van Halen, for instance, is one of those few names who made their own signature mark on the music scene of the 1970s and 1980s.

The mastery he had held over his personalized six-stringed instruments ensured that it was him that controlled how his guitar would work and what he squeezed out of the chords, not the other way round. So, it all makes perfect sense if we say that the musical planes and the untapped realms that he ventured into were not a coincidence, rather his own brilliance, forte, and excellence.

An analysis of his notes and techniques is a strong validation of his great and intricate attention to details. Fast, furious and with an extreme audacity to make your eardrums experience new heights of musical ecstasy, Eddie Van Halen himself compares his playing style to a racing car, going down the road, blitzing through everything that comes in between.

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Just like Hendrix – the Blues/Rock maestro, Van Halen too had little to stop him when it came to playing the whammy bars and gave a whole new meaning to the heavy metal rock through ‘Panama’, ‘Eruption’ and ‘Hot for Teacher’. His notes made a profound impact that was anything but distortion. Perfectly planned, and intricately carved, every single fluctuation and nuance still makes an impression as if a far-fetched fantasy is coming to life.

His musical virtuosity is a depiction of his uniqueness, and entails his signature sound, as in, the dive bombs, fast licks, finger tapping and pinching on natural harmonics. He was not just a pioneer or the catalyst of a new style; he made them popular and inspired many young artists and musicians that took pride in following his lead. The way he used effects pedals, hot-rodded amps and custom modded guitars, it escalated the musical bar and ensured that hard rock still had a lot in it to be explored. 

It was all worth it, for apart from countless other awards and accolades, including the Grammy Award for ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ (1992), American Music Award for ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ (1991), MTV Music Awards for ‘Jump’ (1984), ‘Finish What Ya Started’ (1989), and two awards for ‘Right Now’ in 1992, Eddie Van Halen was declared the ‘Greatest Guitarist of all Times’ in a poll conducted by Guitar World Magazine.

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More than the awards and accolades that mark his musical career, it is his inclination to develop his signatures taps, his understanding of the strings and chords and the perfect chemistry between his fingertips and his instruments, that enabled him to produce not just a piece of music but a real treat to cherish for a lifetime. It is his successful attempts at turning the impossible into possible with a mere finger tap that justifies that if anyone could be rendered as a successor to the ’Hendrix legacy, Eddie Van Halen almost makes it too.

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Historic Debut Concert of Band of Gypsys to Be Released in its Entirety For First Time Ever

By Andrew Catania

JIMI HENDRIX MACHINE GUN: THE FILLMORE EAST FIRST SHOW 12/31/69 OUT SEPTEMBER 30 ON CD, 2 LP 180 GRAM VINYL, HIGH-RESOLUTION SACD, AND DIGITAL.

Jimi Hendrix - Machine Gun Fillmore East

Finally, time has come for the Experience Hendrix L.L.C. and Legacy Records to release the complete debut concert of Jimi Hendrix. It would be titledMachine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69. The complete documented concert would be released on September 30th this year by Sony Music Entertainment. Jimi Hendrix experienced a short-lived fame but during this period, his Band of Gypsys was all over the American music world. Every store played his songs and all his concerts were overcrowded.

The Band of Gypsys performed in two concerted on the New Year’s Eve and two on the New Year’s Day in 1969-70 in Fillmore East, New York City. All his concerts were recorded and available for the audience but it is the first time his concerts are available in their entirety. The majority of his electrifying concerts were lost because they were not recorded because of the lack of the devices in that era. In all, it is the loss of the mankind as we were deprived of most of those classic songs and excellent performances.

The album Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69 is produced by Janie Hendrix, John McDermott, and Eddie Kramer. It is the same team which has been developing all the concerts of Jimi Hendrix since 1995 under the banner of Experience Hendrix L.L.C. Eddie Kramer was the primary recording engineer to Hendrix and has served him throughout his lifetime. He has also played a vital role in bringing all the concerts of Jimi Hendrix together. The album has been retouched by Bernie Grundman, a Grammy Award Winner. It will be released digitally and in high-resolution SACD of 2 LP 180 gram Vinyl. The good news is that the fans can preorder the Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69 exclusively at http://smarturl.it/jh_mg_cd and Vinyl: http://smarturl.it/jh_mg_vinyl.

