Elliott Randall: Guitars Pt. 2

August 05, 2011
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Fast forward (just a little bit) to 1965. I'm out of high school; I'm on the road a fair amount, but also playing in the NYC (and surrounds) nightclubs—six nights a week, and in many instances five-six shows a night. For a young aspiring musician, you couldn't beat this "basic training"—anywhere! Many of these clubs were in midtown Manhattan and in Greenwich Village. They included The Peppermint Lounge, The Wagon Wheel, The Headline Lounge, and further downtown we had Trude Heller's, The Eighth Wonder, The Village Barn (which later became Jimi’s Electric Lady Studios) and more.
 
T'was time once again to give Fender-World a try. This time it came in the form of a 1963 Fender Stratocaster. It was a beautiful factory sunburst, played and sounded/responded beautifully, and the price was an extremely fair $175 (including hard Tolex case). We immediately bonded, this instrument and I. I wasn't fighting it in any respects. Well, maybe one: The pickups, which were beautifully responsive, were single-coil, hence when the electricity and grounding in a joint were not the greatest, they'd buzz. We'll get around to remedying this a little later...
 
On the acoustic guitar front, I'd purchased an Ovation. I also owned a Gibson Firebird for a couple of weeks. That was a short-lived romance, and the ‘Bird soon found itself a proud new owner. For the record, I won't 'dis' any guitar—if it works for you, then it's right for you. Personal taste in instruments is just that—personal. After all, it's just one of a set of tools in the palette of the music-maker.
 
So back to The Strat. I won't go into a full-in-depth now; you can find that info here. This magnificent instrument has seen me through my entire career, and has probably been on 75% or more of the recording sessions I've ever done. I've often said that while I'm not attached to any real-world physical piece of stuff, The Strat would be the one object I would feel truly sorry about having to part with. So I guard it like a hawk. If it ever finds itself in the trunk of a car, you can bet that I'll be in that car!
 
So in 66-67, it lived with me in Lima Ohio, where I became a full-time guitar teacher by day, while remaining a full-time gigging musician at night. It was a remarkable year. When The Druids Of Stonehenge (my first psychedelic group) came to "rescue" me from America's heartland and bring me back to NYC, ol' Strat was right there with me, learning how to be psychedelic, to produce all kinds of wild feedback n’ things (thanks, Jimi).
 
In 1969, I was faced with one of the toughest decisions of my still early career. As resident bandleader once again at The Headline Lounge, I was approached twice in one evening with two mighty interesting job offers. Don Covay, who frequented that club (and with whom I'd become friends and his #1 studio call) was about to head down to Muscle Shoals to produce a new Wilson Pickett record. He offered to fly me down to play the sessions. Wow! Then later in the evening, A&M recording artists SeaTrain came into the club to ask me if I'd be interested in joining the band, moving out to Northern California, and playing some very inventive and unusual music. Tough decision; SeaTrain won.
 
So Strat and I made the 3,000-mile move. These were very heady & exciting times; we were playing at Bill Graham's Fillmore West, L.A.’s infamous Whiskey Au Go Go, and a rather ample supply of venues alive with the sounds of cool “new” music, and dotted all along America's West Coast.
 
At the end of that year, I found myself once again playing at The Whiskey, this time opposite incredible guitarist Dominick Troiano, who was sporting an old Tele with a pair of Gibson Humbucker pickups. There was a special richness about that Humbucker sound that I just had to incorporate into my own. So Donnie took me into the shop that did his guitar work, so I could have one fitted to the neck position of my Strat. The operation was a success, and the sound that's been heard on many of my recorded solos is that combination of Strat & Humbucker. Thank you Donnie, and thank you Barney Kessel Guitar Shop for the beautiful job.
 
Throughout the period leading up to my association with Steely Dan's first LP, there were really no other guitars in my life that I can recall. When doing recording dates that required a good acoustic, I would have my clients rent them for me. CMIS (Carroll's Instrument Rental Service) in New York had some very nice acoustics, and they always "did me right."
 
Once "Reelin' In The Years" became a success, the telephone rang off the hook with job offers, many of them incredibly interesting, fun & lucrative. I was also playing on hundreds of jingle dates – one- and two-hour sessions for clients including Coca-Cola, Miller Beer, GE—and the residual payments were now putting me into a position where I just might buy another guitar or two.
 
The first was a handcrafted Giuliano Vulcan New Yorker. The body of a Telecaster, the neck resembling a thinner Gibson (meaning not a Paul), a Humbucker neck pick-up with a push-pull switch for single-coil/double-coil—and it sounded really nice. Having never owned a Telecaster, this instrument increased my sound palette considerably. I used it on some recordings, and it was such a beautiful-looking instrument, I took it onstage with me frequently, although it was still "playing second fiddle".

On the studio front, the frequency of recording sessions now required me to have at least two sets of instruments deliverable to the studios, so that I could piggy-back dates and not need to lug guitars, amps and FX. Maybe another ’63 Strat or two to replicate my original? I found them on 48th Street again. This time, I went to the We Buy Guitars stores, specializing in older instruments.

It was a two-step operation. As used guitars moved relatively quickly on 48th Street, I was able to locate my first ’63 with no fuss. It looked just like my original, but I soon remedied that, bringing the finish down to bare wood and giving it a couple of thin-ish coats of lacquer, replacing the pickups to match numero uno, and I was partway there.

The acquisition of my next Strat came as a bit of a surprise. I’d made the trip downtown, but this time in search of what was to be my first really fine acoustic guitar. In the We Buy Shoppe, I spied an exquisite 1947 Martin D-18. It was beautiful in every way, not just the classic Martin woods—the sound was absolutely heavenly. I asked Larry (the proprietor) how much, and he said $1,000. (That was not a small price in those days). I said: “OK.” A few minutes more perusing uncovered a 1960 Jazz Bass—and since I’d wanted one of those since the early ’60s, the next question to Larry was “How much?” His reply was “$1,000.” I responded “OK. Mind if I look around a little more?”

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In the next installment I’ll tell you about my other six-stringed tools (not to mention my 4-stringed uke).


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