Randy Volin was born in the late 50's in Detroit Michigan and his first memory memory of becoming hooked on pop music started the night the Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Shoe. For some reason he still doesn't quite comprehend, Randy became totally enthralled with music, especially the Blues, but he didn't learn how to play an instrument until 1971. After Jimi Hendrix died, Randy bought his first guitar, a used Fender Jaguar (which he still has), and within 2 years he had acquired his first gig as a bass player. In 1977, Randy landed a record contract with A&M records with his band The Look, and toured extensively while releasing three albums. In 1986, Randy finally went back to his roots, and dedicated his life as a player to the Blues. From 1986 till now, Randy has played in the Tri State area of Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio continuously, while releasing 2 solo CDs. He has played with and opened for artists such as Joe Cocker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie Money, Koko Taylor, Junior Wells, Albert King, Lonnie Brooks, Cheap Trick, Steve Marriott, John Mellencamp, The Kinks, Greg Kihn, Peter Frampton, April Wine, Mitch Ryder, Sonny Landreth, Johnny Johnson, John Mayall, Jeff Healy, Hubert Sumlin, J. Geils and many, many others. Randy is a self-confessed gear head and also operates Rockin Daddy's Vintage Guitars, Inc., just north of Detroit. One visit to his web site and you'll quickly discover that Randy also has an envious stash of some of the most desirable vintage gear ever made.
Most recently for club work I have been using my 1964 Super Reverb loaded w/JBL D 110s. My 65 Vibrolux Reverb, also loaded w/JBL D 110's would get a little mushy trying to hold their own I am not a volume guy really. I like to hit the back wall but I don't play loud just to play loud. Regarding tubes, I gig so much that I dont want to spend $150 on NOS 6L6 tubes, just to have them banged around in my truck. So I've been using an older Sovtek GZ34, standard matched 5881XTs, and NOS 12AX7's. For years I've used Vintage II cloth cables from Horizon. I think they won the guitar cable shootout. Tortex picks, 1.14mm, the thicker the better. I also use Ernie Ball strings and have for 28 years. Can't change now. I make up my own sets. High to low its .11, .14, .18, .32, .44, .60, and I always tune to concert pitch, or A 440 .
My guitars vary. I usually use an original 1957 sunburst Strat, 100% original, an original 1960 sunburst Strat, 100% original, and a 1989 Squire Strat that I had routed for 50's Danelectro lipstick tube pickups. I use that for slide. The gauges on that are big. High to low, .15, .19, .22 plain, .36, .48, .60. For electric slide I use the Dunlop slide, #215. Love the combination of really thick glass on big strings.
On resonators or acoustic guitars, I use old Mighty Mite slides. On occasion, I'll play PAF loaded 335s or Sunburst Les Pauls. But I have to say this, it's getting rarer for me to bring those out than it used to be. A stupid mishap, or just the babysitting factor takes away from the part I like best, hitting the standby switch, and just taking off. These guitars see more action in the recording studio, because it's a lot more controlled and safer environment.
For effects, I have a few things. A prototype Fulltone Fat Boost, or a Zvex SHO, both just like the MXR Micro Amp, it's the original SuperHard On! A TS 9 (an original one with the 4558 chip), an Ibanez CS 9 for my whirly bird sounds. Its a lot easier on the back than a Leslie. And a RMC3 Wah that I've had since 1994. I am a fan of all kinds of boxes used correctly. Teese, Klon, MXR, Electro Harmonix, Fulltone, Fuzzfaces, Univibes, Zvex, you name it, I have 3 of each.
Do you use a pick religiously?
Yes. And I also use my fingers, thumbs, back of my hand, elbow, womens garter belts. Whatever!
Whom do you admire most as a player and why, Randy?
Asking a simple question now, huh? There are just so many fine players...I always loved Albert King the most. His touch and tone said it all. He played heavy blues. Deep down in the well blues. I owned his Flying V in the 80s, the original Lucy. What a guitar it was. I'd say that's the most famous guitar of all now. Muddy, BB, Freddy King, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, T Bone, Louis & Sam Meyers, Gatemouth, Wayne Bennett, Danny Gatton, Sonny Landreth, Jimi, SRV, Jimmie Vaughan, Mr. Clapton, Mr. Ronnie Earl, old Johnny Winter, Leslie West, Beck, Page, I can go on and on. It's really not a fair question.
When you're playing a larger venue or an outdoor gig, how does your usual set up change, specifically?
We are doing lots of festivals and outdoor shows this summer, and I'll take another amp with the Super Reverb or Fuchs. A 1955 (low power) Twin w/ P12Qs. It's strange, when I take 2 amps, I can turn both of the amp's volume down, Twin on 4 and Supers on 3. If I'm using only one amp, the Super's volume would be on 4. The Twin on maybe 5. But I have noticed, the Fuchs is so tuned, its getting to be able to be an all around piece of gear.
