This circa-1987 pic shows me with my mostly covers band, the Edge, at the Backstage Cafe in Provo, Utah. I’m the one with the red Kramer and kick-ass acid-washed jeans.
After spending countless hours researching, writing, and sourcing photos for this month’s entirely-too-ambitious “Quintessential Rock Rigs by Decade” feature, it was difficult to resist meandering down my own memory lane, fuzzy as it was from lack of sleep. And, frankly, what I saw was often quite pathetic and embarrassing—although it did get better over the years.
Then again, that’s kinda what we all think when we consider images from our past, right? There’s a whole lot of “Holy shit—why? WHY did I wear that iridescent shirt … that mullet-esque haircut … those acid-washed jeans???”
Much of my guitar-rig embarrassment stems from a handful of facts: When I was 13 and got my first electric, I did not know a single guitarist besides my teacher. I also lived in a religiously über-conservative town (Provo, Utah) with an almost-nonexistent music scene and a single, cool-but-tiny guitar shop tucked away in an old house waaaaay across town. In high school, there were two other guitar players, an 11th and a 12th grader who, while also cool, weren’t aching to hang with a 9th-grader. All this cultivated an ignorance and naiveté that could only lead to disaster.
I was entirely too influenced by guitar mags rather than mentors, not adequately world-wise, nor possessed of a healthy enough skepticism, so my gear aspirations were pretty much blown whichever way glossy ads and pics of my heroes blew them. But enough excuses. Without further ado, here are the rigs that epitomize my guitar-playing decades.
The 1980s. Bought in 1985 with no inkling what I was doing, my first electric was an ’83 Strat that had lingered at the tiny-house shop for a couple years. That’s because now-universally-derided ’83s had been redesigned with a horrible (thankfully short-lived) new tremolo, and stripped of their second tone knob. Won in a drawing on the same day was my first amp: A solid-state Marshall Master Lead Combo 1x12 that was … meh. Not that my playing or ears would’ve known the difference on any of this anyway. My first pedal was a DOD FX56 American Metal—an early indication of my developing ears’ hunt for sounds more like my hero, Eddie Van Halen. That and my burgeoning appetite for guitar mags led to my first big rig evolution: Acquisition of a new, top-of-the-line Kramer Stagemaster Custom, followed by a DigiTech DSP-128 multi-effector, and an ADA MP-1 programmable tube preamp, the latter two being controlled by a DigiTech PDS3550 MIDI Pedal and then fed into a Roland JC-120. [Blushing.]
The 1990s. Having finally graduated high school, I had a tad more maturity during this period. That and the changing musical landscape finally started steering me toward saner gear waters. With no Craigslist, and being a full-time college student and playing the same sucky local music scene, I couldn’t unload my Kramer to get the funds for the vintage-style Strat inspired by my Eric Johnson infatuation. I ran my refinished Kramer through a Fender ’65 Twin Reverb reissue, a Hughes & Kettner Tubeman preamp pedal, and maybe an MXR Phase 90. Midway through the decade, I went into foolish debt for a lavish-topped Paul Reed Smith Custom 24, which I ran through the Tubeman, an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone, a Dunlop Rotovibe, and an Ibanez AD99 analog delay, and, eventually, into a new Matchless Skyliner Reverb.
The 2000s. Gear-wise, this decade was a mess—albeit a fun mess full of new experiences … and squandered money. As a young (and still kinda foolish) husband and dad living on meager wages in San Francisco, I went through a lot of unfortunate gear sales just to keep things afloat. The PRS and Matchless went bye-bye. As did the high-end Hamer Vanguard Korina, Budda Superdrive 30, Reverend Hellhound, Line 6 Flextone, Fender Deluxe Nashville Tele (and the ’60s reissue Strat I traded it for), Gibson ’67 Flying V reissue, and ’65 Deluxe Reverb reissue. When things finally settled down a little bit, my go-to gig rig was a Schecter Ultra III (which I still own), a Fulltone OCD, a DigiTech Whammy, a Demeter Tremulator, a DigiTech DigiDelay, and a silverface Fender Vibro Champ.
The 2010s. I’ve gone through more gear than ever in the past decade, although in many ways my rig has also changed less than ever. Gone are the expensive guitars, replaced by upgraded affordable models, most notably my customized Squier Vintage Modified Tele with Curtis Novak JV-M and Tel-V pickups that I’ve used for countless PG gear reviews, and the Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster my wife gave me. The latter I modified with a Warmoth baritone neck and Curtis Novak Jazzmaster Widerange pickups, a change that made it my absolute go-to for 90 percent of material in my band.
For several years now, I’ve blasted all my guitars through two amps running in tandem: A 2011 Goodsell Valpreaux 21 with a ceramic Weber Blue Dog, and a 2013 Jaguar HC50 with a ceramic Weber Gray Wolf. My mainstay pedals? A Jordan Fuzztite, a J. Rockett Audio Archer, a DryBell Vibe Machine (with Moog expression pedal), an Ibanez Echo Shifter, and an MXR Reverb controlled by a Dunlop Volume (X) Mini.
Of course, the 2010s aren’t over yet, and every day brings new temptation—especially when you’re lucky enough to work at a place with a continuous stream of rad gear coming through its door. Here’s to lusting and squandering in the days to come!