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So what exactly is the place of the guitar solo within Christian music?
Well, for me, it’s an expression of worship. I’m not that great of a singer, and I feel like I’m probably 50 percent worship leader, 40 percent guitar player and 10 percent singer. Singing is something I need to do to accomplish the goal – and I’m surprised it works; I can’t believe anyone likes it [laughs]. But guitar playing comes naturally for me, and I definitely enjoy it more than singing.
What kind of gear are you playing with these days?
Well, I’m one of those guys who the tube snobs like to shoot at, but I’ll preface this by saying that I’m a weird blend of things. I’m actually a studio engineer in addition to a guitar player. In my life, I’ve always had to do a lot with a little – I just never had the money to get the gear that a lot of people had, so I had to find other ways to make stuff sound good. So when all of the modeling stuff started coming out, I was really intrigued by it.
I started studying how the guys at Line 6 modeled things. And my mom’s boyfriend, Dave Belzer, one of the Burst Brothers [from the Hollywood Vintage Room], was telling me that he actually loaned them amps to model. He told me, “Yeah, the AC30 they modeled was the best-sounding AC30 I’ve ever heard in my life. Same with the Marshall Plexi they modeled.” So he knows the exact amps that they’re using there, and having met some of the guys over at Line 6, I can say they are all genuine tone guys – they really understand amps and pickups. So I just started doing real life, proof-is-in-the-pudding comparisons, and I’ve been using Line 6 stuff since the first version of Amp Farm for ProTools.
For my third album, Dave loaned me his own 50-watt Plexi, which sounded absolutely incredible, and I ended up recording most of the album with that. Well, I flew to Nashville after we were done tracking most of the guitars and ended up having to change some sections of the songs, but we didn’t have that amp. And I was thinking, “What are we going to do?” And, no joke, I came up with using the Plexi Marshall model in Amp Farm. We just matched that sound – you could not tell the difference. All I had to do was run it through an Avalon 737 mic pre, and just tweak the EQ on the front end a tiny bit. The guy who was co-producing with me couldn’t believe it. It nailed that sound.
So that was when I realized they were onto something cool. I kept diving further into it. I would take some of my vintage amps and modern amps into the studio and do my best to get a killer sound and record it. Then I would take the POD and do my best to match it.
So you’re playing models live most of the time?
Yeah. It started originally with the POD, and then it was the POD 2.0, and then it was the POD xt Live, and now they’ve just released the POD X3, so I’m using that. They say the X3 is, sonically, a bit better, but to my ears I can’t tell much of a difference. They didn’t change any of the models themselves, just some of the internal converters and components like that. And when you get into A/D and D/A converters, you’re probably splitting that top two percent of hairs, sonically speaking. But from the original POD to the XT series, their models just became stellar.
Are you also using the onboard effects or do you go with pedals?
I do use some pedals in front of it – a lot of people don’t know that it responds like an amp when you put pedals in front of it. So I don’t use the POD as an effects box; I use it as a mic’ed up amp simulation. There are times during the night when I’m not using anything on it. I’ll usually put a hair of a delay on it, but that’s all.
What kind of guitars are you playing?
Live, I primarily use Fender Strats. Right now I’m using an Eric Johnson model, because both of my ’57 reissues got stolen. I actually bought the Eric Johnson Strat off the shelf on my way to a gig, and it turned out to be a totally cool God thing. I showed up at the show, and there was a guy named Gary Brawer there – he’s a guitar tech in the Bay Area who has worked for Carlos Santana and Satriani. He was at soundcheck and asked if there was anything he could do for me. I said, “Dude, I actually just bought this guitar. Would you mind giving it the once over?” He set it up and the guitar played like a dream.
I think in terms of off-the-shelf, non-custom shop guitars, the Eric Johnson model is probably the best thing Fender’s putting out these days, at least since the originals. Eric Johnson made some modifications to the original design that are great for a lot of players; it has a 5-way switch right out of the gate, which is great, and the back tone pot is wired to the bridge pickup only, which is perfect for a Strat. I’ll roll the tone back to a 5 or 6 and still get that spanky sound when you hit the guitar real hard, but when you roll off the top end, you get the perception that you’ve got a lot more lows and midrange. It gets a very fat, chunky, almost humbucker-esque thing when you want it to, but when you dig in and pick hard, you can still get the Straty thing.
So you essentially play with a really stripped down rig when you’re playing live.
Yeah, it’s really basic. It’s funny – I’m using new school technology with an old school philosophy. The model I use with the POD is a Plexi Variac Marshall with Greenback 25s, mic’ed with a SM57. And I worked very, very hard in a studio environment to hone that sound.
You’re pretty familiar with life in the studio. You actually used to be a sought-after session guy, right?
Well, it was starting to go that direction, but I’ve always been kind of a worship guy. And the session thing sounded good on paper, but I honestly think I would rather work at Home Depot than do sessions.
That’s a big statement. Why’s that?
Well, the guitar is kind of my outlet – it’s one of those things that’s just so wonderful to play, I feel like I’m nine years old when I play guitar. And I would go spend all day in the studio, playing guitar, and get home and think, “I don’t even want to touch that thing.” And 90% of the time, you’re playing music that you could very much do without.