Bill Keliher with his white Gibson Explorer Photo: Andrew Stuart -

Do you guys layer all your guitar tracks or just portions?

BK: Usually for the meat and potatoes of a song—the heavy riffs—I usually only use one or two guitars because you don’t want to muddy the tracks with too much guitar. I mean, it’s good to have harmonized, layered guitars, but you don’t want it so much that you can’t hear each note or it becomes ridiculously sloppy sounding. Saying Brent and I are playing a riff—I like to double his part and then I add my own harmony on top of it because that way my two guitars are playing the harmony perfectly. If I’m playing against him, we never play exactly the same because of our styles and natural timing. If he’s got the main the riff and I play exactly what he’s playing and then I add a harmony on top of everything, at least my one of the guitars will lock up.

BH: For the solos, I usually just run through it and listen to what I cut and either start over fresh or if I’m happy with it I’ll pick a few spots and double it to bring some craziness in the mix.

So, let’s talk gear. In reference to the work done on Crack the Skye, did you use any new gear or gear provided by O’Brien?

BH: Oh man, he’s got so much gear. It’s all that old, vintage stuff from the ‘60s and ‘70s—none of that re-issue bullshit—and we just loaded up a truck of what we liked and took it down to the studio. It was just was nice being able to have all sorts of gear at our fingertips to use. For example, we were working on the “Divinations” solo and it starts with this real, surfabilly riff on one string [mimics the guitar sound] and we just wanted to exploit that surf-rock vibe so I busted out a red ‘64 Strat and played the solo through an original purple ‘68 Marshall JMP100 watt head. It sounds great and was exactly what that song needed. And “Quintessence” features Troy Sanders [Mastodon’s bassist] using a ‘79 Moog Taurus analog snyth that we bought before recording. I also play banjo on that same song, so it makes for some interesting tones.

BK: Yeah, he’s got gear to die for! I fooled around with a guitar you will probably never see me play live, which was an old yellow Telecaster with a Bigsby. I also fooled around with his JCM800 Lead Series 100-watt head (original)… those things are heavy metal.

Did you record with your own amps and guitars too?

BH: Of course, I used my ’72 Silverface Fender Twin Reverb head through a 2x15 Silverface cabinet. These bad boys offer me the ability to get some good crystal, clean tones which are a lot more evident on this record. And of course, I used my two different Marshall heads through 4x12 stacks with Celestion speakers (‘78 JMP Mark II Lead Series 100-watt & JMP2203 100-watt) for the more gritty parts. For guitars, I used my ’79 Silverburst Gibson Flying V and other Vs, Les Paul Gold Top, Martin D-15 and my First Act custom guitars.

Bill Kelliher playing his Silverburst LP at The Metro, Chicago, IL 4/20/09 Photo: Trisha Feldman
I have my 1980 Gibson Explorer that’s black and white and a Les Paul Tobacco Sunburst Custom with white binding—one of my favorite guitars because it feels so right in my hands and plays like a dream. I’ve also got an ‘82 Les Paul Silverburst Custom that is my signature, standard guitar that I always bring on tour and to the studio. I’ve got a few Yamaha guitars—an SGB3000 that’s coming in the mail and I have a couple of custom SBG1000s. I also used my First Act custom 9-string Silverburst DC Lola. I recently started using a 100-watt Marshall Kerry King JCM800 (2203KK)—it’s just balls to the wall—in conjunction with a JCM800 reissue.

I’ve been using Marshall cabinets for awhile, but I’ve started using Mills Acoustics Afterburner 412B cabs with my Marshalls. Those Mills cabs are big, beefy, burly sound machines that just rock with four Celestion Vintage 30s. They sound great with the Marshalls.

Bill, you tend do a lot of rearranging with your signal chain, at least with amps and cabs. What was behind switching from using the Laney VH100R head to the Marshalls?

BK: Laney wanted to endorse me and they gave me some stuff to try out. At the time I was using my old Marshall JCM800 dual-channel amp and it sounded great in the Overdrive channel, but the clean channel wasn’t really there. As we started doing more and more clean stuff on our albums, I needed an amp that could go from in-your-face gritty crunch to crystal clean in a second, so I tried out some Laney VH100R heads. Those Laney heads sounded great, but I didn’t have a road-case for them and they got banged up a lot, so I haven’t plugged them in a while.

