Following a Grammy nom for his latest record, the blues great returns for his second Rundown.
Eric Gales is back again. Since last chatting with John Bohlinger in 2017, the blues maestro’s rig has transitioned to include more signature Raw Dawg gear pieces—including pedals, amps, and, of course, his signature Magneto guitars. Just last year, the lefty slinger released the Grammy-nominated, Crown, which features collabs with his pal Joe Bonamassa. Gales was touring in support of that record when he rolled through Nashville.
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
Eric Gales' Guitars
For over a decade, Magneto Guitars has collaborated with Gales on his signature guitars, and he tours with a pair of them. This Magneto Sonnet RawDawg III features a basswood body, roasted maple neck, rosewood fingerboard, a righthanded Gotoh tremolo (flipped, naturally) and tuners. It’s loaded with a set of Magneto Metro-Poles EG1 pickups, and a gold-mirror pickguard keeps things flashy.
Gales’ Sonnet RawDawg II—one of his longtime standbys for both stage and studio—is outfitted with an alder body, maple neck and fingerboard, and Lollar S-style pickups. Gales strings both signature guitars with Dunlop .010–.046 strings.
Once again, Gales relies upon his signature gear for his amp needs. When he and DV Mark designed his Raw Dawg EG 250-watt head, they decided upon a one-channel design with a tube preamp and solid-state power amp to achieve a super-clean tone, which is delivered to a pair of DV Mark DV Gold 212V 2x12 Vertical cabinets.
Eric Gales' Pedalboard
After leaving his guitar, Gales’ signal hits a Shure GLXD6+ Digital Wireless and goes straight into a pair of expression-controlled pedals—a Dunlop Bob Bradshaw-designed CAE wah with a gold-plated enclosure and a DigiTech Whammy. Then, he heats things up with a host of drive units: an E.W.S. Eric Gales Signature Brute Drive, and MXR Eric Gales Signature Raw Dawg (which includes the image of Gales’ late pitbull), a Mojo Hand FX Colossus Fuzz, and an MXR Hendrix Octavio Fuzz. Those hit a lone always-on delay— a Tech 21 Boost DLA—and a groove-filled Boss Loop Station RC-5.
The charismatic Canuck demonstrates how to be a one-person power trio with drumstick-equipped vintage Gibsons and a pedalboard that's been sidelined by a kick drum and crash cymbal.
French-Canadian Steve Hill has been a professional musician since the age of 17. Sometimes as a sideman, sometimes as a frontman, but always onstage with a guitar in his hands and a smile on his face. About 10 years ago, Steve Hill released an album, and it was DOA—it bombed and nothing happened with it (his words, not ours).
"I don't know how to do anything else besides music, so I had to make a living and I own a studio so figured I'll do some solo shows and I'll record a solo album to sell at those shows," says Hill.
That album was called Solo Recordings, Vol. 1 and it's his best-selling record to date. It completely changed his career and it really helped him find his artistic voice. Vol. 1 started out very simple—he sang, played guitar, and stomped his feet. About halfway through that record, he added a kick drum. Then he bought a hi-hat that was used on a few of the last songs recorded for Vol. 1. And for every acoustic song he's recorded, he's used a can of coins tapped to his feet as added percussion.
The success of the Vol. 1 led him to record subsequent albums Vol. 2 and Vol. 3. Each of those records incorporated more and more instrumentation falling on the hands, feet, and shoulders of Hill to pull off both onstage and in the studio. But this wasn't his artistic vision.
"It's all accidents—I never planned for this. I never wanted to be a one-man band [laughs]," says Hill. "125+ shows a year provides a great learning environment. Plus, when I'm not performing, I'm in the studio fine-tuning my approach and working out new material. Everything I recorded for those first three albums was performed live with no overdubs. I wouldn't allow it [laughs]!"
And what's the typical reaction he sees onstage: "Some people are mesmerized, and some people are horrified."
In this episode, the multi-tasking Steve Hill virtually invites PG's Chris Kies into his Canada-based recording studio. The Juno-Award-winning guitarist [Blues Album of the Year (2015)] details why he slides vintage Teisco gold-foils on his holy grail Gibsons and Fenders, explains the evolution of his setup that now covers bass and drums, and proves that one man can get the job done of three.
