Paschke’s tone guide is simple: “You get what you pay for. If you want that killer tone, you’ll spend less time
by investing some more money.”
After having those for a few years, it was hard to settle for less, so I just waited until I had the money to build up my collection of “standards.” Of course, I needed a Les Paul, so I searched out an ’82 Heritage that sounded amazing. Next was my 335. Pharrell has been asking for older sounds recently. He’ll say “Chuck Berry” or someone in that style. I know that usually means a semi-hollowbody. And that was my excuse for getting a good 335.
Do you usually go direct or mic a cabinet?
My amp is most always a on a two-mic combo—a Royer 121 and a dynamic, usually a [Sennheiser] 409 or a 421, whichever sounds best. I also try to have a great mic pre— something like a Great River 1073 style—and I usually like it pushed almost into the red. I always like to record with some compression and prefer [Empirical Labs] Distressors. Default settings are usually a 4:1 ratio, a bit slow of an attack, a bit slow of a release, and no harmonic distortion engaged.
This is when I have the chance to set up amps—which is rare these days. But in a perfect world this is what I do. On the Snoop album, it was all amps and all miked up this way because we had time.
What do you do when you have less time?
I’ve been using my Kemper more and more. I’ve spent quite a bit of time getting to know it and making it work for me. Pharrell shoots very much from the hip and doesn’t overthink. You’ll rarely find an artist so in touch with his inner bliss.
It’s about the part, the feel, and the sound—and probably in that order. To Pharrell, the process is as important as the song, and all of that gets printed. And when I stated that order—the part, the feel, the sound—if you have “the sound” ready, that’s one thing scratched off the list.
So using the Kemper works well for me for a few reasons. One big one is that I can be adjusting everything in my headphones. As Pharrell is working on a track or recording a vocal, I’m checking out different guitars, trying different modeled amps, reverbs, stompbox settings, and delays. I’m getting everything ready at a touch of a button, so when P asks for something, I’ll have it ready. The Kemper gives me flexibility because I can record anywhere, at any time. With P’s schedule, you don’t know where you might be recording. It might be backstage before a show.
What’s the biggest challenge under that kind of time pressure?
To know the part. Pharrell sometimes writes a few different ideas really fast. I’m not sure which one he’s going to end up working on, so I’ll chart everything he does. The studios know to always have a note pad and paper ready for me! P can write some really complex chord progressions, so I’ll be working all these out and figuring out what scales work over the progressions. For example, I might be soloing in the Lydian mode the whole time, but when I get to the last chord on the turnaround, it might work best to use Mixolydian with a flat 6. Along with charting all this, I’ll try to always note the guitar and amp setting I used for any potential punch-ins later.
Pharrell Williams performs “Happy” on Saturday Night Live, April 7, 2014. Paschke is on the right.
How does your touring rig compare to your studio setup?
This is been a moving target for me. When I’m using real amps live, I’m just copying my favorite studio rig: Matchless HC-30 miked with a Royer 121 and a 409 through a Great River mic pre and Distressors. Live, I’m mostly using my ’76 maple-neck Strat with pickups custom-wound by M.J. at Seymour Duncan.
I have a Bradshaw rig that controls all my pedals—a Tim Pierce Distortion, Strymon TimeLine and Mobius, Boss Octave, ZVEX Fuzz Factory 7, Analog Man Bi-Comp Compressor, Wampler Pinnacle Distortion, MXR Phase 90, and a gate. For wireless, I’m using a Shure ULX-D.
On dates where we’re flying most of the time, however, the Kemper works great. I can check my whole Kemper rig—with the Bradshaw included—on a commercial plane. It’s great.
Fifteen years is a long time to work with any artist, especially one as diverse as Pharrell. How do you keep that kind of gig going?
Recording with him is a very cool experience, and you have to treat it as more than just a “session.” These are songs that are not about proving how cool you are, how hard this beat is going to hit, or how much money it’s going to make. These songs are extensions of Pharrell—his personal feelings, his hopes of getting a positive message out, his hopes of giving someone a song that will make them perform at the best they’ve ever performed. So you don’t go in thinking, “I’m just a session player.” Rather, I’m a person who is here to help Pharrell with a vision—I’m not just a guitar player at this point.