## Green Day Rig Rundown [2024]

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# Bass Bench: Shh! The Secret of Asymmetrical Neck Relief

### Computer analysis can help us adjust a bass for optimally low action.

We’ve spent the last two columns exploring neck relief and truss rods (“Straight or Bowed Neck?” and “The Magic Truss Rod”), but there remains one important point we need to consider when adjusting the neck. Even some luthiers are unaware of this particular detail.

Let’s start by reviewing the basics: The neck has a centered truss rod surrounded by an equal amount of wood under both the lower and higher strings. Assuming the strings have roughly the same tension pulling against a tightened truss rod, this symmetrical construction would lead to an equal neck curvature below all strings. But is this actually what we want?

We’re used to seeing a lower bridge height for the higher strings when a bass is adjusted for low action. So why shouldn’t we expect a similar height difference built into the neck itself? The smaller deflection of the higher strings is easily observable, and this is the main reason why the bridge height can be lowered and neck curvature reduced for these strings.

When a string is plucked with a constant force, the amount of its deflection is determined by these combined factors: string tension, mass, and core stiffness. Of course, one could calculate the optimal neck relief for each string, but it’s a complicated mathematical task. We’ll skip that here, as it would make none of us better players—maybe even the opposite! And more importantly, others have already done this work. For example, the German company Plek has written these algorithms into a software program that measures and controls their computerized fret-leveling Plek machine.

Plek’s founder Gerd Anke calls the path of a string’s maximum deflections its “envelope,” which is the key parameter used to calculate the optimized curvatures. “If you observe a plucked string under slow motion,” Gerd says, “you will see that pulses of energy travel up and down the string. Taken together, the outermost points of these pulses can be regarded as an envelope curve, thicker in the middle and tapering towards the ends.

The smaller deflection of the higher strings is easily observable, and this is the main reason why the bridge height can be lowered and neck curvature reduced for higher strings.

This curve indicates the amount of space required for the string to vibrate freely. Naturally, the shape of the neck and frets—if there are any frets below the string—must take this envelope into account. The neck must give the string enough room to move, which is why the neck needs to have a curve. The calculation of this curve forms the basis of the entire Plek technology.”

The Plek machine is designed to dress the frets in a way that creates different neck curvatures. You can see this in Image 1, which shows the optimized neck curvature for the 4th and 1st strings on a 4-string bass after the instrument has been analyzed and had its frets dressed by the Plek machine. Notice how the E string has a more pronounced curve than the G string. This technology actually uses fret height to simulate a slightly tilted neck.

Some luthiers are aware of this and dress their frets (with varying levels of precision) to compensate for differences in string deflection. Still, this is far from common knowledge and there are many who are not even aware of it. One example: The owner of a 5-string bass visited an experienced luthier for a setup. After checking the neck relief, the luthier found it to be less below the higher strings than the lower strings. So he sent the customer away, saying he couldn’t do a proper setup on what he called “a tilted neck.”

If the luthier had tried the two-step setup we explored last month, he could have made this observation while checking the instrument’s open strings: All of them would have started buzzing nearly simultaneously during the adjustment. If you want to get an impression of how well your instrument accommodates various string deflections, follow Step 2 of last month’s quick setup guide and tighten the truss rod while plucking all the open strings until they buzz. The more they start buzzing at the same time, the better the neck compensates for the strings’ different amplitudes.

## “Practice Loud”! How Duane Denison Preps for a New Jesus Lizard Record

Duane Denison of the Jesus Lizard, EGC Chessie in hands, coaxing some nasty tones from his Hiwatt.

Photo by Mike White

### After 26 years, the seminal noisy rockers return to the studio to create Rack, a master class of pummeling, machine-like grooves, raving vocals, and knotty, dissonant, and incisive guitar mayhem.

The last time the Jesus Lizard released an album, the world was different. The year was 1998: Most people counted themselves lucky to have a cell phone, Seinfeld finished its final season, Total Request Live was just hitting MTV, and among the year’s No. 1 albums were Dave Matthews Band’s Before These Crowded Streets, Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Korn’s Follow the Leader, and the Armageddonsoundtrack. These were the early days of mp3 culture—Napster didn’t come along until 1999—so if you wanted to hear those albums, you’d have to go to the store and buy a copy.