[Brought to you by D'Addario XL Strings: https://www.daddario.com/XLRR]
All Steve Hill's video, audio, and photos captured and edited by Stephan Ritch.
1959 Gibson Les Paul Junior
No, your eyes aren't deceiving you, that is a true 1959 Gibson Les Paul Junior that was been jerry-rigged with a Teisco gold-foil pickup. Before you start trolling, realize that the guitar has not been damaged or modded in any irreversible manner. When building his solo sound barrage, he specifically sought out the old gold-foils because they slid under the strings without any routing or surgery. And notice how the gold-foil only sits under the Junior's top three strings. (The only thing he had to do was add a stereo output to the Junior so the Teisco pickup hits a bass amp — a 1966 Ampeg B-15 paired with an EHX POG— while the stock P-90 goes through varied combinations of old Fenders.)
Yes, the neck has been broken (five times), but believe it or not, only one occurred while drumming. ("The final punch of a show in Scotland.")For his Juniors, Hill typically rides with D'Addario NYXLs (.011–.056) and he hasn't used a pick in nearly 30 years. His tunings include D standard, a tweaked open G (D–G–D–G–B–C), and several of the usual-suspect open tunings. And all his gold-foil guitars take a Vovox stereo cable.
Close-Up of Hill's '59 Junior
Here's a close-up of the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Junior with its stock P-90 and retrofitted Teisco gold-foil.
Here's the '59's headstock with a maraca and drumstick.
This is how they fasten to the headstock. Again, no major surgery, Hill just removed the tuners and put the metal plate on the headstock before putting back on its tuning pegs.
1956 Gibson ES-225
This 1956 Gibson ES-225 is where all this craziness started. He primarily used this guitar to record Vol. 1 and the first to feature the P-90-and-gold-foil recipe. (If you look towards the upper bout, you can see residue from gaffer tape that held the Teisco to its top.)
1962 Fender Jazzmaster
"Over the past year, this guitar has become my favorite," gushes Steve Hill when introducing his 1962 Fender Jazzmaster. "After putting a Mastery bridge on it, I don't think I've played a better guitar than this."Obviously, we see the gold-foil, but to fit the additional pickup he had to make a custom pickguard. (Rest assured, purists, he still has the original in the guitar's case.)
Collings 002H T
"I've had many acoustic guitars, but this is perfection," says Hill when referring to his Collings 002H T. "I've been playing more acoustic guitar and it's absolutely because of this 00 parlor." Since getting it, he's added the Fishman Rare Earth soundhole pickup.
1964 Gibson SG Junior
If it's slide time for Steve, he's grabbing this 1964 Gibson SG Junior. Another consideration beyond tone for Hill is the instrument's weight. If it's too heavy, it throws off his headstock-drumming technique. This one is light and rips, so it's a keeper.
Here is the aforementioned EHX POG that bolsters the bass signal before hitting the 1966 Ampeg B-15. The nondescript box on the right splits the signal coming out of the guitar so he can hit multiple bass and guitar amps.
Steve Hill's Pedalboard
The guitar signal is met with an always-on, three-stage boost blast—Xotic EP Booster, Klon Centaur, and Boss OS-2 OverDrive/Distortion. Hill rides the dynamics with the guitar's volume knob. The EP and Klon are set to neutral settings with only the Klon having the treble and output knobs at noon (while the is gain dialed out). For road work, he opts for a Strymon El Capistan and Source Audio True Spring for delays and reverb. A TC Electronic PolyTune keeps his guitars in check.
Steve Hill's Studio Effects
For studio work, Hill trusts his tone to a Fulltone Custom Shop Tube Tape Echo CS-TTE and 1964 Fender Reverb Unit.
1966 Ampeg B-15
Here is a 1966 Ampeg B-15 used for Steve's "bass" signal.
