Mark Lucas | Guitarist | Live | Session | Arranger



Ever since SRV became a household word, there has been a huge resurgence in all things 'vintage', in the guitar/amp/pedal market. What I want to talk about in this blog post are my thoughts on this, practically, as a player, and aesthetically as a guitarist who likes certain vintage ideas.

Marketing has played a huge role in this resurgence. The public has certainly had an appetite for this. I've seen people playing who even try to look like Stevie Ray Vaughn, which I find to be absurd. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but that usually occurs with people who don't have anything original to offer.

As a player, vintage guitars do not  play well. The 7.25" neck radius is problematic to set up correctly; the low output pickups, particularly on a strat can cause the guitar to sound like its out of tune if they're adjusted too close to the strings; the 6 point them and 3 barrel saddles do not intonate very well; vintage type tuners are hit or miss; thin frets are not my favorite type of fretwire. The only real exception to this is a Gibson, which has a wider fretboard radius.What I do like about a vintage type guitar is the feel; worn in; the wood has had a chance to dry, which allows the resins to crystallize and open up. In the past 10 or so years, a number of companies, like Suhr, Tom Anderson, John Page have addressed these fundamental issues successfully, marrying the best of old and new. However, there are still a large number of guitarists who would still play a Fender or a Gibson. It's like being married to an ideology, which happens in many areas of life in general. Most people are reluctant to change, and change is a hard thing to learn and do.

At the other end of the spectrum are the modern guitars. Companies like Ibanez, Schecter, ESP, Ernie Ball-Music Man. A company like Ibanez started out improving the older designs, and as time went on, came up with their own. The most prominent example being the RG guitar. A 24 fret masterpiece of design and engineering, that plays like a sports car. Big frets, wide radius, high output pickups, stable bridges and tuners; the RG is able to cover almost any type of music, even though its been associated mostly with rock and metal. One of my favorite guitarists, Scott Henderson, played an Ibanez for quite some time, before going over to Suhr. Players like Tom Quayle and Martin Miller are now playing their own Ibanez signature guitars. And of course, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani have been Ibanez devotees for over 30 years.

Some people argue that a modern guitar doesn't have the 'soul' of a vintage-type axe. I appreciate that, and its true, in some sense.What I would like to put forward in that regard is this; each player has their own thing, their own way of playing and getting a guitar to talk. In essence, one's own soul gets infused in a guitar, not the other way around. As I've said many times over, for me, playing music is hard enough. Not only do I not want to fight with an instrument, ideally, I want the guitar to almost disappear; I don't want to think about it. I want to focus on the music. So whether it's an updated older design, or a modern design, the music has to take precedence. I've seen players like Frank Gambale, the late Allan Holdsworth, Mick Goodrick, the late John Abercrombie play extremely complex music on Steinberger, Ibanez, Klein instruments; I didn't miss the vintage aesthetic at all.Because the music was the focus.



About a month past, I was invited by the CEO of John Page Classic Guitars , Howard Swimmer, to an event for the aforementioned. It was a live concert showcasing an artist playing John's guitars. A very nice affair and turnout, and I was able to speak to Howard;a subsequent meeting was scheduled the following week. We talked about all things guitar; the music business,one of our favorite guitarists named Emily Remler, etc. I had a chance at that time to play the AJ, the Ashburn SSS and SSH guitars. 

I immediately gravitated to the AJ, which in my opinion, is a complete re-design of the classic T style instrument. John has an uncanny ability to maintain what we guitarists like about a T style guitar, and at the same time, minimize or eliminate the anomalies. 

The guitar is invitingly comfortable and light. It has a belly cut and a forearm contour that allow it to almost disappear when playing. John designed the pickups, using a P90 in the neck and a single coil T Style in the bridge. The bridge pickup is reversed from the classic slant, to allow the treble strings to have more girth and at the same time, eliminate the ice-pick shrillness that happens in its classic position. The P90 is amazingly articulate, very clear and powerful. The bridge pickup is very focused and balanced. When both are on, it's single-cut heaven. Whether played clean or overdriven, the tonality is all the way there.

The workmanship is flawless. It's a completely professional quality guitar. The other features are a 12" radius, Gotoh vintage tuning gears, a rosewood fretboard with a very comfortable C neck shape, an alder body, and metal threaded screws that go into the neck from the body; this allows for an extremely even neck/body coupling that resonates in a way no other guitar does. The ashtray style bridge has brass compensated saddles that produce perfect intonation; they can be strung through the body or from the bridge itself.

