Jim Root is one of the most versatile guitarists in rock. He gets to explore the darkest corners of metal – thrash, death, grind – in Slipknot, and he stretches out even further in Stone Sour. The band was formed in 1992 by future Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor –Root joined in 1995 – and after a four-year hiatus it was reactivated in 2002, quickly establishing huge critical and fan acclaim. The new Stone Sour album, Audio Secrecy, was produced by Nick Raskulinecz [Alice In Chains' Black Gives Way To Blue, Deftones'Diamond Eyes, Rush's Snakes & Arrows], and is released by Roadrunner in September (September 3 in Australia and Germany, September 6 in the UK, and September 9 in the US).
I understand you and Josh Rand recorded most of your guitar parts at the same time?
Yeah, about 90% of the songs were recorded at the same time. We record what we call ‘stripes,’ which is basically the entire band with the exception of [drummer] Roy Mayorga, playing to a click track. Then Roy can play along to these tracks and play around them. He kind of pushes and pulls around the click track a little bit anyways. We wanted a polished but still live-feeling record. When me and Josh started tracking live next to each other it was cool because we would kind of lock in with each other a little bit tighter rather than me going first and then him trying to lock in with the way I play or vice versa. You can hear everything that’s going on, I play a little bit more like him, he plays a little bit more like me, and it’s all very organic.
I’ve noticed in the last couple of years, a lot of the bands I’ve interviewed have gone back to more traditional ways of doing things – making an actual recording rather than a production.
And that’s the thing that freaked me out a little bit when we were working with [producer] Dave Fortman. I saw him and his engineer cutting and pasting stuff and I just about fucking freaked out! ‘What are you doing!?! No, we’re not doing that!’ I’m a guitar player. That means I play guitar, you know what I mean? You’re not going to get one good round take of a measure then stretch it out over eight bars, you know what I mean? That’s not how we’re doing this.
Nick Raskulinecz has produced a great albums for Alice In Chains and Deftones lately, and he did Stone Sour’s last album, Come What(ever) May. What’s he like to work with?
Nick, he’s cool, man. I’ve worked with a few different producers and Nick’s like a combination of a few different guys. He’s not like ‘my way or the highway.’ He’s very hands on. He’s very involved with everything from the beginning until the end. Sometimes he can be a little disorganised, but it’s rock and roll, you know what I mean, we’re not punching a clock. We just figure out what we’re gonna do that day. He’s a little bit like Ross [Robinson] in the fact that he gets you pumped up and he gets you excited about what you’re doing, and he’s a little bit like [Rick] Rubin in that he’s a little bit precise and if shit isn’t sounding good we’ll go back and do it and do it until it does. And he’s really involved with pre-production too, which is a cool thing, especially for us because we don’t have a whole lot of time for that type of stuff. Corey and I are juggling Slipknot and Stone Sour so it’s basically right off the road and into the studio.
So your approach to guitar in Stone Sour – obviously you have a lot of room to throw in different styles and things.
I kinda get to do a lot of everything in both bands. I don’t really go into a record with a certain goal, like I’m going to do this, or I’m going to play this certain way. I just live in the moment as it comes, and it’s a lot more natural and organic. If there’s a tune we’re working on that someone else has written, I like to approach that song – like, I’ll learn that song in preproduction, obviously – but when it comes to laying different guitar tracks and coming up with different melody lines and stuff, I like to hit that on the spur of the moment, because usually what happens is, nine out of ten times, the first thing you come up with right off the top of your head ends up being the best thing. And then you’re chasing that the rest of the time. You can always take that first thing, as long as it’s been captured on the computer – I was going to say tape but you don’t use that any more! As long as it’s captured and it’s there, even if there’s a clam or a bad not you can be like, ‘That’s the vibe of what it is,’ and you can build on it from there. To me that’s where the most natural and hookiest stuff comes from.
I notice that too. If I improvise a solo it’s always way better than if I try to write it.
I’m the same way too. I never write solos out. I’ll have a general idea of what I want to do: I’ll have a melody line hummed out in my head, and I’ll have to find it on the fretboard, and I’ll just go from there. Nick hates that. He wants everyone to write everything out, and Josh is that way. He’s a writer. I’ll ad lib my solos live. To me that’s a little bit more edgy and punk rock and flying by the seat of your pants, and it keeps people wondering. For me it’s a million times more interesting than watching a guitar player that plays a solo note for note like it is on the record. Unless you’re going to see a band like Dream Theater or something like that.
Plus you always surprise yourself, like, ‘Hey, I’m better than I thought!’
It’s true, man! The more you play and the longer you’ve been touring and the longer you’ve been playing the songs, the more fluid you become – I call it liquid. You don’t even think what you’re doing, it just flows out as soon as something pops into your head. It’s almost like the Force takes over! Something will pop into your head a nanosecond before you’re going to play it or before the beat happens. You just find yourself doing it. That’s a great feeling. I love that feeling, man. It’s second to none. To me that’s way more interesting than ‘Here’s your solo, it starts on the 22nd fret and you’re going to do this arpeggio, and the third, and blah blah blah.” I like to change the shapes up a little bit, y’know? Or throw a delay on. Fuck it! (Laughs).
That was something I was going to ask about a little later, actually: the MXR Carbon Copy analog delay you use. I have one and I love it.
I have two of those in my rack right now, on the same pedalboard. I’ve got one set a little bit faster than the other one. I love those pedals, man. When we’re with Slipknot, at the beginning of the set I’d come up while the intro tape is rolling and I’d play with the rate and it would repeat all over itself and you’d get some really cool sounds. And it’s never the same thing twice.
I like to use it as a dirty reverb kind of sound.
Yeah you can do that, you can get really good rockabilly sounds out of it. It’s just a great pedal, and it doesn’t colour the tone. There are so many of those pedals out there, the analog delay pedals, that make everything a little bit leaner-sounding. The Carbon Copy sounds very analog, and it’s a cool little green pedal. It’s awesome.
I’ll tell you what, man, it’s a big honour, you know what I mean? In a million years… I mean, I put off doing a signature model for so long because there are so many things I wanted to achieve out of a guitar and it really took me eight or nine years to troubleshoot guitars. I went through a few different companies, then I kinda went back to what I learned to play on as a kid which was Charvels. I went through the PRS thing, I tried Jacksons for a while, and they’re all great guitars, but there are so many different things that I wanted to achieve with a signature model. I wanted it to be a workhorse live, and very road-ready, something that’ll stand up to months and months – if not years and years – of being on the road. For instance, my number one Tele that I use on stage is the number one prototype, the white one. It has an ebony board on it. That thing, I’ve had on tour with me since [Stone Sour's] Come What(ever) May and it looks like it’s a 30-year-old guitar, and it’s the best sounding one. It’s all over the [Slipknot] All Hope Is Gone record. It’s all over this new Audio Secrecy record, and it’s our sound guy’s favourite guitar because it’s got such a rich, thick, bold sound to it. But I wanted them to be a workhorse live and I also wanted them to be a tone machine in the studio. I really wanted to record with them and that’s why I chose mahogany. That’s the wood. Over the years, the more records we did, I found a lot of the guitars we would pick, me and producers or me and first engineers, whether it’s Ross Robinson or Greg Fidelman or even Nick, we would always go to Gibsons and mahogany guitars, so I’m like, ‘Okay, so why don’t we do a mahogany guitar with a rock maple neck?’ And I’m on the fence between maple and ebony – I love the feel of both of them. Different days I like the feel of different ones. So Fender was cool enough to let me do two different colours and give you the option of a maple board on one and an ebony board on the other. I wasn’t really able to make up my mind, but now that I’ve had the guitars for a few years and I’ve been touring with them for quite a while, and even the Strats, I’m starting to favour the darker boards, the ebonys and rosewoods. If you see me playing a guitar that should have a maple board on it but it’s got an ebony board, that’s why: I’ve had the guitar tech swap the necks on them.
