I’ve broken everything. It was painted black, but
there’s not much paint left on it. I’ve ripped it to
shreds. I’ve actually gouged a gully behind the
bridge from playing so hard. It does have the
original pickups, tremolo and slapboard neck—
meaning it’s a big, thick piece of rosewood
instead of veneer. It’s got a beautiful sound.
Premier Guitar’s maxim is “the relentless
pursuit of tone.” What do you think
constitutes good tone?
so I said, “You know, I think this guitar could
be better for me. I could dig into it a little bit
more and get more sound.” Watt said, “Well,
just take it on the road. And then when we’re
done with the tour just buy it from me, because
I don’t need it.” He had kind of snaked it from
J Mascis when he was on tour with Dinosaur Jr.,
or J had played it and didn’t like it. So, I played
it on tour, and at the end of the tour I got paid
and bought it. I remember at the time thinking,
“Ouch, it’s 800 dollars.” Now I think they’re
about six or seven thousand.
especially around that time when there was a
lot of good detuned rock going on in the No
Wave scene. If the bridges are set right, then
I have some specific notes I can play behind
the bridge, and it has a bell-like resonance. I
can also really distort it. I can just rip behind
the bridge and create the sound of tearing or
horrible shrieking. I don’t know why I like those
kinds of sounds, but I do. Sometimes, just
before a big chord, I like to swipe behind the
strings and then hit the chord so it creates this
splaying effect. It’s just part of my sound. I’m
lost without it. It’s no fun to play other guitars
for a whole night because I’m so used to being
able to go to certain sounds like that.
If the bridges are set right, I can play
behind the bridge, and it has a bell-
like resonance. I can create the sound of
tearing or horrible shrieking.
Cline’s stable of live guitars: Jazzmasters, Jaguars, Bill Nash Tele-style, and Jerry Jones oddities. Photo by Anne Erickson
It’s just a personal choice. I think if you can manifest the sound you’re hearing in your head, then
you have your tone. It doesn’t necessarily mean
it’s somebody else’s idea of good tone. For
example, I’m always trying to get rid of treble.
I try to find some rich low-mids, and that’s why
I have this Tim Schroeder amp that I play right
now. He designed it with that in mind for me. I
find a lot of these class A, handwired, point-to-point amps are very, very treble-y, and I don’t
know if it’s the speaker choices or what, but I
cannot deal with the sound of those amps, personally. But somebody else can come along and
play with a treble-y sound and sound fantastic.
Everybody has a different idea about how they
feel sound and music. I have a lot of pedals that
give me certain tones, so that’s the same pursuit.
It’s the same dream and vision: just trying to find
things that satisfy what I’m hearing in my head.
What’s on your pedalboard right now?
The Wilco pedalboard is a little different from
what I use for my own music in that it has a lot
more distortion boxes. But the things I always
use, in every kind of music, are a Boss volume
pedal, the Klon Centaur overdrive, a Boss CS- 3
compressor pedal that everyone laughs at me
for using because they think it’s bad and I love it,
a Z. Vex Fuzz Factory, and my Electro-Harmonix
16-Second Digital Delay from the ’80s.
Why did you think the Jazzmaster’s slightly
longer string length could work for you?
Let’s talk about Wilco. On the new record,
there seem to be more layers. Would you
say this is more of a studio record than
It feels more solid and taut, which I like because I
play pretty hard. I don’t often like light or mushy
setups because I tend to really dig in sometimes.
Why is having the strings behind the bridge
important to you?
It makes the palette so much broader. I remember hearing that sound on Sonic Youth records,
Did you ever imagine that Jazzmaster
would become your main guitar?
Not at all. I didn’t realize at first that it was one
of the best-sounding Jazzmasters. I used to
just throw the thing around mercilessly. Then I
realized it was a really great year for them and
a great instrument. But you know, there’s not
that much original left on the guitar, because
Absolutely. I think that was Jeff’s concept
from the very beginning. He wanted to take
the opposite approach of Sky Blue Sky, which
is essentially live performances. The basics
for Wilco (The Album) were recorded in New
Zealand, and I wasn’t even there.
You have a lot of killer guitar duels on your
records now—as well as live. What do you like
most about playing in a three-guitar band?