Quitting the capital and never looking back, Al Rideout carved a new musical life in the south-west. Lars Mullen pays him a visit to view the tools of the trade
Alan Rideout arrived in Cornwall nearly 40 years ago, a refugee from the London music scene. Growing up in the capital’s Palmers Green, he played his part as a club and session drummer on the rock’n’roll circuit in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
‘Sadly it was all starting to change in London,’ Al explains. ‘Bands were signing their lives away to big business people, and I decided it was time to take a different route.
‘I arrived in Cornwall in the summer of 1975 with a job on the hotel trail, playing seven nights a week for 20 weeks. It was hard work, but it was such a relief… having work in the evening and hanging out on beautiful beaches during the day was an idyllic situation! As someone recently said to me in a very strong Cornish accent, “He came down a boy and went back a man” – except I never went back. I stayed here, and I’ve been in a load of bands playing many styles of music.
‘Though I was a drummer by trade I’d always been a frustrated guitar player. The only guitar I had was this Vox Phantom VI Special, which I think dates from around the mid-’60s. I bought it from a friend who just had it propped up against a wall in his house in London. I couldn’t really play at all, but I was fascinated by all the knobs and switches – and they all still work! At the time this guitar was totally out of fashion, so I got a good deal.
Left, a Roland G-202; Right, a Roland G-707 MIDI guitar.
‘I decided to pursue guitar playing in the late ’70s, just when the first drum machines started to arrive on the scene. At the time the writing was on the wall for a lot of drummers. I saw one guy playing an organ with a rhythm unit in a box which to me sounded more like someone sneezing in time with the beat. The final straw came when a local, very good jazz drummer I knew said he couldn’t get work.
‘As the drum machines got better and better, I started to programme rhythm patterns for bands or solo artists and duos. It did almost make me redundant and throw away my sticks, but it made my three chords on the guitar even more important, so I started to take serious lessons, and I put myself on the market as a guitarist.
Oddball classic: Al’s vintage Vox Phantom VI Special with detail (above)
‘I landed a full-time job with the Vox Phantom playing in rock cover bands, including lots of Status Quo songs – which is a real test for the rhythm hand! You can easily play Quo songs badly, but to perform them authentically and accurately is a task in itself. Personally, I’m making a living playing guitar by keeping a lot of my principles in my back pocket, just bringing them out now and again to keep my real identity.
‘What I’ve learned over the years is that while we’re all very interested in our sound and feel we must have certain amps, certain pickups and boutique pedals, the general public really don’t give a damn – they just want a song with a good beat. I’ve had £300 pedals at times, and to me it’s a lot of money for a red light on the floor that doesn’t do much – but if you have a clean-sounding guitar then jump on a Tone Bender or a Fuzz Face, you’ll hear the change!’
Al’s work with programming early drum machines led him to some heavy experimentation with guitar synths. ‘At that time, around 1979, the player at the top of the tree for me, was Pat Metheny. He created wonderful sounds from a guitar synthesiser and he was one of the first guitarists to pioneer electronic guitar music.
‘Metheny used one of the early Roland GR-300 guitar synthesisers. I think the GR-300 was probably one of the first that had a really musical quality to it, and of course I had to have one. I was fascinated how I could change the sound of the guitar into something else, and I was made up in the ’80s when we could get these sounds onto a basic computer.
‘The natural-finish Roland guitar synth controller is a late ’70s G-202. There were several of these with varied specifications. At one stage I fitted a pair of high-output Dimarzio single-coils as the humbuckers didn’t seem that good when used without the floor synthesiser.
Left, a Casio MG-510; right, a Casio DG-20
‘Next to the G-202, the Roland G-707 is from the early ’80s, and the first one they built that entered the world of MIDI. It’s dated now of course, as electronics have moved on, although it would still be ideal for experimental sounds… or an acid house band, maybe!
‘Casio were also on the scene in the late ’80s with the MG-510 MIDI guitar, which came with a hexaphonic pickup system. It was good, but it did suffer from latency problems – in other words, the delay from the time you hit the strings to when the sound actually came out the amp. That did prove a problem sometimes when doing fast solo runs. I used this one for ages as a normal guitar, as it looked good in black.
