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Photo by Margaret Fox
Your sound has been closely associated with your Ibanez AS-200 for nearly 30 years. Did you continue to use it on this album?
I used my Ibanez for half the album and my Fender Strat for the other.
What was it about the Strat that drew you away from the Ibanez?
I’ve played the Ibanez for 30 years and it’s still my main guitar, but it’s just fun to play other guitars. One thing about these Fender guitars—both the Telecaster and Stratocaster—is the more I play them, the more they respond differently. They make certain things easier to play because they speak on particular kinds of things that the Ibanez doesn’t, and vice versa. There’s one tune we were working on, and I was playing the Strat. Avi said, “Just go back and play it on your Ibanez.” I did and that was exactly what it needed.
Are they vintage Fenders or newer ones?
No, they are fake vintage. [Laughs.] They’re from the Custom Shop. I told a friend of mine, Artie Smith, who is one of the great guitar guys in New York, that I wanted to get a Strat, but didn’t want to spend 15 grand on a vintage one. He said there was a good one at Sam Ash, so I went up there and played it for a while. I was totally embarrassed to buy it, because it has a fake cigarette burn in it and screws that have been rusted and two kinds of rubbed-off finish. [Laughs.] But you know, it sounds really good and it’s a great guitar.
Do you think there’s something special about playing a guitar that simply feels old?
I think it might have something to do with what the Custom Shop is doing to the guitars to make them play like a guitar that has been around for a while. I think it’s something more than just the cosmetic value, but I’m not sure because that whole thing is magic anyway.
I just bought an old ES-330 because I was playing a gig with my Tele and I broke a string and I’d left my strings back at the hotel like a dummy. The guitarist in the other band had an old 330, and I borrowed it and loved it. So I shopped around for a 330 and at one point I was trying to choose between 10 vintage ones in different stores. But one of the shops, Willie’s in Minneapolis, also had a new Gibson Custom Shop ES-330, and I came close to buying that one because it was really good. When I closed my eyes, I had a hard time figuring out which guitar was vintage. But as it turns out, each one of them is different anyway.
It sounds like you didn’t use many effects on the album.
I only used my Boomerang on one part of “Snake Dance.” However, I did get a new pedalboard for this tour. My old pedalboard died and Mason from Vertex Effects came down to a gig in Oakland. I knew he had been making pedalboards for a lot of the guys out West, including Robben [Ford]. For Überjam, I have to have my Wammy Wah pedal, although I didn’t use it on this record. Mason convinced me to try a new distortion pedal, which is the Blue Note, and that was nice. He also sold me on one of his new wah pedals, which replaced the Vox I’d been using. I use my Boomerang off the board, so he came up with a way to hook it up since it’s not true bypass and because it’s big. I use the Boomerang a lot in Überjam. You can’t program anything into the Boomerang, which is good, so I do it all on the fly. I just quickly play something in there and it comes back either in half-time or double-time, backwards or something.
Did Mason mod any of your existing pedals?Yeah, my old Boss GE-2 Equalizer and Boss CE-3. The equalizer is more like a treble booster and the chorus was modified with a faster speed, more warble, and some fatness to emulate a Leslie. He then made them all true bypass.
Your previous pedalboard was a loop-based system and this new version is more linear. Why the switch?
This new one has a buffer, which is a new thing for me. My previous pedalboard, which was also really good and made by Pedal-Racks here in New York, was a different system. On that board I was able to turn on each pedal individually so my guitar would not be routed through other pedals. When you have each one on, you’re only going through that pedal. With Mason’s system, they are all hooked up through the buffer and it magically makes it sound okay. He took my old pedals and made them true bypass, so everything is true bypass and the buffer gives back whatever you’re losing. It’s pretty amazing.
Paired with longtime collaborators, Medeski, Martin, and Wood, Sco employs some reverse looping to create a call-and-response effect during a show from the North Sea Jazz Festival.