## MonoNeon Rig Rundown

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# Twang 101: Chicken Pickin' Intervals

### Understanding how the fretboard work horizontally was quite a revelation. It forced me to get away from position-based playing and actually think about the intervals between notes.

 Chops: IntermediateTheory: BeginnerLesson Overview: • Play through each major scale in sixths. • Create licks that combine doublestops with open string pull offs. • Develop a deeper understanding of how to view the fretboard horizontally. Print it!Click here to download a high-resolution, printable PDF of the notation.
When it comes to shedding, there have been two approaches that have stuck with me over the years. In high school I came across a book called Patterns for Jazz by Jerry Coker. It is a pretty tedious book that has you working through changes and patterns in nearly every conceivable way. At the time it was right up my alley. I couldn't geek-out enough over intervallic approaches. The second approach sprung out of a lesson I took with Frank Vignola soon after. I remember him asking me in the first lesson, “Can you play every interval up and down the neck on two strings in all twelve keys?” Gulp. I somehow got through it, but it did expose the fact that my knowledge of the fretboard was stronger vertically than it was horizontally.

Understanding how the fretboard work horizontally was quite a revelation. It forced me to get away from position-based playing and actually think about the intervals between notes. Moving a lick or a new technique diatonically up and down the neck pushed me to a point where I wasn't just reciting licks. Having said that, I do love licks.

In Fig. 1 will be working with the interval of a sixth. We will start in the key of A with the root on the 1st string and the third on the 3rd string. Once you can recognize the pattern moving up and down the neck, transpose this to the other eleven keys.

We will incorporate some country guitar concepts in Fig. 2. Here, we will approach the lower note chromatically from a whole step below. To get the chicken picking sound, you'll need to palm mute the first three notes and pluck the high note of the interval with the middle finger.

At first glance, Fig. 3 looks very similar to the previous example. In this lick, instead of approach the lower note chromatically, we add a lower neighbor tone to keep the symmetrical movement going.

Let’s take what we have so far and add some pull offs. In Fig. 4 you can see a triplet-based lick where we incorporate pull offs with each note on the 1st string. Make sure to pay attention to what key you are in. The note of the open string must be diatonic to the key.

We put everything together in Fig. 5. This example combines the open-string pull offs with moving up and down the neck in sixths. Start things slow and listen to the audio example to really hear how these examples work in context.

The goal with this approach is to think long term. When you work through these examples you will get a better understanding of the fretboard and have more freedom when you improvise. Take some time to freely improvise with these as well. You can get a lot of mileage out of these if you just check under the hood and see what’s possible.

Jason Loughlin has performed with Amos Lee, Rachael Yamagata, James Burton, Mike Viola, Nellie Mckay, Phil Roy, Marshall Crenshaw, Sara Bareillies, Lesley Gore, Ben Arnold and John Francis to name a few. Jason lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn performing and teaching. Look out for his new record, Peach Crate, due out in February. For other info be sure to check his website jasonloughlin.com

## Keith Urban’s 6-String Finesse, Hidden in Plain Sight

Keith Urban’s first instrument was a ukulele at age 4. When he started learning guitar two years later, he complained that it made his fingers hurt. Eventually, he came around. As did the world.

### Throughout his over-30-year career, Keith Urban has been known more as a songwriter than a guitarist. Here, he shares about his new release, High, and sheds light on all that went into the path that led him to becoming one of today’s most celebrated country artists.

There are superstars of country and rock, chart-toppers, and guitar heroes. Then there’s Keith Urban. His two dozen No. 1 singles and boatloads of awards may not eclipse George Strait or Garth Brooks, but he’s steadily transcending the notion of what it means to be a country star.

He’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He’s won 13 Country Music Association Awards, nine CMT video awards, eight ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Awards, four American Music Awards, and racked up BMI Country Awards for 25 different singles.

He’s been a judge on American Idol and The Voice. In conjunction with Yamaha, he has his own brand of affordably priced Urban guitars and amps, and he has posted beginner guitar lessons on YouTube. His 2014 Academy of Country Music Award-winning video for “Highways Don’t Care” featured Tim McGraw and Keith’s former opening act, Taylor Swift. Add his marriage to fellow Aussie, the actress Nicole Kidman, and he’s seen enough red carpet to cover a football field.

