The post-hardcore heavyweight lays out the tonal road map for the new Distant Populations—including a shocking secret-weapon practice combo. Plus, he explains his pedal evolution from abstinence to indulgence.
Walter Schreifels has played foundational foil for over 25 years, with his focused, angular, coarsely melodic guitar grounding his more adventurous, effected counterparts in Quicksand, Vanishing Life, and Rival Schools. (The later even released an album in 2011 called Pedals.)
"Originally in Quicksand, my background was coming into music through a straightforward hardcore perspective, so I took on that simplified aesthetic, similar to Fugazi," says Schreifels. "Both our bassist Sergio Vega and other guitarist Tom Capone were adding in pedals, so I earthed the band playing the straight man and opted for the more direct tone."
The Quicksand quartet rose from the ashes of New York City's late '80s hardcore scene, featuring guitarist/singer Schreifels (Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today), Vega (Absolution and Carnage), Capone (Beyond and Bold), and drummer Alan Cage (who was in Burn with Capone, and Beyond). A self-titled four-song EP scored them a major-label deal with Polydor, where they released the seminal 1993 classic Slip. (It even landed in Decibel's Hall of Fame.) Both recordings are equally abrasive and melodic. Then the quartet moved to Island to release 1995's Manic Compression, an album unrelenting as a sledgehammer. But as quickly as they rose, the band dissolved into the time capsule of N.Y.C.'s once-rich alternative music scene. Yet they still influenced the Deftones (where Sergio now splits time playing bass), Thursday, Glassjaw, At the Drive-In, Torche, and many others.
Schreifels went on to form other two-guitar bands, including Rival Schools with Ian Page and Vanishing Life with Rise Against's Zac Blair. And he's continued to flourish as a frontman and the midrange mattress, allowing his fellow guitar mates to bend solos, color outside the lines, and leave the pocket.
However, life has a way of challenging us and putting us out of our comfort zones. (I mean, hello, 2020!) Ian left Rival Schools, Tom departed from Quicksand, and Walter formed the bluesy, psych-rock Dead Heavens, engaging in celestial spaces and thick, sizzling guitar parts.
"At that point, I sorta had to become the 'pedal' guy, so I was like, 'screw it, I'm gonna get a wah wah. [laughs] I've heard a lot of good things!'" That led to a delay, then a tremolo, then a phaser, and now he reserves a row on his pedalboard for experimentation and tone testing. "I slowly became an effects guy, still knowing I needed their applications to our music to be tasteful. And with Dead Heavens, I wanted to broaden my palette by getting better as a player and creating a space where I could really indulge the sounds in my head."
What sort of positives has Walter recognized from his pedal liberation? "Understanding how to use a piece of equipment that before was mysterious or intimidating, and now, by having broken through that mental barrier, you can get to some new shit and create something you otherwise might not have."
And his longtime straightforward, get-the-job-done, hardcore DNA has avoided any gear-snob blind-spots and pitfalls. "I sound just lazy, but I don't have any care or concern about how I get to a result if I'm happy with it. If it takes a long time, and there's something I have to shelve for a bit, that's fine. If it's with a Roland CUBE practice amp that inspires a song or tone, that's fine, too. I just don't care."
These new gear avenues and the rekindled Quicksand officially downsizing to a trio are creating new paths for Schreifels. "I'm just really excited to continue telling Quicksand's story, carrying on from Interiors, but also through our OG catalog, and a focus on growth has been improving my playing guitar and finding new ground to break."
In this episode, Quicksand's founding frontman details why oft-forgotten Fenders and a "spooky" gold-foil Harmony were 6-string cornerstones for Distant Populations. He explains how an 8" practice combo was an ace up his sleeve while recording, and chronicles his slow embrace of effects and how they've shaped his sound and vision.
[Brought to you by D'Addario XL Strings: http://ddar.io/XL.RR]
1960s Harmony Holiday Bobkat
"The gold-foils in this Harmony Holiday Bobkat have a muddy, spooky, ghostly quality that really complements and fills out around the Fenders I typically use in the studio and onstage," says Schreifels. While speaking with PG in 2018, he mentioned that the above mid-'60s Harmony and a Fender Kurt Cobain Jag were the heavy hitters for 2017's Interiors, but the forthcoming Distant Populations saw it paired with a Fender Player Lead III (which we'll meet in a minute).
