INTERVIEW: Les Claypool of Primus

Primus have been entertaining the masses with their off-beat, colourful, twisted, highly virtuosic and even more highly listenable brand of funky avant garde rock (back in the day it was just called ‘alternative’) for over two decades now. The band went into hiatus a while ago, but the individual members never slacked off – oh lordy no. With Primus or solo,Les Claypool is perhaps best known for his incredibly original and technically mind-exploding bass playing within Primus and without, but did you know he’s also a vintner? A keen fisherman? No? Well maybe you can ask him about those things when the reactivated Primus play the Soundwave festival in Australia during February and March.



Hello there, how are you?



So, first question is more of a statement looking for a comment: you’re coming back to Australia, this time with Primus…

[Puts on robot voice] It is very exciting. I always very much enjoy coming to Australia. [chuckles] Any excuse to come to Australia is a good excuse for me.

I know you were down here recently solo, but when was Primus last down here?

Oh it’s been many moons. It’s been at least ten years.

Are you a fan of many of the other bands on Soundwave?

I have no idea who’s playing Soundwave. What happens is, people tell me where to go and what to do, and that’s what I do. My job, when I’m at home, is to tell my children where to go and what to do. When I get back into travelling mode I become a teenage child.

Drummer Jay Lane is back in the band, so now you have like a Primus/Sausage combination. How’d that come about?

Well, ah, it became apparent that the band was not going to be performing much, if ever, any more the way it was and Jay Lane was eager and available and it just seemed like the perfect time to bring him back on board. He’s a very creative individual as well as, hey, a very enjoyable person to be around.

Do you have new album plans at the moment?

We’re in the studio at this time – well right now we’re in Argentina, but we’ve been in the studio for the past few weeks.

How’s it shaping up?

Oh it’s shaping up well. Sounds are being bounced off the walls. Sounds are bouncing and sticking.

What’s it like out there for Primus at the moment?

I have no idea. Do people even put out CDs any more? I don’t know. It’s a digital download world. The only thing I can assure is that whatever release we do put together will be available on vinyl. Something that I find is a mandatory requirement with our releases.

It’s got to the point for me with mp3s where not only am I nostalgic for vinyl, I’m also starting to miss even the detestable act of unwrapping the plastic from a CD cover.

I will never miss the unwrapping of plastic on CD covers. Whoever invented that notion of shrink wrapping CD covers… whoever the bastard is that invented that hard plastic vacuum wrapping that comes on nearly item you get from headphones to steak knives, there should be a global civil suit against that individual because I guarantee there have been many instances of blood loss, if not even loss of digits, in the attempt of trying to open these damn packages.

I actually have a cut on my hand right now from that very malady, so I hear you, very much.

It’s a wretched thing. It just makes it so it’s more difficult to take back to the store if you don’t like it. I’m not talking about CDs, I’m talking about whichever product you’ve purchased in that wretched, horrible shrink wrap. I’m sure it’s really great for the environment too.

I shudder to think what it’s doing to the dolphins.

Yeah, can you imagine how hard it is for a dolphin to open one of those things?

Haha. Okay, my buddy Rohan, who plays bass in my band, is a huge fan and he has a few questions for you. The first is, is the whamola going to make an appearance in Australia?

You never do know. The whamola is like the Sasquach. It’s this ever-elusive thing where when it pops up it’s always exciting. But it’s an elusive beast.

What’s the deal with the whamola anyway? Is it like the bass player’s version of a diddley bow?

A what?

The old blues guys used to make them. It’s like a plank of wood with a couple nails in it and a string stretched across. You play slide on it with a bottle or something. It’s this rickety, homespun kind of instrument.

I’m not sure! Maybe I need to get one of these diddley-boos, or whatever you call it, so I can do some comparative performing.

And what envelope filter do you use?

I’m not even sure what it is. Just some old Korg multi-effects thing they don’t make any more… I think it’s a… no, I can’t remember. It’s nothing special though, it’s just an envelope of some sort.

Yeah! So are you much of a gear guy?

I’m not a big gear guy, but from doing this for such a long time, I’m like a couch. All the lint and all the various things accumulate around and underneath me, in my cushions. I have a lot of various pieces of equipment and instrumentation but I don’t actively seek the stuff out. They just sort of end up in my world.

One thing your playing has always proven is that no matter what you’re playing, it always sounds like you.

It’s in the hands and the genitalia.

Well yeah, especially with the bass. It’s a very low, ballsy instrument.

