Michael Landau, one of the most prolific session guitar players of the 20th century, recently sat down with Guitar World to discuss his work and career. As far as his resumé goes, we can find names like Kenny Rogers, Michael Bolton, Joni Mitchell, Michael Jackson, and even Pink Floyd, just to name a few.
And, to a guitar player of his caliber, the good old Fender Stratocaster is the ultimate guitar model. Asked about why he prefers Strats over everything else, Landau replied:
“It just comes down to *that* body and *those* contours. Strats are like the ultimate couch guitar and that’s probably where I’ve done most of my playing over the years! They just seem to fit. I love the balance, too.
And what about Gibson guitars? Landau shared his opinion on them as he continued:
“Sometimes a Gibson can get a little top or bottom heavy. I find Fenders always play great if you get them set up right.”
When the interviewer brought up floating bridges on Fender Strats and how they can be incredibly fun, Michael said:
“I know, I agree! I’m kicking myself because that’s one of the things I really love about the guitar and I forgot to mention it in the video we filmed. When you pull up or do a really wide vibrato with the tremolo, obviously the bridge doesn’t bottom out on the body. It’s cool you picked up on that!”
“Having said that, I’m very proud of how the video came out. We worked on it for a while. I did all the music here at my studio and then went and played on top of it at Fender.”
The video that Michael Landau is talking about is the one he did for Fender a few months ago where he shows his guitar collection. You can check it out below.
In this clip, Landau presented his legendary and heavily modified “Coma” Stratocaster, originally made in 1969. The guitar in question now has its commercially available version and is done according to Landau’s preferences.
Asked about his “Coma” guitar and how it can “cover a lot of ground” with its humbucker-single-single pickup combination, he said:
“It does roar! Though what’s cool about the Wide Range humbucker is that it really does match well with the Noiseless pickups. It’s a little brighter than a normal humbucker. There’s a different hump there in the upper midrange, but it works very nicely with the neck and middle pickups. It doesn’t have a *really* high output either, so altogether you can get a nice blend.“
“I’m super-excited about the noiseless pickups we designed together. I usually have a love/hate thing with things like that, because they do cancel some of the tone there. But these ones are incredible. I don’t know how it was done, but they’re super-lively and have a lot of output. They sound the closest I’ve ever heard to a single-coil in terms of the snappiness.”
The story goes that Landau picked up this guitar in a store in Los Angeles, California way back when he was only 16 years old. Asked about the shop and the experience of purchasing this guitar, Landau replied;
“It was called Sol Betnun’s Instruments in Hollywood and it was pretty much just this old house some guy converted into a music store, with all these different rooms. Technically, it wasn’t a vintage guitar shop, but he had mostly used gear in there. Once we got our licences, me and Steve Lukather used to drive down there once a week… a very cool place!”
Asked about how did he know that this is the instrument he’d be taking home, Landau replied:
“It looked really cool. Someone had stripped the finish off, I guess to do the John Lennon Epiphone thing. I kept it that way for a long time. It was a super-light guitar when I picked it up, so I think I appreciated that.“
“The neck was great, the original one was made out of maple, then I modded it and kinda destroyed it by putting a Floyd nut on there… but I’m glad I did. I actually still have the original neck here, it’s just sitting on my wall. I was just 16, I didn’t know a whole lot about specs and stuff like that. It just sounded good and played good. That was the main thing.“
“In the past, I’ve always just taken my time and tried to find a private room in one of these music stores. Just play it for a while and it will eventually reveal itself as either the right one for you or not.“
“I’ve played heavy Strats that I’ve loved as well… so I’m not sure about the whole debate about weight when it comes to tone. As far as standing up and holding one, I much prefer a lighter one, but heavier guitars can sound great, too!”
Photo: Marco Raaphorst (Landau’s power soul)