Swing Guitar

Dedicated to pre-bebop jazz guitar.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


I'm starting this blog over from scratch, and moving it to a new home on the Campus Five webpage. I'll be adding more lessons, tips, tricks, videos, gear stuff, and it should be a bit more manageable to update than this blog has been.

So, we'll see you over at the new blog site:

Monday, May 18, 2009

So finally I update something!

Now that I'm out of law school and passed the California bar, I'm planning a major overhaul of this site, and I've been spending a lot of time working on a rhythm guitar instructional book. For now this post will have to do.

So, last night my band, Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five, played at the Cicada Club in Downtown Los Angeles. The entire show was webcast, and the show is achieved on youtube. So here are the videos.

Why am I posting the videos on the swing guitar blog? Because you can really hear the rhythm section. I hope that anyone who has been struggling to hear rhythm guitar because of the relatively poor recording mediums of the swing-era will be able to hear that 4-beat feel loud and clear.

For the guitar gear geeks: I'm playing my Eastman AR805 for most of the rhythm work. Additionally, I've got my LeVoi for the Django-stuff, and my Franken-ES-150. You can also hear and see my 1939 EH-185.

The band is: Jonathan Stout (duh), Hilary Alexander (vocals), Albert Alva (tenor/clarinet), Jim Ziegler (trumpet/vocals), Richard Geere (piano), Wally Hersom (bass), and Hal Smith (drums).

Here's part 1 (-45 mins)

Here's part 2 (~35 mins)

Here's part 3 (~35 mins)

Monday, July 07, 2008

New Guitar - Franken-ES-150

Hey guys, I've now graduated from Loyola Law School, and am now preparing for to take the California State Bar Exam (which is like the 9th level of hell). But I do have an update.

Last year I borrowed a mid-90's Gibson Custom Shop Reissue ES-150CC. Although many people have dissed the reissue as not quite as authentic as it might otherwise be, it was the first time that I have felt happy with my electric tone in a long while. I accumulated a trio of Gibson "Charlie Christian" amps - a 1936 EH-150 (10" speaker), a 1930?'s EH-160 (12" speaker AC/DC version), and a 1939 EH-185 (a transitional model actually labeled as a EH-150). Playing the CC pickup equipped guitar through any of those amps was magical, and there were times I felt like I was channeling Charlie.

But then, my friend took it back (although he offered to sell it to me first for $4k, natch). Going back to using a DeArmond guitar mike was really unsatisfying by comparison. The guitar mike was not bad sounding, in fact it sounds great, even on a guitar with bronze strings. However, the CC pickup had a really unique sound, and THAT was the sound that I've always wanted.

In an attempt to chase that sound, I decided to frankenstein an ES-150 using one of the new UK-made "CC Pickups." I had heard good reviews from people on the yahoo CC forum, and especially favorable as compared to the other remakes, such as Lollar, etc. I bought a CC pickup with a B-string notch on ebay, and looked for a guitar to put it in. I found "the Loar" brand guitars and was intrigued. They look just like a 20's Gibson L-5, except for the fact that the sunburst is too modern looking, and they offer a blonde which is was only offered in the late 30's. Anyway, I purchased an LH-500, and it was an small-sounding acoustic archtop that couldn't really hold a candle to my Eastmans. I didn't really care because I was going to be carving a big hole in the top anyway. However, I was really disappointed to learn that CC pickup wasn't going to work on the guitar. Basically, the neck was set too far off of the top, and that made the distance between the top where the pickup would be mounted too far from the strings. CRAP!

I was stuck in limbo, and I tried to offload the guitar. I managed to sell it on ebay, but because of finals and the holidays last christmas, I never shipped the guitar. Good thing the never send payment because he got fed up. I was lucky he only left neutral feedback.

Anyway, everything changed when I saw a listing for this guitar:
Now, this was promising - someone had already done the work for me. I wasn't too concerned with the guitar being a disaster because it had a UK made CC pickup in it, and that was the main tonal component. Hell, the resale on the pickup and the good looking pickguard would likely be enough to make the purchase risk worthwhile. I'm waiting to talk to the seller some more to get the whole back story on the guitar. So far, I know it started out life as a cheapo washburn archtop guitar. Hell, the only thing that is not dead on is the body depth - which is pretty thin. I'll post more details when I get them.

So the guitar arrived last week. It played fine, although it had 11's on it, and the tone was pretty generic - not bad, just not that signature CC tone. After some tweaking, I managed to improve things significantly. I changed the strings to 13 flats - D'Angelico (my flats of choice), which beefed things up. And more significantly, I lowered the pickup height, and bam - there is that tone. The guitar became really inspiring, despite the fact that the action was not a bit uneven and the intonation was pretty off in places - to be expected when moving up from 11's to 13's without setting the guitar up. I did tweak the truss rod, but it needs a proper set up. The only thing left is to play it on a gig to see how it responds at those volume levels, and under fire. I suspect already that the guitar is too bass-y because of the flats - which I suspect were not used in the late 30's-early 40's, but no one seems to have a definitive answer - and that issue will be solved by moving to roundwounds.