‘I’ve also got a Casio DG-20 digital guitar from the mid-’80s. Even traditional MIDI guitar players would probably laugh their heads off at this one, but it was up for such a good price that I really had to have it! It has built-in rhythms and a ton of preset sounds; the strings are a kind of rubber, all the same gauge, and they don’t have to be tuned as there were sensors underneath the frets which triggered instant sounds without latency problems. It’s still a fun guitar.’
As you can tell, Al is a bit of a dab hand with guitar electronics. ‘I’m still fascinated by the hexaphonic pickup that can amplify and treat each string separately,’ he says. ‘ I love working with guitars and electronics… as soon as new software or plug-ins arrive on the scene, I need to try it out. I’m currently spending hours working with guitars and computers creating film scores and sample sounds for a local film company called Shark Bay Films based here in Cornwall.
Pink Squier Strat with Fishman Tripleplay system and a Roland ready Squier strat
‘For this kind of work the new Fishman Tripleplay system is light years ahead with the effects – and it’s wireless. I’ve installed the Tripleplay on my pink Fender Squier Strat, which is my main computer guitar at the moment. It works fine; as we know, in reality it’s just triggering the electronics, but it’s also a cool player.
‘This actual guitar was one of a huge shipment of pink Squier Bullet Strats that I heard Fender in Amsterdam were knocking out for £50 each about two years ago. It seems they had a massive surplus of the pink ones, so I went to see Andy Pascoe, who runs Modern Music in Truro, my nearest guitar shop, and said I needed a few for my guitar students. I was so impressed when they arrived that I kept one back for myself.
‘I picked up this white ’80s Squier Strat cheap in Birmingham, and I’ve fitted a Roland hexaphonic pickup system along with a Seymour Duncan high-output single coil at the bridge and middle position. It’s a bit of a Frankenstein guitar, but I use it mainly as a driver for my Roland VG88, which was part of their VG Series guitar systems from the late 1990s; these were MIDI-less and could be used live quite easily.’
Al brandishes his Hank-style ’87 Fender Strat Plus
A good deal on a guitar is always welcome, and Al often seems to manage to be in the right place at the right time. ‘Well, yes, that’s the story of most of the guitars in my collection,’ he admits. ‘All my guitars have more or less found me, rather having to trawl the internet or shops actually looking for a particular model. I have a few now that I want to keep pristine, while I’m happy to call upon any of the rest as working guitars for their various different sounds.
‘This fiesta red Series Strat Plus dates from 1987. I saw it on the wall of Modern Music, and when I talked to Andy Pascoe about it, he surely wasn’t happy! Apparently several months earlier a guy had ordered a pink Strat with all the trimmings, just like Hank Marvin’s, but he got it in the ribs from all his mates for having a pink guitar, so he took it back to the shop. As you’ve already seen, I love pink guitars, so we did an amazing deal. This Strat has been my number one gigging guitar for many years now, and I love the Lace Sensor pickups.
‘Several of my students start lessons with a borrowed guitar, and often they ask how much they should spend on their own guitar. Most of them are on a budget, and I’ve often recommended Squiers for value.
‘A prime example is this black Squier Telecaster, which cost just £90 on eBay. Some eBay purchases might need setting up a little here and there when they arrive, but that’s easily done; saying that, this one hasn’t needed to be touched… it plays great, sounds wonderful and stays in tune. Being a Wilko Johnson fan, I fitted a red scratchplate to it.’
Al continues with a tale that will have many guitar accumulators twitching with fear. ‘I’ve read several Private Collection features in Guitar & Bass where collectors have had to smooth over their partners when they get a new guitar – or indeed, even when the subject of how many guitars they own is raised,” he says. ‘Well… I dread to think what the story must be behind this next one!
Squier Tele with red scratchplate in tribute to Wilko
‘I was in my local guitar shop and asked if I could use the toilet. Now, as guitar spotters will know, the best place to find a dusty old relic is usually in a corridor out the back.
‘Sure enough, I found a box with a neck, body and rusty hardware inside, which turned out to be the remains of a Fender Mustang. I took it back in
the shop, and asked the story behind it. It would seem for some reason or another, after a big row on a wet, stormy night, the loving wife or partner of the owner in a fit of rage threw it off the cliffs of the St Mawes peninsular into the sea, here in Cornwall. The guy found it the next day washed back up on the rocks in pieces, just held together by the strings. He took it to the shop pleading for someone to rebuild it – but they never saw him again.
