Tag: Electro-harmonix

Steven Wilson: “I’m Just a Nerd Who Fell in Love with the Magic of Making Records”

steven wilson im just a nerd who fell in love with the magic of making records

In 2010, Steven Wilson was standing onstage at the Royal Albert Hall in London with his band Porcupine Tree before a sold-out crowd. He hadn’t yet told his bandmates that it would be their last show—at least for a while. The band had been engaged in what felt like a relentless cycle of recording and touring for the 17 years leading up to that point. Despite having gained a dedicated following, they’d never had a hit nor the support of mainstream radio and television—yet they were constantly being told their next record would be the one to break through. But with 10 albums to their name, that still hadn’t happened. Wilson was tired.


The band went on hiatus after that show, and Wilson furthered the pursuit of his solo career (which began in 2008 with the release of his debut, Insurgentes). After a while, fans began to assume that waiting around for a Porcupine Tree reunion was a lost cause.

“I was quite a big contributor to that, too,” Wilson admits. “I would say to people, ‘No, forget it, we’re not coming back.’” But it wasn’t true. “I was telling a white lie just to get them to focus on what I was doing at that point. But actually, behind the scenes, we were working toward something that would eventually herald the return of the band.”

Porcupine Tree – Harridan (Official Lyric Video)

Porcupine Tree’s 11th full-length studio album, Closure/Continuation, marks that return. With the 65-minute, 10-track record, Wilson, drummer Gavin Harrison, and keyboardist Richard Barbieri offer a new collection of compositions that build on the band’s classic sound with a reinvigorated, visceral pulse.

Opening with the guttural, aggressively percussive bass line on “Harridan,” the album navigates through a series of kinetic musical worlds that are, in balance, both pensive and turbulent. The second track, “Of the New Day,” has a plaintive refrain taken from its title, and later on in the album, the haunting, subtly shapeshifting “Chimera’s Wreck” moves through tones of disquiet to create a nearly 10-minute narrative that’s both cerebral and emotive. Other standout tracks include the ominous “Herd Culling,” and the sinister “Rats Return.”

It’s elusive what exactly makes the record something that moves the band forward. It might be the amorphous arrangements, which stay accessible as they seem to breathe even more freely than past works, or the seamless concatenation of foreboding, hopeful, and furious overtones, or the strength in the voice that ties together each of the self-contained, emotionally complex, often dystopian scenes. But in their time away, what Wilson calls the band’s “creative core” seems to have evolved.

“I would say to people, ‘No, forget it, we’re not coming back.’”

Although Porcupine Tree never actually disbanded, there was a gap between 2010 and 2012 where they weren’t seeing much of each other, at least not for composing purposes. Then in 2012, they began a 10-year gestation of material that would end up becoming Closure/Continutation. Their writing sessions were sporadic, says Wilson: In the beginning, they would get together for just a few weeks at a time every other year.

“Part of the reason for that, I think, was that we didn’t want to feel any pressure in making a Porcupine Tree record,” he shares. “A lot of people assumed that we didn’t exist anymore, and I kind of liked that because it meant that we could work on the record in a complete vacuum with no pressure, no expectation, no deadlines.”

The 2020 lockdown motivated them to finally knuckle down and bring the record to completion, but they wouldn’t have gone through with releasing it if they didn’t feel as though they were doing something new. Part of Wilson’s jadedness at the end of that 2010 tour was because he felt, despite its relative chart success, that their last record, The Incident, was largely uninspired. “I felt like we were on a creatively downward trajectory where the music was no longer getting better,” he says. “In fact, it was beginning to sound a bit same-y. And it’s always been very important to me and the band that every record has a sense of evolution from the previous record.”

With the new album, he feels they’ve succeeded in that respect. “I’m very proud of the music, and I think it’s some of the best I’ve ever made,” he says. “Time will tell how the album fits into the catalog—it’s not something you can judge in such a close proximity. But right now, I’m fairly confident this will become one of the more popular and successful things I’ve ever done in my career.”

The band’s followers might notice that longtime bassist Colin Edwin doesn’t appear on the album. Rather, Wilson plays bass througout. He says filling that role wasn’t at all meant as a slight to Edwin but was a result of how the music came together. “It was just a very natural thing for me to try something different rather than picking up a guitar,” Wilson says. “And we ended up writing so much of the record in that way.”

“A lot of people assumed that we didn’t exist anymore, and I personally kind of liked that because it meant we could work on the record in a complete vacuum with no pressure, no expectation, no deadlines.”

Wilson’s guitar-minded approach to the bass produced a style that diverts from more predictable patterns. “I play bass like a guitar player,” he comments. “I play a lot of stuff high up, I play a lot of melodies, I play a lot of chords, and I don’t perhaps play like a traditional bass player would play.”

Writing on bass helped make the album more groove- and riff-oriented, and less polyphonic overall than past records. The newfound approach also gave Wilson a refreshed outlook on composing. “I’ve been writing on the guitar for the best part of 25 years. And frankly, when I pick it up now, I’m not sure what else I’ve got left to do!” he shares. “But when I pick up the bass, or I go to the keyboard, suddenly there’s so much more that I’ve never done before. I surprise myself more when I play them.”

Steven Wilson’s Gear

Guitars & Basses

  • Fender Custom Shop Telecaster
  • PRS Singlecut Gold Top
  • PRS Custom 22
  • Takamine acoustic
  • Ovation acoustic (Nashville tuning)
  • Babicz Steven Wilson signature model
  • Spector basses
Amps
  • Bad Cat Lynx
  • Supro ’64 Combo
  • Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 5
  • Various software plug-ins for recording
Strings
  • D’Addario NYXLs

Effects

  • Strymon BigSky Reverb
  • Strymon TimeLine Delay
  • Diamond Vibrato
  • Moog Minifooger MF Tremolo
  • Origin Effects Cali 76 Compressor
  • Source Audio Programmable EQ
  • Analog Man Prince of Tone
  • Amptweaker Tight Rock JR
  • Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Phaser
  • Option 5 Rotary Pedal
  • Dunlop Cry Baby
  • Electro-Harmonix Micro POG x 2 (one octave up and one octave down)

Aside from acoustic strumming and fingerpicking on a few tracks, and edgy riff emphasis on others, the guitar mostly takes a backseat on the album. Wilson supports his arrangements with some solos that embody his quintessential feel for the instrument, but all in all, it’s apparent that the bass was truly the guiding force on Closure/Continuation.

In July, Wilson released another project: a 320-page autobiography entitled Limited Edition of One. Its subtitle, How to Succeed in the Music Industry Without Being a Part of the Mainstream, perhaps serves as its thesis. His story is that of someone who’s had success without ever having quite broken through, and that angle is exactly what helped him decide it was worth sharing.

“I always thought it would be a very boring book. I thought, ‘Well, there’s no book to be written because I don’t have any of those stories about being on the road and drugs and religion and groupies. I’m just a nerd that fell in love with the magic of making records.

“Then the guys at Hachette [the book’s publisher] pointed out to me, actually, that’s why a book on me would be interesting. Because that traditional rock ’n’ roll hedonistic thing … people are bored with that story because they’ve heard it so many times. At that point I became more convinced that maybe I did have a story to tell.”

In his book, he provides a detailed sketch of that aforementioned “nerd” who, in his formative years, was fascinated by records like the 1967 David Bowie single “The Laughing Gnome,” and especially the work of composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. But before getting into his biography, he elaborates on the overall mood at the band’s last concert in 2010, then lists common misconceptions people have about him, the saddest songs he’s ever written, and 10 reasons why he’s not a “macho” rock star. He also talks about his love of lists.“I love making lists of things to do, and I take great satisfaction in ticking everything off my list. The satisfaction you get when you’ve done that is immense,” he enthuses in conversation. As a self-described control freak, he adds that when he writes emails, he will leave absolutely nothing up to the imagination of the recipient: “I can be paranoid about that as people sometimes can misinterpret things unless you’re very, very, very clear.”

“Love him or hate him, Kanye West is an incredibly innovative producer.”

He also writes that he doesn’t see himself as a guitar hero. “I always feel fake and slightly embarrassed when I’m being interviewed for guitar magazines,” he mentions at the beginning of our conversation. “I’ll be very boring if I talk about guitars, because I don’t know much about them, to be honest.”

While many consider Wilson exclusively a progressive rock artist, his latest solo record, The Future Bites (2021), is but one of his works that refutes that notion, as it sits comfortably in an electronic or synth-pop category. Given that, it may not come as a surprise that when asked which musicians he thinks are truly progressive today, he’s quick to praise modern hip-hop artists.

“Love him or hate him, Kanye West is an incredibly innovative producer,” he says. “Then there’s Kendrick Lamar. When you listen to the way they structure music and the way they make music, it’s so alien to the ear of people that grew up with rock music. I think that’s a really good thing, and that’s why we should listen to it.”

Wilson is less certain on how to make those kinds of innovations in songwriting, or how creative inspiration works: “I’ve no fucking clue.” He draws inspiration from all sorts of things, but also often goes into the studio and just bangs his head against the wall with nothing to show for it. “Yeah, [creative droughts] are really depressing. I get really down when I go through a period where I can’t create anything,” he shares. “I always come to the conclusion that, ‘Oh shit, I’ve written the last song I’m ever going to write. I’ve got nothing left. The well is dry.’ But I also manage, touch wood, to prove myself wrong. What I do is I carry on going to the studio, and I carry on hitting my head against the wall. I have a very strong work ethic.”

“It’s, of course, almost impossible to crystallize something in words that is beyond words,” he continues, reflecting on the ethereality of songwriting. “I think the combination of music and words is so much more powerful than simply the written word. If you can get those two things in balance, it can almost make you understand what is beyond understanding.”

