Guitarist and vocalist Dave Timnick uses Sacha Dunable’s flagship model—the Yarnhawk—that he now prefers over his Gibson Les Pauls. Photo by Saul Torres
Gear-wise, you switched from Laney to Mesa/Boogie heads and, Sacha, you’re building guitars and pickups now under Dunable Guitars [See sidebar on Sacha’s company on page 4.], so you and Dave are using those. Have these changes improved your tone?
Dunable: We used to take a bunch of gear into the studio and then parse it back for touring, but this recording cycle we recorded with our live rigs. Lean and mean. I used two Mesa/Boogie Royal Atlantic heads into matching 4x12s for a stereo rig. I really love the British voicing the amp has and really appreciate its simple layout [laughs]. We’re using the guitars I built and they have a 25.5" scale length, which is longer than our previous guitars, so that gives a bit more string tension, better snap and response from note to note, and, when we tune down, more definition, clarity, and overall intonation.
Timnick: Joe started using the Aguilar DB 751 bass head, too. I feel that Joe’s parts—especially when he stretches out—really pop in the mix. Now that we’re using Sacha’s guitars and pickups, these discontinued Royal Atlantic heads, and Joe is on the Aguilar head, we’ve reached the full realization of the sound that’s been living inside our brains. We couldn’t be happier with it.
Did you feel like the Royal Atlantic is brighter than the Laney?
Dunable: Oh, it’s definitely brighter—it’s way brighter than my Mark V, too—like a ’70s or ’80s Marshall. It really takes pedals well, so when I need a solo boost or just a volume jump, I’ll put a Way Huge Saucy Box in front of it, with its output all the way up and the drive all the way down—just like an old TS-9 would push a Marshall. You’re probably going to ask me why I just don’t use the Tube Screamer-and-Marshall setup [laughs], but I find the Royal Atlantic to be more of a versatile amp with a killer clean channel.
Sacha, you’ve been building guitars for a few years under your own name, but you just started producing pickups. Why?
Dunable: I wasn’t happy [laughs]. I’m on this never-ending quest to find the perfect pickup. I’ve used passives and, most recently, we were using active EMG models, which I really liked because you get a strong output that is clear and crisp. The active nature of the pickup just crushed the amp without having to use much drive or dirt from my pedals. Currently, I’m using my Baphomet pickups that are a mash-up of certain pickups I’ve enjoyed over the years. They are low-output pickups that have ceramic magnets, are wound with 42-gauge wire, and are about 10 kHz (neck) and 12 kHz (bridge). They’re a little compressed, but have an even output. They’re perfect if you want the abrasiveness of an active, but the dynamics of a passive, and need an attack like an icepick [laughs].
I typically don’t hear of ceramics used for heavier pickups.
Dunable: Honestly, it was an experiment because we’re using those big, burly sounding, British-flavored amps. I was hoping that the ceramic magnets would offer more cut and top-end clarity than alnico-magnet pickups. I’m really happy that I didn’t overwind the pickups—something typical with rock or metal pickups— because they have a lot of dynamics and feel on the clean channel, making them way more versatile than I originally thought possible.
Dave, what’s it like being in a band with the builder of the guitars you play?
Timnick: It’s pretty awesome. It’s like I have my own walking-and-talking personal lifetime warranty, because if something goes wrong I can just cross the stage or rehearsal room and ask him to take a look at it. Sacha is such a dedicated builder and student of the craft that it was an easy decision to switch guitars and go away from active pickups once I held, played, and heard the tone of his pickups and instruments.
What other pedals did you use on this album?
Dunable: I love pedals. I love buying them. I love trading them. However, recently I’ve been in this consolidation mood and I got rid of all my stompboxes—aside from the Saucy Box—and have been using the TC Electronic G-System. I still have a few auxiliary items like a DigiTech Whammy, a looper, a tuner, plus the G-System on my board, so it’s not like it’s any smaller. But I do like that everything looks neater and I can control my amp-channel switching with the G-System, too. I like the idea of being able to program sequences or patches rather than tap dancing three pedals on while trying to play and sing.
