Tag: fender

Fever Dreams of the Brilliant Mister Marr

Fever Dreams of the Brilliant Mister Marr

When the great Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes passed away earlier this year, I thought a lot about Johnny Marr. Marr was moved deeply by the girl groups of the ’60s—their positivity, energy, and the convergence of ecstasy and melancholy in the music. He was even fired up by the audaciousness of their style: The impressive beehive hairdo worn by Spector’s bandmate Estelle Bennett famously inspired the jet-black pile Marr wore at the height of Smiths fame.


But the most lasting influence of the girl groups on Marr is probably the musical playground that Ronnie once made her own: the wall of sound. In the decades since Phil Spector concocted the wall of sound from an orchestra of guitars, strings, drums, pianos, chimes, castanets, and whatever else was gathering dust in the closets of Gold Star Studios, scores of musicians—from Brian Wilson to the Beatles to Bruce Springsteen—have chased its elusive, ineffable magic.

Johnny Marr – Spirit Power and Soul (Live)

Johnny Marr’s versions of the wall of sound, however, are highly original and distinctive. They are marked by deep resourcefulness and a gift for achieving wall-of-sound grandeur and scale through the humble medium of multitracked guitar. And from the Smiths’ first LPs to his latest release, Fever Dreams Pts 1-4, Marr achieved this wizardry by mining a seemingly endless vein of riffs and through his penchant for guitar arrangement—talents cultivated through intuition, passionate listening, and a boundless, post-modern knack for tastefully blending influences.

As formidable as Marr’s arranging abilities, melodic instincts, and sense of musical recall are, they all find realization in hands driven by Swiss-watch timing, economy, and percussive potency. And though he’ll be the first to tell you he’s not a musical technician, he is, in many ways, as complete a musician as you could ever know.

I was really struck by the bigness of Fever Dreams Pts 1-4. I pictured you making this record, amid lockdown, making music for the clubs we hoped to return to again. Even the picture of you on the cover—you next to the Fender Showman—seemed like a totemic suggestion of longing for big sounds.
I think that was subconscious. I say subconscious because I started writing it before Covid and had this idea that I wanted to do a double LP, and because it was going to be a double, I thought it could be expansive. I just had this idea that (the double LP format) would give me a lot of space. But, of course, with the way things turned out, I ended up—and I must confess, illegally—going alone into my studio space, which is the top floor of an old factory, staring out at my Mini, which was the only car in this vast parking lot, and working like that for weeks.

So, I ended up very aware of all this idea of space, which is even why the sky is so blue on the cover. I took all the equipment in the space out for that shoot to signify the way I was feeling about all that. There were also these nocturnal themes that emerged. I think a lot of people were lying awake wondering if they still had a job and worrying about their businesses. So, a lot of the songs reference those feelings—like “Lightning People:” “I can’t sleep/static sheets/cries that put me on my knees”—that idea of a storm coming.

I made the assumption that the part of my audience that listens most closely and that I’ve built up over the last 40 years or whatever, that they are living similar lives to what I was talking about. So, I didn’t have a concept, but I did have a sort of nagging agenda—that the album would be expansive and that I would tackle feelings about the psychology and predicaments of being a modern person.

“You know that concept of work/life balance? I don’t really have that concept. I hear good things about it and maybe I should try it out.”

The rhythmic drive and dance feel of many of the tunes also struck me as nocturnal. Was that a conscious thing?
Well, it’s funny how some things turn out. I started writing the album and just a few weeks into it, got the call to work on the Bond film [No Time to Die]. There’s a lot of downtime in that kind of situation, so I started working on the song “Receiver.” And as you said, it sounded to me like the atmosphere of being in a nightclub—like those I used to go to in [London neighborhood] Euston at the end of the ’80s—finding myself, you know, still there at 5:40 in the morning. So that song is about transmitting and receiving erotic signals.

That’s the beauty of songwriting. Sometimes you mix and match images or sometimes a concept comes first. The same thing happened with “Lightning People.” I had that title, which to me sounded like a Staple Singers song or something, so it ended up with a sort of choir/gospel feel. Musically, you can still tell that it’s coming from an indie rocker from Manchester, but the whole idea started from just that title. Lots of stuff still comes via the way people probably expect I write songs, too, which is to just sit down with a guitar. The last song, “Human,” is like that.

All the way back to the Smiths, you’ve always evoked feelings vividly through purely instrumental means—particularly those feelings that that cross sadness and positivity. But you really went after it lyrically here.
Well, in working with lyricists and paying attention to the ones I haven’t worked with, I’ve noticed that as a lyricist you have to be very self-aware and ask yourself, “Well, what am I really saying?” And in the case of this album, I was asking myself how I was going to top an album that was really well-liked among my fans. I know what that feeling is like. I don’t like to call that “pressure,” but that’s what it is.

Johnny Marr’s Gear

Guitars

  • Signature Fender Jaguar
  • 1973 Les Paul Custom
  • Gibson EDS-1275 doubleneck
  • Yamaha SG-1000
  • Yamaha SG-700
  • 1963 Fender Jazzmaster
  • Martin D12-28
  • Auden acoustics, 6-string and 12-string
  • 1984 or ’85 Gibson Les Paul with Bigsby
  • Gretsch 6120
Strings & Picks
  • Ernie Ball Power Slinky strings (.011–.048)
  • D’Addario acoustic strings (.012–.053)
  • Ernie Ball Medium picks

Amps

  • 1969 Marshall plexi
  • HH Electronics transistor combo
  • Roland JC-120
  • 1965 Deluxe Reverb
  • Fender Twin Reverb (black panel)
  • Kemper Profiler
  • Fender Bassman
Effects
  • MXR Flanger
  • Carl Martin AC-Tone
  • Carl Martin Plexitone
  • Carl Martin HeadRoom Reverb
  • Carl Martin Delayla
  • Carl Martin Chorus XII
  • Boss RT-20 Rotary Ensemble

You’ve experienced that pressure before: Trying to top Meat Is Murder with The Queen Is Dead.
Before The Queen Is Dead, I remember a moment where I was walking through my kitchen and stopped in my tracks, just literally frozen, realizing what it was going to take to do that. And when I was doing Dusk with The The, I remember the feeling when Matt Johnson and I realized the record was going to completely dominate our lives for two years. And with this record, in particular, I probably was feeling the pressure of following Call the Comet, because I was literally writing 48 hours after the last show to support that record.

Was the decision to background guitars in some cases on this album also a response to that record?
Deciding where guitars should sit in more electronic music is a balancing act. It’s very easy to get it wrong. One way I’ve done it wrong in the past is by not putting enough guitar on. Like with Electronic’s second album, I was trying to make my guitar sound like a synth. But at the time, that was part of my agenda—taking guitars out, seeing what filters did, things like that.

But honestly, I don’t really like a lot of music that blends electronic music and guitars. So, when I do it, it has to be appropriate and really capture a feeling. I think I know enough to do that well now. A song like “Ariel”—a lot of people hear that as very ’80s, and the riff is built on a sequencer. But I made the riff really loud and it’s a very ’80s, Roland Jazz Chorus riff. So, there I really doubled down on the contrast between the electronic and guitar elements. On “Spirit Power and Soul,” if you take the guitar out, it’s a totally different kind of track, and the guitar is backgrounded. So, I think I know how to find the right blend better these days.

Given that newfound freedom, did you write a lot more of these tracks from rhythmic underpinnings? It seems like working alone may have forced your hand in that respect.
Yeah. I don’t mean to take any credit away from my amazing band, which has been with me for more than 10 years now. But the entire record was demo’d and programmed with me playing everything on it. Then the band came in to make it sound more like “us” as a band. But things like “Spirit Power and Soul,” I was hearing that sequencer pattern in my head long before I wrote the song, and I knew I wanted very much for it to sound like Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, or Cabaret Voltaire but with guitars on it.