Rig Rundown – Steven Wilson [2019]

See the differences and similarities between Steven’s solo setup in 2019 and his current rig with Porcupine Tree for Closure/Continuation.

Talking to Wilson, his affability stands in contrast to the frequently dark and lachrymose themes heard in Porcupine Tree’s music. He explains that, for him, writing sad songs is like an exorcism or an unburdening of his own sadness.

“Miserabilism and melancholy … I’ve always found such a beautiful thing. It’s a profoundly magical thing if you can create empathy through focusing on some of the more negative feelings that we all share. And that’s why I still think that music, where on the surface it might be sad or melancholic or depressing, has the potential to be something incredibly uplifting and beautiful for the person who experiences it.”

YouTube It

Wilson leads Porcupine Tree in a performance of “Lazarus” from the 2005 album Deadwing, illustrating his penchant for introspective, melancholic ballads that find their place among the band’s heavier material.







Rig Rundown: Train

rig rundown train

Like King Ghidorah, these rock fretmasters prove three heads are better than one.


After a five-year break in studio releases, Train came roaring back this year with AM Gold and a tour with dates stretching into 2023 that’s delivering their new songs and a sampling of the group’s 28 charting singles from their nearly 30-year history. PG’s John Bohlinger stopped in on the band’s two guitar players, Jerry Becker and Taylor Locke, and bassist Hector Maldonado, before their June 21 show at Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater. They displayed the big bevy of instruments they use to recreate the Train sound live.

PS: Special thanks to techs Wayne Davis and Stephen Ferrera-Grand for help running down the rigs.

Brought to you by D’Addario Nexxus 360 Tuner.

Yellow Fever

Taylor Locke’s No. 1 is this all-stock, scarred Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul Special in TV yellow. For the record, Locke uses Shubb and Kyser capos, strings his axes with Dunlops, and uses the latter company’s picks and slides.

Hum-Doozie

When the song calls for a guitar with humbuckers, Locke goes with his all-stock Gibson Custom Shop R7 Les Paul Goldtop. It’s essentially a re-do of a 1957 Paul right down to the chunky C-profile neck and Indian rosewood fretboard.

Double Trouble

Some of Train’s songs require both electric and acoustic tones, and for those Taylor employs an Epiphone Casino, which tech Stephen Ferrera-Grand has outfitted with Fishman’s PowerBridge pickup system. The jack on the Casino is stereo, which enables splitting the stock electric pickups and a piezo pickup to two separate wireless packs, mounted side-by-side on Taylor’s guitar strap. The piezo signal hits a Sound Sculpture Volcano expression pedal volume controller that routes to an on/off switch on his Line 6 HX Effects stomper. The piezo sound is sent to front-of-house and monitors via a Fishman Aura Spectrum DI preamp.

Fab Filtration Across the Nation

When it’s time to go Filter’Tron, Locke straps on this tuxedo’d G6128T Vintage Select ’89 Duo Jet with a trusty Bigsby. In case the colors aren’t shining though in the photo, it’s an impressive black with metallic green sparkle, and Locke keeps it tuned a half-step down and strung with Dunlop .011s

Old Frontier

Locke aims for a couple of classic acoustic guitar tones, and for vintage vibe he reaches for this 1964 Epiphone Frontier. It’s from the original ’58 to ’70 run, with a Sitka spruce top and maple back and sides. These days, the model has been restored to the catalog courtesy of Gibson’s acoustic builders in Bozeman, Montana.

Clydesdale Tone

The workhorse sound of the Gibson J-45 resonates in the Train catalog, and this is one of many the band keeps in their 6-string arsenal.

Reso-Phonics

When the language of roots guitar needs to be spoken, Locke grabs his Gretsch resonator—part of the company’s Roots Collection of guitars. This one uses Gretsch’s patented Ampli-Sonic biscuit cone.

Playing the Dozens

When it’s time to wrangle acoustic jangle, this all-stock 1971 Ovation Glen Campbell 12-string gets to shine and shimmer. Unlike modern 6-string Campbell signature Ovations, this guitar lacks a cutaway. It has a Sitka spruce top, a walnut bridge, and an ebony fretboard—and sounds killer.

It’s Pronounced Oo-koo-lay-lay in Hawaiian

The hit “Hey, Soul Sister,” which reached No. 3 on Billboard’s pop chart in 2009, is guaranteed set-list material for every show. So, of course, Locke always has a requisite ukulele onstage. Here’s a look at the pair of Godin ukes in his rack.

Lean, No Cheese, 35 Watts

Locke uses a Top Hat King Royal 2×12 combo kept slightly off stage but loud enough to be audible. The 35-watter has three 12AX7s and four EL84 power tubes, and a GZ34 governing the rectifier. There’s a fat-off-bright switch, too. How does he run it? See the next photo.

All Set!

Here are his settings for the Top Hat. Note the master volume riding at 1 o’clock and his preference for the hi-input jack.

Is That a Banana, or….

Locke isn’t monkeying around: If his Top Hat goes down, he’s got a Vox C4 tucked aside as a spare. And a banana—maybe to snack on while Ferrera-Grand powers the amp up?

The Great Switcheroo

Locke’s electric guitar signal hits a Shure Axient Digital wireless and zooms into a Radial SW4 switcher. Tech Stephen Ferrera-Grand does the wireless switching on the Radial unit, in his guitar rack.

Above the SW4, you’ll see, peeking out, the acoustic boss: a Countryman DI. The Godin ukuleles follow the same signal flow as the acoustics, but along a different path into a separate Countryman DI.

Treading the Treadles

From the rack, the signal is sent out to a Pedaltrain ’board, outfitted with a Best-Tronics patchbay. The board contains a Dunlop DVP1XL volume pedal to a Line 6 HX. A second DVP1XL controls certain effects parameters, such as delay repeats and Leslie speed. The signal is then sent into a Boss NS-2 noise suppressor and on to the Top Hat amp.

Each speaker gets its own microphone: a Shure SM57 and an Audio-Technica AT4040.

For the majority of the set, Taylor keeps his HX set up with the following effects models: a Tone Bender fuzz (for leads and solos), a Klon Centaur (primary overdrive sound, almost always on), an MXR Timmy OD (neutral volume boost), EHX Deluxe Memory Man (modulated slap delay), Boss DM-2 Delay (long delay), and a Fender Vibratone (rotary). Taylor scrolls to other pedalboard scenes for song-specific effects, using tremolo for “Meet Virginia,” a Small Stone phaser for “AM Gold,” and so on.

Butterscotch Bliss

Another entry from the realm of the classics: Jerry Becker’s 2011 all-stock Fender American Vintage ’52 Telecaster has an ash body, a large U-profile neck, and, of course, a maple fretboard. It is strung with Dunlop DEN1046 Electric Nickel Performance+ string sets, running .010–.046. PS: Becker uses Levy’s straps and wireless pouches, Dunlop custom graphic signature picks, and Kyser Quick-Change capos.

Red Horse

This Gibson SG Classic from 2010 is stock and strung with Dunlop Performance+ .010–.046 sets—as are all his electrics. It has P-90s, a rosewood fretboard, and pearloid dot inlays up the neck.

Guitar of the Beast

This second-generation Gibson Les Paul Special reflects the body style that led Les Paul himself to cut ties with Gibson in the early 1960s. Nonetheless, with their two P-90s and lighter slab bodies, these are killer guitars. The double-horn cutaways make this 1973 a rare beast. It’s stock.

All Stock and Ready To Rock

Here’s Becker’s 1973 Gibson Les Paul Custom, left as it came from the factory. As you may recall, this model comes with “banjo”-style fret wire, to earn their reputation as—as Gibson put it on the model’s introduction in 1954—fretless wonders.

Modern Classic

This Gibson ES-339 was built in the first year the model was issued: 2007. The company introduced this guitar as a smaller—Les Paul sized—take on the ES-335, with a laminated maple-poplar-maple body, a maple center block, and spruce contour braces.

One More 45

Here’s yet another of Train’s Gibson J-45s. This one is a 2013 Custom Shop model in a wine red finish, and it is strung with Elixir 11050 80/20 Bronze Polyweb lights, gauged .012 to .053.

Nashville Tuning

Becker’s 1966 Gibson B-25 is set up in Nashville, or high strung, tuning. In this tuning, the wound E, A, D, and G strings are replaced with lighter-gauge strings tuned an octave higher than usual. In the old days, this had to be done by raiding 12-string sets, but some modern string makers produce Nashville tuning sets. So, Becker uses D’Addario EJ38H Phosphor Bronze .010–.027s.

Canadian Nylon

This 2017 Godin Multiac Nylon Duet Ambiance Natural HG has Fishman electronics that allows the internal blending of four microphone settings. It also sports a slim nut width (1.9″), a Richlite fretboard, and a chambered mahogany body. The strings: D’Addario EJ31 Pro-Arté Rectified Nylon Hard Tensions.

In the Pedal Pond

Becker uses a Fractal Audio Systems FX8 MkII combined with a Mission Engineering SP-1 Expression Pedal. There’s a Lehle D.Loop SGoS Loop Switcher, a Boss TU-3 Tuner, a Radial JR-2 Remote, and a Lehle P-Split Passive Splitter. It’s all powered by a Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 Plus.

But Wait, There’s More

Guitar tech Wayne Davis mapped out Becker’s signal flow for us. The electric guitars hit a Shure Axient Digital Wireless receiver and flow into a Radial JX62. There, the 6-strings can be directed into the Lehle D.Loop in and then out via a loop A send to the Fractal FX8. The loop A return then reroutes through a D.Loop out to the Radial again. Then there are amp options: a Matchless DC-30 or a Leslie combo preamp and 145 rotary speaker cabinet. Acoustic guitar arrives via the wireless and hits the PA via the JX62 DI out.

