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Mike, Fred Taccone of Divided by 13 Amplifiers works on your Bassmans. What type of stuff does he do to your heads?
Ness: [Laughs.] I don’t exactly know what he does to my amps, but I know that I look for a hotter, more overdriven tone at a lower volume. To get a great, rockin’ tone with most older amps, you need to push the amp and its power tubes. I was just looking for a way to heat ’em up at a lower volume so I wasn’t blown off the stage.
Jonny, what special needs do you have with amps?
Wickersham: I’m not a big fan of master volume amps. I know there are several different ways to configure the wiring and inputs for them, but in any application I’ve used them in, they sound thin, with no oomph, and have unpleasant, brash overtones because of the preamp having to do so much work. With those old Marshalls and the Satellites I’ve been using, I just crank ’em up and get the tubes cooking to get that big, natural power-tube sound. I also use a Variac to get my tone at a volume my ears and body can handle [laughs].
You guys don’t use a lot of pedals, but have you discovered anything new that you like lately?
Ness: The only stompbox I used in the studio and on tour currently is my tried-and-true Boss SD-1 distortion box. I really only use it during certain solos or parts where I just want to push it a bit hotter without losing too much definition.
Wickersham: I used to love my second-generation Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer, but I’ve grown weary of that tone. I was producing this band called the Strangers, and they had a really cool pedal called the Tone Freak Naked OD. It’s right in between a distortion box and ’60s fuzz, with this nice, open, sloppy overdrive that adds some hair but never gets too loose or undefined that it’s out of control.
Because he injured his fretting hand during his youth—and because it aids his
singing—Ness often uses a capo at the second fret.
Mike, you injured your left hand when you were a kid. How has that affected your playing?
Ness: It’s definitely very limiting, and I’ve had to adapt just like anyone else with an injury. I can’t bend my left index finger any further than 90 degrees at the first knuckle, so I have to make an A minor chord with my second, third, and fourth fingers. Since I don’t have the full use of all four digits, it changes what blues scales I can do efficiently—and the manner I can do them in. I’d be a lot better guitar player if I had all four fingers working normally [laughs].
I also tend to use the capo quite a bit, because it puts less stress on my hand when I go to make certain open chords—plus it allows me to sing in a different key, which is more of a comfort thing. I love using open chords, because they’re just full and thick and can ring out forever—especially with my Deluxes.
Speaking of long-view things, one of the most notable things throughout Social Distortion’s history is the personal, honest nature of your lyrics and stories. Where does that come from?
Ness: [Laughs.] Life, man, life—that’s the greatest inspiration source I’ve had. The funny thing about it is that you can’t control when it comes to you. It just hits you when it wants to, and you’re at inspiration’s mercy. I believe every person has a gift or ability. Some people are mechanically inclined, others are gifted with a brilliant mind, some are artistically creative, and I’m just lucky that I’ve been blessed to put lyrics together and tell a story through my music.