Pro Pedalboards 2023
Here are 16 of our favorite stomp stations from the past year, including Chris Shiflett, Joe Bonamassa, Gary Holt, J Mascis, the Aristocrats’ Bryan Beller, Wolf Van Halen, Shinedown, and more.
The Aristocrats’ Bryan Beller
Photo by Manuela HäuBler
Starting at top right, Bryan Beller’s board has a pair of Xotic EP Boosters to bring up the output of his two passive instruments to match his Lull bass. Next comes a Demeter COMP-1 Opto Compulator that’s always on, followed by a TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb, Boss CE-2B Bass Chorus, Boss DD-3 Digital Delay, and a TC Electronic Flashback Delay/Looper. Moving to the bottom left, there’s a Boss OC-2 Octave and an Xotic Bass BB Preamp (Beller’s main overdrive). The Darkglass Electronics Vintage Microtubes and MXR M109S Six Band EQ are used for a beefier, RAT-like sound. Then there’s an EHX Micro POG set to an octave up and an old DigiTech X-Series Bass Driver that pushes the BB Preamp and runs into the Dunlop 105Q Cry Baby Bass Wah pedal (white), giving vocal-like sweeps more definition. Beller also has a Dunlop DVP3 Volume (X) Volume and Expression pedal and a Boss TU-2 Chromatic Tuner. Beller has incorporated the Behringer FCB1010 MIDI controller into his rig so he can provide some “low-rent Geddy Lee” moments in the set via a Roland JV-1010 64-Voice Synth Module.
Beller has incorporated the Behringer FCB1010 MIDI controller into his rig so he can provide some “low-rent Geddy Lee” moments in the set via a Roland JV-1010 64-Voice Synth Module.
Using the Raven Labs MDB-1 Mixer/Direct Box/Buffer for his pedals and running the Roland JV-1010 into his amps allows Beller to employ both his bass and the synth module at the same time.
Rig Rundown: The Aristocrats' Guthrie Govan & Bryan Beller 
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff and Jaime Hanna
Jeff Hanna, who co-founded the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1966, runs his acoustic guitars through a Fishman Aura Spectrum DI and a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner. The electric side of his board includes another Boss TU-3, a Paul Cochrane Tim V3 Overdrive, a Keeley Katana Clean Boost, a J. Rockett GTO, a Keeley-modded Boss TR-2 Tremolo, and a Keeley Mag Echo.
His son Jaime combines acoustic and electric pedals on one board. The acoustic side features a Fishman Aura Spectrum DI, Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner, and a Radial JDI direct box as a back-up. For electric, there’s an Ernie Ball volume pedal that feeds a TC Electronic tuner. The main out hits a Mesa/Boogie Stowaway Class-A Input Buffer, a Keeley Compressor, a Paul Cochrane Tim Overdrive, a J. Rockett Archer, an MXR Super Badass Distortion, a Boss GE-7 Equalizer modded by Nashville’s XTS, and a Line 6 M9 Stompbox Modeler Multi-Effects pedal. A Truetone 1 SPOT PRO CS12 provides the juice.
Rig Rundown: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff and Jaime Hanna
Tetrarch’s Diamond Rowe
Photo by Amy Harris
Shredder Diamond Rowe keeps things succinct. Her stage setup features an always-on Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer and a DigiTech Whammy for pure fun and note obliterating. A pair of utilitarian Boss stomps—an NS-2 Noise Suppressor and TU-3 Chromatic Tuner—keep her strings clean and accurate. There’s also a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power ISO-5 and Ground Control Pro MIDI Foot Controller.
In a separate rack, Rowe hides her “freak tone” patch. There lurks a Boss RV-6 Reverb, Boss DD-7 Digital Delay, Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble, and a MXR Uni-Vibe Chorus/Vibrato, plus a pair of tucked-away MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delays. The rack toys are fired by a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus.
Rig Rundown: Tetrarch's Diamond Rowe & Josh Fore
Roots powerhouse MarcusKing runs his guitar’s cable into a Dunlop Volume (X) 8. Then his signal hits a Dunlop Cry Baby Wah, an MXR Booster, an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer, a Tru-Fi Two Face Fuzz, MXR Micro Chorus, Dunlop Rotovibe Chorus/Vibrato, MXR Phase 100, Tru-Fi Ultra Tremolo, Dunlop Echoplex Delay, MXR Reverb, and a Radial Shotgun signal splitter and buffer. Juice? That’s via a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 3 Plus.
