Hiwatt’s all-tube amplifiers have been powering rock since pretty much the dawn of the genre, famously propelling the world-changing sounds of artists such as The Who’s Pete Townshend and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour – all while looking super-cool in the process. As Mr. Townshend knows, there’s something magical about a Hiwatt power section pushed to breaking point – an alchemical combination of punch, growl and ring that you just can’t get from any other amp. And as Mr. Gilmour knows, Hiwatt’s cleaner tones are a great platform for effects, from simple ambience around a clean sound to full-on modulation and fuzz: they’re extremely stompbox-friendly amplifiers. There are plenty of great tones a Hiwatt can help you achieve, and the Hiwatt catalog boasts plenty of different amps at different price points to get you there. The Custom 20 is up there in the high-price, boutique end of the spectrum. Of course, size is no indication of value, so don’t be thrown by its diminutive stature: this is a serious amp for serious players. Continue reading
Cold Chisel are one of a kind. Their music is equally likely to appeal to the guitar nerd down the street as it is to the guy who fixes the hole in the roof, the lady who makes your coffee, your doctor. Yet somehow the band never seemed to make it big outside of Australia. Maybe it was just a case of wrong time, wrong place. But perhaps the democratisation of music will open new doors for the reformed band. Perhaps new album No Plans will be their big chance to show the rest of the world what they’re capable of: soul and blues-tinged rock with the powerful vocals of Jimmy Barnes and the brilliant guitar work of Ian Moss. Produced by Kevin Shirley, No Plans must be a difficult album for the band. It’s their first in 14 years, and the first without drummer Steve Prestwich, who died in January 2011. One of his compositions, “I Got Things To Do,” is on the album, along with some new tracks played on the band’s record-breaking Light the Nitro tour of 2011. “In late 2009 the five of us made plans to record together again and do a tour,” As Barnes says. “After lots of twists and turns that’s exactly what we’ve ended up doing but due to Steve’s passing those plans changed a lot along the way. The last two years have reminded all of us that sometimes life deals up things you don’t expect. You can’t take anything or anyone for granted. Sometimes it’s best to have no plans.”
I Heart Guitar: No Plans is a pretty diverse album. It goes through a lot of different moods. Was that the plan?
Ian Moss: I guess it’s hard to be objective. I was kind of hoping it’d seem like more of a unified record, so it’s interesting to hear that there are lots of different styles. I guess over and above, we were trying to achieve raw power.
Well the title track, which starts the album, definitely does that. It kicks off very strongly.
Yeah! The distinctive tones of Barnes. The first thing you hear is Barnes. And hopefully that edge. Because there were really no overdubs. We went for it. We’re all in it together here and we played til we got it right. That gave it a bit of oomph.
There’s something immediately comforting about even merely looking at the Hiwatt T20, in that kind of ‘I just want to put it in the corner of the room and gaze at it’ kind of way. A Hiwatt will do that to ya. The T20 is designed to provide classic Hiwatt tone for both old-school and modern musical applications. It packs a pair of EL84 power valves and a trio of 12AX7 preamp valves and it’s ready to unleash 18 watts RMS of power through a single 12″ Fane speaker.
Hiwatt points out that the T20 is similar to the hand-wired 20 watt Custom but is not quite as grown-up or refined as its big brother. Think of it as the ratty little bro who gets into scraps down at the pub, but has a heart of gold and will always help you move house. Now, the company says the amp is intended as an entry point for those not yet familiar with first-hand playing experience of the Hiwatt tube sound. That’s a pretty ballsy and important task for this self-confessed little bruiser, effectively making the T20 the equivalent of whoever it is that gets to greet the aliens when they land.
The new self-titled album by Birds of Tokyo – Ian Kenny (Karnivool), Adam Spark, Anthonny Jackson and Adam Weston – is a melodic, atmospheric, at times rocking, at times psychedelic affair which balances pop and indie song craft with ambient experimentation and a sombre edge. It’s a real light-and-shade album, with more melodically upbeat tracks like Plans balanced out by darker tracks like The Gap and The Saddest Thing I Know. I caught up with guitarist Adam Spark to talk about his role in the band.
What’s your background as a player?