Green Sound Machine

This envy-shaded DC-30 is Becker’s big gun. It was the company’s first design and gets huff from four EL84s, with two preamp sections: one powered by two 12AX7s and the other by a single EF86. That’s a lot of tonal versatility.

The Understudy

This Vox AC30 acts as Becker’s back up.

Coming Up Roses

Bassist Hector Maldonado’s long search for an early ’60s P bass landed him this 1960 Fender Precision days before Train’s current summer tour. The gem was professionally refinished by Joe Riggio of Riggio Custom Guitars at some point, but other than that it’s as Leo intended over 60 years ago. Riggio helped connect Maldonado to the seller so he could acquire his dream bass.

No. 2

With the arrival of his new old P, this off-the-rack Fender American Vintage ’62 P bass reissue got demoted to the No. 2 slot. But Maldonado says it plays better than some of his vintage instruments, and this 4-string has been around the world a few times with Train. Both Fenders take D’Addario roundwounds (.045–.100).

Sir Paul’s Highball

If you’ve spent time with any of the last three Train albums, you’ve heard this limited-run Hofner Gold Label Violin Berlin model. It is made of German Nussbaum wood and has the company’s 511B staple pickups in a normal-spacing configuration. Hofner’s Gold Label instruments are highly limited editions.

Get Back!

For the ultimate Beatles’ vibe, Maldonado uses this Hofner B-Bass HI-Series Violin model. It provides the desired “pluck” sound of 1964. Both of his stage Hofners take D’Addario XL Chromes, flatwound (.045–.100).

Spanish Flair

“Cleopatra” off AM Gold has a flamenco guitar part. Maldonado is classically trained, so he was the obvious choice to handle it, plus Becker and Locke are already busy with their own guitar chores on the song. Hector’s setup on his Yamaha CG172SF is creative. He uses a blend of strings from his Fender Bass VI and nylon guitar strings to hold down the low end and shred fingerstyle.

Racked and Ready

A Mesa/Boogie Subway D-800+ powers his basses, while an Avalon U5 Class A Active Instrument DI give a clear signal to front-of-house. And like his compatriots, he’s running a Shure AD4D rackmount wireless system.

More on the Floor

Maldonado has more pedals on the floor than his fellow Trainmen. His stomp station consists of a trio of mini MXRs—a Carbon Copy, Phase 95, and Vintage Bass Octave—plus an Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Nano reverb, a Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI, a DigiTech Bass Driver OD, an Origin Effects Cali76 compressor, and a Mesa/Boogie Five-Band Graphic EQ. A Dunlop Volume (X) DVP3 and a Boss TU-3s mini Chromatic Tuner keeps his instruments reined.


Miles Okazaki: Jazz with Robots

miles okazaki jazz with robots

On his new album Thisness, Miles Okazaki is credited as playing guitar, voice, and robots. If you imagine that the reference to robots is some sort of artsy kitsch—like trapping a Roomba Robot Vacuum into a tight space to sample its struggles as it percussively barrels into the four walls—you’re very far off the mark. Okazaki—who has an elite academic pedigree with degrees from Harvard, Manhattan School of Music, and Julliard, and currently holds a faculty position at Princeton University (after leaving a post at the University of Michigan, to which he commuted weekly from his home in Brooklyn for eight years)—wasn’t kidding.


“The robots are machines that I made in Max/MSP,” clarifies Okazaki. (Max/MSP is visual programming language for music and multimedia.) “It’s kind of a long story, but I’ve been doing this stuff on the side for 20 years or so. Some of the music theory, some of the conceptual stuff involved in the album, I programmed into these things that I built. These improvising machines can do things that humans can’t do. They’ll play faster than humans, but they’ll fit in because they’re playing the same type of material.”

I’ll Build a World, by Miles Okazaki

Okazaki explains that he creates parameters for the robots to improvise within: “I’m just telling this robot, ‘Play at this tempo and play this many subdivisions per beat—eight subdivisions or something like that—so that it’s linked up with the drums.” For pitches, he assigns a scale and can control the phrasing. “I’m saying for the pitch choices, ‘You’re going to use a chromatic scale and you’re going to play each note of that scale until you exhaust the scale without repeating a note,’ which makes a 12-tone row. It could be any scale, but that’s one of the settings that I have made in there. [After each 12-tone row is done] I tell it, ‘You’re going to take a little break, but I don’t want it to be the same break every time,’ so that it’s a phrase.”

To get a sound that convincingly blended in with the rest of the tracks, Okazaki had keyboardist Matt Mitchell run the robots through his Prophet Six analog synth. “I wrote a file of them improvising and ran that file through the synth,” explains Okazaki. “Matt would do the sounds for it,” so both the robots and Mitchell used the same Prophet Six in their own way.

“I’ve never been that interested in imitating anybody’s style.”

Okazaki, a family man with three children, seems busy in all parts of his life, but he must have learned to maximize his time because he’s incredibly productive. In 2018, he recorded his magnum opus, the critically acclaimed Work—a five-hour, 70-song marathon of the complete works of Thelonious Monk, all performed on solo guitar. It’s a project he’s wanted to do since his teen years. But in the process, he labored so relentlessly that he ignored his body’s warning signs and suffered a repetitive stress injury. That didn’t stop him from intensely preparing for and entering the New York City Marathon just a few months later. When that chapter was over, Okazaki again focused on his musical pursuits and proceeded to record several more albums, both as a leader and side musician.

Thisness is Okazaki’s fifth album in a three-year period and reflects his collaborative approach. It features his Trickster band, which includes Mitchell on keyboards, Anthony Tidd on electric bass, and Sean Rickman on drums. Okazaki has worked with each of these musicians for years, both in his own group and in saxophonist Steve Coleman’s, and they’ve developed a creative relationship that made it possible to record complex music quickly. The entire album was recorded over a two-day span with the quartet recording live on day one and overdubs the following day.

And the music on Thisness is incredibly complex. Though Okazaki has studied Indian music seriously, his compositions are also somewhat reminiscent of contemporary Western classical music. You’ll see no shortage of odd note groupings, polyrhythms, and mixed meters carving out space for intricate atonal melodies throughout. Plenty of advanced jazz musicians that proudly boast about their ability to play John Coltrane’s “Countdown” in all 12 keys would cower in fear if they were asked to perform some of Okazaki’s works.

Despite the puzzling, esoteric nature of his compositions, Okazaki’s roots draw from the jazz tradition. After initially starting on classical guitar at age 6, he developed an interest in jazz at 12 and was doing solo guitar gigs at a local Italian restaurant by age 13. His first guitar teachers were Michael Townsend and Chuck Easton (a bebop-influenced Berklee grad), and he took music theory group classes in a cabin in the woods with a teacher named Alex Fowler.

Miles Okazaki’s Gear

Guitars

• 1937 Gibson L-50

• 1940 Gibson ES-150 Charlie Christian (bought with matching EH-150 amp)

• 1963 Gibson C-O Classical

• 1978 Gibson ES-175 with Charlie Christian pickup

• 2018 Slaman “Pauletta” with Charlie Christian pickup modified with adjustable pole pieces drilled into the blade. A hum-canceling coil was recently added by Ilitch Electronics.

• 2002 Yamaha SA2200

• 2016 Kiesel HH2

• 2008 Caius quarter-tone guitar

Amps

• Quilter Aviator Cub

• Quilter Tone Block 200

• Raezer’s Edge Twin 8 cabinet

Effects

• Boss OC-2 Octave

• Boomerang III Phrase Sampler with Side Car controller

• One Control Mosquito Blender Expressio

• Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal

• Dunlop CBM95 Cry Baby Mini Wah

• Boss RV-5 Digital Reverb

• Analog Man Peppermint Fuzz

• MXR GT-OD

• Electro-Harmonix Micro POG

• Dunlop DVP4 Volume

• Sonic Research ST-300 tuner

Strings and Picks

• Thomastik-Infeld Flatwound .013s (Gibson ES-150 Charlie Christian and Slaman “Pauletta”)

• Thomastik-Infeld Flatwound .014s (Gibson ES-175 with Charlie Christian pickup and Caius)

• Thomastik-Infeld Flatwound .012s (Yamaha SA2200)

• Thomastik-Infeld Flatwound .011s (Kiesel HH2)

• D’Addario Roundwound .014s (Gibson L-50)

• D’Addario Pro-Arte high tension nylon (Gibson C-O)

• Fender .88 mm for .012 strings, 1.0 mm for .014 strings

• Homemade picks using Pick Punch (Preferred material is American Express Delta Sky Miles Credit Card)

• Ilitch Electronics Driftwood pick

• Knobby picks bought from an Instagram metal shredder

During his teens, Okazaki went through a jazz-snob phase, and although he hails from Port Townsend, Washington, he never got into the nearby Seattle scene. “The ’90s, Nirvana and Soundgarden.… No, I kind of missed all that,” he admits. “I was there, but I was into Wes Montgomery and Thelonious Monk. I was stuck in the ’60s and ’50s at that point.” He still cites those musicians, in addition to Grant Green, George Benson, and Charlie Christian (whom he hailed as “the greatest guitarist that ever lived” in a blog post) as influences.

After attending Harvard University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, Okazaki came to New York to pursue his master’s degree in guitar at Manhattan School of Music. There, he found a mentor in Rodney Jones, a jazz/R&B player with tremendous chops. “I studied with, and continue to study with, Rodney,” explains Okazaki. “He was my teacher from 1997. I worked pretty closely with him for about 10 years, rebuilding my technique. My technique wasn’t good. You know I didn’t really have a teacher before him that really talked about guitar so much. I had teachers, but it was more just sort of like other people from other instruments. His technique is based on a hybrid George Benson type of deal. It has to do with the picking, but also there are many, many things that have to do with micro movements of the right hand. So, I spent a long time studying that. I still don’t really play like that, but I play kind of like a hybrid version of his hybrid version. Now mine is mixed with some other stuff.”

