Influences: John McGeoch


There’s a reason I have always wanted to own ( and now do own), a black Yamaha SG1000. Since first hearing The Banshees Ju Ju as a 17 year old.

John McGeoch’s playing style to me, encompasses the very modernism that a guitar like the Yamaha SG series symbolises.

Origins 

Originally born in Greenock in Scotland. McGeoch moved to London  as a kid and grew up playing guitar. Influenced by the blues rock music of the time. He emulated the players of the era like Hendrix & Clapton.

Magazine 

After attending Art college in Manchester. McGeoch was by chance introduced to Buzzcocks singer Howard Devoto. McGeoch suddenly became the guitarist in his next project Magazine. Magazine’s debut single Shot by Both Sides. Featured an amazing showy anthemic Vic Flick-esque guitar riff that set the track off perfectly.

After playing on the first three Magazine albums, but frustrated by their lack of success. McGeoch then worked with Visage on their Fade To Grey album.  Having a massive hit, before being asked to join the Banshees.

Siouxsie & The Banshees

Siouxie & The Banshees however was where McGeoch made his name. Adding spiky atmospheric textural guitars to the Banshees tribal influences. McGeoch integrated himself perfectly, abandoning his blues rock origins totally and forged himself a new voice. His dissonant melodies, sound collages & use of FX, placed him firmly as a bold new voice, the enfant terrible of the electric guitar. One critic later described him as “Johnny Marr before Johnny Marr” or “the post Punk Jimmy Page”.

The key recordings with the Banshees are Kaleidoscope, Ju Ju, and a A Kiss In The Dreamhouse. Here McGeoch is on fire. Using the guitar as a paintbrush to serve the music in a conceptual way. Rather than take a traditional blues based approach. My personal favourite is Headcut from Ju Ju. In which the guitar takes on a sinister character of its own. While Budgie and Sevrin builds a manic African rhythm behind him .

The Armoury Show 

After intense touring took its toll on his mental health. McGeoch found himself out of the Banshees & formed The Armoury Show with ex Skids frontman Richard Jobson.


The Armoury show album, although blighted by a rather dated mid 80’s production, shows McGeoch front and centre in more of a traditional guitar hero role. Here is playing is big and anthemic. But still unmistakably him, still serving the song.

Gear 

Interviewed by Guitarist magazine in 1985. With regard to his equipment, McGeoch had clearly reached peak Japanese guitar.

Besides his well worn customary pair of Yamaha SG1000’s he also ran an Ibanez AE10 electro-acoustic & a pair of JV Squier 57 Strat re-issues. After using a vintage Strat on the Armoury Show record & its owner not wanting to sell it to him.

Later in P.I.L he would swap out the Yamaha’s for a Washburn T type with twin humbuckers and a locking tremelo. Then by 1989 he’d switched over to Carvin DC400 Superstrats with neck thru bodies, Floyd Rose tremolos & active electronics.

Amplification from 83 onwards was always a Marshall. Either a 100 watt JCM 800 Stack or, later a 50 watt 2×12 combo paired with a Roland JC120 combo running in stereo. His effects system was a series of various MXR & Ibanez pedals, re mounted into a switching system by Quark. Coupled with a couple of early rack mounted Ibanez Delay/Harmonisers. This combination of wet/dry stereo Rig always made him sound huge. In his Banshees days he’d made explicit use of an MXR flanger mounted directly to the mikestand so he could control it.

P.I.L 

In 1986 after joining John Lydon’s P.I.L McGeoch seemed settled and made three albums with them. As a musician Lydon needed a man who could emulate Steve Vai guitarlines as much as Keith Levines. My choice cut from the PIL canon is the wonderfully atmospheric U.S.L.S.1 off the “9” album.



Post P.I.L 
After P.I.L’s commercially disappointing album That What Is Not. Lydon disbanded PIL. McGeoch dissapeared from view. After a session with Icelandic alternative band The Sugarcubes in 1992. He tried to get various projects off the ground to no avail. Before passing away in March 2004.

One of my great regrets is that McGeoch is the only one of my guitar heroes that I’ve never seen live. I had tickets to see P.I.L on the Happy tour. But bassist Alan Dias broke his wrist & the date was cancelled.

