I’ve discovered talking to the Shur guys, who
know a lot about wood voodoo, is that the
most balanced sound you can get is a basswood body, a maple top, maple neck, and
some kind of dense rosewood fingerboard. I
just like the mahogany honk. My other favorite guitar is the first electric guitar I ever had,
which was the Gibson SG. Guitars that are
built that way feel right to me.
What is it about Cornford amps that you
like so much?
Frank Zappa was an epiphany with the way
he phrased. I just got it one day. For a while I
loved everything about the music, but I wasn’t
quite sure about the guitar playing: “Is this
guy a genius or can he not really play?” Then
I got it one day. He’s phrasing like people
talk, which is why it looks so horrendous when
you see it written down. It’s hard to quantize
that stuff, but we all phrase like that when
we speak. There’s a floating tempo when we
speak, so it makes sense when you hear it.
When you put it behind any kind of pulse it
becomes a really intriguing thing to listen to.
Guthrie performs to a packed house in Boston with the Jon Finn Group. His recent Boston visit included clinics and seminars
at Berklee College of Music. Photo by JR Terri
It’s two Suhr humbuckers with a single-coil in
the middle. The push-push switch is set so you
can get different flavors, so it’s something of a
Tele. You can get the neck coil and the bridge
coil. You can get a Mark Knopler sound or a
Stevie Ray sound. I was raised on old-style
amps. An amp with four channels is a luxury
I’ve never known, so I’ve always tried to do
things with the volume knob. There’s a lot of
new sounds in any guitar if you explore what
the volume knob does. The switch was born
out of a desire to be able to set the volume
knob to that perfect sweet spot where you can
get a clean tone through an overdriven amp.
It’s just loud enough and just clean enough,
and then it remembers that when you switch
to the solo sound. It’s a simple button you
can push on the guitar. It’s the bridge pickup
straight into the output jack of the guitar for
maximum meat. Then when you push the button again, the guitar remembers the volume
knob being in your favorite place. I love that.
The same thing that other people sometimes don’t like: they’re very honest amps.
Whatever goes into that amp is what will
come out louder. If you compare and contrast
that with something like a Triple Rectifier,
that’s an amp with a lot of personality. You
can get a number of players with a number
of different guitars and plug them into that
amp. To some extent they will all sound similar, because the amp is doing quite a lot of
the work. Cornfords kind of do none of the
work. They just amplify it. The basic idea of
the amp is translating every little detail of the
way you hit the notes. So if you’re a shredder
and there are maybe tiny weaknesses in your
technique, the Cornford will bring them out
and make you feel bad about your playing. If
you come from a blues background and you
play one note in a million different ways, it’s a
really rewarding amp because you get a million different sounds coming back at you. It’s
I noticed playing the Cornford Roadhouse
that if your right hand muting is together,
you’re going to know about it.
What’s your favorite guitar right now?
I guess I have to say my signature guitar.
[laughing] If I helped design it and I still didn’t
like it, there would be something wrong. It’s
a mahogany beast made by Suhr. There’s a
new version of it that just came out. It has a
mahogany neck, a set neck joint, a mahogany
body, and pretty much no finish—it’s pretty
much one lump of resonant tree. It’s got big
frets and a pau ferro fretboard, which I think
is Bolivian rosewood. It’s harder than other
rosewoods. It has moderate output pickups,
not too loud. If the pickups get too meaty,
you lose some of the character of the guitar
and that’s a shame.
It’s seems like a versatile guitar but would
sound a little dark.
A lot of people think that. They think
mahogany is going to sound like mud, but
not necessarily. Mahogany has a certain
focus in the midrange and a certain honk,
but everything else is in there as well. What
I like the MK50H II. It has a dedicated clean
channel, which is something of a departure for
Cornford. Cornford is pretty much in love with
the dirt. They’re going for the “brown sound.”
Clean sounds are someone else’s problem.
You do it with your volume knob if you need
it. Because of the dedicated clean channel on
the MK50H II, I can take it to absolutely any gig
and depend on it to give me the tone I want
at whatever volume I want. It’s quite nice that
those amps have two master volumes so you
can switch between them. It also has two fla-
vors of dirty, so it’s like having a Tube Screamer
on the floor but it’s in the amp.
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