Interview: Richie Kotzen
Richie Kotzen talks about his stripped-down signal chain and songwriting
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People go on and on about your soloing abilities but I don’t think enough attention is paid to your rhythm playing, especially while you’re singing. Is that something you had to pay a lot of attention to?
No. I really try not to work too hard. [Laughing] I don’t like that laboring feeling. I had that laboring feeling when I was young and learning to play the guitar. I got to a point where I just wanted to make music. Where the laboring process comes is I might write something or hear something that I can’t quite play. That’s when I have to sit and practice it. Live, what happens is that the rhythm guitar fits under the lead vocal and because I’m doing both, it makes it really easy to do.
Some guitar players that don’t sing might have to think more about how to play rhythm guitar against the singer. Because I’m the singer, it’s forcing my guitar to do what it needs to do. It’s more of a natural thing. Occasionally I’ll write a song where the rhythm guitar part is hard to play at the same time that I’m singing the lead vocal. Then I have to practice. I have to figure out how to do it. In general it’s kind of an all-inclusive thing.
Your rhythm sections seem to have that natural rhythmic flow as well.
Well you gotta rehearse the band. I can’t teach them telepathy but even in that, I don’t like to spend a lot of time rehearsing. I expect the band guys to come in, know the songs, play’em and know them well enough so that if I change something on the spot, they can adapt. A lot of that goes on in my set.
Your guitar rig is a natural extension of your music as well. It’s very low maintenance. You’re one of the few guys in your genre that uses your guitar’s volume control old school to get all your sounds.
As far as going from clean to dirty, yeah. I did a tour with Uli Jon Roth. We were doing a Hendrix tribute tour in Europe. I was really getting frustrated with having a boost pedal in front of me so I got rid of it. I had no pedals. Since then I found a company that makes a guitar tuner that lives in your guitar. It has a nine-volt battery, potentiometer and a LED circuit that’s on top of the guitar. It takes up virtually no space in your guitar.
It’s inside your guitar?
Totally. It’s called N-Tune. I emailed these guys. I told them I wanted to try out their product. I told them who I was and they ignored me. They sent me nothing! No email, nothing! [Laughing] I went and bought it in a store. I’m still talking about it because it’s that good. I’m saying that partly to show how they don’t really give a shit who I am, which is fine, but I’m also saying that it’s a great product. It’s kind of an unofficial endorsement [Laughing]. I have them in both of my main guitars.
Do you still plug directly into the head of your Cornford RK100 Richie Kotzen Signature Model?
No. That’s what I use to do. Recently I did this thing with this company called Zoom. They have digital pedals and they made a signature model for John 5 and George Lynch. They asked me if I was interested. Naturally my first reaction was, “I don’t really use pedals.” But I was thinking that I wish I had a really good delay pedal and a good reverb. So what I did was that I programmed a bunch of settings for them that I thought were musical and usable. These were settings that I would use in a live situation.
Now I’m using the pedal live, but I don’t use it the way most guys would. Instead of it going in series and using it on the floor, I’ve got it in parallel. It lives on top of my amp. There are two tiny cables going into the effects loop. I’m mainly using it as a reverb and as a delay. The great thing is that it changes my tone in no way whatsoever. I still get the exact same tone. I can plug it in and unplug it and I can’t hear the difference. The overdrive is still coming from the Cornford. Now I’ve got a great reverb and I’ve got a delay with a tap button on it. The reason it’s on my amp is so I can walk over and tap the tap button and make the delay be in time with the song.
Wow, your own custom multi-effects pedal. Very cool.
Totally. I’ve programmed all kinds of settings. There are reverb and delays but there are also flangers and choruses in there and a couple of modulation things. I made up some auto wah-wah settings that I thought were cool.