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Paul Gilbert on Recording What If ...
You’re involved with a lot of projects— from Mr. big to solo records, teaching, and racer X reunions. What’s especially challenging about playing with Mr. big?
Mr. Big has heavy songs, ballads, and everything in between, so it’s a challenge to get the right sound for each song. I need a big, crunchy metal sound for “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy,” where “Just Take My Heart” is super clean and compressed. “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind” and “Take Cover” are more jangly, so I have to find a balance between a clean sound with enough overdrive to still make it rock. And there’s “To Be With You,” which is acoustic. I wonder if any- one would notice the difference if I used the same sound for everything or if I’m just giving myself a complicated hobby because I like to mess around with gear?
What’s your favorite aspect of the new record?
I think the songs will sound great live, because they were basically recorded that way. But one of my favorite things about Mr. Big is the vocal harmonies—I love playing and singing.
“Once upon a Time” features a heavy drop-d riff. do you write much in non- standard tunings?
I’m mostly scared of different tunings. I’ve invested so much time into learning to play in standard tuning that it’s a little depress- ing to start over with new shapes in a new tuning. But “Once upon a Time” is man- ageable because only one string is different.
I hear a lot of single-coil sounds on What If ... . in a genre that’s pretty humbucker-centric, what draws you to the sound of single-coils?
I saw Frank Marino play a few years ago, and he had two Gibson SGs: One with the humbuckers and one with three single-coils. The single-coil guitar had a lot more clarity and just sounded better overall. That inspired me to put single-coils in the Ibanez Fireman gui- tar that I was designing at the time. I think that they offer a good balance of clarity and thickness. I used it on the new Mr. Big record as well as my last solo record, Fuzz Universe.
Paul Gilbert’s Gearbox
Ibanez PGMFRM1 Fireman, Ibanez PGM401 Paul Gilbert signature model, 1979 Ibanez Artist 2630 semi-hollowbody, Ibanez PM100 Pat Metheny signature hollowbody, Ibanez custom shop PGM 12-string
Marshall 2266c Vintage Modern 50-watt 2x12 combo, THD Hot Plate
Strings and Picks
Ernie Ball RPS-11 Slinkys (for Mr. Big songs tuned down to Eb), Ernie Ball RPS-10 Slinkys (for standard tuning), Tortex .60 mm picks
Majik Box Fuzz Universe, Ibanez Paul Gilbert Signature AF2 Airplane Flanger, HomeBrew Detox EQ, MXR Phase 90, Fulltone ChoralFlange, ADA Flanger, HomeBrew CPR compressor