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Vinni and a couple of PRS Friends
Vinni With Bruce Lowe In Studio
| A professional guitarist for 25 years now, I live in Central
California with my wife and 2 children. I play guitar-piano-bass-accordian-saxophone and I front bands with lead vocals
as well. I was inspired as a young man by bands like The Beatles, Credence
Clearwater and Santana. I started playing professionally at the age of 17. Toured the US in 1974 as a bass player and then did some acoustic
work for the following 5 years. Since then I have been an electric-lead
player/singer and playing lead is really my favorite thing to do. There
is just something about turning my amp up real loud and standing on the edge of the stage and going for it. It's like trying to control
something that is on the verge of being out of control. Kind of like driving a race car, I guess. The guitar, to me is like a living
breathing entity. In the '80's I played concerts with bands like Dr.
Hook, Charlie Daniels and Hank Williams Jr. and later in the '90's I started playing country and worked with acts like Hal Ketchum and Pam
One time in the mid 80's I actually quit playing guitar for a couple of years and started playing sax. I was very inspired by David Sanborn. I worked as a sax player for a couple of years and then went back to the guitar. Changing instruments like this really rounded me out as a musician. You really listen to a different part of the band as a sax player. I have sold many guitars in the past that I have kicked myself for... '69 Fender Jag ($125.00), '72 Harmony hollowbody ($50.00)and a '74 Les Paul custom($300.00). One more thing, I turned down a trade for a brand new ES335 black dot edition from a friend that owned a music store. Ok, all my stupidity is out in the open now, right?
Even though I have been on many albums in the past and I even worked in a couple of studios as a producer, I didn't record my own album (CD) until 2 years ago. Recorded in a friend's living room on an A-DAT digital machine thru a Mackey board. It was an instrumental CD and got plenty of air play on local stations and even got on some European radio charts. But the biggest benefit from the CD is that it got me signed with LA producer Bruce Lowe. Bruce has produced names like Michael Jackson, Madonna and Michael MacDonald. He was also Stevie Wonder's right hand man for a while. This brings us up to date with the recording of my 2nd CD and it is to be released in February.
I never even heard of PRS until about 5 years ago. I went to a music store one day, just to look around and one of the guys there said, "Vinni, I've got the guitar you need." He brought out a blue CE bolt-on. I played it and I did not want to give it back to him. It is all I could think about for weeks! About two months later I went to the NAMM show in LA and met Paul Reed Smith, played a few of the models, chose my favorite one and started my search. This is when I got my '92 Green Custom 24. I was playing country-rock-jazz and blues and it fit all occasions. I however, did not like the stock pickups on it and changed them to Seymour Duncan 59ers. I felt that the vintage bass and the HFS were too dirty sounding and just couldn't clean them up. I now own the '92 Custom and a '96 Santana Signature Model. The '92 custom (Emerald Green) has an exceptional flamed top and the birds jump out at you. I was told that this was made when they did not have to cut as far into the abalone shell. When I changed the pick-ups, I noticed under the neck pick-up there was a note in feltpen, "See Paul before staining this one." I can only wonder what this could mean. The Santana Sig. has an awesome flamed top (Santana Yellow) and beautiful birds. It is the most resonate guitar I have EVER layed hands on! I used this guitar on the new CD for all the lead tones and the '92 custom for all the rhythm tones. They really do compliment each other. One note: I have the '92 set up so I can switch to single coils on either or both pickups so there is NO tone that I cannot get! Country, rock or blues. I wired the Sweet Switch as a coil split and I replaced the 5-way with a three-way toggle. I did not find the 5-way switch very gig friendly, especially for a singer/guitarist. I wonder now how I did the job without these axes and wish very much that I had played them in the '80's instead of the Les Pauls and Strats that I then owned.
A Mesa Boogie was put into my hands about 10 years ago and it is really the only amp manufacturer that I have used until lately. In recording the CD a few weeks ago, we were using the Line6 Amp Farm software. I liked it so much that I went to Guitar Center in Hollywood and bought a Line6 Flextone Plus. I really like this amp and I'm sure that I will be using this thing for the next 10 years! Plenty of sounds, effects, tones and it is very quiet and clear. It also is a very easy amp to program, live or at home.
I now have two websites where you can hear and download my tunes. Mp3.com/vinnismith and Amp3.com (in the blues section). As much as I love my guitars and amps, I still do think that most of our tone comes from our hands. The way we hold our pick, the way we put our thumb on the neck, the height we keep our guitar when we stand up. All of these things and many more, affect and create our unique tone. Even with the greatest guitars in the world (PRS), there is no substitution for one, heartfelt, gut wrenching note. After all, isn't this what music is all about? That is, what makes our art-hobby-lifestyle-vice different from, say, car showing or dog showing. They simply put their adored items on display. We not only put ours on display, we also use them to draw out, from within, everything that is there. If it sounds good, that's great! If it sounds bad, that's ok too. The more we release and let go, the better it will sound. I have always wanted to be a guitar player. I never wanted to be anything else. And as far as I'm concerned, I will be one of those little old men that pull their pants all the way up to their chest, playing some worn out PRS in some old-timers band.
|Interview With Vinni Smith|
Forum: Tell us a bit about your guitars.
Vinni: I am fortunate enough to own 3 great guitars. A '92 (green) PRS Custom 24, A '96 (yellow) Santana Signature and a '97 (plum) Ovation with the soundholes by the neck. It is by far the best collection I have owned.
Forum: Who have been some of the bigger influences in your development as a guitarist?
Vinni: First, it was Carlos Santana. I studied his work for a few years and then got interested in Peter Frampton when he was in Humble Pie. I have a few other favorites now but these were the most influential to me.
Forum: You've played with some pretty impressive folks. Do you have any stories that you'd care to share with us?