They’re very stripped down and refined guitars – they’re so simple but there must have been a lot of work to getting them to be that simple.
There really was. Honestly,there was a good six or so years of going back and forth between Charvel and Fender, and I even took the Flathead, and that was the basis of what the model was going to be: it was going to be based on the Custom Shop Flathead. And that’s what they were trying to push me towards in the beginning, and then the Charvels came out and I started to play those, because they were the USA San Dimas’s just like the ones I used to play when I was 13 or 14. They’re really cool guitars and I used them for the Subliminal Verses tour, but when it came time to design one, I don’t know, it just didn’t feel right. I crawled on my hands and knees back to Alex at Fender and said ‘Please, just let me do a Tele. Please, please, please,’ and he was like, ‘Okay, but it’s probably not going to be a Custom Shop model with the specs that you want. It’s probably going to have to be a Mexican one to keep the price down.’ My big thing at the time was to keep it under $1,000, which was extremely hard to do. Now they’re well above that which is a shame, but I did everything in my power to keep it around a thousand. I definitely wanted it to be something that anybody who wanted a good quality guitar could get their hands on, and I didn’t want to load it up with tribal S’s, number fours, or SS logos from Stone Sour, or bleeding-eye angels or whatever. I wanted it to be a little bit ambiguous. If you’re playing one, you wouldn’t really know it’s my model.
Last thing before our time is up is, you guys are coming down to Australia for the Soundwave festival – that’s going to be pretty kickass.
Any chance we get to come to Australia, especially a tour like Soundwave! We did the Big Day Out a few years back, and that was one of the funnest tours we’ve ever done. Everyone on the tour called it the Big Day Off because it’s three days off, play a show, then three days off. And Australia’s such a friendly place, everybody is so awesome and everybody just wanted to have a great time and good fun. It’s a pleasure to be coming back down there and I hope we do more than just Soundwave.
And Soundwave’s really overtaken the Big Day Out these last few years, especially for heavier music. This one’s got Slayer, Iron Maiden, Primus, Slash, Queens of the Stone Age…
It’s going to be killer.
Thanks to Roadrunner Records Australia
Catalinbread first caught my eye when I stumbled across the Ottava Magus at Pony Music a few years ago. I’ve always been into the octave thang, and the Ottava Magus has got to be one of the coolest-looking pedals ever. The Formula No. 5 is inspired by vintage tweed amps including the Fender 5E3 Tweed Deluxe. The 5E3′s character is very unique: minimal power filtering, low plate voltages, simple tone stack, and next to nothing in the way of controlling the low end between gain stages. Combine that with an under-rated output transformer and speaker, and you’ve got one loose, dirty, greasy, edgy amp. The Formula No. 5 seeks to tap into that same sound because, as we all know, while descriptors such as ‘greasy,’ ‘inefficient’ and ‘grit’ may sound like bad things to the lay person, to the guitarist they can represent the holy grail.
The Formula No.5 has only three controls: Volume, Gain and Tone. The circuit itself is built around cascading JFET gain stages, which have a softer sound than MOSFETs and a more natural note envelope than diode clipped rings. I plugged my Ibanez RG550 with a Seymour Duncan Parallel Axis Trembucker into my Marshall DSL50 set to a clean sound (into my AxeTrak isolated speaker cabinet), and stomped. I recorded what happened:
High volume and low gain settings have a little bit of high-end ring to them but are mostly lo-fi – in the nicest possible way. This is really emphasised by some amp spring reverb. It’s interesting to explore the interaction between the tone and gain controls: higher settings on the Gain control and lower Tone excursions result in loose bass, gruff treble, and a fat midrange. It’s a strange mix of fine articulation and clumsy wallop, and the overtones are amazing, especially for those of us who like to Jeff Beck it and play fingerstyle.
The Formula No. 5 interacts with particular sensitivity to changes to pickup and tone settings. Switching to the neck pickup and rolling back the tone control brings out a flutey, fat honk with great sustain, while flipping to the bridge pickup with the tone opened back up has an almost ‘broken jangle’ sound. Again these probably sound like descriptions of something bad, but the result is actually extremely musical and interesting: it’s just not conventional in the way you might expect, say, a tube-style overdrive unit.
The vibe of the Formula No. 5 is fuzzy-but-not-fuzz, distorted-but-not-distortion. It pushes out a conglomeration of a whole bunch of frequencies you don’t expect to come out of your amp – but don’t let that put you off, because I can’t stress enough just how good it sounds. It’s great for blues, rock, avant garde, country and other styles most of us haven’t thought up yet, but most of all, it’s extremely fun.
The flanger is an odd little effect. It’s not the kind of thing you can leave on all the time, like a chorus or delay pedal, but used in the right place – a fill, a solo, an intro. MXRflangers have helped shape the sound of rock since the 70s. Their original M117 Flanger was used by Eddie Van Halen for such classic tracks as Unchained, (these days you can buy the EVH Flanger, which contains the same tone as the original pedal but with an ‘EVH’ switch that instantly reconfigures the circuit for the exact Unchained settings). Flangers are notoriously fiddly though, and it can take a while to dial in your sound. The Micro Flanger, a reissue of an 80s unit, is designed with a similar circuit to its M117 and EVH big brothers, but two of the control pots (Manual and Depth) are left out in favour of the two most useful: Rate and Regeneration.
The Micro Flanger isn’t an exact reproduction of its 80s forefather. The circuit remains 100% analog via bucket brigade technology but it has been updated with a true bypass switch. Housed in the Phase 90-sized box, you still have to unscrew the bottom to access the battery compartment, and the 9v power supply jack is still below the input jack.MXR includes two little covers which fit over the control knobs so you can turn the knobs with the edge of your shoe. This works especially well for single-knob pedals such as the Phase 90, Micro Chorus and Micro Amp, but it’s still pretty useful on twin-knob boxes like the Micro Flanger, Distortion + and Blue Box.
The best way to initially test the Micro Flanger is to set both controls to halfway, play for a while, then experiment with each to see what they do. At this ‘both at 12 o’clock’ setting the Micro Flanger has a musical, shimmery chorus effect with a bit more movement and swoosh. This works especially well with clean and lightly overdriven settings where it adds a kind of indefinable sparkle. Increasing the Regeneration control brings out a rich harmonic atmosphere which almost sounds like some kind of wah/chorus combination in which a wah wah pedal emphasising certain frequencies while a chorus fattens everything up. Come to think of it, it’s almost like an automated version of that bizarre pitch-shifted Surfing With The Alien lead tone, without the weird high octave sound. Turning the Rate control all the way down gives you that classic jet plane doppler effect (which you can reduce or emphasise via the Regen pot), while turning it all the way up creates an organ-like, tremulous warble.
The Micro Flanger sounds equally good whether you place it before or after distortion-generating devices. If you place it after a distortion pedal or in your amp’s effects loop you’ll get a more synthetic, synth-like feel which works especially well if you really want to emphasise the effect. If you’re more into subtlety and vintage vibe, try it before your distortion or amp.