‘So here it is now, my reclaimed Mustang, looking pretty good refinished in white. You can still see some of the saltwater damage on the headstock. I’ve left this as a reminder to always be good to my own partner, the adorably wonderful Kc Johnson… more chocolates, darling?
‘Here’s another Strat Plus from the ’90s series, loaded with the same Lace Sensors as the pink one. I bought it from one of my guitar students, mainly as a backup for the ’80s one. I really like the way the tortoiseshell scratchplate evokes Buddy Guy.’
With all his experience, Al has a refreshingly lighthearted approach to the business of being on stage. ‘As long as I can make a guitar sound great, I really don’t mind what I play,’ he laughs. ‘My pink heart-shaped Daisy Rock guitar was built for girls, but so what – I love it!
‘A friend called me up saying he’d seen a guitar that was perfect for me and he sent it in a purple bag, bless him. It’s great. It’s got a short scale and it gives a pretty wide selection of sounds via a humbucker and a lipstick pickup. It did have a tuning problem, which was solved by tightening the neck bolts.
The refinished and repaired Fender Mustang and a 1990s Fender Strat Plus
‘This raises my point again about what people really remember at a gig. They don’t say how good the Joe Satriani solo was last night, it’s more like “Hey, you’re the one who played the pink heart guitar, wearing lime green shorts!” It’s all about entertainment, and I feel that if we can’t laugh at the same time, we’ve forgotten why we play guitar.’
Al also has a thing for an old classic or two. ‘I was in a shop in Falmouth in Cornwall in the late ’70s and saw this 1963 red Hofner Verithin semi-acoustic which took my breath away. I didn’t care if it played okay or how it sounded, I just loved how it looked, especially with the Bigsby, which I knew nothing about, but it became mine for £40. For authenticity, I’ve always fitted flatwound strings.
‘In complete contrast, I have three PRS guitars that I want to keep clean and tidy, – they’re more of an investment. The darker blue one is a 1997 with a 22-fret neck. I spotted in a shop that was about to close down, and it was up for a price that I couldn’t ignore. I’ve since customised it with a coil tap in the tone control, and wired the pickups out of phase in the middle position on the switch. I did reverse the bridge humbucker for effect, but my wiring guy turned it back around, saying I’d put it in the wrong way… but it was intentional, of course
Above, a Daisy Rock
‘Next to it is a 24-fret PRS dating from 2005. Again, finding this one was all about being in the right place at the right time. I was in a guitar shop when a guy walked in wanting to upgrade to a higher-spec PRS, and he had this one in the case. “Mint” is a broad statement really, as we’ve all seen guitars tagged “mint” when they’ve obviously been gigged, but this one is untouched and spotless. I’ve never played it either – I’m afraid if I do it’ll become my guitar and get all the usual scratches and dings. This is my “serious investment” guitar.
‘The last PRS is a three-year old black NF3 which I call my “leap of faith” guitar. This is more or less a new direction for me. It does nod its cap to a Stratocaster, with a bolt-on neck, five-way switch and three pickups, which are PRS’s Narrowfield design. It’s a beautiful guitar and I’m still experimenting with using it. With the volume backed off the pickups sound like single coils with superb clarity, while at full tilt it’s entering humbucker territory. This guitar is growing on me by the minute.
‘The Futurama III De Luxe is from 1963 – it was pulled out of a friend’s loft. From the same era and almost the same circumstances, this little Teisco Sakai Top Twenty guitar came from an old lady’s wardrobe. It seems her husband never used it. I’ve actually gigged with this one – it’s in good condition and it’s complete with the vibrato arm.
‘Another cool deal was this Gibson Les Paul Junior, with P100 pickups which give it that extra bite. I probably wouldn’t have been interested in this guitar, but a guy I knew was giving up and offered it at a real knockdown price. My son had it for a while, but now he’s upgraded I’ve nabbed it back. This is my reclaimed father’s guitar!
