Vintage Guitar - March 2018 - open - 24
Driving Classic Cars
he Cars transcended the new-wave
movement of the late '70s by creating a
never-duplicated sound. The band's self-titled
debut album is a masterpiece; almost 40 years
after its release, nearly every song still receives
Rhino recently remastered it and the band's
pivotal second and third albums, 1979's CandyO (with "Let's Go") and 1980's Panorama,
which was highlighted by "Touch and Go." The
new editions include alternate mixes, demos,
B-sides, and unreleased songs.
Easton spoke with Vintage Guitar about
the reissues and recounted the gear he used
to help create the band's first music. His setup
for The Cars was simple - a Les Paul Standard,
Telecaster, and a D-35. He plugged the Les Paul
and Tele into a Fender Twin and one of three
Ampegs - a VT-22, V2, and V4 - and recalls
how at the time there was a limited aftermarket
for hardware and pickups.
"DiMarzio's Super Distortion pickups had
just come out and I put them in the Les Paul,"
he said. "My Tele was a new '77, but I changed
the neck pickup to Hi-A Bartolini Firebird
The commercial success of those albums
allowed Easton to expand his arsenal.
"Dean brought me an ML during the CandyO sessions and I put it right to work," he said.
"The first song I used it on was 'Since I Held You,'
and I liked it a lot. Now, people kind of laugh
about the pointy headstocks and funny-shaped
bodies, but the Dean was a really good guitar,
and I really enjoyed playing them. They had
fantastic tones, felt great, and had great necks.
"I was still using Les Pauls and Teles on
Candy-O and Panorama; it wasn't like I
eliminated them. I just added other things.
In '79, I got a real good new Les Paul Custom
and played it a lot. I still have it. It's just a great
guitar. The only thing is it's so darn heavy
that I still have a chronic crick in my neck
from standing onstage for two hours with it. I
Elliot Easton: Glenn Mayeda.
don't know why Customs are so much heavier
than Standards, but a lot of them seem to be.
I started to embrace the SG because it was
lighter. They even made my signature model,
which was basically a two-pickup SG Custom."
Panorama was notably different from the
Cars' first two releases.
"Ric Ocasek was writing batches of songs
every year with new attitudes and new approaches," he said. "Obviously, Panorama
was a bit of a departure. There was no group
discussion about how it was going to be an experimental record, more edgy, or anything like
that. Maybe Greg was listening to Kraftwerk
or we were listening to Suicide and things like
that, so some other influences were creeping
in. We're very eclectic in our tastes."
"On 'Touch and Go' and a B-side called
'Don't Go to Pieces' there's a lot of Rickenbacker 12-string. Also, during the Panorama
period, I started working with Fender. They
had just come out with the new Lead I and
Lead II series, and they made me a couple of
those and put me in their catalog. The Lead I
is what I used for the solo in 'Touch and Go.'
If I remember correctly, I played that through
a Mesa-Boogie head through a Marshall cab.
It was just one of the go-to amps during that
time. We had Fenders, too - Twins, Deluxe
Reverbs, stuff like that."
One of Easton's main guitars from that era
was a '61 Strat.
"I used it quite a bit; it's on the solo for
'Dangerous Type' and 'It's All I Can Do' (from
Candy-O). I think I used it on 'Panorama.' I
can't always remember what I played on the
deep cuts, but I do remember those."
These days, he's recording a second album
with the Empty Hearts, featuring Romantics
vocalist/rhythm guitarist Wally Palmar,
Blondie drummer Clem Burke, and Chesterfield Kings bassist Andy Babiuk. In December,
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the
Cars were part of this year's class of inductees.
"I'm pretty excited about that," he said. "Lots
of bands feign disinterest, but I think, deep
down, it's an honor. Now we have to figure
out what we're going to play!"
Easton estimates he has been through
"probably 1,000 guitars" though now has a
relatively modest collection.
"I'm afraid to count!" he laughed. "But I
think it's somewhere around or just over 100.
Certainly enough! I have Gibson, Fender,
Martin, Larrivée, and Rickenbacker guitars.
I think some of that comes from wanting to
cover myself because when you're a lefty, you
can't borrow someone else's guitar. No one
asks to borrow your guitars either, which is
nice!" - Bret Adams