It is the very first time that Jimi Hendrix records are being released in HD and digitally. Experience Hendrix would release his other songs like the People, Hell & Angels on the same day. This album would consist of a collection of some of his unreleased studio recordings. These songs were at #2 ranking of Billboard’s Top 200 Albums in 2013. The series will also incorporate some of the songs of Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69 but in the studio version.

Jimi Hendrix was known for only four years of his life but it was enough to get him registered as one of the best guitarists and an exceptional pop singer the World has ever seen. His music was popular among all sections of the society and all walks of life. It is well said that life need not be big but however long may be the life, make it large and you will rein the world. Hendrix Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69 is measured equal to his win at the Monetary pop and Woodstock and it became the turning point of his career.
Jimi Hendrix, Billy Cox, and Buddy Miles created a new definition of R&B, rock and funk by their four back to back concerts on the intervening night of the 1969-70 New Year. His album included songs like the Machine Gun. His exceptional mix of rock with a soul made for a new recipe of pop music and gave him a huge commercial success. Unfortunately, it was the last album Jimi Hendrix authorized to be released. He died in London in September 1970.

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The new retouched album would showcase for the first time on the CDs the songs sung in the four Fillmore East Concerts. Some of his songs that won him unprecedented success and were on the lips of every fan were “Earth Blues”, “Stepping Stone”, “Ezy Ryder”, “Burning Desire” and “Machine Gun”. Nearly all of the Band of Gypsys’ songs have never been performed by anyone before the audience. Billy Cox, Hendrix’s partner in crime, said that they decided they would not do the songs which had already been released. Thus, in order to give the audience something different, they went forward with this project of bringing the Band of Gypsys’ concerts in a refreshed and creative manner.

The Songs of the Album are as follows

Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69 (release date: September 30)
1) Power Of Soul
2) Lover Man
3) Hear My Train A Comin’
4) Changes
5) Izabella
6) Machine Gun
7) Stop
8) Ezy Ryder
9) Bleeding Heart
10) Earth Blues
11) Burning Desire

Bill Graham still remembers his days of those concerts. Neither they knew how the audience would respond nor did the audience know what to expect of them but as soon as the concert started, the audience went into a trance and with every passing moment the band started growing more and more popular. All the tickets for the concert had been sold out already and the audience had pumped in. Electrified by this sight, Jimi Hendrix along with his two mates went on to give a scintillating performance for full seventy-five minutes. This drove the crowd crazy and The Band of Gypsys had made a place in the heart of everyone present there.

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“Machine Gun” still remains the finest and the most influential composition of Jimi Hendrix. He had used fuzz face, wah-wah pedal, Uni-Vibe, and Octavia during the performance for the first time and it was an awesome performance and made history. After 46 long years, the composition is ready to rock the world again. It is finally the time to remember Jimi Hendrix again.
Legacy Recordings, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, is a library of the works of the artists of the 19th, 20th and early 21st Centuries. It is the place where meticulously restored and mastered compositions can be found pertaining to genres like rock, blues, Broadway Musical, R&B, Folk, country, jazz, Rap/Hip-Hop, gospel, Classical, etc.

Have a look at our current issue of “American Guitars”

Featured Interviews with Joe Bonamassa, and Greg Howe as well as  Luthiers Gabriel Currie from EchoPark Guitars, John Monteleone, and a look at Benedetto Guitars after 48 years by CEO Howard Paul. The Photographers Vault by Derek Brad of his shoot of Joe Bonamassa at the State Theatre.

