Neil Finn’s Fleetwood Mac guitar rig tour with Marcus Catanzaro

Photo: Justin Wysong

Last week I had the immense pleasure of seeing Fleetwood Mac at Rod Laver Arena here in Melbourne. As you no doubt know, the 2019 incarnation of the Mac features Neil Finn of Crowded House and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (I’ll be bringing you a podcast episode with Mike when his new record comes out next year). Neil used plenty of gorgeous guitars during the show and his tones were impeccable. The man responsible for wrangling this stable of axes is Marcus Catanzaro, and he graciously lent his time to talk us through what’s what.

What are Neil’s main guitars on the Fleetwood Mac tour? He seems to mainly go between a red Gretsch and a Les Paul Goldtop.

Neil has about 17 guitars out on this Fleetwood run right now. Ten of them are Gretsch Duo Jets in some form. We tend to always default back to his 1958 Firebird Duo Jet as a reference for ideal tone and gain structures. Actually, whilst we were in Los Angeles rehearsing last year, I had the privilege of spending a bunch of time with Mike Taft and Gretsch Master builder Stephen Stern. We spent hours taking detail from Neil’s 58’ Firebird, and Stephen, along with help from Tom at TV JONES pickups, managed to create a custom shop replica that looks and sounds mind-blowing. We also have a 1956 red Firebird, a 1964 black Duojet and then a whole bunch of brand new factory reissues. These newer models sound and feel incredible, but more importantly, are so much more rock solid than the vintage ones they followed (a hugely important factor on the road and in extreme climates). 

Photo: Jason Paul

Tell me about the Maton acoustic and how come it sounds so damn nice!

Neil plays the 808 classic body Matons. They are significantly smaller-bodied than most other Matons which means they don’t need as much of a heavy hand to really push sound, and they can put out a seriously balanced and controlled tone. I believe Neil worked closely with Maton to develop this particular model a decade or so ago, he found that the guitar performed well across all stage sizes and between multiple playing styles. We have about six of these in total on the road, each varying slightly in timbers. The AP5 pickup system that sits inside each of these is stupidly stable, so much so that we never use feedback busters on stage! Thats a big win for tone! 

Photo: Justin Wysong

What’s the deal with that Maton 12-string electric? It’s beautiful!

It’s the ultimate 12-string tone….. I will never divulge the secrets! 

What’s on the pedalboard? What amps? 

Right now on Fleetwood Mac we have a new system that we built in rehearsals last year. The extensive setlist meant covering new tones and sounds that Neil wouldn’t normally look for, whilst trying to maintain Neil’s iconic sound in there. Neil and I went through about 30 vintage amp combinations, wet/dry/wet rigs, stereo rigs etc etc etc. We finally settled with an offstage and on stage rig to balance volume, feel and tone. Offstage you will find two isolation cabinets next to me. Cabinet 1 holds two vintage 1968 VOX AC30s (main and spare) and Cabinet 2 holds two (main and spare) Fender Bassman 69 reissues from the team at Fender. These both run mono (so both get all sounds and effects evenly). The concept is that the Vox is allowed to run loud and a little harsh (as Voxes do best) and then the Bassman can come in with a lower-end frequency and balance out that tone.

On stage, Neil has a 60’s Fender Princeton Reverb and a 1950 Gibson GA50. Same again; both amps get all signal, the Princeton is the bulk of the tone and the GA50 helps round out the bottom end and smooth it all over. Neil’s pedalboard is pretty simple and features two vintage Electro-Harmonix Memory Man delays, the famous kiwidesigned HOT CAKE, a Bondi Effects SICK AS over drive, a Boss DD-3 delay, an Electro Harmonix Freeze pedal and then two of amazing new Echo Fix Australia analogue tape delay machines, which can be controlled by pedals at Neil’s feet. 

Photo: Jason Paul

Tell us about your background and some of your tech adventures! What do you like to play for fun?

