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Step by Step: An Interview with Tom Riepl

What’s the secret of your signature tone gear-wise?

There is no secret. It’s basically the ES-345, a good cable and the Diezel’s 3rd channel with the gain control halfway up. Or the same guitar with the Rodenberg Tomtone pedal and any tube combo amp. Well, I don’t dial in treble and presence as much as many others might do. I’d rather turn back the treble controls of the amps in order to get a smoother tone. I prefer a warm overdriven sound, and I like to hear all the little nuances of the fingers and the pick. Except for a small amount of reverb and subtle delay, I don’t use effects very often. I keep it simple, maybe that’s the secret. And the rest, I think, is heart and soul, fingers and touch, kind of…

I will always remember performing at the Ibanez booth during the Musikmesse in Frankfurt in 1999. I played three shows every day, doing some original tunes and Lee Ritenour’s “Rio Funk.” After the first day, I became pretty insecure about my choice of music, because all the other Ibanez artists were shredding at warp speed while I was doing my comparatively relaxed fusion and blues stuff. And every time I performed, there was a certain guy always watching me, a very sophisticated Japanese gentleman who seemed to like what I did. He turned out to be Mike Shimada of Ibanez, and on the last day of that fair, he said to me very softly and with this nice Japanese accent, “I’ve seen you play every day, and you were very good; so now we’ll build a signature guitar for you…” I couldn’t believe it, but it all came true! I was the first German guitarist to get his own Ibanez signature guitar, and the RG-PB-Tom is indeed a great instrument.

You use Rodenberg equipment a lot. Can you tell us more about it?

Rodenberg GAS pedals are all handmade using only the highest quality parts. I think these are the best overdrive pedals on the market. I didn’t know about these boxes until I read the booklet of Lee Ritenour’s album Smoke N Mirrors, where he mentioned using a GAS-808 pedal. I got curious and called Ulrich Rodenberg, who was very friendly and sent me two of his pedals to try out. I liked these overdrives immediately, and after a few more phone calls, Rodenberg suggested designing a signature pedal for me. I sent him a plan with all the specs I wanted and tried to explain exactly how it should sound. He understood exactly what I wanted, and approximately three months later the Tomtone overdrive hit the market. It’s the second-best-selling pedal of the whole Rodenberg line. Since then, I’ve endorsed Rodenberg products. There are only two official
Tom Riepl's Gearbox
Gibson ES-335, ES-345 and ES-355
Gibson Les Paul RI 58 and 59
Gibson Hummingbird
Fender Contemporary Strat
Fender Danny Gatton Telecaster
PRS Custom Signature
Ibanez Tom Riepl Signature
Staufer Dixiecaster
Carvin CS6T
Diezel VH4 Custom
Mesa Boogie MK II (1983)
Badcat Cub 15R
Fuchs Overdrive Supreme
Rodenberg GAS-809 Tomtone signature overdrive
Rodenberg GAS 707, 808 and 909
Rodenberg Flux Capacitor overdrive
Fulltone Fulldrive II
Fulltone OCD
Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive
BSM RM treble booster
Boss Chorus
Excalibur Analog Delay
Danelectro Dan Echo
MXR Dynacomp
Dunlop Cry Baby
Dunlop Jazz III picks
Singlecoil premium guitar cables "tweed"
Ernie Ball pure nickel strings (.010 - .046)
Graphit ALL guitar lube
Peterson strobe tuner
DVD of the Back To The Future
movie trilogy for timeless inspiration
Click next to see photos of Tom's gear
endorsers; the other is the great Lee Ritenour. The 707 pedal is also great. It’s a clean boost that makes for an amazing clean sound and works almost like an exciter. Not long ago, the brand-new Rodenberg amps were introduced. All tube, all hand wired, very good and very expensive…

If you had to go to a desert island and were only allowed to take one guitar, one amp and one stomp box with you, what would they be?

My Gibson ES-345, my Bad Cat combo, because it’s built like a tank and very reliable, which is important on a desert island, and my Rodenberg Tomtone signature pedal. I hope there’s electricity on that island…

What are your plans for the future?

I want to do another concept album in order to complete a trilogy that started with Hollymood and was followed by my latest CD, Radio Moonlight. I have a few good ideas already, but I’m still looking for a proper concept. I also want to improve my composing and arranging skills as well as following an even more free improvisation approach, which generally speaking means trying to avoid memorized licks. And I definitely plan to do more gigs. I’d love touring with a funky old-style R&B or soul band. Apart from that, I try to stay healthy and live a balanced life. Making too many plans in advance isn’t always good, because you’d only be disappointed if something you had planned won’t happen. So I better keep working, keep my eyes and ears open, and see what the future brings.

Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers about practicing and developing a unique style and tone?

If you’re starting to learn guitar and want to become a good player, the most important thing is to keep your ears open! Listen to every style you can and try to figure out what's going on. Listen to the blues! A lot of great guitar music is based on blues, and many famous rock, jazz, country and fusion players have those deep blues roots.
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