amp I built myself. It’s basically a
Marshall and an AC30 all in one.
It sounds like a huge stack, but
it’s only 30 watts.
Can you tell us a little more
about the homemade amp—it
I’ve actually built four of them
now. Basically, each one is a two-input amp with one side being
pretty much a top-boost Vox
AC30, and the other side being
sort of a hot-rodded Marshall
with some preamp gain. The
hot-rodded side has a tube-buff-ered effects loop and a Master
Volume. Both channels feed
into an AC30-style power section with a few tweaks here and
there, but basically it’s a four-
EL84, cathode-biased power section with no negative feedback.
It’s a 30-watt combo, but most
of the time I run it through a
4x12 Splawn cab. Component-wise, I’ve used anything and
everything, but I tend to go with
carbon comp–type resistors on
certain parts of the circuit and
metal-film everywhere else. I’ve
used SoZo coupling caps for the
most part, but I’ve used Orange
Drops, too. As for tubes, I think
the JJ brand sounds best over-all for what my amps do.
Did you build everything
I did, except I had a guy weld
the chassis together for me. I
wanted the chassis to be unique,
so I couldn’t use off-the-shelf
parts. I basically took my drawing to a local sheet-metal shop
and had it made, and then I
drilled all the holes myself and
had it powder-coated. I’m into
woodworking, so the cabinet
part was easy and fun for me.
I drilled and punched all the
turret-board stuff myself. And,
of course, I wired it up myself.
How do you get such consis-
tently killer dirty tones?
I find that when I use a distor-
tion pedal, it tends to thin out
the sound. I’m really just looking
for more sustain, so I’ll usually
step on a compressor before I step
on a distortion. To get a gritty
sound, I like to set my amps pretty loud and filthy, and then back
off my guitar’s Volume control
to get something a little cleaner.
But occasionally—for instance,
on a song like “Fuzzy”—I do use
a Z.Vex fuzz pedal. To be honest,
I can’t remember which one, but
it’s a pretty cool pedal. It can get
crazy if you want it to, but I set it
up to be very ballsy and smooth
at the same time.
There are so many great gui-
tar moments on the record,
but the multilayered parts on
“Yours to Reap” really stand
out. How did you record that?
Everything was done with
regular guitars tuned a half-
step down. Some of them were
lowered to dropped C# tuning.
I used the P- 90 MJ guitar for
every part except the solo, on
which I played my trusty black
MJ. The main part that opens
up the song and becomes the
sort of fake keyboard-pad sound
is this: four tracks of guitars,
and singing along with a melody.
Later, as I’m lying in bed or
driving in my car, I might find
myself humming a familiar tune,
only to realize it’s one I recently
composed. If it sticks like that,
the song is generally a keeper. As
for lyrics, I’m not trying to blow
anyone’s mind—I’m just trying to
articulate exactly how I feel. That
can be tough, because so many of
my lyrics are intensely personal.
each played with an EBow going
through a Whammy pedal set to
drop two octaves when I step on
it, through some delay and then
through my homemade amp.
The main little riff that comes
in eventually is done with my
Option 5 Destination Rotation
pedal through some delay and
then through my amp with a
fairly clean sound and the bass
rolled off a fair bit to make it a
little lo-fi—so that everything
around it sounds bigger. After
the vocal finishes, a little string-quartet thing comes in and
that’s done with four guitars,
each played with an EBow
going thwrough a Whammy
pedal. The solo was just the guitar through the homemade amp
with a little delay.
Describe your general
approach to writing.
It’s nothing mind-blowing. It
almost always starts with me tinkering around on whatever guitar
I have at hand, coming up with
a new riff or chord progression,
How does your classical training factor into your music
I often find myself using hybrid
picking even when I don’t have
to, and I think that’s a technique leftover from playing classical guitar. Also, I still play classical in order to keep my chops
up. I have a handful of pieces
that I first learned years ago—
things like Bach’s “Bourrée in E
minor” and “Ave Maria”—that
I’m still chipping away at. Talk
about music for music’s sake!
“Ave Maria” is a great one—the
chords are ridiculous. It really
expands your playing to work
through such beautiful chords—
the sort that you wouldn’t normally think to play.
Are there any new guitarists
out there who inspire you?
Not to put anyone down, but
it’s rough now. The last guitarist who I can remember as
carving out something new was
[Rage Against the Machine’s]
Tom Morello. There are definitely some great guitarists out
there—just do a YouTube
search and you’ll find tons of
players who can blow through
some mind-bogglingly fast
stuff. Maybe I’ve just gotten
old, but at this point, I’m really
most interested in hearing
someone who plays something
creative that complements a
song. It doesn’t need to be a
million notes or anything.
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