When I was in my teens, I had a tape player that I could overdub on—this was before I had a Portastudio—and I’d get into obsessively layering. This album is really the grown-up version of that. It’s that same guy, but he’s now been in The The, Modest Mouse, and all that stuff. And again, because I knew it was going to be a double album, I allowed myself to do whatever the hell I wanted. So, something like “Lightning People” and that gospel vibe—I never would’ve done that on The Messenger or Playland because on those records I had these very specific and deliberate parameters I was trying to work within. Which can be a very good thing.

When you’re a writer, and particularly when you’re very young, things often become very much about what you’re not. But in this day and age, when you have a universe of plug-ins, instruments, and directions at your fingertips—not only can you get option fatigue, but your music can become a stylistic hodgepodge. So usually, with the band I impose some restrictions that limit that. On this LP, though, I just stripped them away.

What did that feel like to embrace that freedom?
Honestly, I didn’t even know I was doing it until much later. Because of the lockdown I was usually alone in the studio, so I thought, “Well, let’s see what all these virtual keyboards and synths and machines that I’ve been buying for the past five years do.” First, I had to spend a week getting really frustrated doing all the updates to the point where I don’t even really want to make music. But then I’d wake up after three hours of sleep with a song in my head and be ready to go.

You’re a writer that famously goes on hot streaks and creative runs. Do you still experience that zombie-like sense of creative possession? And how readily are you able to tap into it? What tools do you use when you can’t tap into it?
This thing you’re talking about—finding inspiration and hopefully, some otherworldly place—finding that place is something that has driven me since I was a kid. But you know that concept of work/life balance? I don’t really have that concept. I hear good things about it and maybe I should try it out.

But without mythologizing things too much, when I make records, I tend to lock myself out of the house, or forget where I’ve left the car. I develop very odd sleeping patterns if I sleep at all. I decided many years ago that drugs, particularly cocaine, don’t do any good, and alcohol isn’t really good for my creative process—maybe when you’re younger.

So, it gets back to that quote of Picasso’s: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” In my own process, that means I’ll work on a song—and for it to snag me, the initial feeling has to be something like, “This is the greatest thing that no one has ever heard.” That’s entirely subjective, but that energy will keep you locked in for a couple hours and if you’re really lucky you’ll get on a real roll and you’ll end up with something inspired. Sometimes you do something for a couple hours and you realize, “Ah, this isn’t so great,” and you have to drop it. Emotionally, that can take you down. Especially when you work with a band and spend a few weeks on something and decide, “Nope, this isn’t cutting it.” But things don’t always have to start out as esoteric to become esoteric. And as my friend Nick Cave says, “Just do the fucking work.”

“You still have to get in and do the work. This idea that a songwriter is walking in a supermarket one day, and someone in the next aisle says something and it instantly turns into a whole song…well, yeah, well that might work if you’re Smokey Robinson!”

And alchemy can come from any stage of the creative process—writing, mixing….
Yeah. One of the positive things that comes of being around and doing this for so long is you can look back and say, “Oh, okay, that’s a song people still really like that I’m still playing in my set.” And I’ll realize that it came about from fucking about on a bass line for 20 minutes. But then there are songs like “The Headmaster Ritual” where I carried around a bit of it for a couple years, and then one day we needed a song, and I sped the fucking thing up and I heard it in a totally different way.

Neil Finn, who is a masterful songwriter, nailed it when he said: “There is no formula for writing a song. It’s a mystery. Embrace the mystery.” But you still have to get in and do the work. This idea that a songwriter is walking in a supermarket one day, and someone in the next aisle says something and it instantly turns into a whole song … well, yeah, that might work if you’re Smokey Robinson!

But in my case, and certainly in the case of something like “Spirit Power and Soul,” I really had to craft that one over weeks and weeks. So that one is an example of tenacity and staying true to a vision. If you get caught up too much in divine intervention, you’ll wander around forever waiting for some melody that no one’s ever heard before. It’s in doing the work that you get there. Loads of great artists just write and write. I mentioned Nick Cave, he does it. Thom Yorke, he does it. Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse—he would write an amazing string of lyrics and then just rinse it and start again.

We’ve talked a lot about how your songs have been part hard work, and part unexpected sources of inspiration. Do you find you have to sometimes pull away from the guitar to reignite your relationship with the instrument? Do you ever get alienated from the guitar?
No. If anything, if for some reason I was going to move to Bali and retire, it would be to play for eight or nine hours a day and really expand my vocabulary. Generally, I’ll put a guitar [on a record] wherever I can. Because y’know, when I was a kid, if you bought a Thin Lizzy record, when you dropped the needle on that record, you expected to hear guitar. But because I’m also a producer, I have to find where that guitar fits appropriately. I learned guitar at the same time that I was learning about production. I also learned how to play guitar by playing along with 45s. I never had a lesson and never bought books. So I think of myself as someone who makes records, and the way I make records is to write songs. But I love guitar records. So while I’ll try other things, I’ve also been known to turn to my band while we’re working on something and say, “This needs a new intro, because we’re a guitar band.”

The Smiths – Live The Tube Studio 1984 HD (Full Show)

At the height of their creative and performa- tive powers, Johnny Marr and the Smiths could effortlessly span mutated folk-rock jangle and deep indie-dance funk, as Marr does here with his legendary 1959 ES-355—a gift from Sire Records boss Seymour Stein.

Do you think the idiosyncrasies and individuality in your playing comes from being self-taught? What about your natural proclivities as an arranger?
As a boy, a few of my pals were into playing guitar. They were really focused on “Voodoo Chile” or on what Steve Howe was doing. But I would listen to, say, the Patti Smith Group’s Radio Ethiopia, something like “Ask the Angels,” a song that’s really simple and straightforward—just an A minor and an F—and I’d think: “That’s a really cool song, it starts with power chords, okay, that’s a little like the Who. Cool I get that.” But all of the sudden I’d notice there’s a piano playing eighth-notes that sounds like the Velvet Underground or the Stooges, so I’d end up trying to play the whole record—the guitar sand the piano—rather than just the guitar part.

I was also very into Sparks, which isn’t guitar music per se, but the way the guitar is integrated is very, “Okay, now were going to use a fucking guitar!” I was just really into the sound of records as a whole. So I thought a lot about layering and when I got a machine I could overdub on, I started layering 18 guitars. By the time I got the Smiths together I had it down to 15 while trying to make it sound like just eight.

Part of that ability to layer and not create a complete mess seems related to your acute sense of rhythm and timing. That’s especially apparent in some of the Smiths’ licks—in a single part I can sometimes hear not only Keith Richards, but Keith Richards and Brian Jones, with some Steve Cropper sixths on top and Leo Nocentelli’s right hand in the same song. Was that skill cultivated from the intellectual process of breaking down how a record works?
I found around 14 that the Rolling Stones records from the ’60s, in particular, really blew my mind. Back then, that was unusual. Because my friends were jumping around to the British pop groups—things like the English Beat. But I’d hear records like “The Last Time,” and even though I knew it was old, I just thought, “Wow, this sounds better than anything around now.” So I really studied that—really getting into those singles, how they were put together, and the sound of them. I realized that Keith and Brian were doing this meshing thing. “The Last Time” is a good example; so is “It’s All Over Now.” I really picked up the soul stuff from those guys. But a lot of the rhythmic drive you’re talking about is just my personality and plain exuberance—hyperactivity really. There’s a song on The Messenger, “Generate, Generate.” I mean, that’s really a tribute to my hyperactivity (laughs). I was quite into being hyper!