Marcus King's Pedalboard
Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett
The mega-rockers’ Chris Shiflett starts his pedalboard with an EHX Micro POG, followed by a JHS Muffuletta, an MXR Flanger and EVH Phase 90, an EHX Holy Grail reverb, a Strymon Deco, and a Klon KTR. The next row sports a Boss CE-2W Waza Craft Chorus, a couple of Strymon TimeLines (one for each amp), and down below is a trio of Xotics—an EP Booster, SP Compressor, and an XW-1 Wah. Utilitarian boxes include a Lehle Little Dual II Amp Switcher, a Palmer PLI-05 Line Isolation Box, a Boss FS-5L Foot Switch (to toggle between clean and dirty on his Friedman Brown Eye), and a TC Electronic PolyTune.
Chris Shiflett's Pedalboard
Mammoth WVH's Wolf Van Halen
Wolf Van Halen brought every EVH pedal (aside from the 5150 Overdrive) for his band’s 2022 tour. The Dunlop EVH95 Cry Baby Wah gets a workout for the solo of “You’ll Be the One.” The MXR EVH 5150 Chorus and the MXR EVH Phase 90 have become interchangeable for him. The MXR EVH117 Flanger gets sprinkled in, and for the solo on “Distance,” he always uses the Boss DD-3 Digital Delay and the EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath. An acoustic DI and tuner consume the rest of the real estate.
Wolf Van Halen's PedalboardFull Rig Rundown: https://bit.ly/MammothWVHRRSubscribe to PG's Channel: http://bit.ly/SubscribePGYouTubeMammoth WVH's leader details and demos the series of ...
Mammoth WVH’s Ronnie Ficarro
Ronnie Ficarro’s bass stomp station hosts a trio of EVH-inspired pedals: an MXR EVH 5150 Chorus, a MXR EVH 5150 Overdrive, and the MXR EVH Phase 90—plus an EHX Pitch Fork for approximating the low B roar that Wolf recorded on the song “Epiphany.” The nondescript silver box is a channel switcher for his Fender Super Bassman, and a Peterson StroboStomp HD does the tuning.
Rig Rundown: Mammoth WVH
El Ten Eleven’s Kristian Dunn
As half of this bass and drums duo, Kristian Dunn used to use three pedalboards, crouching down and manipulating settings all night. Today, he depends primarily on a Line 6 M9 Stompbox Modeler, although it’s two Boomerang III Phrase Samplers that make an El Ten Eleven show happen. In line, they’re separated by the DigiTech Bass Whammy. Dunn routes his signal this way so he can use the Whammy to shift octaves or keys on entire loops in Phrase Sampler one. The second Phrase Sampler, after the Whammy, allows him to pitch-shift specific loops without impacting the whole song or other loops. The Strymon TimeLine conjures precise repeats and specific delay settings not in the M9. The EHX Superego Synth Engine is a secret weapon, for reverse-sound passages. When he holds down the freeze function and plays the next note, it’s not audible until he releases the switch, and then the ongoing audible note blends into the second note. Cool, right? The remaining two pedals are a Nu-X NFB-2 Lacerate FET Boost and a Marshall GV-2 Guv’nor Plus. His tuner: a Boss TU-3 Chromatic. A Custom Audio Electronics RS-T MIDI Foot Controller makes Dunn’s scene changes easier, talking with the M9 and Strymon to alleviate some tap dancing.
Rig Rundown: El Ten Eleven's Kristian Dunn
Shinedown’s Zach Myers
For the Shinedown guitarist, everything starts at the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx IIIs—a main and a backup. There are four channels of Shure UR4D+ wireless units (three for electric and one for acoustic). An AES digital out runs to an Antelope Audio Trinity Master Clock and Antelope Audio 10MX Rubidium Atomic Clock. This helps fatten the fully stereo, digital rig by converting it to analog. After that, IRs off the Axe-Fx (left and right) channel into a pair of Neve DIs that then feed a Fryette G-2502-S Two/Fifty/Two Stereo Power Amplifier. (There’s another for backup.) And finally, parallel signals go to two ISO cabs and two Universal Audio OX Amp Top Box reactive load boxes. Altogether, there are eight channels of guitar.
