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Devo recently dropped Something For Everybody—their first album in 20 years— and, just as on classic Devo cuts like their 1980 smash hit “Whip It,” the guitars are up front and prominent. Supplying the guitar for Devo’s particular brand of social and musical subversion is Bob Mothersbaugh, who, given Devo’s reputation, you’d probably think was a half-automaton with a synth built into his chest. But Mothersbaugh is a guitar purist with affection for British Invasion bands as well as the old bluesmen. After all, you can’t deconstruct music you don’t know how to construct in the first place.
Premier Guitar caught up with Mothersbaugh in the middle of Devo’s summer tour to talk about his favorite guitar—the entry-level G&L SC-2—buying back his weird-as-hell custom Ibanez “Spud” guitar from a professional skateboarder, and his unsurprising habit of warping every opportunity for a signature-model guitar.
Who were your early guitar influences?
Well, I’m just old enough that I listened to the Kinks and Rolling Stones when they were happening. Then, of course, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix came along.
“I’m a Potato,” from Hardcore Devo, Vol. 1 (74-77), is an interesting mutation on the blues form.
Yeah, in the very early days Devo was kind of blues sounding. I listened to Chuck Berry and Keith Richards—those guys were big influences.
Do you still listen to the old blues?
I love it. Muddy Waters and Hound Dog Taylor always do it for me.
When Devo was developing the de-evolution concept, did you consciously try to deconstruct the music that influenced you?
Do you remember your first guitar?
Oddly enough, it was a Coral Sitar.
Wow—no wonder your playing went sideways.
I know. After about six months I thought, “Man! I’m tired of these sympathetic strings.” So I took a jigsaw and cut them off, but it still sounded like a sitar. I figured out it was the plastic bridge that made it whiny sounding, so I took it apart and tried to find a new bridge, but couldn’t. The guitar was put in the barn and I kind of forgot about it.
Was your first amp as ill advised?
My first amp was some cheap head. I had a speaker that I strung up in a fruit crate, so the speaker was just dangling, suspended by strings—like a microphone shock mount.
I had no idea speakers had to be mounted to a board so they could push air. It was pretty ineffective, but when you’re a kid in a basement in Akron, trying to perfect your Pete Townshend windmills, it was fine.