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)

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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.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.


It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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