"Another cool thing about the Harmony is, even though I'm not a lead player, it's really comfortable and easy for me to get around the fretboard and sound like I'm doing something," admits Schreifels.
He's had the guitar for nearly 10 years, and beyond Quicksand he's used it in the studio for Dead Heavens and Vanishing Life. Typically, all of Walter's guitars take Ernie Ball Slinkys (.010–.046) and he usually lives in standard or drop-D tunings. However, "Fire This Time," off Interiors, has the low E string dropped to A, creating unison between the neck-top two strings—something he absorbed after seeing Baroness in concert.
Fender Classic Player Jazzmaster Special
During the band's original '90s heyday, Schreifels would get down on bucker-brandishing guitars like Les Paul Deluxes and H-S-S Strats. He saw losing his Gibson overseas (and his body deterioration from playing heavier instruments) as a sign. Eventually the transition dovetailed into a relationship with Fender, and he began bonding with their humbucker guitars, like the aforementioned Cobain Jag. He scored the above Fender Classic Player Jazzmaster Special, but didn't fall completely in love with its stock JM Special Design Hot Single-Coil Jazzmaster pickups, so he slammed a set of brand-unknown humbuckers in for a bigger, bolder sound. To enhance its playability, he swapped out the original bridge for a Staytrem.
Fender Player Lead III
Ahead of recording the new album, Walter spied the announcement of Fender's updated Lead II and Lead III instruments, and was instantly intrigued. He reached out to Fender and they sent over the above Player Lead III model finished in a stunning purple metallic and featuring Player Series humbuckers that can be split.
Fender Blues Junior
The band's last U.S. tour saw Schreifels using a 50-watt Marshall JMP 2x12 combo loaded with Celestions. He's gotten familiar with and fond of Orange half-stacks, too, but as with his guitars, he's been condensing amps—especially when it comes to the studio. Above is the Fender Blues Junior that resides at his N.Y.C.-based home, but it went recording with him for the new Quicksand album.
Roland CUBE-10GX COSM
The shocker of his setup has to be this Roland CUBE-10GX COSM combo. In the Rundown, he remarks that "it's just so damn convenient." Because of its basic layout and built-in effects, it allowed him to forget about the gear or tone, dial in some reverb, delay, or chorus, and try to usher out the ideas in his head. And when tracking overdubs with it for Distant Populations, he used its "cheap" sound as an asset to layer in another accent.
Walter Schreifels' Pedalboard
This is a pedalboard that's 20-plus years in the making. As he admits early in the Rundown, he shunned pedals for much of his early career. The cornerstone of his sparse stomp station is the Dunlop Cry Baby Standard wah. He'll engage the Cry Baby to create tension or lock the sweep to alter the guitar's EQ and voice.
The next two are industry standards and seen in countless Rundowns: the Xotic EP Booster and MXR Carbon Copy Delay. For a little wobble and wiggle, he'll kick on the Mooer Spark tremolo, which he's kept around because he says the depth control is special. And the Electro-Harmonix Mel9 still finds a home on his board, because of its role in Interiors. It usually toggles between the strings and orchestra modes, but he has found some inspiration in the flute mode, too.
Already rests on a Pedaltrain Novo 24 board and is juiced by the Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 Plus.
Walter Schreifels' Bonus Pedals
Here are some pedal provocateurs that made notable spotlights on Distant Populations. The EHX Synth9 creates the aerial-assault warning sirens on "Missile Command," the MXR Phase 90 headlines the song "Phase 90," and the DigiTech FreqOut adds eerie, phantom feedback.
The HOF-er regales Cory with legendary classic rock guitar tales, gives his simple recipe for a good tone, and shares his reasons for trying to make a difference in the world.
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Joe Walsh Sold Jimmy Page His #1 Les Paul | Wong Notes Podcast
Having gained access to a specimen from Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture, Paul Reed Smith takes aim at the tones of Hendrix's modified Woodstock head.
Fantastic range of Marshall-esque tones, from clean and lovely to tough, mean, and singing.