A very sultry instrument.

So what basses are you playing these days? Still rocking the Carl Thompsons?

I have a handful of Carl Thompsons. I have an old Dobro bass – I think it’s a Michael Kay or something, this very inexpensive thing [Actually it’s a Michael Kelly Bayou 4 resonator bass].  But I’m actually in the process of designing and having built my own Claypool-designed bass guitar, so we’ll see how that comes out.

Will it be just for you or will it be available for the general public too?

It’ll be for me at first. If it works out we might peddle off a few of them. I just for many years wanted something specifically designed for my particular comfort and playability. I’m working on it right now with a good friend of mine. I should have it by the time we got to Australia.

Without knowing it you must have sold so many six string basses and six string fretless basses to the bass players of the world.

I avoid six string basses and six string fretlesses. I have one of each and I tend to avoid them. I love the four-string. That’s what I’m most comfortable with and that’s what I play the most.

Yeah, John Paul Jones didn’t need more than four strings, goddammit!

Yeah! Nor did Mark Sandman [Morphine].

PRIMUS – Australia: Soundwave Festival 2011

2/26 Brisbane, AU RNA Showgrounds Gregory Terrace
2/27 Sydney, AU Eastern Creek Raceway Brabham Drive/Ferrers Rd
2/28 Sydney, AU Enmore Theatre With The Melvins
3/3 Melbourne, AU Palais Theatre With The Melvins
3/4 Melbourne, AU Melbourne Showgrounds Epsom Rd
3/5 Adelaide, AU Bonython Park Port Rd
3/7 Perth, AU Steel Blue Oval Corner Guildford Rd & West Rd

This is an alternate edit of an interview originally published in Mixdown magazine.


REVIEW: Jim Dunlop Ultex Jazz III 2.0 & Tortex TIII guitar picks

In the last year I’ve undergone a bit of a guitar pick metamorphosis. For years I’d been a strict Jazz III user for rock stuff (switching over to Jazz III XLs for acoustic, Delrin for bass and maybe the occasional Stubby 3.0mm), but after I found myself feeling a little lost while using an unfamiliar pick during a lesson with Paul Gilbert, I made a conscious effort to use any and every pick I could get my hands on. I’ve really enjoyed the Ultex Sharps, and the sharp-tip Max-Grip 1.14mm really rocks my world when I’m playing my Fender ’62 Stratocaster Reissue. So how about the new Ultex Jazz III 2.0 and Tortex TIII?

Ultex Jazz III 2.0

The Ultex Jazz III 2.0 is (obviously) made of Ultex, a much more matte, stiffer material than the nylon of the original red Jazz III. There is already an Ultex Jazz III design out there, although it lacks the sculpted tip and velvety feel of the 2.0. The 2.0 again features raised lettering (which improves the grip further) although I find it less obtrusive than that of the nylon version. There’s a slight bulge in the middle of the pick which makes it simultaneously more grippable and more controllable – it’s super-easy to angle the pick slightly for different articulation effects and pinch harmonics, and I find that the pick really flies from string to string when you use Frank Gambale-style (down-up-down, down-up-down) economy picking.

The fine, sharp tip is also ideal for Roy Buchanan-style circular picking (where you use the point of the tip to ‘draw’ tiny circles on the surface of the string, thus attaining the speed of an angry hummingbird). I’m a dude who likes to occasionally play at ridiculous speeds which betray my affiliation for 80s-style shred, and this pick never tripped me up on those wild alternate-picked flights of fancy.

The Ultex Jazz III 2.0 is the Empire Strikes Back of Jazz IIIs: a sequel that contains all the great elements of the original while improving on them in certain key ways (and also being significantly darker).

Tortex TIII

The Tortex TIII is made of (duh) Jim Dunlop’s popular Tortex material, and is available in standard Tortex gauges (.50mm, .60mm, .73mm, .88mm, 1.0mm, and 1.14mm). I tested .73mm, .88mm and 1.0mm. What I like about the Tortex material is that it’s a little tougher than nylon, and therefore doesn’t ‘give’ as much. In that sense, a 1.0mm pick has more stiffness than the equivalent thickness Nylon Standard. The TIII combines the tone and feel of Tortex with the sharp pointiness of the Jazz III, and as such it’s great for players who really need to dig in harder than the Jazz III’s enhanced precision might allow, while also enjoying the latter pick’s detail and articulation. I found it to be especially good for bringing out extra attack and wallop from single coil pickups. This pick will be greatly appreciated by players who like the size of a conventional pick but need a sharp tip for faster playing styles or for extra twang.

