The Start of Something New
Introducing new columnist Jared Scharff, guitarist for Saturday Night Live
Hello Premier Guitar readers. My name is Jared Scharff and you’ve seen my mug on NBC’s Saturday Night Live for the past three seasons. Besides the SNL gig, I’m also a songwriter/ producer, and a session guitarist splitting time in both New York and Los Angeles.
But enough with the intros. Let’s get into it!
One of the best things about playing in the SNL House Band is the diversity of the music we play. It certainly makes it challenging, yet incredibly fun to find the appropriate tones and styles to use. I have always loved a wide variety of tones and gear, but the truth is that until I got the SNL job, I only owned two Fender Strats, one Fender Stage 112 amp and a few pedals. I know that seems crazy. But whenever I would do session work, including my previous band’s debut album [Carbondale, RCA records], I used whatever amps and guitars were at the studio (or I would request). At any rate, after borrowing a Fender Blues Deluxe 1x12 combo for all the local NYC gigs these past few years (thanks, Craig), I thought SNL was as good a time as any to buy my first tube amp and some new gear.
The first amp I purchased was a Bruno Super Lead 100. It has a Fender-meets-vintage- Marshall vibe, 100 watts and 6L6 tubes, which have always been my favorite. I used that amp, along with a bunch of pedals, for the first two seasons, and it covered all the terrain I needed.
For the new season, however, I wanted to try a new sound and went to 65Amps. I’ve used them for numerous recording sessions, and my stint as one of the guitarists for Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden this past year. 65Amps co-owner Dan Boul and I spoke at length about what I could use that would be right for SNL.
This summer while working in L.A., I drove to the 65Amps factory in North Hollywood. Dan set me up to play through a variety of combinations with the Monterrey, Soho, London and Lil’ Elvis heads, as well as two different 1x12 cabinets. The winning combo for my SNL duties was the Monterrey and the Soho. The Monterrey was going be the mainstay. It was perfect for American-style clean tones, but also had a delicious, chewy break-up when pushed. The rock tones with the Bump circuit engaged sounded phenomenal. To me, it evokes the sound of Pete Townshend. I knew this amp would cut-through the 10-piece SNL band and still have its own body and vibe. I set the master volume at about 6 ½ for all clean tones, and hit the bump switch for all the dirtier stuff. For a more British vibe I have the Soho.
Dan and I re-connected for the first SNL band load-in/soundcheck in September at NBC Studios. He helped me put the rig together and stayed through rehearsals to make sure everything was OK. We also went through a bunch of microphones on the cabinet to find the best tone. My cabinet lives behind the stage in a very dark iso cab, so the microphone choice/placement was a key element.
The first show was on Sept. 26, and I was excited to get the season under way. Now that everything was settled, it was time to focus on the show and the music. U2 was the first musical guest of the season, and I had the chance to meet Dallas, the Edge’s guitar tech. I was super stoked because I got to check out his rig! The Edge is so particular about his sound, and it was pretty inspiring to hear all the hard work that goes into it.
Seeing the Edge’s rig, and thinking about what I went through to get ready for this season, I had a few thoughts I wanted to share with you. First, when dealing with tone, there’s never just one solution. It’s all about what you like and what gets you excited. Yes, all these details like Iso cabs, mic choices/placement, cable length, pedal placement, which amp and guitar combo, etc., do make a difference. But at the end of the day, use what sounds good to you, what inspires you, and what will allow you to create freely. I have used so many different amps, guitars and pedals throughout the years, but I still always sound like me. Granted, some versions of me are better than others, but it’s still me. Find your voice on the instrument; that’s the most important thing. You can spend a lifetime on getting the “perfect tone.” But remember, the tone is there to serve your music.
Tune in next month and I’ll you how I landed the SNL gig, and all the things I had to do to get ready to jump in. Later …
Jared Scharff has been the house guitarist for the legendary Saturday Night Live band for the last two years. A Native New Yorker, Jared is also a recording artist, producer, songwriter and highly sought-after session player, and has shared the stage with Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Kid Rock, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Roger McGuinn and Debbie Harry. For more information on Jared, go to myspace.com/jaredscharffmusic.