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Vernon Reid: The “Colour” of Sound

By Andrew Catania
What would the world of music be like without the eclectic guitar playing of Living Colour’s Vernon Reid? A less inspiring and honest place for sure. This legend has already left a massive mark on music history and continue to do so today!
Born in Britain, but raised in Brooklyn, New York by Caribbean parents with a big penchant for music, literature and art, Vernon Reid was basically raised on all the cultural wonders the world has to offer.
Seth Glier April 30,2009 New York City
At home, Vernon’s parents played everything from American Motown music like James Brown to leaders of the British Invasion, The Beatles and Dave Clarke Five, and all the way to native Caribbean songs, which infused Vernon with a huge love for music early on. But it wasn’t before he heard the sweet singing sustain of Carlos Santana’s six-string magic that he knew that he just had to learn how to play the guitar.
From there a massive musical journey began, seeing Vernon diving deeper into the world of John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix while attending a jazz workshop at school. This workshop went on and changed his life forever, opening his eyes to how music can do more than just entertain. It can actually influence people, change minds and transform experiences. And that’s exactly what Vernon has been doing ever since through his music. The result being the legendary four-piece and funk-metal pioneers, Living Colour, founded by Vernon in 1984.
Living Colour became the canvas on which Vernon could paint with his multi-colored sonic strokes, creating a cult of diversity where everything was allowed. That’s probably why Living Colour sky-rocketed over night with their debut release “Vivid” containing the smash-hit “Cult of Personality”. Vivid was a melting-pot of everything Vernon knew and loved, which made jumping from hardcore punk riffs to catchy pop melodies, Delta Blues licks and jazzy solos as natural as breathing, and it quickly became the standard of reference within the world of alternative metal.
Living Colour managed to release three albums and receive two Grammy awards before they disbanded in 1995, but that didn’t put a stop to Vernon Reid’s inexhaustible creativity.
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After the breakup, Vernon delved into a career as a solo artist and as a record producer for other acts, where the latter resulted in two Grammy nominations. Besides recording solo albums, Vernon also put his wide-ranging guitar skills to good use doing session work for artists at all ends of the musical spectrum like The Roots, Mick Jagger, Public Enemy, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Tracy Chapman and childhood idol, Santana just to mention a few.
In 2000, Vernon Reid and the rest of the Living Colour members reformed and subsequently released two albums in 2003 and 2009, while earning Vernon Reid a spot on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2004 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
Living Colour are tentatively releasing new material this year.
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There’s no doubt that Vernon Reid has already solidified his status as a true guitar legend, and time will only see his sonic kaleidoscopic colors shine even stronger.
To keep up with Vernon and Living Colour please visit the official site: livingcolour.com

Fender Custom Shop’s Dale Wilson: Maintaining the Legacy

By Brad Mahon

Fender guitars enjoy a well-deserved, celebrated place in the story of the amplified instrument. Started in 1946 as the Fender Electric Instrument Company, the legendary creator Leo Fender gave us landmark designs such as the 1950 Broadcaster (later to become the 1951 Telecaster) as well as the 1954 Stratocaster—models that have been held by popular music’s greatest players, heard on some of music’s most memorable and influential recordings, and have also resulted in countless competing manufacturer copies and imitations throughout the world. Over the past decades, the enterprise (now the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation) has continued to solidify its importance among professionals, amateurs, and aficionados alike including the creation of the Fender Custom Shop. Opening in 1987, the Fender Custom Shop targets guitarists seeking to design their own specialized, idealized instrument; at the Custom Shop, there are no limits—no boundaries. Guitar Connoisseur caught up with the Fender’s Dale Wilson, a luthier with a growing reputation as an A-list Custom Shop builder.

Guitar Connoisseur: You’ve mentioned that you always wanted to be a guitar builder rather than a rock star; so while other kids had posters of Hendrix and Van Halen did you have posters of Les Paul and Leo Fender on your bedroom walls? Please take us back; who were your heroes?