In 2005, the BBC made a radio documentary about his life and legacy Spellbound.

In a world where lazy journalists are keen to place endless superlatives on any Johnny come lately. I’d recommend McGeoch’s dramatic, innovative & downright clever playing style to anyone wanting a starting off point to something new. He is truly a guitarists guitarist.

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1991 Ibanez RG760

History 

The History of the original Ibanez RG series is a curious one. Not least because the Ibanez RG was perhaps the second guitar after the Yamaha SG to really challenge the Hedgemony of USA is best. Ibanez were the first Japanese maker to realise that they could take advantage of the burgeoning 1980’s shred guitar scene & turn themselves into a world leading brand.

While Kramer & Charvel/Jackson were desirable brands of the day. Neither had decent distribution at a world wide level.  But for a couple of years in the late 80’s, Ibanez became the number 1 bestselling guitar over $500 in the USA, until the fatal dual whammy of Slash & the Seattle scene, slayed their metaphorical hairspray dragon, and heralded a move away from the technical precision offered by the ubiquitous pointy headstock axe into a murky heroin filled world of darker, earthier Les Paul infused tones & more…ahem, casualised personal grooming routines.

Back in 1985 Ibanez’ Artist relations guru Rich Lasner had been out courting the plethora of  new talent on Mike Varneys shrapnel label. Which at the time was home to a whose who of mid 80’s technical players. Ibanez, like Yamaha & Aria, were about to take advantage of tremelo guru Floyd Rose’s decision to grant his patent use to the big three Japanese makers. So at the 1986 NAMM show, Ibanez were first off the block with the stock Ibanez Roadstar remodelled with (rather terrible) pickups that looked like EMG’s. Plus a new style tremolo.



The Ibanez Edge system is still in my opinion the definitive evolvement of the Floyd Rose.  The boffins at Ibanez parent company Hoshino Gakki decided to go all Isambard Kingdom Brunel on us, and over engineer the Floyd with oversized chunky saddles, massive knurled knobs & set the saddles further back on the robust steel bridge plate. This gave the player a greater ability to perform up bends and let the tremelo feel more vocal. The new arm was push in with simple replacement plastic saddles & had non of the mounting  and tension adjustment issues most Floyd users experienced with the original design.

Had Ibanez just stopped there I suspect they would have made a major contribution to 80’s Rock guitar culture.

But Lasner had the foresight to realise that instrumental music had a limited audience. He needed a full on fire breathing Rock Star, a venerable guitar god.

Enter Steve Vai.


Vai had played with Artists as diverse as Zappa & P.I.L, but in 1986 he was the guitarist on Dave Lee Roth’s debut solo album “Eat Em & Smile”.  A shredtastic recording of high energy cock Rock, packed to the brim with killer riffs, monster solo’s and cackling screaming guitars. Vai made his heavily modded Charvel Strat laugh, cry & wolf whistle at the girls passing by on the sunset strip. It was post ironic Van Halen, for the Post Van Halen world. By January 1987 a new guitar hero had been crowned.

The creation of Vai’s signature axe the Ibanez Jem is something I won’t go into here. But Vai, showed Lasner his guitars which were heavily modified by Joe “Jem” Despagni & Ibanez joined forces to create one of the most distinctive signature guitars ever.

But Ibanez had their eye on an even greater prize. Many of these innovations Ibanez had worked on would come to fruition in the less garish and more mainstream Ibanez RG.

The RG is essentially an upspecked high performance Stratocaster. The Basswood body is lightweight, tonally neutral, but acoustically resonant & allows the pickups to have a greater say in the final sound. Basswood is also very consistent in weight. Allowing for a more consistent feel in a production guitar. Then it’s fine & shallow grain makes it far easier to apply mad colourschemes or a graphic paint job too.

Pickup Guru Larry DiMarzio came up with a new Hum/Single/Hum Pickup layout. Which would become a mainstay on Ibanez guitars for years afterwards.

Then there was the neck.

