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Gnasher & Co..


Gnasher

Mick writes..

Gnasher

Gnasher is a 1963 Gibson SG Standard which I obtained second hand in 1969... I swopped Freddie King's guitar for it.

What was I doing with Freddie King's guitar? Well I bought Freddie's guitar from him for 250 U.S. Dollars in 1969, at the end of our first tour with him. Freddie played with two metal finger picks which had the unfortunate affect of wearing a hole in the guitar underneath the strings. Consequently Freddie was in the habit of regularly trading in his guitar for a new one, and he had planned to sell the guitar he was using when he got back to New York, on his way home. Because of the exchange rate at the time I was able to offer him a price for the guitar which was good in Dollars but still cheap for me in Pounds.

So I became the proud possessor of Freddie King's beautiful cherry red Gibson.. the same one that he had used on the album "Bluesmaster". Unfortunately I found after a week or two that I couldn't play it. I could do a nice version of "Hideaway" on it.. that seemed to come naturally, but when I tried to play my own style on it it just didn't sound right. It was a big old Gibson 345 (355?) stereo, with micro frets which my fingers slipped off of. When I got the right tone for the top notes to sing the bottom ones fed back with a horrible groaning. And although it had eighteen basic tone settings, it didn't have the one I wanted.

I probably could have fixed all the problems..new frets, some acoustic padding.. but why spoil a beautiful guitar? Somebody else would enjoy those features..so I decided to trade it. Looking back I sometimes wish I had kept it and fixed the problems, but then I would have always been known as "the guy who plays Freddie King's guitar" and I don't think that's healthy. As it was, I found Gnasher.

Gnasher was second hand but in immaculate condition. Cherry red, sparkling chrome pickup covers and a fully functioning vibrola tremelo unit. So that came off first.. well it kept making the thing go out of tune. Then the machine heads got changed for Schallers..a bit better I think. And the pickup covers came off.. hey, must look cool at all times..

It took a while though, to get the sound right. Initially it didn't sound as raunchy as the SG Junior which I had played previously, and I remember the first gig with it, Royston Youth Club, and it sounded a bit thin. However, listening to some of the few live tapes from the time recorded a few months later, I think it found its tone after a while.

Then in 197..5? Gnasher disappeared from a dressing room at the Forde Green Hotel in Leeds, while the band, (SALT) was celebrating a successful gig at the bar, just a few feet away. Oh dear. Well, I was philosophical..it happens. Anyway, I always wanted a Les Paul..time for a change. So while I was saving up my cash for my own Les Paul I borrowed a couple of them for gigs. A sunburst model from a friend of our roadie Chris Ranson and a fine "Black Beauty" from my friend Roy. One of these, I think the sunburst, was featured on the SALT E.P. "All Wired Up". And I enjoyed playing the Les Pauls, but strangely I found that I missed the SG.. the way it cut through for rhythm playing, and the freedom to get up to the top frets..

And eventually Gnasher returned. On a return gig at Forde Green, somebody tipped us off as to its whereabouts. Me and Mac went to the address after the gig..knock knock.."We've come for the guitar". A pasty faced youth handed it over and we left. And in order to disguise the instrument ..(I suppose).. he'd removed all the cherry red colour down to the wood and applied black lacquer over all the black plastic parts..

I had the guitar refinished but left it plain wood finish. I like it like that. And then I played it until it got all scratched up, had it refinished and played it until it was all scratched up again. I won't bother with the refinishing again. In the eightie's it got broken in half when a band member decided to have a dance around after a gig and fell on it. An excellent repair job by Dave Edwards sorted it out, and it's been fine ever since. Dave refers it to as the "Mary Rose" whenever I take it to him.. something about digging through all the ancient rotting wood and rust. But as he says, it's a working guitar.

Other changes.. well the pickups have been replaced many times because the sweat from my hands tends to rust them away. One night in Belgium I stepped up on stage at a festival and the guitar just didn't work at all. I had to borrow Ray Minhinnet's Les Paul.. it was very kind of him to help me out but it was not my finest hour. Gnasher's had a variety of strange pickups over the year.. sometimes a combination of American and Japanese which gave me a nice out of phase effect with both on at once..("Mother Earth" on the "Roll Again" CD). The current pickups are.. you know I haven't a clue. I've completely lost track.

I've put Graph Tech string saddles on.. they're also fitted to my slide guitar and have helped reduce the number of strings I break. They're made of a graphite based compound and help the strings sound good as well as reducing wear. Thanks to Gwyn Ashton for the tip. For a while the top string was held up by a matchstick, after an original Gibson string saddle finally fell to bits..(actually thrashed to bits by Stan Webb at the 100 Club). Thanks to Freddie King for the tip. Freddie also taught me the importance of winding your strings on properly, and Dave Edwards (from the band Remus Down Boulevard) later showed me how to knot the string around the machine head capstan.