Jones referred Okazaki to legendary saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, and Okazaki did a few gigs with the soul-jazz master shortly before his passing in 2000. It was around this period that Okazaki made his mark on the NYC jazz scene. He worked with vocalist Jane Monheit and was initially cast as a straight-ahead guitarist. “For a long time, I was just a standards player. I was pigeonholed in that area,” he recalls. “I did this weird stuff on the side—well, I didn’t consider it to be weird—but it was hard for people in their mind to imagine that you do different things.”

The guitarist found he was able to fully explore other sides of his playing when he landed a gig with Steve Coleman, whose M-Base Collective created a new language of incredibly challenging, forward-thinking music. From 2008 until 2017, Okazaki’s artistry thrived as he played alongside Coleman.

”I don’t know how many people you know that can play in James Brown’s band. It’s harder than playing in my band, that’s for sure.“

Very few players can comfortably hang with both the down-to-earth, bluesy jazz sounds of George Benson and the futuristic, ultra-heady maze of Coleman’s music like Okazaki can. The guitarist sees the two approaches as sharing common heritage. “Benson’s language is blues and R&B, and Steve Coleman’s is, too. There’s different theories and stuff behind it, but it’s not technically different to me,” he explains.

“If it was language, I’m interested in the grammar, not so much what language I’m speaking about,” he explains. “Or if it was cooking, I might be interested in the principles of ‘how do you cook a piece of meat,’ as opposed to, ‘I’m doing French cooking.’ George Benson has a style for sure, and a lot of people, when they learn about George Benson, will also sort of imitate his style. I’ve never been that interested in imitating anybody’s style. I kind of want to have my own style.”

Okazaki’s style is radically different from both the sounds of his main guitar influences and other offerings in today’s jazz landscape. His abstruse music has been called academic, but that’s a label the guitarist isn’t particularly fond of. “I would push back a little on ‘academic’ because, first of all, I don’t like academic music,” he says. “I don’t like any type of art that has to be explained. When I go to an art museum, I don’t want to have to read the little blurb. I don’t want anybody to have to know anything about music to appreciate it. There are things involved in how it’s made that are interesting to me, but I don’t care if they’re interesting to anybody else, or I don’t want that to be a feature of it that’s really that important, unless people want to look for that.”

For Okazaki, his music might be also called academic, or complex, or cerebral, but that doesn’t explain his purpose, or set him apart. “James Brown is complex, or Robert Johnson is complex,” he says. “All these things are complex, meaning that they’re not easily explained. I don’t know how many people you know that can play in James Brown’s band. It’s harder than playing in my band, that’s for sure.”

“The test is: Does it sound good, or does it not sound good? That’s the only question for me.”

Complexity comes in many forms. Just because a piece of music happens to be based on one chord “that doesn’t mean that it’s simple,” Okazaki observes. He believes the opposite is true as well. “There are things that take a lot of work, and there’s a lot of machinations involved, and a lot of manipulation of materials and thought, and construction, and it still sounds like shit,” he laughs. “And there are things that are just one chord and amazing.”

As much as Okazaki is known as a musical thinker who can throw down some heavy information in his compositions and playing, what matters most is how it sounds. “It might look good on paper, but if it doesn’t sound like anything, then it’s not good,” he says. “The test is: Does it sound good, or does it not sound good? That’s the only question for me.”

Trickster’s Dream – “The Lighthouse”

The Trickster band was scheduled to go on a six-week tour starting in May 2020 but got derailed by the Covid lockdowns. Instead, they created a video concert featuring music from Okazaki’s 2019 release, The Sky Below. This version of “The Lighthouse” is from those sessions and captures the band conjuring the energy and spirit of playing to a captive audience.


Rig Rundown: Los Bitchos’ Serra Petal & Josefine Jonsson

rig rundown los bitchos serra petal josefine jonsson

How an Italia Speedster, a sturdy Jazz bass, and a little “sad chorus” can kickstart an international dance party.


The last two years have given us plenty of reasons to seek a jaunty, joyous listening experience in our music. And one of the best finds around is Los Bitchos—the all-female, internationally assembled outfit consisting of Australia-born Serra Petale (guitar), Sweden’s Josefine Jonsson (bass), Uruguay’s Agustina Ruiz (keytar), and South Londoner Nic Crawshaw (drums).

Los Bitchos’ bubbly instrumental psychedelia cocktail mixes their collective musical ingredients (Argentinian cumbia, Peruvian chicha, Turkish Anatolian rhythms, and classic American surf rock), creating a devilishly delicious concoction that’s refreshing as a mojito, hits like a negroni, and is as tropical as a mai tai. The good-time gals socked the world with their 2022 debut, Let the Festivities Begin!, showcasing their superpower of rump-shaking revelry.

Before Los Bitchos’ Nashville opening slot in support of Belle and Sebastian, PG was invited to the historic Ryman Auditorium for a quick and loose gear chat. We covered their streamlined setups that include a favored, fast Italian ride (not a Ducati) that made the trip from the U.K., learned why Petale is “Miss Chorus” and loves the effect’s “sad sounds,” and was schooled on why Jonsson just needs a J bass and an Ampeg amp to make the room twist and shout.

Brought to you by D’Addario XS Strings.

Speeding with Serra

“For me, the big difference between a workhorse guitar you take on tour compared to the instruments you keep at home is the humbucker pickups,” stated Los Bitchos guitarist Serra Petale during a recent Big 5 video for PG. Petale expounds in the Rundown, saying that she prefers performing with the above Italia Guitars Maranello Speedster II because its humbuckers offer beefier tones and a louder presence compared to the single-coil guitars she prefers for recording. “The Los Bitchos live show is a lot different than the album experience,” she adds. Her only touring guitar for this U.S. run takes Rotosound BS10 British Steels (.010–.046).

Veloce

A shot of the Maranello’s cool matching headstock. Note the stylish Italia badge and how the dual racing stripes continue.

Backline Bedrock

This Fender Twin Reverb offers Petale enough punch for her guitar to be heard and a clean platform for her fuzz and chorus pedals to reconfigure her signal.

“I am Miss Chorus”

That’s what Serra Petale declared when asked why she identified a chorus pedal as her secret weapon in the earlier Big 5 video with PG. Her current main modulation manipulator is the Electro-Harmonix Small Clone. (In the Big 5 video, she named the EHX Neo Clone as her go-to, but she’s since acquired the stomp favored by Kurt Cobain.) Another Mike Matthews design makes an appearance in the shape of a big-box EHX Big Muff. The two other noisemakers are a Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive and a Mooer Pure Octave. A Korg Pitchblack keeps her Italia in line.

Just a J for Josefine

The newest addition to Josefine Jonsson’s bass family is her current crush—a Fender Player Plus Jazz Bass that’s been “just lovely to play.” The stock J has Player Plus Noiseless Jazz Bass pickups, a 3-band active EQ with an active/passive toggle, a 4-saddle HiMass bridge, and a modern C-neck shape. She keeps both volume controls wide open and dials in dynamics with her attack. She notes in the Rundown that she’s always bonded more with the Jazz than the Precision, because of the J’s smaller size and thinner neck.

Ain’t Nothing to It But to Rocket

For this run of U.S. shows supporting Belle & Sebastian, Josefine plugs her Player Plus J straight into this Ampeg Rocket Bass RB-112 because, as she put it in the Rundown, “anything Ampeg and I feel like I’m in safe hands.”

Eric Johnson Pans for Gold

eric johnson pans for gold

Eric Johnson knows that excessive pride gets in the way of true progress, and that having extraordinary talent doesn’t beget personality or, simply put, make you better than anyone else. “I’ve spent so long being involved in [playing music] that, at one point, you take a break and go, ‘Yeah, but that’s not me—that’s just something I do. Who am I?’” he shares. “Regardless of how well you do it and how appreciated you are, it’s not like a carte blanche calling card that gives you any kind of real entitlement in life. If you think it does, then you don’t know who you are.”


That philosophy, along with his passion for the instrument, has, over time, superseded any ego-inflating diversions that can come from fame. And rather than resting on his legacy, the guitarist is building on it with the release of two albums: The Book of Making and Yesterday Meets Today. The records came together in a process of creative reconnaissance, where Johnson dove into his vault of recordings to find forgotten song ideas that could be polished, fleshed out, and rejuvenated for release.

Eric Johnson – Soundtrack Life (Official Visualizer)

The 18 tracks that collectively make up both albums include those that fit into a classic Johnson style, such as the brightly textured lead single from The Book of Making, “Soundtrack Life,” along with ones that explore other territories, like that album’s gentle, piano-guided “To Be Alive,” co-written with singer/guitarist Arielle, and a cover of the blues classic “Sittin’ on Top of the World” by the Mississippi Sheiks (famously covered by Howlin’ Wolf). These new compositions range from panoramic instrumentals to lilting ballads, embroidered by the guitarist’s fluid, crystalline tone and uplifting vocals. And together, they offer a new look into Johnson’s characteristic finesse.

When the last few weeks of his tour got cancelled in March 2020, Johnson, amidst the societal standstill and isolated from his bandmates, decided that the best use of his time would be to revisit his old demos and musical sketches. As he navigated through the tiny snippets, little chord changes, and other bits and pieces, he discovered that he had far more material available than expected and set to arranging and recording.

“When I take the vantage point of a listener, it’s easier to tell if stuff really has merit.”

I felt, well, if I’m going to be isolated, let me go try to find something to work on,” he says. “There’s a handful of songs that were written from scratch, and towards the end of the period I brought musicians in and we recorded new stuff. Then there’s a couple of tracks that I didn’t do anything to. They were just left over from outtakes from other records. But predominantly it was just stuff that was barely started, and I did a whole lot of work on my own.”

