Ty Segall plays his No. 1 preferred model, a Fender Mustang. He’s recently taken a Les Paul on the road as a workhorse. Photo by Jackie Roman.
Do you write on guitar, or come up with drum patterns first, or all of the above?
All of the above. I find it helps to mix up how you start a song, and where the idea comes from. That’s crucial to keep something new sounding. If a song is written on drums first, with a melody in your head, it’s going to be a way different song than if it were written on guitar.
When do lyrics come into play?
I usually do lyrics at the same time when I’m writing on guitar. But with drums, it’s completely after-the-fact, freestyle.
What about stages of tracking? What goes down first?
On the demos, I might track guitar first, but when it came time to do the record, I always would track the drums first, to make sure they sound perfect. Then I would do bass, guitar, keyboards, and always vocals last.
Do you write down an arrangement or is it in your head?
I’ll just make notes as we go along. Like, “Needs noise blast at 0:32.”
Who are some of your guitar heroes?
For acoustic, I’m a huge John Fahey fan, because he’s weird—he’s bizarro. He’s super emotive, but also rhythmic. It’s especially important to be rhythmic when it comes to acoustic playing—the percussive clashing of the pick on the strings is one of my favorite things. You can get that with fingerpicking, too. I love when someone smacks an acoustic with their palm—it’s great!
I also love the old blues guys, and so many great electric players are also great acoustic players—Hendrix, Jimmy Page, all those guys.
When it comes to lead guitar players, who gets you most amped?
Oh, man … Tony McPhee of the Groundhogs, for one. Along with the guys in Pink Fairies and the guitarist for Hawkwind—he was part of the crew of early-’70s English, post-psychedelic, hard-rock guys. He played with a lot of blues guys and started going into a lot of weirder hard-rock stuff. I love him.
Peter Green is super cool, [Frank] Zappa is crazy—Hot Rats is so fun to listen to. And then there are the classics: Tony Iommi … Jimmy Page is so rad. It’s cliché to talk about him, but there’s a reason why: He’s so great! He’s so interesting—that’s what it is about him. I also like Bob 1 [Mothersbaugh] from Devo, who’s super weird and cool.
I really like lead guitarists who don’t need to play in your face, they just add a really nice accompaniment to things. There’s also Randy Holden, who was the second guitar player in Blue Cheer. He’s on the third Blue Cheer record [New! Improved! Blue Cheer]. He’s only on the B-side, because they kicked him out—he was too good! [Laughs.] He was pretty rad. And then he put out a solo record, Population II, that’s absolutely insane, with the coolest leads ever. I definitely lean toward extravagant, psychedelic guitar playing. Steve Morgen is another. I like weirdos.
What are your go-to guitars?
My main squeeze for a long time was a ’66 Fender Mustang that I toured with and recorded with for years. But the idea with this record was to mix it up. So I got a ’77 Gibson ES-335, which is what I used on a lot of the rhythm tracks for Manipulator. A lot of the leads are the Mustang. I have just one amp I like to record with—a ’72 Fender Quad Reverb. It’s like a double Twin with four 12" speakers.
Wow, that must be pretty heavy.
Yeah, but it breaks up in the best way ... it sounds like Dick Dale on steroids.
Those kinds of amps are popular among players who want clean sounds. You can get it to break up without going deaf?
Well, I definitely play way too loud! [Laughs.] But it has gain and master volume knobs, so you can kind of control things.
What about effects?
I have a Death By Audio Fuzz War pedal, which is pretty much the only pedal I like using these days.
Do you have a string preference?
I like to play .011 sets. Ernie Balls are rad, but I’ve been switching around a bit. I played Ernie Balls for a really long time, then I switched to D’Addarios, which I’m trying out right now.
What are you looking for in a string set?
I just want the toughest strings out there that aren’t going to break. I break strings every other show if I don’t change them. It’s super annoying. One issue is that Fender Mustang bridge….
Do you use the tremolo on the Mustang?
So much—it’s kind of stupid how much I use it.
Aside from their floating tremolo bridges, Mustangs are quirky when it comes to the pickup phase switches.
When I want to play the Mustang, I just set it with the bridge pickup on “rhythm,” because it has so much treble to begin with. And then on my amp, I’ll turn every tone knob up to 10.