Well, I grew up in Western Sydney and from the age of 13, played in or worked for almost every punk, hardcore or rock band ever (it felt like anyway!). Later down the line I was a guitar player on the X Factor and for Sony Music’s artist roster, then went back to teching around the world for a whole bunch of excellent Australians bands. I was introduced to Neil a few years back by another one of his techs, Rowan ‘Digga’ Johnston and I’ve been lucky enough to keep working for him ever since. It’s been a wild ride on tour with Fleetwood Mac, the lessons have been totally invaluable and the caliber of crew out here is mindblowing. I’ll either know how to do everything ever or be able to write a killer ’behind’ rock and roll book by the end of this! Haha. 

Thanks to Heath Blows and Fender Music Australia.

Photo: Justin Wysong

Photo: Jason Paul

INTERVIEW: Tommy Emmanuel

Tommy Emmanuel is one of the world’s greatest guitar treasures. He’s on the road pretty much constantly in the US, Europe and Asia; Chet Atkins famously conferred upon him the title of CGP (Certified Guitar Player); and he’s generally regarded as the finest fingerpicker in the world. But his skills were developed from an early age as a child star playing all over Australia in the Emmanuel family band, and he proudly plays Melbourne-made Maton guitars. And Tommy never forgets where he came from, returning home regularly to thrill audiences with his acoustic and electric brilliance. Tommy toured Australia 18 months ago with his brother Phil, and that tour featured plenty of electric guitar playing and a full band. But he’s back right now to play a run of acoustic dates, with special guest Frank Vignola.

Tommy was something of an underground guitar hero in the 1980s but he came to the attention of the Australian music world at large with the release of his album Determination in 1992, and its 1993 follow-up The Journey. The associated tours took Tommy and his band all around the country, playing to regional audiences not often visited by instrumental guitar acts. “That’s right,” Tommy says. “Half the guys still don’t go to Perth because it’s so far to get over there and it’s hard for them to make the kind of money they’re looking for. But I always do Perth, no matter what. You’ve got to!”

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REVIEW: Maton MS T BYRD

Australian manufacturer Maton is perhaps best known internationally for their stunning acoustic guitars, which are regularly seen in the hands of one mr. Tommy Emmanuel. But Maton has a long history of great electric guitars too, such as the BB and Mastersound series, and some really funky vintage models. Even so, the MS T BYRD is a fairly unusual guitar for Maton to make. It seems to bring together a few disparate but equally historic elements: design cues from the Maton Mastersound and classic Tele-style guitars, along with an even earlier pickup design and a more modern-feeling fretboard adapted to current playing styles.

So, the most obvious marriage visible in the MS T BYRD is that of the Mastersound and the Telecaster. The Mastersound angle is covered by the curvaceous body shape, as well as a semi-hollow design which incorporates a sexy soundhole on the bass side body bout. The biggest giveaways as to the latter are the dot-inlay maple fretboard, the bridge, the single coil pickup and the controls.

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REVIEW: Maton JB-4 Jumbuck fretless bass

The Maton JB-4 (or Jumbuck) was perhaps one of the coolest Australian musical instruments ever created – and we’re talking about the country that also gave the world the Cole Clark Mistress and the Belman Albatross. This four-string beast originated in the mid 70s found its genesis in the earlier Wildcat Bass. It offered a unique-to-Maton body outline, a cool headstock shape, great upper fret access, and the option of fretted or fretless fingerboards. Early models had a huge humbucker mounted in the middle along with a bridge-butting single coil. (The Jumbuck was also available in a guitar version which for a while found its way into the hands of one Carlos Santana) The Jumbuck bass was a big hit, remaining highly sought after. It’s no surprise that Maton have now decided to bring the venerable old bass back.

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HOW TO SOUND LIKE: Josh Homme

Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme has always been a master of the dry, clean-yet-distorted tone, and nowhere is this sound more in-your-face than on the self-titled debut by his ‘other other band,’ Them Crooked Vultures, a trio with Dave Grohl on drums and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards. Homme’s guitar is recorded very cleanly and mixed very loud and clear, so this recording is the perfect way to get your ears right up close to his tone without risking the wrath of security by scrambling up on stage to jam your ear against his speaker cabinet.