The songs done from scratch include “Floating Through This World” and “To Be Alive” from The Book of Making and “Hold on to Love” and “JVZ” (dedicated to Johnson’s late tour manager and guitar tech, Jeff Van Zandt) from Yesterday Meets Today. The original idea for the former album’s “My Faith in You” dates back 20 years, although its oldest song is “Love Will Never Say Goodbye,” which was built from a rough mix on a 25-year-old cassette. “That’s all I had,” Johnson says. “I couldn’t find the master take. It had synthesizer, bass, drums, and a vocal that was a little too low in level, but I just went with it. Then I added several guitars to it, and background vocals and percussion.”

Twenty-five years ago, Johnson was having an especially fertile creative period, despite his reputation as a painstaking studio craftsman. His albums Venus Isle and Seven Worlds sprang from that era, and his tenure on tour with fellow maestros Joe Satriani and Steve Vai was preserved on G3: Live in Concert. And while he’s more relaxed about record-making these days, he’s no less creative or prolific. The popular virtuoso says that every time he sets out to make an album, he usually ends up making two—and stashes the excess recordings in his vault. In this case, his efforts at rekindling his past inspirations resulted in 28 tracks that were pared down to the final 18, although he intends to eventually release five or six more of the original set on an upcoming EP.

Producer Kelly Donnelly, who has worked with Johnson on eight previous albums plus his 2014 collaboration with Mike Stern, Eclectic, helped with some of the engineering, but Johnson did most of it himself. In the process, he learned something interesting about the usefulness of low-fidelity recordings: If you pair them with recordings of a higher quality, the combination can create a compelling depth of field. This meant that he was able to salvage and build upon some of his more compromised cassette recordings. “I found that to be fascinating—it was like, ‘Wow, that kind of works.’ I didn’t know that was going to happen.”

“There has to be an element of the music that has enough power and velocity to reach out to the listener, rather than just be sonically nice to listen to.”

In 2020, Johnson worked with Fender to create a replica of his 1954 “Virginia” Stratocaster, which he played on many of the tracks from The Book of Making and Yesterday Meets Today. The guitar’s body is made with the less commonly seen sassafras wood and set up with a DiMarzio bridge pickup and ’57/’62 single-coil Strat middle and neck pickups. On the albums, he played a handful of other models, including a 1957 Strat with a maple neck, a 1965 Gibson ES-345 semi-hollowbody, and a late-’50s Les Paul. He also plays a National lap steel and Danelectro Vincent Bell Coral sitar on some tracks.

When it comes to songwriting, Johnson comments that his self-proclaimed perfectionist tendency to overthink things can work against him. “The songs where you’re really pushing and striving and stressing end up sounding like that,” he says, while the ones that just flow are the ones that are, for him, most worth working on. His creative process usually begins with making recordings of musical snapshots on his iPhone. He’ll capture a phrase on guitar or piano, or sometimes record himself singing a vocal or instrumental melody to later revisit. “They’re pretty embarrassing, if anybody ever found ’em,” he laughs, referring to the latter.

Eric Johnson’s Gear

Guitars

  • Eric Johnson Virginia Fender Stratocaster
  • 1957 Fender Stratocaster
  • 1965 Gibson ES-345
  • 1950s Gibson Les Paul
  • National lap steel
  • Danelectro Vincent Bell Coral Sitar
Strings & Picks
  • D’Addario EPN110 Pure Nickel sets
  • Dunlop Jazz IIIs

Effects

  • TC Electronic Stereo Chorus
  • Electro-Harmonix Memory Man
  • Vintage Echoplex (modded for use as preamp)
  • ’60s Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face
  • Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
  • BK Butler Tube Driver
Amps
  • Marshall plexi 50
  • Two-Rock Classic Reverb
  • Marshall 4×12
  • Fender Bandmaster Reverb
  • Electro-Voice speakers

Deciding which compositions to keep or toss can be a curious process. To better judge his own writing, Johnson says it’s important for him to detach and act like an audience member or listener—so not to give himself any favoritism. “You have to dispel all that,” he says. “When I take the vantage point of a listener, it’s easier to tell if stuff really has merit.” While that can sound like a purely imaginative exercise, he has a rather practical way of getting to that perspective. Often, he’ll just crank up his studio monitors and walk into another room to listen.

“That helps you tell whether something’s really reaching you or not,” he elaborates, “because you’re not sitting there enveloping yourself and hyping yourself on something. There has to be an element of the music that has enough power and velocity to reach out to the listener, rather than just be sonically nice to listen to.”

“There’s nobody who’s going to be able to do what you do the way you do it.”

Johnson calls the evolution of his sound a “crazy process” that he says could go on forever, but he tries to let the music speak and will work to rise to the occasion to come up with a part that fits. “Sometimes that means I have to study a part that I can’t normally play.” Which means his self-labeled “perennial student” mentality has its benefits.

When asked if he experiences self-doubt, Johnson shares that he believes the habit of comparing yourself to others can be demoralizing, but he looks to practicing gratitude as a solution. “It’s just trying to be thankful for what you have and not compare yourself to other people. The more you’re in yourself and do your best.… There’s nobody who’s going to be able to do what you do the way you do it.”

Johnson was born into a musical family, with a father who was an enthusiastic music appreciator and three sisters who studied piano. His parents have said that he loved records when he was 3 years old. They listened to a lot of swing and showtunes, he says, which he developed a taste for as a child. He got his own record player when he was 5.

When Johnson got into playing music, he began to study piano at age 11, then took some lessons on guitar—though on guitar, he was mainly transposing what he learned on piano. His passion for wood and strings, however, quickly took over. “I loved it so much that I incessantly worked at it to get better, and it’s all I wanted to do,” he says.

“When I was a kid and saw all the cats playin’ guitar—Cream and the Yardbirds and all those people—I was like, ‘This is awesome,’” he shares. “Plus, it was kind of the first generation of overdriven guitar with fuzz tones. It was a sound that you’d just never heard before. That was really exciting.” He played in bands as a teenager, and tried going to college at the University of Texas at Austin but only earned three credits from taking an astronomy course, thinking it might be something he would want to pursue. But becoming a professional musician ended up being his clear choice.

Rig Rundown – Eric Johnson [2018]

Despite his high profile and staggering proficiency, plus eight Grammy nominations and a win for his 1991 tune “Cliffs of Dover,” Johnson says he’s remained conscious of not letting things go to his head, saying, “It’s better to just let it flow, like when you were a kid just loving to play,” he says. “It’s best to let that happen naturally. Once you start becoming too aware of yourself and assimilating your legacy or living in your stature or fame or notoriety, you create a feedback loop where you’ll trip over yourself eventually.”

Fame, he says, can be stressful, but “right now I’m kind of taking a break from the whole thing. Just trying to work on myself and do other things. But it’s kind of always there a little bit because I live and breathe music.”

YouTube It

Take a good look at the fretboard on Eric Johnson’s signature Virginia Stratocaster while he performs “Gem,” from his 2010 album, Up Close, showcasing a brilliantly articulate clean tone and impeccable finger work.




Rig Rundown: Old Crow Medicine Show’s Mike Harris

rig rundown old crow medicine shows mike harris

Inside the band’s East Nashville studio, we zoom in on the multi-instrumentalist’s string-driven things.


Mike Harris says he “Forrest Gump-ed” his way into the Grammy-winning Americana string band Old Crow Medicine Show when he was drafted to join in January 2021. But rather than picking his spot in the group from life’s box of chocolates, Harris’ initial connection was his friendship with drummer Jerry Pentecost. He quickly proved himself an important member of the Nashville-based outfit of “Wagon Wheel” fame, thanks to his flexible guitar, mandolin, banjo, resonator, and vocal abilities.

Harris invited PG to Old Crow Medicine Show’s East Nashville studio, where they recorded their latest album, Paint This Town, for some show-and-tell about his favorite traveling and recording instruments.

Brought to you by D’Addario XS Strings.

Tale-Telling Tele

Mike Harris’ main electric instrument in Old Crow Medicine Show is his well-loved 1968 Fender Telecaster with a maple-cap fretboard. The guitar has had a few changes over the past 54 years—the biggest is its Lollar neck pickup—but is mostly stock.

From Fessler’s Lane

Famed Fender luthier Greg Fessler, who’s made guitars for Robben Ford and many others, created this Custom Shop ’62 Tele in 2017. The speed dials and saddles are by notable vintage-style parts maker (and builder) Glendale Guitars of Arlington, Texas.

Gift Jag

This stripped 1964 Fender Jaguar was a gift from Chris Stapleton. The tuners and bridge have been upgraded, which is common for pro-player Jags.

Harris’ Martin

For a guitarist in Old Crow Medicine show, a classic Martin seems like a requirement. Harris’ 1960 D-28 features a Brazilian rosewood back and sides. The headstock has been repaired and a bridge plate saver installed.

Mondo Mando

This Collings MF Mandolin features an Adirondack spruce top and an Eastern flamed maple back and sides. It has a V-shaped neck and wide string spacing, for easy finger placement. Harris has a Fishman pickup installed.

Barking Banjo

Amplifying a banjo can be tricky, so Harris has a microphone installed behind the head of this Deering Sierra model.

A “Handy” Les Paul

This 2012 Gibson R7 Les Paul has a mahogany top, Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickups, and a Bigsby BP-15 palm-pedal tailpiece installed with a Vibramate V5 bridge plate. The R, by the way, stands for reissue, and the 7 designates 1957 as the year of origin for the guitar that inspired this goldtop.

Here’s Pearly!