No standby switch. Minor cab rattling audible at moderate volumes. Head may need securing at high volume and bass settings.
$899 (2x12 Stealth)
PRS HX 50
Just as PRS's 2012 HXDA was inspired by firsthand looks at one of slide legend Duane Allman's amps from his seminal At Fillmore East performance, the brand-new HX 50 is the result of Paul Reed Smith and PRS amp guru Doug Sewell getting extensive access to a Marshall head reportedly used by Jimi Hendrix during his iconic performance at the 1969 Woodstock festival.
That amp—a circa-'68/'69, 100-watt Super Lead modified for Hendrix by Dave Weyer of West Coast Organ and Amp—currently resides at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, Washington, and Smith and Sewell's perusing of the circuit was made possible by the museum's proprietor, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. Lending additional credence to the original amp's provenance and pedigree, a small stenciling of the "Authentic Hendrix" badge appears on the HX 50's rear panel to indicate endorsement by the late guitarist's estate.
Under the Hood
The HX 50 reviewed here is powered by a pair of New Sensor EL34s and it uses a custom power supply whose rectification and capacitor arrangements are exactly like the 100's. Ostensibly, this avails more reasonable volumes and easier breakup while helping to imbue the amp with headroom and responsiveness more like the 100. The circuit is meticulously handwired on a thick (2 mm), 2-sided, through-hole printed circuit board—which, in a nice homage, is purple rather than the typical green. A trio of 12AX7s drives a preamp with presence, bass, middle, treble, treble volume, and bass volume knobs, as well as an off/on high-mid toggle and a 3-position brightness selector. While vintage Super Leads like Hendrix's Weyer-modified Marshall feature four inputs—which many famous players have "jumpered" (connected in series using a 1/4" patch cable) to tap more gain from the circuit, the HX 50 and 100 have a single input that's internally jumpered to the same effect.
By way of explaining the deviations from vintage-plexi architecture, Sewell says, "This is not a painstakingly historical recreation of the amplifier Hendrix used, but a snapshot in the development of a series of modified amps he came to use on tour and in the studio. Consideration was given to reliability, compatibility with his effects and guitars, the tones he achieved, and the feel and response of the amp."
In most cases I found myself turning outboard boost or gain pedals off before long, preferring the HX 50's beautifully articulate and open-feeling power-amp distortion—although a vintage-voiced germanium fuzz sounded as Hendrix-y wonderful as I could've hoped.
Castles Made of Sound
I tested the HX 50 (through the accompanying PRS cab featuring two Celestion G12H-75s) using a Strat, a Jazzmaster with Curtis Novak JM-V and JM-Fat pickups, a '57 Classic-loaded Les Paul, and a Schecter Ultra III equipped with a TV Jones Magna'Tron. From the outset I was impressed with the low noise floor, even at very loud and saturated settings. I didn't really hear any hum or squealing unless I was very close to the amp and using single-coils or slathering on gain from a stompbox. (On the latter point, in most cases I found myself turning outboard boost or gain pedals off before long, preferring the HX 50's beautifully articulate and open-feeling power-amp distortion—although a vintage-voiced germanium fuzz sounded as Hendrix-y wonderful as I could've hoped.)
As you'd expect from an amp inspired by a vintage classic, the range of tones available from the HX 50's EQ is moderate compared to some modern designs, but in terms of what you'd expect from a procured plexi, it's impressively wide ranging. With humbuckers or single-coils, I had no trouble making any guitar chime, sing, or sting—or the other way around—using just the knobs. The presence and mid controls can either sharpen your guitars' teeth or imbue them with a more "American," scooped-mid cushiness. Meanwhile, facile combinations of the treble and bass channel volumes—or even dialing one out completely—further the lean-and-clean(-ish) to velvety-thick possibilities. (Interestingly, even as a favorer of bright-ish single-coil tones, I rarely felt the need to engage the high-mid or bright toggles—neither of which were featured on the reference Marshall, although players of darker-sounding instruments or users of extensive outboard effects might appreciate their inclusion.)