Timnick: My drive pedals are an MXR Il Torino—to goose the amp quite a bit—and a Mesa/Boogie Tone-Burst that is on most of the time. I barely have the gain knob turned up so it’s more of a clean boost for added volume. I have two delays: a Way Huge Echo-Puss and an Eventide TimeFactor. The Echo-Puss goes before the amp, like the Tone-Burst, and is used for atmospheric, longer delays. The TimeFactor is my main delay. It runs in the effects loop of my amp along with the Il Torino, and I love it because it can do anything imaginable.
Sacha, what looper do you use?
Dunable: It’s an old Boss RC-20 Loop Station. I got the idea of incorporating it into our performances and recordings when we toured with Cloudkicker. He does loops on top of loops so standing next to him for 30 nights gave me a front-seat tour on how powerful a looper can be when in the right hands. I used the looper on almost every song for The Direction of Last Things.
The boys hammer through an instrumental rendition of “Digital Gerrymandering” during a short tour before recording The Direction of Last Things. Be sure to check out the intro—and the two-minute mark—to see how Dave Timnick incorporates tapping over the top of Sacha Dunable’s various loops and riffs.
Did you use looping to create the complex opening and closing of “Digital Gerrymandering?”
Dunable: With my stereo Mesa rig, I’d play one part, loop it, and then go and start playing another part over it through the other amp. I create a loop and then kind of harmonize over the top of it. Dave then does this palm-mute thing with a heavy attack, and I eventually let the loop go and switch to the palm-mute part as Dave shifts into weird finger tapping with this odd 7/4 polyrhythm. It’s a pretty wild song. Dave is a rhythmic master—he studied polyrhythms—and is more of a drummer than a guitar player. He has this capacity to think of rhythmic ideas that is way above my head. He’s a secret weapon in a lot of ways.
Dave, how has your drumming background helped you as a guitarist?
Timnick: For the longest time, guitar was just something I fumbled on when I was hanging out in my room. I never took it seriously. That was reserved for playing drums [laughs]. Everything is based on patterns and musical resolutions. When I was asked to join Intronaut I wasn’t even actively playing guitar. I only did it to help out my friend, Joe. It wasn’t until I started studying tab and looking beyond drums that I realized how everything was connected: No matter if it’s drumming, stringed instruments, or keyboards—rhythm is key. If you have that on any instrument, you can learn the others.
Could you tell me about the development of the absurdly complex song “Sul Ponticello?”
Dunable: That was probably the first demo I made for this album and, yeah, that song really does go through a lot of stages, but the recorded version sounds drastically different than what I brought to the table. It was basically two riffs or ideas that I kind of haphazardly put together to show the other guys. The whole band had an active role in taking it to an eight-minute voyage. The main guitar riff is in, like, a timing of 9, and that’s the backbone of the entire song. Then we added in chords, harmonies, rhythm loops, textures, and different phrasings to slowly build up to the crescendo that is one big, harmonic payoff at the end. It’s definitely one of my favorite songs on the record.
On “City Hymnal” and in the slow, emotive solo in “The Unlikely Event of a Water Landing,” the vibe reminds me of Alice in Chains and, specifically, Jerry Cantrell’s playing. Is he and that band an influence?
Dunable: Definitely. We’re all huge fans. That’s an influence we’ll never escape, because we’re all in our mid-30s and Dirt came out when we were in junior high, so it was a coming-of-age album for us. It’s probably a subliminal influence, because no one declared that we should make an Alice in Chains song or play like Jerry Cantrell, but when we first started adding lyrics and singing to our music years ago, Dave and I would practice our vocals by playing and singing Alice in Chains songs. One thing that could be connected to that band as an influence would be the focus we put on vocal melodies and harmonies.
How do you guys approach crafting guitar parts that work together?
Timnick: It’s inevitable that we’re going to lock in for doubled riffs and harmonized single-note runs, but where most bands have a lead-and-rhythm-guitar structure, we don’t. We both play solos. Sacha and I say, “Think of all the cool combinations of sounds and notes we can get if we’re both doing our own thing while still complementing the song.” We’re creating an environment musically where we can all be freer, as opposed to needing to follow exactly what somebody else is doing.