The King of Dieselbilly Talks Tele!

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Issue 191 May 23, 2013

Titan of the Tele: Bill Kirchen explains why he flips his control plate backwards, and shows how he got the famous sounds he recorded on Hot Rod Lincoln.

About the guitar in this video: Dan’s baritone Tele is a custom body of catalpa wood that’s light like swamp ash, with a Bajo Sexto neck made by Fred Stuart at the Fender Custom Shop. Bill played it at the Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch, loved it, and talked Dan into selling it. Bill’s pine guitar was built by Rick Kelly of Carmine Street Guitars in New York City.

In this Trade Secrets video:
  • How and why Bill Kirchen turns his Tele controls backwards.
  • Demo: how Bill uses volume and tone swells
  • Demo: Tele Chicken-Pickin'!

Video Transcription

[on-screen text reads: Dan Erlewine - Stewart-MacDonald]

Dan Erlewine: Here is my friend Bill Kirchen, my buddy from Ann Arbor, Michigan, way back in-

Bill Kirchen: 1960.

Dan Erlewine: And that's 53 years, Bill. We both played in bands back in those days. I played in the Prime Movers blues band and Bill was the founding member of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. You might know him as Mr. Hot Rod Lincoln. Bill was coming through Athens a couple years ago and he bought my old baritone Tele off me, and he's taking that on the road now. And the first thing he did was take off the controls and switch them around backwards like he always does. And he's going to tell us why today. And the cool thing is this guitar is on the back of his new record album, so I'm going to be famous. To be clear, this is a regular Tele set-up, with the switch up in front, volume and tone. And Bill's going to show us about how he turns it around the other direction and show us on this pine-bodied Tele that I think started the craze for pine bodies. This is a StewMac body.

Turning the Tele controls backwards

Bill Kirchen: All right. I wanted to have the volume knob as far forward as possible on the Tele to do volume swells. And mostly I was trying to emulate what steel guitar players did with their volume pedal. So to do that you switch the whole tone plate around. I did this way back in about 1969 on the first Tele I ever got, and I did it almost as soon as I got the guitar. You flip the tone plate, the whole control plate, around and then you also have to exchange the volume and tone so the volume remains farthest forward. And you also have to flip the three-way switch around in the plate so it's still intuitive, so you still have the bridge, both pickups and the neck pickup in their normal positions.

How Bill uses volume and tone swells

I never really ended up doing a whole lot of pedal steel licks, but I do like to do stuff like Don Helms or Jerry Byrd did on the Hank Williams records when you're doing [Bill starts playing his elecric guitar].

[on-screen text reads: Improve response with CTS Pots - CTS Control Pots from StewMac]

Do a fork or [guitar music]... Just bluesy bends if you're playing around on your [guitar music], if you want to miss the attack [guitar music]. I also use the tone knob sometimes [guitar music]. It's a wawa. That's all a wawa pedal is. I think that a wawa's just a tone knob.

I'm Hot Rod Lincoln. Before I started doing all the guitar imitations, I started out doing a bunch of different car horns. The caddy pulled over and let me by in the original recording and there's a [guitar music]...

Then pretty soon you're doing semi-truck horns and most important, the Edmund Fitzgerald. Dan's a Michigan boy. He knows of where I speak when I mention the Edmund Fitzgerald. There you go.

Tele chicken pickin'

Too bad you can't do a whole show on chicken picking [guitar music]. There's that and there's [guitar music], then there's [guitar music].

Bill's all pine Tele

Dan Erlewine: I love the sound of this Tele [on-screen text reads: Get a premium Tele sound - Premium Wiring Kit for Telecaster], man, and I've played a bunch of your tellies over the years. This is all pine.

Bill Kirchen: All Pine. Pine neck, no truss rod, pine body.

Dan Erlewine: And who built it?

Bill Kirchen: Rick Kelly at Carmine Street Guitars in New York. I was working, opening solo with my Tele, with my old coal burner for Nick Lowe at the City Winery. And I was wandering around New York, and just a few blocks away was Carmine Street Guitars on Carmine Street. And there was Rick Kelly and we recognized each other because we both had articles in Fretboard Journal. I played one of his pine tellies and I had to have one.

So this is a Bowery pine. And he's been taking buildings that have been rehabbed on the Lower East side, especially in the Bowery, and he'll harvest the pine and reuse it to make instruments out of. And this is actually from Jim Jarmusch's loft, the filmmaker. So the wood's 150 years old, it came down the Hudson from the Adirondacks to build New York City back in the day. And now it's a Telecaster.

Dan Erlewine: Do you care if I lift that plate-

Bill Kirchen: I'll take it off.

Dan Erlewine: ... and just I'll check out what kind of-?

Bill Kirchen: I have no idea what's in there. I don't know. They ask me about the caps and-?

Dan Erlewine: What's that?

Bill Kirchen: A dust cap for the pot to keep it clean.

Dan Erlewine: I've never seen one of those.

[on-screen text reads: Upgrade to high quality caps - Orange Drop Caps at StewMac]

Bill Kirchen: That's cool. Huh?

Dan Erlewine: Are you particular about the caps or parts that go into your guitar or-?

Bill Kirchen: Oh, Dan, I don't know. Whatever they tell me I put in there. I don't know anything about that stuff. I know it's got pots and caps. Other than that I'm clueless. How do you like that action, Dan?

Dan Erlewine: I like it. Why you think it's too high?

Bill Kirchen: No, I just wondered. I like it fine.

Dan Erlewine: I love that this is-

Bill Kirchen: It's got some sound, doesn't it?

Dan Erlewine: Nothing but wood. Oh, man.

Bill Kirchen: All wood all day long. No truss rod.

Dan Erlewine: [Dan starts playing Bill's Tele and singing, "she's about a mover, hey, hey."]

Bill Kirchen: Nice. Sir Dan.



Bill Kirchen

American Guitarist, Singer and Songwriter

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