An Interview with Chris Duarte at the Gothic Theater
Denver, Colorado, February 23, 2002

 

 

 

I was working on a story about all of the different Chris Duarte Group drummers and went through the archives looking for photos, going as far back as 1991. As I was going through them all, I suddenly became aware of all these different guitars that Chris was playing over the years. Some I was familiar with and others I had never seen before. I pulled photos of these guitars and organized them chronologically. When the band played Denver in February of 2002, I sat down with Chris just before the soundcheck and asked him to talk about all these guitars he's played...

(photo by Mike Tomaskovic)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well Chris, here's the first picture. Oh boy, I remember that photo! Look how young I was. You got your this 1963 Fender Stratocaster, L14261, when you were 16? Yeah, exactly. But it wasn't my first guitar. My first guitar was a Takamine, model #F-140, that my mom got me for my 15th birthday. That's the one I learned to play on. I bought the Fender Strat the next year when I was 16. I got it in San Antonio from a musician named Hugo, Hugo, I can't remember his last name, but he worked there. He had it and it was in mint condition. All of the original parts were in the original tweed case, but I had to put it all together, it was totally apart! But it was a '63! How much did you pay for it? I paid $500 for it. That was in 1979 when I bought it. How many guitars did you have by the time you started the Chris Duarte Group in 1991? My main one was L14261, the strat. For a long time that was all I had because the Takamine guitar my mom got me was ripped off. I loaned it to Junior Medlow and somebody broke into his car out behind the Continental Club and ripped off the guitar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So during your sideman years, in groups like Bobby Mack & Night Train, Arson, Julie Burrell, Diana Cantu, Junior Medlow and The Bad Boys, you were using the '63 Strat exclusively? Yep, it got all the work! You can see how it's still looking pretty good here. I wore it off up here and it had a lot of wear on the bottom, and the chip. Oh wow, there's Jeff Johnson on bass! He was a bonafide bad, bad, bad boy!! I'd be playing Coltrane solos, like "Moment's Notice", and then he would take a solo and it would be better than mine - he was bad! He played with Sonny Rollins, Jeff Johnson was a great bass player. (photo by Dave Ranney)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember this, this was after the wreck and you went out and got all of our guitars. That's your '92 strat copy, there on the right? Right, that's my American Standard. And this is your Gibson here in the middle? Yeah, that's my 175. That's a 1970 175 that I bought when I was in Boston in '91. It cost $900. You used to take that on the road and perform "Friends" and "Thrill Is Gone". It sure has a sweet tone. That's one of my favorite guitars. And that's L14261 next to it on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What's up with this poor strat hanging in a tree in your front yard in Austin? Did you ever play it? Yeah, that's the one I burned at the Fox Theater in Colorado! I remember that New Year's Eve show! So that's the one you set on fire! It sure made some strange sounds! The back is all melted. It was a Harmony strat that I bought at a pawn shop. For the sole purpose of burning it? Yeah, 'cuz it's a cheap strat. The world is full of cheap strats! It ended up in my tree out front. That's where it ended its career. It's long gone. A neighbor wanted to take it down and fix it and I said, "Don't bother, the world is full of cheap strats!" (photo by Paul #1 Wamboldt)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And speaking of strats, here's your second 1963 Fender (For the interesting story behind this guitar, click here). Yep, the second '63: 71699. Used on the "Texas Sugar/Strat Magik" album. It was the only guitar I used on that album. Now that you've had it awhile, are you happy with it? It's not as sweet as the first one, but it's real good. It's the best feeling guitar I own and it's the only one I play with a whammy bar. It's the shit, it's got the tone. How often do you replace the frets on it? Twice a year on the strat, but not on the other ones. I don't think I've gotten a fret job yet on the Hamiltone. (photo by Judy Robinson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here's where we start running into photos of guitars that I'm not familiar with. This guitar was a guitar that Darryl Agler loaned me, out of Indianapolis. He's the one that got Jim Hamilton to make my Hamiltone. When my 1st '63, L14261, was stolen, he loaned me this guitar for about 4 months. I believe it was a '62 strat. It had different pickups on it and wasn't completely stock. It wasn't one of my guitars, it was a loaner. (photo by Judy Robinson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This one is kinda' hard to see, but it's a dark hollowbody guitar.
I know where this is, this is from the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle. This is a Gibson ES-175 that a Gibson representative loaned me that day.