While tech Drew Foppe handles the racks, Zach still has some control at his toes via a Dunlop MC404 CAE Wah, DigiTech Whammy 5, Ernie Ball 40th Anniversary Volume Pedal, and the Fractal Audio FC-6 Foot Controller. A Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus gives life to these pedals.
Rig Rundown: Shinedown's Zach Myers & Eric Bass 
Shinedown's Eric Bass
Eric Bass’ Prestige basses hit the Shure UR4D+ wireless units (similar to Myers, he has three channels for electric and a channel for acoustic), then a Neve DI, and then a Radial JX44 signal manager that feeds into an Ampeg SVT-7 Pro for clean tone (with an extra for backup).
His onstage pedalboard includes a Dunlop 105Q Cry Baby Bass Wah, a DigiTech Bass Whammy, and an MXR M299 Carbon Copy Mini Analog Delay. The ‘Gas’ switch engages a Mojotone Deacon, and a Radial SGI-44 1-channel Studio Guitar Interface connects with his rackmount JX44, while a Boss TU-3W Waza Craft Chromatic Tuner and Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus complete the lineup.
Photo by John VandeMergel
Blueser Hannah Wicklund’s pedalboard is stacked for bruising. Once the signal gets past her MXR Talk Box and Dunlop JC95 Jerry Cantrell Signature Cry Baby, it hits the channel switch for her Orange head. That stays in overdrive mode for about 75 percent of her set, which she says gives her sound its grizzly-bear lows. Next up is a classic—a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver. But this one has a Keeley mod that opens up the low end and keeps mids and highs better defined. The BD-2 gets some atmospheric help via a Dunlop EP103 Echoplex Delay, and the J. Rockett Archer also pairs with the BD-2. There’s an MXR Micro Flanger and an EHX Nano POG, a T. Rex Room-Mate Tube Reverb (on a hall setting), and a Peterson StroboStomp HD, plus an MXR Carbon Copy and a Keeley Rotten Apple OpAmp Fuzz.
Rig Rundown: Hannah Wicklund
Code Orange’s Reba Meyers
Reba Meyers’ tone starts with her signature ESP LTD RM-600 guitar and her 5150 head, but from there her sound is processed via a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx III run through the effects loop of her amp and used to coordinate channel switching. Meyers notes that for some songs she uses it only as a gate, while for others she adds in precise modulation, delay, reverbs, and “noise.” The rest of the rack features a Two-Notes Torpedo Captor X that she uses for cab sims and sending a pure, direct signal to FOH so they can mix that with the SM57 mic on the 4x12s. A Shure GLXD4 Wireless unit keeps her untethered and a RJM Mini Amp Gizmo uses MIDI to switch the amp via the Axe-Fx III.
Her actual board has two always-on pedals: the ISP Decimator II Noise Reduction and the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer. They’re joined by a Moog MF Ring Mod, a Boss PS-6 Harmonist, an AMT Electronics WH-1 Japanese Girl Optical Wah, and an Universal Audio Astra Modulation Machine. Everything is controlled by the RJM Mastermind PBC/10.
Reba Meyers' Pedalboard [Code Orange]
For his 2022 tour, Joe Bonamassa kept his pedalboard stocked with a Way Huge Smalls Overrated Special Overdrive, a Tone Mechanics/Racksystems Loop Box, a Tone Mechanics/Racksystems Splitter, a Fulltone Supa-Trem, a Hughes & Kettner Rotosphere, a Boss DD-2 Digital Delay, an MXR Micro Flanger, an Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer, an EHX Micro POG, a Dunlop Joe Bonamassa Fuzz Face, a Lehle A/B/C Switcher, a Dunlop Joe Bonamassa Signature Cry Baby Wah in Pelham blue, and an on/off/fast/slow dual switch for his Mesa/Boogie Revolver rotating speaker cabinet. Juice came from a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus.
Joe Bonamassa's "Boomer" Pedalboard
Exodus’ Gary Holt
Thrash-metallurgist Gary Holt trusts most of his switching to his tech, Steve Brogdon, who triggers everything with a rack-mounted Voodoo Lab GCX Guitar Audio Switcher that coordinates with a Voodoo Lab Ground Control Pro MIDI Foot Controller. The pedals in Brogdon’s care include a Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive, Pro Tone Pedals Gary Holt Signature Mid Boost, Maxon OD-9, MXR Bass Octave Deluxe, Maxon FL-9 Flanger, TC Electronic Corona Chorus, Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor, and a Darta Effects Bonded by Delay. A BBE Supa-Charger provides juice.