Vinni: Well, I think that Charlie Daniels was probably the nicest, coolest guy I have ever played with. And the other side of the coin, Hank Williams Jr., was really out there. He made us stay in our dressing rooms until he got out of his limo and onto the stage. Quite a quirky fellow. One time at a concert with Dr. Hook back in the 80's there was a small incident when Ray tried to hit on my wife and then he found out who she was. She was sitting on the side of the stage and he must have thought she was a groupie. We all laughed. Then there was the time I was doing a show with Elvin Bishop. I guess he did not want to come on because he made us play for 2 hours before he would come to the stage. Hmmm, I wonder what was happening in the dressing room. All the shows were a lot of fun with great big crowds. It is a lot more fun to play for thousands of people than just a few hundred. That's for sure.
Forum: What music captivates you when you play it?
Vinni: A Latin style Blues that I have grown very fond of. It really has to groove. It works best with a high gain setting and I always start in the middle of the neck and build the solos up to the top with lots of bends and screams and vibratos. I think I borrowed it from both Carlos and Frampton. It works everywhere, Blues, Rock and Country. But I don't really sound like those guys when I do it. Please don't tell anyone that's where it came from! Ha-Ha!
Forum: Can you tell us a bit about the equipment you play through and why you chose it?
Vinni: I played thru Mesa Boogies for the last 10-15 years. I just changed over to a Line6 Flextone after using the Line6 Amp Farm in the studio. Back in the '70's I only played with reverb and that was it! As time went on and equipment got more sophisticated I used more and more. Like a junky. I don't use many effects anymore. I did use quite a few on the first cd but I have gone back to playing real dry and letting the engineers mix me in the board with what-ever effect sounds good for the tune. However, you really have to have a good producer that you can trust to do this because if they do a bad job on your sound, you sound bad! When I play live I do use a little echo and compression. That is all these days. If you think about it, all the sounds that we come up with in our effects racks are the same effects that are found naturally in the rooms or arenas that we are playing in. So therefore, if you have a lot of effects on stage, just think, there is twice as many effects out by the listeners. The less effects played with on stage, the better, in my near-sited opinion. There is also many less things to think about. You can concentrate more on your playing. Also, since I have been playing PRS guitars, there is no reason to fatten up my sound. It is just fat all the time, naturally.
Forum: Tell us about the things you're currently doing in music.
Vinni: Well, I play 2-3 gigs a week and have been driving to Hollywood as well as recording the new CD. No time to practice at all these days. I have written some cool stuff lately that I will probably use on CD #3. I carry around one of those little micro-recorders with me at all times. This way, I don't loose any ideas. It works well this way because I usually write my best stuff when I am away from my guitar, just driving down the street.
Forum: How would you describe the music you played on your recordings?
Vinni: The first cd is all instrumetal. Lots of Blues/Rock guitars solos with a slight Latin flavor. The new CD is about half and half instrumental and vocal. The same style as the first CD. Some songs are remakes of the first ones and quite a few new ones. We even have a Jamaican tune on the new one. I wrote almost all of the new tunes except for one ballad that my producer wrote. I wrote an acoustic instrumental that we are going to include on this CD that we have not yet recorded.
Forum: You just got back from doing some recording. Tell us about your recording techniques and what you do to get the sound you want.
Vinni: The first two days we used the Line6 Amp Farm software. I was so impressed that I went to Guitar Center in Hollywood and bought a new Line6 Flextone Plus. I went into the amp and out the headphone jack to the board with no effects at all. He then put it straight to disc, dry as well and that is that. The rest of the sound will be added later in the mix. Some guitars were doubled digitally and some of them I played twice, sound on sound. I used the '92 custom for all the rhythm tracks and the Santana for all the lead tones. I even used the Ovation plugged straight into the board and utilized the onboard electronics (factory equipped). The producer was very impressed with this guitar's sound.
Forum: You were fortunate enough to hook up with Bruce Lowe as a producer. How has he affected your recording techniques and music from your original vision to what actually landed on the master?
Vinni: It is really taking me on a trip! It is fun going out and playing with the big boys. Just as the heavens are above the earth, so is their ways above ours. I will come in with an idea that came to me the night before, strut into the studio and show every one. Bruce will instinctively take the idea and run with it. It always turns out much better, but you better leave your pride and attitudes at the door when you walk in. If you want to make songs that sell but still not "sell out" to something that you don't really want to do, then it takes some maturity and give and take. A lot of artists that I work with are really not willing to do that. This goes for the producers as well. After all, we are only trying to communicate with a million people, sell a billion CD's, make 10 billion $$$ and have fun doing what we enjoy for a living. My recording techniques haven't changed much. I like to sit behind the board with whomever I am working with. I can't stand to work in one of those little glass rooms. It feels like a fishbowl. This is why I always like to overdub and run direct with no speakers being miked. Bruce also takes the time to find the RIGHT sound for each application. We don't just settle for a good sound. It has to be the RIGHT sound! Also, there are so many twists and turns on this record! He has made it fresh! People are going to love it!
Forum: What do you see in your future as a musician?
Vinni: I see finishing this project and releasing it in February and finally doing what I have been pressing toward since the day I started playing... Fronting my own band with my own unique guitar tone and singing songs that mean something to me instead of playing cover tunes that you have no idea or even care what they could mean. I want to be able to do a show when ever I would like in whatever city I would like. I am looking forward to hearing my tunes on the radio. I want to be a positive figure in the music world with only good things to say to inspire folks to do good. I am looking forward to producing some music as well, whether it is my own or someone else's.
Forum: How can people purchase your CDs?
Vinni: Come to mp3.com/vinnismith and download some tunes and you can even buy an mp3 format of the first CD. Or you can e-mail me at: email@example.com for info on buying the real CD through snail mail.