Ian Stewart: The lesser known member of the Rolling Stones

Ian Stewart was a crucial part of the Rolling Stones and he was there since the beginning and he was the pianist. Think about how so many Stones songs would sound with out piano? Just empty. The piano was a big part of the Stones sound. Ian Stewart was an original member of the band along with Mick, Keith and  Brian. Even before Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts came in. However, he was pushed out of the official band because of publicity. He didn’t have the right face, Andrew Loog Oldham said Six in a band was too many and piano was not a cool enough instrument. Ian was also Scottish. In those days of the early 60’s, the goal was to make the band very marketable and also to sell merchandise. It is no different today.Ian remained in the band as pianist and road manager, he set up guitars and brought equipment in and out as well as being the full time pianist.

“It was obvious that Ian Stewart didn’t fit the picture. I’m not dissing him as though he wasn’t part of the whole thing, but there were a lot of numbers which he didn’t play on. It was plain that Ian didn’t want to be a pop singer.”

Mick Jagger, 1965

I don’t personally believe this quote, I think Mick used it and Ian also assumed this attitude for the sake of the band. He said that he liked the peace and quiet of the anonymity. I still think he would have liked a bit more recognition. On the other hand it is believed that The Stones would not have made it as far as they did with Ian as an official member of the band. Andrew Loog Oldham and Ian also had bad blood between them and certainly disliked each other So that may have also played a role.However, this position allowed Ian to work on many different projects. He collaborated with Eric Clapton, Ringo, Steve Winwood and Led Zeppelin. Speaking of Zeppelin how about another under appreciated member, John Paul-Jones.

Unfortunately, Ian died on Dec 12th 1985 from a heart attack at age 47. It was a great loss for the music community. In February the next year, The Stones played a tribute concert for him. Ian Stewart was very influential to the Stones and when they were inducted into the hall of fame. The current members insisted on having his name along with them. All in all, it is sad that he was marginalized in a band he helped form and shape but at least he got recognition.

“Ian Stewart. I’m still working for him. To me the Rolling Stones is his band. Without his knowledge and organization … we’d be nowhere.”
Keith Richards, Life

Some of the notable songs that Ian worked on
Brown Sugar
Dead Flowers
Honky Tonk Woman
Stupid Girl
It’s Only Rock and Roll (but I like it)

* Some of my favourite piano parts like Tumbling Dice and Sympathy for the Devil were played by Nicky Hopkins another great pianist but that will be for another post.

This will be my last post before the New Year and I won’t be doing anything until mid January. Also this is my 35th post, Word press tells me it means something special, but I can’t tell what it is.

Gibson Hummingbird

Gibson Hummingbird courtesy of Gibson.com

Gibson Hummingbird courtesy of Gibson.com

So far I have only really written about the guitars I own for obvious reasons. I own them, can photograph them and have had a lot of experience on them. There is a chance I will go back and revisit some of them. However, I do sometimes go out and play guitars in stores. One acoustic guitar I just love is the Gibson Hummingbird. I was playing it the other day at a guitar center and it was so lovely. One thing I always assume from the site is that these guitars are big, but that is never true. It is a really good sized instrument and it has a nice depth. It is loud too. Not like a Jumbo but it can project.

The neck is very fast and that is in part thanks to the nitrocellulose finish. It also plays very crisply and has a nice mid range, thanks to Sitka spruce. One thing I didn’t like as much was the low notes. They didn’t have the roundness of other dreadnoughts I have played, most notably my Taylor. This may have also had to do with the depth of the body. On the other hand, I love the clarity of the high notes especially up on the fret board. My song that I play on every guitar I try out is “This Charming Man” by The Smiths. It allows me to see the speed of the neck, the upper register where notes usually get lost. All in all if I had $5000 that this model cost, I would consider buying it, but there are certainly less expensive versions. One thing I would like to have is an Adirondack top, especially for that price, but it is a Gibson so I wouldn’t complain.