You’ve always valued art and seem to have derived a lot of your energy from the notion of a bohemian life. I was always moved by your relationship and loyalty to Manchester and what that place meant as sort of a creative organism and catalyst to your development.
If you’ve got an artistic temperament, you can find inspiration in almost any place. But yeah, Manchester being so urban and musically orientated—there was a lot to rally around. When my kids were teens, me and their mother brainwashed them into having weekend jobs in Manchester, so they knew what it was to finish their shift in the city on a summer’s night, just before the clubs were opening, when all the shop workers are starting to go to the bars and exchange ideas, and all the fashionistas are lurking around. It’s really magical. Urban life is changing and subterranean life is changing. But young eyes—they don’t know different. They don’t know that a place isn’t Cleveland in the ’70s or New York in the ’60s. They’ll make the best of it. There are always great bands coming out. Right now, as we speak, there’s some band of girls and boys getting together in Williamsburg, finding their voice—and it will be great.

The Deep Cuts: Johnny Marr’s Gear in His Own Words

Anyone that’s followed Johnny Marr’s career knows the man is a certifiable guitar addict, with a Fort Knox worth of killer vintage instruments to utilize at the turn of a whim. Marr rather religiously used his signature Fender Jaguar over the last several years, but he reached deeper into his collection for the many less quintessentially Marr sounds on Fever Dreams Pts 1-4. Marr explains what he used in great detail below.

“A lot of my gear for this record was really deliberately selected, and I really honed in on a few things. I’ve got two 1973 Les Paul Customs I used for some of the darker sounds. You hear that on ‘Receiver.’ I ran those through my old MXR Flanger and either my Marshall Plexi or my HH transistor combo. Those things were part of the stylistic structure I wanted to maintain.

I played my signature Jaguar quite a lot. But since I got more into the movie soundtrack work, I’ve used a lot more 12-string, and for that I’ve been playing a Gibson EDS-1275 doubleneck because it’s the best 12-string sound. With all that mass, and the humbuckers—and if you can get it together right—all the extra resonance from the 6-string pickups, you get all kinds of overtones. There’s a couple Yamaha SG-1000s and an SG-700 on the record, which all have the Spinex pickups but sound pretty different. I used my ’63 Jazzmaster, too.

For acoustics, I played a few guitars by Auden, a company here in the UK—a 12- and 6-string—as well as the Martin D12-28 I’ve used since the Smiths. I also used the guitar that I’ve probably played more than any guitar in my life—the red 1984 or ’85 Les Paul with a Bigsby that I played a lot with the Smiths. I got that around the Meat Is Murder album. It’s great for clean stuff. A lot of stuff that folks think is a Rickenbacker is the Les Paul tracked with my Jaguar or tracked with itself in coil (split) mode. If I want to get a little natural chorus, that guitar is perfect because I’ll put a part down with both pickups on one side of the stereo image then put a split-coil track on the other side. The effect of the same guitar with these slightly different tones helps create that sound. For whammy-stuff and dive bombs, I’ll often use a Gretsch 6120 from the Smiths days. Another big part of this album, and the movie stuff, is one of my signature Jags with a Fernandes sustainer pickup in it.

Amp-wise, apart from the HH, I used a lot of the same amps I’ve had since the Smiths: my Roland JC-120, a ’65 Deluxe Reverb, a black-panel Fender Twin Reverb that I use with the Gretsch. Occasionally I’ll use the Kemper for overdubs or a Bassman or the ’69 Marshall Plexi and Super Reverb amps I used with Modest Mouse. Effects-wise, I use a lot of Carl Martin stuff: The AC-Tone, Plexitone, HeadRoom Reverb, Delayla, and Chorus XII are all great. And I’ll use the Boss RT-20 Rotary Sound a lot, too.

I’ve gone down the weird road before. But if I can’t use all this stuff and my fingers to squeeze out the right sound, I’m either not trying hard enough, or what I’m looking for is wrong. Someday I’d like to find something that will replicate the weirdness of Johnny Thunders’ 2-string bends. But I’m always looking for something that will walk the line between musical and radical.” —Johnny Marr
















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.”

Fender Paramount PS-220E Review

Fender Paramount PS-220E Review

Fender’s new Paramount PS-220E Parlor is a million kinds of fun. For starters, imagine picking up a little old Stella tucked away in a dusty corner of a garage sale—only to find the action is perfect and the tuners actually work. Then consider the basic joys of any good little acoustic: how easy it is to hold, how light it is, how little room it takes up when you leave it sitting around the living room waiting for whatever spark of inspiration hits at random. The PS-220E dishes oodles of those small pleasures. And while the price isn’t exactly small for an imported instrument of this stature, the playability and versatility are equal to much more expensive instruments.


All Dressed Up

There are a lot of reasons the Paramount sells for a somewhat premium price. It’s charmingly handsome—in no small part because of the detail work that reveals itself up close. The purfling, rosette, and backstrip are fashioned around a pretty feather-and-checker pattern of blue, green, and red that alternate with spaces of antique white. The entire neck and headstock are bound, and quite immaculately at that. The ovangkol fretboard inlay and headstock overlay are classy and understated but feel that extra bit luxurious. The visual charm is reinforced by a subtle chocolatey burst finish on the solid mahogany top. And while the solid mahogany back and sides are made from what some might call rough grain, the rustic effect works in harmony with the fancier details to create a sort of restored antique look.

While the price isn’t exactly small for an imported instrument of this stature, the playability and versatility are equal to much more expensive instruments.

You certainly can’t complain about the detail work on the guitar’s exterior. Adding so many visual treats means more spots where workmanship can go wrong. But everything from the frets to the binding, purfling, and inlays are pretty much perfect. Inside, things are less so. There is evidence of sloppy gluing and less-than-precise kerfing cuts—none of which have any bearing on the sound. But the price of the guitar does leave you longing for a tidier touch on that count.

Sit and Strum Awhile

If you imagined the perfect guitar for sitting down with after a long workday, or the ideal songwriting partner that you drag from the garden to the beach to the living room and down to the studio, it might feel a lot like the Paramount PS-220E. The action is delectably low, and you can vigorously strum barre chords from the 1st fret to the 12th without hearing any buzzing or clanking strings. The C-profile neck is just substantial enough to make you feel like you’re not squeezing to fret effectively, but slim enough that you can move around quickly. The easy playability means the PS-220E very handily transcends simple strummer roles. Fingerstyle moves and complex chords are made significantly easier for the low action and nice set-up, which can give you a lot of confidence for stretching your playing. It’s great for leads for the same reasons. Occasionally there is a slight sense of disappointment because the small parlor body can only generate so much muscle for these applications. And there is inevitably some limits to the dynamic range you can generate. That said, the PS-220E has impressive headroom for a guitar of this size. And pushing it to its limits rarely creates any harsh overtones.

The Fishman Sonitone Plus undersaddle pickup and preamp are, in general, an effective addition to the PS-220E. The tones most suited to the guitar tend to live in the lower third of the tone control’s range, and I generally played with the volume as low as possible to soften any undersaddle transients. Hard strumming, needless to say, brought out the least flattering of these sounds. But the Sonitone could sound quite sweet in fingerstyle situations, which makes it a nice fit for the very fingerstyle-friendly PS-220E.

The Verdict

It’s hard to find a reason to complain about any aspect of the PS-220E’s performance or playability. It feels fantastic—at times like a natural extension of your body. And if you struggle at all with hand or body fatigue from wrestling with a bigger instrument, it’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable alternative. But the PS-220E is appealing for many reasons beyond comfort. The playability makes it a much more direct line between your musical intuition and imagination, which is a pretty invaluable thing whether you’re a songwriter or tackling a challenging tune or arrangement. It’s a good thing the PS-220E is as stylish and easy to play as it is, because $829 is pretty steep for an import instrument. But regardless of price or place of manufacture, you can’t argue that the PS-220E is a pure joy to hold and play.