The Jesus Lizard’s sixth album, Blue, served as the band’s final statement from the frontlines of noisy rock for the next 26 years. By the time of their dissolution in 1999, they’d earned a reputation for extreme performances chock full of hard-hitting, machine-like grooves delivered by bassist David Wm. Sims and, at their conclusion, drummer Mac McNeilly, at times aided and at other times punctured by the frontline of guitarist Duane Denison’s incisive, dissonant riffing, and presided over by the cantankerous howl of vocalist David Yow. In the years since, performative, thrilling bands such as Pissed Jeans, METZ, and Idles have built upon the Lizard’s musical foundation.

Denison has kept himself plenty busy over the last couple decades, forming the avant-rock supergroup Tomahawk—with vocalist Mike Patton, bassist Trevor Dunn (both from Mr. Bungle), and drummer John Stanier of Helmet—and alongside various other projects including Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers and Hank Williams III. The Jesus Lizard eventually reunited, but until now have only celebrated their catalog, never releasing new jams.

The Jesus Lizard, from left: bassist David Wm. Sims, singer David Yow, drummer Mac McNeilly, and guitarist Duane Denison.

Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins

Back in 2018, Denison, hanging in a hotel room with Yow, played a riff on his unplugged electric guitar that caught the singer’s ear. That song, called “West Side,” will remain unreleased for now, but Denison explains: “He said, ‘Wow, that’s really good. What is that?’ And I said, ‘It’s just some new thing. Why don’t we do an album?’” From those unassuming beginnings, the Jesus Lizard’s creative juices started flowing.

So, how does a band—especially one who so indelibly captured the ineffable energy of live rock performance—prepare to get a new record together 26 years after their last? Back in their earlier days, the members all lived together in a band house, collectively tending to the creative fire when inspiration struck. All these years later, they reside in different cities, so their process requires sending files back and forth and only meeting up for occasional demo sessions over the course of “three or four years.”

“When the time comes to get more in performance mode, I have a practice space. I go there by myself and crank it up. I turn that amp up and turn the metronome up and play loud.” —Duane Denison

### the Jesus Lizard "Alexis Feels Sick"

Distance creates an obstacle to striking while the proverbial iron is hot, but Denison has a method to keep things energized: “Practice loud.” The guitarist professes the importance of practice, in general, and especially with a metronome. “We keep very detailed records of what the beats per minute of these songs are,” he explains. “To me, the way to do it is to run it to a Bluetooth speaker and crank it, and then crank your amp. I play a little at home, but when the time comes to get more in performance mode, I have a practice space. I go there by myself and crank it up. I turn that amp up and turn the metronome up and play loud.”

It’s a proven solution. On Rack—recorded at Patrick Carney’s Audio Eagle studio with producer Paul Allen—the band sound as vigorous as ever, proving they’ve not only remained in step with their younger selves, but they may have surpassed it with faders cranked. “Duane’s approach, both as a guitarist and writer, has an angular and menacing fingerprint that is his own unique style,” explains Allen. “The conviction in his playing that he is known for from his recordings in the ’80s and ’90s is still 100-percent intact and still driving full throttle today.”

“I try to be really, really precise,” he says. “I think we all do when it comes to the basic tracks, especially the rhythm parts. The band has always been this machine-like thing.” Together, they build a tension with Yow’s careening voice. “The vocals tend to be all over the place—in and out of tune, in and out of time,” he points out. “You’ve got this very free thing moving around in the foreground, and then you’ve got this very precise, detailed band playing behind it. That’s why it works.”

Before Rack, the Jesus Lizard hadn’t released a new record since 1998’s Blue.

Denison’s guitar also serves as the foreground foil to Yow’s unhinged raving, as on “Alexis Feels Sick,” where they form a demented harmony, or on the midnight creep of “What If,” where his vibrato-laden melodies bolster the singer’s unsettled, maniacal display. As precise as his riffs might be, his playing doesn’t stay strictly on the grid. On the slow, skulking “Armistice Day,” his percussive chording goes off the rails, giving way to a solo that slices that groove like a chef’s knife through warm butter as he reorganizes rock ’n’ roll histrionics into his own cut-up vocabulary.