Last, but not least is the design. It is a beautiful guitar. The pick guard has an ornate hummingbird display which I really like. It has a simple rosette, and split parallelogram fingerboard inlays. The sunburst finish really makes the guitar glow. I love the red yellow transition and the bright finish mimics the bright tone that this guitar produces. I think the aesthetics are part of what makes this guitar a hummingbird.

Here are some of the features

Solid Sitka Spruce top
Solid Mahogany sides and back (Koa if it’s the Hawaiian version)

14 playable frets
Rosewood fingerboard
Mahogany Neck

Gold hardware
bone nut
24 and ¾’’ Scale

I know online you can choose your serial number and weight. I’m not really sure what I would accomplish know those facts, but it’s cool to do.

Also I want to thank Rosie of Rosierushtonstone for giving me the Versatile Blogger Award and for giving me props on her site. I have only been doing this for two months but it is always nice to be recognized. She has a very interesting blog http://rosierushtonstone.wordpress.com/ and from what I know you might want to strike up a banjo or banjozouki conversation with her.

Guitar Magazines

Taylor against a blue Wall

Taylor DN3 against a blue Wall. My Beautiful Acoustic


I love to read blogs and sites and watch youtube videos on inlays and neck resets but there are a few guitar magazines I really like. Here are my reviews.

1. Fret Board Journal – I already had a blog post about this one and its really a great magazine. You can even talk to a human being about your magazine’s expected arrival

2. Guitar Aficionado – Rhymes with Cigar aficionado. Good overall guitar magazine but it is also a wine, cigars and car magazine. It has a lot of flash and glam and cool looking guitars. I also like their interviews with celebrities who play, like Hugh Laurie and Jeff Daniels. I personally don’t care much about wine and cars so I don’t have a subscription but I will still flip through it at the magazine stands. Okay Barnes & Noble.

3. Guitar Player – I like this as an alternative to guitar world. It has a similar set up. They go in depth on the riffs that made whichever guitarist they feature famous. They also showcase guitarists like Joe Pass and Al Di Meola who get passed over for metal and rock players in other magazines. I like their reviews of guitars. It leaves me with a good sense of what the guitar plays like. They do extensive reviews like when Fender did it’s 60th Tele celebration, they reviewed all of their guitars in the series.

4. Vintage Guitar – I hadn’t really looked at this one until recently and now I really like it. They have great segments on restoration and classic guitars. Recently they did an article on the Roy Smeck deluxe guitars. It shows that these people really love their guitars. I love reading about vintage guitars and hope one day to own a vintage. However, right now is not the best time to buy, and I think in a decade or so the prices will come down a lot for most vintage guitars. I may have a vintage one by the time i get around to buying one anyway. Great magazine and I do have a subscription.

5. Guitar World – Probably the most popular guitar magazine. It really is a great magazine, but only if you are into Metal or Jimmy Page. They often run similar articles on the same people and they concentrate on Metal most if not all the time. It’s something I read when I started playing at 12, but now I have change my interests and Guitar World has not changed theirs. Their reviews are good and concise and that is really why I still pick up an issue every now and again. Unlike Vingate Guitar or Fretboard Journal they wont run an article on PRS inlays.

6. Acoustic Guitar – Good magazine, but I haven’t really looked into it much. I would suggest it more for the acoustic and somewhat for the classical guitar enthusiast, but it is part of the same magazine family as Strings magazine and I believe Guitar Player as well. I do get strings and that was not a useful choice. I like all chordophones, but this has more tips for getting along with a chamber orchestra than detailed articles on violin making.

I know this is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it has the magazines I am most familiar with. If you have any recommendations, they are very welcome.

