My pal Linda B. is a killer rock and roll drummer who also plays a pretty mean guitar. She’s decided to form an all-female Sex Pistols cover band, with her assuming the duties of guitarist Steve Jones.
An avid rock historian, Linda did her research, which quickly led her to Gibson’s limited edition Steve Jones signature model Les Paul Custom, a slavishly accurate replica of Steve’s iconic axe.
(The original, which had previously belonged to New York Doll Sylvain Sylvain, was not used on the Sex Pistols’ early singles or the Never Mind the Bollocks album, but was his main stage instrument.)
Just one problem: the $6,706 price tag.
So Linda bought a used white Epiphone Les Paul Custom for $299, ordered the same pickups that are in the original and the signature model (a Gibson 498T “Hot Alnico” humbucker in the bridge position, and a 496R “Hot Ceramic” humbucker at the neck), and found some sketchy online vendor who sells replicas of the original’s pinup-girl stickers, plus an even sketchier vendor who sells fake Gibson logos. We popped in the pickups, slapped on the stickers, and made a darn good replica for a bit over $500.
Wanna hear it?
Granted, your basic Epi copy isn’t in the same league as a great Gibson. But as with Fender Squiers, the modern Epiphone’s weakest link tends to be the pickups, and replacing them delivered a big sonic upgrade. And of course, if I may misquote Lebowski, the stickers really tie the whole sound together.
Never Mind the Bollocks boasts fascinating production that pretty much defines the phrase “deceptively simple.” Producer Chris Thomas (who also recorded large chunks of the Beatles’ White Album, Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and classics from Roxy Music, Elton John, Pete Townshend, and many other artists) somehow wrangled dozens of loose overdubs into a cohesive, genre-defining sound. As with the early Pretenders albums (which Thomas would produce a couple of years after Bollocks), you can learn the riffs in minutes. But you can listen to the disc for decades and still have only a general notion of what’s actually occurring in those dense mixes.
Believe it or not, Jones played through a Fender Twin Reverb amp for all his tracks. (Yes, like Hendrix, he’s often thought of as a Marshall man, but he favored Twins in the studio. He also used them live, though he subsequently switched to Marshalls.) He was also the album’s bassist.
I don’t have a Twin, so we just plugged into my awesome little Orange AD15. Linda’s tone in the video may be a bit more “gainy” than the ones on the album, but that’s probably a good choice when playing in a live power trio, rather than erecting walls of overdubs.
Our only stompbox: an MXR Phase 45, also used by Jonesy. (Listen while Linda’s plays “Bodies.”) Correction: Nope, no stompboxes in the demo video.
Anyway, I’m smiling. Linda is smiling. Somewhere Johnny Lydon might be smiling too, though with him, it’s hard to tell.
So what’s your favorite Sex Pistols track? I’m going to have to go with “Holidays in the Sun,” though to be honest, I’m much more into Lydon’s second band, P.I.L., especially the dub-wise bass playing of Jah Wobble, and the highly original (and highly underrated) guitar work of Keith Levene. (See my pet theory about Levene creating the U2 sound two years before U2.)