Very few people will likely be familiar with the name ‘Ronald Jones’, but for those who do: good for you, pad yourselves on the back! In all seriousness, I think he is one of the most underrated guitar players of the 90s, definitively up there with guitarists like Jonny Greenwood, Kevin Shields or Graham Coxon. In terms of creativity and style I have yet to hear someone on that level of playing, making at times such bizarre sounds and weird phrases, that still make me wonder: “How? What just happened?” His creative ways of using certain effects and techniques was completely his own. The only one I know who does even something vaguely similar is Nick Reinhart from the band Tera Melos.
For all of you (everyone?) who don’t know who I’m talking about, Ronald Jones was the guitar player for the American band the Flaming Lips from 1992 till 1996. I have never seen him play live in person (a little too young then unfortunately). Hearing the Flaming Lips for the first time didn’t leave much of an impression on me at first. I was raised with a lot of music around me at the time, back when MTV still showed mostly music videos. Hearing music from the 90s left me with a taste of things to come at an early age. ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’, the biggest hit of the Lips from that period, must have been on several times, although my memory is blurry. Fast forward years later and discovering their vast discography I was drawn to that one specific period in the history of the Flaming Lips: the “Ronald Jones era”.
The Lips only made two albums with Ronald on-board, ’93s “Transmissions from the Satellite Heart” and two years later “Clouds Taste Metallic”. If you haven’t ever listened to these albums, check them out! After Ronald left the music and the band changed, I still like a lot of it but the ‘golden era’ of the Lips was definitely over, for me at least. The sound of his guitar on many live shows/recordings was the pinnacle of psychedelic noise rock weirdness, adding so much textures and covering multiple grounds with his sound; slide guitar, pick scratches, musical ring modulation, crazy synth, fuzzed-out leads, orchestral and otherworldly delays and reverb. Check out this concert from 1995 for a sample of Ronald’s guitar witchcraft (and occasional back-up vocals). Bonus: it’s got good audio too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOvWQrkRb-4.
Coming to the instruments of the man himself: his main guitars were two nearly identical mid 60s Jaguars. Jones was mostly spotted with a ’65/’66 surf green Fender Jaguar (with neck binding and pearl dot inlays). These Jaguars were only built for a short while before switching to binding with pearl block inlays, which lasted until production ended in 1975. The most recognizable about this Jaguar was that he modded it with Seymour Duncan Hot Rails pickups and a tune-o-matic bridge. Wayne Coyne, the singer/other guitarist of the Lips, had a ’67 Jazzmaster modded in the same way (much to the chagrin of Steven Drozd at first, the drummer and actual owner of the guitar). I don’t know who inspired who though, possibly modeled after Wayne’s old beat-up 70s Strat.
Anyways, at first the Jaguar only had one Hot Rails pickup in the bridge position (like the Jazzmaster) but sometime around/before early ’93 a second Hot Rails was installed in the middle position. Notice the screw holes for the middle pickup in the photos below. A custom pickup selector plate also replaced the stock triple switches of regular Jaguars, instead opting for a single five-way toggle switch as used on Stratocasters. Apparently the guitar was modded even further in 1995 sometime after their performance on David Letterman, completing the Holy Trinity of Hot Rails with a third Hot Rails installed in the neck position! Finding good pictures of this guitar was difficult. Ironically the best photos I could find were of this guitar being played by Derek Brown, who alongside Drozd is the current guitar player of the Flaming Lips, the Jaguar still remaining in the band after Ronald’s departure in 1996.
The other Jag was a ’65/’66 sunburst Fender Jaguar. The neck also had pearl inlays but no binding, making it (probably) slighter older than the other guitar. 1965 and 1966 was a transitional year for Fender after being bought by CBS. Many features like the logo and other cosmetics were used interchangeably on Fender guitars and basses, so it’s possible to get weird combinations like the newer logo on an older neck, the newly introduced neck binding on an older body, etc, etc. The sunburst one also had the same mods done to it as the surf green Jag, albeit the neck pickup was never changed to a Hot Rails (at least to my knowledge). I haven’t seen any clear pictures of this guitar so no idea if it also had the custom 5-way pickup selector plate (edit: it appears it didn’t after watching some live footage from San Francisco 1995). This Jaguar doesn’t appear to have went to the band after ’96, so I guess/hope Ronald still has it somewhere?!
Other guitars Jones used were a black Fender Stratocaster (with white pickguard), used for the very first shows with the Lips in 1992. A Yamaha SG-60T (which previously thought was a Supro guitar from the 60s) seen in the ‘Be My Head’ and alternate ‘Turn It On’ music video and also used live on many occasions such as at KC Lollapalooza ’94 and on Jon Stewart), a white/blonde Fender Telecaster, seen in various music videos (edit: the Tele was also used live at Roskilde 1996), a blue ‘Rickenbacker’ copy 12 string, seen in the ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ video. Besides the Strat, Supro and Tele, there were various guitars seen in mostly music videos and likely belonged to the band. Other examples are a 60s sunburst Fender Coronado and a Harmony Rocket H54/1 (Wayne’s guitar). Some would have been used for recording, but I haven’t found much footage or info on these particular guitars.
The tribute guitar is built according to some of the specs of Ronald’s original Jaguars, diverging only ‘slightly’. It’s a tribute remember, not a replica! I want to build a replica someday though, be patient, maybe in a couple of years or so…
As you can see it is still a work in progress, missing the neck, vibrato tailpiece and part of the electronics (edit: now all wired up!). The ash body is from Warmoth, finished in the color ‘Transparent Amber’. If you check out their website this exact Jaguar body is still used as their model for this particular finish. Instead of the tune-o-matic bridge I’ll be using a Warmoth modified Mustang bridge. Mustang bridges were/are used as a cure for the saddle problem of Jaguar and Jazzmaster bridges. TOM bridges can also be used, which is what Ronald and Wayne did, but you’d have to mod the body slightly. The Warmoth ones are drop-in replacements and even offer height adjustment that original Mustang bridges don’t.
The tortoise pickguard is an original Jaguar pickguard from 1965, same as the neck pickup and the main control plate (plus knobs). These pickguards have a much nicer look to them than the reissue tortoise guards. These are either brown tortoise or the graphics aren’t pronounced at all, so I opted getting an original 60s pickguard. It just so happened that the guy who offered one also had a spare pickup and plate which he kindly sold to me for a fair price. The bridge pickup is of course a black Seymour Duncan Hot Rails. I was thinking of adding a second one, but then I’d have to rout the body and the pickguard. The pickguard still being original would probably give me bad karma… The lower switching system will be the regular Jaguar triple selectors, at least being faithful to Ronald’s ‘Mk 1 Hot Rails’ Jaguar.
I’ll be finishing up the guitar in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for pics of the completed tribute guitar and some final words! Hopefully it will sound and play as good as it looks.