“I Don’t Care How the Guitar Sounds”

Division of Laura Lee’s Viktor Lager on his No. 1 concern when playing live. Plus—his latest Mascis-inspired Jazzmaster mod.

Fender Launches the All-Mahogany American Acoustasonic

Fender expands the Acoustasonic series with the American Acoustasonic All-Mahogany models.


When Fender launched the American Acoustasonic Telecaster in 2019, the guitar entered a brand new market segment. The introduction of the Acoustasonic model eliminated pre-existing hurdles, unlocking a versatile playing experience with true Acoustic and Electric tones. Since then, Fender has introduced a Stratocaster and Jazzmaster model built with the Fender and Fishman-designed Acoustic Engine. Today, Fender is expanding that series with the American Acoustasonic All-Mahogany models handcrafted in Corona, California.

From acoustic shape-shifting to electric rhythm tones, these powerful guitars use a revolutionary Fender and Fishman-designed Acoustic Engine to deliver new sonic expressions from the studio to the stage. Handcrafted in Corona, California at the same factory that makes Fender’s iconic electric instruments, these guitars represent the next era in Fender craftsmanship and innovation – designed for fearless artists seeking an inspirational instrument with limitless new sounds and Fender feel.

American Acoustasonic Telecaster All-Mahogany ($199.99 USD)

The Acoustasonic Telecaster mixes future technology with organic feel and playability as a way to connect artists to their music. The fully hollow body features an integrated forearm contour and our patented Stringed Instrument Resonance System (SIRS) – designed to deliver a naturally loud voice with lively harmonics. A smooth-playing mahogany neck and open-pore satin finish make this cutting edge guitar comfortable and easy to play, while the Solid Mahogany top gives new tonal characteristics with warmer meds and smooth lows. On stage, the Acoustasonic Telecaster eliminates many of the challenges associated with playing an acoustic guitar live by cutting out feedback, making it easy to access the sounds you need without switching instruments. The Acoustasonic Telecaster is powered by the Fender and Fishman-designed Acoustic Engine – a proprietary blend of classic analog and future technologies that optimize the guitar’s natural sound – modifying the resonance to deliver a curated collection of voices. These acoustic and electric voices can be played solo or blended via the Mod Knob to create new sounds. They can also be used simultaneously, courtesy of the Fender Acoustasonic Noiseless magnetic pickup. Available in Natural or Bourbon Burst.

American Acoustasonic Jazzmaster All-Mahogany ($1,999.99 USD)

The Acoustasonic Jazzmaster was designed to inspire – mixing future technology with organic feel and playability as a way to connect artists to their music. The fully hollow body features an integrated forearm contour and our patented Stringed Instrument Resonance System (SIRS) – designed to deliver a naturally loud voice with lively harmonics. A smooth-playing mahogany neck and open-pore satin finish make this cutting edge guitar comfortable and easy to play, while the Solid Mahogany top gives new tonal characteristics with warmer meds and smooth lows. On stage the Acoustasonic Jazzmaster eliminates many of the challenges associated with playing an acoustic guitar live by cutting out feedback, making it easy to access the sounds you need without switching instruments. The Acoustasonic Jazzmaster is powered by the Fender and Fishman-designed Acoustic Engine – a proprietary blend of classic analog and future technologies that optimize the guitar’s natural sound – modifying the resonance to deliver a curated collection of voices. These acoustic and electric voices can be played solo or blended via the Mod Knob to create new sounds. They can also be used simultaneously, courtesy of the Fender Acoustasonic Noiseless magnetic pickup. Available in Natural or Bourbon Burst.

More info at: www.fender.com.


Rick Holmstrom’s Bent Blues

Rick Holmstrom’s Bent Blues

Rick Holmstrom says he spends “a lot of time not listening to guitar. I like trying to imagine the guitar taking the place of saxophone, Ahmad Jamal’s piano, or Mose Allison’s piano. Like Billie Holiday, who does those weird little micro bends that the great singers do—how can you get a feeling like that on the guitar?”


For Holmstrom, the answer is a style that blurs the lines between traditional blues—the genre where he’s invested most of his nearly 40-year career—and a place on the edge of the envelope, where chromatic lines, finger-crafted imitations of slide, microtonal bends, and a devout belief in the unerring power of the groove telegraph his vision. Those elements plus his clean and spanky and typically Tele-driven tone have made him Mavis Staples’ music director since 2007 and caught the ear of Ry Cooder. His ability to conjure the spirit of Mavis’ late dad, Pops Staples, on her renditions of Staple Singers classics is uncanny, yet still retains Holmstrom’s distinctive flavor.

While his resume most certainly slants toward the old-school—he’s toured with harmonica aces William Clarke, Johnny Dyer, and Rod Piazza, and recorded with Jimmy Rogers, Billy Boy Arnold, and Booker T. Jones—he’s also added spectral playing to the R.L. Burnside space-straddling classic Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down and recorded a solo album in 2002, Hydraulic Groove, that seamlessly wedded funk, trip-hop, ambient electronics, and roots music. In a less conservative place than the blues market, it would’ve been widely heralded as the masterpiece cognoscenti know it to be.

Bubbles – Rick Holmstrom

Now, he’s got a new instrumental album called Get It! that’s a funky and emotive showcase for his style; chasing down his passion for the almighty groove but doing so along his distinctive path where bends get weird (“Weeping Tana”), melodies swing hard (“Robyn’s Romp”), the great spirits of the genre are summoned (“King Freddie”), the strains of Morocco echo (“Taghazout”), and hip-hop-sample-worthy rhythm tracks (“Kronky Tonk”) do some heavy lifting.

Holmstrom’s journey started as a kid in Fairbanks, Alaska. His father, a local DJ, exposed Holmstrom to the blues, soul, and R&B that would define his career. No doubt the Staple Singers’ hits like “I’ll Take You There” and “Freedom Highway,” both part of Mavis’ live sets today, were on heavy rotation.

“Let’s get past all this existential, post-apocalyptic doom and have a funky good time.”

Cooder played a role in his arrival as Mavis’ musical right hand. “My band opened up for Mavis on the Santa Monica Pier,” he relates. “We get off the stage, and the promotor says, ‘Her band is stuck at LAX, but Mavis is here. Can you back her for a few songs?’ We didn’t really know her songs, but we played three or four.

“As I was walking off the stage, a guy with yellow glasses tapped me on the shoulder, and it was Ry Cooder. Ry was producing a record of Mavis’, and he liked the way we played with her. He kept telling Mavis, I guess during the session, ‘I really dug that band that played with you.’ Then our first gig with her, unbelievably, was The Tonight Show. [Laughs.]”

Holmstrom’s individuality is even more surprising considering he cut his teeth during the 1980s blues explosion. While he was digging on Chicago, New Orleans, Stax, and Motown, everyone else was fixated on a particular player out of Austin, Texas. “I didn’t want anything to do with Stevie Ray Vaughan,” he says. “And that’s no diss at all. He’s a really great guitar player. But when he came out, I was like 12 years old. Playing was still an option for me. Then he came along, and it was almost enough to give up guitar.

“All you had to do was look around and see all these guys that were copying him. Everybody had a Strat, a hat, some boots, and a Super Reverb,” he explains. “So, I got a big hollowbody with a single P-90 and no cutaway and tried to learn saxophone and big band horn-section melodies.”