Finally, the guitar is missing the bass pickup tone control knob. That's deliberate.. the knob is safe in a box somewhere at home. But with the knob removed I can slide my hand more easily down to the lead pickup tone control which I like to play around with a lot...probably obsessively. Thanks to the guy who kindly gave me a replacement knob at a gig one night.. I still have it somewhere!

And why Gnasher? Well, BB's got Lucille, Albert had Lucy. I don't have this woman / guitar confusion thing.. it's a piece of wood. But it's a piece of wood that bites..so there was only one name for it. After Dennis the Menace's dog, Gnasher. Still Rockin' for as long as I do.

Gnasher







Marshalling my thoughts..

I always played Marshall amps. I tell a lie.. for example in America I used a Peavey Bandit which I quite liked and subsequently brought home with me. My first amp back in 1964 was a Watkins Clubman 6 watt in beautiful bright blue finish, which I still have and use. Then I upgraded to a "Bird" 15 watt. Useless! My poor old Dad had to drive me back up to the St Giles Music Centre in the West End to change it. I got a Selmer Constellation 20 watt instead and it was fine. A good meaty amp with 2 X 12's in it which I did my first gigs with.

But I knew it had to be Marshall.. Clapton, Beck, Green.. they couldn't all be wrong, so I saved up from the wages of my office job for a 50 watt head and a 4 X 12 cab. I bought them both from a band that we played with at the Middle Earth club in London, called Sensory Armada. I seem to remember that they had been sprayed psychedelic colours and I had to spray them back to Marshall grey. It was a long time ago..

After a while I progressed to 100 watt amps and over the years had all kinds of set ups.. three 4 X 12 cabs in the SALT days. Later I decided on combos and had a few, including a "Bluesbreaker".. nice sound but not quite loud enough for me. I had a nice 50 watt combo for some time until I left it in the back of my car one night .. car and amp were never seen again.

So I needed a replacement. By now.. (late 80's?).. it wasn't so easy to find vintage amps, but after some research I found one. It was a 1971 "Tremelo 50". The whole front of the case was missing and it had been fitted with Goodman speakers.. very strange. I was able to swap the Goodmans for a pair of Celestion Sidewinders.. 150 watts each. Then I built a new front for the casing and added a couple of speaker grills.. this is what you see, stood on it's side, at most of my gigs.

Why on it's side? That way the body connects with the stage and the whole thing becomes a huge sound box. Big sound. I try not to use any effects.. being known for a "straight from the wood" tone I feel it's my duty not to mess around too much! The only pedals that you see on top of the amp are a Boss Tuner and an MXR Micro-Amp or distortion, which warms and boosts the signal without adding anything that I don't want. I have recently added an analogue delay which I use (very sparingly) if the room is too dry. But the tone comes from cranking up the amp. I usually have only one of the speakers connected.. and it's still bloody loud.

In 2015 I took the amp for repair because it was heating up.. turned out to need a new capacitor. The good people at the Surrey Amp Hospital in Weybridge sorted it out quickly but the next day they phoned me up.. "We've fixed your amp and we've got it on test, but it sounds 'orrible." they went on to explain that both speakers were blown.. hanging on to the rims by a thread.

I went in the next day and tried out the amp. It sounded exactly as it had sounded for the last ten years.. at which point I realised that this whole time I had been playing on blown speakers. But as I explained.. "actually, with the way I play, they don't sound bad". And as Dangerous Dave said to me, "you can't change the speakers Mick, that's your sound!"

In the end I did change one of the speakers for a brand new Celestion 75 watt. Comparing the two I would say yes, they're different, but not that much. I'm currently just using the new one which behaves nicely, but I might start using both together sometime, keeping the blown one going for a bit of crunch.

Sid and Doris

If you've ever read Private Eye magazine you'll know that Sid and Doris Bonkers are the fans of the Neasden Football Team. My Sid is a mongrel made in Korea solid body which I use for odd jobs, and Doris is a Fender Squier Strat which is my main slide guitar.

It was back in the SALT days when we were playing regularly with Ron Berg, the original drummer from Blodwyn Pig. Ron was a North Londoner, and told us one day about a consignment of cheap Korean guitars which had come in to a North London shop. "They're really good.. and only forty quid each!"

I was just starting to play some slide on stage at that time and needed a specialised guitar for the job..forty quid? Sounded good to me, so I trekked in to darkest Leytonstone one morning and bought one of the beasts.

And it was really good! A well made chunk of wood with two extremely loud humbuckers. I used it as my main slide guitar for some years.. including the first four MC albums. Later I continued to use it for studio work and it pops up all over the place on my records. The lead guitar on several tracks on No Compromise is all Sid, and numerous rhythm guitar tracks.