Significantly, his four Grammys were all for Country Male Vocal Performance. A constant refrain among newcomers is, “and he’s a really good guitar player,” as if by surprise or an afterthought. Especially onstage, his chops are in full force. There are country elements, to be sure, but rock, blues, and pop influences like Mark Knopfler are front and center.

Unafraid to push the envelope, 2020’s The Speed of Now Part 1 mixed drum machines, processed vocals, and a duet with Pink with his “ganjo”—an instrument constructed of a 6-string guitar neck on a banjo body—and even a didgeridoo. It, too, shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Country chart and climbed to No. 7 on the Pop chart.

His new release, High, is more down-to-earth, but is not without a few wrinkles. He employs an EBow on “Messed Up As Me” and, on “Wildfire,” makes use of a sequencerreminiscent of ZZ Top’s “Legs.” Background vocals in “Straight Lines” imitate a horn section, and this time out he duets on “Go Home W U” with rising country star Lainey Wilson. The video for “Heart Like a Hometown” is full of home movies and family photos of a young Urban dwarfed by even a 3/4-size Suzuki nylon-string.

Born Keith Urbahn (his surname’s original spelling) in New Zealand, his family moved to Queensland, Australia, when he was 2. He took up guitar at 6, two years after receiving his beloved ukulele. He released his self-titled debut album in 1991 for the Australian-only market, and moved to Nashville two years later. It wasn’t until ’97 that he put out a group effort, fronting the Ranch, and another self-titled album marked his American debut as a leader, in ’99. It eventually went platinum—a pattern that’s become almost routine.

The 57-year-old’s celebrity and wealth were hard-earned and certainly a far cry from his humble beginnings. “Australia is a very working-class country, certainly when I was growing up, and I definitely come from working-class parents,” he details. “My dad loved all the American country artists, like Johnny Cash, Haggard, Waylon. He didn’t play professionally, but before he got married he played drums in a band, and my grandfather and uncles all played instruments.

One of Urban’s biggest influences as a young guitar player was Mark Knopfler, but he was also mesmerized by lesser-known session musicians such as Albert Lee, Ian Bairnson, Reggie Young, and Ray Flacke. Here, he’s playing a 1950 Broadcaster once owned by Waylon Jennings that was a gift from Nicole Kidman, his wife.

“For me, it was a mix of that and Top 40 radio, which at the time was much more diverse than it is now. You would just hear way more genres, and Australia itself had its own, what they call Aussie pub rock—very blue-collar, hard-driving music for the testosterone-fueled teenager. Grimy, sweaty, kind of raw themes.”

A memorable event happened when he was 7. “My dad got tickets for the whole family to see Johnny Cash. He even bought us little Western shirts and bolo ties. It was amazing.”

But the ukulele he was gifted a few years earlier, at the age of 4, became a constant companion. “I think to some degree it was my version of the stuffed animal, something that was mine, and I felt safe with it. My dad said I would strum it in time to all the songs on the radio, and he told my mom, ‘He’s got rhythm. I wonder what a good age is for him to learn chords.’ My mom and dad ran a little corner store, and a lady named Sue McCarthy asked if she could put an ad in the window offering guitar lessons. They said, ‘If you teach our kid for free, we’ll put your ad in the window.’”

Yet, guitar didn’t come without problems. “With the guitar, my fingers hurt like hell,” he laughs, “and I started conveniently leaving the house whenever the guitar teacher would show up. Typical kid. I don’t wanna learn, I just wanna be able to do it. It didn’t feel like any fun. My dad called me in and went, ‘What the hell? The teacher comes here for lessons. What’s the problem?’ I said I didn’t want to do it anymore. He just said, ‘Okay, then don’t do it.’ Kind of reverse psychology, right? So I just stayed with it and persevered. Once I learned a few chords, it was the same feeling when any of us learn how to be moving on a bike with two wheels and nobody holding us up. That’s what those first chords felt like in my hands.”

### Keith Urban's Gear

Urban has 13 Country Music Association Awards, nine CMT video awards, eight ARIA Awards, and four Grammys to his name—the last of which are all for Best Country Male Vocal Performance.

