Hot-But-Underutilized Gear Friday

This isn’t exactly news; it’s almost three years old in fact.  But I just heard about it the other day, as a couple of guys from Kansas (who knew they were still together?) talked about it on the KQ Morning Show; Billie Joe Armstrong has an endorsement deal with Gibson for the reissued Les Paul Junior.

Well, the big news in signature guitars last week [in 2006] was Gibson’s announcement of their new Billie Joe Armstrong Signature Les Paul Junior – an apparently accurate reproduction of the Green Day front-man’s original 1956 LP Junior affectionately known as “Floyd.” (Hehe, you can’t make this stuff up!)

Now, I have nothing against Green Day; truth be told, I like some of their stuff.  Dookie is a great rock ‘n roll record; Nimrod was that plus all sorts of signs that the band wasn’t just a bunch of nutslap punks without a brain; American Idiot proved that they were smart-ish nutslap punks with delusions of intellectual grandeur but who gave us the everlasting gift of the most indelible mental map of the 2000’s liberal, via the spectacle of a bunch of pot-addled barflies yammering about how stupid everyone between the Sierra Madre and the Hudson were; watching bass player Mike Dirndt trying to explain his higher state of awareness through his chiba-monkey’s stammer was one of the better bits of found comedy back in 2006, in those days before Minnesota Progressive Project.  Politics aside, they have an undeniable way with a hook.

But one thing they’re not – with the arguable exception of drummer Frank “Tre Cool” Wright – is really, really great musicians.

Billie Joe Armstrong is a serviceable guitar player at best.  There’s nothing wrong with that; in a power trio (a guitar/bass/drums band, like Green Day), holding down the rhythm is the most important part of the job.  Not only is not everyone an Eddie Van Halen or a Steve Vai or a Richard Thompson – it wouldn’t be a good thing if everyone were.  There’ve been many excellent guitar players who don’t set the fretboard on fire with solo pyrotechnics; Tom Petty, Joey Ramone, Joe Grushecky, John Lennon, Tom Fogerty, Neil Finn, Colin Hay, Paul Stanley, Chrissy Hynde, Joe Strummer – all were perfectly capable guitar players who held down an important place in their various bands, playing rhythm.  All of them are perfectly respectable guitarists.  None of them are renowned as great guitarists, although all of them are good musicians in the same way a second violinist in a string quartet might not get the virtuoso solo nod, but still has to hold down a vital part in the ensemble.

But it used to be that getting a guitar named after you took years of diligent practice and a level of technical accomplishment well above the merely capable.  Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend – they got guitars named after them.

As to the Les Paul Junior?  It’s a single-pickup solid-body single-cutaway; the necks always struck me as hopelessly thick and clunky, and the inflexibility of the one-pickup electronics – one volulme pot, one tone pot, and that’s it – always drove me nuts (although I suppose if you were playing through a modeling amp, like a LineSix, it wouldn’t be such a problem).  Punk rockers loved ’em; Paul Westerberg (a much better guitar player than Armstrong_) played ’em, among many others.

7 thoughts on “Hot-But-Underutilized Gear Friday

  1. “it used to be that getting a guitar named after you took years of diligent practice and a level of technical accomplishment well above the merely capable.”

    That ended when Rickenbacker debuted the Suzanna Hoffs signature model. I remember thinking “what the hell?” and then I recalled that video where she was rolling around in bed.


  2. Well, it doesn’t help that Hoffs WAS the last significant musician to be seen in public with a Rick. But you’re right.

  3. Well, it doesn’t help that Hoffs WAS the last significant musician to be seen in public with a Rick.

    Doesn’t Tom Petty still play a Rick? Didn’t he play a Rick at the Super Bowl 42 Halftime Show?

    Why yes. Yes he did.

    In fact, Petty has the paradox of being maybe the only human not to be accused of “sounding like the Byrds” playing a Rick 12-string while taking his original inspiration from the Byrds. He even did a nearly note-for-note cover of “Feel A Whole Lot Better.”

  4. Yeah, true, but Petty’s heyday was a tad before that of the Bangles, and both of ’em are getting back there…

  5. We could argue about when Petty’s heyday was–either around the time of Damn the Torpedoes or post-Wilsbury with Full Moon Fever.

    But I now see your point. Your statement should read:

    Well, it doesn’t help that Hoffs WAS the last newly arrived significant musician to be seen in public with a Rick.

  6. It might be even-better reworded “Hoffs was the last person I noticed with a Rick”.

    Seriously – I haven’t seen anyone playing ’em in years.

  7. Paul Weller still plays one.

    The mighty Slim Dunlap (Replacements, etc.), plays one occasionally still.

    Syl Sylvain was seen playing one in the “making of” DVD for the NY Dolls comeback album “One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This….”
    Great guitars.

    The Les Paul Junior is, for my money, a much tougher souning guitar than most Standards, Deluxes, etc.

    The old double cutaway has produced some of the coolest tones in r n’ r history in the hands of Johnny Thunders, Mick Jones, occasionally Keef Riffhard.

    The “TV” model Junior is also a bad lil machine, with the stock two pickups as opposed to the one on the original.

    Westerberg’s got his own signature guitar now, from a company called First Act, and it’s super cheap ($150), and it’s based on the specs for the Junior. Haven’t heard it yet, but it’s suposed to be a real crusty and funky sounding thing, especially if you put a bit of work into it (i.e. getting the neck scoped) (and know how to set your amp up).

    Billy Joe Armstrong always sounds like he might as well be playing a mid-’80’s Kramer Focus Eddie Van Halen model, for all the tone he gets.
    Image is everything with Green Day.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.