With as many amps as you have (see Wall of Shame), why no Tweeds, that's unusual for a Blues guy isn't it?
I use tweeds, just not live. But unless I have a big enough road crew, we just have 1 guy who's a 'do all', it's the babysitting factor again. I'd rather play than feel like I have to keep looking back over my shoulder to make sure somone isn't walking off with a Bassman or a Twin. I never saw SRV with any tweed, or Ronnie Earl. I think I prefer the clean headroom of blackface gear overall.
Aside from your strats what are some of your other favorite guitars and why?
I love Teles, cause there so blocky. They really are huge sounding. I love blackgaurd boatnecks and those bridge pickups. 335s and Les Pauls. They have this quality in workmanship and tone that just can't be beat.
Any tricks or tips you've picked up over the years that you can share in regard to getting (and keeping) killer tone?
Yeah. Big wire, big ears, great tools, as in guitars and amps, and good living. All of this chain of command starts between your ears. Don't kill the train of thought with pills, powder, drink, and whatever. If your head and heart are in the right place, your tone will soon follow. And play. Listen. And play some more. Did I forget to mention that you've got to play?
You've played with an impressive group of guitar legends over the years. Have you observed anything in particular in regard to their setups or technique that you can share with our readers?
Yeah. All good players have developed a technique that's pivotal to their tone. SRV had such strong hands. His tone was as strong. When I was 15, I got a call to back up Mr. Kansas City,
you know, Wilbur Harrison. He played electric guitar and beat on a big old bass drum at the same time. He liked his drink too. But he had a style that sounded like a train to me. He'd get going and get this momentum going and play and sing such effortless sounding things. That is until I tried to play it. He taught me a lot in just one gig. There were no rehearsals, and I was only 15 years old. He'd look at me a little cross, and I knew he thought I was playing like a young white kid. Then he'd smile, and roll his eyes back into his head, and I knew my playing was staying out of the way of his singing, and he'd start whooping and hollering, spurring me on. He taught me to make my ears big, and to be aware of everything around me. He also taught me to enjoy life. And especially the girls. If the women don't dig it, nobody will. They don't have to know why they like what their hearing, they just have to like it. And if you play a club filled full of women, then there's also a club filled with men. Now, there's a happening going on. Not exactly rocket science here.
Who have you enjoyed being on the same stage with the most and least?
One of my most astounding moments was playing in Cincinnati in the mid 80's. I don't remember the place, but I was playing the old song "Hallelujah" by Ray Charles. My guitar guy kept waving his hands up in the air trying to get my attention. Jeez, standing right there in the wings was Steve Marriott from Humble Pie. I grabbed his arm and took him center stage, and he was just grinning. Then he opened his mouth and I heard that voice. The hair on the back of my neck just stood up. Who ever was singing at the moment in my band, can't quite remember who, just slid under a rock, probably where they belonged! I almost shit myself and literally fell into a trance. That voice froze time when it came through the monitors. His voice was as huge as Muddy Waters. Another astounding moment was with Junior Wells. It was about 5 years before he got ill and died. He started his set, played 3 songs, then started his set over. Played the 3 same songs and started his set over again. Same 3 songs. All in all he played the 3 same songs 3 times. I was not happy to see that.
Any specific recording techniques you can share (other than backing a truck up to the studio with your obscene stash of amps and axes). Have you done much experimenting with mic placements to add depth to your guitar tone on tape?
When I record, I want it real. Set up in a large room and focus on two things. First, a good clean drum sound. Second, and this could be first, a good performance of a good song. And play it with feeling. Once I got a take I like, I listen to the bed tracks, drums and bass, and make sure time, tempo, and feel were all there. Fix up what wasn't right. I developed a specific studio technique about 10 years ago. I would be in the studio standing in front of my amp, and it was all good. I liked what I was getting. Then I'd go into the control room and to my utter horror, hear tones of cows copulating. I would try it again and get that same damn funky sound. Finally I said to the engineer, look, put that damn mic right here where my ears are and you'll hear how it sounds to me. So we did just that. Put a mic six feet in the air and it finally sounded the same in the control room as it did 10 feet away in front of my amp . Stuck another mic right on the amp, and another about 25 feet away for ambient tones and nailed it. I never had to spend anywhere near as long to get a tone for my guitar as you would a drum!
If there was one thing that you let get away (or sold) that you wish you could have back, what would it be?
The one thing that got away...probably my innocence. But in regard to gear...I had a blue Metal flake 62 Strat, just saw it on another dealer's list for almost $30K. I bought it in the 70's for $300. Maybe a couple of sunburst Les Paul Standards and a blonde 335 dot. Maybe a Dumble or two.
Randy, let's talk about your other life as a dealer for a bit.
