Aleks Sever in the studio with her black Fender American Standard Tele. It’s outfitted with a DiMarzio Area Hot T bridge pickup and an Area T neck
pickup, and she prefers the guitar when she’s going for more traditional Tele rhythm or lead sounds.
Tell us more about your approach to
phrasing and soloing.
My approach to phrasing is really simple,
even if the music is complicated.
I try to tell a story when I solo. There
has to be a beginning, middle, and end
to a solo, with a climax somewhere
towards the end. Solos need to develop.
It’s like a movie or story. There’s the
opening line, which is an invitation
to the listener—it’s like you try to get
their attention by a strong first statement—and then you follow up with a
series of phrases that get more and more
intense and complex. I try to gradually
add more notes and rhythms to add tension
as the story progresses. The solo has
to have a “boom” or high point where
I’m playing without thinking—that’s the
best part, usually. I always look for the
unexpected in myself. That’s when your
natural instincts take over, and the audience
can feel what you’re feeling with no
words to get in the way.
How do you decide what sort of vibe to
go for with each song?
The song will tell me which approach to
take. I analyze the goal of a particular song
before I start playing and decide in advance
the kind of style I’m looking for, depending
on the mix of tempos and moods I’d
like to see on the record. On “Joker,” I
took a tighter, more planned approach
with a lot of jazz-type chromatic lines and
almost bebop phrasing. I tried to make the
melody almost like a horn line in a Maceo
Parker style, and it fit the song. In “Wild
Love,” it was the opposite—more street
and grittier. I felt like taking a more bluesy
approach to that song, with more extreme
bends and fast blues licks. On “Backstage,”
I tried a jazz/fusion approach. Sometimes
during the writing process you’ll explore a
lot of different possibilities, and one will
stick out for that song. That’s the way I
like to write. I like to leave myself open to
every possibility and not edit myself too
fast. That way, I don’t miss something by
locking it down too early.
It sounds like you have a lot of chops,
but you’re playing with a great deal of
restraint on this album.
I wanted to make a groove-oriented record,
not an intellectual one. The goal was to make
a record that would appeal to a lot of listeners,
not just guitar players—to have these
songs that were totally different styles than
what you sometimes hear from guitarists.
Sever cutting a lead in the studio with a DigiTech RP500 and her sunburst Fender Tele, which has a
DiMarzio Air Classic humbucker and a series/parallel switch for both rocking and twangy tones.
Let’s talk about your gear. What’s your
I have two main guitars. Both are Fender
American Standard Teles—one is sunburst
and one is black—and both have
rosewood fretboards. I love the feel of
rosewood. It doesn’t feel sticky and the
frets feel higher, which I really like. The
sunburst is a little lighter, so I tend to
use that one more.
Is the sunburst Tele stock?
It has a DiMarzio Air Classic humbucker
in the bridge position instead of a standard
Tele pickup. The other mod on the
sunburst guitar is a series/parallel switch
for the bridge pickup. I can get very close
to a classic Tele sound from the pickup in
parallel, which I use a lot for rhythm—it’s
more transparent and snappy. In series,
the pickup sounds like a super Tele—it’s
got the output of a humbucker, with a
more rock-type sound, but it still has that
snap to it. I used that guitar for the solos
on the record, and I’m really happy with
the tone. Because I don’t have to switch
guitars, it’s also great for live use.
So what do you prefer the black one for?
When I really need that classic Tele
sound for rhythm or solos, I use the
black one. It has a DiMarzio
DP421 [Area Hot T] in the
bridge, which I love because
it’s hum cancelling, so it’s not
noisy when I have a lot of gain.
What’s your main amp?
My main amp is a Fender Deluxe Reverb
reissue. No mods, just stock out of the
box. I love it—it really sounds like the old
ones! Besides the Deluxe, I also have a small
Fender Champion 600 that I love.
Is the Champion 600 more of a
Yes, I use that for a lot of my recordings. I
like small amps for recording, because they
don’t interfere with the bass frequencies like
the bigger amps do sometimes. Since I use
a multi-effects pedalboard with overdrive,
I don’t need the channel switching and all
that stuff, just a great basic Fender tone.
Which multi-effects unit are you using?
My main multi-effects pedalboard is actually
the most important part of my sound!
It’s a DigiTech RP500. It’s amazing! It
has a great compressor, overdrive, delay,
reverb, and pitch change. It sounds great if
you turn off all the effects and just use the
overdrive or the compressor for the clean
sounds. I try to get the natural sound of
the guitar before I add effects. I don’t use
a lot of EQ. Sometimes I use additional
pedals—like the HardWire CM-2 Tube
Overdrive—when I want really over-the-top
distortion, and the Rolls RFX Twin Spin
chorus, which gives me some really great
Leslie-type effects. I didn’t use that effect
much on the record, but I use it a lot live.
Sever rips a lead up high on her more trad-sounding
Gear snobs might get squeamish at the
thought of being seen with a multi-effects
unit, but you dispel many myths about
gear by getting some amazing tones on
I spent a lot of time experimenting with different
amps, pedals, and guitars in the past to
find a combination that gives me something
back when I play. It’s like the guitar reacts to
the amp in a way that’s hard to explain. But
I think the multi-effects units have gotten so
good that I don’t really miss a boutique amp.
I can take my sound with me wherever I go. I
don’t need to have a particular amp to get the
solo sound I need. To get my sound, I use two
basic settings—for rhythm, I use the setting
called Clean 1, and for overdrive stuff, I use a
setting called Tube Drive, adjusting the amount
of gain differently for crunchy or solo sounds.
Aleks Sever's Gear
Fender American Standard Tele with
DiMarzio Air Classic bridge humbucker and
DiMarzio Area T neck pickup, Fender American
Standard Tele with DiMarzio Area Hot
T bridge pickup and Area T neck pickup
Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb reissue,
Fender Champion 600
DigiTech RP500, HardWire CM-2 Tube
Overdrive, Rolls RFX Twin Spin
Strings, Picks, and Accessories
D’Addario XL120 (.009–.042) sets,
Dunlop 1 mm Nylon picks, Planet
Waves cables and straps
What was it like coming to America and
breaking into the scene—was it welcoming
I had this plan that I wanted to be a guitar
player and could take over the world, and
I didn’t really realize that there is more to it
than just wanting it. L.A. is a bigger city with
more opportunities, but the competition is
also so much worse, and it is sometimes not
that easy to get going. The people here were
very welcoming, but my path seemed a little
bit confusing for a while. First, I got work as
an artist—as an oil painter. It wasn’t something
I was expecting, but I took this path for
a while to make a living. At the same time,
I always stayed serious and focused about
playing the guitar and getting better. I would
record a lot of music and play a lot with different
bands. I was also very lucky when I
came here, because right away I met a lot of
great musicians who were very supportive of
my music. I learned so much from them—just being around them raised my standards
and made me be a better musician.
What advice would you give someone who
wants to break into the scene like you did?
It’s really important to be where the musicians
hang out and play. Sometimes music
stores can be a good hangout, but there’s
always at least one club in every town that’s
the musician’s club. In L.A. it’s the Baked
Potato or the Pig ’N Whistle in Hollywood.
All the players who are working like to go
out and jam at night, so you end up meeting
a lot of people that way. The last piece
of advice I would give is to try to find your
style—it’s important to find one style that
you really love, and try to master it.