In forging his own way, Holmstrom sidestepped the blues-shred of those years. Preferring to let his parts breathe, he fills that space with … nothing. Check out his solo on “Looky Here” from Get It! The guy sometimes drops out for a full measure. He even ends the solo by basically not playing at all for the last two bars. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t a guitarist who inspired this restraint.

Looky Here

When Rick Holmstrom was writing his new album, Get It!, the songs started with him developing melodies by singing them, then transposing them to guitar.

“Years ago, we were playing in Boston with Mavis,” Holmstrom recalls. “We got there a night early, and Ahmad Jamal was playing. He would break down a melody and only use two of the notes. It draws you in because you’re not hearing all the notes that could be there. Your brain is allowed to imagine the rest. That was a life-changing gig for me.”

Like his playing, Holmstrom’s songwriting is also decidedly non-guitar-centric. Instead of plugging in, turning up, and going for it, he says he listens. “When I’m making up songs or getting a groove going, I’ll hum or sing to myself,” he says. “Then I’ll think, ‘Where does this melody go next?’ I’m not playing the guitar at that point. I’m humming it and singing it to myself. ‘Does that flow? Okay, now let’s go back and learn that on guitar.’”

Of course, the contemporary zeitgeist—not just a quest for melody—also played a role on the creation of Get It!

Rick Holmstrom’s Gear

Guitars

  • 1953 Fender Telecaster with Ron Ellis neck pickup and ’50s Fender lap-steel bridge pickup
  • 1955 Les Paul Special with phase switching
  • 1940s Gibson ES-150
Effects
  • SIB Electronics Echodrive
  • ’60s Fender Reverb Tank
  • Milkman The Amp (used as a preamp for the rented AC15 when touring)

Amps

  • 1950s Valco-made 1×10 Bronson combo modded to tweed Tremolux specs (with 6V6 tubes)
  • Fender silver-panel Vibrolux (with 6V6 tubes)
  • Vox AC15 (rented backline when touring, with EL84 tubes)
Strings
  • D’Addario (.011–.050)

“It was January ’21 and my previous record, See That Light, hadn’t even come out. Then the insurrection happened, and it started to drive me nuts,” he says. “I’m watching MSNBC and reading The Times and stuff, and it was really bugging me. The only thing I could figure to do was get creative and get my mind off it. I booked a session and started making drum loops of grooves that I thought might work.”

While the world’s events have led some artists to exercise their struggles via dark, introspective works, Holmstrom went the other way. Get It! is all about having a good time, feeling free, and reminding us of a simpler, joyful way of looking at the world. “I wanted this record to be something you might put on when you get your friends together or when you’re having a barbecue,” he says. “Let’s get past all this existential, post-apocalyptic doom and have a funky good time.”

“I’ve gotten to the point where I hate guitar pedals.”

While the album is crammed with great blues, songs like “Surfer Chuck” and “Taghazout” play with ’60s surf rock, sultry Middle Eastern motifs, and whatever else caught Holmstrom’s fancy. “FunkE3,“ in particular, with its percolating Meters-style groove and stylistic shifts, shows how far Holmstrom and crew can go.

That one had been hanging around a while. “We did a tour years ago with Mavis, where Joan Osborne opened, and we also backed Joan,” Holmstrom relates. “One of our background vocalists said, ‘Man, why don’t you walk her off with an instrumental, and then, boom, go right into the Mavis set?’ So ‘FunkE3’ is the song I started working on and ended it up being that [transitional] song a lot of nights.”

Even with a wide breadth of styles on Get It!, the album’s sound and production are the secret behind its gleefully old-school character. Inspired by classic ’50s and ’60s blues albums, the musicians tracked together, in the moment, without overthinking. “I was always trying to make things sound like Chess Records in the ’50s—like that Little Walter, Muddy Waters kind of thing,” Holmstrom says. “You can tell it’s three instruments really close to each other, with some bleed.” The other two musicians in the room were Steve Mugalian on drums and Gregory Boaz on bass.

Holmstrom’s commitment to tradition also permeates his guitar sound. From beginning to end, he smothers the album with vintage-style amp tones from a small combo with a split pedigree. “I used a very tiny guitar amp called a Bronson. It’s a weird Valco-made amp from the ’50s. I had a buddy of mine turn it into, like, a mid-’50s tweed Tremolux. It’s a great-sounding, magical little amp.”

Despite the wide range of gain used throughout the new album, the Bronson’s onboard tremolo, a tube-driven SIB Electronics Echodrive delay, and a 1960s Fender Reverb Tank are all the effects Holmstrom used. Even that may have bordered on too much for him.

“I’ve gotten to the point where I hate guitar pedals,” he says. “I absolutely hate them. Ideally, I would love to plug straight into an amp. No 9-volt power, no wall warts, no skinny little power cables that are going to break right before the gig. I would rather use my hands.”

“I was always trying to make things sound like Chess Records in the ’50s—like that Little Walter, Muddy Waters kind of thing.”

So how does he get all his sounds? Like everything else, the old-school way. “I turn the volume of my guitar down and pick a lot with my fingers. Then, if I turn the volume on the guitar all the way up and pick with a pick, it’s pretty gain-y.”

Not surprisingly, Holmstrom also prefers vintage guitars. Save for a couple of tunes, the entire album was recorded with only one of them. “The album is all my ’53 Tele except for two songs,” he says. “It’s the variety of sounds you can get out of them. ‘All About My Girl’—that’s the neck pickup. It sounds like it could be a hollowbody. The middle is pure Stax or Motown, and then the bridge is whatever you want.”

As versatile as the Fender Tele is, the songs “King Freddie” and “Pour One Out” begged for something different. And though that something else—a 1955 Gibson Les Paul Special—is also a drool-worthy vintage piece, this one was different. “It has an out-of-phase, push-pull tone knob on the bridge pickup,” Holmstrom says. “I can blend the amount of out-of-phase so that it’s not completely nasally thin. It’s what Peter Green did, I’m sure, with his Les Paul. All points lead back to the blues, really.”

Erlee Time – Rick Holmstrom

In this live performance video of “Erlee Time,” from Get It!, Rick Holmstrom demonstrates his playful bends, joyful sense of melody, and the vintage Tele tone that’s part of his signature.



Rig Rundown: The War on Drugs [2022]

Rig Rundown: The War on Drugs [2022]

Bandleader Adam Granduciel on how single-coils, the Dead’s Wall of Sound, and cascades of chorus build his live tones. Plus, bassist David Hartley gets weird, wild, and wonky.


For nearly two decades and across five albums, The War on Drugs’ founder and frontman Adam Granduciel has narrated our complex modern lives while his band has scored our dreams.

The captivating moods of their music, much like us, morph from dense melancholy to saturated, swirling madness and everywhere in between. Granduciel often layers his Springsteen-meets-Young proletariat prose atop a post-rock soundscape, but the heartbeat of their impressive, expansive live shows is their gear and how it is implemented.

“I could play the whole tour with two or maybe three guitars—a White Falcon, Strat, and maybe a Jazzmaster—but I bring all these out just for fun,” he says with a laugh as he considers his trove of axes.

So, let’s have some fun already! Before a full evening of The War on Drugs’ jams in support of 2021’s I Don’t Live Here Anymore, PG was invited to Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium. We covered Granduciel’s growing guitar collection, got the skinny on how Jerry Garcia’s monstrous setup played into the bandleader’s theatre rig, and we took in a cockpit view of his stompbox squadron full of tone ticklers, sizzlers, and wigglers. In addition, bassist David Hartley showed off a trio of Ps, an armada of Ampegs, and demo’d a fuzz that has ended his quest for razing tones.

Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.