Did you get to keep it?
No, it was a loaner. It was like my other Gibson guitar, only a lot newer, probably a 1990 or a '92.
(photo by Mike Hartzell)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now this little psychedelic number...
That's actual abalone all over it! That's a Shellacious guitar, back when I was painting my fingernails and stuff. It's got a strat body but the headstock is different. I got that in '94 or '95. Shellacious - made by Tony Nobles in Austin. It's the only maple neck guitar I have.
(photo by Jennifer Van Nuffelen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh boy, I remember this! This, I had just gotten my rose tattoos, this is at the House of Guitars in Rochester, New York. This was a guitar that they had there and I was late getting to the clinic and asked if I could play it. It's an Epiphone. I just used it for that clinic. (photo by Robert Zilles)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wasn't this one known as the Christmas Strat?
Susan Santee gave me this. It originally had a mother of pearl thing for a pickguard and this guy, I'm forgettin' his name, from Seattle or Madison, he gave me the green pickguard you see on it. This was a Mexican Strat, I believe an '86, and it had a good nasty tone to it. I loved it. Tana Jordan has this guitar now. I gave it to Tana for a birthday present.
(photo by Julianne Gilmer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here's a beautiful doubleneck!
Yep, there's my doubleneck. Epiphone gave me this guitar, it's a '94 or a '93, and I love it. I told them I wanted one in red because John McLaughlin has a red one, but his is a Gibson. It's really good. I hardly ever bring it out, but I still have it. This picture is in Chicago.
Didn't you use this on one of your albums? Yeah, I used it on the song "Walls". Did you use it on "Duarte e Ezell"? No, I didn't use that one. I used my Epiphone Emperor guitar and my Hamiltone and the green Les Paul. I used three guitars on that song. (photo by Jennifer Van Nuffelen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which beautiful guitar is this? That's my turquoise Sorrento from Epiphone! You whipped that one out last summer when you backed up Billy Lee Riley. Yeah, I sure did. This guitar is probably a '95, that's when they gave me this guitar. Epiphone ended up giving me a bunch of guitars that year. (photo by Jennifer Van Nuffelen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here is my Flying Finn! A guy in Finland makes these, I think this shot is at Wilbert's. It's got real good pickups in it. It's just so funky, the headstock is the same color as the body. I just love that guitar! Do you remember what songs you used it on? (Chris looks at the position of his hands in the photo). I think it was "Catch The Next, no, wait, no, yeah, that's B Flat, that's "Catch The Next Line".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is another of the same kind of guitar? This was the first Flying Finn I tried out. The guy that loaned me this was Steve Frakus I believe. That was his guitar and he kept telling me to try it out. (photo by Claudine Manakas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There's another one of those Flying Finns. It has a real signature style and the headstock looks like a telecaster. So you have a few of these? No, I just have one, the green one. The other ones he had me try out before giving me the green one. (photo by Cory Munro)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here's my Fender D'Aquisto. This is circa '85. It's a Fender, but it's made by D'Aquisto who makes really, really fine guitars. They're really expensive. That's one I bought in Austin at One World Music above the Continental Club. I bought