Pairing the agressive six a side headstock of the Ibanez Destroyer with a scarf jointed one piece maple neck. The Wizard neck was thin and flat and wide. It’s ultra flat 17″ radius and massive fat Dunlop 6100 fretwire made it the perfect neck for generation shred.

This roadworthy modernistic but somehow accessible design was an instant success. By 1989 many pro’s were using Ibanez guitars. The brands decision to offer a US Artist headquarters in Hollywood with various  built Custom Shop instruments, meant that they had soon usurped their American pointy headstocked contemporaries.  By 1990 Kramer guitars had gone bankrupt. Charvel/Jackson were later sold to Korg.

The Instrument


Our example here is a remarkably clean 1991 RG760 built in the now legendary Fujigen guitar factory.

Originally Ibanez RG’s followed a simple easy to understand numbering system. Not unlike a BMW car. Pickup layouts were determined by the last two numbers so

  • x50: 2 humbuckers with 1 single coil in the middle.
  • X60: 1 humbucker and 2 single coils.
  •  X70: As X50 but without a scratch plate.

There were others, the RG565 had a reverse headstock with a bridge humbucker and a mini humbucker in the neck. But the majority of Ibanez guitars sold were in the highlighted styles.

Ibanez Japanese RG’s offered 2 levels of trim. The 5 series was basic, no binding & dot inlays. The 7 series had neck & headstock binding with shark tooth inlays & American made pickups by Larry DiMarzio. The single coils in the 7XX series are actually hum cancelling stacked single coils. Otherwise specs are identical. In 1988 headstocks were all black, by 1990 they are colour matched.

The guitar we have here plays perfectly. The 6100’s have been dressed back a couple of times. But there is still plenty of play in them. The neck is like the M25, if you like a smaller clubbier neck, then this isn’t for you. This is a neck built for technically precise playing.

Despite the 25+ years of play. The second generation “lo pro edge” tremolo ( introduced in 1990) performs admirably. All the squeals, shrieks, divebombs & wolf whistle noises are there.

The Dimarzio IBZ/USA pickups are medium gained. No it doesn’t sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan. But the 5 way blade switch gives a huge amount of tonal variation. It really is a superstrat. As a pro instrument, 25 years on, it still holds up. Cleans are crystalline and it handles FX very well.


How Much?

Now this is where it gets interesting. Back in 1991, you could buy one of these for around £750.00, which is about £1450 in today’s money. But then there’s the question of fashion. The heyday of these guitars was really 1988-90. In 1991 Grunge hit & the 80’s metal bands all died on the vine until their early 2000’s resurgence as “Classic Rock”.

As the Yen increased in value, the mid range RG’s production turned to Korea & later Indonesia. The Japanese guitars were rebranded as Prestige to reflect their higher quality.

Breaking Up

Meanwhile the original era RG’s became a guitar known for their plummeting residuals. 10-12 years ago you could have picked this guitar up for very little money, say £250.00 but then you have to factor in the high quality parts.

Pretty soon thanks to the culture of hot rodding. People began to break up guitars for spares as they realised that the value of the hardshell case, tremolo system, necks & bodies was far greater than a complete instrument. In particular the Edge tremolo systems wear out. Hardware becomes chewed & rusty. EBay & the Ibanez Rules forum became a haven for buying and trading spares & custom projects in various stages of completion.


Conclusion 

With that in mind Intact 88-92 RG’s as complete instruments in this condition are now very rare. I owned this guitar for 6 years before selling it on at a profit. I then discovered the EBay buyer had two accounts & was actually a speculative dealer. Bulk buying up older clean guitars to sell on.

C’est La Vie I suppose. But ethics aside given the rarity of complete guitars now. If the styling is to your taste. These are still remarkable guitars for the money. If this said Suhr on the headstock it would have been £2500 new. Despite what the rednecks & racists on US guitar forums may say, this comfortably holds its own against anything from the era.

As always with buying a guitar like this buyer beware. These were the original shred machines, people didn’t baby them. Hardware is often chewed, necks may have warped over time due to use & abuse etc. After cock Rock & grunge, Nu Metal became popular. So some guitars may have had heavier strings on & been downtuned. So check out thoroughly before you buy.

