Meeting Dave Hill – Slade (and his guitars)
I am sitting in the offices of PMT Music Store Birmingham waiting for Dave Hill to arrive. His band Slade were never off Top of the Pops in the early 70’s when Glam rock ruled. Slade had 12 hit records, six number 1’s: three of them in a row. The outfits they wore are legendary and the term used for fans of bands like Slade, T-Rex and Sweet was ‘Teenyboppers’. I am here to talk to Dave about those days and of course his guitars. There is one guitar in particular that I have asked him to bring along that has a 345 Gibson neck attached to what looks like a large SG body. It was used extensively on tour and also on many TV shows.
The sound and voices in the distance tell me the man has arrived and in walks Dave carrying a guitar case and another chap brings in two more. I used to ponder what that early 70’s guitar was, sometimes assuming it was a Gibson but I could never find it in any catalogue. I remember phoning Gibson at the time and being quite annoyed that they knew nothing about it! Anyway, after introductions, Dave opens the case as if sensing my anticipation and I was instantly transported back to those Glam rock days, because the sight and sound of this guitar has never left me.
As we sit down, Dave tells me that he has brought a John Birch guitar which I recall him using on the single ‘Radio Wall of Sound’. He has also brought the guitar he currently uses: a Gibson Les Paul cutaway standard. He is still hugely enthusiastic when he talks about those early Slade days and unusually, speaks very affectionately about his fellow band members from that period of hits. Chas Chandler was a major part of Slade’s success. His experience as the bass player in The Animals and as manager of Jimi Hendrix was used to good effect.
Whilst I was setting up Dave tells me that Chas could recognise the good melodies and would always keep that first take in case they went downhill from there. He would also encourage them to write their own songs. In the beginning Dave and Noddy used to write together and once wrote a song called ‘The Gospel According to Rasputin’ but it was later that the partnership between Jim Lea and Noddy clicked leading to their first hit ‘Coz I Luv You’ which became a number one. I asked Dave where the violin idea came from (the classically trained Jim Lea played violin on that hit), and he explained that they used to do tracks by Stefane Grappelli and also a Moody Blues song called ‘Nights in White Satin’. Jim would later do arrangements on Slade hits. Speaking about today’s music scene Dave likes Ed Sheeran, Adele and Black Star Riders: “technology is helpful but it doesn’t necessarily write a hit record” he said. The sound of Hank Marvin producing that famous echo on tracks like Apache and others still has a magical effect on him to this day. Dave still has a passion for music in general and also for playing live and clearly knows his craft. The new band is still delivering exactly what people come to see: great music well played for an audience wanting to revisit those Glam rock days once more – why not? Dave tells me he was once asked the question “When are Slade going to tour?” he laughs and says “we never stopped”. The chemistry or the current band works well: and playing gigs in Norway, Sweden, Russia and Denmark proves their continued popularity, as if it were needed.
As I set up a makeshift workbench in the office Dave tells me that his first guitar cost £7:50 from Kays catalogue and was dreadful to play. He is left handed and used to play upside down at first but he plays right handed which may explain his technique in the rhythm stakes. I point out to him that his off-beat punctuations when he plays chords are like an answer to Noddy Holders vocals, never overplayed but an integral part of the Slade song structure.
As I look in the back of the John Birch guitar having taken off the plastic plate which covers the entirety of the back body, I see it used to have a battery to power different pickups but has now been simplified due to the extra noise that was generated. 500k pots are linked with 0.022 Wima MKS capacitors: the soldering is very tidy and the pots sit on a foil base for grounding purposes. There are two volume and two tone, a toggle switch and a Humbucker in the bridge with a pickup surround: the neck having a Humbucker with the scratch plate cut around it. The colour is a golden amber look which is great with its dark brown back and sides. Pickups measure 13.61 Ohms (neck) and 14.92 (bridge). Curiously, the plastic control cover does not make contact with the foil but nonetheless seems ok. .
The body is maple with two Humbuckers: a John Birch bridge anchored with two chrome studs looks neat. I like this bridge as will transfer string energy more efficiently than any other. (Gordon Smith knows that this design works well for his guitars too) The two W/B/W scratch plates cover a large part of this guitar but look quite effective. The neck is maple with medium low frets. The headstock has an ornate looking trus rod cover that reflects the scratch plate design. At the back of the headstock Schaller machine heads with small metal Fender type buttons look better on this headstock as the body is quite small: it wouldn’t look right with large Grover’s. The volute at the back is very big and is there to add strength to this weak area.
The neck is quite slim and easy to play with upper access no problem. Before I move on to look at Dave’s current guitar I mention the D chord on Merry Christmas Everybody that punctuates the song with that off-beat lick making you sing the melody that Dave plays. Quick as a flash he shows me the riff and I can also hear, as he does a quick rendition of Cum on Feel the Noize he incorporates the bass notes that Jim Lea would play. Cum on Feel the Noize has got a 12-bar feel giving this song a huge sound. When Dave plays some lead notes he tells me he bends the string downwards creating a wobble effect, which looks easy, until you try it.
As I pick up his double cutaway Gibson Les Paul Gold Top I see the guitar was made in 2003: this is the Classic model. It is his current guitar has used it for ten years and he really likes it. I mention that the trus rod needs adjusting as there is a noticeable dip in the middle but I don’t do anything about it as Dave has a gig in a few days time and he would have been used to it playing this way for some time, so we leave it alone. I like these double cutaway Gibsons and i have set up a number of them since they appeared on the market. The balance is good and with just one volume and one tone control and a toggle switch it has Gibson 496-500t ceramic magnet pickups making for a great combination of functionality. The crown inlays have been tinted to on this guitar and as it is gold, this is to a better effect than it can be with other coloured guitars. The neck is wider but quite flat at the back, very comfortable and sporting Grover machine heads: these replacing the original Kluson Tulip plastic deluxe type. The nut has been cut really well which is essential for getting the guitar to feel right in the area of the first fret, and also so the strings don not stick. If they sit too deeply they will cause tuning problems.
Overall the early Gibson double cutaway classics weren’t chambered and the weight is comfortable, probably around 7.5 – 8bls. I am aware of the time we have left so I move on to the guitar I am really here to see, and that is the guitar most associated with Dave Hill.
Here’s the photos (All photos copyright Steve Clarke)
Best Slade track ever, and coming shortly is the second part of this review on the guitar his dad bought him and was used on all the hits.