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Surf Lesson Pt. 2

Posted: December 5, 2010 by Mike in Cool story bro..., DIY, John Fuckin Denver

Yes, I know, missed last week. Was in Disneyland and forgot to have something already prepared for you guys… other than the script to go with Doors At 8. Anyways, let’s get into the next part of our little lesson, dudes.

Okay, you got your radical surf guitar, its set up to catch some sweet sound waves, excellent, now what? Well, you need an amp to go with it, of course. So let’s look at some amps, shall we?

First thing’s first, while you can basically make any rig work with the right set up; for a truely GOOD surf sound, you need an  all-tube amp with some personality. And by that I mean, don’t waste your time on a Marshall like every other asshole (sounds generic and shitty) or a Peavy (sounds like a Marshall that got thrown down a flight of stairs… several times). I’m not saying you can’t pair a Vox head unit with a Marshall cab, just don’t break out the Marshall head unit cuz its full of fail and disappointment.

Speaking of Vox, have you checked out the AC series lately? Like the AC30? Well you should, cuz these amps have the right personality. Super bright, chimey cleans, and with the right amount of gain and tweaking, you can get a real dirty garage rock grit sound without sounding like you’re just cranking distortion like a punk rocker or a metalhead. If you’re wondering just how well Vox goes with surf music, take a look at the Shadows:

Pretty rad, huh? But maybe that’s not the direction you wanna go. Maybe you want something with a bit more bite, or you just wanna match your Fender guitar “properly”. Well good news, Fender has been making tube amps since they first started, how convenient! But be wary, surf consumers, Fender offers a LOT of variety that’s geared towards all sorts of genres. So basically if it has the words “blues” in it, there’s a good chance you should NOT be going with that amp. Unless that’s really the sound you’re going for, because you’re trying to stand out from other surf musicians.

1976 Silverfaced Twin Reverb. Silverfaced (70's) Fender amps can be had for under a thousand if you look hard. Or you can buy a brand new Re-Issue blackfaced (60's) series

In any case, the biggest, baddest, most iconic surf amp is of course the Fender Twin Reverb. Mondo huge and wicked heavy (all tube amps of reasonable size are beserk heavy, but the Twin Reverb is just a fucking tank), the Twin Reverb will belt out some harsh sounds and give you a real sweet surfer sound. This is definitely an amp to keep your eyes out for. But maybe you don’t want to go as big as the Twin. There’s also the Princeton Reverb and the ever-so lovely Deluxe Reverb, both really fantastic and smaller in size but not in quality amps.

There are a ton more amps to look at, but all the amps I named have one major factor in common and it is seriously THE most important feature your amp needs for a GOOD surf sound: REVERB! Reverb is that springy, “wet” echoey sound you easily recognize when you blast most surf music. Yes, very early Dick Dale didn’t use reverb, but soon as that came out, it can be heard on just about every recording he did. Dick Dale is one of the pioneers and considered the father of the surf sound. He’s called the “king of surf” for a reason.

Granted, you can go out and just BUY a reverb pedal, but seriously? A cheap digital reverb versus a REAL spring reverb? Sounds like garbage by comparison. When trying out amps, make sure it comes with a real reverb, not a digital effect reverb.

But as for pedals go, a good fuzz pedal (Big Muff) is a nice addition, or even a

A new Big Muff is relatively cheap, well under $100 at a Guitar Center

 vibrato pedal. Some amps like the Vox already come with a vibrato channel, but if your amp of choice doesn’t, maybe a vibrato pedal would be a good pairing for your set up. What vibrato does is basically create a different kind of echo, a more warped specifically channeled and with control of how fast it ricochets the echo.

So let’s review! What you need for a good “surf sound”:

-Solid body electric guitar with single coils

– All-tube amp

-Spring Reverb

-A variation of fuzz, vibrato, and maybe even a bit of delay

Of course you need to combine these things with actual surf style guitar for the full effect, but that was obviously the plan if you’re reading this as a how-to guide to go for the sound to match the style. And that concludes our two-part surf lesson.



