“I’ve got a good sense of getting to the nitty-gritty as a player,” says Trower, “so maybe I’ve pared away a lot of superfluous stuff. I can get to something I can put my heart and soul into a lot easier now.”
Photo by Laurence Harvey

How did you and Livingstone Brown set about laying down the tracks for this album?
It always starts with a guitar part. I’d get the guitar down to a click—basically a drum machine—and then do a guide vocal, and then probably put the bass on myself. So I’ve got to have that part worked out pretty early, because everything else goes up from there, and then the drums are added later. The basic tracks were all cut at Livi’s studio, and then I went back to Studio 91 [in Newbury, Berkshire, England] to do the lead work. Quite often, I revisit the guitar parts after the drums have gone on, and it’s quite nice to sing it last, as well. I mean, to have the whole song on there when you’re singing—that’s pretty important.

Have you played bass as long as you’ve played guitar?
No. I only really took it up about three albums ago. I just started to come up with bass parts, and I was happy with what I was doing, so I carried it through. I bought a couple of Fender Precisions some years ago, and I’m using one of them. They’re both reissues—not vintage—and I think I used a Marshall [VBA] 400 stack to record them. On a couple of tracks, I got Livingstone to replace the bass because I wasn’t really up to being able to play the part I’d come up with. It really needed the proper player to do it right. On “You’re the One,” for example, the bass was the last thing to go on there, because we did it in the mix.

“There’s no doubt that Jimi Hendrix was a huge influence. What he was doing couldn’t be ignored.”

You’ve worked on your tone for a long time, and it has remained very consistent. What are some of your secrets behind that?
Well, I’ve always maintained that to get a decent sound out of the guitar, especially a Strat, you have to get a good acoustic sound. I have quite a high action, so you’re getting more resonance. It’s important to get that from the start, before you even amp it up or put it through a pedal. That’s one of the reasons why when I chose what I would have on my signature model Strat, I went for the bigger headstock because I thought that might add a little bit more resonance—a bit more wood. All these little things add up when it comes out the amp—the tuning, the heavier strings, the higher action—but also for many years now, I’ve only played through overdrive pedals made by Fulltone. So it’s a matter of the way the Strat is set up, using the various Fulltone pedals, and a Marshall amp.

You also tune down a whole-step, which adds a lot of depth to your tone.
That’s so I can use heavier strings on the top two and get a bit more of a fat tone out of them. And if you’re going to use heavy strings, you’ve got to tune down anyway so you can bend them and vibrato them—that’s the thing. You do get a fatter sound out of it. If you use a normal gauge on a Strat, the top two strings always sound a bit slinky.

 

Robin Trower’s Gear

Guitars
Fender Custom Shop Robin Trower Signature Stratocaster with Custom ’54 (neck), RW/RP Custom ’60s (middle), and Texas Special (bridge) single-coil pickups.

Amps
Marshall Bluesbreaker 2x12 combo
Marshall 50-watt MK II 1987x reissue head with 2x12 or 4x12 cabinets

Effects
Fulltone Deja-Vibe
Fulltone Soul-Bender
Original Fulltone Full-Drive
Fulltone RT Signature Overdrive
Fulltone OCD V2
Fulltone Clyde Wah
Fulltone WahFull

Strings and Picks
Ernie Ball custom set (.048, .036, .026, .017, .015, .012)
Dunlop 483 heavy celluloid 1.0 mm

What’s the main Strat that you’re playing on this album?
Actually there are two different ones, and even though they’re built to my specifications, each one has its own character. I think that’s more to do with the wood it’s made of than anything else. But there’s a Pacific Blue Strat I play on most of the album, and just as an aside, Fender is putting out my signature Strat in that color, too.

When you and the Fender Custom Shop’s Todd Krause worked together on your signature Strat, what did you talk about as far as the specs were concerned?
It was pretty straightforward. It uses quite a flat radius on the neck, with jumbo frets and the bigger headstock, as I said. I wanted the vintage saddles and the tremolo arm, and a 5-way switch. With the pickups, we were going for a pretty specific sound.

The neck pickup is a ’50s reissue, the middle is a ’60s reissue, and the bridge pickup is what they call a Texas Special. The thing is, I’m on the neck most of the time, and with that ’50s pickup, it’s quite light-sounding and low output, so you get a nice lot of top end and a lot of the strings.

How did you first hook up with Mike Fuller at Fulltone?
Well, the earliest pedal I got from him was in ’93, I think. That was a very early Full-Drive, with three controls on it, and I still use it now and again. In fact, I was using it on the whole of the last tour until the end, when he sent me a new OCD [Obsessive Compulsive Drive V2], so I switched to that. I really like it and I’m using that at the moment.

Eventually, Mike came up with the idea of making an overdrive especially for me. I was using that for years [since 2008], and I still go to it in recording, but on the last tour I didn’t use it. I went back to the original Full-Drive because it’s got a more open sound, which suited the rig better for some reason. But this new OCD is really good, very smooth. So yeah, I’m switching about all the time.