I also carry it around to gigs as an all purpose spare for emergencies. One time in the eighties we went off to Germany and Switzerland for a couple of festival dates. Sitting in the bar on the Dover-Ostende ferry I suddenly went cold. I'd put Gnasher away in a cupboard at home the previous night.. I had no memory of taking it out again! If I hadn't then no-one else would know where it was.. it was still there!

After momentarily choking on my Boddingtons I decided not to panic. I was a trooper.. and I had... SID! No worries. I'd put some new strings on it, tweak the action and get on with the job. And this I did.. almost. The first gig was an excellent rock and blues festival in Germany with a large and enthusiastic young audience. I hit the stage with Sid and the band rocked. Sid felt rather ungainly and the action was a bit clumsy, but it was doing the job. Until a number near the end of the set, when the top E machine head gave up the ghost and exploded. Cogs and screws all over the stage.

There are several things that I should have done. I did none of them. I continued to try and play the thing, despite the E string being outrageously out of tune. It sounded awful. Linda, struggling to help, wanted me to give her the guitar to work on, but I insisted on finishing the set..(it was very near the end). The band glared at me. The audience didn't seem to care. I wanted the stage to open up and swallow me. Eventually the confusion and tension between me, Sid and Linda boiled over and she hit me. Quite right too. Later a band member said to me.."You know Mick, that really sounded dreadful".

The following night somebody kindly lent me their SG for the gig. Sid is now fitted with a Seymour Duncan PAF in the lead pickup position and will be heard on future recordings...

Doris is a standard Fender Squier Strat which I bought new in the 80s. And I have to say it compares well with the Fender Strat which I used to have in Killing Floor days..(you can hear it on the "Out of Uranus" album, along with Gnasher, which in those days was still in its original condition).

I have occasionally picked up new Squiers in guitar shops but always put them down again very quickly. But Doris is really a nice guitar.. my only regret is that I didn't buy two of them. Still in its original state, but its poor little pickups finally gave up recently and were replaced with Texas Specials..a raunchy more textured sound in my opinion. By the way, both the Seymour Duncan and the Fender Texas Special pickups that I bought did not work when they were first fitted, and had to be rewired. Don't trust brand new pickups!!

Dan

Around 1972.. (I think I was working in the band "Daddy Longlegs" at the time) I was strolling nonchalantly as you do past my local guitar shop in South London when I spotted something interesting. There amongst the Futuramas and Watkins Rapiers was a shape I recognised as something unusual.. an original Danelectro 3022. What made me notice it was that I had recently seen a picture of one James Page of The Led Zepplins playing an identical guitar. "Well" I thought.."If it's good enough for Jim it must be a half reasonable instrument"... It turns out Jimmy's guitar is a 3021 - the black model, but identical otherwise.

I stepped inside the shop and asked to try the guitar. Immediately I loved it. The action was really smooth and reminded me of a good Telecaster. The neck was worn at the back and had obviously been well used.. the instrument had definitely been played in. Apparently these guitars were made between 1958 and 1969 - recent research tells me the guitar was made in the 36th week of 1964 - that's if I'm reading the numbers right. I purchased the guitar for the princely sum of twenty eight pounds.

However for a long time I didn't recognise the "Danny"'s potential. I sat at home and played country licks on it, which seemed to suit the pure tone of the "hermetically sealed" Danelectro pickups. I used it with Daddy Longlegs on the spoof country song "Getting High Again" which we used to play. I of course experimented with it cranked up through the Marshall, but it was not too successful. A thin woolly tone resulted with lots of unpleasant squeaky feedback, so I didn't try again.

But over the years I started to appreciate the unique sound of the Danelectro and played it regularly at home. I picked it up one day and wrote the riff for "Cheap" straight off.. it just suited. I also heard the guitar being played in a couple of great blues bands in the 80s.. the guy with The William Clarke Band when we played with them in Holland, and the guitarist with the Mighty Flyers, Rod Piazza's band. Both guitarists brought out the sweetness of the Danny's tone and its potential for great blues. To keep the record accurate I should mention that I recently met Alex, the Mighty Flyers' guitarist, who told me it was actually a Danelectro copy - anyway it sounded great.

When I did the duo project with Lou Martin and we recorded the "Happy Home" album the Danny was the obvious choice. I used it throughout the album, plugged it into my original Watkins Clubman 6 watt amp. Great sound. And recently, when we did the new Killing Floor album "Zero Tolerance" one of the first things that Bill the singer asked me was "Have you still got that Danelectro? Great tone!" I ended up using the guitar in several places on the album.. notably the solos on "Prozac Blues" and "Run On". I've also featured it a lot on my recent albums "Solid Ground" "Rambunctious Blues Experiment" and "Ramdango".

I recently played one of the new Danelectros, produced in the original style. Sorry, no comparison. The action had nothing like the comfortable smooth feel of my "Danny", which sits in my little home studio and gets played regularly every day.