### Guitars

For touring:

• Maton Diesel Special
• Maton EBG808TE Tommy Emmanuel Signature
• 1957 Gibson Les Paul Junior, TV yellow
• 1959 Gibson ES-345 (with Varitone turned into a master volume)
• Fender 40th Anniversary Tele, “Clarence”
• Two first-generation Fender Eric Clapton Stratocasters (One is black with DiMarzio Area ’67 pickups, standard tuning. The other is pewter gray, loaded with Fralin “real ’54” pickups, tuned down a half-step.)
• John Bolin Telecaster (has a Babicz bridge with a single humbucker and a single volume control. Standard tuning.)
• PRS Paul’s Guitar (with two of their narrowfield humbuckers. Standard tuning.)
• Yamaha Keith Urban Acoustic Guitar (with EMG ACS soundhole pickups)
• Deering “ganjo”

### Amps

• Mid-’60s black-panel Fender Showman (modified by Chris Miller, with oversized transformers to power 6550 tubes; 130 watts)
• 100-watt Dumble Overdrive Special (built with reverb included)
• Two Pacific Woodworks 1x12 ported cabinets (Both are loaded with EV BlackLabel Zakk Wylde signature speakers and can handle 300 watts each.)

### Effects

• Two Boss SD-1W Waza Craft Super Overdrives with different settings
• Mr. Black SuperMoon Chrome
• FXengineering RAF Mirage Compressor
• Ibanez TS9 with Tamura Mod
• Boss BD-2 Blues Driver
• J. Rockett Audio .45 Caliber Overdrive
• Pro Co RAT 2
• Radial Engineering JX44 (for guitar distribution)
• Fractal Audio Axe-Fx XL+ (for acoustic guitars)
• Two Fractal Audio Axe-Fx III (one for electric guitar, one for bass)
• Bricasti Design Model 7 Stereo Reverb Processor
• RJM Effect Gizmo (for pedal loops)

(Note: All delays, reverb, chorus, etc. is done post amp. The signal is captured with microphones first then processed by Axe-Fx and other gear.)

• Shure Axient Digital Wireless Microphone System

### Strings & Picks

• D’Addario EJ16, for ganjo (.012–.053; much thicker than a typical banjo strings)
• D’Addario 1.0 mm signature picks

He vividly remembers the first song he was able to play after “corny songs like ‘Mama’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread.’” He recalls, “There was a song I loved by the Stylistics, ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New.’ My guitar teacher brought in the sheet music, so not only did I have the words, but above them were the chords. I strummed the first chord, and went, [sings E to Am] ‘My love,’ and then minor, ‘I'll never find the words, my,’ back to the original chord, ‘love.’ Even now, I get covered in chills thinking what it felt like to sing and put that chord sequence together.”

After the nylon-string Suzuki, he got his first electric at 9. “It was an Ibanez copy of a Telecaster Custom—the classic dark walnut with the mother-of-pearl pickguard. My first Fender was a Stratocaster. I wanted one so badly. I’d just discovered Mark Knopfler, and I only wanted a red Strat, because that’s what Knopfler had. And he had a red Strat because of Hank Marvin. All roads lead to Hank!”

He clarifies, “Remember a short-lived run of guitar that Fender did around 1980–’81, simply called ‘the Strat’? I got talked into buying one of those, and the thing weighed a ton. Ridiculously heavy. But I was just smitten when it arrived. ‘Sultans of Swing’ was the first thing I played on it. ‘Oh my god! I sound a bit like Mark.’”

“Messed Up As Me” has some licks reminiscent of Knopfler. “I think he influenced a huge amount of my fingerpicking and melodic choices. I devoured those records more than any other guitar player. ‘Tunnel of Love,’ ‘Love over Gold,’ ‘Telegraph Road,’ the first Dire Straits album, and Communique. I was spellbound by Mark’s touch, tone, and melodic choice every time.”