Still, it's really good to get that close to the goal without dropping $6k on a vintage guitar. Plus, I still have the CC pickup I bought, so I may eventually frankenstein my own, using a Gibson L48 or L50, or maybe even an L-7 or something.

Friday, March 30, 2007

More Swing Guitar on Youtube

Here are a couple other videos of note on swing guitar on youtube:

Count Basie - "Twenty Minutes After Three" - From Ralph Gleason's Jazz Casual series from the late 60's. While I generally try not to get into Freddie's ideosyncrasies - because he could do stuff none of us can pull off - and especially not his later stuff, because late Basie stuff has a straight-ahead rhythmic feel - real laid back. That is not the same as pre-1950 Basie, which is "Swing" with a capitol "S", which is what this website is about. Still, this example gives us a pretty good glipse at Freddie Green and we can hear him really well. Also, check out another from that session, here. Dig how Basie quotes a little bit of "Splanky" in there. Another on "I Don't Know." (by the way dig the way Sonny Payne juggles one of his brushes in one of his fills at the end.)

Fats Waller - "Ain'tMisbehavin' / Honeysuckle Rose" - A soundie of Fats Waller, whose band featured the fantastic Al Casey. Besides recording the milestone "Buck Jumpin'", you can hear Al pretty wellin a c0uple fills on "Ain't Misbehavin'" and he gets a full chord solo on "Honeysuckle" which is awesome.

Also, I should be noted that a lot of great videos have been removed from YouTube so here are a couple from Daily Motion. By the way, it seems like the video sync is way better on Daily Motion as well.

Marty Grosz - "Porter's Lovesong to a Chambermaid" - One of the only people who keeps alive the Carl Kress school and tuning. He seems pretty goofy and perhaps not the best singer, still those all describe Fats Waller too. More important is the guitar solo, which is straight out of the Carl Kress school. Also check out "Swing that Music!" which is also really badass. By the way the tuning is Bb, F, C, G, B, D, which is basically Tenor banjo with two extra bass strings.

Bing Crosby - "Dinah / Please" - Here are a couple of Eddie Lang's movie appearences right before he died. Oh and here's some Eddie Lang w/ Joe Venuti.

I'll put some more up soon. Thanks.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Swing Guitar on YouTube!

With Time magazine giving "us" collectively person of the year due to innovations like blogging and youtube, it's about time I picked out some of the best swing guitar clips currently on youtube. Some of these clips are really inspiring and some are just amazing historical rarities - as we all know, during the swing era guitar was not the feature instrument it is today.

Here are two rare ones to start.

Louis Prima/Pee Wee Russell - "
Isle of Capri" (Gerry McAdams - guitar)
Kind of a dixie tune with a slammin' chord solo from obscure player Gerry McAdams.

Les Paul - "and the Teenagers"
Les is playing the "Log" through a 40's Epiphone Electar Amp. Rad....

Django Reinhardt -
one of the very rare vids of Django
La Route Du Bonheur"
A bad-ass clip of Django playing in a more bebop style from 1952.

Lester Young, et. al, - "Jammin' the Blues" (Barney Kessel - guitar)
This is easily one of the most inspiring film clips I've ever seen. Everytime I hear or see it, I just want start jammin'. The link above is just the up blues part, here is the whole film (10minutes).

Coleman Hawkins - "I Found a New Baby" (Mary Osbourne - guitar)
This is early TV jam session, featuring 1st generation Charlie Christian devotee Mary Osbourne. The story is that she heard CC play in '37 or so, and went out the next day to get a Gibson 150 set.

Benny Goodman - "One O'Clock Jump"
Check out the featured Electric Guitar solo on this! This film dates to 1943, so this still pretty early to feature a guitar solo. I can't remember the name of the player right now, but I'll update when I remember.

Basie All Stars - "Dickie's Dream" (Freddie Green)
This is pretty rad clip anyway, but there are several shots of Freddie chunking, plus you can actually hear him in places.

More to follow....

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I'm Back, again - no really....

So, I finished my last final yesterday, so now I have some time to put up several posts I've had planned.

First a gear update. So, last time I mentioned using a 1947 Dearmond FHC Guitar Mic and a 1936 EH-150. Well as I mentioned both of them had problems. The Guitar mic had a short in it somewhere leaving the output about a quarter of what it should be - which is not even remotely enough to use with the amp. The EH-150 had a blown speaker and other problems. I had the speaker reconed and the circuits cleaned up and it worked pretty good and sounded fantastic. But the big problem was that the cabinet was falling apart and the bottom was falling out, I used it for months and it was worth the hassle.

Since I couldn't use the two together, I got an 1965 Guitar Mic off ebay and started using that. Now that sounds great! Oddly enough the 60's Guitar mic seems as though its balanced for nickel (read:electric) strings, not bronze, whereas the 40's pickup sounds balanced for bronze strings and has a compensated B string. I guess in the 40's people where just sticking pickups on their otherwise acoustic guitars with bronze strings, and by the 60's people where more interested in the elctric sound and kept nickel strings on their jazz boxes all the time.