Keeping It in the Family

If you’re a fan of Rig Rundowns or Kurt Vile & the Violators, you’ve already seen this Strat. The above Fender American Vintage ’57 reissue was once owned by Jesse Trbovich, who’s flanked Vile for years. Trbovich landed a true-blue ’70s Olympic white Strat and needed to unload this to make room. Granduciel quickly raised his hand as a landing spot because he really enjoyed how comfortably the neck played. And since bonding with it, he likes its low-output single-coils because he can “juice it with pedals.” (It’s worth noting that Trbovich put in a Seymour Duncan Antiquity II Strat Surfer Series in the middle position, allowing him to have hum-canceling operation in the second and fourth position.) All of Granduciel’s electrics take Ernie Ball 2220 Power Slinkys (.011–.048).

It’s the One

“When this thing is in my hands, I can react with it, and it becomes this whole other animal. It can be unwieldy, but this guitar plugged into a cranked Princeton or small tweed sounds incredible,” allows Granduciel. So, as you can imagine, this 1969 Gibson SG is Adam’s right-hand when it comes to recording, but, as he explains later in the video, it doesn’t coexist pleasantly with his live setup. He scooped this gem at Rivington Guitars in New York City.

Story Time

Flip a Coin

Granduciel had lusted after this vintage offset for weeks when seeing it listed on Reverb by Chelsea Guitars. The listing was removed and he thought that it was gone forever. A few months later, he was in NYC and decided to stop into the shop and, low and behold, the sunburst Jazzmaster was on their bench in pieces. Apparently, the original buyer from the Reverb listing was after a birth-year model (1964, as listed on the Reverb page), but when he removed the neck its pocket revealed a 1963 date. He traded in the guitar for a proper ’64 and, fatefully, Granduciel didn’t let a second pass before offering to buy it. Alongside the SG, this is another heavy hitter for recording.

Down Under with Terry

During a 2018 tour of Australia, Granduciel scored this 1966 Fender Jazzmaster that looks swanky with a matching black headstock. He claims the rhythm circuit in this one “sounds killer,” while the lead circuit is “super bright and used on ‘Occasional Rain.’” In addition to being a remarkable instrument, he loves that it reminds him of a short span of time that included a wonderful tour of Down Under, earning a Grammy for Best Rock Album, and the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl.

Checked Past

Cracks aren’t meant to be beautiful, especially on guitars, but looking at the ’66’s backside reveals a twisted thumbprint.

Fly, Firebird Fly

This 1965 non-reverse Firebird was upgraded by its previous owner with a set of Lollar P-90s. If you recall the last Rundown with TWOD, Granduciel added a Bigsby, but that has since been removed.

Ol’ Reliable

This Fender American Vintage ’65 Jazzmaster has been a dependable dynamo for Adam. He prefers it because he knows what he’s going to get sonically and he can throw it around without worry. The newer pickups offer a snarlier tone, so it gets used for songs like “Pain,” and the top-end sear helps him cut through the seven-piece live band.

Hummingbird Season

This new-ish Gibson Hummingbird gets busted out for C# tunes and features a LR Baggs M1 soundhole pickup.

Bastion of Tone

Not quite the famed Wall of Sound procured by the Dead and audio engineer Owsley “Bear” Stanley, but Granduciel’s evolving setup is heading in that direction.

Alembic Ace

Since our last Rundown, Adam has ditched the Hiwatts (although he admits to enjoying that era of TWOD) for the Alembic F-2B Stereo Preamp that was used by Jerry Garcia and David Gilmour. He describes its circuity as mimicking the front end of a Fender Dual Showman. “There’s just so much clean headroom and they’re so creamy. And I don’t know what it is, but single-coils and P-90s just come to life here in a way that other amps don’t, so maybe that’s why Jerry and David used them so much.” The Mesa/Boogie Stereo Simul-Class 295 powers the Alembic. He does run a direct line signal from the F-2B to FOH for a clean DI option.

Take a Guess

In the video, Granduciel challenged me to guess how many speakers are in the oversized cab, and I said four. Seemed logical but, as he quickly pointed out, the Marshall 2041 Lead Organ has only a pair of Celestion (pre-rola) 12″ speakers. The Alembic runs through this pillar of power.

Fender Firepower

The other side of Adam’s grand equation is a 1960s Fender Bandmaster head that hits a Marshall 1960BV 4×12.

The Swart Solution

As we alluded earlier, his beloved 1969 SG doesn’t jive with his Alembic-Fender setup, so he incorporates its humbuckers into his live rig by plugging into the 5W Swart STR-Tremolo. The SG and Swart typically dance for “Thinking of a Place,” but Granduciel admits to kicking it on with the Fenders during the heat of battle and treating it like a tremolo pedal for parts of “Pressure” and other jams. To the right of the Swart you’ll notice a pair of Rockman Tom Scholz (yeah, the Boston legend) Power Soak attenuators throttling the Alembic and Fender.

Keeping Time in the Loop

The band uses this AKAI Professional MPC Live II for additional drum machines for the show.

User Input

They are harnessed by four Boss FV-500L Foot Volume Pedals controlled by Adam that allow him to bring the samples into the room mix. Additionally, the band syncs their modulation to it, so everyone is locked in. (The MPC clocks or syncs the pulsing of the tremolo for the band. Adam uses a Lightfoot Labs Goatkeeper 2, while bassist David Hartley uses a Malekko Goatkeeper.)

Horseshoe of Madness

Here’s a crow’s-nest view of Adam Granduciel’s massive pedal playground.

Bradshaw’s Boardroom

Most of what Adam does with his feet is simplified by this Custom Audio Electronics R-ST 24 + 2x PSS MIDI controller.

The Fun Begins

Here’s one of the sections of Granduciel’s expanding pedalboard that includes a Wren and Cuff Tri Pie 70, a MXR/Custom Audio Electronics Boost/Line Driver, an Ernie Ball Expression Tremolo, anElectro-Harmonix 1440 Stereo Looper, a Lightfoot Labs Goatkeeper 2, a Strymon TimeLine, a Boss DC-3 Digital Dimension, and a Morley ABC Pro (for switching amps). A Boss TU-3s Chromatic Tuner keeps his guitars in check.

To the Moon, Adam, to the Moon!

Here’s the meat and potatoes of Granduciel’s spreading stomp setup: (top left) a Boss FT-2 Dynamic Filter, another MXR/Custom Audio Electronics Boost/Line Driver, DigiTech Hardwire RV-7 Stereo Reverb, ADA Flanger, JHS Bun Runner, J. Rockett Audio Designs Archer, MXR Flanger, Moutainking Electronics Loud Box, Crowther Audio Prunes & Custard, a Fulltone OCD, and a trifecta of Eventides that rest on the right side—a Space, TimeFactor, and H9. Everything gets current by either a MXR Custom Audio Electronics MC403 Power System or the Eventide PowerMax.

Clovis the Rough Rider

At first glance, you’d probably mistake this for a ’60s or ’70s Fender P, but as bassist David Hartley attests, this is a 2002 Fender Precision named Clovis that he acquired brand new almost two decades ago. Part of Clovis’ charm for Hartley is that it’s the lightest P he’s ever held, making their “Evening With” shows a little easier on the back. It’s stock aside from him swapping out the standard anodized gold pickguard for the tortoiseshell. He uses La Bella 760FS Deep Talkin’ Bass Flats (.045–.105).

Jam Like Jamerson

Another 4-string that does a lot of heavy lifting for Hartley is this 1983 Fender Fullerton ’62 Reissue Precision Bass. While this one isn’t as light as the previous P, he does love how much it sustains.

Find the Note

And occasionally you’ll see Hartley put down all the guardrails and dance with this Fender Tony Franklin Fretless Precision Bass. The connection with this one came through when he heard how much vocal tonality it has. It’s a highly expressive instrument.