Other influences are more obscure. “There were lots of session guitar players whose solos I was loving, but had no clue who they were,” he explains. “A good example was Ian Bairnson in the Scottish band Pilot and the Alan Parsons Project. It was only in the last handful of years that I stumbled upon him and did a deep dive, and realized he played the solo on ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush, ‘Eye in the Sky’ by Alan Parsons, ‘It’s Magic’ and ‘January’ by Pilot’—all these songs that spoke to me growing up. I also feel like a lot of local-band guitar players are inspirations—they certainly were to me. They didn’t have a name, the band wasn’t famous, but when you’re 12 or 13, watching Barry Clough and guys in cover bands, it’s, ‘Man, I wish I could play like that.’”

On High, Urban keeps things song-oriented, playing short and economical solos.

In terms of country guitarists, he nods, “Again, a lot of session players whose names I didn’t know, like Reggie Young. The first names I think would be Albert Lee and Ray Flacke, whose chicken pickin’ stuff on the Ricky Skaggs records became a big influence. ‘How is he doing that?’”

Flacke played a role in a humorous juxtaposition. “I camped out to see Iron Maiden,” Urban recounts. “They’d just put out Number of the Beast, and I was a big fan. I was 15, so my hormones were raging. I’d been playing country since I was 6, 7, 8 years old. But this new heavy-metal thing is totally speaking to me. So I joined a heavy metal band called Fractured Mirror, just as their guitar player. At the same time, I also discovered Ricky Skaggs and Highways and Heartaches. What is this chicken pickin’ thing? One night I was in the metal band, doing a Judas Priest song or Saxon. They threw me a solo, and through my red Strat, plugged into a Marshall stack that belonged to the lead singer, I shredded this high-distortion, chicken pickin’ solo. The lead singer looked at me like, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ I got fired from the band.”

Although at 15 he “floated around different kinds of music and bands,” when he was 21 he saw John Mellencamp. “He’d just put out Lonesome Jubilee. I’d been in bands covering ‘Hurts So Good,' ‘Jack & Diane,’ and all the early shit. This record had fiddle and mandolin and acoustic guitars, wall of electrics, drums—the most amazing fusion of things. I saw that concert, and this epiphany happened so profoundly. I looked at the stage and thought, ‘Whoa! I get it. You take all your influences and make your own thing. That’s what John did. I’m not gonna think about genre; I’m gonna take all the things I love and find my way.’

“Of course, getting to Nashville with that recipe wasn’t going to fly in 1993,” he laughs. “Took me another seven-plus years to really start getting some traction in that town.”

Urban’s main amp today is a Dumble Overdrive Reverb, which used to belong to John Mayer. He also owns a bass amp that Alexander Dumble built for himself.

Photo by Jim Summaria

When it comes to “crossover” in country music, one thinks of Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers, Garth Brooks, and Dolly Parton’s more commercial singles like “Two Doors Down.” Regarding the often polarizing subject and, indeed, what constitutes country music, it’s obvious that Urban has thought a lot—and probably been asked a lot—about the syndrome. The Speed of Now Part 1 blurs so many lines, it makes Shania Twain sound like Mother Maybelle Carter. Well, almost.

“I can’t speak for any other artists, but to me, it’s always organic,” he begins. “Anybody that’s ever seen me play live would notice that I cover a huge stylistic field of music, incorporating my influences, from country, Top 40, rock, pop, soft rock, bluegrass, real country. That’s how you get songs like ‘Kiss a Girl’—maybe more ’70s influence than anything else.”

“I think [Mark Knopfler] influenced a huge amount of my fingerpicking and melodic choices. I devoured those records more than any other guitar player.”

Citing ’50s producers Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley, who moved the genre from hillbilly to the more sophisticated countrypolitan, Keith argues, “In the history of country music, this is exactly the same as it has always been. Patsy Cline doing ‘Walking After Midnight’ or ‘Crazy’; it ain’t Bob Wills. It ain’t Hank Williams. It’s a new sound, drawing on pop elements. That’s the 1950s, and it has never changed. I’ve always seen country like a lung, that expands outwards because it embraces new sounds, new artists, new fusions, to find a bigger audience. Then it feels, ‘We’ve lost our way. Holy crap, I don’t even know who we are,’ and it shrinks back down again. Because a purist in the traditional sense comes along, whether it be Ricky Skaggs or Randy Travis. The only thing that I think has changed is there’s portals now for everything, which didn’t used to exist. There isn’t one central control area that would yell at everybody, ‘You’ve got to bring it back to the center.’ I don’t know that we have that center anymore.”