Holt still stomps these boxes himself: a Does It Doom Doomsaw, Mooer Tender Octaver, Mooer Green Mile, and a Dunlop JC95SE Jerry Cantrell Special Edition Crybaby Wah. A Shure GLXD16 Digital Wireless Guitar Pedal System lets him rock untethered.
Rig Rundown: Exodus' Gary Holt 
Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis
For at least 10-plus years, J Mascis has used a Bob Bradshaw-built Custom Audio Electronics switcher as his mission control. His longtime stomps include a Tone Bender MkI/Rangemaster-clone combo pedal made by Built to Spill’s Jim Roth (bottom right corner), Mascis’ first EHX Ram’s Head Big Muff Pi (top right), a vintage EHX Deluxe Electric Mistress, an MC-FX clone of a Univox Super Fuzz (lower right, blue box), a pair of ZVEX pedals—a Double Rock (two Box of Rock stomps in one) and a Lo-Fi Loop Junky (both bottom left), a Tube Works Real Tube Overdrive, a Moog Minifooger MF Delay, and a Boss TU-3S Tuner. His recently added pedals are a Homebrew Electronics Germania 44 Treble Booster (lower right), a JAM Pedals RetroVibe MkII, an Xotic SL Drive, a Suhr Jack Rabbit Tremolo, a Dr. Scientist Frazz Dazzler fuzz, an EHX Oceans 11, and a Dunlop Jimi Hendrix ’69 Psych Series Uni-Vibe Chorus/Vibrato. Everything receives juice from an MXR MC403 Power System or an MXR M237 DC Brick.
J Mascis' Dinosaur Jr. Pedalboard
One of rock’s loudest guitar-and-bass duos catalogs their ferocious setups.
PG’s Chris Kies headed to the Cannery Ballroom in Nashville to hang with J and Lou (above) of Dinosaur Jr., and to check out the various workhorse instruments, room-rattling amps, and piles of pedals that forge their signature alt-rock vibe.
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J Mascis Keeps It Loud!
Alt-rock guitar hero J Mascis might be soft-spoken, but when it comes to guitar, he blasts everything to 10. Get an inside look at the making of Dinosaur Jr.’s new album, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not.
J Mascis doesn’t say much, but he doesn’t have to. He’s an alternative rock icon—an awkward guitar hero from a music scene not usually interested in guitar heroes. He plays with grace, finesse, and stubborn self-confidence; churns out riffs with abandon; and writes artful but listenable songs. He plays loud, too. But volume isn’t a gimmick. It’s an aesthetic statement that’s also tuneful and tasteful.
Mascis has been around for a while. His band, Dinosaur Jr., started in Western Massachusetts in the mid-1980s and rose from the ashes of Deep Wound, a hardcore band that featured Mascis on drums. Dinosaur Jr.—with Mascis on guitar, Lou Barlow on bass, and Murph on drums—was loud, audacious, and influential, releasing three acclaimed albums, including their 1985 debut Dinosaur, You’re Living All Over Me (1987), and Bug (1988), before unraveling in 1989. Mascis soldiered on without his original mates, and the band signed with a major label, Sire, in the early ’90s. They got significant exposure and released a number of alternative anthems like “Out There” and “The Wagon.” But by decade’s end, Dinosaur Jr. had morphed into J Mascis and the Fog, and that seemed to be the end of the line.
But not so fast.
In 2005, the original Dinosaur Jr. reunited. It was no cheesy trip down memory lane. They picked up where they left off, toured, returned to the studio, and released three new albums hailed by critics as vital and relevant—an unusual feat for a middle-aged rock band. Their latest, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, is due on August 5 and is a testament to their tenacity and consistency.
Dinosaur Jr.’s core is, quite literally, Mascis’ wall of sound. Onstage, Mascis stands in front of six 4x12 cabinets—powered by two vintage Marshall heads and an ancient Hiwatt—and a blackface Fender Twin. He doesn’t switch between amps. He runs all four simultaneously and blasts them at full tilt. He uses pedals to create contrasts—his pedalboard is brimming with goodies—and he plays on an assortment of Fender Jazzmasters.
His idiosyncratic tastes have spawned a small industry of gear, including a high-end signature Jazzmaster, its more affordable Squier iteration, and the coveted and rare Fuzz Munchkin dirt box from Tym Guitars in Australia.