it for $600 and it still had the original pamphlet with it and everything inside the case. I didn't know Fender made hollowbody guitars. Yeah, they did for just a little while. (photo by Claudine Manakas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here's my green Les Paul. The other photo (below) is the same guitar but with the pickguard taken off. It had a pickguard on it when I originally got it, but I took it off to show the lines on the guitar better. A pickguard looks best on a sunburst and I wanted to show its lines better. I also like it better all green, because green is my favorite color! It's a '94 Epiphone. It's got Gibson pickups and a good neck, It's a fine guitar. Someday I'd like to get a real Gibson Les Paul. (photo by Claudine Manakas, photo below by Jennifer Van Nuffelen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There's the Hamiltone. This guitar was given to me in '95 by Jim Hamilton, commissioned by Darryl Agler. I've used it on a lot of stuff. It took a few years for me to be comfortable with it, but that's true for all of my guitars. That picture is from a gig in Iowa, at a festival. I remember they made posters with me wearing that shirt. (photo by Claudine Manakas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here's my Tacoma. That's a Tacoma Chief. Tacoma gave it to me. They ended up giving me six guitars! That's a really nice guitar, and now it belongs to my daughter Celeste. (photo by Craig Keyzer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There's my Ovation. 1985, it says it right on the neck. This was given to me by Ora Reive down in Nashville, Tennessee. A good friend I've known for about twenty years who I first met in Austin. It's my favorite acoustic, it really is. I love playing it. (photo by Jennifer Van Nuffelen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What other acoustics do you have since you gave Celeste your Tacoma? I got a bunch of guitars from Tacoma. Oh yeah, six! Here'a a Tacoma. This one I got when I went to this guitar show in Dallas. Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon were there and we were all sitting down and they let us turn around and grab whatever guitars we wanted! There was this black guitar that looked just like this, but Chris Layton already claimed it so I took this one. I used it on a radio show with Justin Beahm called "Blue Velvet". I still have two Takomas. I haven't seen you take any others out on the road. No, just my Ovation. My original Tacoma Chief, I really loved it, at a show in Ohio it was in a softcase and I stepped on the headstock and cracked it! Ugh! So I sent it back and they sent me a Road King. I ended up giving the Road King to my younger brother, and then when they sent the Chief back it just didn't play the same. It wasn't as good as before so that's why I went back to my Ovation. Do you have a guitar tech you like to use? Rob Hacker in Austin at Austin Custom Shop. He does all of my guitar work. All of my guitars I bring to him. And I have many more guitars. (photo by Dave Johnston)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many guitars do you now have in your collection?
I have 22. (Now Chris has 23 with the recent addition of a new Gibson ES 175 acoustic hollowbody he's been taking on the road, see above) I have a '63 Duosonic, a late '60s SG that was given to me by Patricia's uncle, a mid-60s Melody Maker which was given to me by Julianne Gilmer, it's very special, and a '95 Emperor, a real big hollowbody. They gave that to me when I was recording "Tailspin Headwhack". I have a G&L Strat that was also given to me. Let's see, I know I've got more...
Any other stringed instruments, like a sitar? No, except a piano! (photo by Jennifer Van Nuffelen)

