Bob Mothersbaugh onstage
with one of his beloved G&L
SC-2s and a Line 6 PODxt Live.
Photo by Jay Spencer
The late Kurt Cobain once said, “Of all the bands who came from the underground and actually made it in the
mainstream, Devo is the most challenging and subversive.” Though Cobain didn’t make the best life choices, he did
know a thing or two about bands challenging the status quo with their music.
Devo recently dropped Something For
Everybody—their first album in 20 years—
and, just as on classic Devo cuts like their
1980 smash hit “Whip It,” the guitars are up
front and prominent. Supplying the guitar for
Devo’s particular brand of social and musical
subversion is Bob Mothersbaugh, who, given
Devo’s reputation, you’d probably think was
a half-automaton with a synth built into his
chest. But Mothersbaugh is a guitar purist
with affection for British Invasion bands as
well as the old bluesmen. After all, you can’t
deconstruct music you don’t know how to
construct in the first place.
caught up with
Mothersbaugh in the middle of Devo’s summer
tour to talk about his favorite guitar—the entry-level G&L SC-2—buying back his
weird-as-hell custom Ibanez “Spud” guitar
from a professional skateboarder, and his
unsurprising habit of warping every opportunity
for a signature-model guitar.
Who were your early guitar influences?
Well, I’m just old enough that I listened
to the Kinks and Rolling Stones when they
were happening. Then, of course, Jeff Beck,
Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix came along.
“I’m a Potato,” from Hardcore Devo, Vol.
1 (74-77), is an interesting mutation on
the blues form.
Yeah, in the very early days Devo was kind of
blues sounding. I listened to Chuck Berry and
Keith Richards—those guys were big influences.
Do you still listen to the old blues?
I love it. Muddy Waters and Hound Dog
Taylor always do it for me.
When Devo was developing the de-evolution
concept, did you consciously try to
deconstruct the music that influenced you?
Donning the Devo “Everybody Mask” and a ’59 Les Paul reissue—probably the closest thing he’s got to an everybody guitar—Mothersbaugh takes the stage at the San Diego Pride Festival, July 18, 2010. Photo by John Hancock
Honestly, at that time I was young and that’s
all I knew how to play. Devo’s main objective
was to do stuff we thought was funny and
made us laugh. We just thought, “If we went
to see a band, this is what we would want to
hear—this is what would make us laugh.” In
the mid ’70s, devices to radically tweeze your
sound simply weren’t available—at least to
guys in Akron, Ohio—so we really had to work
at it to come up with sounds that conveyed
our particular brand of frustration and humor.
Do you remember your first guitar?
Oddly enough, it was a Coral Sitar.
Wow—no wonder your playing went
I know. After about six months I thought,
“Man! I’m tired of these sympathetic
strings.” So I took a jigsaw and cut them
off, but it still sounded like a sitar. I figured
out it was the plastic bridge that made it
whiny sounding, so I took it apart and tried
to find a new bridge, but couldn’t. The guitar
was put in the barn and I kind of forgot
Was your first amp as ill advised?
My first amp was some cheap head. I had a
speaker that I strung up in a fruit crate, so
the speaker was just dangling, suspended
by strings—like a microphone shock mount.
I had no idea speakers had to be mounted
to a board so they could push air. It was
pretty ineffective, but when you’re a kid in
a basement in Akron, trying to perfect your
Pete Townshend windmills, it was fine.