It’s never too late to discover the minor pentatonic key of C sharp. Frank Zappa’s epic “Muffin Man” outro solo proves the point – and some! Featured as the closing number on Zappa’s 1975 (mostly) live album Bongo Fury starring his old high school buddy Captain Beefheart aka Don Van Vliet “on vocals and soprano sax and madness”, this standout track is a high point for many in the late, great guitar hero’s career.
While Zappa’s inimitable guitar tones were chiefly down to his singular technique, his approach to modifying instruments made him sound all the more distinctive.
By fitting his electric guitars with midrange-boosting preamps, altering the phase of the pickups, and half-cocking his wah wah to emphasis certain resonant frequencies, Zappa was able to create a variety of dynamic tones which not only cut though the mix but also allowed him to control feedback in a highly musical way.
In this clip from a 1977 Halloween concert at New York City's Palladium Theater, Zappa is using his “Baby Snakes” SG – his main ax during the late ‘70s that he bought for $500. Though it appears to be a straight Walnut Gibson SG Standard from a distance, this guitar features a customised body, fancy fretboard inlays, an extra (23rd) fret, and bespoke-designed electronics including various preamp and phase switching options.
Check out the incredible Halloween 77 box set here (opens in new tab).
Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar World (opens in new tab), Guitar Player (opens in new tab) and MusicRadar (opens in new tab) in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.
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