Mark's Guitars

1984 Ibanez Roadstar RS1300

This guitar was an Ebay purchase in early-mid 2004 from Mark's Music in Cambridge, I believe. I've always had a bit of thing about old Ibanez Roadstars, for some reason. I think it's because when I was first seriously getting in to playing the guitar, back in the mid-80s, they were probably the most visible high-quality guitars on the market. Certainly the high-end models were up there with the best that there was around at the time (and were considerably more affordable than the frankly unobtainable Fenders and Gibsons, whilst being of far higher quality than the dross that the US companies were churning out at the time), and this example is particularly nice. It's showing it's age a bit (the top of the headstock is a bit mangled, and it has it's fair share of dents and dings), but it's one of the few guitars I own that is still completely stock and I have no plans to alter it. The neck is a fair but thicker than the other two Roadstars I own, but it's far from cumbersome and all that wood translates into a thick tone. It's been used a lot on our current recording sessions, especially on lead parts. Anything featuring a fair amount of whammy bar abuse is probably this guitar!

1983 Ibanez Steve Lukather Signature Model (RS1010SL)

Now this guitar is a real beauty and is my most recent (and for the foreseeable future, final) guitar purchase. This was another Ebay find, in December 2004. I've been after a 'Luke' for years, Steve Lukather is a favourite player of mine, and I've always thought that his Ibanez signature model was especially graceful. These guitars have always had a reputation for being seriously awesome (they are also comparatively rare, only being manufactured in 1983 and 1984), and this one doesn't disappoint! The neck on this guitar is just beyond…. It fits into the hand like it was meant to be there and the satin finish is wonderfully comfortable. The ebony fingerboard (with its very pretty inlays) is similarly wonderful to play on and is almost totally flat- great for those Luke-esque big string bends. As you can see from the picture, it's been modified, the bridge pickup is (apparently) a Jackson, and two phase cancelling switches have been added that provide a variety of surprisingly useable sounds. There are also coil-tap switches in the volume and tone pots for the humbucking pickups to add to the guitar's dtonal versatility. Tonally, this guitar sounds BIG, and the non-locking trem is amazingly stable- a testament to its build quality. We haven't had much chance to record with this guitar yet, but it's going to get a LOT of use in the future! BTW, there are some great pictures of this guitar on the Ibanez Register, put there by a previous owner. Check them out, they really do it justice.

1985 Ibanez Roadstar RS530

This was the first of my three Ibanez Roadstar purchases, bought, IIRC, from Electro-Music in Doncaster in early 2002. I'm not sure what it was that finally made me decide to get a Roadstar, I think I probably just fancied a change from the instruments I was playing at the time (my 1992 Strat Plus and 'bitsa' Thinline Telecaster). When I got this guitar it was completely stock, apart from the bridge pickup, which was the Ibanez USA humbucker that is now in the neck position (keep up at the back, it's about to get a lot more complicated!). The original locking vibrato system on this guitar, which was the same original-Ibanez design (the Pro-Rocker, I believe) as on the RS1300, was quickly junked when it became obvious that the bridge posts were worn beyond salvation and spares were unobtainable. I therefore got Neil Smith, the guitar repairman extraordinaire at Sound Control, Newcastle, to fit the Wilkinson trem that you see here, in addition to a Graph-tech nut and Sperzel machines (which apparently turned out to be quite a difficult job). Whilst he was at it, I also asked him to replace the bridge pickup with the Seymour Duncan Allan Holdsworth pickup that I had in the neck position of my 'bitsa' Thinline Telecaster (I did say that things were about to get complicated!). He did just that, and the result is the guitar that reveals itself in all its very '80s redness before you.
I used this guitar for quite some time- it was my main instrument when I was in Prognosis, the local Prog-rock covers band that Norman still plays keys for (I left in June '03 for the bass-player's slot in Morgan Le Fay, as I wanted play original music. In hindsight, this wasn't perhaps the wisest decision I've ever made, but what the hell, we're all still friends!). I've used it for quite a few recorded Vietgrove guitar parts too, up until I got the RS1300. However, I must admit that I've gone off it quite a bit in more recent times, as, nice guitar though it is, it's really not in the same league as the other two Roadstars that I own, particularly in regards to build quality. I was flirting with the idea of selling this guitar recently, but as I suspect that I'd get very little for it, I've decided to hold onto it. The 24-fret neck is very useful and it does sound good, even if it lacks a little finesse in the build department. Tonally, too, the coil taps in the two pickup volume controls make it pretty versatile. I'll probably dig it out at some point and totally fall for it again, so I think that, all in all, I've made the right decision by keeping it.