Further, while the HX 50 certainly won't pummel like, say, a Mesa Rectifier or a Diezel through a Rivera sub, for its size and power, it's impressively punishing in the lower registers. Enough so that, at more aggressive settings, even the middle position on my Jazzmaster threatened to vibrate the head toward its cab-diving demise (thank you, Gorilla Tape!). Meanwhile, even at low channel volumes (treble volume at 2 and bass volume at 1, with presence and bass dimed, made for a lovely pedal platform), the HX 50 sounds virile and open, yet is also loud enough to hang with a reasonably volumed band.
In terms of construction, tones, and versatility, the PRS HX 50 is a lovely brute of an amp worth trying regardless of your affinity for Hendrix or his tones. Sure, it can help you get to hazy-purple realms if you're so inclined, but for me it was even more fun to discover a slew of sounds that work for what I do. Whichever way you dial it, it's a damn good-sounding vintage British-style specimen.
The punk-rocking ripper extensively details how East Bay Ray's "smacky, bouncy" delays, "sour" dissonant chords, and suspense-and-release playing sideswiped them into the guitar universe.
Don't miss the latest and greatest gear finds for your acoustic!
"I love this thing, I can't put it down. It's kind of like having a piano in your lap, you got all the low end for bass lines, and you got chords that you can strum on top, even alternating simple bass lines. There's all kinds of fun you can have with this thing!" ~ Sean Harkness, NYC
Typically tuned to B, the Baritone provides a clear low end response perfect for soloists, singer-songwriters, percussive finger-style players, or guitarists who crave a walking bass line while comping chords.
With its offset soundhole, side-port, and solid Sitka spruce top with innovative low-mass bracing, the Walden B1E sounds sonically excellent while incorporating the more comfortable Grand Auditorium body shape. A graphite reinforced Mahogany neck contribute to stability and its 27″ scale length and 1-13/16″ nut width contribute to the B1E Baritone's transparent playability.
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Adding to the company's line of premium capos, Shubb has introduced the new Capo Royale Series, featuring durable gold finishes that deliver long-lasting beauty.
Available in two lustrous finishes – Gold and Rose Gold – the Capo Royale Series brings a distinctive visual flair to Shubb's famed capo design, revered since 1980 for its ability to provide flawlessly clean fretting while keeping the instrument in tune.
For many years Shubb has received requests for a gold plated Shubb Capo. While gold is undeniably beautiful, it is not at all durable; it will wear off far too easily and quickly. It is also famously expensive. Now, Shubb has developed a high-tech technique for creating a gold-toned titanium finish. It possesses all the beauty of real gold, but is as durable as any metal finish in the world.
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Guild's most affordable jumbo yet! The F-240E is a tone cannon at a player's price. Built with a solid spruce top, mahogany sides, and an arched mahogany back, the full-bodied and powerful voice of this Guild Jumbo provides guitarists with historically-Guild acoustic tone and voicing. Guild's signature arched back design allows for enhanced volume and projection, long sustain, and a lush, full sound. The F-240E features Guild's Fishman-designed AP-1 electronics, a pau ferro fingerboard and bridge, bone nut and saddle, mother-of-pearl rosette, period-correct tortoiseshell pickguard, and a satin polyurethane finish.
The New MH8P Series Vegan Hemp Series guitar straps by Levy's come in four new beautiful motifs and measure 2"/51mm in width. These organic straps are cruelty-free using sustainable materials and extend from 37"/940mm to 62"/1572mm via silver-colored tri-glide sliding adjustment. Natural hemp webbing and durable 2-ply cork ends safely support your instrument, along with pinhole stitching on both ends to prevent stretching. To address the issue of pick dropping encountered by almost every gigging guitarist, the MH8P Series comes equipped with a convenient 2.5"/64mm inside pocket to provide quick access to extra picks. Hand-crafted in Novia Scotia.
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NUX Stageman II Battery-Powered Acoustic Guitar Amplifier features a pure analog preamp with NUX's iconic Core-Image post-effects. It has specific EQ scenes for finger-style as well as strum-style in channel 1, and you can engage built-in Acoustic IRs with a dedicated mobile APP. Acoustic IR is the new trend to make your acoustic sound as natural as micing. Stageman II keeps Drum & Loop, you can control by the original NUX NMP-2 foot-controller. And the built-in rechargeable battery can let you busk on the street for 4 hours.
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