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
Legendary rock guitarists such as Paul Gilbert, Guthrie Govan, Shawn Lane, and Nuno Bettencourt created wildly interesting and provocative lines by simply skipping over the obvious choice.
• Become more fluent in three-note-per-string scales.
• Unleash the power of intervallic licks.
• Learn how to navigate arpeggios using string skipping.
Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.
In this installment of Cram Session we’ll take a look at some inventive ways to practice and apply various string-skipping techniques. It was during the ’80s and ’90s that Eric Johnson, Paul Gilbert, Nuno Bettencourt, Shawn Lane, and other legendary rockers pushed the boundaries of what was possible on the guitar, and skipping strings was one of the principles these players refined and perfected.
The basic concept is simple: When you play a lick, don’t move to an adjacent string.
Guitarists generally play lines that follow ascending or descending patterns across adjacent strings. But by simply skipping a string it’s possible to produce lines not normally associated with regular guitar fingerings. Paul Gilbert once described the technique, as “a way to play licks that sound like they weren’t written on the guitar.”
It’s possible to use this technique to execute licks and melodies that incorporate wide intervals, and applying string skipping to modal or pentatonic scales can produce hip, distinctive lines. Skipping strings is also a great way to perform arpeggios using either legato phrasing or a combination of legato and tapping. Arpeggios are notoriously difficult to execute smoothly and cleanly on the guitar, as we often have to play single notes on adjacent strings. This can be very hard to articulate, and sometimes alternate picking or sweep picking can result in a less defined sound because the notes blend into one another.
One of the masters of the string-skipping approach is Paul Gilbert. He uses the technique to perform pieces by classical composers, transferring melodies written for either strings or keyboard to the fretboard. In the video below you can see him tackle a portion from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier.
Ex. 1 is a simple exercise that demonstrates the string-skipping approach using the A minor pentatonic scale (A–C–D–E–G). You can see that we simply jump over the adjacent string and then jump back to the lower adjacent string and continue in an ascending form. We then simply reverse the idea for the descending form.
Click here for Ex. 1
Ex. 2 is a Paul Gilbert-style lick based on a phrase that can be heard on his blistering cover of the Jeff Beck song “El Becko.” I remember buying a guitar compilation album with this track on in the early ’90s and loving the sound of this unusual pentatonic phrase. Following a full bend, the lick descends with a string-skipping figure using notes from A minor pentatonic. The lick concludes on a pentatonic run enhanced with an added 2.
Click here for Ex. 2
We stick with the A minor pentatonic scale in Ex. 3. This lick is based around a sextuplet rhythm with an ascending pattern using the 3rd and 1st strings exclusively. The passage has a wide intervallic sound based around a familiar pentatonic figure.
Click here for Ex. 3
For Ex. 4 I’ve outlined a typical three-note-per-string scale in G major (G–A–B–C–D–E–F#). This scale shape is one of seven fingerings that cover the entire neck. If you don’t know the remaining six shapes, I suggest you look them up and learn them. They’re vital for being able to form extended runs all over the fretboard.
Click here for Ex. 4
Australian legato master Brett Garsed is the inspiration for Ex. 5. This example moves through all seven modal shapes of the G major scale. The lick concludes with the original shape performed an octave higher.
Click here for Ex. 5
We move into classic Paul Gilbert territory with Ex. 6. Again, we’re moving up the scale using each diatonic shape. This figure ascends on the 3rd and 1st strings and uses a mixture of legato and alternate picking based on a sextuplet rhythm.
Click here for Ex. 6
Ex. 7 is a variation of our previous example and features a figure based around a 16th-note picking sequence performed exclusively on the 3rd and 1st strings. Once again, this lick covers a large portion of the neck and makes use of all of the modal string shapes.
Click here for Ex. 7
Ex. 8 is a classic Paul Gilbert-style arpeggio that can be heard on his various solo recordings, as well as his recorded work with Racer X and Mr. Big. The idea of these arpeggios is that the note that’s normally played on the 2nd string, when playing either an E major or E minor arpeggio shape, is now performed on the 3rd string. This allows us to produce a smooth consistent sound by executing different sequences with a legato technique.
Click here for Ex. 8
A lick in the style of Nuno Bettencourt, Ex. 9 illustrates his approach to playing string-skipped arpeggios. Based on a sextuplet rhythm, this lick is built around a sequence that repeats through the various arpeggios and includes some different fingerings that let us play inversions of both major and minor arpeggios. The phrase concludes with an ascending and descending figure that uses diminished string-skipping shapes over the E7/G# chord.
Click here for Ex. 9
When I was studying with renowned session guitarist Phil Hilborne, I learned the approach used in Ex. 10. This lick presents fingerings for all the diatonic harmonized 7th arpeggio extensions in the key of G major. It arranges the arpeggios as string-skipping fingerings with the root notes situated on both the 5th and 6th strings. This is a very effective way of performing the slightly more awkward 7th arpeggio fingerings, plus it has a cool intervallic sound.
Click here for Ex. 10
Ex. 11 is a potent sequence in D Dorian (D–E–F–G–A–B–C) that outlines various arpeggio extensions over a Dm7. Using the string skipping technique with the 7th arpeggio extensions, it’s possible to perform very sophisticated phrases with ease.
Click here for Ex. 11
Our final exercise (Ex. 12) is in the style of my old friend, Guthrie Govan. This lick is based on Guthrie’s jaw-dropping four-note-per-string fingering for a minor 7 arpeggio. This lick will take some work as the stretches are wide, plus you have to sound the first note on each string with a left-hand hammer-on using the first finger of your fretting hand. I suggest working on the jump between strings slowly, but even at a slow tempo make sure you’re playing it with unwavering time.
