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August Issue
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Interview: Tim Mahoney of 311

Interview: Tim Mahoney of 311


There are pedal geeks and effects junkies … and then there’s 311’s Tim Mahoney. Tim’s a master of other-worldly tonal effects who doesn’t travel light when touring. Not even when the Omaha crew jaunts off to Asia or Europe.

Generally, he travels with two boards. The standard board (including over 25 pieces), which goes with him everywhere, and the party board (including eight more pieces) that only ventures out during North American tours. After collaborating with legendary producer Bob Rock on 311’s Uplifter [June ’09], Tim’s pedalboard and overall gear collection expanded. Not only did he get his hands on some vintage compressors, which he’d never favored previously, but he acquired some mid-seventies Explorers and even bought a relic’d Fender David Gilmour Stratocaster.

With such a collection of stompboxes and effects, he’s no different than any other accessory aficionado. He defends his case of P.A.S. (Pedal Acquisition Syndrome) by contending he needs and uses every single effect. Who are we to judge? We just put out an issue completely dedicated to those little tone boxes.

We recently caught up Tim preparing for his upcoming winter tour with 311, and we talked about working with Bob Rock, blending amp tones and why he can’t stop loving the Musitronics Mu-Tron III Envelope Filter.

Click here to watch Tim run down his rig for PG before a show.
After working with Ron St. Germain on many of your previous albums, what was it like to work with Bob Rock on Uplifter?


We all love Ron. It wasn’t anything about his ability or personality that made us go with Bob Rock, but we just wanted to try something new and fresh. Bob was very laid back and easy going. We all learned quite a bit from Bob, too.

What were some of those things you learned from Bob?

As a guitarist, he put me out of my comfort zone, which pushed me to work harder and try new things. He had me record some slide guitar—I’ve never that done on any other album—and I fooled around with a whammy. There was a lot of experimentation during the recording process. When it comes to guitar he has reassuring precision every step of the way that got the best out of me as a player. His calmness and positive attitude make him a rock ‘n’ roll Buddha.

I would never consider myself a pop music fan, but with Bob we really went back to thinking of a pop or catchiness quality within our riffs and songs. He sat in the live room with us every day working out the songs. He’s so good at knowing what good melodies are and when they should be revisited in a song or what songs should have double choruses. As a band, we’d bring individual ideas and then bounce them off each other. A lot of times we’d have a lot of ideas and directions going on at once. Bob really helped us clear up our ideas and make coherency out of our organized chaos.

Overall, what was great about Bob was that he never really forced his power and knowledge on us. He just wanted us to sound better. He told us on day one, “I don’t have a Bob Rock sound, I just want to help you guys make a great album.” He helped us see the bigger picture of the song that maybe we couldn’t see because we were so involved and deep within the project. [laughs] He gave us a very polite kick in the ass.

So did you pick up any cool gear while working on Uplifter with Bob?

Oh man [laughs]… He’s a huge gearhead! He turned me onto some Explorers. I bought at least six guitars during this recording process. For this record, besides my PRS guitars, the main workhorse that I fell in love with was this ’76 Gibson Explorer that I bought thanks to Bob. I did buy a couple of amps while working with Bob, too. I bought a ’63 VOX AC30 and an old Roland Jazz Chorus. We rented one when we were working on Uplifter’s clean tones and once I started playing through it I immediately recognized it as that Metallica-clean from Metallica and we blended that tone in throughout the record.

He had suitcases of pedals lying around the studio. I’ve never seen his collection because it’s in Maui, but anytime we’d come across or talk about some super random pedal, guitar or amp he’d say he owns it. Thanks to Bob, my collection of guitars and amps probably doubled during the whole process [laughs]. I guess you could call it, the “Bob Rock bump” when it comes to gear.

Were there any other tone treats of Bob’s you used?

He did direct me towards a Divided by 13 overdrive pedal that I can’t remember the name of because it was painted funky all over it. I’m not a big compressor guy, but with some of the overdubs he turned me onto a vintage Japanese Boss, an old Ross and an older MXR Dyna Comp.