The Micro Flanger may not be the perfect flanger for every player – some might really miss those extra two knobs and the additional range of control they give – but others will dig how set-and-forget it is. It’s virtually impossible to find a bad sound in this box.
Here’s an audio clip I recorded of the Micro Flanger in action. This is just random noodling on my Strat through the Micro Flanger into Eleven Rack. You’ll hear a bit of flanger-less playing first, then a few minutes of riffage at various settings. Enjoy!
Black Label Society’s new CD, Order Of The Black, is one of the ass-kickin-est albums of Zakk Wylde’s long career of ass-kicking. Whether with Black Label, Ozzy or Pride and Glory, Zakk’s never been one to hold back a killer riff or searing lead line, but Order of the Black has really hit it out of the park – as evidenced by its #4 Billboard debut. I caught up with Zakk on the eve of the album’s release.
Last time we chatted you were still building your studio. Now that it’s all done, what’s it like?
It’s killer, man. We test-drove the Black Label Bunker – we recorded the record in there and mixed it. I couldn’t be happier, man. Because the thing is, a lot of the time you could record in the studio but you want to mix somewhere else, but this just sounds great. We took it out of the bunker to mix it in another studio with a big SSL board and all that sort of stuff, and our studio sounded better. It’s one stop shoppin’, ya know what I mean? I can make the donuts in there, wrap ‘em, box ‘em and send ‘em out.
Do you feel there’s an energy there that you couldn’t get if you were watching the clock all the time?
Um, well no, to be honest with you, I never watched the clock anyway when I was recording. Nah. The way we make a Black Label album, we go in and we knock ‘em right out. It’s just like, me and you going down to the studio today, we could hear Zeppelin on the radio, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ or something like that, and go ‘Dude, let’s do something like that, that pounding driving riff, then we’ll start with the drums, come in with the vocal,’ you know what I mean? It’s like, by the time we get to the studio, everyone’s just chilling and next thing you know we’ll start tracking. So I mean it’s like, if we want to do a mellow thing we’ll do something mellow. I’ve never had any problems recording anywhere. When we did a lot of the sessions for Hangover Music, we had about eight days off in the middle of Nashville so I was like, ‘Tim, just book us some studio time. We’ll go in and do a bunch of mellow stuff.’ Cos I’d been playing a bunch of acoustic guitar in the bus, as opposed to us doing the heavy stuff, because we were touring at the time. A lot of those sessions ended up on that record. The way I look at it, it’s just like when you’re going to any studio – Olympic, where all my favourite bands recorded, Abbey Road studios, Electric Lady Land, as soon as you get into the studio you’re just like a kid with a million crayons and you’ve got a massive colouring book. It’s always a good time, man.
Speaking of mellow stuff, track four on the new CD, Darkest Days… I have this thing where track 4, no matter what the band is, track four tends to be a sweet spot where I find my track, y’know? The really melodic stuff always seems to happen at track four.
I dig it.
What can you tell us about that song?
I was writing that on the guitar after I heard the Stones on the radio. It might have been Wild Horses or something like that. I was just jamming on the acoustic and I just ended up writing that one.
There’s some cool whammy bar stuff at the start of Black Sunday. Is that the Epiphone Graveyard Disciple?
Yeah, that’s the GD. He wanted to get his chance on the record! (laughs).
I can just imagine it there. ‘Pick me! Pick me!’
Like I said, man, the Epiphone guys did a great job with the guitar. I use it live now and everything. It’s cool! I’m diggin’ it.
Now, Time Waits For No One. I’ve gotta be careful saying that one because in an Australian accent it sounds like I’m saying ‘Tom Waits for no one.’
(Laughs) Tom Waits for no one! Well he doesn’t, man, because he’s too busy winning all these Academy Awards! Oh man! But yeah, I was just listening to a lot of Mowtown and stuff like that.
It’s cool! I love hearing the piano stuff because there’s some really heavy stuff on this album, but there’s always something to break it up.
It’s definitely a rollercoaster ride.
And once again, on this acoustic thread, Chupacatra. That track’s awesome!
I love Al DiMeloa, John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, and I listen to a bunch of flamenco guitar players as well. They’ve just got such amazing musicians. If you can’t get inspired listening to those guys… you know, like when I’m not doing the metal thing or the hard rock stuff it’s just something new to play. I like watching jazz videos. I’ve got some Allan Holdsworth stuff and John McLaughlin’s instructional video. You can always learn something new and just incorporate it into your playing. But I was sitting on the tour bus a while ago and I ended up writing that thing. I’ve had that sitting around for a while.
Yeah! When I was about 13 my high school music teacher said ‘Stop listening to that metal crap’ and he taped the Guitar Trio album for me. Of course being 13 I didn’t want to listen to it because at teacher told me to, but deep down I thought it was cool.
Well the metal crap’s cool too but it’s all good, you know what I mean? But when you hear the Guitar Trio, McLaughlin, Paco and Al, it’s pretty insane.
Godspeed Hell Bound – I love that one. It’s got that almost thrash thing happening.
Yeah, well you talk about metal! That’s your stock heavy metal song! We were just goofin’ in the studio, just a pile-driving fuckin’ metal death march. That’s what that thing sounds like to me, man. I was watching the military channel writing that riff, watching footage of World War II.
Another one I really dig, and you’ve tucked it towards the end of the album, is Riders of the Damned. That’s like a classic Zakk riff happening there.
Thanks a lot, brother. It reminds me of Zep and Sabbath and my love for all those riffs, you know what I mean?
Now being a guitar geek, it’s time to ask the geeky guitar questions.
No problem at all!
First is, I wanted to know the origin of the pinch harmonic for you. Where did you get it from?
Just from Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top – how he used it in La Grange and everything like that. I asked my guitar teacher ‘What is that he’s doing? How does he get that sound?’ I didn’t know how to do it, but my guitar teacher showed me how to do it. I was like, ‘That’s like the coolest thing.’ But I got it from Billy Gibbons.
So many people do it in the middle of the neck and stuff, and you’re probably the first guy to come out and really hit it on those low notes.
The running joke is, whenever the guys hear other bands do it now, they’re like, Zakk, you getting any royalties for that stuff? When we were out on the Ozzfest, every kid was doing a pinch harmonic and Nick [Catanese, BLS second guitar] was like, ‘You get a quarter for each one.’ He was adding up. ‘Dude, you made $14.50 today!’ That’s like the running joke now. So every time someone hears a pinch harmonic they throw quarters and nickels at me.
Something I like is really cool is the way you use Twitter – you’re almost like a guitar teacher, handing out advice. Have you ever thought of sharing the knowledge through a DVD or something?
Actually yeah! Now that you mention that, I’m actually working on a guitar book right now. So it’s Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Guitar Bible. I’m working on that right now. It’s going to have everything. The players I love, all the gear, all my guitars, just everything. And also, everything from every scale, modes, everything. We’re going to balance it. It’s also going to have a DVD with it. It’ll go through my solos and show you how it works with the scales. So everything correlates and makes sense. And I love doing it. Put it this way: back in the day if I could have got a book by Randy Rhoads when I was 15 years old, I would have been the first one in line for that one.
The new Marshall: what can you tell me about that?
