Taylor says her
too pleased that
an Esquire with
a pinup girl on
it, but she softened
a bit when
Taylor played a
gig with Annie
Lennox for the
by Rob Stanley
Did you also try a different amp?
Yes. Though Billy [White] played bass on
the album, his main instrument is guitar.
He played with Don Dokken and in
Watchtower, and he’s kind of a shred god.
Anyway, he brought in his ’72 Marshall
50-watt head and 2x12 for me. At that
point, with everything else being new and
different, I thought, “Why not? Let’s go
for a different sound.” The funny thing
was, although I was going for Eric Johnson
and Gary Moore, I think I still ended up
sounding like me.
I have no qualms telling you I fell in love
with that Marshall, and I’m hell-bent on
getting one. A ’72 50-watt Marshall is really
the holy grail—you put a nice Les Paul
through it ... well, it’s perfect.
Any other amps?
Mike had an old ’60s Silvertone we used
a lot for the rhythm. That and Billy’s
Marshall for lead were the two main ones I
used for everything. We had both amps in
a separate room—a big space at the back
of the studio. I could just about hear the
Marshall from where we were situated, so
I’m pretty sure it was on 11.
Is that a Stratocaster on “Lose Myself ”?
Actually that’s a Music Man. My boyfriend
has a fine array of guitars and I stole it
from him. It has a nice glassy tone that just
seemed to work on that track. We used
Mike’s Harmony Master—a 1960s hollowbody—
a lot. I used a bunch of different
stuff I’d never used before, whether just
from not being comfortable with a piece
of equipment or feeling there were rules I
shouldn’t break. I think I only picked up
the Telecaster once or twice, which was
quite fun in a way—a busman’s holiday.
What sort of rules are you referring to?
Well, I didn’t want to upset fans who know
me as a Tele player. But then I realized the
sound is really in your hands, and there’s
no harm in trying to inspire yourself with
a new instrument or go for a slightly different
tone. That was a fun lesson to learn.
Did you use an octave fuzz on the solo
in “Soul Station”?
I did. Mike had a bunch of toys, so it
was a time of experimentation. That
octave fuzz is a Death By Audio pedal
called the Octave Clang, which I love.
When we cut that track Mike said,
“What are you thinking of for the solo?”
After hearing what J.J. did on the drums,
I said, “I pretty much want it to sound
like guitarmageddon.” He handed me the
Octave Clang and told me to plug it in.
After a few notes I said, “Yeah, that’s it.”
What about other effects?
Mike had an old Rat distortion pedal I
used for “Maybe Tomorrow,” which has
probably the weirdest solo on the album.
We had a vintage Boss chorus pedal, a vintage
MXR chorus pedal, and a Dimebag
Darrell wah-wah—my favorite wah—
hooked up for that. “Maybe Tomorrow”
was interesting because I wrote it as a very
up-tempo rock song and the lyrics were
completely different. I took it to Mike and
he said, “That’s not working for me.”
Joanne Shaw Taylor thwacks a 4th-string G while soloing on one of her Strats at a 2011 gig in Bilston, U.K.
Photo by Rob Stanley
Yeah, exactly. So we got in with the band
and Mike said, “J.J., what are you thinking
of on this?” And J.J. slowed it down a
lot and made it into what it is—that kind
of Dr. John voodoo groove. It sounded
really good, but the lyrics didn’t fit with
the music anymore, so we left that to the
very last minute. As we were finishing up
recording, I wrote new lyrics that would
fit the new feel. At that point, the whole
song became a sort of improvisation. I
put down that riff and thought, okay,
what else can we add to it?
Out of all the songs, that was the
one where we really didn’t know where
we were headed. We just built it up by
listening and seeing where it wanted to
go. Mike had hooked up a Roland Space
Echo and was making these weird sounds,
and I basically decided I was going to play
a couple of phrases and then intersperse
strange noises from the Space Echo. We just
went for some weird stuff, which was good
fun. That song was very produced. Mike
chopped and pasted guitar solos, and that
makes it more of a piece than a guitar solo.
It’s a jam song, all about the vibe.
“Army of One” sounds like you guys
were all just jamming in a circle around
a couple of mics.