Dale Wilson: I admire the artists’ guitars as much as the artists themselves. The guitars became as much a part of the music as the artists who created the music, and I knew of Les Paul and Leo Fender—they were icons and heroes of mine—but the guitars were as much heroes to me as the artists. Hendrix, Van Halen, Satriani—the guitars have become part of their identities. I guess that’s why Fender has the Tribute Series. I can remember thumbing through magazines like yours and admiring guitar after guitar and wanting to be the builder of that guitar.

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GC: You’ve had other gigs—you worked for Rickenbacker, among others—which roads led you to Scottsdale, Arizona/Corona, California? Tell us how you came to find yourself working for Fender?

DW: When I was working for Dobro before they moved to Nashville, I had my eye on Fender and I applied, but they weren’t hiring at that time. So I applied for Rickenbacker and got a job there. Then in 2003 a friend of mine at Fender told me they were hiring, hooked me up with someone there and I got the gig. My experiences at the other companies were fantastic, but Fender has always made my favorite guitars and been the place I wanted to end up working.

GC: Let’s talk about your work at Fender for a moment: you’ve been with the company since 2003, joined their Custom Shop in 2005, and were promoted to “Master Builder” in 2011; as you look at your contributions, what are you most proud of? Can you list off some career highlights thus far?

DW: I always strive to make each guitar better than the last, even in the most rudimentary tasks. One of my favorites is the Benzietan Telecaster—hand painted by Frank Germano. I think that guitar has a classiness to it. The ‘52 telecaster with the Bigsby B16 tremolo too, I tried to show how even though Fender guitars age, they maintain their beauty. I think there’s a lot of charm and beauty in the guitars of the 50s and 60s—sometimes the more worn they are the better. I have many favorites though. A lot of times a customer’s dream guitar will become a favorite guitar of mine.  Working on artist guitars and customer guitars have really been the highlights of my career so far.

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 GC: Tell us about the Resophonic Thinline Telecaster; how long had this been on your brain? How did the concept come to you? Are you pleased with the physical result?

DW: That guitar had been on my brain since working at Dobro. We had made a guitar called the Resoelectric and I always wanted to apply that to a Thinline Telecaster. I was very pleased with the result as far as the way it sounded and the way it looked.

GC: Let’s talk about the Fender legacy: you work for an iconic builder; do you feel an obligation to maintain the storied history of the company?

DW: I guess I’ve always felt a responsibility to live up to the name of Fender. Even though it’s a work-horse style of guitar, I’ve always seen a class in it. So yes, I feel a huge obligation to help continue the legacy of the company.

GC: Here’s a slippery question: how do you balance working for a corporation like Fender—a company that will obviously have its own agenda—with your own artistic desires? Are there ever conflicting paths when comparing the desires of the Big Machine with the desires of Dale Wilson?

DW: The Custom Shop is really its own entity, and within the shop we are given the leniency to be able to pursue our artistic desires. The desire of any company is to make a profit, and the Custom Shop is profitable, so we both achieve our desires.

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GC: You once said: “I dreamed of building the ultimate guitar;” have you? What is the ultimate guitar? What are you searching for?

DW: The dream of building the ultimate guitar was a childhood thing. It sums up the dream I had of being a builder rather than a rock star. If I say that I have built the ultimate guitar, then I’m not giving myself any room for growth, and I’m resting on my laurels. If I say that I haven’t, I always give myself room to improve. I never want to rule out any ways of making a guitar or striving for the ultimate. I will never hit the perfect guitar, because I want the perfect guitar to always be on the horizon.

GC: Looking at the art of guitar building (big picture), what innovations are you seeing on the scene that excites you these days? Are there other builders you admire?

DW: Yeah, I admire all of the builders I work with, all for different reasons. Each builder has a really different style from the next.

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GC: What’s next for Dale Wilson? Do you have any short term projects you can discuss? Are there any long term goals/ideas?

DW: Like I said, I’m always looking for new ways to build and improve. Most of my long-term projects go towards the NAMM show in January and the Messe show in March.  Most of my short-term projects right now have to do with building customers’ dream guitars.

Meet the builders at the Fender Custom Shop by visiting: www.fendercustomshop.com

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