Positively Vintage (Citron CS1)

August 1996
Stephen Patt and Andy York
CS1Download File

This month and next, we connect with renaissance dude Andy York, chief guitarist and troublemaker for the John Mellencamp group and co-conspirator with half a dozen other groups these days, including Marshall Crenshaw, Mary Lee Cortes, and Willy Niles.

Andy has been a busy boy. Living in the heart of New York, he graciously took time out from his schedule to play a few new guitars through the “wall-o-amps” in his Westside apartment, and let us catch us up on his career. For the past year, York has been working hard with John (don’t call him “Cougar”) Mellencamp on the new album Mr. Happy Go Lucky, due out in August 1996.

“It’s been quite an experience for me,” Andy drawled. “With no pressure or deadlines, we’d get together half of every month, and after a week or so we’d start to burn out, cause the vibe was so intense.”

The core band this time around included Andy on odd guitars, mandolins, and pitching in on vocal arrangements, plus Kenny Aronoff on drums, Mike Wanchic on additional guitars, Toby Myers on bass, and Mr. Mellencamp on acoustic guitar. A host of guest artists were brought in by super-engineer Dave Leonard, who has worked with the Indigo Girls & Prince, and Dwight Yoakum giving the music what Andy describes as a “…a “folk/urban/psychedelic’ feel. If you have to put a label on the music, that’s it.”

Guest bottleneck player Lonnie Pitchford added some authentic blues power to the mix (“I almost got thrown out for tuning his guitar,” Andy laughed) and Mick Ronson’s wife, Susie, was sampled for the key tune “Song from Mr. Bellows.” After hearing the rough mixes, I can testify that this is raw and powerful stuff, extremely creative and highly musical.

“Working with John has been an amazing lesson in economy for me,” Andy related. “What fits, what doesn’t. We spent one entire day working this track up, and when the juices are flowing and we’re on a roll, it goes very fast. Everybody is focusing with laser beam precision on what they’re going to say with their part. And at the end of the day, John turned to me and said, ‘Alright, Andrew, you’re going to put the world’s best lead guitar break on this song … tomorrow.’

“I was a little intimidated. We all went away, and I had a few beers at the local watering hole and thought about it. The next day I came into the studio a bit early and just vibed it out. Usually my first instinct is the best one. I picked up this Jerry Jones 6-string, a Jimmy Page–type guitar, plugged it into the Pro Junior, and turned the treble on the amp way down. The part just played itself. The solo came from my guts, and I nailed it on the first or second take. I don’t know if it’s the world’s greatest lead … (long pause until a demonic but silly grin erupts onto Andy’s face) but I like it!”

So, onto the guitars (or, as famous, albeit language-challenge Hollywood director Michael Curtiss once said in the 1940s, while getting ready to film a stampede, “Bring on the empty horses!”). Our first peach is from Harvey Citron Guitars, located in the wilds of Woodstock, New York.

I had contact with Harvey and his family of guitars at the NAMM show this year, and was impressed with (a) his intensity (who wants to buy a guitar from someone with a lackadaisical attitude about their work? Not me.) (b) the true originality and dedication one sees reflected in his work, and (c) the righteous blonde babe he had demonstrating his bass at the booth (just kidding on the last one).

Mr. Citron has been building instruments since the 1970s, and was co-founder of Veillette-Citron in 1975. His own line of instruments, whose users range from James Taylor to Skunk Baxter, shoot for perfection in design and execution, striving for continual improvement and instruments that are truly “player friendly.”

The line includes acoustic and solidbody basses (4- and 5-string) and electric guitars, including the new chambered electric and an acoustic/electric being unveiled at the Nashville NAMM. We were pleased to get our hands on Harvey’s CSI electric 6-string, a 3-pickup solidbody instrument loosely based on the Stratocaster (isn’t everything?) but with it’s own strong and winning personality. The body is mahogany with bookmatched quilted maple top and a gorgeous sunburst finish, and the bolt-on neck is mahogany with a flawless ebony fretboard. The poly finish is superb, and a tung oil treatment to the neck makes it one of the more comfortable out-of-the-box instruments I’ve played. The headstock is unusual and pleasing, continuing the visual arc of the body and neck — very original in this day of Strat and Tele copies. Hardware is somewhat innovative, but in a good way, with locking, gearless, Steinberger tuners for quick changes on stage, a very cool Wilkinson tremolo system with low-friction nut, and sensible placement of the passive controls. Without plugging it in, this guitar feels great in the hands, plays effortlessly, and fits the body in a neat way.

Plugging in the Citron CS I unveiled a host of challenges, all of them fun. How many sounds can I tweak out of these pickups? Harvey winds each of the three pickups using different techniques and wire, using Alnico V magnets, and the result is single coil mania, ranging from a full and lush neck pick-up reminiscent of a 1950s Strat, to the middle position’s bell-like Knopfler tones, and the bridge position’s stinging chime. Very cool.

We sat in Andy’s apartment (if you look closely at the picture, you can see the custom “York” amplifier), and he ripped through a series of notes on the treble pickup, his favorite.

“This is very Tele-esque, especially in the bridge position,” Andy enthused. “It runs the gamut of tones through all positions, and it’s a precision instrument I could take into the studio and get a big range of sounds. I don’t think it covers the Les Paul area well, but everything else is copacetic.

“It’s a nice atmospheric instrument; the volume knob is ultra-smooth and placed right for volume swells and pedal steel effects (Andy demonstrates with a barrage of country faux-steel licks) and that’s a plus for me. Back when I couldn’t afford a volume pedal, I got in the habit of tweaking the knob with my pinky. This guitar’s definitely got those bell-like sounds I associate with Mark Knopfler.”

Through a blackface Vibrolux Reverb, the Citron sounded not only glassy and smooth, but well articulated — every note chimed and was heard distinctly. A nice match of guitar, player, and amp. York finally stopped playing long enough to summarize: “This is not hi-tech in the sense of a mid-80’s wanker guitar, when some companies decided that traditional shapes and looks weren’t cool any more. The Citron plays like a well-made instrument, and has a real vintage-type feel to it. The neck contour is right where I like it — not too fat, and not too skinny. Definitely a user-friendly instrument. I’m quite impressed with the tone of the pickups.”

The CS1 is currently listing for around $4,200, a bit steep for some of our pockets, but presents a level of workmanship and design not found in many other guitars. The full line is available direct from dealers, or from Harvey Citron Enterprises, 282 Chestnut Hill Road, Woodstock NY, 12498, or call (845) 679-7138.

Reprinted with permission from Vintage Guitar magazine