Submitted by HeadDino on Wed, 05/28/2008 - 22:07
Watch Ronnie Montrose in Action at the bottom of this page!
Famous / Infamous for
Famous for: A phenomenal debut album that even today is as good a slab of Dinosaur Rock as you'll ever hear. Playing guitar on Edgar Winter's Frankenstein. Being a guitarist's guitarist for the last 30 years.
Infamous for: Being a slave to his creative muse. Ronnie would rather play what he wants to play and be a cult hero rather than go for the money and fame. In the early 70s, Ronnie Montrose was on the right track for almost certain commercial success at the arena-rock level. But, like Jeff Beck and Michael Schenker, instead of riding that train all the way into the station, Ronnie got off a couple of stops too early.
Obvious: Jimmy Page, including the acoustic aspects. And though not as commercially successful as either Led Zeppelin or Van Halen, the band Montrose (sonically) bridged the gap between those two Dino Rock giants — to the point where Montrose producers Ted Templemann and Donn Landee insisted that Montrose record the Zep-like Rock Candy at Sunset Sound in L.A. where Zep had recorded — and to the point where later, Eddie Van Halen specifically sought-out Templemann and Landee to produce Van Halen based on their work with Montrose.
Not-so-obvious: Not a lot of info available on the subject. Edgar Winter was an early mentor of Ronnie's and a musical (if not specifically a guitar) influence. Ronnie has cited Lowell George as an influence on his slide playing, and has mentioned being an Eddie Cochrane fan in his youth.
Variety: Ronnie is an all-around great player who has achieved excellence in many styles — most notably heavy rock and instrumental guitar music.
Being a control freak: Particularly in the early days, Ronnie had a reputation for wanting total control over his projects — ala Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow. Unfortunately, Ronnie never had the clout to attract the kind of talent Ritchie could attract.
There was an undeniable chemistry in the original Montrose lineup of Ronnie, Sammy Hagar, Denny Carmassi, and Bill Church. But instead of Montrose and Hagar becoming a formidable collaborative force (Hagar had done at least half of the songwriting), Ronnie wanted to hold all the marbles. So youthful egos and creative differences split the band up. And unlike Blackmore who seemed to find great singers under every rock, and behind every tree, Montrose couldn't get those guys. In Sammy Hagar, Ronnie already had the right guy at the right time, but he pushed Hagar out rather than embracing a partnership. Montrose went on with Bob James — who wasn't half the singer or writer that Hagar was — and despite the odd track or two, the post-Hagar Montrose albums certainly reflect the drop-off. The synth-happy Gamma albums were even weaker. So Ronnie has ridden out his career as a cult hero rather than a rock star. But that's the way he wanted it. In the mean time, Hagar's a millionaire — and would have been even so without the career stop in Van Halen. What might have been, had Ronnie kept the original Montrose lineup together for more than two albums is one of heavy rock's greatest what ifs. I'll tell you what, though. Doing a reunion as side-project wouldn't kill these guys! They can all still cut it.
Inconsistent albums: You never quite know what your gonna get from Ronnie Montrose. His musicianship will always be first rate, but the material is often hit-or-miss. A good Baseball analogy might be 70s slugger Dave Kingman. He'll knock it out of the park, then strike-out his next five times up. A major league career with a few memorable "hits" and a .236 lifetime batting average.
Early on, Ronnie's tone in the band Montrose was usually an overdriven Les Paul tone (though there's some Strat too). For the first years of his career, Ronnie was associated with a sunburst Les Paul (shown top). A rare live photo of Hagar-era Montrose shows Ronnie him in front Ampeg V4 stacks (7027A tubes), however, you can achieve the basic tone on the original Montrose album by plugging a Les Paul into a Marshall (any EL34 amp should do a good job of it). It's a 70s hard rock, poweramp distortion sound, featuring much less gain that what came in the 80s and later. If you're using a newer amp, roll back the preamp gain and let the power tubes get cooking. Ronnie's Les Paul tone was beefier than Page's tone and had more bite than Scott Gorham's tone.
As Ronnie moved away from straight hard rock toward instrumental music, his tone, and his approach to tone, changed. I think it's fair to say that Ronnie has always has great tone, but he's really a chameleon. Ronnie plays with so many colors and textures that he doesn't have one distinctive tone. Over the years, he's used many different guitars and amps. And predictably, he has (purposely) achieved a wide variety of tones. There isn't just one Ronnie Montrose sound you can hang your hat on — particularly on his instrumental work. Instead, Ronnie seems to choose whatever gear he thinks will achieve the desired results, based on whatever he feels a specific song or song part calls for. It's the polar opposite of having one identifiable tone throughout an album. That said, when Ronnie's going for a basic crunch sound or hot lead tone, he gets a good one — with enough ballsy rock edge to keep things exciting. Ronnie plays a lot more than just straight rock, but he's never lost his rock balls.
Similarly, Ronnie isn't really associated with specific guitar effects the way some players are. But Ronnie does use a ton of effects on his studio recordings. His recorded sound is highly processed and far more high-tech rather than vintage. It's much closer to a Joe Satriani type tone than it is to his early tone on Montrose. And to my ears, the effects he uses all sound like high-end studio effects. You don't often hear old, characteristically analog effects.
These days, Ronnie seems to favor Gene Baker Guitars — guitars with a Les Paul-like configuration, but with double cut-aways. Ronnie likes the Bakers with the 25.5 scale length. Baker has also built Ronnie at least one custom strat (the one painted like tendons, featured on the cover of The Very Best of Montrose).
Ronnie is one of the elder statesmen of the second-generation guitar heroes. His contemporaries would be the guys who were establishing their careers in the early 70s like Brian May, Tommy Bolin, Ace Frehley, and Joe Perry. Ronnie had excellent chops for a 70s player, and they've improved over time. He's quite capable of slugging it out with the 80s Metal players, though he stops short of Shrapnel style shred.
Ronnie is an excellent all-around player. He possesses the breadth and depth to accomplish many different things musically. But he has a very homogenized style that is not very identifiable or distinctive. When you hear something of Ronnie's that you've never heard before, you'll probably be hard-pressed to identify who's playing the guitar unless someone tells you. Again, the playing is always excellent — but there just isn't that one thing (tonally, harmonically, or licks wise) that jumps out at you so you can say: oh, that's Ronnie Montrose. In this respect, Ronnie's like a great session guitarist who's just happened to have a solo career for 30 years too.
Rhythmically, he's a mostly a "rock chord" guy, but he probably knows a lot more. He is an accomplished acoustic player who has his fingerpicking and flatpicking down. He's not known for his slide playing, but he's clearly worked hard on his slide playing — and it shows. Ronnie actually takes on a lot. And whatever he takes on, he does at a high level.
For lead work, he's still mostly a Pentatonic player, but as he moved into instrumental music, he became more likely to wander into ethnic-sounding scales like the Aeolian, Dorian, and Prhygian. He's an alternate picker on fast stuff, but there's plenty of legato.
As stated, there aren't any characteristically Montrose trademarks to latch on to. He doesn't seem to have any pet licks. He uses unison bends frequently, but a lot of guys do.
Pretty quick, and narrow to medium width. Controlled. Like the rest of his style, it's good, but just not particularly distinctive. He occasionally uses the tremolo bar, but not very much.
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