The Rev. William F. Gibbons’ very own monster ’59, dubbed Pearly Gates, is the inspiration for this Gibson reissue. Of course, it also sports a pair of Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Pickups. Only 350 of these came out of the Gibson Custom Shop in 2009.

Meteor Shower

This mid-1960s Harmony Meteor actually belongs to Harris’ great uncle, Howard. True to its birth-era, the guitar stays strung with flatwounds. It also possesses its original D’Armond-made gold-foil pickups, which were introduced with this model back in the day.

I’ll Have a PBR

This Gold Tone PBR Paul Beard Signature-Series Roundneck Resonator with a cutaway gets carried to the PA via a Fishman Nashville Series spider-style resonator pickup. Harris always plays the guitar through a Fishman Jerry Douglas Signature Aura Acoustic Imaging pedal.

Reso-Whammy

And now for something unusual: Harris has his PBR resonator tricked out with a Bigsby BP-12 palm pedal tailpiece.

Stompin’ Rompin’

Harris’ pedalboard starts with a XTS custom pedalboard interface and routes to a Fancy Boy Klon clone, an Origin Effects Cali76 Compact compressor, a Walrus Audio 385 overdrive, a Demonfx King of Drive, a Shnobel Tone-modded Ernie Ball VP Jr. with a built-in TC Electronic PolyTune, a EHX Micro POG, an MXR Phase 95, a Moog MF Delay, and a Strymon Flint Tremolo & Reverb. All are powered by a Truetone 1Spot CS 12 and wired with Mogami cable with SP500 plugs. The board also houses a Magnatone reverb/tremolo controller.

Other elements of Harris’ gear include D’Addario American Stage Cables, BlueChip thumb picks, ProPik fingerpicks, Fender medium triangle plectrums, Dunlop .88 mm Flow picks, and Clayton thin triangles. He uses Dunlop slides: a 224 Heavy Wall Brass for resonator and a Derek Trucks signature for electric.

Sonic Vista

In the studio, Harris uses a lot of amps. On tour, however, he carries two, including this Magnatone Panoramic Stereo 2×10 combo. These come with Jensens, but Harris replaced those with a pair of Eminence Legends.

No. 2 for the Road

His other touring amp is a Fender Chris Stapleton Signature ’62 Princeton with an Eminence George Alessandro GA-64 12″ speaker.

Wall of Sound

Here’s a look at the studio amps he keeps on tap—mostly classic-style Fenders with a little assist from a Silvertone and that Magnatone.

Fontaines D.C.’s Poetry in Commotion

fontaines d c s poetry in commotion

We all know how the Irish saved civilization—and if you don’t know the story, look for Thomas Cahill’s excellent tome on the subject—but what about rock ’n’ roll? From Van Morrison and Them to Rory Gallagher and Taste, or Thin Lizzy to the Pogues, U2 to the Cranberries, My Bloody Valentine to Snow Patrol, Irish rockers have given the British blues explosion a run for its silver, carving out an unbroken line from soul and blues-rock all the way to hardcore punk and ultramod art-rock, and they’ve done it in large measure while hewing close to the staunchly Irish traditions of myth, poetry, storytelling, rebel yells, and romantic longing.


It’s way too soon to refer to the five 20-something lads of Fontaines D.C. as rock saviors (they’d scoff at the prospect anyway), but Skinty Fia, the band’s third slab since their 2019 Mercury Prize-nominated debut, Dogrel, has rapidly turned up the critical heat, going straight to No. 1 on the U.K. Albums Chart upon release. The leadoff single “Jackie Down the Line,” a righteously gloomy but beat-driven rocker, sets the tone for the album, with frontman Grian Chatten transforming himself into the song’s dark narrator (“I will stone you, I’ll alone you”) as guitarists Conor Curley and Carlos O’Connell mesh together in a jangly, echo-laced interplay of crafty three-note chords, 12-string acoustic filigrees, and tremolo-washed sheets of sound. Add the locked rhythm section of Conor “Deego” Deegan (bass) and Tom Coll (drums) behind them, and the band’s tightness, augmented by their dogged desire to keep experimenting, instantly permeates every song.

Fontaines D.C. – Jackie Down The Line (Official video)

“I think when we first met, we were mainly just songwriters,” observes Curley, reminiscing on their early moments together. “I mean, obviously I’m a guitar player, but I saw myself more as a songwriter, and I think the other lads did as well. So the first album was the culmination of trying to be aware of our abilities, and keep things raw and exciting. We were playing 100-cap venues in Dublin, so there was no point in trying to overextend ourselves.

“After that, we felt we had more strings to our bow, in terms of the songs that we knew we could do. We went down more of an introspective path, and definitely got into more psychedelic music with the second album [A Hero’s Death]. And now it’s just a combination of all that. I think something that defines us as a band is that we never want to sit still in a sound. We’re always trying to be inspired by different things.”

The band also stuck with producer Dan Carey (Black Midi, Geese, Wet Leg, and plenty more), graduating from Carey’s home studio in London, where they recorded their first two albums, to the larger Angelic Studio complex in the idyllic English countryside, near Oxfordshire. But before they even took up residence, each band member made the most of the prolonged pandemic lockdown to flesh out detailed demos, either working in Logic or with handheld recorded snippets of vocals and guitar. Armed with well-prepped songs and the prospect of working with Carey in entirely new surroundings, as O’Connell describes it, opened up possibilities that led to a bigger, more multi-layered sound.

“What I love about Dan is his process is in two stages,” O’Connell says. “We were in a bigger studio this time, so he wanted to take advantage of that. There’s the live guts of the recording [from the floor], and that’s just getting the sound right at the start. We spent a couple of days gaining up all the inputs, so when it hits the desk, it’s pretty much a very balanced mix. Then it’s just about playing well and having the songs arranged properly so they work.

“The first album was very much in a fighting mode, with the two guitars EQ’ed the same and just smashing off each other. On the second one, we learned to play together a little better.” —Conor Curley

“And then at the second stage, we do overdubs. We rarely add new parts, but we’ll redo the parts we have, either with a different instrument or treated differently.”

Both Curley and O’Connell also brought some of their earliest influences to bear, including the slashing surf guitar leads of the Birthday Party’s Rowland S. Howard, along with the snakebitten Fender Mustang kick of Kurt Cobain. “We also played a bit more with a blend,” O’Connell says, “like what happened with rock and roll and electronic music in the ’90s, you know? Primal Scream, Death in Vegas, even U2 went through that phase, but they all used actual synthesizers and drum machines. Our idea was to make it sound like that with our own instruments.”

Carlos O’Connell’s Gear

Guitars

  • 2019 Johnny Marr Jaguar
  • ’67 Fender Mustang 3/4 scale
  • 50th Anniversary Fender Jazzmaster [prototype]
  • Martin J12-15 with L.R. Baggs M80 active humbucker
  • Seagull Artist Studio 12 Burst with L.R. Baggs Lyric acoustic microphone system
Amps
  • Fender ’68 Custom Twin Reverb
  • Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb
  • 1975 Fender Deluxe Reverb (used only at Angelic Studio)
  • THD Electronics Hot Plate

Effects

  • MXR M133 Micro Amp
  • Electro-Harmonix Soul Food
  • Strymon Lex Rotary
  • Moogerfooger MF Flange
  • Moose Electronics Cosmic Tremorlo
  • Moose Electronics Reverb
  • Boss TR-2 Tremolo
  • Electro-Harmonix Op Amp Big Muff Pi
  • Electro-Harmonix POG
  • Boss GE-7 Graphic Equalizer
  • Dunlop Volume (X)
  • EarthQuaker Devices Life Pedal
  • Vein-Tap Murder One Killswitch
Strings & Picks
  • Ernie Ball Burly Slinkys
  • Dunlop Tortex .60 mm

The album’s title track “Skinty Fia” (roughly translated, “the damnation of the deer”) delivers on the idea. Wielding his trusty ’67 Mustang through Carey’s own ’75 Fender Deluxe Reverb, O’Connell avails himself of a chaotic wash of tremolo (aided by a reverb pedal from Dublin-based Moose Electronics, which he unconventionally places first in the effects chain, ahead of his overdrives) to propel the song’s relentless, hypnotic churn. Meanwhile, in the left channel—throughout the album, each guitarist occupies his own side of the stereo image—Curley knifes into the mix with an echo-drenched melody on his Johnny Marr Jaguar, routed into a Fender Twin Reverb, to accentuate Chatten’s menacing vocal, while Deego and Coll hammer out a beat that recalls Nine Inch Nails with a thick, dub-style low end.

“I think we’re trying to be more patient, and more conscious of the texture,” Curley says, describing how he and O’Connell have worked together to refine their sound. Like most bands with a two-guitar attack (the well-known Irish precedent of Thin Lizzy comes to mind), the symbiosis comes with time, practice, and subtle lines of communication. “The first album was very much in a fighting mode,” he continues, “with the two guitars EQ’d the same and just smashing off each other. On the second one, we learned to play together a little better. We’re still working on it, and sometimes we still try to become as one almost, when the song needs it, but I think now we’ve learned to fit in with how we’re EQing everything. It feels really good.”

Fontaines D.C. – Full Performance (Live on KEXP)

The confidence shines through on Skinty Fia, especially when the two axe-slingers choose to embrace a little sonic chaos. On the dark drum-and-bass-influenced opening track “In ár gCroíthe go deo” (“In Our Hearts Forever”), O’Connell tees up another locked tremolo effect, eventually morphing into an otherworldly chorus effect, mirrored by Curley, of what sounds like distant dogs howling. “It’s only at the end where my guitar comes in,” Curley clarifies. “I’m just following the bass with the chords, at a very high frequency, and with delays at the end of every phrase. I hit my [Industrialectric] Echo Degrader, and that’s what really sends it into a spin.”