Ampeg Assault

The Ps come to life thanks to this boulder of bass tone: a pair of Ampeg Heritage 50th Anniversary SVT amps that hit an Ampeg Heritage SVT-810AV. The SVT on the left is a backup and Hartley plugs into the normal channels.

Simple but Not

Prior to this run, Hartley toyed with the idea of just plugging his Ps into a DI and his Ampeg. Clearly, that plan changed and he’s probably having more fun because of it. His stomp station contains a pair of Boss GE-7 Equalizers (one to help Clovis pop a bit more and the other helps brighten up the ambient drone of the Gamechanger), an Eventide H9, a Gamechanger Audio Plus Sustain Pedal, a Mountainking Electronics Megalith, a Malekko Goatkeeper, a Keeley Super Mod Workstation, and a MXR Phase 90. A Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner keeps his Ps sounding right.

How Many Amps Do You Use?

How Many Amps Do You Use?

Kevin Morby joins the discussion of what we’re plugging our guitars into these days. Plus, musical obsessions!


Q: Do you own or use more than one amp—why or why not?

Kevin Morby — Guest Picker

Kevin Morby

A: I technically own four different amps. Two different Orange 15-watt practice amps that are great for recording and running vocals through in my living room. I also own a Supro and Fender Vibrolux. The Fender Vibrolux is my most used amp, and the Supro is good if I ever want a lot of overdrive.

Kevin Morby’s Current Obsession:

My current musical obsession is MJ Lenderman, a young artist from Asheville, North Carolina, who is making incredible music. If I didn’t know his backstory, I would maybe think I was listening to a lost demo from the early ’90s Drag City submissions bin. But it’s not from then, it’s from now, and it’s amazing. I listened to it while mowing the lawn recently and it was perfect lawn-mowing music. He is also incredible at guitar. Go listen!

Joseph Müs Contento — Reader of the Month

A: Yep, and I use them both at the same time. Got a Vox Night Train combo set clean and a Marshall Class 5 set dirty, and the resulting sound is a sparkly, gritty mix. Chimey and articulate, while warm and meaty. Best of both worlds.

Eventually I want a Fender ’65 Princeton Reissue and a Marshall Silver Jubilee 20-watt combo to really accentuate those qualities. I also use stereo delay and ping-pong the signal between the two amps. The further I physically keep the amps away from each other, the more dramatic the effect. It’s trippy and atmospheric AF, fills out the space between notes, and I love it.

Joseph Müs Contento Current Obsession:

Continuing to build the coolest guitars I can. I’ve settled into my job at Gibson Custom and have slowly built up a woodshop of my very own. The inaugural build that I just started this spring is my entry to this year’s Great Guitar Build-Off. I’m excited to dig my teeth into my new tools and techniques and to see how far I’ve come as a luthier in the past two years!

Shawn Hammond — Chief Content Officer

A: Yes! I love the variety of tones and textures imparted by different types of power tubes—and that you can further tweak responsiveness with preamp-tube swaps.

My ’76 Fender Vibrolux Reverb (6L6 tubes) is a killer pedal platform and pairing it with a Fender Rumble 200 bass amp adds massive oomph. An old Fender Vibro Champ (6V6) is great for middle-of-the-night playing that still sounds nice (I hate headphones).

A Sound City SC30 (KT66s) yields a huge array of British tones with killer reverb, a Goodsell Valpreux 21 (6973s) is great for soulful, old-school tones at a reasonable volume, while a Jaguar HC50 (EL34s) combo has big, brawny sounds, thanks to its Hiwatt-esque circuit and oversized cab.

Shawn Hammond’s Current Obsession: 

Current obsession: Fontaines D.C.’s new album, Skinty Fia.

Ted Drozdowski — Senior Editor

A: I’ve curated my amps for a wide variety of tones, and I love having Marshall, Fender, Carr, Supro, Orange, and Quilter sounds at ready for the stage—where I run in stereo—and studio.

After many years, I’ve found a voice as a guitarist that’s my own, and blending a variety of amps, guitars, and effects is part of it.

Ted Drozdowski’s Current Obsession:

Germanium fuzz and octave fuzz pedals. Over the past year I’ve gone deep into fuzzworld and acquired a pile of stomps, including three custom builds (my one-off Burns Buzzaround clone with four germanium chips is satanically heavenly), and they’ve expanded my sonic vocabulary even more. I want to keep it expanding, like the universe.

The Bros. Landreth: “Guitar Playing Wasn’t a Priority”

The Bros

One of the core ingredients that is essential to any Bros. Landreth album is also the most dreaded: abject fear and panic. It doesn’t sprout up from any particular insecurity about the end result, but rather where to start. “We always say we’re going to write 30 tunes and pick our 10 favorites,” says Joey Landreth. “But we usually write 12 and pick 11.” At first, the fear was unsettling, but Joey and his bassist brother, David, have not only thrived under the self-imposed pressure but relished it. Factor in a world-changing pandemic, the experience of being new dads, and a soul-crushing session gone wrong, it’s amazing that Come Morning even saw the light of day.


Back in March of 2020 the band had finished two legs of touring behind ‘87, their tuneful return to form after a pair of solo albums from Joey and some time away from the band for David, who had just become a father for the first time. Joey had plans to tour behind his Lowell George tribute album. Naturally, all that went away. Tour dates were canceled, and bins of merch collected dust on the shelf. Once the duo came to terms with the uncertainty of their touring future, they immediately went to work on writing new tunes. But would it be for a solo record or another Bros. album?

The Bros. Landreth • Come Morning (Visualizer)

“I had this idea of making a solo record in my apartment,” remembers Joey. He lived in a 100-year-old building in Winnipeg where he converted the dining room into a home studio. After starting that project, mostly in isolation, with programmed drums, he played the songs for David and thought the material might better be suited from a Bros. album. “We asked ourselves what it would sound like if we merged my solo stuff with the Bros,” says Joey. “There weren’t any timelines, we weren’t career planning or writing with intent,” mentions David. “We were just making things because there was nothing else to do.”

The first two demos that they tracked were “Drive All Night” and “Corduroy.” On Come Morning, both songs feature sparse arrangements and touches of R&B influences, all mixed in with swirling sonics. “The demo for ‘Drive All Night’ was basically fully formed with programmed drums and weird stuff,” says Joey. “It was quite a departure for us.” Naturally, the next step was to start recording drums. The band found a window where travel was permitted and flew in a drummer from Edmonton to begin tracking the first half of the album. It soon became apparent that the result of the session wasn’t matching the Landreths’ vision. “When we didn’t get there, we were fucking gutted,” says David. “It was devastating. It almost killed us.” A few of the tunes were recorded at the wrong tempo, the bass lines didn’t sound like David, and it was the first Bros. album without drummer Ryan Voth. “You write these songs, you make a plan to record the best album you’ve ever made, you get through seven tracks, and you didn’t get it.” Heavy vibes.

“We’re always trying to put mics in stupid places.” — Joey Landreth

After making the tough decision to scrap the sessions, Joey and David sat down and made a dream list of drummers they would want on the record. The two names at the top of the list were Aaron Sterling and Matt Chamberlain, two studio veterans whose combined credits include David Bowie, John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, and countless others. “We sent an email to both of them, and they both said yes,” says Joey. “Fuck, how do we choose between them?” According to the brothers, it simply came down to Aaron’s enthusiastic response. Once Sterling was in place, the band sent him a demo for “Stay,” a grooving, mid-tempo tune that features some inventive open-tuned rhythm parts. “The demo had programmed drums and we outlined what we wanted him to play,” says David. “When we got the tracks back, they were wickedly inspiring and took the song in a completely different direction.”