Stating his position regarding the current crop of talent, he reflects, “To someone who says, ‘That’s not country music,’ I always go, “‘It’s not your country music; it’s somebody else’s country music.’ I don’t believe anybody has a right to say something’s not anything. It’s been amazing watching this generation actually say, ‘Can we get back to a bit of purity? Can we get real guitars and real storytelling?’ So you’ve seen the explosion of Zach Bryan and Tyler Childers who are way purer than the previous generation of country music.”

Seen performing here in 2003, Urban is celebrated mostly for his songwriting, but is also an excellent guitarist.

Photo by Steve Trager/Frank White Photo Agency

As for the actual recording process, he notes, “This always shocks people, but ‘Chattahoochee’ by Alan Jackson is all drum machine. I write songs on acoustic guitar and drum machine, or drum machine and banjo. Of course, you go into the studio and replace that with a drummer. But my very first official single, in 1999, was ‘It’s a Love Thing,’ and it literally opens with a drum loop and an acoustic guitar riff. Then the drummer comes in. But the loop never goes away, and you hear it crystal clear. I haven’t changed much about that approach.”

On the road, Urban utilizes different electrics “almost always because of different pickups—single-coil, humbucker, P-90. And then one that’s tuned down a half-step for a few songs in half-keys. Tele, Strat, Les Paul, a couple of others for color. I’ve got a John Bolin guitar that I love—the feel of it. It’s a Tele design with just one PAF, one volume knob, no tone control. It’s very light, beautifully balanced—every string, every fret, all the way up the neck. It doesn’t have a lot of tonal character of its own, so it lets my fingers do the coloring. You can feel the fingerprints of Billy Gibbons on this guitar. It’s very Billy.”

“I looked at the stage and thought, ‘Whoa! I get it. You take all your influences and make your own thing. I’m gonna take all the things I love and find my way.’”

Addressing his role as the collector, “or acquirer,” as he says, some pieces have quite a history. “I haven’t gone out specifically thinking, ‘I’m missing this from the collection.’ I feel really lucky to have a couple of very special guitars. I got Waylon Jennings’ guitar in an auction. It was one he had all through the ’70s, wrapped in the leather and the whole thing. In the ’80s, he gave it to Reggie Young, who owned it for 25 years or so and eventually put it up for auction. My wife wanted to give it to me for my birthday. I was trying to bid on it, and she made sure that I couldn’t get registered! When it arrived, I discovered it’s a 1950 Broadcaster—which is insane. I had no idea. I just wanted it because I’m a massive Waylon fan, and I couldn’t bear the thought of that guitar disappearing overseas under somebody’s bed, when it should be played.

“I also have a 1951 Nocaster, which used to belong to Tom Keifer in Cinderella. It’s the best Telecaster I’ve ever played, hands down. It has the loudest, most ferocious pickup, and the wood is amazing.”

Urban plays a Gibson SG here at the 2023 CMT Music Awards. Wait until the end to see him show off his shred abilities.

Other favorites include “a first-year Strat, ’54, that I love, and a ’58 goldtop. I also own a ’58 ’burst, but prefer the goldtop; it’s just a bit more spanky and lively. I feel abundantly blessed with the guitars I’ve been able to own and play. And I think every guitar should be played, literally. There’s no guitar that’s too precious to be played.”

Speaking of precious, there are also a few Dumble amps that elicit “oohs” and “aahs.” “Around 2008, John Mayer had a few of them, and he wanted to part with this particular Overdrive Special head. When he told me the price, I said, ‘That sounds ludicrous.’ He said, ‘How much is your most expensive guitar?’ It was three times the value of the amp. He said, ‘So that’s one guitar. What amp are you plugging all these expensive guitars into?’ I was like, ‘Sold. I guess when you look at it that way.’ It’s just glorious. It actually highlighted some limitations in some guitars I never noticed before.”

“It’s just glorious. It actually highlighted some limitations in some guitars I never noticed before.”

