Paschke is most known for his work with hip-hop artists like Pharrell and Snoop Dogg. In this case, Paschke’s main sound is his ’57 Tele with his Matchless amp.

What are some other keys to finding success as a pop/urban session and touring player?
I think sound is a big one that a lot of guitarists miss. Obviously, the right sound depends on what style you’re doing. But one thing is universal: My dad, who is the most conservative guy I’ve ever met, would always tell me, “Buy the best tools you can.” This is very true in the guitar world.

I’ve been recording with Pharrell for almost 15 years now. He’s used to hearing my favorite guitar—a ’57 Tele—and my Matchless HC-30 amp. He has no idea what kind of guitar it is, what amp it is, how expensive it is, how old it is, or how dope it is. But he does know great classic tone. And when he hears it, he always approves it. The moral of the tone story is: You usually get what you pay for. If you want a great amp, it’s usually going to be a handwired boutique amp. A great guitar is usually going to be either vintage or handmade. There are exceptions to this, of course. I’ve played some really great cheap amps and guitars. But if you want that killer tone, you’ll spend less time by investing some more money.

“My dad, who is the most conservative guy I’ve ever met, would always tell me, ‘Buy the best tools you can.’ This is very true
in the guitar world.”

Do you always stay with Teles and tubes? Funny, I’d associate that combination more with roots rock than highly produced pop.
We do use modeling tools, like the Kemper Profiler amplifier, but I’ve spent weeks working with different profiles, profiling my own amps, and setting it up to make sure there are no curveballs for him—or me for that matter.

Other than sound, what’s the key to keeping a gig like yours?
Another really important thing some players miss is timing. Back in the days of recording to tape, timing was everything. You usually had to play the chorus three times, a couple of verses, and a bridge. So you’d spend a lot of time with your drummer in a rehearsal room with a click, locking in feel and timing. Are you pushing or pulling a little before the chorus comes for some extra excitement? A great drummer will also sometimes lay back on a fill going into a section, so when it gets to the one of the new section, it feels like a slingshot and pulls you in.

Brent Paschke's Gear

1957 Fender Telecaster, non-original pickups
1964 Fender Stratocaster
1976 Fender Stratocaster with custom Seymour Duncan pickups
1974 Gibson ES-335
1982 Les Paul Heritage series
1987 “Loch Ness” Ibanez JEM
Custom pink Plexiglas Strat-style

Acoustic Guitars
1996 Collings D1
2006 Gibson J-45

1996 Matchless HC-30 with Matchless 2x12 cabinet loaded with Celestion 12H30 and G12M Greenback speakers
2000 Blockhead Firstborn (Marshall “Bluesbreaker” clone) with 2x12 cab loaded with Celestion Blue speakers
2014 Kemper Profiler head

Bob Bradshaw RST 16 foot controller configured with four presets
ZVEX Fuzz Factory FF7
Analog Man Bi-Compressor
Boss Octave OC-2
Tim Pierce Overdrive
Strymon Mobius
Strymon TimeLine
Wampler Deluxe Pinnacle
Vintage Script Logo MXR Phase 90
Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 4x4 (2)

Strings and Picks
D’Addario EXL 115 .011–.049 (’57 Tele, ’64 Strat, ’82 Heritage)
D’Addario EXL 110 .011–.046: (’76 Strat and custom Plexiglas Strat-style)
D’Addario EXL 140 .010–.052 (’74 ES-335)
Dunlop 2.0 mm and .60 mm picks

How do you get that feel when you’re recording to programmed beats?
In the studio, I think it’s best if I can play the whole song through. If not, of course we can cut-and-paste or punch-in easily, but hey—why not go for feel and get inside the song and see if I can pull off the whole thing? You can practice that just by recording a lot.

Another way to improve your timing is to use a click live. At first, a click onstage can feel like it cages you in. But over time it doesn’t. You start to get that internal push and pull within it. Also, with other players in the band on a click, you always have a reference—and the same reference. Live, my job is to be the foundation for Pharrell. I need to make sure what I’m doing is supporting where he is going. So the click is keeping me in line, but Pharrell is deciding where the vibe is going. Is he pushing? Is he wanting to be more intimate for this verse? Does he want to take it out a little? Make it feel choppier? Lay it back? The list goes on.

How did you hook up with Pharrell?
My band, Spymob, was shopping for record deals in the late 1990s, so publishing and record companies had our demos. We were a pop-rock band—our main influences were Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren, and ’70s pop. At one point, Pharrell and Chad of the Neptunes got our demo from some label or publishing company. They really loved Spymob, so when we lost our deal with Epic records, we signed to [the Neptunes’ label] Star Trak, with Pharrell and Chad.

Was it hard to go from being part of your own rock band to being a session and touring player doing hip-hop and R&B?
Honestly, this was a dream come true for me. At that time the mixture of hip-hop and live instruments wasn’t that common. I loved all the rhythmic elements and new cutting-edge things that were being done with drum machines, and really wanted to make a record with someone blending those. The bonus for me was that Pharrell and Chad wrote amazing songs to play over. This was the beginning. N*E*R*D’s In Search Of... is where that all started for me. That still stands as one of my most proud recording moments.

What are you using in the studio these days?
I pick guitars according to the kind of work I’m doing. For a session, I’ll usually take my ’57 Tele, 1964 Strat, 1982 Heritage single-cut, 1974 Gibson ES-335, 1976 Strat, and Gibson J-45 and Collings D1 acoustics.

People know me most for my work with Pharrell, and with him, my main sound is my Tele with my Matchless. More recent is probably the 335 through different Kemper models. But that said, I seem to work best with my standards and not going too far out of the box.

That’s a pretty nice arsenal.
My theory on guitars is to first get at least a couple of amazing default “standard” guitars. I feel that would be a Strat, Tele, or Les Paul for starters. They will usually cost you a bit, unless you get a lucky find. I bought my ’57 Tele when I was in my early 20s, so early on I had a taste of an amazing sounding, playing, and recording guitar. My ’64 Strat was next. For years, they were really the only guitars I had that sounded amazing no matter what. Some guitars just have that correct midrange, tight low end, clean top end—a balanced sound.