It’s been a few days since I’ve checked this message board, and I can’t believe what an interesting, incredibly lively and opinionated discussion a simple question about gear/tone has generated. Put a bunch of guitar geeks in a room together (albeit a virtual one), and watch the fireworks. I love it.
With all the back n’ forth between vintage vs. affordable, Epiphone vs. Gibson, American vs. Mexican, processors vs. the Muff, Boogie vs. Marshall, let’s review a bit of history. When J bought his first guitar back in the early 80s, he ventured into Slimey Bob’s Ripoff Guitar Shop intent on buying a Strat. As the story goes, Bob wanted about $500 for a Strat and that was out of J’s price range at the time. So, Slimey Bob showed him this old ’65 Jazzmaster (incidentally, the Jazzmaster had been discontinued in 1980, I believe, because Fender couldn’t give them away…). If I remember correctly, J paid about 300 bucks for it and settled on it because he loved the feel of the worn-down neck. Of course, that Jazzmaster became the lengendary sticker-covered axe that J has played thoughout most of his career. So much for Strat…to this day, I’ve never seen him play one.
But here’s the point I’m trying to make with this story: When J, Sonic Youth, and other indie bands of the early/mid-80s began playing Jazzmasters and Jaguars, they probably began playing them because (1) they liked the sound and (2) they were relatively inexpensive at the time. If these were sought-after guitars (like the Strat, Tele, and Les Paul), Fender would’ve never stopped making them. As these old axes began to symbolize "indie guitar rock," suddenly everyone seemed to be playing them, from Kurt Cobain (his beloved Jaguar) to My Bloody Valentine. Suddenly, supply and demand kicks up the prices as we see our guitar heroes weilding these cool-looking, slightly strange looking guitars and want one. Realizing this, Fender quickly begins reissuing the Jazzmasters, Jaguars, even the crappy Mustang, and takes it one step further when they create the horrid "Jag-Stang" for Cobain. And suddenly the joke’s on us.
So…what if J had walked out of Slimey Bob’s with that Strat he wanted, or even, God forbit, an old Japanese Strat. He’d still be right where he is today, being talked about and dissected by fans like you and me on a website devoted to him. Because he’s got what no expensive vintage equipment can provide: talent, soul, and despite the stories you hear about his legendary lethargy, the drive, ambition, and work ethic needed to maintain a career in music for over 15 years. So if you really want to emulate J, forget about trying to replicate his "sound" and go out and pick up a 1985 day-glo B.C. Rich for 150 bucks, focus on writing good SONGS, and start your own indie rock revolution.
"Hey what’s buggin’ down under there…
Why’s it screaming, what’s unfair?"