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Guitars on Broadway: Book of Mormon, Rock of Ages, and Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark

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Guitars on Broadway: Book of Mormon, Rock of Ages, and Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark

Book of Mormon

When most people hear a new musical is taking Broadway by storm, they figure it’s got over-the-top production, well-crafted songs, and that palpable energy that only a live musical can create. And with Book of Mormon, the Tony-winning musical from the same twisted minds that brought us South Park, you can add plenty of dirty jokes and crude humor to the list, too.

Guitarist Jake Schwartz has been holding down the guitar chair since the early stages of development. “My road to Mormon started back in 2003, when I started subbing on Wicked, where Stephen Oremus was the original conductor and music director. A few years later, Stephen called me to play a developmental reading for a show written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Bobby Lopez. I ended up doing several readings over the course of three years, so I guess that was my audition process.”

Breaking into Broadway takes many different paths, but Schwartz says projecting a good vibe and networking with other guitarists and music directors opens doors. After subbing on everything from Footloose and Mary Poppins to Jersey Boys and The Lion King, he landed his first chair gig in the short-lived (and very bloody) production of Evil Dead: The Musical. Schwartz’s advice is to track down the chair players and politely email them to let them know who you are—but don’t be pushy. He also says not to sweat it if you don’t hear back right away. “Subbing is a great opportunity to show people what you can do and make good money. Word of mouth is extremely powerful on Broadway, so if you do a good job, it will likely lead to other subbing opportunities.”

On an average day, Schwartz shows up 30 minutes before the show to tune his instruments and make sure his gear is in working order. Unlike Spider-Man and Rock of Ages, his rig for Mormon consists of a more traditional guitar-intoeffects- into-amp setup. “I was just bringing my Tele and acoustic guitar to the readings, but as we moved to Broadway we added other instruments that sounded good on certain songs,” he says. Along with his G&L ASAT Deluxe and Martin D-16RGT, he uses an Ibanez Pat Metheny PM 35 archtop on “Hello” and “Turn It Off,” and a Takamine TC132SC nylon-string.

Book of Mormon Gear

Guitars
G&L ASAT Deluxe with DiMarzio Noiseless pickups, Ibanez Pat Metheny PM 35, Takamine TC132SC nylonstring, Martin D-16RGT, Fender Strat with DiMarzio Injector and Lindy Fralins

Effects
MXR Phase 90, Dunlop Cry Baby wah, Fulltone OCD, Pro Co Rat, MXR Micro Chorus, Boss volume pedal, Wampler Faux Tape Echo, Boss TR-2 tremolo

Amps
Mesa/Boogie Express 5:25

Strings, Picks, and Accessories
GHS Boomers (.011-.052), GHS phosphor-bronze acoustic strings (.013-.056), GHS La Classique medium-high-tension nylon strings, GHS Precision Flatwounds (.012-.050), Moshay 107-Blue-Small (thick) picks, Boss TU-2 tuner, Avalon U5 DI/preamp

As the more laidback setups imply, there are also a few points in the show where the band is allowed to let loose. On the two shred numbers, “Man Up” and “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” Schwartz brings in a Fender Strat that he hot-rodded with a DiMarzio Paul Gilbert Injector bridge pickup, Lindy Fralin Vintage Hot single-coils, a Callaham steel bridge, and Schaller locking tuners. “It’s a surprisingly great-feeling and playing guitar that’s very versatile and can handle EVHstyle dive bombs and still stay in tune. And then, as the audience is leaving the theater, we get to improvise and rock out—which is a lot of fun.”

But while Schwartz gets some freedom to add little licks and embellishments, he says, “I make a point to keep the overall presentation of the music as consistent as possible. There’s someone sitting in the audience, seeing the show for the very first time, and I want to be sure they get the most accurate interpretation of the show musically—especially if they’ve already bought the cast album.”

Recording a “cast album” is part of the gig for the chair musicians who join a musical as it’s getting off the ground. The sessions for the Mormon cast album took place over the course of two days, right before the show opened. “We were in the studio from the morning until early evening, and then I packed up my guitars and pedalboard and ran to the theater to play the show that night. It was a very exciting time—we were just doing our best, hoping we’d get some decent reviews and have a job for a bit when we opened two days later.”

Watch our Rig Rundown:

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