Against the Blue Wall- Steinberger Spirit Deluxe

Steinberger Spirit

Steinberger Spirit

As a guitar player and a traveler at some point I wanted to be able to play guitar where ever I go. I started looking for portable guitars. At first I thought I wanted a classical guitar to play flamenco, but that idea ended pretty quickly. I am not well versed enough in flamenco to buy a flamenco guitar. Then I thought about a travel steel string but as with other acoustics, you need a large enough chamber to resonate, that adds volume and reduces portability.  So I landed on electrics. I have single coils on my telecaster. Which if you read other blogs posts you know I love. Anyway, I wanted some humbuckers. I also wanted a guitar that was comfortable enough to play at home and could double as a travel guitar.

So I ended up getting a used Steinberger Spirit, 2 humbuckers and 1 single coil. I saw a lot of travel guitars with a single pickup and I didn’t necessarily want that. I wanted the combinations that you can use with 2 or 3 pickups.

Steinberger is known for being very innovate and making interesting and well made guitars. Steinberger was one of the first to use a headless guitar. This means the tuning gears are next to the bridge. It also takes double ball strings which are specially made for it.

here are the Specs

24 frets

set in neck

rosewood finger board

Maple body

2 humbuckers and 1 single coil in a h/s/h configuration

volume and tone knob

black hardware

5 way selector

lap stand

Overall length is 30.5” but the scale length is 25.5” which makes for a nice full sound

Tremolo bar
There are also 2 tremolo entry points and 2 sets of strap knobs, so it can be played left or right hand.

Close up of the bridge

Close up of the bridge

There is also a Spirit regular and it has 2 single coils and 1 humbucker but it looks like the go for the same price. There are a few main reasons I got this guitar one is travel, two humbuckers and three high fret access. Sometimes you need to make it scream. Unfortunately the sound does get lost in the upper frets. One problem I have with this guitar is that it has a wider neck. I am used to a thinner neck and it is a little disorienting to play fast on it. I also wish they had made a shallower neck instead of the full c shape it has. However,  for what it is, it is great. I’m sure many people make it their primary guitar. Not necessarily this model but this size of guitar. Another thing I found it that the paint job was a little haphazard and the pickups rock a little bit. This is also the cheapest line of Steinbergers and I paid just under $290 for a used one so I try to take that into account. on the positive side, it stays in turn pretty well, its solid and it puts out some power. I like the white color and the finish is not too glossy where I find my hand sticking to it.

Any thoughts on travel guitars? Steinbergers? I also was seriously considering the Cordoba La Playa but it seems to have mixed reviews. Does anyone own one? Have any opinions?

Humbuckers? I got 2

Humbuckers? I got 2

On the side you can see that black bar. It folds out into a lap stand for comfortable playing. I had always wondered what that was.

On the side you can see that black bar. It folds out into a lap stand for comfortable playing. I had always wondered what that was.

Body Shot

Body Shot, the neck looks really long. It's not that's just the angle.

Headless. Robespierre would be proud. So would my history teacher.

Headless. Robespierre would be proud. So would my history teacher.

The Gibson and their Rosewood

Pure Rosewood

Pure Rosewood

So recently Gibson has been in the news because of their problems with rosewood legality. They have been raided twice in the past 3 years because of “Illegally” obtained rosewood. Which from what I can tell seems to has little basis. I have seen a lot of people talking about how Gibson is a big evil corporation that charges too much for its guitars. To which I reply,  what about the line of melody makers that have come out recently. To me it seems like Gibson has been addressing these concerns and just try to buy a high quality American made instrument for under $1000. I’m not trying to sound like a Gibson spokesperson but I do like their guitars. However, there are a couple of inconsistencies with the federal charges. First there are no charges filed against Gibson, they are simply shutting them down and confiscating wood. Two there are a few countries where rosewood can come from Madagascar, India, Honduras and at one time Brazil although that is no longer. This means that Fender, Gretsch, PRS and every other guitar company has to get their wood from those sources. Why are they targeting Gibson? Three, guitar makers use less than one percent of all lumber for their guitar production. So furniture, construction and other industries are huge consumers of lumber. Why go after these small consumption wood users. Gibson is also part of an organization The Music Wood coalition a Greenpeace based organization for wood sustainability.