It’s just gonna be another Marshall JCM800 2203, a 100 watt top on steroids. We’re talking about maybe putting together a combo amp, the little baby Marshall, the whole nine yards. The cool collectible stuff. It’s just an ass-kickin’, balls-to-the-wall JCM800 with no bells and whistles. The running joke is, it’s hysterical because it actually goes to eleven. The actual volume knobs all go to eleven. Just for the cheese factor.
I saw something on Twitter the other day you mentioned a Jimmy Page Telecaster replica?
Yeah, it’s my old Telecaster that I used when I did Farm Fiddling [for Guitar World's Guitars That Rule The World CD in the early 90s]. I’ve got a guy out here who’s going to do the work for me. I’ve got tonnes of pictures of Jimmy using the actual guitar, and I’m going to have one of my buddies, Dan Lawrence, do it. He said ‘Zakk, just give it to me, I’ve got a million pictures of it as well.’ I love Jimmy Page – who doesn’t? – so it’s just something cool to have around the house, you know what I mean?
So what guitars did you use on the new CD?
I just used the Gibson Grail, the ZVs, the GDs, the Rebel.
How’s the Rebel looking these days?
She’s fine, man. The headstock’s been broken off three times but she’s fine.
Do you have any plans for any other new signature stuff coming out soon?
Yeah man! With Dunlop we’re working on another pedal right now. I’ve got this ass-kicking idea for a new pedal. And the chorus pedal, we just put that thing out. I’ve got some other guitar designs I came up with so we might be doing that pretty soon. I’ve got a tonne of stuff going on right now.
How do you use the chorus in your rig?
It’s kind of wide – just to widen everything and sweeten things up. But you can get all those cool sounds. Andy Summers with the Police, he has great chorus sounds. And I love Father Randy with his live tone. Randy’s live tone I thought was even better than what they actually got on vinyl. His live tone was amazing, with the chorus on it. I’ve heard bootlegs that blow Tribute away.
Have you had a chance to check out the new Ozzy CD?
Yeah, what I’ve heard sounds great. Ozz is sounding great, Gus is playing his balls off, I’m happy for Blasko – he’s a Black Label brother – they’re doing great.
Order Of The Black is out now. Here in Australia it’s released through Riot.
The Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster Reissue taps into a magical point in Fender’s history, where the Stratocaster had grown and evolved from its 1954 roots. You can see this evolution by looking at the American Vintage ’57 Stratocaster Reissue. Earlier Strats had single-ply pickguards and maple fretboards. By ’62 the design had mutated to 3-ply pickguards and rosewood fretboards. The Strat still had only a 3-way pickup selector switch, although astute players had already realised they could access neck+middle and bridge+middle combinations by balancing the switch between the notched settings. Later the Stratocaster’s headstock grew, the number of screws in the neck joint reduced from 4 to 3, and the truss rod adjustment moved from the base of the neck to the headstock. Later still, the Strat (in the form of the current American Deluxe Stratocaster) adopted a 2-point fulcrum vibrato system, compound radius fretboard (a roundish 9.5″ at the neck end, progressing to a flatter and more shred-friendly 14″ at the noodly end), locking tuning machines and the S-1 switch for additional tonal options.
But back to the ’62 Reissue. Yes, the guitar that prompted me to give up my Ibanez Jem7VWH. This guitar features vintage-correct appointments to the finest degree. The body is alder, finished in nitrocellulose lacquer instead of the more modern polyurethane. Nitro is known for ageing gracefully and allowing the wood to breathe. The neck features 21 vintage-size frets (they’re quite small and relatively low), with white pearloid position markers including vintage-accurate further-spaced-than-usual twin 12th position dots. The rosewood slab fretboard’s radius is a curvaceous 7.25″ (184mm), which may present some ‘fretting out’ (more on this later) if you go nuts with your bends, especially if you prefer a lower action, but hey, it was good enough for Jimi so it should be good enough for the rest of us, right? The neck is also finished in nitro, has a nut width of 1.650″ (42mm), and is capped with vintage-style tuning machines.
Electronics consist of three Fender American Vintage ’57/’62 Strat single-coil pickups http://fender.com/products/search.php?partno=0992117000 with staggered, bevelled-edge pole pieces (Subtle point: the originals didn’t have bevelled edges). The pickups, which Fender says are reverse-engineered from a particularly coveted ’63 Stratocaster, are made of Formvar wire wound around Alnico 5 magnets. They have a DC resistance of 5.6K and inductance of 3 Henries, putting them at the very low output end of the spectrum compared to, say, the Texas Special Bridge Pickup which tops out at 7.10K or the ceramic magnet Hot Noiseless designed for Jeff Beck, which gets all the way up to 10.4K.
Controls include a master volume pot as well as tone controls for the neck and middle pickups. All three pickups share the same magnet polarity and winding direction. In later years, guitar companies grew hip to the idea of including a reverse-polarity, reverse-wound middle pickup that would serve to create a humbucking effect when that pickup is combined with one of the others, but since this is a vintage-accurate reissue, you have to deal with any extraneous buzz on all pickup settings. Speaking of which, the pickup switch is a vintage-accurate 3-way version – neck, middle or bridge only – but Fender thoughtfully includes a 5-way switch in the age so you can change it over yourself (or have a tech or guitar store do it for you). I chose to leave the 3-way switch as-is for a while, but will probably upgrade to the 5-way once I get tired of trying to balance it at those midway points for the combination settings. For now I’m enjoying the vintage accuracy of the 3-way switch.
By the way, in the interests of vintageness, Fender includes an original-style strap and cable as well as the ‘ashtray’ bridge cover (which everyone took off anyway). To fit the cover, place it over the bridge then push it back towards the rear strap pin. There’s no mechanism to actually lock it in place – it just sits there – so don’t stress too much if it pops off. Just consider it a cool historical curio and an extremely rare example of a Fender part that wasn’t perfectly engineered.
The workmanship is pristine, from the softer curves of the ’62 body to the intricately carved synthetic bone nut. The fretwork is great, and it seems that Fender took extra special care with this step in the knowledge that thin frets and round radii are out of step with many current players’ expectations. If you need something slightly more modern but still dig the ’62 vibe, there’s the American Vintage Hot Rod ’62 Strat, which differs from the basic Vintage ’62 spec by way of a satin-backed neck, flatter and more bend-friendly 9.5″ radius and medium-jumbo frets, slightly fatter neck, installed 5-way switch and a reverse-wound/reverse-polarity middle pickup.
So! Sound! Back in the day, it didn’t occur to anyone to design different pickups for different positions. Simply placing the pickups at different points on the body and providing a few tone controls was considered enough. The bridge pickup here has a chewy, grindy quality with subdued bass and vibrant midrange. At lower gain levels it’s thin but not particularly brittle, while various levels of overdrive bring out successive layers of fatness and chunk while masking some of the treble. Some players wire the bridge pickup to one of the tone controls to tame its edge a little, but I feel that in this case the pickup is perfectly voiced. The harder you play, the brighter it sounds. It’s a very interactive experience.
The middle pickup has a slightly hollow voice with more bass and less treble than the bridge pickup. While most players tend to think of the bridge pickup as the ‘main’ pickup for their guitars, I can’t help but feel that my Strat’s default position is this middle pickup. Need more treble? Flip to the bridge. Need something rounder and juicier? Switch to the neck. I find the middle pickup especially good for Hendrix tones, both clean and driven, and it seems to especially favour complex chords between the 5th and 12th frets. It also seems to love legato techniques like hammer-ons and slides, which tend to lose power slightly through the bridge pickup or be too muffled through the neck unit.
