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more... ArtistsGuitaristsJuly 2014GibsonThe War on Drugs

The War on Drugs: Driving Music for the American Dreamscape

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TWOD's Adam Granduciel contorts the tone of his 1976 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe by manually tweaking the knobs of his stomps during a show earlier this year at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom. Photo by Colin McLaughlin

You’re known to be a real gear aficionado—talk about your guitars.
I’ve got a ’76 Les Paul Deluxe that I love. It’s really light—lighter even than a Telecaster, and I don’t know exactly why. I do know that it plays really nice and sounds so good with those mini humbuckers. I bought it in 2012 when I quit smoking while on tour for Slave Ambient, since I figured I’d be saving money by not buying cigarettes.

The first nice guitar I ever bought was when I was on tour with Thurston Moore, in the summer of 2011. I was at Old Town Music, in Portland, when I saw a ’65 non-reverse Firebird. It wasn’t museum-quality—the body was sanded, it was stained dark, and it had Lollar P-90s. At one point, someone decided to put banjo tuners on the guitar and enlarged three of the holes on the headstock, but then decided against it and filled the holes back in. But I loved the guitar so I bought it.

Right now I’m really into the Les Paul and use the Firebird as a backup. But I’d love to find a second Deluxe for a backup, so that I can use the Firebird more as its own thing. I’d also love to find a sweet Jazzmaster, maybe a Japanese-made one from the ’90s, that I can put replacement pickups into and really have fun with. I borrowed one from a friend and used it all over the record, but I’ve never found another that I both like and can afford. I’m getting a Mexican Tele from a friend. It’s got really nice hardware—Seymour Duncan pickups and a Bigsby. It’ll be fun to have and add a new flavor to my music.

“I love analog tape delays, but for live use I don’t need analog. A little digital delay with the mix low and the feedback high works well for getting trails and letting the notes fly around a little.”

I’ve also got a really cool Ampeg by Burns of London guitar. You can see it on the back cover of the new album. It kind of looks like a Strat, and it’s got a really cool sound—very bright and Telecaster-like. I also have a few random acoustics, like an old Silvertone archtop that I recently got at a shop when I was on tour—like Neil Young used to do. It’s so cool to pick up these kinds of souvenirs on the road, because then they’re associated with good memories of this time and the people I’ve made music with. And I’d much rather have a 1960s Silvertone that I found for $200 than a new pedal that anyone can buy.

What about pedals?
First in my chain is a custom fuzz—it’s silicon-based, with two knobs that I turn all the way up. I just struck up a relationship with Wren and Cuff to make me a knockoff Big Muff that will go after my volume pedal as a second fuzz, to take things a notch louder. I’ve got a couple of MXR Flangers, the old ones, and a HardWire RV-7 stereo reverb. I love analog tape delays, but for live use I don’t need analog. A little digital delay with the mix low and the feedback high works well for getting trails and letting the notes fly around a little. Plus, unlike an old unit, the HardWire is so durable.

I’ve got an old Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man, too. I mostly use this just as a chorus pedal. The two different outs go to different pedals and different amps, so it sounds less chorus-y, like the Cure, but really wide. The Memory Man is pretty fragile, and it worries me to take it on the road, but it turns my whole sound into this whole other thing: darker, more distorted, and just awesome. I also have a Moogerfooger tremolo pedal, a Wren and Cuff Phat Phuk germanium boost, and at the end of the chain, an Ibanez Echo Shifter if I want to create washes.

YouTube It

The War on Drugs’ full live performance on Seattle’s KEXP offers an intimate look at Adam Granduciel’s epic approach to guitar and songcraft.

I have a ton of other stuff too—older gear I don’t use on tour—but I don’t know if the older pedals can hold up on the road. Their input jacks might go out, and their power gets weird. Plus, I want to keep my rig reasonably sized for flying and playing in Europe. On the other hand, traveling in America is a little easier, so maybe I’ll be able to bring along things like my old Electro-Harmonix Stereo Pulsar, this awesome tremolo pedal.

And amps?
I have a 1994 Vox AC30 and a ’70s Fender Bassman 50 head that runs into a Marshall 2x12 cab. The Marshall started life as a 50-watt JMP combo. I found it for $500, which would have been a great deal, but then I saw that the amplifier had been ripped out and it was just an open-back cabinet. But it sounds so great with the Bassman. I used a Leslie speaker a lot on the record, but I didn’t want to go down the wormhole of taking it on the road, so I just bought a Fender Vibratone from Main Drag Music in Brooklyn. I use this with a second Bassman and its own cabinet, kicking the Vibratone into a fast setting whenever it’s appropriate.

I also like collecting smaller amps. While we were in Portland on the last tour, I found a Marshall Specialist from the early ’70s, which has reverb and the deepest, best-sounding tremolo. It’s a 25-watter that was probably built to compete with the Fender Princeton. I brought the Specialist on tour and used it on the last couple of shows, but I don’t travel with it now, as I fear it just might blow up. I read online that Marshall stopped making these amps because they were a fire hazard. I have a late-’60s Traynor 25-watt with one 12" speaker and great tremolo and reverb. And I’ve got a couple old Fender Champs, too. I’m just collecting stuff as I tour. There won’t always be a time in my life when I can buy an amp without thinking too much about it and just toss it in the trailer.
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