The Bangles are back! After a 10-year separation, the band that rose to prominence in the 1980s with such hits as “Manic Monday” and “Walk Like an Egyptian” reunited in ’99 to record “Get the Girl” for the second Austin Powers film The Spy Who Shagged Me. A club tour followed in 2000 to test the waters – not as another “cash in on our past” act, but to give rise to a rebirth. This fresh start incorporated new material as well as radical rearrangements of their more familiar songs. The response was overwhelmingly positive, ultimately resulting in an album of new material(2003’s Doll Revolution) and the new Essential Bangles greatest hits compilation.
We recently spoke with Susanna Hoffs (rhythm guitar), asking her to reflect on the Bangle way of life as a guitar-toting musician.
Susanna Hoffs began her musical odyssey in elementary school, with a nylon-string guitar and a handful of chords taught to her by her uncle. Once she became “fluent in being able to move from one chord to another,” she learned to play more songs “in the folk tradition of friends teaching each other.”
Vintage Guitar: When did you begin to play electric?
Susanna Hoffs: It wasn’t until the summer before college that I started to get into playing electric guitar. The first electric I got, through the Recycler (a weekly classified ad newspaper in L.A.), was a Gibson SG. The ad said something along the lines of it had been owned by one of the Byrds. So that kind of did it for me. But I never knew who in the Byrds (owned it).
Then I got interested in Rickenbackers because of the Beatles and the Byrds. I liked that really jangly, bright sound. It was during the years that I went to UC Berkeley I started going to guitar stores and looking at equipment – being interested in vintage stuff, because I was interested in vintage music (chuckles)! I found the ’60s Rickenbacker with the black and white checked binding I had for awhile. Pretty sure I bought it in San Francisco.
Was that guitar used for recording the first Bangles single and EP?
Yes. That was my main guitar in the early Bangles’ days. It had a very shiny, very smooth finish on the fingerboard, like glass, practically. It was really fun to play, but the action was a little bit low and buzzy. Somebody suggested I get the frets worked on, and that turned out to be a disaster, because when I got the guitar back, they had gotten rid of all that finish. It just never felt the same. I’ve never had a guitar worked on (since) without knowing beforehand exactly what was going to happen to it. It was very traumatic.
I ended up selling that guitar, but I remember wanting a Rickenbacker that felt like that one had before.
What was your first amp?
My Fender Deluxe, which I also got through the Recycler. It’s my favorite amp, and I play it to this day. So there you go (laughs)! If you get a good piece of gear, hang on to it!
How did the Ric 325 come into your possession?
Again, probably through the Recycler. I got my little John Lennon-styled Rickenbacker, and it ended up being more of a video guitar. I did use it on some of the early Bangle records. We didn’t keep using it as much because it was harder to tune and it was a true 3/4-size guitar. The neck is very small. It’s actually a little bit less comfortable to play. But that one is a really prized possession, with the original case and everything!
Didn’t you also play a Fender Telecaster?
Yeah. I never actually owned one. A guy who worked on our crew for awhile lent me one for a considerable length of time. That’s the blond guitar I played.
What was your first electric 12-string?
It’s a ’66 Guild Starfire, and it has this incredible bright-but-warm sound. The pickups are so loud – it has this warm overdrive. This guitar is so magical that I stopped taking it out on the road. Every guitar player I ever worked with actually went out and tried to find one like it.
On Doll Revolution, there are so many parts I did on that guitar. Every time you hear a bell-like 12-string, it’s that guitar. It just takes you right back to the ’60s, in a way. It’s a vintage sound, but it’s modern, too. I’d say it’s up there as one of my most treasured guitars. I don’t know what I would do without it.
Your Rickenbacker and Guild appear on All Over the Place, the Bangles’ first album with Columbia. Yet in 1984-’85 you toured with a Fender Stratocaster…
It wasn’t a long period of time that I was a “Strat girl.” I don’t think it was an old one.
During the Different Light sessions in late ’85, you acquired Ric 350s in Fireglo and Jetglo, and two 620/12s.
Definitely. I was kind of coming to the conclusion that the Rickenbacker really was my guitar. Not to say that I haven’t enjoyed the sound of other guitars, but it became the signature sound… a sound I felt at home with.
How did the Susanna Hoffs Limited Edition 350SH come about?
I think Rickenbacker knew I was playing the guitars and asked me if I wanted to do it. I said “Yeah!” It didn’t take me a long time to figure out what I wanted the guitar to look like. I wanted to go back to the look that I’d fallen in love with in the first place – black with the checked binding. The model I sort of designed and had Rickenbacker make turned out to be the perfect size and shape for me, which was the 3/4-sized body with the full-scale neck.
Why did you place HB1 pickups in all three positions on both of your 350SH models?
During that time (1988-’89) we were playing really, really big places. It was an attempt to beef up the sound a little bit. Everyone thinks of the Rickenbacker as a sort of trebly, jangly guitar – which it is. I wanted the Rickenbacker to serve all those different needs, so that was the idea.
At that time, you also played the Fritz Brothers’ Roy Buchanan Bluesmaster guitar. How did that come about?
They contacted me and said Roy wanted me to have the guitar. He made the number one model for George Harrison. Mine came with a number two on it, and my name on the little engraved tag on the back. I was really honored. I have no idea how he knew about me or anything. But apparently he requested that I have that guitar. It’s an orange one. Vicki got a blue 12-string shortly after I got mine.
During your solo years, how did you discover the Taylor K22?
I was working with a management company called Gold Mountain, who had a lot of clients who played Taylors. I get a call and they said, “Come down to the office. We have something to show you.”
I went down and there was this incredible koa acoustic guitar. I picked it up and it was like heaven, this beautiful, dark koa wood with mother-of-pearl – it was really exotic looking! And it’s small – I think it’s a concert size. I thought, “I finally have an acoustic guitar!” And I’ve been playing it for years.
I can’t say enough about Taylor guitars. You can leave them in the case for months and (when) you want to pick up and play, it’s in tune! They’re just so well-made. It’s like the Rickenbacker – there’s something about your connection to the instrument. It becomes like a friend, and you feel real comfortable with it.
What was the impetus for the Susanna Hoffs Signature Series guitar?
A friend mentioned my name to T.J. Baden (at Taylor Guitars) and said, “Did you know Susanna Hoffs plays a koa Taylor?” T.J. had been getting artists to do the signature models.
So I got a call and was asked [if I wanted] to do it? “Absolutely!” I said, “But it’s gotta be koa!” I know that because I never would have thought to buy a koa guitar before.
Why were no 12-string guitars used during any of the Bangle performances since the reunion?
I can’t afford to take that Guild out with me. It’s just too precious and too fragile. I’ve actually been on the hunt for a roadworthy 12-string. I really miss having one on the road. I’d use it on tons of stuff. It’s really the only thing I need.
For more information, visit the official website at www.thebangles.com.
Based on the company’s semi-hollow 350, the Susanna Hoffs 350SH, introduced in 1988 and limited to 250 units, had a combination of one HB1 humbucking pickup and two vintage-style “chrome bar” single-coils. It also boasted a 24-fret rosewood fingerboard which, like the body, had checkered binding. Other features included a neck made from solid maple. List price was $1,279.
Photo courtesy of Rickenbacker.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.