Just remember your hairspray and remember whatever happens with fashion, every dog has its day.

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Fender Richie Kotzen Stratocaster

Fender Kotzen Stratocaster in White Burst

The Story

As this is my first missive on here, we best delve into a bit of backstory regarding my love of Fender Japan’s Richie Kotzen signature guitars. In my younger days I grew up playing Ibanez & Yamaha Super-strats.I loved fast necks, big fat frets, Floyd Rose trems etc.

After a break from playing in the late 90’s, I returned to playing guitar about 17 years ago.After a couple of years I found myself with a pair of rather non widdly Gibson’s, a Les Paul Classic & an SG Standard. Then after joining a two guitar band in the mid noughties. I realised I needed an instrument with more clarity & bite.

I decided I needed a Telecaster, but something I could still be me on.

Following a fruitless search of various Tele’s of US & Japanese flavours. I saw an article on the Richie Kotzen signature Telecaster & ordered one in April 2005. I didn’t know much of his playing then. But the guitars spec looked tempting.

To the uninitiated, Richie Kotzen is a fantastic all round musician, who juggles a singer songwriter solo career along, with a shredtastic rock guitar role various bands that include: Mr Big, Poison and more recently, The Winery Dogs. For someone who’d started his career playing Ibanez shred machines on Mike Varney’s Shrapnel label, it was a surprise to find that Kotzen’s signature Telecaster was a mix of traditional vintage features with modern tweak-ability. This collision of the old and new appealed to my desire for a traditional looking guitar, with modern performance.

Because of his superstar status in Japan, originally Kotzen’s signature guitars were built exclusively for the Japanese market only and not sold outside of the land of the rising sun, so I had to import the guitar, something that has become easier thanks to the internet.

As fate would have it, the giant Japanese music retailer Ishibashi were out of stock with no delivery for 3 months. So I ended up with a shop soiled one, it had a tiny paint mark at the neck body join the size of a fingernail.Almost invisible to the naked eye. I guess the Japanese consumer is a bit less forgiving than most. At this point it was 211 Yen to the pound. So a deal was done.

After the guitar arrived, I found that I immediately bonded with its heady mix of old guitar vibe with modern playability . So from 2005-2015. My main guitar was the Kotzen Tele. I recorded the Heroes Of Switzerland album with her doing 70% of my parts & the rest my Les Paul Classic.

My 2003 Kotzen Telecaster

After such a positive ownership experience, I’d always fancied trying his signature Stratocaster. But pretty much given up on ever buying one, as in recent years the exchange rate has been quite unforgiving to grey import guitars from Japan. When I saw this had now become a limited FSR (factory special run) by Fender into Europe. I jumped at the chance.

How Much?

First off the price: Fender have been shipping the Kotzen Telecaster worldwide since 2015. But they are now a lot more expensive and in the region of £1800.00 new.

On the Ishibashi website the Kotzen Strat & Tele are exactly the same price, (around £1370.00 at the time of writing). But Ishibashi are now banned from exporting new Fender Japan guitars. So to see a new Strat on the market for around a grand was too tempting an opportunity to miss. Normally thats the price of a used grey import on Ebay. So I figured if we didn’t bond, I could sell her on without loosing any cash.

The Body

The Kotzen’s body is 3 pieces of Ash with a laminated maple cap. Its not a lightweight body, I keep hearing mentions of swamp ash, but I think its japanese Sen Ash. It reminds me a little of a friends 90’s Levinson Blade. At just under 8lbs its a medium weight guitar, not too heavy. The contouring of the body is perhaps a little more squarer cut than a vintage reissue.

BLING BLING BLING!

What will divide most potential owners is the original see through white burst finish. Then factor in the gold hardware & pearloid pick-guard. You will surely love or hate it.Personally, I found it all a bit Liberace for my tastes.

In order to try and de-bling the guitar, I bought a gold anodised pickguard from Regent Sound in Denmark St for £39 & changed it on the second day of owning it. I now like to think it has a more discreet Gilmour 0001/ Mary Kaye Strat type vibe.

Now fitted with gold adonised pickguard, one of the screws didnt line up, so I had to create a new one.

