Deftones, left to right: Stephen Carpenter (lead guitar), Chino Moreno (vocals, rhythm guitar), Sergio Vega (bass), Abe Cunningham (drums), and Frank Delgado (keys). Photo by Frank Maddocks
Grammy-winning rock group Deftones is a guitar-centric, riff-driven band. Since their 1995 debut, Adrenaline, the alt legends have been revered as extremely passionate masters of sonic layering. And Gore, their eighth studio release, is a guitar tour de force, featuring low-tuned 8-strings, swirly delays, sonic soundscapes, and bone-crushing chunk. Stephen Carpenter is the band’s primary guitarist, while lead singer Chino Moreno started adding additional guitars with their third release, 2000’s White Pony. Together, they create a dense, colorful, musical wall. “It’s like the bulldozer effect,” Carpenter says. “You just get in where you fit in.”
Carpenter is the consummate gear head. He runs his signature ESP guitars through a wall of Fractal processing, Engl preamps, and Orange cabinets. He likes to tinker, experiment, and modify gear—something he’s been doing since his days as a tech. “I did everything: guitars, drums, and bass,” he says about his time working for a local Sacramento band before Deftones took off. “I took a guitar apart and put it back together the best I knew based on all the knowledge I had read up on, was told about, and absorbed from others.” Deftones new album—two years in the making—builds on Carpenter’s experience, experimentation, and vast tonal awareness. Moreno adds a different perspective to the mix. “If it sounds good in a little room with all of us in a circle then there’s a good chance it should sound good on tape or recorded,” he says.
“It was one of those things that was meant to be,” Moreno says. “It doesn’t sound contrived, like we tried to do something outside of the box. It just sounds like something that was very casual and really nice.”
PG spoke with Carpenter and Moreno (see sidebar) about 7- and 8-string guitars, low tunings, click tracks, Carpenter’s battle with his digital rig, and Moreno’s need for simplicity. (And no, we didn’t ask about the flamingos.)
When was the last time you played a 6-string guitar?
Stephen Carpenter: It was about 15 years ago.
What drew you to the 7- and 8-strings?
The lower registers. Having that option to drop down to the lower stuff—it’s just fun, really heavy to play, a little darkness. Darkness!
How do you tune them?
Nothing fancy, by any stretch. On my 7-string tunings I used Ab or G#—whichever you desire—and that was for the self-titled  record. On the Saturday Night Wrist record I just drop-tuned the bottom string down to F#. I started playing the 8-string on [2010’s] Diamond Eyes, and that’s just the standard tuning that came on the guitar: F# on the bottom and then your standard B–E–A–D–G–B–E. All I did for the next record, Koi No Yukon, was drop-tune the bottom string down to E. That was about the time I met the guys from Animals as Leaders and Periphery. Tosin [Abasi] told me they were into dropped-E tunings. He said, “Hey you should check that out.” So I did.
That’s basically the bass register.
Yeah, of course, and it’s actually been quite tough for me. Not actually playing it on the guitar, but the coupling in the band—because I wish I had an equal on the bass. It’s just not possible with the actual bass. To match it, you really need to have a synthesizer or something where you can actually go down to that octave. My biggest difficulty is really trying to mess with the bass without sounding like me and the bass are playing a dual part. I haven’t given a great deal of thought to it, but whenever I’m jamming out, that’s the wall I run into. But that’s largely in part because I don’t play in a metal band—I am the metal ingredient of my band [laughs]. I think if the other guys were more interested in the metal side they’d probably do what it takes to get that register for me.
And you have both standard- and baritone-scale guitars.
Yes. I have both a standard-scale 7-string and a baritone. Throughout White Pony I used a standard scale 7-string. I had it set up like my 6-strings, but I was using an extra high-E string on the top, just like a drone.
How do you come up with riffs?
I’m not trained in any type of theory. I’m just noodling around until I find something I like.
And you like to play to a click track?
I play to a click track all the time. I love it. The band doesn’t play to a click track, but personally, I’ll write to a click track anytime.
Do you keep the click on the downbeat, or do you put the click on the backbeat and play games with it?
I really just put it on either eighths or 16th beats. I don’t have any skills in it, but it’s on my very soon to-do list—to improve my abilities in making a tempo map. That way I can really start going with whatever crazy ideas I want and just change it all the time, because that’s what I love.
Do the clicks get in the way when you start playing things in odd meters?
No, because I think all odd meters still float around the exact same time. It’s just where you’re starting at—where you’re starting and stopping, right?
And what’s the guitar? The guitar is like the ribbon around the present. You get the drums doing this time, the bass is going, everybody can be rotating around each other and can come together, play the exact same thing, and create this one effect. It’s up to the creative individuals at that moment and how they want to manipulate the sound and time. That’s what is so awesome about music and what’s so amazing about modern music. I love so many of the new bands that are coming out. I think everybody is just killing it. Just amazing players out there. Everybody is just shredding it.
Anybody in particular?
Man, the list is long.