1996 Colin Kendall Acoustic

Probably the best acoustic guitar in the world! Colin Kendall is a luthier based in Bury, Lancashire, England and is arguably better known for his range of mandolin-style instruments that for guitars. This guitar was a real find, however, as it's the sweetest sounding acoustic guitar I've ever heard. I bought it from Hobgoblin Music in Leeds in November 2002, whilst on a day trip with some friends. One of said friends placed this guitar in my hands and uttered the immortal words 'play this guitar and you'll leave with it! He wasn't wrong either, I sat and played it for three hours, wondering how the hell I was going to be able justify such an expensive instrument. In the end, however, I just HAD to have it, and I've never regretted buying it for a second. This guitar has had a hard life, and it's not exactly in 'mint' condition. To me, though, that all adds to its charm, and it plays so beautifully that I just don't care. My old friends in folk-rock band Morgan Le Fay (with whom I used to play bass) kidnapped this guitar for a while, and it's all over their new album 'Beautiful Land'. In fact Morgan lead singer Brereton Preen, never misses an opportunity to tell me how much he'd like 'liberate' this guitar permanently. He's got no chance! We have used this guitar a LOT. Whilst it's been fitted with a Fishman Rare Earth pickup, we always record it using condenser microphones- the sound is simply magical.

199? 'Fender' Stratocaster

The title is a bit of a misnomer, as this particular instrument is another classic 'bitsa' guitar that I seem to have specialised in over the years. The only bits of this guitar that are genuinely Fender are the neck (which is rather nice- wide, but not imposing or cumbersome), and the bridge, which is a Floyd Rose-patented, non-locking vibrato piece (and very stable from a tuning point of view, too). The rest of it comes from a variety of sources: the body is handmade (no idea by whom, I'm afraid, but it's very solid), it has Sperzel machine heads and the really rather clever LSR roller nut that Fender fitted to higher-end Strats in the mid-late 1990s. I assume that the rest of the guitar dates from around about then, too, though to be honest I have absolutely no idea. The finish on the body is very badly cracked, but that's never bothered me particularly- you can't hear that, after all. Pickups are a Seymour Duncan Invader in the bridge position (which, admittedly, wouldn't have been my first choice, as it's a bit overbearing, really) and two single coils, which might be Bartolinis, Kent Armstrongs, or the finest product of the Yokohama guitar and garden strimmer plant, for all I know. Whatever their origin, they sound very nice, even if there is (unsurprisingly) a considerable gulf in output between these and the bridge pickup.
I acquired this guitar in late 2001 from my former local music shop, Making Music in North Shields, North Tyneside. I'd taken in the black 1992 Strat plus that I'd had since it was new in for a set-up. The vibrato system on this guitar was giving me serious problems with regards to tuning stability (the bridge posts had become worn with age, a common fault on modern Fenders), and I wasn't sure if I wanted to keep it. I was also really wanting to get into using humbucking pickups again at this time, as I had become a little jaded with the Strat's single coil sounds. Coming across this guitar I asked Morris, Making Music's proprietor, if he would consider doing me a straight swap and, luckily, he agreed, and I ended up with a very nice guitar!
This guitar has been used extensively on our current work, it's been especially useful as a rhythm guitar- both for clean and distorted sounds. The Invader is especially useful for those chunky distorted sub-metal riffs, whilst the single-coils are very good for those clean, chorousy 'hi-fi' sounds that Strats are so ideally suited to. I'm not so keen on it as a lead guitar, I just can never get a sound out of it that rivals the Ibanezes in this regard. It has been used on some lead stuff, but I'm thinking of replacing a lot of it, as the sound just isn't quite there. Oh well…

2002 Yamaha RBX 270F Fretless Bass

I've always loved the sound of fretless bass. Percy Jones of Brand X fame and Jaco Pastorious are particular bass heroes of mine and, whilst, the chances of me ever being able to approach that level of musical finesses are about zero, it's nice to be able to get a least a flavour of that in to Vietgrove's music! I bought this bass from Sounds Live Music in Newcastle in October (I think) 2002, and it was ridiculously cheap, even brand new. At the time, in addition to Vietgrove, I was playing bass in folk-rock band Morgan Le Fay. I thought a fretless would be a great asset to Morgan's sound, and saved up enough money to buy one as soon as I possibly could. IIRC, this was actually the only fretless that Sounds Live had in stock at the time I went looking, so it's a good job it worked out so well!
I took it down to the Morgan rehearsal on the same evening that I bought it….and seriously sucked, as my bandmates lost no opportunity to inform me!! Playing a fretless bass is considerably trickier than its fretted brethren- your intonation has to be absolutely bang-on, and…well let's just say that mine was a bit, erm, 'approximate'. A period of serious woodshedding followed after this less-than-auspicious start to my fretless bass-playing career, and I'm pleased to say that I rapidly improved on it- to the point where I used it as my solitary bass on several Morgan gigs. Its lovely, smooth sounded attracted a lot of compliments from the punters, which made all the frustration in learning to play the damn thing properly so worthwhile. Luckily, the fingerboard has the fret positions marked on it by light maple lines inserted into the rosewood, which makes learning to intonate correctly somewhat easier than it might otherwise be. I don't care if it's cheating- if it was good enough for Percy and Jaco then it's more than good enough for me!!
This bass has seen considerable use on recent Vietgrove recordings, especially on those mellower moments which just cry out for those glissando slides between notes that you can only really get from a fretless bass. At the moment, the bass is in permanent residence at Chateau Fay, ready for bringing forth at that crucial time when only fretless will do the job. It sounds really, really good, especially for such a cheap instrument. Full marks to Yamaha here for producing such inspiring budget instruments.

More to follow!!

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