We were, except we didn’t have the luxury of
a couple of mics. I think we had one. When
I wrote that song, I thought it was going to
sound like “Going Home” off the first record
and “Dead and Gone” off the second. Because
I have this fetish about writing traditional
blues lines I want to make modern, I always
write these evil blues songs I’d want to hear
in an episode of The Sopranos. Like you’re
driving through the city late at night and
you’ve got a body in your trunk. [Laughs.]
So this was another song like that, but
Mike said, “Let’s make it acoustic.” And I
said, “Really?” It was the last song we cut.
We all went out together to dinner that last
night and had a glass or two of wine, and
then stopped by the liquor store on the way
back to the studio and bought some tequila.
I see where this is going.
We all sat in this one little room. J.J. is on
the marching drum, Billy is playing slide,
David is on the mandolin, and then there’s
me on a hollowbody. Mike came into the
room—he’s the one you hear at the beginning
of the song telling us what the tempo
is because we’d all gotten so excited and
unruly we weren’t quite doing the job.
He had to come straighten you out.
Exactly! Dad had to come in and ruin the
fun. But we did the song in one take. It was
very organic, very last minute—a late-night
studio bonding experience. That song is one
of my favorites for sentimental reasons.
Taylor bought her ‘66 Esquire on London’s historic Denmark Street when she was 15, and had a
Seymour Duncan Jazz SH-2 placed in the neck. Photo by Rob Stanley
What guitar were you playing?
The hollowbody Harmony through a tiny little
amp—some 5-watt model Mike picked up
in Japan. We had it cranked but it just wasn’t
putting out. Most people think it’s a resonator,
actually. Half the time I tell them it’s not and
half the time I let them believe it is because I
don’t want to correct people. [Laughs.] That
guitar ended up fitting the song quite well.
I don’t think it sounds like an out-and-out
electric. It’s a welcome break on the album,
and I’ve never done an acoustic track before.
Tell us about the gear you use onstage.
I have my two staple guitars. One is a 1966
Esquire, which I’ve had for years and years—it’s my first guitar. When I was 15, I bought
it in London on Denmark Street [a historic
stretch of road known for its music shops
and recording studios]. At the time I was real
scared that my dad was going to beat the hell
out of me for taking a train down to London
at 15 and buying a ridiculously expensive
guitar with all my pocket money. But I got
it cheap because the previous owner had
attacked it with a knife. It had a gaping hole
near the neck, so I had a guitar tech dig it
out and add a humbucker there. That made
it kind of my dream Telecaster.
A Seymour Duncan Jazz [SH-2].
Is this Esquire your guitar with the pinup
girl on it? And if so, did you put that on
or was that from the previous owner?
Yeah, that’s the one, and I added the pinup girl.
My mother wasn’t very happy with that—in
fact, she was a little worried. You know how
moms are: “Why is my daughter putting a
picture of a pinup girl on her guitar? And why
is she playing guitar anyway?” Try being 15 and
attempting to explain to your mom why there’s
a half-naked lady on your guitar. It wasn’t
her favorite part of my youth, but she’s used
to it now. Moms just don’t get rock ’n’ roll,
that’s what I’ve learned, but I think the Annie
Lennox gig soothed mom’s issues. [In June
2012, Taylor played lead guitar in Lennox’s
band for a huge televised Diamond Jubilee
Concert in London honoring the Queen.]
Then there’s my Dave Stewart Telecaster,
which I’ve had on permanent loan for a
decade. It has a Warmoth Tele body, which
has a belly cut like a Strat, and a ’55 Fender
maple neck. That guitar is so heavy, it sounds
like a cross between a Tele and Les Paul.
I’ve seen recent photos of you onstage
with a Les Paul.
Yeah, that’s a new addition. It’s a 2008
Custom Shop model. A little bit lighter
than most—about nine pounds—with a
’60s neck. With my teeny, tiny girl hands,
I can’t play the big ol’ ’50s baseball-bat Les
Those are my main three guitars. I’ve
got a bunch of odds and sods, the kinds of
things I go into pawnshops to find. They’re
dirt cheap and I like them. I’ve got a Squier
51—Fender’s answer to a Telecaster/Strat
hybrid—that’s worth about 100 bucks. I
installed a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates
and pimped it out a little bit. Also a ’92
Tele and an ’88 Tele, which are both
pawnshop finds, and then a couple of
standard Strats, including one my grandmother
bought me. They’re pretty standard,
though I’ve replaced the pickups in
most of them.
