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more... ArtistsAdrian BelewApril 2009

Talking Guitar: An Interview with Adrian Belew

My favorite thing about the guitar is this: it makes me play better. I can’t really give anything a better endorsement than that. It absolutely makes me play better. I play with more fluidity… smoother, faster. I can do things I can’t do on other guitars with the Parker Fly. The next thing about it that attracted me was, of course, the tremolo arm. I’m very picky about tremolo arms, because I abuse them to death. That’s a problem, because [guitars] usually don’t come back in tune so easily. The Parker Fly does; it stays perfectly in tune. I can bend the notes up a third, or dive bomb them all the way down, and the guitar comes right back in tune. It still kind of amazes me. [laughs]

Even though the Parker Fly comes equipped with a piezo pickup and some DiMarzios— they’re great sounding guitars anyway. They resonate, you can get a lot of sounds out of them—I still wanted more sound qualities from them. What really makes my signature guitar different from a normal Parker Fly are the electronics. Mine is a MIDI-capable guitar, which means you can play it through any MIDI device: guitar synthesizer, keyboards, samplers, anything you’ve got, you can now trigger with your guitar. And that was a very important thing to me, since I’ve used guitar synthesizers pretty much since they started. The second thing was something I’ve always relied on, which is called the Sustainiac [pickup]. I’m sure most guitar players know what it is—it gives you infinite sustain, which is great for playing solos or trying to mimic violin lines, or just getting feedback. There are so many uses for the Sustainiac that I didn’t want a guitar that didn’t have it.

To make it the most modern, up-to-date, state-of-the-art guitar I could have, we put in the Line 6 Variax system. That in itself is an incredible technology, which allows you to have 25 different types of guitars at your fingertips. They all sound and react like the real things, which is amazing. When you play it, you really feel like you’re just playing a guitar that sounds like a banjo. It’s great. I couldn’t leave it out when I was designing what I thought would be the Ferrari of electric guitars.

The last difference with my signature model is the paint jobs. I’m a vintage car nut, so I studied cars a lot and how they do paint finishes. I went to the idea of using PPG custom car paint, like you would see at a really nice custom car show. It looks you could stick your hand down into that color. It’s a 12-stage paint job in itself, which is a quite a chore. We picked out different colors that lend themselves to great lighting on stage, and the colors will change and shimmer, and they’ll have little subtleties in them. That makes it more of a modern sculpture-guitar to me, and that’s one of the things that first attracted me. So, all of that put together—oh man! I’m the happiest man… you can’t believe how happy I am to play this guitar! [laughs]

You know, when I was at NAMM, that orange one on display just totally caught my eye—it’s one of the coolest looking guitars. I love the way it locks onto your body when you play it. Yes, it’s like I said before; it makes you play better. Anybody who sits down and plays a Parker Fly for a while will say, “This neck is better than any neck I’ve ever played.” Because it just is. It’s perfect. I don’t know how you could do it better. When you go back to your heavier, thicker necks and heavier guitars, you kind of scratch your head.

With your live rig, I know you’re a big fan of using modeling amps like the Johnson, and the Vetta. What’s your current live rig with the Power Trio going to be like?

Well, it depends on whether we’re playing in the US or internationally. When we play outside the US, as we did a lot this past year, I can only take what we call my “baby rig.” The “baby rig” is a Johnson amp head only, and being as light as a fly, which is why it’s calleda few floor pedals, including a Boomerang looper. When I go to Australia or Europe or Japan… they provide the cabinets to run the amp through, and I bring the least amount of stuff I can. I much prefer… [laughs] the US “big rig.” It gets bigger every day, because they are so many nice things that are being invented and changing the world of guitar playing. It’s hard not to stay in the game, not want to have some of those things. I now run basically three different systems at once. One is the Johnson system: a Johnson amp and a cabinet. I invested so much time and effort into that. It was one of the first modeling amps I found over the years, and I do things with it that I can’t get anything else to do. So, I still use Johnson, even though they’ve been out of business for many years. I buy as many of them I can find. The second amp system is the Vetta. I use that for flavors and different sounds that I don’t get out of the Johnson. Sometimes I’ll bring the Vetta in over the top of the Johnson sound, to get that thicker, overdub type of guitar sound. Sometimes I’ll switch over to the Vetta for some special lead sounds. It’s got a lot of nice sounds in it, being a Line 6 device.

The third thing I use is the Bose L1 setup. In fact, I have two of them, and they are the towers you see. The technology is incredible. How they make this happen I don’t know, but I went to the Bose factory and they demonstrated it for me. It has a different kind of dispersion than anything else. If you stand in front of a guitar amp and move two feet to the right, you’ll get a slightly different sound. If you move to the back of the room, you’ll get a totally different sound. Not true with the Bose L1. It has a 360 degree dispersion, and they do truly sound about the same anywhere you are in the whole room. You can walk up to them while you’re playing, and they don’t get louder—they’re the same as when you were 40 feet away. I use them because they’re a high-end product. I use them for their great fidelity, because I do use guitar synthesizer. I do play my guitar through a keyboard. I make loops, which the band then plays to. All those things come through the Bose L1s. It’s especially good in the looping area because the band can hear it really well. They no longer need to have so much extra monitoring or anything. They can hear it just coming out of my guitar rig.

Can you tell us what lies in the future for King Crimson?

I wish I could. As everyone knows Robert Fripp is the leader of the band. I’ve always thought that was the way it should be. I respect that, and try to respect Robert’s wishes in most everything that King Crimson does. Right now, he doesn’t want to tour, he doesn’t want to play or write any new material. It’s not that he’s angry with anybody, it’s just where he is in his life right now. It’s not on his mind to do that—he has other things. So, it’s down to waiting for Robert to say he’s ready to play some more shows, or write some more songs. What I do know about him is that when he’s ready he’ll say so. When it does happen, I hope that I’m still there!

Adrian's Gear Box
Note: Adrian is in the process of creating a computer system to use instead of the standard effects/amp signal chain.
* = Used in the “baby rig”
Parker Adrian Belew Signature
Fly Deluxe with MIDI*
Roland GR-30 Guitar Synth
Korg MS2000 Keyboard

2 Johnson Millennium 150s*
J12 Footcontroller *
2 Line 6 Vetta IIs
2 Bose L1 Towers
(for keyboards, synth, loops)
Roland VG-99
Digitech Jimi Hendrix*
Digitech Whammy*
Digitech Harmony Man
Analogman Peppermint Fuzz Box
Pigtronix Disnortion
Keeley Compressor*
Eventide Timefactor
GigFX Chopper
Boomerang Plus Looper*
Roland FC-300 MIDI Controller
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