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.