‘I do like a project or two, and I have several guitars that need renovating or are under construction. This headless Hohner G2 tremolo model is going to take a long time to get back to its original condition. The little Hofner HCT Shorty was designed as a travel guitar, and I’m setting it up as a slide guitar, which shouldn’t take long. Others ready for a makeover include a Strat-style Sumbro, which is extremely heavy and worth renovating. But this Satellite I feel just might be beyond hope. It’s starting to look like my sacrificial guitar… I just need the lighter fuel now!
Two PRS guitas, a 22-fret from 1997 and a 24-fret from 2005
‘Working with computer-created music, there are some wonderful bass guitar effects on hand, but I do have the need for the odd real-life bass. The Hofner Violin bass is one of the Contemporary Series ones, and I’ve fitted flatwound strings to it. It’s very light, a classic bass with a very personal sound, and it’s my tribute to the first ever bass player a lot of us bowed down to, Sir Paul.
‘My ’70s Gibson Grabber bass was also found in a backroom toilet of a guitar shop, resting against a damp wall, going green with mould. Apparently it was another “It’s me or the guitar!” story, but wasn’t thrown off a cliff this time… just more or less dumped in this shop. I’ve spent a very worthy £200 having it restored. This is a great bass, light, vibrant and loud, with a heavy and well-defined sound from the single sliding humbucker.
Al has a soft spot for an acoustic guitar too. ‘I needed an authentic classical guitar sound for a film score I was working on, and I had a hankering to try a real nylon-strung guitar. I was slightly out of my comfort zone staring at these on the wall in a guitar shop, when I overheard a lady who had brought this pristine little Yamaha G-235 in to trade. It certainly has the tone I need… I’m wondering if I should have grown my fingernails or not.
Top Twenty guitar and a 1963 Futurama III De Luxe
‘The Ashton 12-string was another music shop find. It had been bought by another guitar teacher who had spent time setting it up, so it was ready to go. I must say it’s performing exceptionally well right now.
‘I’d heard about the Vintage acoustics designed by Paul Brett, a fine fingerpicker. He has his own series of Vintage guitars, and this one is the VE8000PB with a rosewood body and solid spruce top, gold hardware and Fishman electrics. The spec sounded ideal for the odd occasion when I go to a folk event. I must say it’s exceptional value for the price, with a warm, sweet tone.
‘I had to do a lot of research for this next nylon-strung acoustic. I could just make out an address on a ripped label in the soundhole. Thanks to the internet I found out it’s a handmade Spanish guitar made by the A. Dotras Cordoba company in Barcelona during the late ’50s – they’re still producing guitars to this day. I did a straight swap with a lady who had it as a piece of furniture; I had a cheap, highly lacquered beginner’s acoustic which she said looked so much better, so we swapped.
As I’m primarily an electric guitar player, this one has taught me a lot about classical guitars. Oh, and next to it is an unnamed steel-strung acoustic which I found when clearing out a friend’s garage. After a little scrubbing up and fresh strings, I hit a big E minor chord and nearly fell off the chair, it’s so loud. It’s almost resonator-like… perfect for Delta blues.
‘I can take you deeper than that with this African instrument, which I can’t really find any information about. It has a single string for solo notes and an accompanying drone string. I’ve recorded it with some fabulous results using computer effects… there’s this wiry Jew’s harp sound happening.
Hofner Violin Bass and a ’70s Gibson Grabber Bass
‘Lastly I thought I’d include this, as what goes around comes around in my collection. The You Rock MIDI guitar by Inspired Instruments has been out a while, and I think it’s quite incredible. Unlike most MIDI guitars, has almost zero latency. The action is as low as could be, as the strings are actually simulated and stuck to the fingerboard.
String bends and vibratos can’t be done manually you do it via the toggle switch or vibrato arm. It does have limitations here and there but these are vastly outweighed by its capabilities, and it sounds wonderful. I think it’s the ultimate travel guitar, as the neck is removable. You just need headphones and play along to the backing tracks, or start recording if you have a laptop.
Vintage VE8000PB acoustic, an A Dotras classic and an anonymous acoustic
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‘I think now and again guitar players have to look at the whole scenario from the other side of the fence, where people are not players but listen to music. After all, guitars are just bits of wood with strings, and for us to be able to make sounds that we all love and transmit them through these wonderful instruments is a real celebration of the human spirit.’