PG spoke with Mascis about his influences, capos, the different gear he uses in the studio, subliminal songwriting, his pedalboard philosophy, and how his playing has evolved over the last 30 years.
You started playing the guitar relatively late. Did it take time to get up to speed? Yeah. I played a lot. I wrote my own songs, so I only had to play what I wrote and vice versa. It wasn’t too bad because I wasn’t trying to play covers or anything.
Did it help that you knew music and already played drums? Yeah, for sure. And I fooled around on guitar—I’d written some songs already.
When you switched from drums to guitar, the type of music you were playing also transitioned—from hardcore to what you do now. Was that a natural transition for you? Yeah, that’s why I switched. We knew we were going to play a different style of music and I didn’t like any of the guitarists around town. I thought it would be easier to find a drummer, show him what to play, and figure out the guitar on my own. Nobody I knew really was playing guitar in a way that I wanted to hear.
You’ve said that two of your big influences were Mick Taylor and Keith Richards. How did they influence you? When I was learning, I liked playing solos more than rhythm—so Mick Taylor’s sound. Keith Richards had some cool leads, too, and recognizable rhythm sounds.
Did you experiment with open tunings, like Keith? Not at first. I did use the Keith tuning [open G] on the new album, on the song “Goin Down.”
Although Mascis, shown here with a Stratocaster, plays mostly Fender Jazzmasters onstage, including a signature model, he uses a wide range of guitars and amps to get his varied studio tones. Photo by Tim Bugbee/Tinnitus Photography
Did Richards inspire you to use a capo as well? No. That was just from trying to sing. The first song I used a capo on was “Little Fury Things” [from 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me] after realizing it wasn’t a good key for me to sing in. From then on I’ve been using it. I never really write songs in the right key to sing. I use a capo to get a little better range for my voice.
You write a song and then move the capo around until you find something that fits comfortably in your vocal range? Yeah. I end up singing falsetto a lot when I’m writing songs. But I don’t necessarily want to sing all the songs falsetto.
Does using the capo mess with your intonation, especially since your action is so high? I have to tune it every time I move the capo. I always wonder—when I see people play guitar, throw the capo on, and keep playing—“How is that possible?” That’s never worked for me.
Do you find it limiting when soloing since you’re cutting off a big chunk of the fretboard? I don’t mind soloing with the capo. It doesn’t bother me, but a lot of capos don’t seem to be able to hang on when you bend the strings. I’ve only been able to use the Shubb capos. They clamp down real tight.
Another influence you’ve mentioned is Ron Asheton from the Stooges. What did you learn from him? His sound on the first Stooges albums—I’ve always been chasing that as the ultimate guitar sound. Also, the way he soloed, it was more in my reach. I could figure out what he was doing—it wasn’t so hard. He was a good role model for learning how to play.
The Jazzmaster was your first good guitar. What were you playing on before you got one? I had Lou’s old guitar. It was, like, a Hondo Les Paul copy.
You’re known for using Jazzmasters live, but in that new clip from Later… with Jools Holland you’re playing a Tele with an f-hole. What’s up with that? I just thought I would try it because that song—that’s the Keith tuning—has kind of a heavier sound I was going for. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with it. It had a humbucker, a noise-canceling pickup, in it, too.
Talk about the different gear you use in the studio. I have a lot of guitars. I’ll use a lot of Gibsons for rhythm, and Teles I’ll use a lot for leads. I usually use a Vox AC-15 from 1959 or a Tweed Deluxe—the Tweed Deluxe maybe more with the Gibsons for rhythm and then the Vox with the Fenders for leads. That’s kind of my main thing. I usually play in the control room. I have the amp there and the speaker somewhere else.
Do you use your pedalboard in the studio? I’ll just use whatever pedal. I don’t use the pedalboard at all.
Dinosaur Jr. isn’t the only home for Mascis’ raging guitar solos. He’s shown here performing with his side project Heavy Blanket at San Diego’s the Satellite in June 2013. Photo by Debi Del Grande
You often have multiple guitar parts on your records. “Be a Part,” from the new album, is a good example. What’s your approach to arranging and layering different guitar parts? Trial and error in the studio—just what I think sounds good. Usually I’ll go too far and then bring it back. I add a bunch of stuff and just keep the stuff that works.
On “I Walk for Miles,” you have all these different entrances and different tones. How do you approach crafting a diverse palette of sounds over the course of an album? Mostly song by song. I just see what I think is appropriate for each song. They end up sounding a little different. There are a lot of different types of songs on this record.