The guitar came fitted with 009-042 strings. I changed these to 009-046 with minimal adjustment.

Neck

The neck is a beefy piece of maple with a rosewood strip on the back & I suspect the truss rod is in a plastic tube. The profile is what Fender call ‘Large C’. with a Gibson like 12″ fingerboard radius & massive Dunlop 6100 fretwire. The quality of the fit & finish on here is as good, if not better than any US Deluxe/Elite or AVRI Ive played. The neck is that modern silky sealed bare looking maple with rolled fingerboard edges. Once again quality is top notch, this feels up there with the CS Clapton Strat I recently tried.

Those Jumbo Frets make for a fast playing experience

Im surprised Fender don’t do more vintage style neck profiles with monster frets & modern radius boards. I get playing fatigue with the rather generic Modern C & I know Im not the only one. If I was being picky, maybe a 10″ radius would have felt slightly nicer for open chords. But the guitar feels fast & lively to play.

Much is made of the Kotzen Telecaster’s beefy neck. But although the same dimensions of 648mm with a 42mm width, the neck on this Strat is simply not as deep as its Telecaster sibling. If anything its about half an inch shallower.

Ive found it quite easy to go from this guitar to another at gigs. So if your put off by the baseball bat like reputation of the original Kotzen Tele, this might not be so bad.

Im pleasantly surprised by how well cut the polyurethane nut is. Despite my dislike of traditional Strat trems, tuning is pretty much spot on. It returns to pitch after repeated abuse without any real issues. Which coming from a Floyd Rose fan like myself is a huge compliment. The Gotoh machines are compact & efficient. Although the pearloid buttons are yet another “Liberace” touch.

Electronics

Electronics are normal Strat. 3 Dimarzio single coils, 1 volume & 2 tones, 5 way blade etc. but the Dimarzio’s are custom spec’d to Mr Kotzen’s requirements. After doing some digging on the net. The best I can gather is that they are based on the hum cancelling DiMarzio HS-2’s without the stacked coil underneath. They are medium gained with an alnico V magnet & very articulate playing with lots of distortion. With clean tones, I think maybe they lack the punch & bite of other Strat pickups, Id go so far to say slightly lacking in character? This is dissapointing as I think the electronics on its telecaster sibling work superbly.

Tonally it does all the Strat things a Strat can do, but perhaps with slightly less snap and punch than some other vintage reissues Ive heard. Through my Blackstar Artisan 30, the 3 Dimarzio’s are somewhat undergained by modern standards.

After a few months of owning the guitar, I decided to Install a Dimarzio Tone Zone compact Strat sized humbucker to the bridge & add a coil tap to the tone control. This for me, has made the guitar far more useable.

On the left before, on the right, after my modifications.

In Conclusion

Buying a signature instrument 20 years ago, especially if your not a massive fan of that player, used to be a difficult proposition. But I think nowadays most signature guitars ,unless they are very quirky ala an Ibanez Jem; transcend the aesthetic of the original player they were intended for. As with the Kotzen Telecaster. This guitar has much to offer any player.

Although Fender now make the Stratocaster in an seemingly endless plethora of combinations at every price point known to man. Its worth noting that aside from the American Hot Rod series of Vintage reissues. There’s a real gap in the Fender range regarding a vintage style guitar with modern performance appointments. Granted you could go down the Custom Shop route. But even then, you’d be looking at £2500.00 and upwards. For some people, thats just too much.

My only annoyance is that into the UK, the guitar isn’t being shipped with a gigbag or case. So its worth budgeting another £100 or so for a decent case.

This minor quibble aside, along with Mr Kotzen’s colour scheme & finish choices, this is a great all round Strat for someone who needs a mixture of vintage looks with modern performance, but can’t stretch to Custom Shop prices. If like me, you’re a player who really doesn’t like the rather ubiquitous & generic Fender “Modern C” neck profile. This is a no brainer for its current UK retail of just over £1100.00.

Below is a short snippet of her in action through a Blackstar Artisan 30 with a hint of delay from a TC Electronics Flashback.

‘CJ’ by Jez Sullivan from Jez Sullivan on Vimeo.

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