Ty Tabor of King's X guitar tone & Gear
Zion Ty Tabor model development
Abalone Vintage has had the privilege to work with Ty Tabor on many occasions.
Eric first made contact with the band during the "Faith Hope Love" tour of 1991. Their concert at Columbia's Greenstreet concert Hall is considered by many "locals" who have followed the band, their finest show. The first four recordings by King's X are amongst the finest written and produced rock albums ever. Period!
Eric has said. " I listened to their first two albums for about two years solid, drove everyone around me nuts!" he added. "What I mean is, I listened to King's X ONLY and nothing else."
1990 Houston Texas | Eric and Ty
Ty from a King's X show at Greenstreets on June 19, 1991.
Doug Pinnick from a King's X show at Greenstreets on June 19, 1991.
Ty's main Stratocaster elite, backup Stratocaster Elite, and backup L5 amp.
Ty Tabors (Then secret!) amplifier. Gibson Lab Series L5 solid state amp.
1970's E-Bow (Chrome)
1970's MXR Phase 90 (Script logo)
These Marshall cabinets were used on the Faith Hope Love Tour. We bought these from Ty after he got his Yamaha 4X12s.
1985 Fender Stratocaster Elite. Ty's backup on the Faith Hope Love tour.
1985 Fender Stratocaster Elite. Ty got this guitar from us and used it for songs that required standard tuning.
1983 Fender Stratocaster Elite on the tour bus.
May 21, 1992 | The Roxy in Atlanta.
G&G guitars picks (2 Gross)
Various Stratocaster Elite parts - PC board etc.
July 22, 1992 | Augusta Georgia
MXR Pitch Transposer
August 15, 1992 | Charlotte North Carolina
Custom built "Elite" style pre-amp.
Roland SDE-1000s (2)
Much ado has been made over Ty's "secret" guitar rig over the years. More recently Ty has been ever increasingly vocal about his equipment. See Guitar Player Magazine May 1996.
Eric thinks, "Ty's sound early on was very distinctive, much like Van Halens earlier tone.
One thing that left a real impression on Eric was Ty's use of the volume on his guitar. Eric: " I thought Ty was channel switching his amp to go between his clean and overdriven tone. But when I got the chance to see him live, I realized he was backing off the volume knob of his guitar to clean the tone up. His guitar and amp combination really seemed to be particularly suited for this."
Eric helped design the Ty Tabor model guitar manufactured by Zion Guitars. " In 1993 I was approached by Ken Hoover of Zion Guitars. Ken had built a prototype for Ty some years earlier and had shown it to him...without much interest by Ty. Ken wanted to pursue building another guitar for Ty, and he knew I was a huge fan. Ken and I had been friends for years, and he asked me if I knew what amps and effects Ty was using. I told him not only did I know what he was using, but that I had seen Ty's amplifier rack and knew the settings. (I also owned Ty's backup guitar) So Ken asked if I would help figure out what guitar Ty would like. Sure. No problem.
Within a few months, I took a copy of Ty's rig up to Zion. One of the keys to us getting Ty's tone was the use of a pre-amp. that I built. The guitar That Ty was using at the time was a 1980's Fender Stratocaster Elite. That guitar has an onboard pre-amp. A few years earlier I bought a few miscellaneous Elite parts that had been in storage at a guitar parts company. I built a pre-amp. pedal that would create an EQ close to that of a Stratocaster Elite tone. When I arrived at Zion's facilities we plugged every guitar they had in, to get an idea what most closely resembled Ty's tone.
Oddly enough, the guitar that by far sounded the best, was Phil Keaggy's guitar that had been sent back to the factory for adjustments! The guitar was a Zion T-model with three P-90 pickups. If my memory serves me, I believe it was also the last guitar that we plugged in!
Ken asked what I thought Ty would like stylistically. It happens that Ken had a Maple Top T body that was a new color, Plumburst. It absolutely was the coolest color you ever saw. So I'm goin' That's the one!!! Ken took measurements from the neck of a Fender Stratocaster Elite that I had gotten from Ty. King's X would be playing in Raleigh soon, so I returned home while Zion built the guitar.
