This photo illustrates Bill Frisell’s daily ritual: wake up, have coffee, write music. “At this point, there are piles and piles and piles of single pages of staff paper filled with his graceful script,” reads the press release for his new album, Music IS. Photo by Monica Jane Frisell
What is that Gretsch?
I’ve had it for a long, long time. It’s an Anniversary from the late ’50s and it’s been through a lot. It was single-pickup when I got it and I added the second pickup and a Bigsby to it, and I changed the bridge. It’s been refretted. They had to reglue the fingerboard onto it and all that stuff. It’s been really fixed up.
There’s a guy, John Stewart, who deals in mostly archtop guitars, and there was a time when I had thought to sell this guitar. Then I changed my mind, but he had a picture of it on his website. Some guy called him and it turns out he was the original owner of this guitar. He was a professional guitar player in the ’50s and ’60s, in a country band. There’s a publicity picture of him with a cowboy hat and all that, playing this guitar. The reason he recognized it is because he had stickers all over it. They look like things that my grandmother would have put on her bread box or something—these little flower stickers that are all around where the knobs are. They’ve sort of melted into the lacquer of the guitar so you can’t take them off.
How about the amps and effects you used on this record?
At home, I’ve got this 1x10 Gibson amp. I think it says “Explorer” on it—just volume, tone, and tremolo. That’s one of my favorite amps. Tucker Martine at the studio [Editor’s note: Martine engineered the album at his Flora Recording & Playback in Portland.] ended up buying an amp just like it, so I had that and I used a Carr Mercury, which Tucker has at the studio and I like a lot. Then there was one other amp—it might have been a Princeton—that I sometimes used.
And then the effects: I always used the Line 6 pedal: the DL4. I used an Ibanez Tube Screamer and I used a Catalinbread Katzenkönig. It’s like a real intense kind of fuzz tone thing, and then I used a ZVEX Ringtone. Some of the oddball stuff came out of that. You can get almost a sort of sequencer-like thing. And then a Strymon Flint reverb and tremolo. I always have that around these days. One thing that’s been great: this Lehle—it’s a Little Dual—because I use two amps a lot and it’s made for switching between amps.
The track “Think About It” was recorded through a piano. Was that your idea?
Oh yeah. We just stuck the amp right in the back of the strings of a piano. I didn’t use any real reverb or anything. It’s just the pedal is being held down and the strings are ringing. I’m playing pretty loud into the strings of the piano. Later I found out that piano was owned by Richard Manuel from the Band, so it sort of took on this whole other vibe thing with thinking of all those songs he played or wrote on that.
You seem to attract instruments that are part of a cycle.
I love that. There really is something about when you play a guitar that someone else has put a lot of time into. Recently, I got to play one of Tal Farlow’s guitars. It was his main guitar. This was at Rudy’s Music in New York, and they had a few of Tal Farlow’s guitars. It was just incredible—like I could almost feel the pathways of where his fingers had been on that. Suddenly, I could play these chords that I’d never been able to play before. Because he had these really long fingers. I started playing the guitar and I was like, wow, my fingers are kind of ... I don’t know—a lot goes on with these instruments.
Melody shines brightly throughout this improvisation, which is clean and un-effected compared to the version of “Rambler” on the Music IS album. Frisell reworks the tune with every pass on his ’50s Gretsch Anniversary model, allowing the Filter’Tron pickups to work articulate magic.