LINKS: Ultex Jazz III, Tortex


AMM 2011: Gibson Firebird X hands-on report

While at NAMM I got to try out the new Gibson Firebird X (shipping soon). This guitar caused quite a buzz when it was announced in December. Many thought it was overkill, some didn’t like the shape, others didn’t dig the colour. The colour was changed (it looks much darker in the pic above than it is in real life) and the release date was pushed back while Gibson engineers added further capabilities to the guitar’s technical side.

But first thing’s first: how’s she play?

Extremely well. The neck is very comfortable, with a nice balance of shreddiness and grab-hold-of-chordiness, and the string tension is loose enough for big greasy bends. The guitar is very well balanced. The controls are easy to access (especially the rows of sliders which face the player).

The inbuilt tones are very good, with the pickups summoning a range of modern, retro and futuristic sounds from humbuckers to single coils to P90s and then some. There’s a really pleasant, musical treble to most of the pickup settings.

The effects sound a little too neat and polite if you ask me – more like digital studio reverbs, delays and modulation effects rather than gloriously dirty pedal and amp ones. It’s nice to have them, but I think a lot of players will bypass these in most situations. Depends on what you’re going for, and I could imagine hardworking cover band guitarists really digging the inbuilt effects and the ease of having everything right there in the guitar.

The Firebird X is a great playing guitar with some wonderful inbuilt tones, but although it attempts to be a one-stop shop with effects, tunings and pickup selections, it could be a little too complicated for some players. It’s certainly not the traditional Gibson many players are looking for, but for those willing to put in the work learnings its intricacies, it’s a pretty exciting tool.


NAMM 2011: Ibanez Premium series

Ibanez introduced the new Indonesian-made, high-quality RG Premium range at NAMM this year, available in two models: RG870 and RG920QM. These guitars are made to a very high standard, demonstrating Ibanez’s faith in their Indonesian operations. Further demonstrating Ibanez’s confidence in Indonesia is the fact that the company part-owns the factory these are built in – an unprecedented move for a company that has previously contracted all their manufacturing to outside companies like Fujigen, Cort, Samick and World.

I got to spend quite a bit of time with these axes and the workmanship is great. The fretwork is great (certainly better than 90% of off-the-line axes I’ve seen) and the finishes are beautiful. The necks feel quite fast and shredworthy and very comfortable. The only little niggle I could find was a little bit of shielding paint overrun from the pickup cavity but nothing that’d ruin your day or make to march the guitar back to the store in a huff. Hardware is the Edge-Zero II (I’d prefer an original Edge but what can ya do?), with either DiMarzio or special new Ibanez pickups. And get this: the RG920QM is available in fivecolours.

From the Ibanez website:

For 2011, we offer the new Premium series of guitars designed for hardworking musicians. These guitars are for players who push their guitars to the fullest every night on stage and who demand real professional quality instruments, both functionally and visually.

Made at Ibanez Premium factory, built to Prestige model quality standards
Specially rounded Premium fret edges for smooth play and comfortable neck grip
Premium grade, select woods
Wizard Premium neck has same construction and thickness as Prestige Wizard
High-end DiMarzio and CAP-VM pickups
Ultimate tuning stability with Edge-Zero II bridge/tremolo w/ZPS 3


NAMM 2011: MXR ZW90 Wylde Phase

Jim Dunlop debuted the MXR ZW90 Wylde Phase, a limited-for-2011 Zakk Wylde-branded version of the venerable Phase 90 phaser pedal. Dunlop says:

“Zakk Wylde uses his Wylde Phase to add dimension and dynamics to his legendary blazing solos and razor sharp leads. Use the single Speed knob to adjust the rate of the warm analog phasing, from a slow grind to a jack hammering pulse: or use it as Zakk does, at the 9 o’clock position for a slow burning sweep. Best heard on songs like “Overlord” and “Parade Of The Dead.”



NAMM 2011: Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer

One of the first and, coincidentally, coolest things I saw at NAMM this year was the Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer. I checked it out myself (Roland had some killer pickup-less guitars set up with Roland GK-2A synth pickups to demonstrate the system) and I was blown away by the guitar tones and synth flexibility. You can run two synth sounds, a COSM-modelled guitar sound through a PA while simultaneously sending your natural guitar sound to your regular amp. Imagine two different synth sounds, a COSM-modelled amp rig and your ‘real life’ setup all running at once. Oooh the possibilities. I’m putting this on my ‘If I get rich this year I’m totally gonna buy one’ list. I’ve been messing about with (borrowed) Roland guitar synths since the old GR-09 (and even the old V Guitar) back in the mid 90s and this really is the maturation of the concept.



