By Alex Yalen

There are millions upon millions of guitars floating about. What is that that forces a guitar into your consciousness and makes you say, “I must own this?” (Obviously, budget is one of the constraints, but that’s a slightly less-than-romantic consideration.)

Guitars are meant to be played, to be heard, so my first thoughts were aural: tone.

From the wood type (korina, mahogany, maple, rosewood) to pickups — slinky single coils, jangly “lipstick” pickups, growling p-90s, massive, swampy  humbuckers – to the body construction ­– semi-hollowbody? Solidbody? “Chambered” solidbody? – what guitar sounds grab you now, or grabbed you when you first started playing?

Then I thought about the visual appeal: guitars are meant to be seen and heard, obviously.

I thought about the classic smoky tobacco bursts and brilliant cherry red sunbursts, exotic silverbursts and glittery metallic schemes, and even New Wave-worthy clear guitars.

I thought about shape: refined, elegant curves and radical, dramatic angles; I thought about how the neck and how it sits in your hand. I thought about attention to detail and craftsmanship: mother of pearl inlays, beautiful headstocks and so on.

I thought about history, and the knowledge of how certain guitars and amplifiers were combined to define the music we listen to, like the Les Paul and the non-master volume Marshall, the Fender Strat and just about any “silverface” amp.

For me, the “holy grail” is the ’56 Les Paul Special in TV yellow.

When I think of why I started to play music, I think of the Stone Temple Pilots, and their greatest song, arguably one of the great rock songs of all time, Interstate Love Song. I think of my initial fascination with the main lick; not just the notes, but the sound — a growl that was distorted but rich and warm and not fuzzy or thin, meaty but precise — and I recall how I could never quite nail that tone no matter what I did.

I spent hours scouring the web trying to pick apart exactly what made that song tick; I’ve been through the music video frame by frame, I’ve been through live performances, I’ve dredged up interviews with the guitarist, Dean DeLeo. I learned that the magic of the “Interstate Love Song” tone lies in the combination of small, old Vox amps and Fender Telecasters to get the top-end jangle, and a cranked-up Supro amp and a ’56 Les Paul Special to get that midrange-y roar.

To me, the mystique of the LP Special comes from how long I’ve been studying it, shaping my own sound and acquisitions around it ­– it is a deeply personal relationship that has been built over time, as my ideas about what I want to sound like when I play the guitar have evolved.

What caught my eye in the upcoming July 18 Vintage Guitars and Musical Instruments Signature Auction?

  1. The ’57 Mary Kaye Strat. Ash-blonde beauty with gold tuning pegs, jack, and bridge? Yes, please.Mary Kaye Strat
  2. For obvious reasons, the ’54 Les Paul Standard goldtop. I will write about the glorious p-90 at a later date, but when you fuse the dense, meaty Les Paul to a brighter single-coil pickup, amazing things happen.Gibson Les Paul Standard Gold Top
  3. The lefty ‘67 Fender XII electric twelve string.  When we think of 12-strings, Rickenbacker probably comes to mind first, thanks to The Byrds. But Fender made ‘em too and they are fantastic. (Listen to Cream’s Dance the Night Away if you want to hear Clapton playing one.) The hockey stick-style, head; the Jaguar-style curvy body and beautiful burst make this one hard to pass on.1967 Fender Electric XII Sunburst Left-Handed 12-String Solid
  4. I see a bunch of vintage tweed Fender amps in here – the blonde ’62 Bassman stack certainly caught my eye. I surely would love to set the volume on that baby to about 9 and see what happens next; probably wouldn’t be too good for my hearing but you know, #yolo, or whatever.1962 Fender Bassman Blonde Guitar Amplifier, #BP01138

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