“During recording sessions, his first solo takes are usually what we decide to keep,” explains Allen. “Listen to Duane’s guitar solos on Jack White’s ‘Morning, Noon, and Night,’ Tomahawk’s ‘Fatback,’ and ‘Grind’ off Rack. There’s a common ‘contained chaos’ thread among them that sounds like a harmonic Rubik’s cube that could only be solved by Duane.”

“Duane’s approach, both as a guitarist and writer, has an angular and menacing fingerprint that is his own unique style.” —Rack producer Paul Allen

To encapsulate just the right amount of intensity, “I don’t over practice everything,” the guitarist says. Instead, once he’s created a part, “I set it aside and don’t wear it out.” On Rack, it’s obvious not a single kilowatt of musical energy was lost in the rehearsal process.

Denison issues his noisy masterclass with assertive, overdriven tones supporting his dissonant voicings like barbed wire on top of an electric fence. The occasional application of slapback delay adds a threatening aura to his exacting riffage. His tones were just as carefully crafted as the parts he plays, and he relied mostly on his signature Electrical Guitar Company Chessie for the sessions, though a Fender Uptown Strat also appears, as well as a Taylor T5Z, which he chose for its “cleaner, hyper-articulated sound” on “Swan the Dog.” Though he’s been spotted at recent Jesus Lizard shows with a brand-new Powers Electric—he points out he played a demo model and says, “I just couldn’t let go of it,” so he ordered his own—that wasn’t until tracking was complete.

### Duane Denison's Gear

Denison wields his Powers Electric at the Blue Room in Nashville last June.

Photo by Doug Coombe

### Guitars

• Electrical Guitar Company Chessie
• Fender Uptown Strat
• Taylor T5Z
• Gibson ES-135
• Powers Electric

### Amps

• Hiwatt Little J
• Hiwatt 2x12 cab with Fane F75 speakers
• Fender Super-Sonic combo
• Early ’60s Fender Bassman
• Marshall 1987X Plexi Reissue
• Blackstar HT Stage 60—2 combos in stereo with Celestion Neo Creamback speakers and Mullard tubes

### Effects

• Line 6 Helix
• Mantic Flex Pro
• TC Electronic G-Force
• Menatone Red Snapper

### Strings and Picks

• Stringjoy Orbiters .0105 and .011 sets
• Dunlop celluloid white medium
• Sun Studios yellow picks

He ran through various amps—Marshalls, a Fender Bassman, two Fender Super-Sonic combos, and a Hiwatt Little J—at Audio Eagle. Live, if he’s not on backline gear, you’ll catch him mostly using 60-watt Blackstar HT Stage 60s loaded with Celestion Neo Creambacks. And while some boxes were stomped, he got most of his effects from a Line 6 Helix. “All of those sounds [in the Helix] are modeled on analog sounds, and you can tweak them endlessly,” he explains. “It’s just so practical and easy.”

The tools have only changed slightly since the band’s earlier days, when he favored Travis Beans and Hiwatts. Though he’s started to prefer higher gain sounds, Allen points out that “his guitar sound has always had teeth with a slightly bright sheen, and still does.”

“Honestly, I don’t think my tone has changed much over the past 30-something years,” Denison says. “I tend to favor a brighter, sharper sound with articulation. Someone sent me a video I had never seen of myself playing in the ’80s. I had a band called Cargo Cult in Austin, Texas. What struck me about it is it didn’t sound terribly different than what I sound like right now as far as the guitar sound and the approach. I don’t know what that tells you—I’m consistent?”

The Jesus Lizard take off at Nashville’s Blue Room this past June with “Hide & Seek” from Rack.

## Static Effectors Debuts New Street Series Line

Phat Machine

The two pedals mark the debut of the company’s new Street Series, aimed at bringing boutique tone to the gigging musician at affordable prices.

### The Phat Machine

The Phat Machine is designed to deliver the tone and responsiveness of a vintage germanium fuzz with improved temperature stability with no weird powering issues. Loaded with both a germanium and a silicon transistor, the Phat Machine offers the warmth and cleanup of a germanium fuzz but with the bite of a silicon pedal. It utilizes classic Volume and Fuzz control knobs, as well as a four-position Thickness control to dial-in any guitar and amp combo. Also included is a Bias trim pot and a Kill switch that allows battery lovers to shut off the battery without pulling the input cord.