Keith also developed a relationship with the late Alexander Dumble. “We emailed back and forth, a lot of just life stuff and the beautifully eccentric stuff he was known for. His vocabulary was as interesting as his tubes and harmonic understanding. My one regret is that he invited me out to the ranch many times, and I was never able to go. Right now, my main amp is an Overdrive Reverb that also used to belong to John when he was doing the John Mayer Trio. I got it years later. And I have an Odyssey, which was Alexander’s personal bass amp that he built for himself. I sent all the details to him, and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s my amp.’”

The gearhead in Keith doesn’t even mind minutiae like picks and strings. “I’ve never held picks with the pointy bit hitting the string. I have custom picks that D’Addario makes for me. They have little grippy ridges like on Dunlops and Hercos, but I have that section just placed in one corner. I can use a little bit of it on the string, or I can flip it over. During the pandemic, I decided to go down a couple of string gauges. I was getting comfortable on .009s, and I thought, ‘Great. I’ve lightened up my playing.’ Then the very first gig, I was bending the crap out of them. So I went to .010s, except for a couple of guitars that are .011s.”

As with his best albums, High is song-oriented; thus, solos are short and economical. “Growing up, I listened to songs where the guitar was just in support of that song,” he reasons. “If the song needs a two-bar break, and then you want to hear the next vocal section, that’s what it needs. If it sounds like it needs a longer guitar section, then that’s what it needs. There’s even a track called ‘Love Is Hard’ that doesn’t have any solo. It’s the first thing I’ve ever recorded in my life where I literally don’t play one instrument. Eren Cannata co-wrote it [with Shane McAnally and Justin Tranter], and I really loved the demo with him playing all the instruments. I loved it so much I just went with his acoustic guitar. I’m that much in service of the song.”

## Hotone Announces Cory Wong Signature Pedal, the Wong Press

In collaboration with Cory Wong, the Wong Press is a 4-in-1 Press pedal features Cory’s personal specs: blue & white color combination, customized volume control curve, fine-tuned wah Q range, and a dual-color STATUS LED strip indicating current mode/pedal position simultaneously.

In collaboration with Cory Wong, this Wong Press is a 4-in-1 Press pedal features Cory’s personal specs: Iconic blue & white color combination, customized volume control curve, fine-tuned wah Q range, and a dual-color STATUS LED strip indicating current mode/pedal position simultaneously.

Renowned international funk guitar maestro and 63rd Grammy nominee Cory Wong is celebrated for his unique playing style and unmistakable crisp tone. Known for his expressive technique, he’s been acclaimed across the globe by all audiences for his unique blend of energy and soul. In 2022, Cory discovered the multi-functional Soul Press II pedal from Hotone and instantly fell in love. Since then, it has become his go-to pedal for live performances.Now, two years later, the Hotone team has meticulously crafted the Wong Press, a pedal tailored specifically for Cory Wong. Building on the multi-functional design philosophy of the Soul Press series, this new pedal includes Cory’s custom requests: a signature blue and white color scheme, a customized volume pedal curve, an adjustable wah Q value range, and travel lights that indicate both pedal position and working mode.

Cory’s near-perfect pursuit of tone and pedal feel presented a significant challenge for our development team. After countless adjustments to the Q value range, Hotone engineers achieved the precise WAH tone Cory desired while minimizing the risk of accidental Q value changes affecting the sound. Additionally, based on Cory’s feedback, the volume control was fine-tuned for a smoother, more musical transition, enhancing the overall feel of volume swells. The team also upgraded the iconic travel lights of the Soul Press II to dual-color travel lights—blue for Wah mode and green for Volume mode—making live performances more intuitive and visually striking.

### Features

• True Bypass
• 4 in 1 functionality (volume, expression, wah, volume/wah)
• New dual-color STATUS LED strip indicating pedal mode and position in real time
• Cory’s custom volume curve and wah Q control
• Classic-voiced wah tone with flexible tonal range
• Active volume design for keeping lossless tone
• Separate tuner and expression outputs for more connection possibilities
• 9V DC or 9V battery power supply

### Introducing the Hotone Wong Press - Cory Wong's signature Volume/Wah/Expression Pedal - YouTube

Check the product page at hotone.com

## “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.

## Strymon BigSky MX Review

### Big time processing power in a reverb that you can explore for a lifetime.

An astoundingly lush and versatile reverb of incredible depth and flexibility. New and older BigSky algorithms included. More elegant control layout and better screen.