In the near future, I'll be doing videos of these remarkable guitars. I'd like to personally thank Howard Swimmer for his vote of confidence, and I look forward to continuing with John Page.

i can't recommend these instruments enough.





The first 'boutique' pedal I bought was a Fulltone Full-Drive 2 Mosfet OD; actually, it was a gift, in November of 2007. I still have it and use it, as it is a supremely versatile and reliable pedal. I have used a few others(it would be imprudent to name them), but have always returned to the FD2. The second Fulltone was bought in 2013, the OCD. Somewhat different in tonality than the FD2, it has a lot more headroom, and is more 'British' sounding. It took a while for me to learn how to use this one, but it's as equally compelling as the FD2. 

Fulltone is one of the few products that never fail. Mike Fuller is a brilliant designer, and I am so happy to be able to use Fulltone pedals.



Ce plus que ca change, ce plus que ca meme chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same. An old French saying.

What I'm referring to in this inquiry is guitar equipment, as a metaphor. When I first started playing gigs professionally, I had one guitar, one cable, and one amp. Then as time went on, to fill the needs of the different types of music I was playing, I got a chorus pedal; then a flanger; then an overdrive and/or distortion box. Then along came Mesa Boogie, which did away with the overdrive pedals. Around 1992, I started to use a volume pedal. I've used one since then. It is truly an indispensable part of my guitar/amp connection. For a while, I used Fender and Vox amps, adding an overdrive pedal to the chain, as the amps themselves are great 'platforms' to build a sound on, but not really great for amp overdrive unless they're really cranked up. I've tried a lot of different boxes; Fulltone, Xotic, J Rockett, etc. And the pedalboard became more 'involved' shall we say. More wires, a more efficient power supply. Now I find that, almost 30 years on, I am back to a very simple pedalboard. The difference being the quality of the cable and the power supply. But essentially, it's a tuner, a volume pedal, a wah pedal, and 2 time delay pedals which are routed to the FX loop of the amps. This setup is remarkably similar to what I started out with; it's just that the pedals are better along with the aforementioned cables and power. A big round trip.

The first amp overdrive that did it for me was out of a Mesa Boogie Mark2. And it still does, if you can find an original Boogie.

The same with guitars. A really good maple fretboard strat (JOHN SUHR ANTIQUE CLASSIC); a really good SG (GIBSON VOS 1961 SG);and a rosewood board T style(JOHN PAGE CLASSIC AJ). Around 1985, the first two guitars became a part of my sound. The third one came a bit later. And although it seems I've played every other guitar under the sun, I come back to these ones.

I first used Ernie Ball strings in 1985. I still use those, to this day.

We age, we change. Our youth disappears, never to return; and I wonder if we ever really understand these things until they are gone from us. Something remains; a spirit, an outlook, an attitude toward life, a discipline built over years of habit. These are necessary and good. Someone once said that simplicity is often it's own form of elegance. I believe that to be true, now more than ever.

The Japanese spirit of Wabi-Sabi exemplifies this simplicity without calling too much attention to it. It leaves things unanswered, for us to fill in.



I find myself returning to recordings I listened to years ago. One example is In Passing, by Mick Goodrick; an ECM release from 1979, with Eddie Gomez, John Surman, and Jack DeJohnette. A musical colleague introduced this to me in 1984, a few months before I moved to Boston. The clarity of their playing as an ensemble is astounding. Air, space, the unbelievable quality of ECM, and the looseness of the compositions still inspire me. Mick is the rare Guitarist who is a true original. No one sounds like him, but according to him, no one sounds like anybody else. I had the privilege of studying with him for a short time. And his knowledge still resonates for me. I bought his book, The Advancing Guitarist, in 1988, from the International Reading Room; it was an independent bookstore in Harvard Square. This is, in my opinion, one of the most important books I've studied from.



