Segall plays his 1970 Les Paul on August 16, 2014, at the Ceremonia festival in Toluca, Mexico. He got the guitar at a bargain price because of its repaired headstock. Photo by Tony Franćois.
Is there any other guitar gear that’s getting you excited these days?
I didn’t want to bring my hollowbody on tour, so I got a 1970 Gibson Les Paul for the road. It had a broken headstock, but that was fixed around 1975 and has been fine ever since. That’s cool, because that made it cost about $2,000 less than it should have!
What about the acoustic guitar on Manipulator?
A lot of it is 12-string. I have an old Italian 12-string from the ’70s. Live, it sounds dead—it’s backwards and wrong. But it records perfectly. It sounds like cardboard, which is great. You turn up the mic and there are no weird low-mid frequencies, which can sometimes be a problem. I also have a really nice Gibson 12-string acoustic. But recorded, it sounds like shit. I also have a Stella acoustic guitar that sounds really bad live. But recorded, it sounds great. Those are the two acoustic guitars on the record.
What’s going on in the bass department?
I have a ’68 Gibson EB-0 bass. With its short scale, that one is super fun to play. The action on this one is super low, so I can do crazy stuff on it.
What about bass strings?
I’m a fan of flatwound strings.
How do you amplify your bass?
I usually play it through my Fender Quad—I don’t have a designated bass amp. But for this album, I borrowed my buddy’s ’70s Ampeg B-15.
The bass tone on “Feel” is especially gnarly. What went into that?
Ah, there’s a secret on that one! We sped up the tape machine, and I played guitar as the bass line. We then put it back to normal speed so it was an octave lower. Then it was mixed with an actual bass track, which gave it a particular sound.
You get a sick, crunchy rhythm guitar tone on songs like “The Faker” and “Susie Thumb.” Is that your Gibson ES-335 in action?
Yes, often through the Fuzz War pedal.
What’s your approach to using fuzz pedals on rhythm guitar tracks?
The way I see it, all that breakup and noise works like cool blemishes on the record. Put very simply, I’ll think: The verse is clean, the chorus is fuzzy. Rhythm and lead guitar parts often work the same way.
And your strategy in terms of creating memorable guitar solos?
I view myself as playing two different types of guitar solos: the melodic hook solo, and the noisy weirdo solo. It’s all about having perspective and being appropriate. But all of that stuff is like taking a ball of paint and throwing it against the wall.
That probably doesn’t work every time.
Oh, not at all. But you work through it and you reach another place where you “get it.”
What about playing live?
It’s different live, because the songs change and become entirely different beasts. It’s all part of a song becoming “finished.”
Ty Segall and his band slay it on Conan, performing “Feel” off his new album, Manipulator. Forward to 1:50 for a freak-out solo!
Who’s in your live band?
Charles Mootheart is the other guitar player in the band. He’s a madman—a far better guitar player than I am. He’s the guitar player in my other band, Fuzz, where he’s the main riffmaster. He used to play Fender Mustangs and now he plays a custom guitar. He uses a Fuzz War, as well, and he plays through a Music Man 4x10 amp, and a Fender Twin head through a 4x12 cabinet.
Live, I play my Fender Quad Reverb and a Music Man head through a 4x12 cabinet. We both play through two amps.
On bass, you have Mikal Cronin. What gear does he use?
He plays a Rickenbacker through a giant [Ampeg] 8x10 cabinet.
Given that you tracked most of the parts on Manipulator, how do these other players get you psyched?
That’s the coolest part of it all: We’re all learning it together as a band. And as a band, I think we’re generally louder, faster, and a bit more aggressive. That’s exciting to me, especially when tackling songs that were written in a more controlled environment. Everybody in the band rips, so to take the songs into a less-controlled place is pretty amazing.
How involved are you in steering the overall sound of the ensemble onstage?
The way I see it, my role is in setting the tempo and the chord changes. That’s it. With a band, some things will take on a different vocal harmony, vibe, etc.
Aside from the band, what have you heard this year that gets you excited to play?
I’ve always been a total record junkie-nerd-weirdo, rummaging through records for new discoveries. Lately, I’ve been overloaded with stuff, such that I’m continuously buying records.Also I’m really fortunate to know a lot of great players—Mikal has some solo records that are insane and great, along with the band White Fence, which I just worked with. The cool thing is that everybody’s pushing each other all the time, but there’s no negativity and harshness—it’s positive and helpful. It’s like a friendly competition, which is cool.