On the Curley-penned “Nabokov,” the layers of noise lean heavily on classic shoegaze and dub, with Curley again availing himself of the Echo Degrader. “That pedal is so unpredictable, it’s almost like it doesn’t sound the same every time you use it. I’ve been using that and an RV-7 [by Digitech Hardwire] for gated and reverse reverb. There were definitely a lot more shoegazey elements that we were trying to get to, and, obviously, if you start talking about Kevin Shields or even Robin Guthrie from Cocteau Twins, the stuff they did, to me, is almost unreachable, but if you try, you might end up with something new anyway.”

Conor Curley’s Gear

Guitars

  • 2019 Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar
  • ’66 Fender Coronado II
  • Fylde 12-string (loan from Richard Hawley)
Amps
  • Fender ’68 Custom Twin Reverb
  • Lazy J (used only at Angelic Studio)
  • THD Electronics Hot Plate

Strings & Picks

  • Ernie Ball Burly Slinkys
  • Dunlop Tortex .60 mm

Effects

  • Industrialectric Echo Degrader
  • DigiTech Hardwire RV-7 Stereo Reverb
  • Moose Electronics Reverb
  • Moose Electronics Delay
  • Strymon Sunset
  • Strymon Deco
  • ThorpyFX Chain Home
  • Electro-Harmonix Nano POG
  • Dunlop Volume (X)

By contrast, both guitarists reached for a 12-string acoustic on a pair of songs: Curley on the aforementioned “Jackie Down the Line,” and O’Connell on the smoldering groover “Roman Holiday.” Oddly enough, the Fontaines acquired the guitar, a beautifully finished Fylde custom 12-string, from British crooner and troubadour Richard Hawley, who met the band on a recent jaunt in Sheffield. “We were struggling to find a really nice sound on a 12-string,” O’Connell says, “so it was like, let me just text him. He was really excited about being a part of it and lending us the guitar, and it was magic. Just a beautiful guitar. Someday I’ll get one, but you can never play it live because it’s just too precious.”

And on tour, Fontaines comes across as anything but precious. Chatten often prowls the stage like a wounded animal between verses, wielding the mic stand like a cudgel and seeming to goad the band into wilder forays of sonic exploration. At a recent packed house in Brooklyn, Curley and O’Connell whipped “Too Real,” one of their earliest singles from Dogrel, into a feedback-laden, psych-rock deluge, while an encore of “Nabokov” made the most of the dueling washes of noise that each guitarist can deliver, with precision, from either side of the stage. As a unit, they’re brash, tough, and confident—typically young, and typically Irish.

“We’ve found refuge within each other, and within our identity,” O’Connell observes when asked about the band’s recent, and inevitable, move to London. Chatten in particular, as frontman and lyricist, has been outspoken in interviews about some of the prejudices he’s encountered, a sentiment that inspired the song “In ár gCroíthe go deo,” which pays tribute to an Irish woman in Coventry who was initially denied permission to bury her late mother with the Irish inscription on her gravestone.

“We also found that accumulated frustration with a very ignorant misunderstanding of Ireland from Britain’s point of view, which started to piss us off quite a bit,” O’Connell reveals. “But then we wrote this album, and ever since, it’s starting to open up a lot. It’s given me the dream of what I thought I would find in London: a place where we’re more anonymous and where there’s less expected from us, you know?”

“We were struggling to find a really nice sound on a 12-string, so it was like, let me just text him [Richard Hawley].” —Carlos O’Connell

Surely those expectations will grow in urgency as time goes on, but for now Fontaines D.C. seems content to ride the lightning. “There’s been a lot of self-discovery along the way,” Curley says. “There’s always inspiration to be found in Irish art and culture, and we’re also massively into Irish traditional music. Me and Tom got really into Paul Brady and Andy Irvine and Planxty, and we wrote a good few Irish ballads. At one point, we actually thought of doing Skinty Fia as a double album, which I guess might’ve seemed a little gratuitous. Hopefully those songs will see the light of day in a different context.

“But now that we’re back on tour, whatever happens, I think we’re definitely not gonna take any of it for granted. We’re just trying to enjoy all the things we see, and trying to put on really good shows.”

YouTube It

In this pandemic-era livestream, Fontaines D.C. plays a half dozen songs from their Grammy-nominated sophomore album, A Hero’s Death [2020].



Rig Rundown: Mammoth WVH

rig rundown mammoth wvh

Wolf Van Halen and longtime master builder Chip Ellis discuss prototypes for EVH’s SA-126 and Wolfgang bass. Plus, the rest of the band show off their rockin’ wares.


Following in a parent’s professional footsteps is daunting. Imagine re-treading that ground in the public eye. Now conceptualize walking in the footsteps of one of the greatest guitarists to ever live. Succeeding on any level seems impossible. So where do you start when trying to find your own voice on an instrument your dad basically reconstructed?

“The main thing, when I started doing this, was that I wanted to find my own sort of sound and not do everything dad did,” says Wolfgang Van Halen. “When it came to guitar, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just wanted to sound like myself.”

After 15 years in the family band (and working alongside Mark Tremonti for his solo project), that’s what Wolf did when he wrote and tracked all the instruments on the 15 songs for his debut album, Mammoth WVH, released last year. (The title is a nod to the original name of his father’s and uncle’s iconic band during 1972-’74.)

Things have changed since we last checked out Wolf’s setup. Back in 2012, when PG got the special treat of swooping into Bridgestone Arena to check out the rigs of Eddie and Wolf. We got to see the various Wolfgang models dad brought out, and Wolf’s custom-made one-off basses constructed by master builder Chip Ellis.

Now Wolf is playing guitar and singing lead. He’s flanked by two additional guitarists (Frank Sidoris and Jon Jourdan), while bass and drums are handled by Ronnie Ficarro and Garrett Whitlock (respectively). There’s still a lot of his dad’s thumbprint on the band’s setup, but there’s two new things afoot. This tour saw two new prototypes unveiled: a signature semi-hollow for Wolf and beefy, humbucker-loaded basses were being road-tested (or, as the Van Halens say, in the “crash-testing phase”).

“Through writing and recording that first album, and having fun, I ended up tracking most with a 335 and that semi-hollowbody sound became the baseline for all of Mammoth WVH,” says Wolf. So, he and Ellis sought to combine reverence for the EVH legacy with something fresh for not only Wolf’s sound but to expand the company’s appeal. “I want to make something that has the DNA of the EVH brand, but something that they don’t offer.”

Before a headlining show at the Signal in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on May 17th, PG traveled south down I-24 to see what was percolating in the EVH and WVH camps. We were fortunate enough to be joined by Ellis and Van Halen, who talked about the development of the new SA-126 semi-hollow guitar and then focused on the new thunder-stick 4-string prototype that’s being “crash tested” by bandmate Ronnie Ficarro. Additionally, we cover the setups of riff warriors Sidoris (also of Slash feat. Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators) and Jourdan (To Whom It May), who fly the EVH flag but bring their own shine.

[Brought to you by D’Addario XS Electric Strings.]

Mammoth Signature

The basis for Mammoth WVH’s core guitar tone was formed around a Gibson ES-335. Wolf tracked with that guitar the most and it helped him find his own sound, separate from his father’s. But wanting to keep things in the family, he and longtime Fender/EVH master builder Chip Ellis aimed to put the 335 heartbeat into a Wolfgang package.

Some notable Easter eggs in the guitar’s design are fret inlays that appear as M (looking down the neck) but also work as W—or E— depending on your eye angle. The SA-126 model name honors Eddie’s birthday (1/26/55). The f-hole is actually a subtle e-hole, and these guitars feature eye-hook strap buttons. (The first prototype had standard strap buttons and a side-mounted input jack, but has since been changed.)

Each one of the guitars you’ll see have different neck profiles, pickup voicings with varying heat levels (although all are humbuckers), tonewoods, and finishes. It’s worth noting that the pickups Wolf and Chip are enjoying the most are not the hottest. They said in the video that dialing back the output allowed the instrument to have a fuller, wider sound. Additional known specs (which could change at any minute) include quilted maple tops (but standard maple on this one), ebony fretboards, brass harmonica-style bridges, and 24.75″ scale lengths, and for this run all the prototypes took EVH Premium Strings (.009 –.042). (D’Addario manufactures all EVH-brand guitar strings.)

This guitar is the third prototype and was special for Wolf and Chip to put together. Eddie’s main live axe during Van Halen’s last tour was a white relic’d Wolfgang model, so they wanted to do something honoring his legacy. “It was emotional, and it felt great to build this guitar,” declares Ellis. “It was a full-circle kind of moment for me.”

Old But New

Here’s a close-up of the relic’d body for Wolf’s third SA-126 prototype, showing off the e-hole.

Backside Burns

A look around back reveals some impressive scars.

The Crown

A shot of the SA-126 headstock.

First Offering

This is Wolf’s first SA-126 prototype. It originally came with a side-mounted input jack and standard strap buttons. However, they’ve since moved the jack to the top (like an offset Fender or ES-style guitar) and opted for the eye-hook strap buttons made famous by Eddie.

Smokey Signature

And here’s the second prototype Chip Ellis built for Wolf, featuring a crisp ’burst glowing like a campfire all night and day.

Keeping It in the Family

It’s no surprise that Wolf is plugging into an EVH stack. His amp of choice for Mammoth is the EVH 5150III 50W 6L6 head matched with a EVH 5150III 4×12 loaded with Celestion G12 EVH 20W speakers. He mentions in the video that he normally lives in the blue channel and only hits the red one for solos.