Breakthrough Product Fuses PCM Synthesis and COSM Modeling

Los Angeles, CA, January 13, 2011 — Roland is extremely proud to announce the

GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer, a revolutionary new product from the world’s undisputed leader in guitar synthesis technology. Combining PCM synthesis with digital instrument modeling derived from the respected VG-99 V-Guitar System, the GR-55 represents Roland’s latest breakthrough advances in guitar synthesis, offering playability, features, and sound quality that far surpasses the capabilities of previous generations of guitar synthesizers.

The GR-55 is the pinnacle of Roland’s exhaustive efforts in the field of guitar synthesis over the last 35 years. In 1977, the company created the GR-500, the world’s first guitar synthesizer. This milestone product ushered in a new era of guitar expression, allowing guitarists to play an entire palette of sounds that were previously available only to keyboard players. Since then, Roland has remained steadfastly dedicated to guitar synthesis, constantly developing and improving the technology to make it accessible and easy to use for all guitarists.

Driven by Roland’s newest proprietary digital processing technology, the GR-55 delivers lightning-fast tracking performance and previously impossible sound-making capabilities. It features two independent synthesizer sound engines, each loaded with over 900 of Roland’s latest sounds, including pianos, organs, strings, vintage and modern synths, percussion, and many more. A third sound engine is driven by Composite Object Sound Modeling (COSM®), the guitar modeling technology behind Roland’s famous VG-99 V-Guitar System. With COSM, the GR-55 can emulate electric and acoustic guitars, basses, and other instruments, as well as guitar and bass amplifiers.

The GR-55 allows players to combine all three sound engines, plus their guitar’s normal input, to create any sound from the familiar to the original. An independent multi-effects processor is available for a huge array of tone-shaping options, plus global reverb, chorus, delay effects and EQ to add final sweetening to any sound.

The GR-55 puts guitarists instantly in touch with a huge library of amazing sounds, with no editing required. The onboard lineup of ready-to-use presets takes the pain out of the process, from pop to rock and beyond, with quick-access category buttons. Creating and editing sounds is a breeze for guitarists as well, thanks to a large LCD display, simple front panel, and the intuitive EZ Edit and Sound Style features. Also, onboard is a phrase looper that lets players capture on-the-fly recordings with unlimited sound-on-sound style overdubs.

The GR-55 also features a USB song player that lets users play WAV files stored on USB flash memory, and song playback can be controlled with the onboard pedals. The GR-55 also functions as an audio/MIDI interface for computers, with a rear-panel USB 2.0 port for a quick and easy connection. Users can easily integrate with their favorite digital audio workstation software, recording GR-55 sounds as audio in the DAW and using the GR-55’s super-fast pitch-to-MIDI capabilities to trigger MIDI sounds such as virtual synths and samplers with their guitar.

The GR-55 is equipped with Roland’s industry-standard 13-pin GK interface. It is possible to use a GR-55 as an effect processor for a non-GK equipped guitar, but to access the GR-55’s enormous palette of sounds, guitarists must use an instrument equipped with a GK-compatible pickup, such as Roland’s GK-3 Divided Pickup. The GK-3 can be easily installed on most steel string guitars with no modification to the instrument. In addition, many different GK-ready instruments are commercially available from various top guitar manufacturers.

For more information, visit

Here’s a cool video from Synth ME of Danger Danger’s Rob Marcello demonstrating the unit.

Rob Marcello demonstrates the Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer


NAMM 2011: Taylor double-cut solidbodies

I’ve made no secret of having a serious crush on Taylor guitars. One of my favourite things at NAMM was the new series of double-cutaway Taylor electrics. You saw my SolidBody Custom review a while ago? Well imagine that but sleeker, sexier and more rockworthy. Here are some pics from NAMM.


Imagine this with a trem. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, "Mmmm... that-with-a-trem..."

This model is a little blacker than it appears in this pic, and it was the belle of the ball at NAMM. Everyone wanted to buy it a dozen roses and take it to makeout point.

Pretty sweet-looking wall over here too. Dig that blue one.