So now I had a working pickup that sounded great paired with the Gibson amp. But I was still dealing with a very, very fragile amp that was falling apart. So. next I bought another EH-150 on ebay, this time a Style 3 1937-1940, with a 12". Another selling point was that this amp had its back cover. But when the amp arrived, I realized that it was not a 150, but a very, very rare EH-160 - the AC/DC version. The thing has 11 tubes in it, a battery bias, and a bunch of other wierd features. Plus, get this... its a shock hazard! So I had to get an isolation transformer - which is like 15lbs - to keep from killing myself. Anyway, my bass player Wally gave the thing two different going overs and now it sound unbelievable. It has more bass because of the 12" speaker and I used it on our new record (recorded mid november - still in post). Of course, there are still some problems, the main one being that the bizzarre circuit in the 160 is actually only 5-6 watts, so its too quiet.

I tried to have the 1947 Deamrond rewound, with mediocre results. I don't know what I'm going to do with it now. As it stands I've got the '65 guitar mic on my blonde Eastman 810CE, and nothing on my sunburst Eastman 805. I've been taking the EH-160 to gigs and I'm planning to get a cover for it from studio slips. After christmas, I'm planning on getting either another regular EH-150 with a 12" speaker or an Epiphone from the era. I'm also planning on having my 1936 EH-150 reconditioned, and having the cabinet reglued.

I'll post sound samples when I get the rough mixes from our last recording.
More to come!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Chord Melody works in progress

Here are some chord melody sketches I've been working on. These are all played on my 805 using a 5mm Wegen pick, 13-56 Martin SP 80/20 strings. The mic is my Rode NT-3 into an M-Audio Fasttrack USB interface, recorded with Audacity. I just added a touch of 'verb, and compression.

I'm Confessin' - mp3
I Can't Give You Anything But Love - mp3
All of Me - mp3

(update: the samples are now fixed)

New Gear, pt.1

So, I went over board on ebay a while back and got a 1947 DeArmond Guitar Mic pickup and a 1937 Gibson EH-150 amp. Well, I'll tell you - you get what you pay for! The EH-150 had a blown speaker, the cabinet is falling apart, and the handle is completely shot. The good news is that I just took the speaker in to Orange County Speaker. I'd heard that it's the only place to go, and they knew exactly what they were looking at and what to do with it. I'm picking it up in week - we'll see what happens.

As for the DeArmond, it worked great when I got it, except for an intermitent short in the cable by the jack. So I fixed that. But then a problem developed where the pickup only put out a quarter of its output. This happended on-and-off, but eventually stayed muted all the time. So, I have to crank my Peavey Classic 30 all the way up just to get useable signal. But, damned if it doesn't sound pretty good. It really does have that old-school single coil sound!

Also, I made some changes to my Eastman 805. I had taken the guard and pickup off, and I got a really nice repro tortise shell guard from archtop.com. It's shaped like an early 30's, 16" L-7 guard, but triple bound and redish shell color. I had my tech install the guard and also do some wiring to acommodate the new DeArmond. I had him wire the pickup into the end pin jack, but put an RCA connector in-between so I can take the pickup completely of the guitar whenever i want. He's also modifying my 810 for the same thing, so I can put the pick up on either guitar. Also, I had him redo all of the pick up cabling with mogami wire, because the old wiring was pretty frayed.

Here a before and after on the 805:


Rose Room

Here's that first new lesson, on the classic tune "Rose Room". This is an example of classic swing rhythm guitar and rhythm voicings. The chords don't move that fast, but there are a few variations included. Check out the time feel - 4 beat - "chunk-Chunk-chunk-Chunk" - 4 even beats with a slight accent on two and four.

I could do an extensive play by play, but most of what's going on are the standard 3-note voicings on the E, D and G strings. Put, here are the hghlights:
1) Looking at the Eb7 & F7 chords, notice the root on the A string, moving to the 5th on the E string. Thats a pretty standard variation. Although the bass player will be taking care of the low end, movement like that helps keep things interesting (at least for yourself).
2) Also, notice the walk down from the F7 & Eb7 chords to B7 & A7 respectively. It's a classic tritone substitution, although the only note being changed is the root, so it's not really a complex move.
3) The walk up from Ab7 to Db6 is pretty standard as well.
4) Also the walk down from Ab6 to F7 is pretty standard.
5) Finally, the four-note chords toward the end are another simple way to add some variation. Also, the're good for increasing volume in louder sections of tunes with out having to play a lot harder.

Rose Room - pdf
Rose Room - mp3

Give it try, and feel free to leave any questions.

I'm back....

We'll I just finished my first year of law school, so I'm back. I'll be putting up some more rhythm lessons, and some chord melody stuff. Also, I'll be writing about my new gear - a 1947 DeArmond Guitar Mike, and a 1937 Gibson EH-150.