2003 Update: In the summer of 2003, Chris played at the Washburn Guitar Festival where he was given a couple of Washburn guitars and a stack of Randall amps (below). The red Washburn is an X series, XJ 50. The hollowbody is an acoustic Montgomery model. (photos by Craig Keyzer)

 

 

Here's some comments by Chris Duarte on his custom-made Xotic guitars from Japan:

I now have my two Xotic guitars which I use at every gig. First one up is the first guitar Xotic bestowed upon me; Ice Blue.
Ice Blue XS-1
In 2009 I was approached by ProSound Communications about endorsing their line of guitars and I was at the time in search of a new guitar because I had quite literally played my beloved 1963 Stratocaster into retirement. The frets needed constant mill jobs, bringing the shape back from their flattened state, and I was rapidly running out of rosewood veneer on the neck, not to mention the clay dots were vanishing rather quick, and I, being very attached to this creation of wood n'steel that hung from my neck for many a night, was rather reticent towards the subject of major adjustments to it and I was looking into the option of having this 'beloved of mine' copied, cloned and or duplicated. The tone, the pick-ups, was the most change I was willing to accept, but I needed the size and feel, the tactile aspect, this was the least of the new change that I wanted to endure. Thus entered Xotic with their promise that their in-house luthier, Hiro-san, was one of the best in the field and it was but a small hurdle to solve. The real goal, stated Xotic, was my satisfaction - a mark that was surpassed with celerity and elan. The pick-ups Hiro-san chose, which he confessed his choice was after much thought and study, is a set of old DiMarzzio Blue Velvets. I had never had these pick-ups at any time in my career but I knew what I was in for; let's ROCK! A decidedly rock edge now gripped the guitar's profile and I was starting to like the new sounds dropping from my fingers and thus immediately I was adjusting my style to the aural soundscapes and horizons that now appeared on my creative prospects. With the biggest frets available being put on my new neck and the new wires assembled for the guitars innards, it wasn't long until I was up and running with this mighty XS-1, and to this day I'm having a blast of a time. I like my action low for the legato runs I explore within my solos but the big tall frets insure that my bluesy roots won't ever fade away from my melodic yarns I like to spin. Now when the company staff looks at my Ice Blue XS-1, the oft said word is, 'buro-buro', which means 'it's been used, alright'.' I am a physical player with a physical style and at times a muscular technique, and the more fun I have, the more physical I become. It's just who I am. I throw my whole body, id and heart into what I do and if that's what it takes to cross the bridge spanning the swirling tumultuous currents that encompass the human spirit when creation is being drawn, then the XS-1 has proven itself to be a worthy craft to take me there.

 

Gold Sparkle XS-1
My other guitar I work with a lot on my shows is my beautiful Gold Sparkle XS-1. The pick-ups in this vivacious dazzler are Xotic's own creations; The pick-ups lend itself to the blues sound that was missing from my vocabulary. The biting rock edge tone that my Ice Blue guitar has, is now being contrasted by my Gold guitar that is now giving way to my truer blues sounds whereas before it took adjustments to my equipment to make that possible, now just the guitar can do it. All I have to do is plug in straight and the electric Chicago sounds of years gone by are all around me. Most everything in the way of specs on my Ice Blue XS -1 were carried over on the Gold guitar; huge frets, same neck size, 5-way switch, whammy bar for those Hendrix dives and a graphite nut. The only dramatic alteration is the bridge saddles; KTS Titanium. Yes, you read that right; titanium. Same stuff in the fuselage and wings of the most advanced fighter jets in the world. Tough stuff. Plus it helps radiates some of the clearest, most colorful and zesty tones to my strings. I could really tell the difference the second I plugged in the guitar and strummed it. Although I do yearn for my old Fender pickups, but with a few adjustments on the guitar tones and amp presto, I'm pretty close to being there. Once again Hiro-san has built another great guitar. Hiro-san is really gifted when it comes to creating a musical instrument from just the bare necessities. Plus my sparkle Gold finish looks so deep you can swear that your hand could dip into the Gold and come up with a handful of gold dust. The neck adjustment is a bit higher with the action on this guitar because I'm reaching for a blues voice on this horse and it's a breeze the way this guitar responds when I adjust the little things on it. Xotic makes guitars that respond with ease and agility, and if I require the need to play fusion and jazz for the night, it only takes a twist here, a turn there and an adjustment here and - !*BA-BLAM*! - I'm ready for Mahavishnu explorations. I am still having a great time with all my Xotic guitars and the entire staff has stood by me through thick and thin; in good times and in bad times. While I was saying my good-byes to my beloved 63', I thought there would be a hole in my heart that was never going to be filled, Xotic has not only filled that hole in me but they've opened new doors inside my creative world that has given me new life in me and my soul. So now my soul smiles outward because of it. Thank you!

- Chris Duarte

Click on the links below for more online info on his custom-made Xotic guitars from Japan!
- Chris Duarte Xotic Guitar interview, click
HERE
- Chris Duarte "Axplorations" Gear interview, click
HERE
- another Chris Duarte Xotic Guitar interview, click
HERE
- another Chris Duarte Xotic Guitar interview, click
HERE

- an Xotic Guitar interview from 2010, click HERE

 

Click HERE for more info on Chris Duarte's amps and pedals and strings, oh my!

 

 

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