Lanois, Black Dub singer Trixie Whitley, and bassist Daryl Johnson
during their YouTube video sessions. Photo by Adam Vollick
What guitarists have you itched to produce
over the years?
I wish I could have produced Ali Farka Touré.
Every now and again I hear something in
African players where it sounds like they’re
finding something on the instrument that
we’re not. It’s a fascinating style.
Do you look for a guitar that has a certain
kind of voice or one that’s more versatile?
I keep instruments around for specific aspects
of their sound. I still have my white Fender
Mustang, which you can use with the two
pickups out of phase, which sounds wonderful
when you play with a soft touch and the
amp really cranked. I also have an old butterscotch
Telecaster, which I think might be a
’51, and when I shake the neck on that thing,
the pickup, which is a little loose, makes this
mad sound like something’s trying to crawl out
of the guitar—especially when I’m running it
through an echo. I use my Vox MandoGuitar a
lot and my little brown Guild with an L.R. Baggs
M1 pickup, which is what we used with Neil. I
have some really nice Martins and Gibsons, but
that little guitar records wonderfully.
Are you particular about pickups?
Chilling on the chesterfield: Lanois’ ’50s goldtop Les Paul sports a Bigsby and P-90s—his favorite pickup type. Photo by Melinda Dahl
Photo by Adam Vollick
I’m a P-90 player. But when I want to do something
really delicate, where I turn the amplifier
up and play really softly, the humbucker is a
friend. Firebirds are really good for that.
What about amplifiers?
I usually play ’50s tweed Fenders because
they’re just the most musical sounding amps,
and at low volume they have the most beautiful
tone. The natural overdrive on those tweeds
can produce fascinating results too. But I’ll do
things like put a Vox 12" speaker in a tweed,
because the Vox speakers will handle a lot
more volume and have more headroom. That’s
a really interesting combination of sounds. And
tweed combos weigh a lot less than an AC30! I
like hitting the amp with overdrive sources too,
though. The Korg SDD-3000 digital delay is a
big part of my sound, too, which is something I
got from The Edge. Even if you don’t use it as a
delay, you can get a nice boost out of it.
Are you a pedal nut?
I’ll use the Boomerang a lot. Occasionally, I’ll use
a fuzz wah for a little more tone variation. But
the truth is, I don’t really like playing with my feet
]. When you don’t do too much pedal
work, it makes you resourceful in other ways.
What do you make of players who go to
great effort to emulate other players’ style
Well, we enter this world as admirers. And
we’re obviously inspired by other guitar players
and driven by that inspiration. But, ultimately,
as they say, students must leave the
master’s house to find their own voice. That’s
something all of us should try to do, though
you certainly can’t teach that. It’s something
you do on your own. I can definitely say that
about my pedal-steel playing, and I’m glad
and lucky I was able to find something in the
instrument that belongs to me. I wish that for
every guitar player.
Daniel Lanois’ Gearbox
’50s Gibson goldtop Les Paul with P-90s
and a Bigsby tremolo, ’60s Gibson
Firebird V, ’50s Fender Telecaster, ’60s
Fender Mustang, ’60s Guild M-20 with
L.R. Baggs M1 pickup
’50s Fender Deluxe, ’50s Fender
Harvard, ’60s Vox AC30
Boomerang Phrase Sampler, KORG
SDD-3000 digital delay