Magnatone Giveawya

August Issue
more... GuitaristsAugust 2011Keith Urban

Keith Urban: Aspiring Outlaw

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Keith Urban: Aspiring Outlaw

Urban’s main stage instrument was also waterlogged but successfully revived. Nicknamed “Clarence,” it’s a Fender 40th Anniversary Telecaster obtained at Manny’s Music during the musician’s first visit to the United States. According to Urban’s guitar tech, Chris Miller, over the years the guitar has had “every pickup combination under the sun put in it at one time or another.” During the restoration process, Miller set about returning the instrument to its original state before subsequently launching new pickup experiments. Of course, no guitar could go through so much physical devastation and remain tonally unchanged. However, Urban says the tone has changed for the better as a result of the flood and restoration.

“I think it sounds a little more unique now than it did prior to going into the river,” Urban says.

Asked about his ultimate tone, Urban says he loves amps that have lots of headroom without sounding sterile. To that end, he owns many revered amplifiers—including a Dumble Overdrive Special and an EL34-driven, 45-watt Trainwreck Express, both of which feature prominently on Get Closer. However, he’s sticking to old Fenders and Marshalls—a purple 100-watt 1969 Marshall Super Bass head and a mid-’60s blackface Fender Showman—on the road. Miller says the amps are routed through two vintage Marshall 4x12 speaker cabinets loaded with Electro-Voice speakers and two Alessandro open-backed 2x12s, so that each head goes through six speakers, “as loud as I can get them without them breaking up.”

No Vintage Snob
Despite his drool-inducing collection of old 6-strings and amps, Urban’s arsenal also includes some offbeat acquisitions.

“He has a thing for cheap guitars with a funky, lo-fi vibe,” guitar tech Miller laughs. “He owns several old Airlines and Teiscos that were damaged in the flood and have yet to be put back in working order. He recently got another Teisco that [Nashville tech] Joe Glaser is improving so it can be used during a gig—the bridge is a little dodgy.”

Urban himself ascribes the habit of buying these overlooked instruments to a Charlie Brown-like desire to take care of an item everyone else ignores.

“I often buy or go to the store and look for the ugliest runt guitar and bring it home because I feel sorry for it,” he says. “I often think about the 10-year-old kid at our concert who is checking out all the brands of the guitars. I always loved Tom Petty and those guys with the quirkiest, weirdest guitars. I like to remind kids that if you’ve got a hundred bucks, you can go and buy a great guitar that is going to get you where you want to go. You don’t have to have thousands of dollars to get a solo happening!”


The Aussie star strums an Em chord on an Eric Clapton Signature Strat with Lace Sensor pickups.

Taking It on the Road
Typically, studio versions of tunes are rearranged and adjusted for live performances—for instance, maybe a long intro is shortened or adjusted to make up for lack of an orchestra—and to a limited degree, Urban has done so for his current tour. For example, he kicks things off with “Put You in a Song,” the first single from Get Closer. Urban says the song has been stretched and elongated to the point of functioning almost like a remix. He also explains that other tunes have to be tweaked because delicate lines and musical textures aren’t necessarily going to translate well to large arenas.

“Like in ‘Long Hot Summer,’” which begins with a warm, Andy Summers-like arpeggio, “the important piece is the electric riffs,” Urban says. “The banjo has a nice sound to it on the record, but it’s not something you would miss live. So I would probably put my guy onto some other instrument that sounds more needed in a live situation.” As for the song’s Police-esque vibe, Urban says, “It definitely comes from that ‘Message in a Bottle’- kind of place, but the actual lyrics were inspired by a song called ‘Short Memory’ by Midnight Oil. ‘Short Memory’ is completely different, but the arpeggiated intro always stayed with me, and this is sort of a sped-up version of that with a couple of chord changes.”

Other than the live adjustments made to “Long Hot Summer,” Urban says his set doesn’t require as much alteration as you might think. “I’ve gotten to the point where I record songs like I would probably play them live anyway, y’know?” he says. “Like long solos on the outros, if the songs require them. That’s definitely an ode to the Dire Straits records I grew up with, which had three-minute outros—almost like a part two of the song.”
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