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    [Grammys Preview] Guitars Of The Stars

    “Don’t touch it!”


    “Well, I wasn’t going to touch it. I was just pointing at it.”


    “Well…don’t point! It can’t be played.”


    grammy.jpgSo goes a famous scene from This Is Spinal Tap, the satirical 1984 “rockumentary” of “one of England’s loudest bands,” in which lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) tours his collection with filmmaker Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner). While Tufnel’s overzealousness may come across as a bit extreme, it’s not hard to imagine in a profession populated by lightning-fingered prima donnas whose guitars are integral to their success.


    Like a jackhammer to a catcalling road worker, a guitar is much more than a mere instrument to a rock ‘n’ roller. “For a lot of people, getting on stage is a prospect that stirs up the nerves. So having something to hide behind lowers the anxiety,” says Warren Zanes, formerly of 1980s band The Del Fuegos and now vice president of education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. “A guitar is an extension of the hands–not too dissimilar from what a conductor has with a baton. That’s such a significant service that, once you’ve shared that transforming experience on stage, you can’t help but develop a personal relationship with your guitar.”


    If you’re planning on tuning in to the 48th Annual Grammy Awards on Wednesday, Feb. 8, you’ll see plenty of such personal relationships, as rock ‘n’ roll heavyweights, including Coldplay, Maroon 5, Bruce Springsteen and assorted members of Aerosmith, are among the luminaries scheduled to take the stage. When they do, keep an eye on their guitars, because what they’re playing will be as key to their performances as how well they play.Even as popular music remains splintered between disparate genres, guitars couldn’t be hotter. Retail sales of electric guitars ran to $538 million on 1.68 million units sold in 2004 (the most recent year for which figures are available), according to the music-industry publication, The Music Trades. Those numbers are up 10% and 43%, respectively, from 2003. Throw in acoustic guitars, which rang up $483 million on 1.61 million units sold the same year, and the instrument’s sway is even more impressive. “Guitars are the single biggest product category in the music business,” says Brian Majeski, editor of The Music Trades. “If you add in related accessories, like mics and recording equipment, you come to $1.7 billion in sales in 2004.”


    Just how important are guitars to the rock ‘n’ roll image? “Incredibly important,” says Michael Molenda, editor in chief of Guitar Player magazine. “When rock ‘n’ roll was young in the 1950s and ’60s, performers gravitated to whatever they could borrow or afford. But when the music hit its stride, just the fact that guys like Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Richie Blackmore held certain guitars made them iconic.”


    By the 1970s, Molenda notes, guitar buyers were shopping for “the look” and “the vibe.” Then came the 1980s, when Eddie Van Halen changed everything by piecing together his own guitar–from paint job to pickups. “At that point, many rockers moved away from classic Gibsons and Fenders to manufacturers like Kramer and Jackson, with their spiky head stocks and whammy bars.”


    In the 1990s, grunge rocker Kurt Cobain’s unusual choice of a Fender Jaguar inspired legions of garage bands to outfit themselves with instruments from guitar makers like Schecter and ESP, which were as far from their fathers’ guitars as they could get. “Now it has come full circle, and we’re getting back to kids wanting to emulate what happened in the ’60s and ’70s,” says Molenda. “They like the look and feel of the iconic Gibson Les Pauls and Fender Stratocasters again, even as they create their own images with tattoos and multiple piercings.”


    Of course, just because you own a white Stratocaster doesn’t mean you’re going to jam like Jimi Hendrix–even if you string it in reverse and play it left-handed. “There’s an old adage that a lot of the talent comes through the fingers,” adds Molenda. “A guitarist is going to sound like himself whether he’s playing on his own equipment or on yours.”


    Still, you can go a long way toward emulating your favorite rockers and creating your own sounds, provided you have the money and the know-how to do it.


    Guitar makers offer a mind-boggling arrays of instruments, from off-the-shelf “standard” issues to “signature” models signed off on by various rock ‘n’ roll notables, such as Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood’s Signature ESP-400, which lists for $1,399, or contemporary pop star and sizzeling guitarist, John Mayer’s Signature Stratocaster that lists for $1999.


    Then there are the “custom” models, which are graced not only with artists’ imprimaturs, but with the same dings, scratches and dents as the original guitars. For instance, Fender’s Rory Gallagher Tribute Stratocaster–named for the late, great Irish rocker–which lists for $3,929, is “very distressed,” says Morgan Ringwald, vice president of public relations for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based guitar maker Fender. “It looks like a beat-up old guitar, but it’s an exact replica of his most famous guitar.” Or take the 100 limited-edition custom Jeff Beck Tribute Esquires, which sell for $15,000 each: Fender introduced the guitars in January at the International Music Products Association’s annual NAMM Show in Los Angeles, and they sold out to dealers in 45 minutes.


    Beyond replication, anybody with a Phillips-head screwdriver and basic soldering knowledge can go a long way toward creating distinct guitar sounds. Most instruments sold off-the-rack come with the most rudimentary features. Pickups–those electromagnetic devices beneath the strings that convert vibrations into amplified sound–can be upgraded and reconfigured. Standard strings can also be upgraded based on quality and weight, with heavier strings offering a more sensuous tone. Myriad effects–from echos and wah-wahs to distortion and attack delays–can be added. Amplifiers can be switched and combined for different sound qualities. And even the cables between guitars and amps can be adjusted, as longer cable-length generally translates into better sound quality.


    You’ll be sounding like Springsteen, Page, Beck, Berry, Allman, Hendrix, Harrison, Dale, Diddley, Townsend, Santana, Frusciante, Richards, Van Halen or Anastasio in no time. But not like Tom Morello, lead guitarist for Grammy-nominated rockers Audioslave, whose intricate guitar customizations are legendary. “He’s a sonic alchemist,” notes Guitar Player’s Molenda. “If you’re trying to sound like Morello, good luck.”


    To start you on your way to rock stardom, we’ve identified–with the generous assistance of Michael Molenda and his crew at Guitar Player–a selection of ten primo guitars used by the current crop of Grammy-nominated rock stars. Given that the Grammy’s have eight different categories for rock, metal and “alternative” artists, as well as Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year, there were plenty of rock stars to choose from. (We’ve supplied prices where applicable.) Just remember, from aging dinosaurs to up-and-comers, they’re all talented in their own rock ‘n’ roll way.


    Source: http://www.forbes.com

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