Now. The neck pickup. Remember what I said about the middle pickup being like the default? Well as much as I believe that to be true, I simply can’t get enough of the neck pickup. It has that great lively Stevie Ray Vaughan tone: fat, loud, articulate, and with a great growl which is really emphasised with some light overdrive. Much like the interactivity of the bridge pickup, dig in hard here and you’ll hear that classic noodly Strat sound, or reign it in for a softer, rounder voice that sounds great when played fingerstyle.
The neck can take a little getting used to. That rounded 7.25″ fretboard radius isn’t for everyone. If you’re used to jumbo frets and flatter radii like on an Ibanez RG or the like, you might even find it a bit confronting. Yes, it’s true that if you bend too far with a rounder radius the string will ‘fret out.’ If the action is too low this will completely choke out the note, but in this particular Strat’s case the strings are just high enough that instead of the note getting killed on the spot as soon as you get two semitones up, it undergoes an almost wah-like tonal shift. The bass and treble drop out and the upper midrange is emphasised. It’s actually a pretty cool effect that you can use to really hammer a note home.
Is there 60 cycle hum? Yep. Is it bad? Not really. Also you’ll notice that the control cavity is very well screened. The pickguard is actually entirely backed with a pickguard-shaped sheet of metal (actually it kinda looks like it could be two) to block out extraneous interference. If the noise is a problem you could always upgrade the pickups, but I kinda like that subtle background hiss for what it represents: the early days of electric guitar, when rock and roll was dangerous, cars had big freakin’ fins and malt shops were full of cute chicks in polka dot skirts. Your mileage may vary, of course.
The twin-pickup combinations – bridge/middle and neck/middle – can still be achieved by balancing the switch midway between the notches for the respective pickups. They sound fatter and louder than most players are probably used to: because the middle pickup is not reverse-wound/reverse-polarity, it won’t cancel out hum, nor will it cancel out frequencies in the same way as such a pickup, so you’ll still get the same buzz as the other pickup positions.
My Strat’s bridge is set to float (although it’s easy enough to adjust the spring claw and/or add the two extra springs if you want to set it flat against the body). On the low E string, the bar can drop the pitch down about a Bb – certainly nothing like the ‘so loose the strings hang off the neck’ depths reached by double locking Floyd Rose type trems. My Strat is set up so that an open G can be bent up just over 3 semitones to – again – a Bb. Weird! I must work that into a song some time. The bar is actually quite smooth in operation, and you can use it for everything from delicate Bigsby-like shimmer to crazy, pitch-accurate Jeff Beck melody lines. Sure, occasionally your tuning will drift, but not by much, and probably not as often as you’d expect if you’re a lifelong Floyd user who’s never trusted an old-school vintage 6-screw trem. It’s interesting: Floyd Roses can hit so many more notes due to their extended range of motion, but the Strat’s vintage trem can be much more accurate, precisely because it’s relatively limited compared to a Floyd. It’s easier to use the bar to hit specific pitches, and you can use it David Gilmour-style to add gentle or wild vibrato to bent notes.
I think it’s pretty clear at this point that I’m pretty infatuated with this guitar. I could try to reign in my praise for the sake of being objective, but dude, I am being objective: I just really dig this guitar! So all I can do is accurately describe what it sounds like, what it plays like and how it’s built. If the hum, the limited whammy bar travel, the rounded fretboard radius and the fact that nitro finishes age more rapidly (and attractively!) than polyurethane ones bother you, look elsewhere. If the tone, vibe, construction, nuance, responsiveness and it-fights-you-back-just-a-little playability are as cool and enticing to you as they are to me, give the American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster Reissue a try.
Tony MacAlpine is guitar royalty. From his classic early solo albums such as Edge Of Insanity to the M.A.R.S project with Tommy Alrdige, Rudy Sarzo and Rob Rock to CAB (with Bunney Brunel and Dennis Chambers) to Planet X with drummer Virgil Donati to Steve Vai’s The Breed with Billy Sheehan, Jeremy Colson and Dave Wiener, MacAlpine’s resume reads like a who’s who of virtuosity.MacAlpine and Donati have crossed paths with Mark Boals before via Boals’ Ring Of Fire projects but but they’ve now formed a new band, Seven The Hardway, a heavy-hitting, prog/metal/rock hybrid who released their debut album on August 30 on Mascot/Provogue Records (Click here to buy Seven the Hardway from Amazon.com). I caught up with MacAlpine amid rehearsals for Seven The Hardway’s European tour.
How are rehearsals going?
The rehearsals are going quite effectively. Just piecing a lot of the stuff together and determining what we want to portray live. Everything’s going as planned.
What kind of stuff are you going to play live?
Well, we’re going to do probably about seven or eight songs from the new Seven The Hardway record, and we’re gonna do some stuff that Virgil Donati wrote, some stuff from Edge Of Insanity and Maximum Security, and get into a couple of things from Lapse of Reality, the Ring Of Fire record, and a few covers.
How did the band come together?
Well it was started with Mark and I. We really got the whole thing together and we’d worked with Virgil before in Ring of Fire, and we decided we wanted to get into something a bit different. Estefania Daniel is a student of mine. She was 16 when she started and she’s 21 now. She’s quite accomplished, quite a player. Doug Shreeve, we’ve known through the Planet X organisation.
How is writing for Seven The Hardway different from writing your solo material?
Well, every vocal record is a lot different from any instrumental project that you’re gonna undertake, because you’re writing things that have different types of foundations for lyrics and melody lines. In that expanse it’s way different. The instrumental music is not really built along those lines. I always say it’s more of a sonata form. So it’s a much different approach but it’s something I’ve always enjoyed. It’s wonderful to work with these guys in that format. Mark’s such a wonderful singer, so it’s really a lot of fun.
Did you guys write independently? Together? Both?
We did both. We did some things together, some things independently, some ideas were written independently then brought together, Virgil wrote Guilty… different things, different approaches.
Liar’s a really great opening track.
Liar was a song that took a lot of different shapes and different turns. Working with [producer] Roy Z who produced it and got this thing together. There were a lot of midnight hour changes to that song and it was really quite a surprise to see where it started and where it ended up. We really enjoy that song also. It’s a double guitar lead song also, so it really should be exciting live.
Guilty was an interesting choice for the first video. A few fans were a bit thrown off. Why did you pick that one?
Well, y’know, controversy is something that’s applicable to anything that comes out that’s new. Somebody’s not really going to hear something that maybe they thought they would have, so that was the most controversial tune on the record, we thought, so we went with it. But it’s so funny now, because we see that a lot of the guys who didn’t like the song or didn’t really understand it now have turned around and say they like it. That’s pretty much the approach. That’s kind of what you want to do. Start with something like that then work your way to the more direct work on the record.
Yeah, you guys have enough of a fan base that even if they don’t like that one song at first, they’ll still give you another chance with the rest of the record.
Yeah. It’s really an energetic song. Mark and Roy tried many different approaches and they ended up with that one. It’s full of energy.
Solitary Man is one I really dig. It has those cool Alice In Chains type vocal harmonies.