The first SG I owned was an SG Special in 1985, when I lived in Boston. I was attracted to it's midrange tonality, although I didn't really know why, at least , in the way I understand it now. The second one was a black SG Special, that I ran through a Marshall Silver Jubilee 2x12 combo. This particular combination was tonal nirvana for me. I could get everything I needed from this; blues, a great classic rock sound, and believe it or not, a respectable modern jazz fusion sound. Unfortunately, the Marshall literally ate tubes, and the SG suffered at the hands of a rather unscrupulous repairman.  I didn't play another one until 2007, when I bought an SG Classic with P90 pickups. A really great guitar with a big fat 50's neck. Again, another sloppy repair job resulted in me getting rid of it. I now own what I consider to be the quintessential SG; a cherry red V.O.S. form the Gibson Custom Shop. The V.O.S. guitars are significantly different than a production model Gibson. They are made one at a time; the bodies are one piece of mahogany, as opposed to 2 or 3 piece laminates. A one piece body just sounds better and gets better with age, as the vibration of the wood is in one direction. I also like the finish, which has a worn-in quality to it; not a relic finish, but a very subtle patina. The neck is more of a 60's type of shape; not as fat as a 50's. And like all SG's, they are light. As much as I love the sound of a Les Paul, I really don't like the weight of them.

On to the really compelling reason I like SG's. I consider them to be the solid body version(sonically), of an archtop. That probably sounds sacreligous to an arch-top lover, and equally so to a rock player. Why I say this is that to my ear, The SG is the closest thing to the midrange thickness that archtops have, generally speaking, without the feedback. And it can cover all kinds of ground. I've heard Michael Landau and Robben Ford play SG's. And of course, Duane Allman. These 3 are so much more than the categories they get labeled in. Particularly Duane. I read in an interview that one of his favorite recordings was Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. Carlos Santana played an SG back in the 60's. And the torch is being carried now by Derek Trucks, in my opinion, the logical extension of Duane Allman.

Unlike an LP, I feel an SG just sits better in a mix. I did a recording recently with a well-known jazz saxophonist and everyone who played on this thought I was playing an archtop. I was going straight through a Mesa Boogie TransAtlantic 30 1x12 with just a touch of reverb.

So, just some ruminations from the past into the present. Let me know your thoughts.



One of the first recordings my parents bought for me was THE GREATEST HITS OF WES MONTGOMERY--I think I was 8; this was a year before Wes passed away. I knew nothing about jazz music or jazz guitar, but I was drawn to Wes' sound. He was, arguably, the pre-eminent jazz guitarist of the day. What is still striking is his lyrical and melodic content. And the music was a perfect vehicle for his lyricism. Pop music with arrangements by Don Sebesky, and a rhythm section of Herbie Hancock, Grady Tate, and Ron Carter. This was my first exposure to 'jazz' guitar.

I listened to all kinds of music when I was growing up; Motown, the Rolling Stones, the pop music on the radio. I really did not listen to any jazz music until I went to college, instead, concentrating on classical guitar. I think it was my 3rd year of college when a roommate turned me on to SEVEN STEPS TO HEAVEN, by Miles Davis, which changed my life, forever. But once again, I was drawn to the lyrical content before really having any idea as to what or why they were playing what they were playing.

COURT AND SPARK, THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS, HEJIRA by Joni Mitchell were important, and still are. In fact, anything that Joni Mitchell ever recorded is important to me.

Before I left home to move to Boston, Mass, in 1984, a musical colleague turned me on to IN PASSING, by Mick Goodrick. A classic ECM recording with Eddie Gomez, John Surman and Jack DeJohnette.

TAKE 10 by Paul Desmond with Jim Hall; SOLO CONCERT by Ralph Towner; OUT OF THE WOODS BY Oregon;STANDARDS VOL 1 & 2 by Keith Jarrett; ADAM'S APPLE by Wayne Shorter; LONG TO BE LOOSE by Wayne Krantz.

More to come in another post.


I started studying with Charlie in 1991, when I was living in Newburyport, Massachusetts--I was on his waiting list for about a year and a half, when the call from his secretary came that there was an opening on Tuesday at 8/30am--It took all of 15 seconds to say yes!!!!!; so I would make the trip down to his studio in Beverly--It had the weight of meeting a guru, but a funny one---I used to call Charlie the missing Marx brother as he was really funny and at times just goofy, but in a very real way---He used to kid me about the fact that I recopied his lessons with a fountain pen(mr mont blanc!!!) There was no pretense about him--and when it came to music, there was absolutely NO MESSING AROUND--you had to work or you could not study with him---No exceptions---He could play everything literally from Bud Powell on up, but I think Bill Evans was his favorite, if there was such a thing---And he had a way of giving you exactly what you needed to work on at that time in your development---Uncanny, very intuitive---I've kept all of his lessons and studied with him from 1991-5, then took a break beacause it was a really busy time with a lot of gigs---But if a student cancelled and there was an opening, he'd have me come in----When I left Boston, I did not get to see him often, hardly at all---I would return for a weekend to 'get away' but it was really an excuse to see if he could fit me in; and it was the same as on the first day I started with him--He was always positive, encouraging, an incredible player, funny, warm and genuine to the core---Charlie was the kind of person no one could buy, one of a kind--- When I learned that he was ill with cancer in 2008, I was not sure as to how far it had progressed---A few days later, the word came that he passed away, and was devastated---Actually, it was a rather strange feeling, because a part of me understood that the lessons he gave me would last for the rest of my life, so I didn't feel like he was gone, at least in a metaphorical sense,but it was terribly saddening to never see him again in person---More than that, I came to realize how grateful I was to have had the honor, the privilege to have him take me on as a student---and am eternally grateful, even more so now---