Alright kiddies, everyone seems to have their own idea of getting that sweet surf sound, but I’m gonna write what I believe is the CORRECT approach to riding the glass, mannnn.

While some people can make a guitar with a humbucker work in their favor, I am personally 100% against humbuckers. They’re too thick, and much too clean and sparkly. For a good gritty surf sound, you need a single-coil. I personally prefer those single coils to be Fender single coils.

While we’re on Fender single-coils, lets talk about what is considered by many to be THE company for surf guitars, Fender. Fender is legendary for that snap-twang sound it’s guitars make, and that Fender twang goes fantastic with a good surf sound, over Gibson’s glossy jazzier tones. Fender guitars have enough twang that even if you get one with a humbucker in it, the twang will still come through (IE James from Ba Babes with his Fender Fat Strat), so something to consider if you just HAVE to have a humbucker.

But which Fender is the right Fender to get the job done? Really it’s personal preference, but I find Telecasters to be a bit to country for surf. Stratocasters are one of the most common choices, and any surf fan knows Dick Dale is one of the most legendary Strat players alive today. Personally, I’m rather picky when it comes to Stratocasters. I think a majority of the modern ones sound too generic and bland, with very few exceptions. But even Fender boasts, there’s a Strat out there for everybody, so if you wanna go this route, take your time, and try them all!

Of course, nothing beats the sound of a vintage Fender. The buzzing single coil pick-ups from a time period before fruity noiseless pickups was even a concept, and a roar that you really just can’t get from a modern guitar. “Hey Ivan, not everyone’s got that kind of money! Aren’t vintage Strats like more than a car?!” They sure are. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking of dipping into some budget vintage: The Mustang Family

The Mustang family is relatively cheap and accessible, with a real surfy look.  This consists of the Mustang (derp), the Musicmaster (I and II), the Duo-Sonic (I and II), and the Bronco (not the truck). I, myself, am the proud owner of a 1965 Fender Musicmaster II that was modified to be a Duo-Sonic (MM only has one pickup, DS has two, hence the name Duo), that I bought from a guitar show for $544. It’s rather rough looking, and I had to throw out the pickup that was added because the hippy who did the job originally must have been tripping on LSD and fucked it up. The body kinda looks like it fell in a bonfire at Woodstock. But hey, man, this thing is VICIOUS! What a snarling grizzly bite! This guitar doesn’t do clean, ever. It’s a mean mother fucking junkyard dog and it knows it. And this wasn’t just me getting lucky, the whole family is relatively cheap. Why spend $1000 on a generic Fender American Strat (boooorinnnggg), when you can pick up a real vintage Fender for around the same price? I see them all the time in Guitar Centers for stupid cheap. And they’re absolutely worth every penny.

Finally, there’s the ultimate surf guitars. The twins themselves, the Fender Jaguar and Jazzmaster. Let’s talk about the latter, since I’m sure you’re confused by the name. Long story short, aimed at jazz musicians who were still rocking big jazz box hollowbody guitars, but they fucking hated it. But before Fender could eliminate the line, surf guitarists fell in love with the big goofy shaped guitar. It had a gentle mellow sound eminating from the soap bar single coil pickups that came out like a nice easy wave on a breezy summer day at the beach. Then came the Jaguar, a similar shaped guitar wth about a hundred million switches and toggles, chrome plate pieces, and specially designed single coils that had the sharpest, brightest, twangiest yap you’d ever hear. While vintage ones will cost you a pint of blood and your soul, you can easily obtain either model in either the “’62 Vintage Re-Issue” editions (made in the USA), which are fairly expensive brand new, but not as bad if you find a nicely set up used one like I did. And then there’s the Mexican series. I have not sat with a Mexican Jaguar (aside from the atrocity that is the HH model), but I did sit with a Mexican Jazzmaster. Let me tell you, thing had the creamiest, mellowist tones I have ever heard. The neck on these guitars are so smooth, you can surf straight down the fret board with ease. The fret spacing is fantastic too. So don’t knock it for being Mexican.