The  Lacey act at one point was a good way to keep American companies compliant with international laws. However, this is a total misuse of the law. In addition, this law has made it a nightmare for musicians travelling because any rosewood is subject to seizure. Even if the guitar was made in 1960, 48 years before the law was enacted. This is probably why Gibson has been using baked maple and obeche woods as a substitute for the rosewood and ebony that they have been forbidden to use.

Hopefully, Gibson can get back soon to making rosewood fretboards. Also I don’t want my first Les Paul to have a baked maple neck.

Fretboard Journal

Issue 23 of Fretboard Journal- Gillian Welch on the cover from Fretboardjournal.com

Issue 23 of Fretboard Journal- Gillian Welch on the cover from Fretboardjournal.com

If you are interested in all things guitar (both electric and acoustic), bass, banjo and/or mandolin, I would recommend Fretboard Journal. It is a great magazine and I think the articles and photos are far superior to many other boutique guitar magazines.  They have been publishing for about 6 years now and it’s a quarterly journal. It’s also the only magazine I don’t throw issues away. I’m not a photographer but there is something very down to earth and real about the photos they take. It makes these incredible guitars seem very accessible and tangible. Unlike other magazines that but there rare beauties on a pedestal never to b touched or played and any worthwhile musician knows that instruments were made to played not collected and kept in a display case. That is why Stradivarius violins are still played and rented out to violinists. Sure its Yitzhak Pearlman and Hilary Hahn but still they are being used.

They recently released their fall issue with Gillian Welch on the cover. She is one of the most important women in Folk and Americana music today, and I love it. When I found out about his magazine about a year ago, it really started to motivate me to read about different tone woods and try experimenting with guitar building and modifying. I guess you could say along with Old Crow, Fretboard Journal helped make me the man I am today. It also has opened me up to the wide world of independent luthiers and builders. That may also mean I’ll make my next guitar a small business one rather than a corporate one.

The issues range from $8 to $18 depending on how you buy it, at the stand vs. subscription. This is the only magazine so far that I bought a subscription to the day I saw it. If that isn’t enough to convince you I don’t know what is.

Wonderful magazine, great topics.

Against the blue wall – Schecter Bass

So in this post I will be reviewing my Schecter DV-4 Devil limited bass, as I have been doing with all of my equipment. I got this bass in early 2010 when it had come out online. I got it for $350 which was a steal. I had been looking for a new bass for quite some time because I had spent the last 8 or so years playing a blue Ibanez gsx. The Ibanez was a great bass but I wanted a step up. At the time I was still living at home so I didn’t have much money to spend but I wanted to play something with a bit more.

I went around a few guitar stores and tried out a few low range bases. I liked the Epiphone thunderbird but as I looked around more and more the active pick-ups stood out to me more. I player a few Schecter, esp and fenders but the Schecter was my favourite. I did something that I rarely do. I tested a few models but bought a different on online. It turned out that the bass I bought was great but it could have been  a disaster. The other thing was that this bass says it’s a limited edition and now it’s sold out everywhere.  One thing you can probably notice right away is that this is a metal bass. I like it even though I don’t play metal. The active pick-ups make it a pretty versatile bass.

