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Leaning in toward his ’67 Bassman and Marshall 4x10 cab, Ness conjures some juicy feedback.
Which guitars did you use most for the new album?
Ness: My absolute favorite guitar right now is a ’76 Deluxe goldtop with a mahogany body, a maple neck, and custom Seymour Duncan P-90s—and I usually capo it at the second fret. The other one I used a lot is my number-one early ’70s Deluxe sunburst, which has a mahogany body and neck. That has P-90s, too. Those Deluxes are like the perfect combination you’d see on an old hot-rod dragster—once you find a winning setup, you don’t want to deviate from it at all.
Wickersham: Man, I wish I could find more spots for my Tele, because I love that guitar and how it sounds. But for the majority of the tracks I used my ’57 Les Paul Juniors. One is a tobacco burst that is a bit darker sounding and the TV yellow one has a hotter pickup, like in the 8 kHz range—but it’s not so hot that it’s too bright. It’s a nice contrast with the darker, tobacco burst because it has a little bit more top-end and clarity. For the solo on “California (Hustle and Flow),” I used a friend’s ’54 Les Paul goldtop with original PAFs. It gives that track’s guitar parts a little more focus and precision with this cool, honky hollowness that adds another layer to the song.
You play your vintage guitars under the hot lights where they get sweat and beer all over them. Why not keep them at home in their cases and use reissues for the road?
Ness: Well, mine are still pretty affordable because they’re older, but they’re not Holy Grail vintage. That’s what I like about my ’70s Deluxes—whether it’s the all-mahogany ones or the ones with maple necks [Ed.: Gibson changed the neck construction from mahogany to maple in 1975]—I can get a great vintage tone without playing a $25,000 guitar onstage.
Wickersham: I’m only going to do this thing once, so why not play the shit—that’s why Leo and the guys at Gibson built them, right? [Laughs.]
Jonny, you also use VOS Gibsons. What do you think of those?
Wickersham: They’re great guitars that are well built and a solid option if you can’t get an original, but I put different pickups in them because the standard VOS pickups have a thin, pointy tone that’s not very versatile. I generally put Luther Lee P-90s in them, because they tend to be thicker, more responsive, and have a woodier, more natural tone.
Speaking of P-90s, Mike you’re a big fan of P-90s, too.
Ness: I’ve always loved the creamy, smooth tone that Neil Young had during the Ragged Glory tour, so I asked his tech Larry Cragg about Neil’s setup. The biggest thing he said that gave him that tone was the P-90s in his Les Pauls. I was used to playing humbuckers, but after putting a pair of custom Seymour Duncan P-90s into one of my ’70s Deluxes, the resulting tone was a bit brighter, a little warmer, and more transparent than the humbuckers. But what I really liked about them was their solid midrange, distorted creaminess, and their ability to still hold definition when put through an overdriven tube amp. I’ll put up with the hum any day to have my current tone.
What amps have you been using?
Ness: My first amp was a Bassman with a 2x12 extension cab. I didn’t even know how to play yet, but I knew the amp had to be up to 10 to sound good. It would carry all the way through the neighborhood, and the cops would come over and say, “If you’re going to play that loud, why don’t you learn to play ‘Smoke on the Water’ right?” [Laughs.] Once I got the combination of a Bassman head, Marshall 4x10 with 30-watt Celestions, and a Les Paul Deluxe with a P-90 in the bridge position [Ed.: Ness tapes all his pickup selectors down so he doesn’t accidentally switch out of bridge position], I knew I wouldn’t be changing anything. And that was over 15 years ago. That ’67 Bassman is like a small-block Chevy—it always starts and gets me where I’m going. For this record, I primarily used my ’67 Bassman, but there were a few overdubs and layered parts where I used Jonny’s Satellite FM36 [Ed.: The FM36 is now known as the Atom 36], which has a class-A, Supro- or Valco-kind of vibe that really complements the Bassman.
Wickersham: I used my ’60s Vox AC30 Top Boost and my Satellite FM36 head. Both were going through my two Marshall 1960TV 4x12s, and we blended the tones for my tracks.
Jonny, how did you get turned on to Satellite heads?
Wickersham: I was doing a show in San Diego and my buddy said I had to check out these amps that were built in town. So they both came down before the show and Adam [Grimm, of Satellite Amps] brought one of his first heads, and we plugged it into my Marshall TV 4x12s. I remember I was playing my ’59 Junior and all I could think was, “Man, this is happening.” At the time, I was using a ’69 plexi and a ’72 metal-faced Marshall—amps that make people look at me like I’m crazy to have them onstage—but the Satellite was just bringing it as well as those old Marshalls. And for what we do—onstage and recording— Adam’s 36-watt head is perfect. I mean, I was spoiled for years with those two Marshalls, but the Satellite heads I’ve been using are exceptional. Everyone tends to hang tightly to those sought-after guitars and amps—including yours truly—but the great thing about gear is trying new stuff and being happily surprised.