Travis Bean, 1947-2011; members of Sonic Youth, Earth & Sunn O))) speak about the legend

Travis Bean, 1947-2011; members of Sonic Youth, Earth & Sunn O))) speak about the legend (photo)

Posted by on

On Oct. 21, 1974, Californian Clifford Travis Bean filed a U.S. patent with the intention of making a guitar from “extruded aluminum.” His goal, read the patent, was to create an instrument that resulted in “stable and versatile tones.” Nearly four decades later, it’s safe to say that Bean, who died last Friday at the age of 63, was successful in his stated aims.

In the five years following his filed patent, Bean produced some 3,600 instruments that are not only by and large still in use today but also still influencing new generations of guitar makers and players. His heavy, unmistakable aluminum-necked guitars have an unwavering reputation for tone, sustain and musical flexibility. Though they’re most popular now at the intersection of heavy metal and indie rock, they’ve been used over the years by The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Thin Lizzy and jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan.

Earlier this week, I asked one longtime Bean adherent, Earth’s Dylan Carlson, about those guitars and their maker. “Travis was a metallurgical and woody alchemist and visionary of the highest order,” he replied. “He and the instruments he constructed were beautiful examples of form and function united in beautiful proportion, without gimmicks, doodads, falderal and ugly bling. A revered name in instrument building, deserving of wider recognition–may he play forever in the fields of the blessed.”

Below, watch five examples of Bean guitars being put to perfect use.

1: Sonic Youth, “Becuz”

During the last three decades, it’s often seemed that Sonic Youth was exploiting an arsenal of equipment onstage and in the studio–dozens of guitars and pedals and cables and amps, all seemingly interchangeable. But Lee Ranaldo is a longtime fan of Travis Bean guitars; he plays one of them in this incendiary live take on “Becuz.” He owns four, and he says that he not only admires the way they sound but also their historical links.

“It didn’t hurt that a player I very much admired–Jerry Garcia–played them for awhile, either,” he told me after Bean’s death. “I was (and still am) fixated on the Wide-Range Humbucker pickups that Fender used in their Tele Deluxes circa 1970, and those were–and still are–the pickups of choice for me. I put them in all my guitars. The Travis pickups not only look similar but sound remarkably the same. I’m not sure if he modeled them on Fender’s or not, but they sure sound the same. In any case, they sound great to my ears, immediately providing the tone that I like.”

2: Shellac, “Prayer to God”

This is a brutal crowd recording of any already brutal Shellac track, where the drums blow out the microphone constantly and the bass is but a muddy bludgeon. Those conditions only serve to emphasize how crisp and perfect Steve Albini’s Travis Bean guitar sounds breaking through all of the mess. Albini is a dude that’s happy to get on a loud-mouth soapbox. But he doesn’t need to proselytize about this guitar. He only needs to play.

3: Sunn O))), Live video and interview

The forthcoming documentary about Travis Bean guitars is called Sustain. There’s perhaps no better band to illustrate that facet of these metal-neck beasts than Sunn O))), the robe-wearing, fog-shrouded drone metal band that’s taken big riffs to bigger places during the last decade. Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley aren’t strict Bean adherents, but, as this video shows, the Bean does grim really well.

“Best guitars I ever played,” O’Malley recently told me. “The sustain is much more pronounced and to put it mildly incredible. The tone is closer to a piano or even classical harp, with a metal soundboard. The pickups are wound around half a volt higher than a Les Paul, for example, yet despite this I find them incredibly versatile as far as sound.

“There’s much less equipment needed with a Bean and a great tube amp,” he continued “I didn’t play another guitar for around five years until O))) did a tour as a duo in 2009, where I picked up my Les Paul Custom silverburst. Night and day. The grappling physicality I became used to with my first Bean would have cracked the LP in half. After that experience, I realized how different, mature, advanced the Bean’s intent was.”

4: The Jesus Lizard, “Mouth Breather”

Duane Denison doesn’t play his sea foam Travis Bean guitar on tour too much anymore, likely because these guitars were, well, extremely heavy. But as you can hear in this old live recording, Beans–known for their sustain, sure–were capable of agility, too. “Mouth Breather” is nothing if not shifty and swiveling. Denison’s guitar allows it to be menacing, too.

5: Public Image Ltd, “Graveyard” & “Low Life”

Keith Levene was the oft-imitated if under-acclaimed guitarist during one of Public Image Ltd.’s most crucial periods. In the first half of this video, notice the way his Bean pierces through the bass plod and John Lydon’s paroxysm. His line is simple, but his sound seems so sophisticated. That’s the Bean at work.

Have you ever played a Travis Bean guitar? Tell us about it.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

Posted by on

Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.