There are a few tricks to getting Homme’s tone down. Part of the secret is in using low or medium output passive humbuckers. Use too beefy a ‘bucker and you risk overloading the input of your amp, smearing articulation and making everything too hot. Homme is fond of interjecting power chord riffs with barre chord stabs, and this kind of contrast and emphasis would be totally lost of your dynamic and tonal spectrum were squished by too hot a pickup. His pickup choice also helps to maintain clarity and punch when playing single note lines on the lower strings (and don’t be shy about using the neck pickup for overdriven rhythm – it’s all too easy to get into the ‘I play rock, so rhythm guitar must be on the bridge pickup’ trap). Homme has been known to use a variety of Aussie-made Maton electric guitars over the years (check out the BB1200 JH with Maton ‘Hommebuckers’) in addition to Ovation Ultra GPs.

Homme has used all sorts of amps over the years, including bass amps and an array of vintage Ampeg valve amps. Aim for a clean tone to start with (rather than beginning on your amp’s high gain channel), but crank it to get some crunch and grind from the power amp and the speakers rather than the preamp. Keep the bass at treble at around halfway or lower and boost the mids for some of that characteristic power. It also helps if you’re able to get your hands on several amps and a splitting device so you can drive multiple sound paths at once, all set for different sounds, and preferably with different speaker sizes, wattages and constructions to really enhance the three-dimensionality of the sound.

Homme uses pedals to augment his basic tone from time to time, and the Crooked Vultures album is home to a few particularly tasty octave fuzz sounds. This type of octave effect (also heard on Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ solo and used more and more live by Joe Satriani) is different to the harmonizer or pitch shift version of octave doubling. The effect, which is combined with fuzz, is more like a bizarre squirrelly harmonic overtone doubling your original note. True octave fuzz pedals track better when you use the neck pickup, and they’re very interactive units so you might need to listen closely and adjust your picking technique by minute degrees to get the most out of the pedal. You can also get some rather strange background noise if you don’t mute your strings properly between notes or chords, so be careful!

REVIEW: Maton BB1200

Maton’s now-classic Mastersound model has gone through many permutations over the years, from the original versions in those famous photos of Phil and Tommy Emmanuel as young kids traveling around Australia playing to adoring crowds, to the more sleek and refined version favoured by Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and Jesse Hughes of Eagles Of Death Metal. The basic template of the guitar lends itself to a variety of styles – classic rock, punk, jazz, even metal, and Maton has taken the opportunity to recast the guitar’s aesthetics and appointments accordingly.

The new BB1200 semi acoustic brings with it the vibe of a much older guitar. When I opened the case I experienced that same ‘aaah!’ factor one gets when holding a genuine vintage Gibson or Gretsch.

The review model was finished in a classy high gloss black with gold hardware – other colour options are ultra blue, cherry, black, natural and wine red sunburst, but custom colours are available for an extra cost. The body is made of Queensland maple (with a big chunky centre block for stability, and options include either a rock maple or Victorian blackwood top. The neck is rock maple, and its profile is surprisingly thin, almost like an Ibanez Wizard II neck, although the painted, glossy back of the neck also has a lot in common with Gibson’s slim 60s necks. The fretboard has a 12 inch radius and 22 jumbo frets.

The strings are anchored to a Tonepros nickel stop tailpiece and bridge set, fast becoming an industry standard due to its stability and durability, while the pickups are a pair of Maton’s own Alnico 8-loaded humbuckers, the JHB and JHN. Each pickup can be split to single coil mode, drastically increasing the number of sounds on offer.

There’s a warm, loud midrange to the BB1200, which is accompanied by a tight bass and smooth treble. It seems the guitar’s natural frequencies are perfectly tailored to sit well in a mix without overpowering the other instruments, but at the same time occupying enough of its own space to be heard. The bridge pickup has a great, loud classic rock tone with a touch of dryness and a lot of dynamic control. The neck humbucker is round and noodly, and in combination their respective volumes can be set to either darken up the bridge pickup, or brighten up the neck.