### Silk Worm Deluxe Overdrive

The Silk Worm Deluxe -- along with its standard Volume/Gain/Tone controls -- has a Bottom trim pot to dial in "just the right amount of thud with no mud at all: it’s felt more than heard." It also offers a Studio/Stage diode switch that allows you to select three levels of compression.

Both pedals offer the following features:

• 9-volt operation via standard DC external supply or internal battery compartment
• True bypass switching with LED indicator
• Pedalboard-friendly top mount jacks
• Rugged, tour-ready construction and super durable powder coated finish

Static Effectors’ Street Series pedals carry a street price of \$149 each. They are available at select retailers and can also be purchased directly from the Static Effectors online store at www.staticeffectors.com.

Galloup’s Plek tech Adam Winarski preps a Yamaha acoustic for the machine.

Photo courtesy of Galloup Guitars

### Computerized processes have given repair techs the power to deliver you a better-playing guitar. But how do they work?

When we need to get our guitars fixed by a professional, a few nagging questions run through our heads: Will the repair specialist be thorough? Will their procedures ensure an optimal sounding and easy-to-play instrument, or will they merely perform cursory work to make the guitar somewhat playable without resolving underlying issues? Have they followed the tested advancements in understanding, tools, and techniques, or are they stuck in the ideas of the ’70s?

Presently, many certified guitar-repair specialists possess the expertise required to deliver an instrument that both sounds and plays wonderfully. The standards set by manufacturers and distributors have significantly risen, safeguarded by rigorous quality protocols to guarantee the best possible acoustic experience for customers. Additionally, lutherie training has raised the bar for critical processes, and one of the most tricky is fretwork.

Traditional fretwork once involved manual labor, with technicians utilizing sandbags or similar supports to steady the neck as they straightened it with a truss rod during the filing process. A notable advancement in this field came in the mid 1970s when Don Teeter, an author and repair expert, imposed a new method: fixing the guitar body to the bench and using blocks to maintain the neck in a playing position. This refinement was one of many in the continued quest to produce superior instruments by standardized methods.

An example of the Plek’s readings from an acoustic guitar.

Photo courtesy of Galloup Guitars

In the late 1970s, another pivotal innovation was introduced by Dan Erlewine. He created an advanced fret jig with a specialized body-holding system and neck supports, adding another layer of precision to the repair process. During my collaboration with Dan in 1985, we developed a rotating neck jig that counterbalanced the forces of gravity, keeping the instrument in its playing orientation while adjusting the neck supports. This step represented a significant leap in establishing control and standardization of fretwork procedures in our industry. By 1986, our approach had evolved into a freestanding workstation coupled with a sophisticated hold-down mechanism and enhanced neck supports, culminating in increased accuracy, efficiency, and consistency. Over the decades, the Erlewine/Galloup rotating neck jig has become a benchmark in numerous shops, enhancing fretwork performance.

"This step represented a significant leap in establishing control and standardization of fretwork procedures in our industry."

By the 1990s, automated and computerized technologies permeated the guitar manufacturing and repair sectors. Initially applied by import companies in the mass production of guitars, the technology, although expediting processes, did not immediately achieve high execution standards. However, the tech dramatically improved over time, with computer-driven systems eventually transforming the industry. Contemporary automated production utilizing such advancements meets exceedingly high standards of precision. Some bespoke guitar manufacturers, such as Steve Andersen, were pioneers in adopting these methods, but it was companies like Taylor that established them in the modern era.

Inevitably, the progression of technology extended beyond the mere production of parts. Around 1995, German engineer Gerd Anke envisioned the integration of computer-assisted technology into enhancing instrument playability, giving rise to Plek technology, which uses computers to precisely measure and analyze the various components of a guitar, like neck relief, fret height, nut and bridge specs, and more. Nashville guitar-repair tech Joe Glaser was among the first to recognize the machine’s value, followed by San Francisco luthier Gary Brawer. When Heritage Guitar Inc. invested in a Plek machine, the guitar industry could no longer disregard the significance of this innovation.

“The machine’s scanning data confirmed that there was one nature of an ideal fret plane, done by hand or machine, and unsurprisingly, it conformed exactly to what physics predicts, not personal mojo.”