As the long-distance sessions progressed, Sterling meshed well into the creative process and even pushed the limits of what would typically be acceptable on a Bros. Landreth record. “I remember getting the Dropbox folder and seeing the files for bongos and was like, ‘Well, that’s a hard no on the bongos,’” laughs Joey. “Then I realized the song was nothing without the bongos.” The demo for “Drive All Night” was sent off with the idea that they would strip back some of the more modern production elements and replace them with organic instruments. “We learned over the course of this project to send Aaron just the core of the song and then have us play off that, rather than the other way around,” says David.

One thing that fans of the Bros. might be missing on Come Morning is an abundance of Joey’s down-tuned slide riffs. “Guitar playing wasn’t really a priority for me on this album,” says Joey. There are incredibly melodic moments with big, roomy sounds on Come Morning, but Joey’s focus was more on vibe and sound then trying to get his licks in. “I would go for my usual super-fuzzy solo and it just wasn’t as inspiring,” he remembers. “I found myself wanting different things and needing to change the approach.”

On his solo album Hindsight, a majority of the guitar tones were inspired by a very particular room reverb that Joey added pre-delay to in order to create a slapback effect. An early influence on this technique was Jimmie Vaughan’s 1998 album, Out There. “Jimmie’s tone is incredible, and that sound has an identity that’s congruent with the record. I’ve always tried to emulate that,” says Joey. That thirst for experimentation revealed itself when Joey looked to emulate the sound of his recording booth at Sandbox Recording, a studio that serves as the brothers’ musical headquarters. Their particular recording booth at the studio sounded so good, they wanted to use it on far more than just guitar and bass tones. “What wound up kind of being more of an identity on the record is that you can hear the booth on more instruments. You can hear it on the B-3, you can hear it on the vocal,” says Joey. He points to the acoustic guitar intro on “Back to Thee” as the best example of the sound. “It’s kinda like the Jimmie Vaughan thing. It’s not super in your face, but it’s a big part of the guitar sound,” says Joey. For the washed-out baritone guitar on “Corduroy,” they placed a mic in the airlock and left the door open just a crack. The resulting tone gave the illusion that it was recorded in a much bigger space. “We’re always trying to put mics in stupid places,” laughs Joey.

Joey Landreth’s Gear

Guitars

  • Sorokin Gold Top
  • Josh Williams Mockingbird
  • Duesenberg D6 Baritone
  • Suhr Classic S
  • Mule Resonators Mulecaster
  • Collings OM1
  • Waterloo WL-14 X
  • Yamaha LS16M
  • Yamaha Revstar
Amps & Cabinets
  • Two-Rock Bloomfield Drive
  • Two-Rock Joey Landreth Signature
  • Greer Mini Chief
  • 1960 Fender Super
  • 1966 Fender Deluxe
  • Two-Rock 212 Cab

Effects

  • Benson Studio Tall Bird Spring Reverb
  • Jackson Audio Golden Boy
  • Isle of Tone Haze Fuzz ’66
  • DanDrive Secret Weapon
  • Mythos Pedals Olympus
  • Ceriatone Centura
  • Chase Bliss Thermae
  • Chase Bliss Mood
  • Chase Bliss CXM 1978
Strings, Picks, Mics & Accessories
  • Stringjoy Custom Strings
  • Rock Slide Joey Landreth Signature Slide
  • The GigRig G3 Switcher and Power Supply•
  • Moody Leather Straps
  • Royer R-121
  • Shure SM57
  • Stager SR-2N
  • Warm Audio WA-47

Typically, no matter where the journey takes Joey, he does have a few tried-and-true starting points. Most notably, his Sorokin goldtop and Two-Rock Bloomfield Drive is where he begins. But Joey isn’t afraid to swap out a trusted piece of gear if the vibe isn’t right. “The Two-Rock is a big sounding amp. If I start to play something and it takes up a ton of space and the part doesn’t need that, then I’ll start to reach for smaller amps,” mentions Joey. Those smaller amps include a Benson Nathan Junior, or a mid-’60s Fender Deluxe, which saw plenty of action on Come Morning. As a foil to the Two-Rock, Joey also employed a brown-panel Fender Super. “It’s kind of the opposite of a black-panel circuit. It has a lot more midrange and creamy breakup,” describes Joey.

“I would go for my usual super-fuzzy solo, and it just wasn’t as inspiring.” — Joey Landreth

Joey has also become well-known for his very particular setup on his guitars. He counts Derek Trucks and Sonny Landreth (no relation) as prime influences for moving to an open tuning. Trucks hangs out in open E (E–B–E–G#–B–E), while Sonny plays in several tunings including open A (E–A–C#–A–C#–E). However, it was an incredible Toronto guitarist named “Champagne” James Robertson who inspired Joey to not only eschew standard tuning, but to tune down to C. Robertson had such a unique style that Joey even texted him after a jam session to “get permission” to move to open C (C–G–C–E–G–C) exclusively. “I had a friend call this setup the autoharp of the guitar once,” remembers Joey.

David Landreth’s Gear

Basses

  • Moollon P-bass style
  • Duesenberg Starplayer

Effects

  • Noble DI

Strings & Accessories
  • D’Addario Chrome XLs (.050—.105)
  • Moody Leather Straps

Setting up a guitar for slide goes far past simply deciding on a tuning—finding the right string gauges is just as important. After moving up to a set of .014s for a while, Joey still felt something just wasn’t feeling right. He ended up with a custom set of Stringjoys that clock in at a whopping .019–.068. That sentence alone might make a guitarist’s hand quake with fear, but with the tuning’s lowered tension, the strings aren’t as rigid as you might think. All the guitars on Come Morning were in open C with the exception of a few acoustic parts in open D (D­–A–D–F#–A–D), because Joey felt his Collings OM1 just really loves to live in that tuning. Every now and then when he’s working something out, Joey will hear a part that calls for standard-tuned voicings, “Sometimes I just need a few ‘cowboy chords,’ but then I tune it back to an open chord as soon as possible.”

Joey also favored a Josh Williams Mockingbird, which is a handmade 335-style guitar that’s loaded with Firebird pickups and is the “antithesis” of the Sorokin. “It has a bit of a mid-scoop, so it tucks in around a lot of the other guitar parts in a really beautiful way,” says Joey. “If I want something that’s not as mid-forward as the Sorokin and Two-Rock, but I don’t want it to be super scoopy, then I go with the Josh Williams into the brown-panel Super.”

As much as Joey micro-manages his guitar tone—he even went so far to subdivide the slide vibrato on his Lowell George tribute record, All That You Dream—he couldn’t really do that as much on this project since there were so many collaborators and nearly all the bed tracks were done remotely. “I learned an incredibly valuable lesson on this record,” says Joey. “Which is to get the fuck out of the way.” The duo brought on Greg Koller to mix the album and he nailed more than half the mixes on the first try. “This album really feels different,” says David. “Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of the fact we made it in isolation and it being such a communal effort. There’s something about that I need to figure out.”

“Balance makes this whole thing feel a lot more sustainable and a lot less manic.” — David Landreth

So, is it a Bros. Landreth record if there isn’t a sense of fear and panic? “I think that’s the ultimate question,” says Joey. The brothers wear many hats including running their own record label, publishing company, and management company. “That balance makes this whole thing feel a lot more sustainable and a lot less manic,” mentions David. “Our creativity has many different outlets, so if I ever find myself with enough time to write more songs than I need, that probably means something bad has happened with the other things we do,” laughs Joey.

YouTube It

Featuring an expanded lineup that includes keyboardist Liam Duncan, the band tears through a handful of tunes from their sophomore album, ‘87.



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