I just go through different moods with my amps. I stared with the Marshalls, switched to Laneys and then back to the Marshalls. I stay pretty stuck on my guitars, but I do a lot of rearranging with my amps and cabinets. I’m always looking for a new sound by using an old Marshall head through a brand new Mesa Boogie cabinet or a Mesa head through a Laney cab. I go through these weird phases where my ears change and I start to drift away from that sound and want to try something new.

You both are known for playing Silverbursts—what drew you to these guitars?

Brent Hinds playing his Silverburst V at The Metro, Chicago, IL 4/20/09 Photo: Trisha Feldman
BH: It’s actually a long story. Back in the mid-nineties, I stumbled upon my first Gibson Silverburst Flying V at this place called Clark’s Music in Atlanta, GA. It was a ’79 and had a nice white pickguard and I instantly thought it was the coolest guitar in the world. My friend Jerry bought it, because I didn’t have any money back then and some years had passed and I was opening for Neurosis and Today Is The Day with my old band Four Hour Fogger and Jerry asked me if I wanted to borrow it because it was a big show. I agreed, but on terms that he’d have to hold my Gold Top as collateral. So that night I played the show and I let Today Is The Day’s guitarist Steve Austin borrow it—and he took a fucking chunk of wood out of it. Then, I let another friend take it home and the neck was broken on it when he opened the case. So, needless to say, I didn’t my Gold Top back until a few years ago.

So, here I am, stuck with this broken Silverburst Flying V, but I fixed it up and actually used it as my main touring guitar. I’d have to say not many people use the Silverbust Flying V or at least tour with it as much as I did [initially, over five years] and I think that’s why it got stolen in Denmark with Bill’s Tobacco Burst Les Paul. After all that guitar and I had been through, I was kind of heartbroken because you can’t just replace a Silverbust Flying V since not a lot of them are made. So we went to a music store and I tried to find a replacement or something that would catch my eye and I found a Silverburst Les Paul Custom. It wasn’t a Flying V, but it was the closest I could find and right when I was going to get someone I saw Bill handing the dude a credit card for that same Silverbust Custom. So, there was a white Flying V and I stuck with those until I could find another Silverbust V. I finally just called Gibson and had them custom-build me a Silverburst Flying V.

The funny thing is that on the last tour we did in Europe with Slayer, after a gig in Denmark, some random dude gave me back my original ’79 Silverburst Flying V. He said he’d heard about my Silverburst being stolen a few years back and when he was at a vintage guitar convention in Denmark he saw it, bought it and held onto it for me until last year. That guitar shouldn’t be shaped like a ‘V,’ but a boomerang man! [laughs] I’m about to play it right now at practice [hits a chord].

BK: [laughs] Yeah, I guess I kind of stole Brent’s thunder with the Silverburst theme by snaking that guitar from him. I just like the way it looked and it just so happened to play like a dream.

Brent, it’s been know that you don’t use many pedals, tell me about the select few that are in your current arsenal.

BH: Generally, the only pedal I regularly use is this pedal my buddy John Spears [Monster Effects] made called the Mastortion. It pretty much has the power to blow a head right of my stacks, but that’s what I wanted. When it’s harnessed, that baby delivers… [laughs] He needs to build me another one, but he’s pretty elusive. The only other pedals I use are an Ibanez Tubescreamer TS-9, a Boss DD-6 Digital Delay, a Boss GE-7 Equalizer and a Boss TU-2 Tuner. That’s not to say I don’t add or drop a pedal here and there, but for the most part, I’m pretty minimal when it comes to the effects.

Anything other than those effects or something with a lot of knobs and switches [laughs], I don’t know how to work! I want to be like Omar Rodriquez-Lopez [guitarist of Mars Volta and At the Drive-In] with tons of effects and pedals, but I don’t have the most patience in the world and I only have one foot to control my pedalboard.

What about you Bill? How do you avoid bringing a pedalboard the size of a Mack truck?

BK: I think the key for us is that we limit ourselves to the pedals and tone-tools we use in the studio when recording to something that can be easily translated and emulated when we go on tour. For this upcoming tour we added a keyboardist who will hopefully be able to mix all those effects, atmospheric sounds, in addition to throwing down some mean keys.

But for my board, I mainly just use an Ibanez Tube King overdrive pedal, a Boss RT-20 Rotary Sound Processor that emulates rotary speaker sounds for some clean stuff, a MXR M-135 Smart Noise Gate and a Digitech JamMan Looper.