Tony Oreshko jazz and gypsy jazz guitar

Tony Oreshko - Guitars and Equipment

Quite a few people ask me about the guitars and amplifiers that I use for live gigs, so for those of you that are interested here's a run-down on my equipment.

Gypsy Jazz Guitar

When playing Django Reinhardt style gigs my main instrument is a Gypsy Jazz Guitar handmade by Doug Kyle. Doug is a wonderful luthier who specialises in building Selmer style guitars, and I'm fortunate in that he's also based in Devon, England, only about an hours' drive away from where I live. He is also a very capable double bass player, so we sometimes gig together.

I got my Kyle Gypsy Jazz Guitar about 10 years ago, and the instrument has seen considerable action in this time - I'd guess at well over a thousand gigs by now. The guitar is a standard model, aside from having asked Doug to give it some extra frets which allow me to play as high as the E two octaves up from the open top string. Most classical guitars stop at B (19th fret), and even electric guitars often run out of notes at C# or D (21st/22nd fret), so this 24 fret instrument seems to go on forever.

Please feel free to get in touch with me if you want Doug's contact details.

Amplifying the Kyle Gypsy Jazz Guitar

The Kyle has a Bigtone bug in it, and I used to amplify it using a Trace Elliot TA100R amplifier. I'd then take a line out of the back of the Trace and feed it into a PA in order to better disperse and project the sound. I found that the sound of the guitar through the Trace alone sounded very compressed, and was actually very hard to play with, so I'd always put it through a PA as the resulting sound was a lot easier to work with.

I sold the Trace Elliot lastyear and bought an AER instead. Now many people swear by AER amps but I found the results a bit disappointing for acoustic guitars: I thought it produced a rather 'processed' sound with the Kyle, and has been pretty disastrous with all the electric classical guitars I tried through it.

After lots of experimentation and frustration, Jim Crawford, a friend of mine who is a fantastic blues vocalist and guitarist with incredible ears, suggested that I invest in a Behringer Acoustic Modeller. I was a bit dubious about this inexpensive bit of equipment which basically acts as a preamp for my acoustic guitar. However, when I plugged it into the PA (a Yamaha EMX88S), I have to say the sound was by far the best I've ever achieved on acoustic guitar without a microphone. For less than a tenth of the price of the AER the sound produced by the Behringer through the PA is far more natural, and I've used it ever since.

Microphones

Occasionally I'll use a microphone for the guitar on live gigs - an AKG C1000 - but even though the sound quality is better with a mic the practical difficulties generally make it more trouble than it's worth, especially when there's little or no time for a sound check (as is too often the case), or if the audience is a bit noisy.

However, when it comes to studio recordings I'll always use microphones exclusively to try and capture the natural acoustic sound of the instrument. For recordings in front of live audiences the sound is always a compromise as the microphone signal alone is never meaty enough, so I have to use a combination of microphone and transducer.

Picks and Strings

As well as the guitar and amp, an important element of the sound is the plectrum. I used to use floppy little plastic picks, which are fine for electric guitar, but on acoustic guitar they sound just like what they are - floppy bits of plastic. Instead I now use thick, heavy picks handmade from a piece of horn. These give a much fatter tone, and because they are so rigid they allow you to really drive the instrument. As for strings, I use a set of Argentine .011 gauge but then replace the top E with a heavier .012 as it seems to improve the tone on this string.

Electric Guitars

Gibson

As well as the Django Reinhardt style thing, I also play some more modern jazz gigs, and occasionally still do gigs playing other styles of music, too. For these I mainly use a thin-bodied semi-acoustic Gibson ES347TD, which is basically a deluxe version of the famous ES335, with its "Mickey Mouse ears".

It's a lovely, sleek, black guitar that weighs a ton because of the lump of maple inside it to increase its sustain. It also differs from the 335 in having a coil tap switch and gold plated pickups and other hardware. I bought the guitar brand new in about 1991, and have built up considerable right arm muscle mass in carrying it around over the years.

Fender Stratocaster

I also have an old Fender Strat. It's an interesting instrument - the serial number dates it to about 1972-3, but its authenticity has been diminished somewhat because of a custom paint job carried out by a previous owner. It also has an OBL humbucking pickup replacing the original single coil pickup by the bridge. The guitar sounds great, but needs a little bit of cosmetic attention to restore it to its full former glory.

Electric Guitar Amps

Mesa Boogie

I have a couple of amps for use with the Gibson and Fender. First of all there's a Mesa Boogie Mark III Simul-Class, which is an absolutely fantastic bit of equipment. However, I hardly ever use it on gigs nowadays, simply because it's so heavy to carry - I swear its innards are made of dark matter. This amplifier has a wonderful range of sounds, from screaming death metal to mellow jazz. You can use different valves (EL34 or 6L6) to recreate the classic Marshall or Fender sounds, and even mix them by using two of each. The amp is unbelievably loud, and also built like a tank - but just so heavy to have to carry around night after night.

Peterson

The amp that I use regularly on gigs with the electric guitars is a Peterson 75w combo in a nice, mahogany cabinet. I bought it for a bargain price from gypsy jazz guitarist Ian Cruickshank when we were doing some little tours together a few years ago, and have since had my money's worth from it many times over. It's quite light to carry, and has a lovely, mellow jazz sound with the Gibson. However, this rather tame-looking amplifier can also produce a really searing lead sound with the Fender strat.

AER

I've written about my disappointment with the AER for acoustic guitars. However, it does sound pretty good used with the Gibson semi at low volume. But introduce a slightly over-zealous drummer into the equation and the amplifier struggles to produce enough volume. I therefore tend to use the Peterson for any mainstream and modern jazz gigs with drummers who don't use brushes all night.

Classical Guitar

My main classical guitar at the moment is a Takamine electric classical. I've hardly used it on gigs after my initial upset when playing it through the AER. The sound was pretty atrocious! The guitar is fine - it's just that the AER is completely unsuited for use with classical guitars. Until the amplified sound gets sorted out the classical guitar will be staying indoors!

Finally I have a rather jaded Kimbara electric classical guitar that has been a constant companion since about 1986. It's a fairly inexpensive guitar that would benefit from a re-fret, a new nut and saddle and a new set of strings, but it's so easy to pick up and play that this is the instrument I automatically reach for when at home.

Tony Oreshko





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