Do you ever think, “This album has too many similar sounds and I need to change it up?” Not exactly. I’ll just think, “This song isn’t really exciting me. I’ve got to add something.” I’m not comparing the songs. I take each song on its own and try to make it interesting.
When recording, do you cut scratch tracks, strip everything away except the drums, and redo everything? Or do you record as a band and then build off what you have? The first way—usually just save the drums. Sometimes the bass, but mostly just the drums. I did end up using one part of the scratch guitar in one song: “Tiny,” just in one section. There was a part I liked and kept. We’re not that tight. We don’t practice beforehand so we’re recording as we’re practicing. It’s not like we have the songs totally together first. There’s definitely some arranging going on still—how many times this part or that part, but mostly the parts are written.
I’ve heard that when you write songs, you watch TV, play guitar, and wait for something to happen. How does that work? I liken it to fishing. You’re sitting waiting for something to happen. TV kind of passes the time. I’m just playing and waiting for something I like.
J Mascis’ GearGuitars
Assorted Fender Jazzmasters including a ’63, a ’65, and a signature Squier model (modded with Seymour Duncan Antiquity pickups) Fender Thinline Telecaster Gibson CF-100 (acoustic)
Two late-’60s Marshall Super Bass heads Vintage Hiwatt DR103 1967 blackface Fender Twin 4x12 Marshall cabinets from the ’60s and ’70s (six) 1959 Vox AC15 Fender Deluxe tweed
Bob Bradshaw Custom Audio Electronics switcher ToneBender Mk I-clone/Rangemaster-clone combo pedal (built by Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch) Electro-Harmonix “Ram’s Head” Big Muff MC-FX clone of a Univox Super-Fuzz CAE Twin Tremolo Z.VEX Double Rock (two Box of Rocks in one) Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress Moog MF Delay Minifooger Analog Delay (with expression pedal) Mooer Reecho Analog Delay Boss TU-2 Tuner Custom switch to limit the Big Muff
Strings and Picks
Ernie Ball Cobalt wound strings and RPS (with a reinforced ball end) unwounds (.010–.046) Purple Dunlop Tortex (1.14 mm) Shubb capos
Is film scoring different than writing songs? It’s a bit easier because you’ve got something there to work with. You can watch the scene and a lot of times it will write itself. Writing songs is like pulling stuff out of thin air. If you’ve got a picture and a feeling in the movie already; it’s a lot easier to come up with something.
You’ve also said, “Songs are just excuses for solos.” Do you mean that? [Laughs.] Well, in a way it’s true. [Laughs.]
Your standard setup is two old Marshall heads, a Fender, and the Hiwatt, but for fly-dates you’ll usually have three newer Marshalls. Can you tell that something is different? Does it feel funny? Yeah, for sure. A lot of the new amps that you’ll get sound really bad compared to the older amps that I have. But you can’t do much about it—just get used to it for the day and hopefully it’s not too bad. They’re usually really treble-y or something.
There is no way to roll that back? Not really [laughs.] No.
And how do you use pedals for different volume jumps? What is your philosophy with pedals? You know how people complain when they step on a fuzz and they say it gets quieter? I turn the Big Muff all the way up and that’s the loudest sound I have. I have that as loud as it will go and my other sounds I turn down to make sure [the Big Muff is] the loudest. For my cleaner sounds I use a tube driver just to turn down the sound. It still has a little bit of grit but the volume will be really low—it will be lower than just playing straight into the amp, but when you kick on the Big Muff it will get louder. I also have a pedal that turns down the Big Muff. When I’m playing rhythm I’ll have the Big Muff quieter and then for solos it goes all the way up.
Is that a custom thing? Yeah. I also built that into the Fuzz Munchkin. It has a switch to make it go all the way up and then a volume control to turn it down for rhythm and lead.
How do you think your playing has evolved over the last 30 years or so? Oh, you know, it’s gotten better and worse. Some things seem better, but I think as you play more, you get those reps in your mind and you’re not as inventive as when you didn’t know how to play. I think I’ve learned some palm muting in the last three years or so, which I never knew how to do before. I’m sure I can play faster than I need to play.
Are you working on learning any other cool techniques? I’m working on fingerpicking on the acoustic. I haven’t gotten very far with that, but I’m always trying it. I’m not at the hybrid-picking phase yet. I’m still putting the pick down. If I’m playing live I’ll always end up using a pick. I haven’t gotten to the point where I can do it live.