I've been playing 30 years and I still try to play every gig like it's my last one. I want to play everything, I want to make it mean, soft, sweet, rough, tender and heartfelt, the whole range of feeling. I've been really lucky, I do just what I want to do, play great old guitars and amps, and I've got a shop full of them. It's heaven for me, doing what I love to do. Both gigs are terrific. Guitars are great because they're functional tools, but they're also so cool to just look at, and some of 'em are true works of art like a painting, but better. Guitars are another story. You can just sit and admire them, play them, collect 'em, really play them for a living, all of it.
Any advice for people buying guitars sight unseen over the Web?
You gotta cover all of the bases, ask all of the right questions. As a dealer, I want every deal to be a win/win for everybody and when I sell a piece, I try to be overly critical, as if I was buying it. Ideally, I'd like my customers to be pleasantly surprised when they open the case.
There's an old saw in the ad business that says, for every person you make happy, they'll tell 10.
Yeah, and piss one person off and they'll tell 100. I've seen it! But if you're buying a guitar or amp unseen and unheard, create a picture of it in your mind and mentally note everything you'll want to ask about it, everything. I've bought guitars that didn't turn out to be as described. Now what? Some people are cool about it, some aren't. You gotta be very careful and thoroughly know everything you can about what you're buying. I wish there was a standardized rating system. Tom Van Hoose has been interested in trying to create something like that, and I'd like to see it done. But in reality, I doubt it will ever happen. This is a strange biz. At guitar shows, anybody with 3 guitars now, is a dealer. Gruhn said it best, something like trying to get a roomful of cats, the feline kind, to run and chase a ball. They all just sit there and look at you like your crazy. Hence, I no longer do guitar shows.
Where are the good deals these days?
I think of things that haven't come into their own yet, Fender Squires, Silvertones, the original Danos. Don't get me wrong
I'm not slamming the Danelectro reissues, but I'd prefer the old ones and they aren't that far off in price from the new ones.
What about refins?
Yeah, when they're all original refins can be a great deal. But a lot of guys don't like to take any vintage guitars, refins or not, out on gigs because they're too valuable. But I've always had a problem finding reissues that sound as good and play as good as the real thing. I've tried original vintage pickups, Van Zandts, and Fralins in reissues and it just hasn't worked for me. I've tried everything.
Would it be fair to say then that you've never found a reissue or Custom Shop guitar that could match up with your vintage guitar of choice?
Yes. And they're making the best instruments they have in years, but the materials and the sound just seem different to me. Maybe when the reissues are 40 years old...
You'd think it wouldn't be that tough to nail a vintage Fender in all respects...
Well, I think a 40-year old guitar just sounds better for a lot of reasons, some of which no one understands. The finishes were different. They've aged and mellowed, seasoned. Maybe there's just no substitute for time, but I haven't found a reissue that I could be happy with.
What about good deals on amps these days?
Prices on Fender BF amps have gone screamin' and I think it's just that more people are realizing how good they are. Silver face amps are still a good deal but they're going up. I mean, just 5 years ago or so blackface Vibrolux Reverbs could be had for $1150, and now I've sold them recently for as much as $2500 and seen them higher than that. I found out a long time ago that VR's were just about the perfect club amp. I've got 5 of them and I'm not letting any of them go.
Has the Web changed things? We used to find guitars going to pawn shops, great way to spend the afternoon wasn't it? But inefficient by today's standards.
Oh, yeah. I'd hear a rumor about this guitar or that one and off I'd go. But is the Internet affecting and changing the market? I don't know, hard to say. You know how this business is, you find something you like and you say OK, let me think about it for 20 minutes. You come back, it's gone! It's gone! Happens to me all of the time. Demand is high. The thing is, you gotta know as much as you can, as much as possible. I also have a rule of thumb, if I ever have second thoughts, I don't do it. If a guy can't answer a question, I'll usually pass. And if I buy something and I discover a few things, I have them fixed right or I tell the customer what's up with it. With amps, you should expect to have to do some maintenance regardless of condition. It's just part of buying amps. And I won't sell an amp that hasn't been totally checked out and serviced.
What's up with all the dealers on the Web classifieds and Ebay advertising and buying? They're all over the place. Doesn't all that friendly competition among dealers ultimately drive up prices?
Sure, competition on desirable gear is tough, and the margins are not what they used to be, either. They're really silly. I have guys that bring stuff in my shop, and I know they aren't going to sell what they have to me. They just want to get an idea of what retail value is so they can take it to a guitar show or something like that. They'll offer to sell me a guitar for $100 under retail, but I obviously can't keep my lights on for that. If I buy a Super Reverb for a grand and sell it for $2000, I'm by no means getting rich. Especially when I've had it serviced and cleaned up. The margins generally speaking are pretty slim most of the time.
What's your opinion of the pricey historic reissues?
I love Gibson guitars...the old ones. Selling any? I am always looking to buy the right one! So call me at 248-420-8499.