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The 100 Album Milestone: An Interview with Denis Taaffe

September 16, 2008

The 100 Album Milestone If you''re a regular reader of PG, you might recognize the name Denis Taaffe. He writes our monthly column, "Practice Up," and is a top-notch player. What you may not know is his unique style of playing, which features improvisation and looping, and has earned him Grammy consideration and multiple endorsement deals. Passionate about recording and the nature of his music, Taaffe released his 100th full-length album in March. We caught up with him between recording sessions to chat about his milestone and the setup he uses to achieve his sounds.


The 100 Album Milestone Congratulations on this great achievement. What does it mean for you to have released the 100th volume in your Modern Rock Guitar series?

Completing and releasing my 100th Modern Rock Guitar album, Modern Rock Guitar, Volume 100 - Natural Textures, was a goal of mine beginning last year. Prior to that, I was only able to afford to put out one album per year. Eventually, I decided to make my albums available as downloads on my website and on CD-Rs rather than conventional CDs. This cut down the cost and made it possible to record as many albums as I''ve wanted to.


You''ve met your goal - where do you go from here?

I have been working on recording 100 albums so much that I never gave much thought as to what to do when that is completed. I actually will devote more time to playing live shows, which I have neglected a bit, and I think I''ll continue to record albums. I just love creating them and listening to them for pleasure. I am a fan of my style of music; I guess you could call it cinematic rock music.

I never get bored, as I always have new material to listen to. Also, I want to take this style as far as I can. I think I will spend some time promoting the albums, this style of music and playing, as I would hate to see these albums disappear. I would also like to do some clinics with this looping style so that others might get interested in it as well.


What kind of techniques do you use in your playing?

Well, I began as a guitar player and so my compositions have guitar solos, of course and modern rock guitar techniques. When I began recording, about all that made up a composition for me was just one long guitar solo. It wasn''t until I matured as a musician that I discovered different guitar textures and the use of space, rhythm, harmony and so on.

Over time, the things I discovered recording made me develop into more of a musician than just a guitarist. I found that it really is true that a lot can be said with a few, well-placed notes. It took some maturing musically to learn that very important lesson.


How has your work and style changed since Modern Rock Guitar volume 1?

Well, my debut CD, Modern Rock Guitar, Volume 1 - Abducted by Aliens, was recorded in 1999 and it was a strictly conventional album recording. In other words, everything was worked out ahead of time and I would record drums first, then a bass line, then guitars. I had the second album done when I discovered looping and everything changed for me. I scrapped the second album I had made in favor of using guitar loops done on the fly. This let me do overdubs on the fly and layer many guitar parts. I had to be on my toes and really listen, think fast and react to what I was hearing. This really freed me as a musician and my ear developed as a result.


The 100 Album Milestone Take us through a typical album recording.

When recording an album, I approach it in a series of recording sessions, usually over a week to ten days time. A session is really just turning on the recorder and beginning to play as I would during a live show. After playing I listen back and then move the recording from the recorder into a PC for editing and mastering, which allows me to add fades and bring up levels.

Slowly but surely, I begin to collect tracks, using a CD burning program to keep track of the length of the track. When I am happy with the tracks, I then spend time putting them in the order I like. I pay a lot of attention to the flow of an album from track to track. For me, all the tracks must complement each other, share certain themes and add to the flow of the album.

Sometimes, an album happens very quickly - in a few days, seemingly effortless, the album just comes together. These are my best albums. Others take at least ten days and are much more complex and difficult and the themes don''t emerge until the album is almost complete.


The 100 Album Milestone What is your recording setup?

Well, it is ever changing, but all of the albums thus far have a core recording on Roland digital recorders. I just love the sound quality and simplicity of the old Roland digital workstations. I have three of them: two are 20bit/44.1khz and one is 24 bit/44.1khz. I sometimes sync two of them together, but usually I just use one.

Most of the time they are four track recordings, with two tracks for my main guitar and the guitar loops and two tracks for the drum loops and bass (which is emulated on guitar via pitch shifters and looping). As it developed, I began using four analog tracks and two digital tracks (which I use for simple sample and drum loops). Also, recently, I have been doubling the analog four tracks, so it ends up as eight tracks.

From the recorder, it goes into my PC digitally where I edit and master the recording. For every album, I try something different recording setup wise. I might route tracks differently or use a mono bass track instead of a stereo track for instance. In fact, I have been trying out recoding using a DAW system with a FireWire interface.


The 100 Album Milestone Tell us about some of your gear.

For guitars, I use a stock, mahogany Parker P10, which is a guitar with its own sound - not a Strat, not a Les Paul. I also use a Schecter/Ibanez guitar that my guitar teacher built when I was younger. I played that guitar for about 20 years before I had to retire it, though it still shows up on a few albums here and there. I also use a Line 6 Variax, which I really have fun playing. It models tons of vintage guitars, and, while not my main guitar, it''s a blast to pick it up and try out some things.

I used to have a huge rack of stuff, which I eventually sold. I found that the DigiTech RP50, a tiny pedal that costs under a $100, sounded about the same as my $5000 rack setup. The RP50 has a modeling preamp and multi f/x unit. I just love that pedal! It''s not for everything, but it sounds great and I love the simplicity and cost effectiveness. I also use Line 6 PODxt Live, which at first I hated, but, with some tweaking, I''ve come to love. The Line 6 sounds much more like a guitar amp, and is a little rougher.

For the different sounds I want, I prefer amp modeling over just a tube amp, which just doesn''t have enough flexibility, though I love tube amps. Since I can''t afford a room full of vintage and modern tube amps, modeling allows me to come pretty close.

For amps, I use two Behringer Ultratwin 2x12 combo amps. These are cheapo amps with laughable lead channels, but I find that using the clean channel with the stereo solid-state power amp section works well with amp modeling, and they have an aux channel which I use as well. Each amp is like two amps in one, so I can run two independent sources in stereo at the same time. I think they were supposed to be Fender Twin knock-offs, sort of like a solid state Fender Twin - just perfect for the RP50 and Line 6 PODxt Live.

I also use a Peavey 60/60 tube amp and two Avatar 2x12 speaker cabs with Celestion G100s from time to time, either for my main guitar sound or for my main guitar sound and guitar loops. In addition, I use an ancient Lexicon JamMan rack unit, a Boomerang pedalboard, three Digitech S200s and one S100. I also use the equivalent of a PA in my guitar rig which has a Mackie 1402-VLZ Pro mixer, Soundtech amp and two Fender 2x15 cabinets. I also use an ADA 2x10 bass cabinet for the drum loops, samples and bass sounds.

I sometimes use two drum machines as well, though I prefer the drum loops as they are much more realistic drum sounds. For samples, besides drums, I''ll use everything from dogs barking to orchestral sounds, though I have found that using these vary sparingly is most effective.

Finally, I use Kradl picks which are just amazing picks. They force you to use a proper handpicking position. They have beveled edges on each side of the pick, though they are hard to find at times.


Listen to "Gator Skins," the 13th track from Denis Taaffe''s
Modern Rock Guitar, Vol. 100 - Natural Textures.


» Gator Skins MP3



Check out Denis Taaffe''s latest albums and more at dtguitar.com