Solitary Man was a song that Virgil created. He created the verse line and I came up with the chorus line. It’s really a combination of his rhythmic ideas, and Mark came up with the melodies, as he did for the entire record. That song is based on a lot of Virgil’s rhythmic feel, and just a freshness. We wanted something that had a bit of a twist to it but had a fresh vibe that didn’t deter too far from Liar or The Wall or any of those tunes. We wanted something that was short and tight.
And the solo’s obviously improvised?
Yeah, all the solos are improvised. We just went for the best take that we could. The lines aren’t improvised but all the solos are freeform.
And you always work that way?
I’ve always improvised, yeah. I never did anything structured and worked out. I just kind of go for it. I love improvisational things. It’s the nature of what I’m doing, especially when I’m playing in Planet X and C.A.B and things like that. Improvisation is just something I love to do.
I notice that when I improvise a solo I invariably come up with something that’s much better than if I consciously try to write a solo.
(Laughs) Yeah, it seems like that’s how it always works out. The funny thing is that in the end, after you’ve improvised it, you’ve got to learn it for the tour, and then it’s worked out!
Where I’m Going has some cool soloing.
That’s going to be an interesting song because Estefania’s going to be playing that on acoustic, and I’ll be playing piano except for the guitar solo. That’s a very moving, haunting kind of ballad. I really like that one.
You recently started using an Ibanez 8 string RG. How was that transition?
It’s such an extended range, with Estefania playing 7 string and me playing 8. I play 7 too on some songs too. It is such a full spectrum of sound. Getting way down there into the range of the bass creates such a big wall of sound, and it’s something that we really haven’t experienced before. Other than that, it’s the same guitar. It doesn’t really faze me going either way. It took a moment or two to get used to things down that low, and realising how you can go so much lower than the 7 range and make things sound so much heavier. It took a little bit of tweaking around with, but other than that it’s the same guitar set-up and everything. The thing just plays great.
So what is the guitar like? I notice it’s different to the production models?
Yeah, it’s a little bit different. I’m still incorporating a clear cut volume pot that makes everything go clean and cuts down the volume. I’m using a combination of alder body wood, ebony on the fretboard, a double truss rod neck, the Floyd Rose-style bar. It’s pretty solid, done in Ibanez’s Custom Shop here in California. They’re cool axes. I have a 6 string too, and they all look exactly the same. It should be some fun for the guitar tech, when he hands me the wrong guitar!
What pickups are you using?
I’m using some different windings that DiMarzio is making for me, and we’re going to narrow it down before the tour starts. On the studio version I used EMGs on the 8-string, but I use DiMarzio and we’re in the process of coming out with the 8 pole pieces for the 8 strings, and I’ll be checking that out.
So what made you leave Carvin and go to Ibanez?
Actually I wanted to get into the 8 strings, and the time was really right, the climate was right for us to make some changes. That kind of thing happens and we both wanted to try something different. Carvin is a great organisation and Ibanez is also a great organisation, so it’s a very peaceful change. Nothing stressful!
What amps and effects did you use on the CD?
I used Hughes & Kettner – what I always use, the TriAmps, and no effects. Everything’s just mixed in later. It’s recorded dry like I always did, just blasting out the HKs. I really enjoy them. We use them live too. I’m also getting into the Coreblade because it’s got the unified effects inside of it. They’re sending a couple of heads and I want to experiment with that, see what that’s all about. It really saves a lot of setup time on the road for guitar techs, and if you can get the same sound, why not go with it?
What acoustics did you use on the CD?
I used a couple of different things. I used a Carvin and Takamine. A couple of different guitars with different tones.
Do you play much acoustic around the the house?
Oh yeah, I always did. I practice on acoustic, sitting around watching TV, playing on the acoustic.
What’s your practice schedule like?
Well these days I’m learning a lot of Vinne Moore music because I’m doing the G-Taranaki festival [in New Zealand, August 11-15 2010] with him. I’m doing a lot of his stuff and some stuff I’ve recorded with him before. So that’s got me practicing a little bit, and I’m learning all these cover tunes that I’m going to be doing with Hail! at G-Taranaki. Normally I’m just working on projects and doing things for different singers and all different styles and stuff, so I’m always playing, but it’s not like I sit down and practice. But I do find myself doing that now.
So Hail! – That’s pretty cool!
Yeah! With Ripper (Owens, ex Judas Priest), Scott (Travis, Judas Priest) and Tony Franklin (Blue Murder, Whitesnake, The Firm). It’s gonna be pretty cool, pretty fun.
Are you a big metal guy? Between Seven The Hardway, Hail! and other stuff throughout your career you’ve had a few big metal moments.
Yeah, that’s how I started. Edge Of Insanity was a really heavy record and I grew up playing all that stuff. That’s where I started from, that’s my background.
Who are your favourite metal players?
I’ve always liked Randy Rhoads. He’s always at the top of my list. I never got a chance to see him live, and even today I find myself still listening to some of the things he did, especially live. He was pretty amazing. His playing had so much energy.
G-Taranaki sounds amazing!
Yeah! I’ve only been to New Zealand a couple of times, and this is going to be a really interesting event. I’m really looking forward to seeing a lot of the people I haven’t seen in some time, and get a chance to see Desiree’ Bassett play. It’s going to be exciting.
And the options for jamming are going to be incredible.
Yeah, it’s going to be a lot of fun!
Bullet For My Valentine’s Fever is one of the biggest metal albums of the year. Brutal riffs, intense leads, inescapably catchy melodies propelled it to a #3 debut on the Billboard charts, and # on the Rock and Alternative charts. More than that though, it’s connecting with audiences in a way that seems to have surpassed the band’s previous work, luring in newbies as well as satisfying the die-hards. Leading the charge is vocalist/guitarist Matt Tuck.
The response to the album has been insane. How are you finding the reaction out there?
“Well 95% of the things I’ve heard off the press across the planet has been extremely positive, which is great. And we love it, we think it’s a great record – which is all we’re really ultimately concerned about – but for it to be received so well after having mixed reviews on the last record, it’s a really good sign. People are freaking out! So it’s like, okay, we’ve done something pretty cool here, by the looks of it. So we’re very proud. It’s been very well received around the planet. Not very many people can pick holes in it this time around. I’m the biggest critic of myself – I know when something’s not right and could have been better, and I just can’t pick a flaw in it right now. People are freaking out. We’ve had really great reviews – we’re happy boys.
How do you balance being your toughest critic with those 95% positive reviews? Do you pay much attention to that other 5%?
Not really. The only opportunity we do get to peruse reviews is usually for the UK press. When an album drops we’re usually at home, about to go on tour somewhere, so we don’t really get to see actual physical reviews from anywhere else on the planet. We just hear about them from our management and the record labels who obviously actively pay attention and collection them and catalog it all. It does matter. It’s nice to hear something positive and it sucks to hear something that’s not. But at the end of the day we’ve got to a stage in our career now where we’re very comfortable with our abilities and who we are, and as long as we’re happy nothing else really happens.
Your songwriting is heavy yet accessible. Is that something you work to achieve, or does it just happen?
That’s just how it is, that’s just what we do. People really struggled to deal with that when we first started. They were like ‘You can’t do that!’ and we were like, ‘Well, we are!’ We’re not trying to be a big-selling global rock outfit. That was never the point. We’re just four friends writing music, and this is how it comes out. So to make that into a formula, I don’t know. It’s just something we’ve done very naturally.