In the spring of 2022, Galloup Guitars obtained its first Plek machine. Promptly, our technician Adam Winarski paved the way for the Plek’s integration in our shop. Now, it’s a rarity for an instrument to leave our shop without having undergone Plek analysis and machining. Impressed by the results of our integration, we created “Intro to Plek” as a course for all students enrolled at the Galloup School of Lutherie, offering our students a practical introduction to this technology. We furthered this educational initiative with a comprehensive one-week intensive “Plek Certification Training Course” for both students and the public. This advanced Plek course serves those seeking to boost their knowledge base and employability in this high-precision field.

Plek is rapidly becoming an industry standard for major manufacturers and smaller shops alike. However, this does not mean that those without access to this technology cannot execute proficient fretwork. Personally, I continue to use my Erlewine/Galloup neck jig—not only out of nostalgia, but also because it remains an excellent method for delivering accurate and reliable guitars. Still, it’s undeniable that the process of fretting, fret dressing, and analytics of fretted instruments has undergone significant transformation, resulting in better sounding—and playing—guitars. And ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

## Weekend Warriors Are Real Musicians, Too

Photo by Nick Millevoi

### Plenty of excellent musicians work day jobs to put food on the family table. So where do they go to meet their music community?

Being a full-time musician is a dream that rarely comes to pass. I’ve written about music-related jobs that keep you close to the action, and how more and more musicians are working in the music-gear industry, but that’s not for everyone. Casual players and weekend warriors love music as much as the hardcore guitarists who are bent on playing full time, but they may have obligations that require more consistent employment.

I know plenty of excellent musicians who work day jobs not to support their musical dreams, but to put food on the family table. They pay mortgages, put children through school, provide services, and contribute to their community. Music may not be their vocation, but it’s never far from their minds. So where do they go to meet their music community?

A good friend of mine has studied music extensively in L.A. and New York. He’s been mentored by the pros, and he takes his playing very seriously. Like many, he always had day jobs, often in educational situations. While pro gigs were sometimes disappointing, he found that he really enjoyed working with kids and eventually studied and achieved certification as an educator. To remain in touch with his love of music, he plays evenings and weekends with as many as three groups, including a jazz trio and a country band. Not actually worrying about having a music gig that could support him in totality has changed the way he views playing out and recording. He doesn’t have to take gigs that put him in stressful situations; he can pick and choose. He’s not fretting over “making it.” In some way, he’s actually doing what we all want, to play for the music plain and simple.

Another guy I know has played in bands since his teens. He’s toured regionally and made a few records. When the time came to raise a family, he took a corporate job that is as about as far away from the music business as you can get. But it has allowed him to remain active as a player, and he regularly releases albums he records in his home studio. His longstanding presence in the music scene keeps him in touch with some famous musicians who guest on his recordings. He’s all about music head to toe, and when he retires, I’m certain he’ll keep on playing.

“Seek out music people regularly. They’re hiding in plain sight: at work, at the park, in the grocery store. They sell you insurance, they clean your teeth.”

I could go on, and I’m sure you know people in similar situations. Maybe this even describes you. So where do we all find our musical compadres? For me, and the people I’ve mentioned, our history playing in bands and gigging while young has kept us in touch with others of the same ilk, or with those who are full-time musicians. But many come to music later in life as well. How do they find community?

Somehow, we manage to find our tribe. It could be at work or a coffee shop. Some clubs still have an open mic night that isn’t trying to be a conveyor belt to commercial success. Guitarists always go up to the stage between changes to talk shop, which can lead to more connections. I like the idea of the old-school music store. Local guitar shops and music stores are great places to meet other musicians. Many have bulletin boards where you can post or find ads looking for bandmates. When I see someone wearing a band T-shirt, I usually ask if they’re a musician. Those conversations often lead to more connections down the line. Remember, building a network of musicians often requires persistence and putting yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to initiate conversations and express your interest in collaborating with others.

Of course, I’m lucky to have worked in the music sphere since I was a teen. My path led to using my knowledge of music and guitars to involve myself in so many adventures that I can hardly count them. Still, it’s the love of music at the root of everything I do, and it’s the people that make that possible. So whether you’re a pro or a beginner, seek out music people regularly. They’re hiding in plain sight: at work, at the park, in the grocery store. They sell you insurance, they clean your teeth. Maybe they’re your kid’s teacher. Musicians are everywhere, and that’s a good thing for all of us.