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Lanois, Black Dub singer Trixie Whitley, and bassist Daryl Johnson
during their YouTube video sessions. Photo by Adam Vollick
I wish I could have produced Ali Farka Touré. Every now and again I hear something in African players where it sounds like they’re finding something on the instrument that we’re not. It’s a fascinating style.
Do you look for a guitar that has a certain kind of voice or one that’s more versatile?
I keep instruments around for specific aspects of their sound. I still have my white Fender Mustang, which you can use with the two pickups out of phase, which sounds wonderful when you play with a soft touch and the amp really cranked. I also have an old butterscotch Telecaster, which I think might be a ’51, and when I shake the neck on that thing, the pickup, which is a little loose, makes this mad sound like something’s trying to crawl out of the guitar—especially when I’m running it through an echo. I use my Vox MandoGuitar a lot and my little brown Guild with an L.R. Baggs M1 pickup, which is what we used with Neil. I have some really nice Martins and Gibsons, but that little guitar records wonderfully.
I’m a P-90 player. But when I want to do something really delicate, where I turn the amplifier up and play really softly, the humbucker is a friend. Firebirds are really good for that.
What about amplifiers?
I usually play ’50s tweed Fenders because they’re just the most musical sounding amps, and at low volume they have the most beautiful tone. The natural overdrive on those tweeds can produce fascinating results too. But I’ll do things like put a Vox 12" speaker in a tweed, because the Vox speakers will handle a lot more volume and have more headroom. That’s a really interesting combination of sounds. And tweed combos weigh a lot less than an AC30! I like hitting the amp with overdrive sources too, though. The Korg SDD-3000 digital delay is a big part of my sound, too, which is something I got from The Edge. Even if you don’t use it as a delay, you can get a nice boost out of it.
Are you a pedal nut?
I’ll use the Boomerang a lot. Occasionally, I’ll use a fuzz wah for a little more tone variation. But the truth is, I don’t really like playing with my feet [laughs]. When you don’t do too much pedal work, it makes you resourceful in other ways.
What do you make of players who go to great effort to emulate other players’ style and tone?
Well, we enter this world as admirers. And we’re obviously inspired by other guitar players and driven by that inspiration. But, ultimately, as they say, students must leave the master’s house to find their own voice. That’s something all of us should try to do, though you certainly can’t teach that. It’s something you do on your own. I can definitely say that about my pedal-steel playing, and I’m glad and lucky I was able to find something in the instrument that belongs to me. I wish that for every guitar player.
Daniel Lanois’ Gearbox
’50s Gibson goldtop Les Paul with P-90s and a Bigsby tremolo, ’60s Gibson Firebird V, ’50s Fender Telecaster, ’60s Fender Mustang, ’60s Guild M-20 with L.R. Baggs M1 pickup
’50s Fender Deluxe, ’50s Fender Harvard, ’60s Vox AC30
Boomerang Phrase Sampler, KORG SDD-3000 digital delay