In a time when you can hear metal riffs on ads for breakfast cereal, it seems like metal’s just become part of the fabric of the global consciousness
Yeah! I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve opened a lot of doors for the world of metal, you know what I mean? There are some people that like the band or whatever, and there are some people that fucking totally hate us because of what we do, but at the same time, what we’re doing for the genre as a whole is a good thing. We’re bringing it to a whole mass of people who wouldn’t have given a shit before we came along, and that sounds maybe a little bit arrogant, I know, but it’s a fact! We’ve opened the door for this genre to become more of a mainstream, everyday life music. And that’s cool as fuck. We could be as heavy as we want, but we want to be more than that. We want to write songs that will stand the test of time.
Judging by the credits in the CD booklet, it looks like the recording process moved around quite a bit?
Yeah! It was a demanding process from a working point of view, working with Don [Gilmore]. We’d never really worked with any other record producer apart from Colin Richardson before, and he’s not technically a record producer, he’s a really good engineer who knows what you do good and just records it, basically. Don will tear your shit up and he won’t care! He’s brutal! But it was a great insight into how to work a little bit differently and experiment, and not be afraid to try different things. The hardest part of the recording process was letting go of the reigns for five minutes for someone who’s sold a shitload more records than me to try and help us, you know what I mean, and not fight with us. As soon as we got over that ego thing we worked as a team, and it really paid off, you know what I mean? It’s something I’ll definitely take into our next project, to not be such a fucking control freak.
It must be weird to have that down-time between recording an album and waiting to see how it’s received.
Yeah, going into something like that you’re just doing what you’re doing and you’re happy with it at the time. That’s the way we look at it. As long as we’re happy, even if it fucks up, it fucked up when we were doing it our way. That’s the attitude we have. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but we do, we created it and it’s our baby. As long as we love it that’s all that matters.
I read that you wrote lyrics while you were writing the music this time around, which is different to how you usually work. How did the two influence each other?
Initially that was the plan just because I didn’t want 15 instrumental songs backlogged and then have to write lyrics, which sucks, so I did make a conscious effort. Even if I wasn’t writing lyrics, I was writing melodies in my head and putting down little ideas and stuff as we were going along, which made the whole process a lot easier and a lot less demanding for myself. I didn’t want to be sat down with 15 instrumental songs going ‘Holy shit, I have to write 15 songs now,’ because you get to song four or five and you’re spent, you’ve got nothing to write about! So it was more or less getting ideas and everything along the way as we were going. Because we write songs and music all day – that comes easy to us – but I’m quite a lazy songwriter. I don’t like writing lyrics. I never wanted to be a songwriter, I just have to make a conscious effort to do both at the same time.
Where do your lyrics come from?
Just things that happen, really. Most of the songs are based around something that’s happened, or I’ve seen or heard or know of, and as soon as I get to the second verse, I’m bored. It’s just not entertaining enough, so I’ll take it off onto a more extreme level, use my imagination and make the lyrics very visual. That’s what I try to do every time, really.
Man, your signature Jackson (above) is so cool. it’s one of those guitars where even people who aren’t into your band are gonna see that and think ‘I want that one.’
“It’s a guitar that I designed on the back of Jackson’s Randy Rhoads signature guitar,” Tuck says. “I’ve used Jacksons for many years, even before we got signed. I was a fan of the brand and the shape and the style of the guitar. It just oozed attitude, and it sounds weird but I found it a very sexy-looking guitar, you know what I mean? I’m a guitar player and love guitars – the way they look, the way they feel, the way they smell. They’re very organic to me, y’know? So I just took the guitar I used and tried to make it my own. I was lucky enough to be picked up by Jackson pretty early in our career. I used one of their guitars in our first video, and eventually we got around to a signature series. It’s based on a Randy Rhoads guitar and I’ve put my own stamp on it with pickups and inlays …nothing major, just little identity things.
And how do you set up your guitars?
Medium to high action with a 56 to 12 gauge strings. I like to dig hard. Our songs are tuned down a whole step, so you need that extra gauge anyway so the strings don’t flap around like a rope, y’know? But I don’t like a really low action. I hate that. I like to dig in really hard and feel it. That’s kinda my style.
What amps did you use on the CD?
We just used my live rig, basically. We’ve always used that from Day 1. It’s a Peavey 6505 head on the red channel going through a Mesa Boogie 4X12 cabinet. It’s very, very simple, with a guitar and an Ibanez Tube Screamer. That’s literally what you hear. There are no tricks, no digital processing going on. It’s just a good amp, a good cabinet and a good guitar, and you just play.
How would you say your playing style has changed over the years?
I learned guitar by putting on Metallica records. It was as simple as that. I didn’t get any coaching, any books. It was just something that was hugely influential for me. As soon as I heard that band I thought, ‘fuck, I want to be that.’ So I bought the albums, I saved up enough money for a guitar, found out about tuning and power chords and stuff, and just sat down for a couple of years and literally played for hours in my bedroom until I could play every Metallica song. Then I moved on to other bands like Machine Head, Pantera, Slayer, Megadeth, Testament – all these cool guitar-based metal bands.
And you’re touring Australia soon?
We’re coming over pretty soon with a couple of good support bands: a British band called Bring Me The Horizon and a Canadian band called Cancer Bats, and we’re playing pretty big venues. And we can’t wait to come back. Every time we come to Australia we have a really fantastic time. It’s always good to hang out with the fans over there. I’m looking forward to it.
Slash’s live juggernaut is soon to hit Australia for Soundwave Touring (as well as New Zealand’s G-TARanaki festival), and the legendary top-hatted one is riding high on the success of his self-titled solo album. It’s not Slash’s first solo project, of course – there was of course Slash’s Snakepit – but it’s his first under his own name, and this particular set of songs, performances and guest vocalists has captured old and new fans in a way not seen since Santana’s Supernatural-led revival. I caught up with Slash to discuss his forthcoming Aussie shows. Incidentally, if you missed out on tickets, Slash has been confirmed for the 2011 Soundwave festival!
I caught the MTV Classic show here in Melbourne recently. That was really cool!
Yeah! That was actually this band’s second live performance. We’d done one a couple weeks prior to that at the Roxy in Los Angeles, and the band had been together for two weeks. It was ‘here’s the songs, learn them and we’ll just go.’ I think that’s the way I like to do things. But it was a cool show!
It really felt like a band already.
I know! I was very fortunate. When I made the record I knew that at some point I was going to be touring on it, and I didn’t know exactly how I was going to put that together. It was going on in the back of my mind as I was putting together the album. At the tail end of the record I met Myles Kennedy, and he did a couple songs on the record, and I was just completely blown away at his vocal abilities, and also as a person. I asked him to do the tour and he signed on. So I knew in myself I had a really capable frontman, and so the most important element in any rock band, aside from the vocals, is the drums. I started looking for drummers, and I got all these references for this guy named Brent Fitz. I took a few drummers into the studio to see which one I wanted to use, and I also met Brent Fitz and had him come down, and he just turned out to be a great drummer. And it was just ironic, getting these references for him from unrelated sources, different people from all over that suddenly knew I was looking for a drummer and recommended this guy. Then I had a bass player in mind, and he came down and did about four rehearsals and I realised he wasn’t the guy, and it was only going to be about a week before our first gig at the Roxy. I was sort of in a pinch, and Brent recommended this guy that he knew from Las Vegas, and Todd Kearns showed up the next day, and he was perfect. And he could sing. And they’re all really, really good blokes. They’re like, f**kin’, great work ethics and obviously great players. We had a chemistry instantly, and that’s really what gave me the confidence to go and do that sort of impromptu Roxy gig then to come to Australia and do the MTV launch. And now we’re 11 gigs into the tour and the band is just pristine. And that to me just seems like a blessing, because you never know what’s going to happen.
