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Gibson honored Tom Scholz this past year with the Collector’s Choice #10 Tom Scholz 1968 Les Paul. Prior to the recording of the first Boston album, Scholz stripped the gold finish from the original vintage goldtop this replica is modeled after, revealing the underlying natural maple. Scholz added a DiMarzio Super Distortion humbucking pickup in the bridge, while retaining the guitar’s original P-90 in the neck. He also replaced the original Klusons with the Schaller M6 tuners
that were popular at the time.
There are such killer overdriven sounds and lush effects throughout the record—did you use the Rockman?
The Rockman has always been my go-to unit. I try to do everything analog as much as possible, not only overdrive but also analog effects like echo and chorus. It’s impossible to duplicate these sounds with digital technology. Going from analog to digital or vice versa, phase error angle gets introduced, and it isn’t pretty.
My favorite is my Space Echo pedal—not a device I ever offered for sale or patented because it’s so very hard to build that I’ve only ever been able to make two. Using the pedal is like trying to get a finicky old racing car up to peak performance. I’ve used it to make crazy sounds, like on “Foreplay” going into “Long Time” and for those giant-sounding pick slides throughout my career including moments on the new record.
What do you use for amps, picks, and strings?
I recorded with an old Marshall head that I’ve affectionately dubbed “Mars,” as the “hall” fell off the logo a long time ago. It’s same amp I’ve played for more than 30 years. I’ve always used standard Fender medium picks for guitar. For bass I play about half the time with my fingers and the other half I used a Fender heavy pick. I also use regular Fender electric guitar strings, though a pretty unconventional setup, very thin on top, .08 on the 1st string, and heavier on the bottom, .044 on the 6th.
While Tom Scholz always composes parts that best serve the song, this 2012 performance offers proof that he’s also a wild, virtuosic improviser.
Did you have to adjust your technique to use such light treble strings?
It requires me to be very cognizant of the pressure I use for vibrato and for bending, and to have a light touch for chord work. The reason I prefer light strings is that I like to tune my guitar slightly flatter than concert tuning because it’s easy to bend the strings to come up into a note but pretty much impossible to do the opposite. I find that by controlling the pressure I put on the neck and strings, sometimes by pulling on the neck to raise the pitch, it’s easier to fit in with the overall tuning of the band. So I usually tune about 10 cents flat live, and you can hear some very subtle differences in pitch when I’m playing in unison with Gary [Pihl]. Also, I sometimes use a device called a gang tuner that allows me to retune all of the strings at the same time, a half step in either direction.
To what degree did improvisation factor into the new guitar solos?
Everything I do is improvised. I have absolutely no idea in the studio what I’m going to play for any given lead. When I did the first Boston album, I had all the material in demo form, and when making the official album I had to try to go back and play everything exactly like on the demos. I found that to be agonizing. I was never sure if I was playing something exactly the same. What I like most is to have an idea for a basic melody, but not to have to worry note-for-note what I’ll play for some fast part. I like to do whatever fills or licks my mood dictates in the moment. I’m lucky to have been able to do just that for 30-odd years.