Hill's Vintage Fender Combos
A lot of Steve's tone comes from his jaw-dropping amp collection. For the shoot, we were introduced to a 1950 Fender Deluxe (left photos), a 1964 Fender Super Reverb for acoustics (top right), and a 1956 Fender Vibrolux (bottom right and lowest photo).
The Superwolf, Zwan, and Chavez guitarist's tone secrets: fingerpicking, flatwound strings, and overdriven amps.
Matt Sweeney thinks you should fingerpick. "I don't want to sound like some sort of dick who hates guitar picks," he says, after about 20 minutes railing against guitar picks. "But try it. It's worth it."
Sweeney is passionate, and when given a soapbox he doesn't hold back when he's advocating for something he believes in. Otherwise, he's self-effacing and humble. For example, check out the Guitar Moves video series he did a few years ago for Noisey, the music site for Vice. Besides becoming something of a household name (at least in nerdy, guitar-obsessed households not already familiar with his extensive and impressive discography), in each episode he threw himself headlong into a situation that, at best, was painful and awkward as he learned a new concept or technique for the first time live and on camera.
"Being awkward and vulnerable, that's like being alive," he says. "I think music is all about harnessing your horrific, awkward vulnerability, and working on it and working on it and turning it into something that sounds confident and makes other people feel that they aren't so awkward and vulnerable. That's an illusion, but it's an illusion as much as art is an illusion, meaning that you work really hard to make it easy for somebody else. To make somebody else feel at ease."
Harnessing vulnerability may also explain Sweeney's particular guitar-related passions. In addition to fingerpicking, he has strong opinions about things like flatwound guitar strings—he loves flatwound guitar strings—and not using pedals.
Matt Sweeney & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy "Make Worry For Me" (Official Music Video)
But his first passion is fingerpicking, which he learned how to do after he was already established. By that point, he was a seasoned road dog with thousands of miles under his belt with underground bands like Skunk and Wider. He also had a number of recording credits to his name and had gone on to greater recognition as a founding member of Chavez. But then he realized there was more than one way to skin a mudskipper.
"I was in Chavez, and on a lark I went to a festival called the Charlotte Bluegrass Festival—it's like a real old bluegrass festival in the middle of Michigan—and seeing people fingerpick blew my mind," Sweeney says. "A friend of mine, his name is Sam Dylan, had already figured out how to play a couple of Mississippi John Hurt songs, and he was also really adamant about fingerpicking. His attitude was, 'If you're not fingerpicking you're just fucking around.' He showed me two patterns, which are both Mississippi John Hurt patterns."
Fingerpicking for Sweeney was transformative, both as a musician and as a person. "At that point, I thought I was an okay guitar player, and I'd already made a bunch of records," he says. "But just trying to do those patterns was so humiliating that it definitely made me understand why rock guitar players don't fuck with fingerpicking. I decided to stick with it. It was such a challenge and so remarkably humiliating to sound incompetent on something that used to be my passport into feeling cool. But after seeing my friend do it, and after he showed me the patterns—I have a very clear memory of it—I thought, 'If I get this, I am going to have a voice and I am going to have a way of playing guitar that is undeniable, and it's going to sound really good, and not a lot of people can do it.' It took like a month, which is nothing. It's humiliating, but it doesn't take that long. I really do think that the undoing of your confidence is such a no-go zone for people, and so many people play music precisely for the reason that they can feel in control. Fingerpicking changed everything. I can't recommend it enough."
TIDBIT: The new follow-up to 2005's 'Superwolf' took 16 years but was recorded with immediacy in mind. "Eye contact is key for recording anything," Sweeney says. The album art is by Harmony Korine.
Sweeney's first recording without a pick is the song "Salty Dog," recorded with the singer Cat Power for her album The Covers Record. The song is a duet—voice and guitar—and his part is based on a pattern he learned from Dylan. It was also around that time that his interest in fingerpicking collided with his burgeoning collaboration with vocalist Will Oldham (who often records under the moniker Bonnie "Prince" Billy), and which led, eventually, to the birth of their duo, Superwolf.
