1962 ‘MC5′ Epiphone Olympic

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They say you should never meet your heroes… and that’s because it’s usually TERRIFYING!

Tim’s post on the beautiful Epiphone Crestwood got me thinking about my own vintage Epiphone. Back in 2004, I was playing bass for a Brisbane band called The Tremors (which I think I mentioned in a previous post)… and we were playing Splendour In The Grass, which is a festival held at a massive caravan park in Byron Bay every year. This year one of the headliners were DKT/MC5 (MC5 with Deniz Tek from Radio Birdman, Mark Arm from Mudhoney, Evan Dando from the Lemonheads and Tex Perkins from Beasts Of Bourbon)… To say I was excited was an understatement. This was gonna be frikken’ FUN!

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I’d recently traded a japanese Mosrite at Tym Guitars for a fantastic 1962 Epiphone Olympic. This is the early slab body model, with no rib contour. It’s a beautiful, simple guitar… one piece Hondurus mahogany body that is as light as a feather, a great neck with a brazilian rosewood fretboard and an amazingly gorgeous finish.


Not my guitar, but what it looked like before the mods… the following 2 pics are my Olympic, though.

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So I thought… MC5… Fred Smith & Deniz Tek (the premier ambassadors for the Epiphone batwing guitars… actually, the SAME Epiphone.) I’m going to bring it to the gig and see if they sign it. Usually I’m pretty shy around rock stars, but I thought bugger it, I’d NEVER get this opportunity again so what the hell.

We arrived to the gig and I was amazed at the backstage area that Splendour put on. Leather couches… cafe bar… beers… CLEAN TOILETS. If this is what rock stars get treated like… sign me up. I sat around backstage, nervously sipping beers and getting ready for our set. We walked on stage to set up and the tent was PACKED. I think there were about 3,000 people there. I kept my head down, played my parts and was pleased that I didn’t screw up. It was really fun, surreal and quite bizzare.

After the gig I spent the day side stage watching the other acts (Franz Ferdinand, Spiderbait) and waited for MC5 to arrive. One by one they drifted to their waiting room/caravan… Evan Dando looked pretty out of it already. He spent the whole afternoon strumming a beat up old acoustic guitar, oblivious to everyone around him.

MC5 got on stage and ripped it up. I was side stage from Deniz Tek and he looked cool as shit with his beat up Crestwood. It felt pretty amazing watching Deniz play those MC5 songs on the guitar that was playing those same songs 30+ years ago. Wayne Kramer looked dangerous. He was all business and it was great seeing him play a Strat. It wasn’t painted like the American flag, but you can’t have everything…

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Mark Arm was kick ass, leaning into the mike stand and spitting the lyrics at the crowd. Tex Perkins was also great, bringing his Beasts Of Bourbon skills to the show. Evan Dando, on the other hand, was pretty shit. His laid back, Lemonheads style was not dangerous enough for the marterial. I have no idea what or why he was on the tour for. I know actors can be slightly mis-cast in a movie, but this was like PeeWee Herman being cast as Wolverine.

After they got off stage and everyone was pretty pumped. The beers were flowing and it was pretty awesome chatting to these legends. After a few more beers I remembered ‘Shit. My Epiphone’ so I ran to our change room and grabbed it. One by one I went around the band and meekly asked “Umm… do ya reckon you could sign my Epiphone?” Mark Arm signed it first and was really nice (and really tall)… Evan Dando didn’t say anything and signed it in TINY lettering, asked me for a guitar pick and then went back to calmly strumming his guitar. Michael Davis signed it next and was also really nice. Wayne Kramer was busily towling himself after the gig and said ‘…later.’ He’s a pretty intense guy. I said ‘no worries’… and backed away slowly.

Later on I spied Tex Perkins chatting to Geoff from The Tremors and grabbed my guitar again. Tex signed it, then remarked what a cool looking guitar it was. Sitting next to him was Wayne Kramer who grabbed it off Tex and signed ‘This Tool Kills Hate – Wayne Kramer’ then handed it to me. I was pretty stoked. (I hope he was referring to the guitar being a tool and not me, though…)

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This is me… stoked.

Finally I got MC5′s drummer Dennis Thompson to sign it and then Deniz Tek. Deniz was hidden away in the change room on his laptop, so I felt bad bothering him but he was really happy to see an old Epiphone batwing. He signed it and then strummed the guitar. Deniz remarked “This has got one of the good necks…” then explained to me that these early Epiphone’s neck shapes varied from guitar to guitar, some are logs and some like mine fit like a glove. I noticed while Deniz lightly strummed it that some of the signatures were getting a little smudged. How do you tell Deniz Tek to stop playing your guitar? That’s right… you don’t!

Mission accomplished! I then chatted with Mick Harvey from the Bad Seeds/Birthday Party who was playing with PJ Harvey that night and he loved my newly signed axe. I thought ‘what the hell’ and asked him to sign it as well. He was in the Birthday Party, the most twisted band ever to erupt from Australia.

We were then joined by PJ’s guitarist, Josh Klinghoffer. His eyes bugged when he saw my Epiphone and asked if I wanted to sell it. I said “Nope, sorry dude.” Then he asked if he could play it on stage, as PJ’s set was about to start. I felt like a bastard but I said “Sorry Josh. I just spent 2 hours getting this thing signed.” If Deniz playing it for 2 minutes rubbed some of the signatures, what was it gonna look like after an hour onstage? Josh looked a little disappointed and I felt like an idiot, but I’m a guitar nerd first…

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When I got back to Brisbane I straight away brought the guitar back to Tym’s and asked him to cut a new scratchplate, as I couldn’t play the guitar anymore with all these rock star scrawls on it. I also asked him to see if he could cram a mini Firebird pickup in there, as the routing looked like it was big enough. After a little experimentation, Tim found that if you flattened the bent screw posts on the sides of the pickup, it fits perfectly. The pickup sits DIRECTLY on the guitar… there’s no room for any height adjustment.

Tim picked a scratchplate colour that matched my original faded plate and the guitar was done. I’m so glad I put the Firebird pickup in… it transformed the guitar. From a weak sounding, twang machine it turned it into a Radio Birdman rock machine. It sounds really tight, with bottom end but clarity as well. I love it.

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After all that work I decided not to get signatures off rock stars again as it’s too frikken’ stressful. I spent the whole night chasing autographs instead of enjoying myself. So now if I play on the same bill as an awesome band (New York Dolls, Cosmic Psychos, Beasts Of Bourbon, Hot Snakes) I just grab their setlist. It’s a lot easier.

Thanks to The Barman for the MC5 pics.

Oh, and if anyone has an original Epiphone Maestro tremolo (the upside down horse shoe ones with Rosewood insert, like what’s on Tym’s Crestwood) that they want to sell, let me know. My Epi had one but it was taken off before I bought it.

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