The single coil mode almost turns this guitar into a Thinline Telecaster, and the resonance of the hollow body makes it hard to resist playing bluesier styles. Switching back to the neck pickup on a clean tone, a fine amplified jazz sound is available. While acoustically it’s a loud guitar compared to a solid body electric, the body’s a bit too small to make it really viable as an acoustic instrument in the same way as some of the big jazz boxes, but amplified it can hang in there with the big boys.

One final thing I’d like to mention is the exceptional setup right out of the case. This guitar played so well that it was very easy to rip out blazing fusion or shred lines, yet there was enough height left in the strings to still be able to dig in with fingerpicking styles.

The BB1200 has all the makings of a modern Australian classic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this guitar ended up in the hands of a lot of high profile players.

BODY: Queensland Maple core, selected Rock Maple or Victorian Blackwood top.
NECK: Queensland Maple or Rock Maple set
FRETBOARD: White bound Rosewood, 12 inch radius, 22 jumbo frets
SCALE: 25.2 inches
BRIDGE: TonePros nickel stop tailpeice and bridge
TUNERS: Chrome Grover
PICKUPS: Maton JHB, JHN
CONTROLS: 2 Volume (both w/coiltap), 1 Tone, 3 way toggle selector

LINK: Maton.com.au

NEWS: Buy Josh Pyke’s guitar boat!

When is a dreadnaught not a dreadnaught? When it’s Australian singer/guitarist Josh Pyke’s guitar boat. Remember it from a few months back? Well now the bragging rights of the luxirious SS Maton are up for grabs, with the vehicle to be auctioned off in support of the Indigenous Literacy Project.

CLICK HERE to see or bid for the boat, and scroll down to see the video.

Here’s the press release from Pyke’s record company.

JOSH PYKE TO AUCTION HIS GUITAR BOAT FOR CHARITY

Josh Pyke’s headline-grabbing guitar boat will be auctioned on eBay next month with the majority of proceeds going to an event Josh is launching in support of the Indigenous Literacy Project.

The extraordinary vessel was created for the music video for Josh’s single ‘Make You Happy’, which saw Josh cruise around Sydney Harbour in the custom-made SS Maton. The clip was the #1 featured video on YouTube worldwide, and created waves across the globe. During filming, images of the guitar boat made their way into international newspapers and spread rapidly across the internet, with praise for the guitar boat flowing from all corners of the world.

Josh Pyke’s headline-grabbing guitar boat will be auctioned on eBay next month with the majority of proceeds going to an event Josh is launching in support of the Indigenous Literacy Project.

The extraordinary vessel was created for the music video for Josh’s single ‘Make You Happy’, which saw Josh cruise around Sydney Harbour in the custom-made SS Maton. The clip was the #1 featured video on YouTube worldwide, and created waves across the globe. During filming, images of the guitar boat made their way into international newspapers and spread rapidly across the internet, with praise for the guitar boat flowing from all corners of the world.

“Seeing the guitar boat clip spread around the world has been one of the highlights of releasing this album so far,” says Josh. “I love the idea that its charm will now go towards helping something I’m passionate about. Later this year I’ll be launching an event called ‘Busking For Change’ in conjunction with the Indigenous Literacy Project, and the sale of the guitar boat will help to fund this.”

More information will be available on ‘Busking For Change’ in the coming months, but please head to worldwithoutbooks.org for more information on the Indigenous Literacy Project.

The guitar boat auction will go live on February 2, 2009 and end on Friday, February 12, 2009 the day that Josh kicks off his national ‘Chimney’s Afire’ album tour in Fremantle, WA. The album, Josh’s second, hit the charts at a phenomenal #3 (#1 on the Australian chart) and has been a favourite with critics and fans alike.

For your chance to own your very own guitar boat (there isn’t another like it!), head here. Become a member of ivyleague.com.au to be sent an alert when the auction goes LIVE on February 2.

And if you’d like to see the guitar boat in the flesh before it sets sail for a new home, the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour, Sydney, will have it on display for the duration of the auction and following week. Head on down to see a piece of Australian music history!