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Do you remember which guitar and amp you used for that track?
I used the Rickenbacker and WEM amp, as well as a little handheld Radio Shack amp that John Hill had brought in. I also used the Ibanez Spud guitar.
Mothersbaugh and his storied Ibanez “Spud” guitar. Photo by Natalie Montgomery
The riff on “Mind Games” is awesome, too.
I really like “Mind Games” because I play a guitar part all the way through it. After recording it I thought, “I know what would really make this cool.” So I took another track and doubled the whole part an octave higher. I’m pleased every time I hear it.
Care to comment on some older songs?
“Girl U Want”—great riff. How did you get the guitar sound on that track?
The meat of the sound is the Ibanez Spud guitar, which has active electronics. I cranked up the midrange on the guitar, as well as the amp, which was an Acoustic that was sort of a Mesa/Boogie clone with a graphic EQ. I did weird things with the EQ, like making designs and patterns with the EQ sliders.
The turnaround following the solo is killer. It reminds me of George Harrison, in that it isn’t flashy but it serves the song.
I’ll take that as a big compliment—I’m a fan of George Harrison.
On “Freedom of Choice,” you double the synth line. Was it written on guitar or keyboard?
I remember Alan [Myers, former Devo drummer] had a phrase he played on guitar [sings guitar part], and he wanted to jam with me on it, so I learned it. At some point while we were working on Freedom of Choice, I said, “Hey, I think Alan’s bit would fit in there.” I love that album, because it represents a period where I really was into getting every kind of tortured noise from the guitar I could. But I think the songs from that album sound better live now, because my sound has more growl to it.
With all the technology being dangled in your face when you hit it big, did you ever use a guitar synthesizer?
Back in 1979, I used a device made by 360 Systems. It was a big box that sat next to your amp and required a special pickup. The 360 Systems people recommended I use a Les Paul, and at the time I was horrified—I thought Les Pauls represented arena rock, long hair, and Puka shells. But I got a Les Paul and took a jigsaw to it with the intention of making it look like a skull. I cut the little horn off at the cutaway and flipped it over backwards and thought it looked a lot better. The 360 was a horrible synth and really didn’t sound good. I only used it for one tour.
And here you are, some 30 years later, playing a Les Paul in an arena.
That’s de-evolution for you.
You perform onstage with synchronized video. Do you have to rehearse endlessly to get your music to sync to the video?
No, because we have a click track that goes to the drummer.
Does that leave you any room for improvisation?
Very little. For example, onstage last night I was thinking, “I should use the other channel of the Fractal Audio for the first part of ‘Jocko Homo.’” But I have a guitar tech [Ed Marshall] who is always watching the box to make sure it’s on the right setting. I tried to change it to the setting I wanted, but he changed it back. I thought, “Okay, we’ll have to discuss this after the show.”
Has touring become a grind?
I miss my family, but that’s about the only thing. I can deal with all the crappy hotels and overnight bus rides. It’s all good once we get onstage—that hour and a half— because I just love playing.
Bob Mothersbaugh's Gearbox
Gibson Custom Shop Mike Bloomfield Les Paul, 1964 SG Standard with P-90s and a Gibson Vibrola, multiple G&L SC-2s, Ibanez Spud guitar with Ibanez active pickup system, 1967 La Baye 2x4
Amps and Effects Processors
WEM Dominator combo, Line 6 PODxt, Fractal Audio Axe-Fx, Ibanez Tube Screamer
Strings and Picks
GHS strings GBXL .009–.042 (Les Paul and La Baye), GHS GBL .010–.046 (G&L SC-2s), Dunlop Gator Grip picks
Brace Audio DWG-1000x wireless system, custom medium-gauge picks printed with “Bob 1 DEVO”