"Chavez wasn't playing much anymore, and I had befriended Will Oldham," Sweeney says. "Will was one of the first people who heard me fingerpick. We became friends, a guitar was sitting around, I picked it up, played something, and Will said, 'That sounds good.' I said, 'Right, that's the whole point of fingerpicking … to make somebody say, 'That sounds good.'"
That revelation wasn't arrogant or self-centered. It was grasping a deeper truth intrinsic to music, which, for Sweeney, is inextricably linked to fingerpicking.
"Really, that's the point of music: to get people's minds off of whatever and to hypnotize them a little bit," he says. "That's when I thought, 'Cool, I did the thing that I wanted to do. I can fingerpick now and I can play with a really great singer who is working in an idiom that I hadn't worked in before.' I started playing with Will and that gave me the opportunity to keep developing the way that I was playing, because it went well with his singing. After a couple of years, that led to Will suggesting that we write songs together."
Matt Sweeney's Gear
Matt Sweeney's 1969 Martin D-18 (a gift from Neil Diamond)
• 1969 Martin D-18 (a gift from Neil Diamond)
• 1976 Gibson ES-335TD
• James Carbonetti Savagist Bo Diddley-style guitar
Nuñez Amplification Dual Range Boost
• Austen Hooks converted Bell & Howell projector amplifier
• Will Oldham's Music Man HD-130
• Nuñez Amplification Dual Range Boost
• Echopark F-1 Germanium Fuzz
• La Bella Jazz Flats (.012–.052)
• D'Addario flatwounds (.012–.052)
Those songs became their first album, Superwolf, which was released in early 2005. Their duo is very much a modern take on the low-key, fingerpicked albums of yore. "Will's songs come out of that tradition of English-style and Appalachian fingerpicking," Sweeney says. "It's a nod to that. Will doesn't try to be a retro artist or throw around the term authentic, or anything like that, but his music is absolutely rooted in Scottish folk songs."
That first album also features the drummer Peter Townsend ("the real Pete Townsend," Sweeney says) and guest vocalist Sue Schofield. It took 16 years, but the follow-up, Superwolves, was released at the end of April. In addition to Townsend's return, it features a number of guests, including Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar, members of Moctar's touring band, and other friends from Nashville and Brooklyn. The music is understated and relies heavily on the interplay between Oldham and Sweeney. They tracked live and made sure they could see each other. "Eye contact is key for recording anything," Sweeney says.
The tuning Sweeney uses with Superwolf is an important part of the band's sound, too, even though he doesn't often stray too far from standard. "With Superwolf, most of the songs are in a tuning that Will and Lou Reed used a lot, which is just standard tuning, but it's in D," he says, noting that every string is tuned down a whole step, although otherwise it looks and feels like standard. "I don't understand why it isn't more of a normal thing to do, because it immediately opens up different possibilities, and that's sort of why the Velvets sound really cool."
Producer and industry legend Rick Rubin was a fan of that first Superwolf album and invited Sweeney to play on sessions. Over the years, Rubin has used him in numerous situations, including some you might not expect, like with superstars Neil Diamond and Adele. But Sweeney's first gig with Rubin wasn't as seemingly incongruous. It was on the first posthumous Johnny Cash release, American V: A Hundred Highways (Sweeney also appears on American VI: Ain't No Grave). It was through that project and hanging out in the studio with some of Cash's longtime sidemen that Sweeney encountered what was to be another passion: flatwound strings.
Matt Sweeney's career amalgamates an uncommon blend of indie- and roots-rock-cred, high-profile session gigs, membership in the Billy Corgan-led supergroup Zwan, and collaborations with Josh Homme and Bonnie "Prince" Billy.
Photo by Chris Shonting
"I got asked to do sessions for Rick Rubin, and I had no idea what to do at all," Sweeney says. "I chose to bring nothing with me—because I knew his studio had tons of guitars—and sure enough, all the players on the sessions were using flatwound strings. Okay, I won't say all of them, but certainly Smokey Hormel was. I think I picked up an acoustic guitar. It had flatwound strings on it, and I said, 'This sounds amazing.' Smokey said, 'Yeah, dude, you have to use flatwounds if you're going to make a good-sounding record.' I said, 'Nobody ever told me that.' He said, 'Nobody ever does.'"