I’ll give you a tour through the bass. One reason I am doing this in depth is because there isn’t shit on this bass. I even contacted Schecter to find out more but the info they gave me was wrong. The tuners are Schecter in house brand and the headstock says it’s a part of the diamond series. This bass is made in South Korea like all non custom Schecter instruments, and probably made by Cort ( they made instruments for many other companies). The tuners work very well and they stay in tune. Tight. The nut is a black tusq nut, which is a nice little upgrade. Also one thing realized is this bass is long and takes the extra long strings. Make sure you know your scale length and compensate for through body construction. Right now my strings are a little too short so I slipped a shim into the nut cavity. The neck is three piece mahogany and it’s a glued in neck. The whole bass is actually mahogany which is helps with those perilous lows it advertises. The knobs are knurled chrome, no slipping. Then there are two EMG-HZ pick-ups. One thing I had to get used to is the pick-up placement. If you are used to Jazz and precision bass positions this one is just a little bit different. The neck pick-up is a lot closer to the fret board. I usually rest my thumb on the neck pick-up so it felt a little bit foreign to me. The bridge has individual saddles and does get dirty easily. The other nifty feature is the tribal design up and down the fret board. It is just interesting aesthetic. The cut away is good and allows access to the 24 frets. There you go 2 octave lovers.

So far it’s been great to me. I used to use bass as a way to get into bands but lately I’ve just been playing on my own. It has also opened me up to Schecter guitars which make great instruments. Whether or not you are metal. If I had the money I’d go in and get a custom made guitar from them.

I have attached a few picture of the bass and I am working on a version of my song Heist! with bass and guitars and properly mixed. Then you can hear an audio clip of how it sounds.

If you are in the market happy bass hunting and maybe they’ll turn this bass into its own regular line. Also, a side note, I recently tried out a hollow body Gretsch bass, amazing.

I’m putting down the Schecter website link and then a link for my music, just to promote a little bit more.


http://www.myspace.com/572609954 I’ll be putting bass samples on here.

nut and truss plate

Headstock Shot

Body Shot- The stain is very noticeable, it looks beautiful.

Full Bass- Pic is a little bit dark

Sideways shot - This is what it looks like when I am playing it. but there would be hands in the photo.

Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter with a Beautiful Gretsch

… And now I return to Americana music. I have been following Josh Ritter for a long time. He is one of my favourite artists of all time. He hails from Moscow, Idaho. A city I have never been to, but I have been to Moscow, Russia. He has a way with words and a way with chords. I believe he has given a lot to folk and Americana and like all Americana musicians he plays a small body Gibson.

He comes to DC a lot which is great and like many performers he loves the 930 club.  He is one of the most charming performers I have ever seen. He has a lot of dialogue with the audience and it really shows how much he loves his fans.

He released an album last year called So Runs Away the World. I have to admit after The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, I didn’t know if I could like anything as much. SRATW grew on me at first I wasn’t sure if I liked it but now it’s one of my favourite albums, of all. He did an amazing reinterpretation of the Stagger Lee story on “Folk Bloodbath”. “Lantern” is my favourite song and now a standard on his set list.

These are my favourite Josh Ritter song not in any particular order

“Galahad” – I first heard this at his concert in February, it is the tale of Sir Galahad encountering an “angel” and then going to heaven . This song inspired me to start finger picking.

“To the Dogs or Whoever…” – The starter of the historical conquests album. It’s a very strong song and it makes for a great concert opener. It’s rapid fire and loud. I like it a lot.

“Girl in the War” – Tells the story of a love stuck in the water and a dialogue between Peter and Paul. Beautiful imagery and he rhymes kingdom with kingdom.

“Harrisburg” – I like that is an adventure song. Although it is a sad story of a man running away from his live. He plays this song acoustically on the album but in concert it is a full band and Zach Hickman sings “Papa was a Rollin Stone” during the last verse. Damn great Song.

“Lillian, Egypt” – Chorus just goes La La La. This usually drives me crazy, but not when Josh is singing.

“Good Man” – I recently realized I like this song. I listen to Josh Ritter a lot but I don’t always remember the title of the song.

“Temptation of Adam” – Beautiful and nuclear, if you have ever longed for someone but they didn’t see you as more than a friend this song is for you. Although I was never trapped in a missile silo.

I would recommend starting off with The Historical Conquests and then going on from there. There are a bunch of Youtube videos also, but I’m going to post the here. You’ll have to go find out for yourself.

Also …

If he ever comes to your town go out, buy a ticket and enjoy.