When I have the amount of gain that I like in order to feel really comfortable doing what I do, I sacrifice certain dynamic qualities that come with going straight into a cool amp. Without having as much gain, the amp becomes a lot more sensitive to nuances. The more gain there is, the less of those dynamic intricacies there are. I want to have those without giving up too much luxury of feel.
Another thing I like is the clarity and separation that comes with amps and pickups that are considered brighter, but I don’t necessarily like the brightness of them. An example of a tone that I think is cool is Eric Johnson’s. It’s kind of dark, yet there’s a lot of attack on the front end. The attack is actually not like a Marshall attack; it’s kind of wide and has duration. It’s not just a smack, as the actual attack has its own tone – but a lot of that comes from his playing. Of all the players I like to listen to, that tone is one of my favorites. It has warmth, but it still has the clarity that keeps it sounding up front.
I don’t really play the neck position that much – usually I’m playing the bridge. I notice that a lot of guys who play the neck position often have their notes run together a little bit.
They get lost in the frequencies of the bass drum and the bass.
Absolutely. It sounds good isolated but it doesn’t cut. I like it to cut. The amps I’ve been using with a lot success are these Cornford amps. They have an old Marshall Class A sound, but with a lot more gain in the front end. They respond like a nonmaster volume Marshall. I love that feel.
When you hear me play, about 90% of the time the amp is really loud and I have some kind of attenuator to keep it from blasting the room apart. Either that or I have a low wattage amp that’s cranked way up and is not too loud.
Are there any pickups you keep coming back to?
For years I used a prototype model from DiMarzio. It’s an interesting pickup that was designed for this guy named Sonny. I think the story goes that he had some kind of guitar that he really liked but it sounded thin. He didn’t want to give up the guitar so he needed a pickup that was going to help it sound better. The pickup is very warm in the low mids and there’s a lot of that sizzle stuff rolled off, which I don’t care for anyway.
It’s a bridge pickup in the medium to high output range and I’ve been using that for years. I’ve been talking to Steve Blucher at DiMarzio a lot, and now that I’m playing the Peavey HP Special I want to try some different things.
What’s the Peavey like?
This guitar is a little bit different than the types of guitars that I’ve been playing. It’s a little bit less solid-bodyish, with a more chambered kind of feel to it. It’s a really nice piece of wood and it’s a little bit thicker. It just rings more. It’s a different kind of guitar; the notes don’t sound as dense and they’re not quite as focused sounding. There’s something about the warmth that comes with notes that might not be quite so focused. This guitar has a little bit of that and offers a quality that would come with a chambered body. The contrast is kind of nice.
When it’s time to plug in, this is what he’s reaching for.