Last year, Dinosaur Jr. celebrated the 30th anniversary of the release of their debut album, Dinosaur, with seven sold-out nights at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom. They were joined by fellow alt-rock pioneer Bob Mould during the sixth evening for a literally roaring rendition of “Freak Scene,” from 1998’s Bug. The video opens with a close-up on Mascis’ pedalboard and peaks with Mould and Mascis generating a tsunami of sound.
Barlow’s guitar-like playing style is often similar to Lemmy Kilmister’s, using chords strummed with a pick and pushed through two or three high-wattage amplifiers.Photo by Tim Bugbee/Tinnitus Photography
How Lou Barlow Keeps His Bass in Your FaceLou Barlow started playing with J Mascis when they were in high school. Back then, Barlow played guitar and Mascis played drums, but that changed with the dawn of Dinosaur Jr. and Mascis’ emergence as one of alternative rock’s premier guitarists. Barlow switched to bass—an instrument he attacks like a guitar, plays chords on, and strums. He left Dinosaur Jr. in 1989 but continued making music with his band, Sebadoh, and even scored a hit in early 1996 with the Folk Implosion (“Natural One” peaked at No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100) before reuniting with Mascis and Murph in 2005. His unorthodox bass style is the perfect foil to Mascis’ wall-of-sound approach. It’s complementary without being competitive and leaves plenty of room to get messy.
Talk about your role as bass player in a power trio. From the beginning, the point was to try to be heard. In the very beginning, J put it forth that we were going to be loud. Our very first practice was just excruciating. J was wearing these blast muffs—those protective headphones—and that put it into Murph and I like, “Oh boy, we’re going to have to really work to be heard.” My style developed out of that. I really hit the bass hard. I was a rhythm guitar player in a hardcore band before that.
What was the transition like, from guitar to bass?
It was effortless. [Laughs.] I was also playing ukulele and that’s how I started writing songs—the less strings the better was my attitude back then.
How has your bass playing evolved over the years and, in particular, how is it different in this iteration of the band as opposed to back in the ’80s?
After I was kind of removed from Dinosaur, I started other bands that I played bass in. I played bass in a band called Folk Implosion, where I played primarily with my fingers. I played almost like a deeper, dub-style bass. That did pretty well. The core of the band was myself playing bass and my partner (John Davis) playing drums—so we made a band that was much more rhythmic. When I came back to Dinosaur, slowly playing with my fingers worked its way into my style.
How do you decide when to use fingers and when to use a pick?
I guess some things obviously call for playing with your fingers [laughs]—like a more traditional style. Other times it really is better to play with full-on strumming, like I used to.
Lou Barlow’s GearGuitars
’70s Gibson Grabber with sliding humbucker
Marshall 800 and 4x12 cabinet
Mid-’70s Ampeg SVT head and cabinet
Peavey Centurion Mark III head and 1x15 cabinet
Xotic Bass BB Preamp (on SVT only)
Palmer Triage Amp Selector
Strings and Picks
Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys (.050–.105)
Purple Dunlop Tortex 1.14 mm
Who are some of your influences on bass?
Jah Wobble [from Public Image Ltd] and Lemmy.
Lemmy also did a lot of that guitar-style bass playing.
Yeah, Motörhead was definitely a big deal to us when we were in high school.
Talk about your amps.
I usually play an old SVT through a regular SVT cabinet. It’s really heavy and great sounding. I also play a Marshall 900 guitar head through a 4x12 cabinet. And at home, when I have my real rig, I play a transistor Peavey head through a 1x15, because that’s the original sound that we used to have. I still really like it. I like a really overdriven transistor coming through a 15. It just has a certain familiar sound. I mix the three together.
That is massive.
Yeah. But, I mean, J is playing through three full stacks and a Twin, usually.
Can you feel the air move when you’re standing in front of it?
The main thing is the feel. From the very beginning of the band, really, J wanted it to be an almost physical thing. He wanted the music to register physically as much as hearing it.
In the studio, do you mic your amps or go direct?
Both. But in the end we generally rely on the amped sound.
Do you use the same rig that you use live in the studio?
I did this last record. It depends. It seems to change every record. On [one] record we put everything through a Traynor—a Traynor head—and that just seemed to work. The next time I did everything primarily through an SVT. This last time it was really a combination of the Peavey and a Marshall.