Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #128. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Country guitar legend Albert Lee is bringing his uniquely blazing style and unmistakable Ernie Ball Music Man guitar to the Melbourne Guitar Festival. Words by Peter Hodgson.
If you’ve never witnessed the great Albert Lee standing onstage, signature Ernie Ball Music Man guitar in hand and playing his signature song “Country Boy”, you’re in for a hell of a treat this year. Albert looks like a quiet, unassuming chap with a slight aura of bashfulness – until he lays his hands on that guitar and instantly transforms into an all-shreddin’, all‑singin’ machine.
Lee’s command of the guitar is almost supernatural, like he’s able to slow down time to blast through blazingly fast, yet sweetly melodic licks that we mere mortals couldn’t even grasp. And yet in person, he goes back to being that shy, sweet guy, about to turn 75 but with no signs of slowing down any time soon, as evidenced by the fact he’ll be playing shows throughout Australia for basically the entire month of August, including at the Melbourne Guitar Show, Adelaide Guitar Festival and Sydney Guitar Festival.
“I have to say I’m a little concerned by how many shows I’m playing,” Lee laughs. “I always love being in Australia and seeing as much of the country as I can, but if it works out, I’ll be very happy! I’m pretty set in my ways, so wherever I am, I’m going to get up there for an hour and a half, sing a bunch of songs and play!”
Lee’s signature Music Man guitar is an angular take on a Stratocaster design filtered through Music Man’s unique design aesthetic, and it’s been a very successful model for many years now. “I’m up against a lot of competition within the Ernie Ball family,” he says. “Lukather, Petrucci – they’re basically metal guys when it comes to tone, and I’ve always strove for a clean sound with minimal effects. So that guitar is basically a Stratocaster on steroids. But it sounds great, looks great and feels great. I’ve been involved with Ernie Ball since the early ‘70s when I first went to Los Angeles. When they started making guitars in the ‘80s, I put in my two cents as to what I would like in a guitar. The first one was the Silhouette, which I really loved. One of my Silhouettes is still one of my favourite guitars.
“But the guitar I play now was actually an afterthought! It was made as the second guitar they were going to put out on the market, and it didn’t get a lot of attention at the first trade show they displayed it at. But in the meantime, Sterling Ball had one made for himself with a maple neck and body, and when he saw that I liked it, he said, ‘Well you’d better have this, then!’ And I continued to play that for the next few years, until they were able to put it in their product line and put my name on it.”
Albert’s guitar comes loaded with a trio of custom Seymour Duncan single coils – a unique twist given that most Music Man guitars feature either Music Man or DiMarzio pickups. “Seymour’s been a dear friend for many years,” Lee says. “He’s always been very generous with his time, and he said whatever I want, I could have. So I thought it would only be fair that I would get him involved in that guitar and in the pickups. And I’m really happy with it.
“Compared with a lot of guys, I think my tone is very clean and pristine sounding. I’ve always loved that single coil sound of a Tele or a Strat, and it’s representative of what you put into it. I think with humbuckers, you can disguise a lot of things and a lot of guys sound alike, which is just gonna happen. But what I like is that old rock’n’roll sound – bright and clean – not that treble that cuts your head off, but just really nice and clear. All the guitar players my age loved Buddy Holly, for example, and that stays with you for life.
Saturday August 4th - Melbourne Guitar Show, Melbourne (day)
Saturday August 4th - Caravan Club, Melbourne (evening)
Sunday August 5th - Skylark Room, Upwey
Wednesday August 8th - Flem-Kem Bowling Club, Flemington
Thursday August 9th - Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne
Friday August 10th - Meeniyan Hall, Meeniyan
Saturday August 11th - Adelaide Guitar Festival, Adelaide
Sunday August 12th - Charles Hotel, Perth
Wednesday August 15th - Blue Mountains Theatre, Blue Mountains
Thursday August 16th - The Basement, Canberra
Friday August 17th - Brass Monkey, Sydney
Saturday August 18th - Sydney Guitar Festival, Sydney
Sunday August 19th - Sydney Guitar Festival, Sydney
Tuesday August 21st - Lizotte’s, Newcastle
Wednesday August 22nd - The Art House, Wyong
Thursday August 23rd - The Zoo, Brisbane
Friday August 24th - Sound Lounge, Gold Coast
Saturday August 25th - Gympie Muster, Gympie