I’d talk about my ’62 RI Jaguar, but I could spend a whole article (which I just might) on the damn thing. It’s fucking AWESOME and totally SURFTASTIC!

Anyways, that’s it for tonight. Next week, little surfers, we’ll get into the right amps and effects to pair your surf guitar with! GNARLLLLYYYY!

Prime Example of Fender Jaguars In Surf Music


Jersey Surf Destroyers

Posted: November 14, 2010 by Mike in John Fuckin Denver

Here it is, as promised, Surf Sundays With Ivan proudly presents my review for Jersey trash rockers, Ba Babes, and their first-released EP


Let’s start by talking a little about who Ba Babes is and where they came from. Prior to this band, James and Mike had another surf/garage act called Nomad Chromski (, aka the “one-show wonders” as they blew away everyone’s minds with their one and only show, and then immediatly broke up, despite the jump to popularity and demand for more shows. Then they fell off the map completely for 3 solid years… until now.

Out from the ashes of the lo-fi rockers rose a new band, pushing in a different direction. Ba Babes was born in a fit of fury with the brittle existing surf rock scene, and taking  a stab at wannabe surf rockers by hitting with an album titled “Hate The Beach”, a more mature-sounding step up from their last incarnation.

“Hate The Beach” is full of dirt, grit, and straight up hard-driving surf/garage riffs and pounding drum beats. It’s a clear demonstration of just how far these two young men have come as musicians, definitely having vastly improved their skills in the last 3 years, making the wait for them to give us something like this well-worth it.

What I like most about this album, besides the very catchy tunes, is how the band Ba Babes, while most definitely a surf/garage band, plays their own take of the genre and redefines it. All the elements are there (cranked reverb, Fender twang, tube amp vulgarity, snare drum snapping), but they don’t just go and play conventional surf, they completely throw out the conventions and just blast away viciously, hence the title “Hate The Beach”

This is a totally solid album from a great upcoming band that will hopefully stick around for a good while. Because we need bands like Ba Babes to show everyone surf still has a place in music.

You can get it for free by following a link on their myspace at

James on Guitar


Let’s discuss one of my all time favorite genres of music, one I am very passionate about. Surf music! Well I could give you a long drawn-out history lesson on surf music, but I’ll start with the quick version and move on from there to talk about where it is today. The year was 1961, and instrumental

Link Wray, instrumental rock extaordinaire, inspiration for the surf boom, still covered by surf bands today.

rock had already gained popularity thanks to guys like Link Wray. Along comes a young man with a Fender Stratocaster by the name of Dick Dale and he just changed everything with his idea of music “replicating the motion of surfing”. Things take off, everyone’s surfin, surfin USA. Shit dies by the early 70’s. Have a few revivals here and there, then skip to today.

Today, playing surf music (outside of surf central, Southern California), is basically unheard of. Especially if you’re from Jersey, like me. And when you do come across a true surf act, not some assholes saying they’re surf but clearly aren’t (you’ll be amazed by how many of those are out there), its almost always crusty old guys who were around to ride the first wave.

It’s funny, because when I get up and play surf songs, there’s still a great interest in the music and people respond greatly to it. So why doesn’t anyway my age (20’s) get out there and actually form more surf/trash rock bands? If I wasn’t on the wrong side of the country, grinding through film school, I’d have my own trash rock band already. All I got to do before leaving Jersey was a couple of solo surf sets on my Fender Jaguar. Which rocked, but hey, I wanna get a full band going, inspire a few more people to take up the almost dead genre.

There will always be guys out there still doing it, like Man or Astroman?, or even one of my favorites, The Phantom Surfers, but surf in the local music scene is almost completely gone.  Probably why I get ridiculously excited when guys like Ba Babes (former members of the one-show wonder Nomad Chromski) come out of the wood work and really rock shit. Glad someone my age beat me to it, hopefully they stick around.

You can check them out and get their EP that I’ll review next time over at Definitely one of the best lash outs against letting surf/garage music die out.

The Phantom Surfers! Making surf music SEXY!