songwriting

Guitars As Art

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I’ve always admired the work of master luthier Ken Parker. However, like many guitarists, I’ve always found his guitars to be too “out there” for me. Unlike bass players who are happy to indulge in all sorts of instrument shape, finish and electronics, most guitarists find comfort in 50-year old designs such as the Gibson Les Paul (1951) and the Fender Stratocaster (1950). Even relative newcomers such as Paul Reed Smith (1985) are in fact Gibson design derivatives.

Parker Guitars were sold in 2003 to US Music Corporation (makers of Washburns guitars and Randall amps) who quickly set out to broaden the brand user base by introducing cheaper Korean-made alternatives and more conventional instrument shapes.

The fruit of their latest effort can be found in the Dragon Fly, a morph between a Parker Fly and a standard Fender Stratocaster. I like the result and I wish they could get rid of those silly Piezo-acoustic pickups and put a real Floyd Rose tremolo in there. According to their web site, they have done just that with a Vernon Reid custom model, but there’s no indication about when these new models may be hitting the stores.

Parker guitars have always been expensive pieces of art, but they were the vision of a single man with no compromise to accommodate the various tastes of guitarists. The Dragon Fly is the first step in changing all that.

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songwriting

Naturally 7: No Instrument Required

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Naturally 7 is a vocal “band” from New-York where every member plays an instrument with their mouth: mouth beat box, vocal bass, even an aural electric guitar. The amazing thing is that after a while, you forget that they have no instruments and you start getting into the songs.

Take a look at this impromptu performance of Phil Collins’ “In the air tonight” in the Paris subway:

For some reason, they have yet to make it big in the states, but they already have a couple of hits in Europe and are signed to a German record company.

Songwriting-wise, all they need is a multi-track recorder and something to write the lyrics. Right? Well, technically, they are playing vocal harmonies, which require some planning to work well. Basically, every band member plays one note in a chord, thereby producing the same effect as a keyboard or guitar.

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songwriting

Versailles’ Songwriting Aesthetic

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My favorite band these days is Japan’s Versailles. They have yet to gain any traction in the US or Europe, but they are in many ways, a sign of things to come. Just like Finland’s Nightwish was the prototype for multi-platinum Evanescence, I believe that western bands will soon start raiding Tokyo for song ideas and looks.

Sound-wise, Versailles plays Visual Kei, a brand of symphonic metal that has been perfected since the mid-80’s by bands like X-Japan. Others would describe them as Dream Theater in drag (yeah, they’re all guys), but they are far more melodic than most progressive bands. For example, there is no unusual timing or chord structure. The level of musicianship is astronomical. Interestingly, they have no official keyboard player despite every song relying on synths and/or strings.

Melody-wise, they use a lot of traditional European top lines. Some melodies remind me of old Joe Dassin or Mireille Mathieu (60’s and 70’s French pop music). Makes sense, since French artists have always done well in Japan. I remember entering a Tokyo shop in 2001 to be greeted with some France Galles.

For all these reasons, I think Versailles is the most concentrated form or international influences I have ever heard. Melodies are back baby!

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