That was pretty ballsy, to take your second gig and broadcast it all over the world!
(Laughs) See, a lot of people misconstrue and confuse ballsiness with ignorance! (Laughs) No, I’ve always been like that. You just go for it and see what happens. And maybe it might be ballsy, and a lot of it has to do with just the eagerness to get out there. If you think you have it together to do whatever it is you want to do, just go for it.
The response to your solo CD seems huge.
Yeah, it’s one of those things where I didn’t have any major expectations, I didn’t try to figure out any kind of numbers or anything like that. I just was happy with the record and put it out. But I have to say, in the first week, to get that kind of response on a global level is really way better than having the opposite!
And you’ve got a lot of metalheads listening to Fergie, and she kicks ass on that track!
I know she does, I knew she would! I got familiar with her voice a few years back and I knew she was going to be awesome for this. And she brings a certain amount of sex appeal to a sort of rock n’ roll song, not only because she’s a girl, but because as a person she’s innately got that sort of … I don’t want to put the wrong light on her, but she’s got a certain amount of street smarts and she’s got a certain amount of sex appeal. And her mentality is a little more dark than maybe you might think of her in the Black Eyed Peas, so when she does rock n’roll it sort of drips of lusty sex as opposed to more romantic sex. And that’s her personality for real. I knew it was going to work, and when she delivered the lyrics I was like, ‘wow, that’s perfect.’
Let’s talk about guitar stuff! Could you tell us about your new Seymour Duncan signature pickups?
Yeah! Seymour Duncan is one of those discoveries, that, f**k, it was in 1986 that I first discovered the Seymour Duncan Alnico II, right? And I was familiar with the DiMarzios and Bill Lawrence pickups, and also Seymour Duncan’s, but I hadn’t really picked a favourite at that point. When I got the Chris Derrig Les Paul it had the Seymour Duncan Alnico IIs in it, and that was just one of those sounds, the combination of the guitar and the amp or whatever, that I was really, really pleased with. After the record was done, that guitar became my guitar. It was great sounding, and that was the only guitar I had! And later on, whenever I put a guitar together, like I ended up getting these two Les Paul Standards in 1988, and I put those same Seymour Duncan Alnico IIs in it, and it’s been my main pickup ever since. But I’ve never had a Slash model pickup because I really couldn’t conceive of anything to do to the Seymour Duncan Alnico II design to expand on that. So I never did a Slash model until just recently, when we were doing the Gibson model of the Derrig guitar. I had the idea of going in and re-inventing the original Alnico II from 1986, because everything evolves over time, and now theyr’e using a couple of different components and what-not. So we put together these old-school Alnico IIs, and that became the Slash model, which are really, really great. So when you buy a Gibson ‘Appetite’ guitar, that’s what’s in them: the USA and the Custom Shop, and they’ll be in the Epiphones when they come out too. But you can buy them separately now too.
I saw you using a Les Paul with a Floyd Rose live.
Oh the Axcess! Yeah! The tremolo bar is something I don’t use all the time, but there’s always one song per record where I’m like, ‘I need a tremolo bar!’ And I’d been using a BC Rich Mockingbird for years for that particular purpose, and the only thing about the Mockingbird is it’s not as thick or aggressive volume-wise as the Les Pauls, so I’ve always felt from on stage that there was a dip in the overall attack of my guitar sound as soon as I put on the BC Rich, and I always sort of grinned and bore it, for years, just because of the tremolo bar. Anyway, Gibson came out with the Axcess Les Paul, and I always felt it was kinda sacrilege to rout out a Les Paul for a Floyd Rose, but since they had done it themselves, y’know, I thought I’d give it a shot!
What can you tell us about your ‘Brauerburst,’ the modified Les Paul you bought from Andy Brauer?
He sold me one of his reissues, which was a specific year for a certain kind of reissue which was very spot-on with the original guitar. It’s a really nice Les Paul Standard ’59 reissue. It was set up great, and it’s actually one of the only times I haven’t replaced the pickups with Seymour Duncans [ed. note: the guitar has Sheptone AB Custom humbuckers). And it has a really nice, old school kind of feel to it. And that's the main guitar from him that I have. I had him set up a couple of guitars when I was in the studio. He's really good.
How's the new Marshall AFD100 coming along?
It's great! It's basically done but I had a couple tweaks I wanted done to it. It's ready for me to hear now but I'm in the middle of this crazy festival tour so I haven't had a moment to sit with it. So I'm going to hear it at some point between now and the middle of July. [NOTE: A week after the interview was conducted, Slash got to try the latest version of the head, and liked it so much he used it on stage that night]. It sounds f**king amazing. Santiago over at Marshall really outdid itself. The whole reason for the AFD amp and the Appetite guitar, it was a novelty for all these super fans who a really gear-heads who are trying to emulate the sound from the Appetite for Destruction record. We did it for the guitar but the key component to that sound was the amp. And back in the day it was just an amp that sounded good. Amps really are inconsistent when it comes to time. It might sound good at one point, and sound completely different, not having changed a thing about it, five or ten years later or even in a different venue. So I never really treated amps the way I’d treat a particular guitar. So I knew that all these people were trying to recreate the sound from the Appetite record, and the thing about that record is it was a particular amp with a particular studio with a particular studio and particular guys at a particular time, and it is what it is. But there is a recognisable tone that comes directly off of the amp that I decided, let’s have Marshall go to the source and try and recreate what that identifiable tone is. So I stripped some tracks off of the actual Appetite masters. I used ‘Night Train’ and ‘Welcome To The Jungle,’ and I used those as a reference and gave it to Santiago, and he delivered an amp that has this particular harmonic structure, and a gain structure that has a particular harmonic value to it, and a certain kind of a midrangey thing, and also a certain kind of a gain that gives it a sort of …it’s hard to verbally describe but it’s a very attacky, but very midrangey and soft-sounding, honky-sounding tone which really sounds great. He managed to reinvent that, and he’s really succeeded. The final tweak was I wanted more bottom end. It’s already got a really tight bottom end and I wanted to get a little thicker-sounding without getting muddy. And then it’ll come out. It’ll come out some time before the end of the year. It’s going to be a limited edition, I’m not sure to what extent but it’s not going to be as limited as the Custom Shop Les Pauls are, but the last time I did a run of limited Marshalls they did a sizeable run.
And finally, could you tell us a bit about your signature Crybaby?
The key thing about the Slash model Crybaby is it’s got this boost in it, a gain button which is really an ‘out of control’ button. You really have to be set up right to be able to use it without taking everybody’s heads off. But it’s wonderful in the studio. I did a recording with Alice Cooper recently and I did a song called ‘Vengeance Is Mine,’ and the guitar tone is just my Crybaby into a Marshall, and it’s really f**king intense sounding, and it’s just that boost button, which is adjustable – you take the plate off the pedal and adjust those frequencies and that kind of stuff. But without the boost it’s really more of an adjustable Crybaby. Pretty cool tone though!
Well that’s our time up. This has been really cool, thanks so much!
I know, it’s good talking to you, it’s been really cool to do a guitar interview in the midst of all these other f**king publications! I enjoyed it, thanks.