It’s pricey and getting the full use out of it takes some time and effort.

\$679

Strymon BigSky MX
strymon.net

5
5
4
4

Strymon calls the BigSky MX pedal “one reverb to rule them all.” Yep, that’s a riff on something we’ve heard before, but in this case it might be hard to argue. In updating what was already one of the market’s most comprehensive and versatile reverbs, Strymon has created a reverb pedal that will take some players a lifetime to fully explore. That process is likely to be tons of fun, too.

Grinding out impressive DSP power via an 800 MHz tri-core ARM processor with 32-bit floating-point processing, the BigSky MX introduces seven brand-new reverb algorithms, allows users to load any compatible convolution reverb (or impulse response) as well as to use two reverbs simultaneously—in series, parallel, and split—plus it delivers several other mind-bending features. Given this wealth of goodies, it’s impossible to test and discuss every sound and function, but what we heard is exciting.

### Infinite Space

The updated MX will look very familiar to those who know the original BigSky. The form factor is nearly identical, though the MX is a bit larger. Its control interface is similar too, albeit rearranged into a single row of knobs that looks more balanced. Rotary controls include decay, pre-delay, tone, mod, parameter 1, parameter 2, and mix. A value knob enables effect-level manipulation on the larger, clearer OLED screen. It also allows you to select between the older or “classic” algorithms from the original BigSky and the seven new ones. Three footswitches allow for preset selection, bank up or down (two switches pressed together), and an infinite hold/sustain switch that’s always available. The rotary “type” knob in the upper-left corner spins between 12 basic reverb voices. As with most things Strymon, many of these controls are multi-function.

Also very Strymon-like are the top-mounted, 5-pin DIN MIDI I/O connections, which come in handy if you want to maximize the pedal’s potential in a MIDI-controlled rig. But you can access more than enough right from the pedal itself to satisfy the needs of most standard pedalboard-based setups. A USB-C port enables computer connection for MIDI control via that route, use of the Nixie 2 editing app, or firmware updates.

There are stereo jacks for both input and output, plus a multi-function 1/4" TRS/MIDI expression jack for use with a further range of external controllers. The standard center-negative power jack requires a DC supply offering at least 500 mA of current draw.

It is utterly hypnotic and addictive once you settle in and work a little more intuitively.

### Sky’s the Limit

The BigSky MX was, initially, a bit mind-boggling on account of the seemingly endless possibilities. But it is utterly hypnotic and addictive once you settle in and work a little more intuitively. Suffice it to say, the core quality of the reverb sounds themselves are excellent, and the sheer variety is astounding. Beyond the standard emulations, I really dug several permutations of the cloud reverb, the chorale mode (which adds tenor and baritone harmonizing tones), and bloom mode (which generates deep synthesizer-style pads), and I could have gotten lost in any of these for hours if there wasn’t so much more to explore. Among the highlights: There is now an option to pan reverbs across the stereo field. The MX also uses audio design concepts borrowed from tape delays to create rhythmic pattern-based reverbs, which is an excellent compositional tool.

### The Verdict

This latest evolution of the already impressive and super-capable BigSky is the kind of pedal that could cause you to disappear into your basement studio, never to return. The sounds are addictive and varied and can be configured in endless creative ways. The programmability and connectivity are also superb. Additionally, the new algorithms weren’t added at expense of the old BigSky algos. There’s no doubt that it will be flat-out too much horsepower for the guitarist that needs a few traditional sounds and, perhaps, a few more spacious options. And it would be interesting to know what percentage of the pedal’s customers end up being synth artists, engineers, or sound designers of one kind or another. If you’re the kind of guitar player that enjoys stretching the sound and capabilities of your instrument as far as they will go, the BlueSky MX will gladly ride along to the bounds of your imagination. It may test the bounds of your budget, too. But in many ways, the BigSky MX is as much a piece of outboard studio gear as a stompbox, and if you’re willing to invest the time, the BigSky MX has the goods to pay you back.