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more... ArtistsGuitaristsAugust 2013

Interview: Robert Randolph - How Robert Got His Groove Back

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Robert Randolph_FEATURED


Photo by Frank White

How many guitars are you taking out with you for this tour?

I play four pedal steels: one stand up, one in dropped-E tuning, one in regular 13-string tuning, and then one in 12-string tuning, because one less string helps me to be able to sing and play with less thinking. I also have my red sparkle Fender Custom Shop Tele. I love that guitar.

Let’s talk about a different kind of pedal: What’s your go-to effects pedal?

The pedal I can’t live without is my Morley wah. I also have this pedal by a company called JAM. I won’t tell you which one—I don’t want to give away all my secrets—but JAM makes some of the best analog pedals. [Editor’s note: According to JAM’s website, Randolph is using (or has used) the Waterfall chorus/vibrato, Rattler distortion, Dyna-ssoR compressor/sustainer, Chill tremolo, and Red Muck fuzz-distortion pedals.]

Is that what you’re using in songs like “Take the Party,” where your riffs have a more vocal-like quality?

On that one I’m using my stand-up pedal steel with a chorus made by the JAM folks. It’s not all the way chorus-y—it’s sort of like a filter chorus on the low end.

You’ve said before that you haven’t found a rock ’n’ roll pedal-steel amp. Have you found one yet?

The perfect pedal-steel amp is in between the old Peavey Classic Chorus and a Fender Bassman … or a Fender Deville. It’s really those three. In the studio it’s much easier to swap in or swap out, but live it’s important because the steel is crazy—you want to be able to have it clean and dirty, but it’s gotta be mid-range-y and fat sounding. Think about it like this: All of those amps have been made for regular guitar. When people test them out, they test with a regular guitar, not a pedal steel. If you want more low end from a Fender Strat or a Gibson, you do this or you do that, but it’s never been done for a pedal steel. So I’m doing it, but it just takes time. I’m working with both Fuchs and Fender to see who really nails it. It’ll probably be ready in another month or so … we’ve been working on it for 9 months already.

Do you still use your Super Reverb or the tweed ’57 Fender Twin reissue that was originally built for Jeff Beck?

The Jeff Beck rig was great, but it wasn’t perfect so I’d get pissed off. The Super Reverbs break up too quick for me—they don’t stay clean how I need them to stay clean. Like that magical tone that you hear on “New Orleans” [from Lickety Split]—it’s so hard for me to get it like that live, because that was like three different guitar rigs going on in the studio, and then Eddie Kramer EQ‘ing it. If I didn’t hear it played back like that, I couldn’t play it like that. It’s like listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn playing “Lenny”—you know he had to hear his guitar sounding that beautiful while he was recording it. If not, he wouldn’t have known to play it that way.

There’s a rumor that you’re incorporating car speakers in your new amp design?

I learned a trick like that from Santana that I’m starting to explore, but that’s a little secret. [Laughs.]

In “Amped Up,” you sing about breaking a string. Does that happen to you often?

That’s relative to during our live shows when things are getting hot—especially years ago. I always used to break a string when we were in the middle of a good song or a good groove. I actually use my own strings made by D’Addario—I had to get custom ones, because my hands sweat a lot and I needed extra coating and protection on them.

What sorts of new things have been inspiring you and your playing recently?

I’ve been listening to old African music lately. But for me, it’s always been listening to Zeppelin—because the guitar is never really the same sound. In every song there’s this different sound and different things for you to want to try and go, “What was that? What’s he doing there?” Y’know? That’s what’s really important and inspiring for me.

Robert Randolph's Gear

Guitars
Jackson Steel Guitar Company 6-string signature stand-up pedal steel, Jackson Steel Guitar Company 13-string pedal steel, Mullen 13-string pedal steel (tuned to dropped-E), Mullen 12-string pedal steel (tuned to C#13), Fender Custom Shop Telecaster, Asher 6-string lap steel

Amps
Custom Fuchs 100-watt head driving a Fuchs , Fender Vibrosonic

Effects
Morley wah, Goodrich volume pedal, JAM Waterfall

Strings, Picks, and Accessories
D’Addario Robert Randolph custom coated pedal-steel strings, Shubb Robert Randolph custom bar slides, Dunlop signature picks

There’s a rumor that you’re incorporating car speakers in your new amp design?

I learned a trick like that from Santana that I’m starting to explore, but that’s a little secret. [Laughs.]

In “Amped Up,” you sing about breaking a string. Does that happen to you often?

That’s relative to during our live shows when things are getting hot—especially years ago. I always used to break a string when we were in the middle of a good song or a good groove. I actually use my own strings made by D’Addario—I had to get custom ones, because my hands sweat a lot and I needed extra coating and protection on them.

What sorts of new things have been inspiring you and your playing recently?

I’ve been listening to old African music lately. But for me, it’s always been listening to Zeppelin—because the guitar is never really the same sound. In every song there’s this different sound and different things for you to want to try and go, “What was that? What’s he doing there?” Y’know? That’s what’s really important and inspiring for me.

This full concert gives a mesmerizing view of Randolph’s pedal-steel slide work, including some lap steel playing at the 23-minute mark.

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