And stage amps?
Live, I’ve been using a Louis Electric
KR-12 combo and a ’65 Bassman head
driving a 2x12 Marshall cab with standard
Celestion Greenback speakers. The
Bassman has been modded to ’62 specs,
and I use it for clean rhythm sounds like
on “Beautifully Broken,” “Lose Myself to
Loving You,” and “Diamonds in the Dirt.”
I’ve always been a huge fan of Bassmans. I
love the ’62 cream Tolex Bassmans—I just
think there’s nothing more beautiful. Even
if I ever have a child, I think I’d find the
Bassman more beautiful.
What does your pedalboard look like?
At the beginning of this year, I decided to
strip down my pedalboard. I’m a typical
guitar player, so I’ve gone through a bunch
of phases. I’ve had a pedalboard the size of a
Hammond B3, and it’s not fun to tour with
and lug around. So now I play through a
little board. I keep one in Australia, one
here in the U.S., and one in Europe, and
they’re all pretty much carbon copies.
I use three pedals from Mojo Hand FX—a
Recoil Delay, a Colossus Fuzz, and a Rook
Overdrive, which has replaced my Tube
Screamer. Other than that, I have a Way Huge
Aqua Puss delay, which I use for slapback, and
an MXR Dyna Comp, one of the old models.
These pedals give me pretty much everything
I need. I’ve also added a Death By Audio
Octave Clang for the solo on “Soul Station.”
Between the amps and different guitars, five or
six pedals are all I need to get the tones I want.
How about strings and picks?
I’m a devoted fan of Ernie Ball strings—
always have been. I use the Skinny Top
Heavy Bottom sets, gauged .010–.052.
I tune down a half-step—mostly for my
voice, because I have a slightly lower register—
and I used to play with .011s. But
then I grew up and realized I have female
hands and I’d have to stop playing in 10
years if I continued using big-boy strings. I
don’t have Jimi Hendrix’s hands!
I’ve just started using the Dunlop Eric
Johnson signature picks, the little jazz picks.
I find those plectrums really help with righthand
control. It’s not so much for speed,
but for making sure the notes ring nicely.
Joanne Shaw Taylor’s Gear
Customized 1966 Fender Esquire,
Warmoth T-style with ’55 Fender
Telecaster maple neck, 2008
Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul,
Fender Squier 51, various production
’65 Fender Bassman head
and 2x12 Marshall cab with
Celestion Greenback speakers,
Louis Electric KR-12
MXR Dyna Comp, Way Huge
Aqua Puss delay, Death By Audio
Octave Clang, and Mojo Hand FX
Recoil, Colossus, and Rook
Strings and Picks
Ernie Ball Skinny Top Heavy
Bottom sets, Eric Johnson
Classic Jazz III picks
In the liner notes for Almost Always
Never, you’re credited with all electric
guitars and vocals, as well as playing
something called Gordon on “Piece of
the Sky” and “Lose Myself to Loving
You.” What’s that?
Well, there’s some background to this
story. Mike puts his name on everything—every microphone has “property of Mike
McCarthy” on it, for example. When I took
that first studio tour, I looked around and
thought, okay, that’s the sign of a control
freak. After I got to know Mike I teased
him about it, saying it was like a child
going to school for the first time and his
mom puts his name in his underpants.
Fortunately he took it well.
One day when Mike and I were going
over the songs before the band came in, he
said, “I’ve seen this 1960s Gibson acoustic in
Guitar Center and I want to buy it. The only
problem is, the previous owner was obviously
a kid and he put giant orange letters on it to
spell out his name. It’s a beautiful ’60s Gibson
with these really gross, plastic letters spelling
Gordon.” I said, “Well, buy it anyway.” And
the next day he brings that guitar in.
Do you know what model Gibson?
I think it was a J-45. So that’s what I played
on those two songs. It was just funny that
he found his dream acoustic guitar and
some kid had put his name across it in
giant orange letters. Karma. So Gordon is
just an acoustic guitar, but you have to call
it by its proper name.