Guitarists spend years, and small fortunes, on finding or building the right guitar and creating the perfect tone.
In Part 2 of our chat with guitar virtuoso, singer, songwriter, and producer, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, he goes in-depth and talks us through every process starting with his first guitar.
“You want me to talk about all the gear?” he starts. “So, the weird guitars?”
“I mean they could just go look, if they go to Bumblefoot.com, and they click on gear, they’ll see pictures that’d do it more justice than me talking about it but let’s see… Yeah, my first electric guitar was a Les Paul copy, an imitation of a Les Paul, and it looked just like a nice sunburst Les Paul but it was from a company PACE.” He spells it out, “P-A-C-E…”
“Nobody on this entire planet has ever heard of a guitar company called PACE. I have been asking, for 40 years, and nobody has ever heard of this company. I even question whether it really exists, and if I didn’t have photos to prove it, I would think that I banged my head and a memory got twisted and PACE doesn’t exist. But yeah, it cost about 80 bucks, and that was my first guitar back in 1970-something.”
“And that guitar, I did lots of improper things to it — I cut it into a weird shape that, you know, looking back on it, it actually looks a lot like a Strandberg, which is a great guitar, but mine was not.”
“And I covered it in… my mom had a coat, it was like a rabbit fur coat. It wasn’t real rabbit — it was like synthetic stuff. She must’ve been a pimp or something,” he wonders. “I don’t know what she was doin’… picture her walking around with a cane and a hat and this coat and just like yelling at prostitutes in the streets, ‘Don’t you eyeball me! Now get out there and make me sum money!’”
“So I cut up her coat, you know, to stop her from being a pimp [He struggles to contain his laughter] and covered the body of the guitar in this fake rabbit fur, so it was this pimp guitar, a Strand-pimp…”
interrupts himself, “Why do I keep using the word ‘pimp’ with you? I never say
the word ‘pimp’ but this is like the third… what is it about talking to you
that makes the word ‘pimp’ come into my head? What are you doing to me?” he
exclaims. “I’m gonna go out and get myself a furry hat.”
At this point I’m in stitches.
He continues, “And then from there, I cut away the body even more to the point where it was just like half a guitar, a little bad-ass tail-piece bridge with parts on it, DiMarzio pickup, an input and a volume knob, and took all the frets off it to make it fretless, and put down a bunch of coins [totalling $4.63] and I shaved down the edges so that they met the edges of the neck [of the guitar] so not really a fret board, a coin board and it played!”
“So from there, and this is why I stopped making guitars, it was like the Island of Dr Moreau. Have you ever seen that movie? — it was all about putting things together that nature should not allow, aberrations of existence…”
“So then I had this really nice Ibanez Artist guitar — this was like a two-horn, black-bodied, real classy-looking Ibanez Artist AR50 BK — BK being black, ‘cause it had this black finish Also two pickups, normal three-way toggle, volume, tone, and then with that one, I took off the paint, just a little tiny chisel and over the course of two weeks I scraped into the body all these faces and things and then painted it all, and there was one guy [picture on the guitar], I think he was an artist, and he was wearing this French beret, and these glasses, with the little pointy moustache and, you know, minimal hair on the chin that makes him look like an artiste [he particularly rolls the r]…”
I concede that it makes him sound more artsy when you roll the “r” the way he did.
“Yeah exactly, and I cut off my armpit hair and used that as the hair on his face and then just put the whole thing under polyurethane [plasticy science shit] with all kinds of weird stuff on there — there’s a baby with a little halo looking like an angel with wings, and then there’s one with horns, surrounded by fire, and there’s one with a top hat with his hands in a guillotine…”
As much as I’m enjoying listening to him recall all of his weird creations, I realise how much time we’ve spent on this and I reassure him that I will either redirect fans who want to know more to his site (pictures included), or to either one of his Joburg or Cape Town masterclasses for an up close and personal interaction, and a Bumblefoot education.