Did you get Bob to buy or try anything new?

Well, we both bought the new relic’d Fender David Gilmour Stratocaster that came out while we were working on Uplifter. And during the recording process he called down to Jeff at Diamond Amplification and ordered a Spitfire II head because he fell in love with mine. He felt so strongly about the amp that he did an ad with Diamond, but the funny thing is the head that he’s standing next to is actually my Spitfire II head. Another thing I got him stuck on was a late ‘70s or early ‘80s ADA Flanger.

It was just cool that I could share my love and passion for old and new gear with a guy like Bob Rock, especially since I even turned him onto a few new things [laughs].

For Uplifter, how did you dial in the metal tones and the chimey reggae tones?

For both dirty and clean tones, we were always recording four amps. For the clean tones we’d run the two Diamond Spitfire II heads, the ’63 VOX AC30 and the Roland Jazz Chorus all through Diamond 4x12 cabs. We also blended in some parts with Bob’s Divided by 13 head. For the dirty tones, we’d usually run the Diamond Spitfire II and Phantom, a Jose Arrendondo modded 50-watt Marshall, and we’d switch in a fourth head for whatever the mix needed. Each cab had a three mics on it. Every cab had a Shure SM57 and then we’d use two various mics so it began to look like spaghetti [laughs], but we were all quite happy with the results.

What were some more of the guitars you used on Uplifter?

Well, that ’76 Explorer was the workhorse carrying about 90 percent of the load. There’s just something magical about that guitar. It has a fatter neck and we think it was made with leftover parts from the original run of Explorers in the late ‘50s because it’s so heavy and the neck is like a baseball bat. It’s funny because I generally like a wider, thinner neck, but that thing just plays like butter in my hands. We plugged that into the VOX AC30 and I played some reggae stuff through it and it sounded like Marley’s Exodus or Kaya. It was just something really special. I used some of my Gretsches, including a Billy-Bo, but they were only used for an overdub here or an additional texture there. Also, I used that relic’d Fender David Gilmour Strat and a ’95 or ’96 Clapton Signature Strat, too. But for the most part, it was two Explorers and my PRS “Blue” that’s been on almost every 311 recording.

Especially live, you’ve been closely linked to PRS guitars since the mid-‘90s; what first drew you to these guitars?

Growing up, I’d have a Squier Tele and then I’d trade that in and upgrade to a Paul and then I’d trade the Paul for a Strat. And when we finally got signed to Capicorn, I was playing a strat-style Charvel with three single-coils, but I needed something with humbuckers so I could have the contrasting tones. I went into the music store looking for a Les Paul, but I’m a Santana fan and I knew he was playing a PRS, but I didn’t know anyone else that played them or much about the guitars in ’92. I tried one out with a maple top, a bolt-on neck and it was affordable, so I bought it that day and toured with that strat-style Charvel and a PRS CE 24.

Do you still have that PRS

Unfortunately, I don’t. We were out touring in support of Music and we had an RV and my empty VW van that we put in neutral so we could store our gear. We had a bad fuel filter or a hole in the fuel line and while heading back to Omaha the RV caught on fire and we had to run out. The VW was locked and the keys were left in the burning RV so we had to watch all our gear get burnt to the ground. At that point, Bonni Lloyd at PRS immediately sent me a loaner guitar and I thought that was the nicest thing anyone could’ve done and I fell in love with that guitar.

I like PRS guitars because I can do the whole show with one because I can do the chimey reggae stuff, but also pick out some metal harmonics and darker tones I need. Those are my two favorite styles of music since I was a kid of the ‘70s. I grew up listening to reggae and classic rock. I mean, my two favorite guitar players are probably Jerry Garcia and Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott. I don’t know if there’s anything those PRS guitars can’t tackle. They just let me express myself musically in the most well-rounded way. Not only being a killer guitar for me and my tone, they’ve been a great company to work with stemming from that fire back in ’93.

Hit page 2 for Tim's rundown of his pedals, gear philosophy and complete gearbox...

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