Nothing fantastical, really, I just sort of learned to play at a late age. I didn’t pick it up until I was in year 12 in high school. Most of my friends played, but I wasn’t interested until that point in life. I was surfing until then! But I started there then I played and played and played, and I tried various things at uni, then ended up doing audio engineering and studying music. The only formal training I’ve had was doing WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts), all the while just learning and playing.
What’s your approach to guitar, having started so late?
I guess I came from a funny perspective on it. I first picked up guitar when I was about 13 because a lot of my cousins would try to get me to play Metallica songs, but I never really took an interest until I was 17. But after about six months of playing I thought ‘I don’t really see the point of learning other peoples’ music.’ Of course, now I see the point in it! Because I probably would have developed a hell of a lot more finesse and technique. But I just started writing straight away. I don’t really approach guitar as a guitar player, to be truthful. We have a lot of guitars and a lot of gear, but …I’m really not that interested in it! And I don’t say that to be condescending of anything to people who are, but just for me, I see it as a songwriting tool. If I could carry around a piano I probably would! But guitar is the instrument that helps me express what we do.” That’s not to put down the guitar, but it’s kind of more about guitar being a supportive thing in our band. We have an ethos of ‘as little as necessary to get the point across.’ I never like people hearing what’s going on with the guitar, not that there’s nothing good going on but we’re a songwriting band. Even though we’re kind of like a pop band, it’s incorporating that sort of element into it.
So which players have influenced you?
It’s more music in general, to be honest. I’ve never really been interested in terms of guitar players with technical prowess. My interest is more in growing up watching people like Billy Corgan or My Bloody Valentine, where there doesn’t seem to be a massive emphasis on the playing itself but what’s coming out of the rig. I think My Bloody Valentine, with these crazy bent chords, delays on top of delays… or The Edge, hitting three notes, but what comes out is marvellous. I love the texture that comes out of guitar, rather than playing full-on solos.
How do you approach your tone live?
I’m always changing my setup. I tried a rack system and that didn’t work for me, and now I have a pedalboard with a switching system. I always have all these pedals but then I look down and think ‘Wow, all I’m really using is a distortion and a delay.’ Just a couple of cool little delays like maybe an old Electro-Harmonix thing and maybe a newer kind of one, and a couple of distortions. I find it really interesting and fascinating that people can pull off having so many different and unique pedals. I can never get it to sound good live. It’s a real funny one. As for amps, we’ve got this cool Reeves head. It’s kind of like a Hiwatt. I really like the sound of it. Everywhere we’ve travelled recently I’ve been hunting and hunting for new distortion pedals. I always find myself attracted to ones no-one else uses, and I think, ‘Am I on the right path here?’ For the record we had a little Expandora pedal going into the Reeves head, and we also had a mid-80s ProCo Rat held together by pliers! But they don’t work live, so I’ve got this Radial pedal – I think it’s the Trimode. It’s got stickers and shit all over it now for all the tech stuff and it’s covered up the title for a while! But they’re really cool. My big thing with distortion pedals is getting that midrange and the balance of all the bands in a way that you like them. It’s easy to turn it on and you’ve got tone or volume, but sometimes if you’re stepping on your biggest channel – and I generally run a clean, a lightly dirty, a dirty and one which is called ‘Boom’ on the pedal switcher – and to have it so those gain stages all work and sound relative to each other. If you have all different distortion pedals, sometimes you’ll find one of them that sounds really good but the bottom end’s completely gone in it. With the Radial you can really tailor it because you can screw around with it so much that it really creamily bites your head off.
I’ve been travelling with a few Fender Telecasters at the moment. We’ve tried a lot of guitars but I’ve found myself coming back to these ’72 Tele reissues all the time. So mostly those, but I’m going to bring out a Gibson 335, a Les Paul, a Fender Stratocaster. I just bought a Fender Stratocaster just the other day – I wanted to get something with a bit more of a modern feel but there’s a certain type of body and neck I like. So I bought the Billy Corgan signature model, which for me is perfect. You’ve got the fixed bridge on there and more modern DiMarzio pickups. I’m really excited about that, actually.
Birds Of Tokyo’s new self-titled album is out now on EMI.
LINK: Birds Of Tokyo