Joni, Miles and Picasso are my patron saints. The thread that runs from them into my musical, personal and spiritual life is truly intoxicating, like a fine cognac; layers of art and inspiration. Song to a Seagull, one of Joni's early recordings, weaves a story of late 60's Greenwich Village; innocent, authentic, and utterly compelling. Kind of Blue, THE modal masterpiece, hits me on any number of levels. It's pure jazz, it's chamber music, it's NYC cool, in the truest sense. Joni and Miles were for real, not a creation for the masses. The reason why this music isn't heard or expanded upon is the culture we now live in doesn't support it. It's a largely artificial and digital age. It's interesting to note that guitarists Robben Ford and Michael Landau,& saxophonist Wayne Shorter worked with both Miles and Joni. Joni is also a painter who was largely influenced by Picasso. And Miles' music is timeless, like Picasso's art. Over time, I've come to understand the influence they have left on me, when I was younger, and more so now, that I am older. One of my favorite recordings is Joni's MILES OF AISLES; recorded live in 1974 with Tom Scott and the LA Express with guitarist Robben Ford. This is a must listen for any guitarist in terms of how to play behind a singer. Seriously, I hear so many guitarists who do not know how to play underneath a singer, especially a female vocalist. Joni and Miles brought out the absolute best in any musician they worked with. They had the magic touch, the Midas touch, if you will. There is nothing left to say or improve on KIND OF BLUE, SKETCHES OF SPAIN, ESP, or anything else that Miles recorded. There is nothing left to improve on BLUE, COURT AND SPARK, THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS, HEJIRA, or anything Joni did. There is nothing left to say about Picasso's GUERNICA. I remember a sunny March afternoon, walking in Paris to go to No5 Rue de Thorigny, to the Picasso Museum. And being left speechless, like a sword split me in half. I remember seeing the 'We Want Miles' tour and having that same speechlessness. Likewise with Joni's 'Refuge of the Roads' show. That there is nothing left to say is to say there is everything to learn; a timeless well to drink from.

Strats/Teles & The 'Cumulative Effect'

From time to time, I do get asked "what makes a guitar play great?" I've had the opportunity to watch and learn from some really, really good luthiers/repairmen--I would answer that it is the 'cumulative effect'--And what I mean by that is taking into account every component of the instrument--In my experience, the first thing is a neck that is properly adjusted and frets that are properly leveled, dressed, and re-crowned--A guitar simply will not reach its' full potential without this critical step--Even a guitar that does not have all the other elements(quality of wood, pickups, hardware)will play significantly better with the proper fretwork and a neck that has little to no relief in it--Along with that, it's impossible to discount a nut that is free of pinching and cut close to the first fret-- As to neck and body wood, wood that is cured and dried out simply sounds better and will improve with age--And as much mythology has gone on about finishes, I prefer a nitrocellulose finish--It's light, it breathes, and develops a beautiful patina over time-- Tuners, bridges, saddles have to be functional first--They all affect the resonant properties of a guitar-- Being a Tele/Strat fanatic of sorts, I love single coil pickups--They can go from fundamental overtones to a thicker sound easier than the other way around-- On to the playability factor--As much as I hear from some players that a heavier gauge string and relief in the neck make for better 'tone', I find it to be objectively without merit(aside from the fact that some players simply like a heavier string)-- I have found that a neck with almost no relief(bow)in it is a better way to go, because the guitar is not fighting itself--When it's 'even', the string vibrates more effectively--I have used a .09-.42 gauge string set for over 25 years, and have never felt like 'tone' was lacking--In fact, I think that playing the guitar, of and in itself, is hard enough work; I'm not interested in making it more challenging, at least from that end--

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