Stripes

“There’s not too much I need from pedals, but it’s more for fun,” concedes Van Halen. He enlisted every EVH pedal (aside from the 5150 Overdrive that will show up later) for this run, plus a few extras. The Dunlop EVH95 Eddie Van Halen Signature EVH Cry Baby gets worked out for the solo of “You’ll Be the One.” (The recorded solo is through a talk box, but Wolf thought the wah was a simpler stand-in for live performances.) The MXR EVH 5150 Chorus and the MXR Eddie Van Halen Phase 90 have become interchangeable for him. The song “Think It Over” has become a testing ground between the two modulation effects. The MXR EVH117 Flanger gets sprinkled in for select moments, like during “Mr. Ed.” For the solo in “Distance,” he always uses the Boss DD-3 Digital Delay and the EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath.

Can’t Put It Down

“Chip did all the relic’ing, aging, and sanding of the neck and it just feels amazing. It’s hard to put that guitar down,” says Jon Jourdan. The above EVH Wolfgang is a discontinued offering, but he can’t deviate from it because of his connection to this instrument and the sturdiness of the stop-tail bridge that allows him to really dig in with his picking hand. Jourdan plays this guitar for all the standard-tuned songs.

Silver Bird

Here’s Jourdan’s PRS Custom 24 Platinum model that is decked out in an anniversary-year-only finish and boasts a 5-way rotary knob in lieu of a standard pickup selector. It comes with the company’s 58/15 humbuckers and is completely stock. Both of his guitars take Dunlop Performance+ strings (.011–.052).

British 5150

Like Wolf, Jourdan is running an 50W EVH 5150 head. His tube flavor (EL34) brings a little British bluster to the band’s sound. “We all use the 50-watt heads, so even when everything is straight up the middle everything fits in the mix and everyone has a lane,” he observes. Similar to his guitar-playing bandmates, Jourdan’s 5150 head hits an EVH 5150III 4×12 loaded with Celestion G12 EVH 20W speakers.

Open Auditions

In the video, Jourdan admits the style and design of his board makes pedal swaps a bit more work, but that doesn’t stop him from testing out new tone treats. Before this run, he traded in the Frost Giant Electronics Yama for another boost and is already looking to find a nastier, wilder fuzz in place of the Walrus Audio Iron Horse V3. The rest of the stable includes an Electronic Audio Experiments Halberd (used for “Stone”), MXR EVH117 Flanger, and Eventide H9. A Fortin Mini Zuul Noise Gate cleans up the amp and a Peterson StroboStomp HD keeps his guitars in check. A Boss ES-8 Effects Switching System is the reins for the whole system.

I’m the One

“This has actually been a longstanding project with the EVH line and it was something Ed was very passionate about when he was still with us. He was a closet bass player and loved chasing bass tones,” says Chip Ellis.

EVH has hinted at production bass models ever since Chip built several prototypes for Wolf during his run as VH bassist from 2005 to 2020. But no matter the level of buzz generated by public interest, nothing materialized. Then, in early February, they teased the upcoming tour by posting a photo of bassist Ronnie Ficarro rocking a 4-string with the caption: “Check out that sweet Wolfgang bass prototype.”

The current evolution of the company’s bass design dives off the EVH striped basses built for Wolfgang in the 2010s. The pickups are big, hot, monster-rock humbuckers that weigh about a half-pound each. “One of the earliest prototypes had a swimming-pool route and Ed kept wanting to move the pickups further and further apart because we kept getting a bigger variety of tones,” said Ellis.

Both prototypes have mahogany bodies, maple necks, and rosewood fretboards. The neck profiles are pretty close to the ones played by Wolf with Van Halen. A big-mass bridge anchors the strings and there’s actually a blend control between the pickups rather than a standard selector. (There’s a detent that lets you know when you’re in the middle, engaging both pickups.) The volume is push-pull, to coil-tap the pickups, too. Ronnie’s been riding this one during standard or drop-D tunings, since it comes equipped with a handy Hipshot Bass Xtender Key.

Bottoms Up

In a pinch, the bass’ headstock could double as a bottle opener.

Burst into Burst

The finish on prototype No. 2 almost has a Magic-Eye effect, with the opposing bursts rushing in towards each other. Another difference between No. 1 is the inclusion of a standard pickup selector (removing the blend control for a tone knob). Outfitted again with a Hipshot Bass Xtender Key, Ronnie jams on this for D-standard and drop-C songs.

Familiar and Loud

Ronnie Ficarro has been plugging the prototype Wolfgang basses into this Fender Super Bassman 300W head. The coolest part of this rig is that fact is that it’s the exact one Wolf used on the final Van Halen tour with his pops. The numbers you see above the knobs are Wolf’s settings from that VH run, and Ronnie thought it’d be a cool tip of the cap to leave those on the faceplate. In the video, Ficarro admits to being a Rig Rundown fanatic. When he’s feeling a Green Day, uh, day, he’ll open his phone and reference a screen shot of Mike Dirnt’s settings from the Rig Rundown we did in 2013.

Monsters of Rock

The Fender Super Bassman smashes into a Fender Bassman Pro 8×10.

Fundamental for Ficarro

Here’s Ronnie’s pretty basic stomp station: a trio of EVH-inspired pedals—MXR EVH 5150 Chorus, MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive, and the MXR Eddie Van Halen Phase 90—plus an Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork for approximating the low B roar that Wolf recorded on the song “Epiphany.” The non-descript silver box is a channel switcher for the Fender Super Bassman, and Ronnie’s basses are centered by the Peterson StroboStomp HD.

The Green Giant

“I never thought I’d become the green guitar guy, but it’s just become my thing over the last few years,” states Sidoris. Frank had his eye on this Gibson Custom 1964 SG Standard reissue for some time. He originally fell for its olive-drab cloak when he saw it on display during the 2020 NAMM Show in Anaheim. Fast forward through two years and Sidoris re-encounters the SG while visiting Nashville, when he sees it listed on Rumble Seat Music’s website. He went to the store and demo’d the guitar, and it was even better than he could imagine. He uses Ernie Ball 2020 Power Slinky Paradigms (.011–.048) across all his axes.

Stealthy Stinger

Sidoris also plugs into an EVH head. His flavor is the sleek EVH 5150III 50S 6L6. And, similar to the band’s other riffers, he’s relying on Celestion G12 EVH 20W speakers, but he opts for the matching EVH 5150III 100S cabinet.

Stompin’ with Sidoris

Along with his pals, Sidoris has an MXR Eddie Van Halen Phase 90, but changes it up with the inclusion of a DigiTech Whammy Ricochet, Walrus Audio Ages, MXR Carbon Copy, and a Dunlop Volume (X) DVP3. A Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner keeps his Gibsons in check and a MXR Smart Gate tames the EVH.

10 Distortion Pedals Under $100

10 distortion pedals under 100

We live in the golden age of boutique pedals that are loaded with advanced features—many of which were nearly unthinkable a decade or so ago. But there’s something that will always be valuable about a rock-solid dirt box that won’t break your wallet. Here’s a collection of old classics and newly designed stomps that cost less than an average concert ticket.

JHS Series 3 Overdrive

JHS Series 3 Overdrive

This OD is part of the company’s Series 3 line which offers affordable stomps with simple control setups. Along with volume and drive controls, it offers a body knob that tweaks the EQ and a gain switch that moves between more saturated and crunchier sounds.

$99 street

jhspedals.info

Nobels ODR-Mini

Nobels ODR-Mini

Thanks to an extremely dedicated following among Nashville session cats, the other green stomp is now offered in a downsized setup. It can run up to 18V for increased headroom and sports glow-in-the-dark knobs for those extremely dark stages.

$79 street

nobels.de

TC Electronic MojoMojo

TC Electronic MojoMojo

This all-analog distortion offers classic, vintage-inspired tones with a familiar control setup of volume, gain, bass, and treble. The real secret sauce is in the voice switch, which allows you to move between a more natural sound and a bass cut.

$59 street

tcelectronic.com

Boss DS-1

Boss DS-1

Since 1978, the DS-1 has been a go-to for generations of guitarists. It offers a scooped sound that can take you from grunge to shred and has been affordable for decades.

$58 street

boss.info

EarthQuaker Devices Plumes

EarthQuaker Devices Plumes

Although loosely based on a classic circuit, EQD has replaced the 4558 IC with a JFET op-amp for a more mid-focused sound. In addition to the standard controls, the toggle switch moves between two different clipping options or no clipping at all for a wide-open clean boost.

$99 street

earthquakerdevices.com

Electro-Harmonix East River Drive

Electro-Harmonix East River Drive

A JRC4558 IC-loaded circuit that creates the classic symmetrical overdrive sound, this is an all-analog affair that is true bypass, housed in a rock-solid chassis, and can run on a 9-volt battery—which is included.

$77 street

ehx.com

Fender Hammerstone Overdrive

Fender Hammerstone Overdrive

One of the newest entries on this list is a retro-looking stomp that offers some interesting features under the hood. The original circuit allows you to control the mids before the gain stage, plus there’s an internal trim pot to wrangle the high end.

$79 street

fender.com

Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini

Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini

One of the most popular stompboxes of all time has been shrunk down to a mini-sized wonder. With an oversized drive knob and two smaller tone and level controls, this green monster aims to cop all the classic midrange tones of the original.

$79 street

Ibanez.com

Pro Co Rat 2

Pro Co Rat 2

Is it a fuzz? Or a distortion? Or an overdrive? Well, thanks to the famous filter control, you can blur the lines between all the different flavors of dirt. It offers a totally analog signal path, glow-in-the-dark graphics, and the trademark heavy-duty enclosure.

$79 street

ratdistortion.com

MXR Distortion+

MXR Distortion+

There’s no mistaking that shade of yellow. This dead-simple setup offers output and distortion controls along with a vintage-sounding germanium clipping circuit that does everything in its power to blur the line between overdrive and fuzz.

$89 street

jimdunlop.com