Ken and I got together to show Ty the finished product. I brought up a rack mounted version of my (Elite) pre-amp. pedal. I went to the factory and hooked everything up. It sounded and looked great. Ken had put a switch on the guitar that would alter the taper of the volume pot, facilitating easier and quicker volume swells. The other switch on the guitar was an on-off switch. The guitar had one volume knob. One Seymour Duncan P-90. The neck was custom made by Kenny Marshall. And the guitar was finished in Plumburst.
So, off we went. The show that night was in Raleigh North Carolina. We got there before the soundcheck and showed the guitar to Ty. He actually like the color on the back of the guitar better than the front. (he thought it was a tad more rock and roll looking) He took it up on stage and plugged in the guitar and pre-amp.. Instant great tone! The problem that arose was that the guitar was too noisy. Ty went on to explain that several guitar companies had built him prototypes, but they couldn't make one that sounded great and was quiet. He also added that he did not like EMGs (which are quiet!) or humbucking pickups. We left to kill some time before the show. Ken suggested putting a Joe Barden pickup in the guitar and taking it to the King's X show in Charlotte the following night. I was skeptical. I had used Joe Barden pickups, and found them a little harsh for overdriven tones. Particularly trying to get Ty's very unique smooth and fat, yet articulate tone. There is one thing that is no denying about Joe Barden pickups. They are stone-deaf quiet! They are humbucking, but they sound like single coils. (I like them better for clean tones)
I crashed at Zion employee Rick Helberling's house and got up the following morning to work with Ken on setting the guitar up. I think Kirby put the new pickup in and there was some debate as to what value of potentiometer to put in it. I convinced Ken to put a lower resistance pot in it than was recommended by Joe Barden. Either a 250K or 500K pot. I then plugged in to my "duplicate" Ty rig and tweaked the pickup height adjustment. Those Joe Barden pickups are VERY persnickety and it took me about an hour to hit the sweet spot I was looking for. We really ran late trying to revamp the guitar, which practically took all day.
We returned to hook up with Ty during the soundcheck. There were a lot of hangers-on at the show and security was tighter. So Ken hung out backstage at the venue and I left with our sizeable entourage of friends so as not to further irritate our hospitable hosts.
I returned just before the start of the show (12 midnight). Ken had driven back to Greensboro, so I searched out Ty's guitar tech, Jerry Wasley. I had gotten up at the crack of dawn (not something I'm noted for) and was about to drop! Jerry Wasley told me that Ty and Ken had been looking for me and that the guitar was exactly what Ty was looking for!!! As excited as I was, I could not stay for the show. I was so exhausted and had a two hour drive ahead.
The following Monday Ken told me that Ty had agreed to let Zion build another guitar with a few changes requested by Ty. The guitar that Ken was to build would be solid red, have three Bardens, three on-off switches, and have an arm contour. One of the problems we encountered was getting those tiny on-off switches used on the Stratocaster Elites. I finally found the company that made them.
Ken later flew to Houston and signed a contract with Ty making the Zion Ty Tabor model official. See photo (Thanks for the photos Ken!) Zion also made Ty several more guitars to be used as backups and for alternate tunings.
ZION Ty Tabor Signature guitar serial number 001. Our shop had The Ty Tabor prototypes one and two...and production guitars serial numbers 0001-0004. One guitar went to Taiwan! Three of the first four guitars had a slightly different shade of red. (More orange.)
Ken also made a blueburst RT classic for Ty and he used it on Manic Depression off the Dogman CD. The following year Ken made an RT Classic in Plumburst, unfortunately the guitar was stolen the night that Ty received it.
I really enjoyed working on this project, I'm always looking for a challenge!!! Its also been great getting to know Ty's former guitar tech Jerry Wasley. All of my business dealings with him both during and after his tenure with the band have always been very professional. A class act. Jerry also has a colorful history all his own. After his work with the band he went on to receive a Doctorate and is now teaching school in Birmingham. I can see it now... Dr. Wasley can you intonate the guitar? Who'da thunk.