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Let’s talk about what you used on the record and how you got those sounds.
It’s a good combination of old stuff and new -- one of the amps that I got was a Victoria Regal. Basically, I didn’t want to pay six grand for an old Supro just because everybody says Jimmy Page used it on the first Led Zeppelin record.
Sure. If it’s in the studio and already there, you’re happy to plug into it, but…
Exactly. I think there are a lot of manufacturers and people who make gear now that is as good as the old stuff and possibly even better. One of the things that I did do, on the second track, “Hell Cats Take the Highway,” I used a tiny little amp, it’s called a Rex and it’s made by Valco. It’s got a tiny little Jensen speaker, it’s not even round, it’s one of those kind of elliptical speakers. I got that off eBay. I think I paid about $250 for it.
You’re such a gear whore. I love it!
Yeah, man! It’s like this tiny little amp and I put a mic in front of it -- I was trying to capture those early Led Zeppelin/Yardbirds sounds. So I just plugged one of my Les Pauls into it and that was the sound. I tracked the entire song with that one amp. I just thought, if I’m gonna try to capture that whole era, that was the sound: very small amps turned all the way up. There were only volume and tone controls on that amp and it was cool.
If you think back on a lot of great guitar records, a lot of really big guitar sounds were created with small amps, just dimed out. But I’m sure that at some point you had your old Marshalls and things like that flying around.
Yeah, the amp that I recorded "Rebel Yell" with was an old Marshall, not a plexi but a’71 metal face and that amp had been shelved. It was really my workhorse. It was an amp that I had years before joining up with Billy Idol. I recorded "Rebel Yell" with it and then for some reason it had stopped working and I left it in storage. You know, I had acquired plexis and stuff by then. But the guy who does all my gear, Dave Freeman at Rack Systems, started talking with me about modding one of my amps because he’s learned a number of things, especially since he works on Eddie Van Halen’s gear and he’s seen the early amps that Van Halen recorded the early stuff with. And he said there’s no big mystery to that particular amp [sound], he could do that to one of my amps. So I was like, "Done deal! Take that amp that’s not working."
When I got it back from him I was amazed by the sound of it. It didn’t have any added gain stages to it; there was no big mystery to it. It was just a couple of resistors changed. He suggested running on a Variac and lowering the voltage. There’s one particular solo on the record, on a song called “Small Arms Fire,” where you hear it and go, “Wow, that sounds like early Van Halen” and it is that Marshall.
Tell me about some of the pedals you used.
There are a number of pedals that were built for me by Theo Hartman of Hartman Electronics. He sent me his fuzz boxes. He’s got this [OC44] Vintage Germanium Boost pedal -- it’s basically a treble booster and I used that with some of the small amps to push them. I also got some stuff from Retro-Sonic. There’s a phaser pedal that he does which, to me, is even better than the old MXR script pedal. For other boost stuff I’d use that pedal from Creation Audio Labs [the MK.4.23 from Creation Audio Labs].
Yeah, some guys find the MK.4.23 too transparent, but I think that’s a great boost.
It’s great. It just makes your guitar louder. So I used some of that stuff. Obviously, I used Bare Knuckle pickups on all my guitars, they’re just loaded. I’ve got my own model in a number of guitars but also other models, their Patent Applied For series.
Right, the Rebel Yell, which is your signature model. Did you use the Nailbombs, too?
No, those are a little too high gain for me. I like the Mule which is a little bit hotter than Patent Applied For. Also, he’s [Tim Mills] got the Van Halen pickup.
The VHII. Do you like that?
Yeah, I do. He wound one that was a little bit brighter for me. He sent one about a year ago and I felt it was a little dark so I told him I liked the tone of the pickup, just give me a little bit brighter signal on that. So, I used that. I also brought out of retirement my old my old San Dimas Charvel ... the guitar really needed to be re-setup so I thought that would be a good opportunity to throw a Bare Knuckles in there, so that’s what we put the Van Halen pickup in.
With Tim’s VHII pickup, are you still getting that same kind of harmonic breakup that you get off the Mule? The Mule has great harmonics.
It does, pparticularly with this Charvel because it’s a dark sounding guitar. It’s basswood with a maple neck. It was an odd guitar when they built it for me. The bridge pickup is mounted at an angle but opposite to what most Charvels are, so the treble side is further away from the bridge.
And then I had a new pedalboard built by Trailer Trash just for home and on that I’ve got a Radial booster with a buffer, then there’s a Megavibe on there that’s made by KR. I’ve owned about five Univibe clones and this is the one -- it really sounds like an original Univibe.
What about guitars?
I probably used about ten different guitars. Four different Les Pauls loaded with different Bare Knuckle pickups and a Suhr Strat that was built for Scott Henderson. He wasn’t happy with it. I called John and told him I needed a Strat. I had gone out to the factory and he had showed me that technology that he has, that hum-canceling pickup.
Yeah, that’s super cool.
Yeah, that’s why I’ve always shied away from using Strats, because they just buzz and then the ones that have the pickups in them where they don’t buzz, they don’t sound like a Strat anymore. But with this it’s still single coil pickups, and you’ve got that coil wound into the body of the guitar and that cancels out any noise. And it really works; it keeps the sound of the guitar. So, John sent me this Strat that Scott Henderson didn’t want and I loved it. [laughs] But then again, I’m not that much of a Strat guy; I’m not a stickler on that stuff.