After Stevie, what was your next gig?
Well, I couldn’t get a gig – I had the hardest time in the world looking for work. I didn’t know where to look and I didn’t know whom to ask. I had never even thought about it; I thought that was going to be the job that was going to last the rest of my life, because that’s what Stevie and I had talked about. I finally came across a gig with Foreigner as Mick Jones’ tech.
Were your duties the same with Mick?
My duties changed – I started doing everything. I would take them out of the case and tune them up and then get them back on the truck. In a way, it was the same – I took care of Mick Jones and only Mick Jones. I wound up taking care of other people’s stuff though, because the other techs didn’t know how to do all the repairs like I did. I actually ended up doing a lot.
You’ve worked with a lot of big artists since, including Prince. That had to have been a trip.
Oh yeah, it lasted one week. When I went to work there, I had a note from Dallas Schoo, U2’s current guitar tech. He’s a great tech, has been around for many years, and he left me a note that just said, “Good luck, René.” I thought, whatever, I’m only here for a week. I’ve been on the road for four months and I don’t care. The monitor guy immediately introduced himself to me and said, “You’ll be lucky if you last 24 hours.” I replied, “Well, that’s great because I just got off the road with another band, and I’d be happy to get home tomorrow.”
I ended up staying for the entire week duration and Prince was very impressed, telling all the guys that I used to work with Stevie and talking about his fantastic tone. They tried to get me to join their camp, but I declined. They called me up a few weeks later and asked me to be Prince’s full-time tech. I said, “No, I don’t really have the time, but I appreciate it.” They immediately called back and asked if it was a matter of money. And I said, “No, it’s not a matter of money. I said no and I mean no.” And that was really the end of that.
It sounds like they were extremely impressed with your work.
They were extremely impressed, but I just really wanted to do something else.
So you’re out on tour with John Mayer now?
Yes, and it’s going great. I’ve been with him for about two years. I think I’m gonna stick around this camp for a while. He’s a really nice guy to work with and we get along great. So that’s it – I don’t plan on going anywhere else.
Does he have any special requests with his guitars?
Well, everybody has their own special requests. John likes the fact that I can set up his guitars in any way, shape or form. If anything’s wrong, I can do it – replacing pots, fixing a nut, setting it up, knowing all of his tunings. A lot of techs still need to take guitars to repair shops.
Is there anyone you’d like to work with but you haven’t had a chance to?
I think this is my calling here today, with John Mayer. It’s going to take quite a bit to pull me away from this gig. I really like working with John, because he really reminds me of someone I used to work with long ago. In terms of other people, there’s really never been anyone I’ve wanted to work with and wasn’t able to. There have been times where I’ve wished I’ve had work. [laughs]
Do you still have time to play for yourself?
Oh, I play all the time. I always keep a guitar close. If I can’t, then I can’t keep those guys sounding good. And that’s literally what I do today; I actually set up the thing, get the amplifier set right, tweak it all out and get it sounding great. Then I let my guy tweak it, if he knows what he’s doing. I get it close and all he’s got to do is turn a couple of knobs.
Do you like the life on the road or are you a homebody?
The road is okay. You have to adapt to it, but it’s not my favorite thing; I’d rather be home working on a guitar or coming up with an idea or helping someone with a guitar over the phone. I’ve got people who send me their guitars from everywhere. I’m doing a re-fret from Tennessee – he’s been waiting since February of 2007, and here I am working on it. I’m constantly working on guitars.
Have you ever had a desire to get in front of the curtain?
I am in front of the curtain and I’m also the star that shines behind the curtain. When I don’t walk out on the stage, there’s people asking, “Where’s René? Where’s your guitar tech?” I’m good at what I do and I like what I’m doing. I still play for my friends and for my wife, but now I’m up to different things and different ventures. I’ve been working on my products for the past ten years and they’re really starting to fly now.
Looking through the strings you offer on your website, we’ve noticed you run what would normally be considered in-between gauges. Can you describe the reasoning behind that?
The reason for that originated with Stevie. He was my best guinea pig, in terms of trying things out on the professional stage. I always used to say, “I wish they’d make a half gauge, because you just stretched the heck out of that string. It’s something else now.” And he’d say, “Yeah, I know – I seem to lose the tone after a few shows.” I thought, if someone would make half gauges, we’d have that tone.
I always wanted to have a set of strings that were true 9s. If you’re playing a 9 set and bending the 9 a lot, it’s no longer a true 9. With a 9.5, you’re able to stretch it out, and maybe it’s stretched out to a 9.2 or a 9.3, and it’s not that much – we’re talking hundredths of an inch here – but the tone is just… a little bit more. Then I thought, it would also be cool to make the cores of the wound strings bigger, because when the winding on a string goes bad, that’s when the string goes bad. So the core is bigger and the winding is smaller, but the size is the same. And it’s 100 percent nickel, not plated – the way it should be.
At the same time, there’s more tone in those bigger strings – the more mass you have, the more tone you’ll get. I had GHS Strings make me some and I sold them under my own label before GHS decided to pick them up. The Carlos Santana strings came about when he decided he really liked them.