For Sweeney, flatwound strings are an aesthetic link to the history of guitar-based music. "Roundwound strings weren't widely available until 1970," he says. "Every damn recording you've heard is on flatwound strings." [Author's note: Sort of. According to AcousticMusic.org, Pyramid, based in Germany, started selling the first set of pure nickel roundwound strings in 1954. In the U.S., roundwound strings became commercially available in the mid-1960s, and most manufacturers offered them by 1970. The Beatles, mentioned below—and this is argued endlessly in various online forums—most likely used flatwound strings on their early recordings, but by their final period were probably using .010-gauge roundwound strings, like many guitarists today.]
"Remember when you were first playing guitar and put on a new set of strings? Remember how cool it would sound? I don't really like that sound," he laughs. "But it's bright and shiny. String up your guitar with flatwounds and start playing along to Beatles' songs. 'Oh, there's the sound.' It's wild! It's such a quick hack to getting a cool tone. It also makes your guitar playing totally different, because there is zero resistance when you're moving up and down the strings. There's no squeak. You get this new lease on life on guitar. The tradeoff is you don't get the shiny bright sound and the action is a bit higher. But on the positive end, it sounds so good and it records really well."
Sweeney has an opinion about getting great tone, too, which, for the most part, doesn't involve pedals. "I don't know any other way to get a tone other than from your amp and fingers," he says. "Otherwise, you're not getting your tone, you're processing your tone. That's another thing that fingerpicking brought out: Your right hand is your mouth. That's what's making the sound come out. But again, speaking of tone, we seem to largely agree that the guitar recordings everybody freaks out about are usually from before the '60s. They're using flatwound strings, they're not using pedals, and it sounds really great."
The Superwolf duo of Sweeney and Bonnie "Prince" Billy, on the floor here, allows both players to explore their most traditional instincts, and was built on friendship that bloomed into a musical project. Any wolverines in the photo are purely coincidental.
Photo by MXLXTXV
But Sweeney isn't opposed to pedals, and, unlike fingerpicking, his relationship to pedals doesn't involve deeper philosophical issues. He also understands how sometimes they're essential to standing out in a mix. "I love pedals. Pedals are really cool, and they're fun," he says. "But I established the way I sound without relying on pedals at all. Although over the last couple of years, I've been amassing range-driver-sounding pedals, which I now have a bunch of. That's something I picked up from Josh Homme. He pointed out, 'Get any kind of pedal that will make the sound wave a little different.' Pedals that put things out of phase and make it poke out a little bit are cool."
Still, ultimately, he asserts your sound is in your fingers. "The whole thing is, turn up the amp really loud. Since you're not using a pick, you have a lot of control over your attack. You can bear down on it, hit it harder, hit it softer. That's the sound. You get shitloads of drama that way. You can get all these cool things that people talk about with tone that sound really beautiful because you're fingerpicking and the strings are ringing against each other and you're controlling the volume. It's cool, and it really works."
Fingerpicking, flatwound strings, coaxing great tones from an overdriven amp—none of those things are easy, but that, similar to purposefully filming himself in awkward, vulnerable situations, is how Sweeney operates. He's not looking for shortcuts. He's following his passions, and, as best he can, keeping it real."Definitely the reason I got into playing guitar was because I thought it would be kind of easy," he says. "It's easy to sound good on guitar, and that's what's really rad about the guitar. Other than being a good singer, I think it's probably the cheapest way to get musical and to start making a sound that feels good. You learn a couple of guitar chords and it's exciting. You could pick up a guitar and in a day you can sort of do a facsimile of whatever crappy song you think is good. But then you're kind of ignoring the fact that you're not really going for it, and not really challenging yourself. I've always found that guitar players will say, 'Oh, fingerpicking is like classical guitar.' But that's just a catchall term for all the guitar playing that you don't understand [laughs]."
In this episode of his 'Guitar Moves' series, Matt Sweeney gets a typically humbling lesson in the style of Mississippi Fred McDowell from Dan Auerbach, on acoustic guitar.