Click here for Ex. 12
Guthrie Govan: New Approaches
The maestro on the Aristocrats’ Tres Caballeros, pedal problems, and the other instrument he wants to master.
It’s hard not to bedazzled by the Aristocrats in action, as guitar god Guthrie Govan unleashes multi-octave, tapped arpeggios at warp speed atop head-spinning, ultra-precise, odd-meter grooves flawlessly executed by drummer Marco Minnemann and bassist Bryan Beller. The three superhuman virtuosos came together by accident at Winter NAMM 2011, when Govan filled in on a gig for Greg Howe. From the first note, the chemistry was obvious, and the Aristocrats were born. Outside of the Aristocrats, the members perform as sidemen to an A-list of musician’s musicians: Govan and Minnemann are part of Steven Wilson’s recording and touring band, and Beller is the bassist of choice for guitar icons like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Mike Keneally, and Dweezil Zappa.
Time is always in short supply for these busy musicians, so they adopted a new strategy to get their music in shape before recording Tres Caballeros: They arranged a weeklong residency at Alvas, a fusion club in San Pedro, California, and put each song through its paces. “We were able to rehearse the material for three days and then do four days of solid gigging,” says Govan. “We were relatively gig-fit by the time we got into the studio, and it really made a difference, I have to say.” Tres Caballeros was recorded at the legendary Sunset Sound Studios, where seminal rock guitar masterpieces by the likes of Van Halen and Led Zeppelin were born. While the group’s past efforts exploited the sonic possibilities of the trio format, Tres Caballeros aims for a more expansive sound with liberal use of overdubs.
Premier Guitar caught up with Govan to discuss Tres Caballeros, a surprising new project he’s working on (it has nothing to do with sweep picking or legato licks), and the stripped-down rig he used to create the album’s otherworldly sounds.
Do you write differently for the Aristocrats than you would for a solo project?
We write specifically for each other. We’re pretty familiar with each other’s playing styles and abilities. We might write something that we wouldn’t for another band because we know a certain musician will handle a part in a certain way. There’s an element of trust in the writing process once you know what your bandmates can do. The other thing is just being conscious that you’re writing for a trio.
A big part of what this band does is take the material out on the road and let the songs grow over the course of a year or so of touring. We write stuff that we can envisage working well in a trio context onstage. My solo stuff was never like that. On something like Erotic Cakes, I wasn’t shy about throwing overdubs at the tracks until it sounded complete.
Unlike previous releases, Tres Caballeros has many overdubbed layers.
Well, we went into the studio this time without any qualms or reservations about adding overdubs. We thought to ourselves, “Screw it. We’ve done the raw trio album. Let’s try to make something that sounds more polished.” And then when we take the songs out live, people can hear another approach.
So live, you’d leave some of the layered parts out? Or would you use a looper?
No, we don’t really do the looper thing. The main point with these songs is that we did road test them as a trio, so we already knew in our heads what the arrangements would be when we took it out live. Anything you hear as an overdub is just a decoration. In theory, if you take all the overdubs away, it’s still recognizably that song.
How much of what we hear on the album is worked out? For example, in “Pig’s Day Off” there’s a part where it sounds like you guys are just going nuts. Is that improvised, or would you play this section the same at every show?
It would never be the same. We try to write with the strengths of the band in mind, so every tune has a certain amount of fairly orchestrated, fairly specific sections. But we also try to incorporate other sections where we can just go crazy and do our thing. We interact and try to surprise each other. So something like the middle section of “Pig’s Day Off,” where it all goes a bit bizarre, the chart would just be, “Let’s all just allow chaos to reign supreme for 16 bars, or 32 bars, or until one of us nods.” And then when the nod comes we go back into the arranged stuff. It’s nice to have both extremes.
Have there ever been any onstage mishaps?
That’s part of the fun of playing live music that has an improvised element baked into it. You almost want to get lost because that’s where the cool things happen. Inspiration will strike you differently if you’re seeking out unfamiliar territory. The thing that gives us some peace of mind there is that we’re trying to be a team. If one of us does a crazy, confusing fill, we’re not actually trying to mess up the other guys in the band. We’re there to catch each other if something goes go wrong.
The Aristocrats, from left to right: Marco Minnemann on drums, Bryan Beller on bass, and Guthrie Govan on guitar.
The Aristocrats’ music requires an extremely high level of musicianship beyond just physical chops. How do you suggest a fan go from, say, picking exercises to being able to handle such complex musical situations?
You might be asking the wrong person because I’m not a shredder who suddenly realized one day, “Oh, hang on—there’s music as well.” Music has always come first for me. Shred is such an ugly word, isn’t it? I play a lot of notes because I’m a skinny, twitchy, blinky, coffee-drinking person, and the music I hear in my head really does contain that many notes. So if people are looking up to me as some kind of shred figure, then to some extent I worry that they might be missing the point. The music has always come first, and then I inject some of my own personality into it. Maybe I play more notes per second than some other people do because that’s who I am.
On “ZZ Top” you play some chromatic fusion-sounding phrases. How do you suggest a rock shredder incorporate more adventurous note choices?
I would say listening to music is really the key. Before you try to introduce any new elements into your playing, it’s important that you have a feel for those elements and actually like them. I think things start to go wrong if a shred kid who listens to metal all the time decides that they’re going to start using jazz elements or chromatic elements because they read somewhere on the internet that that’s what you’re supposed to do. I think the main thing is to listen to music that incorporates these elements and develop an ear for them. That way, when you learn stuff about chromatic playing, you have more of a concept of where exactly you would apply these things.
Although Bryan wrote “Through the Flower,” your solo’s phrasing and melodic use of fifths remind me of Steve Vai’s playing.
That’s not really a solo part—Bryan wrote it. He didn’t do charts this time. He recorded it to an MP3, and all of that fifths stuff was there on the demo.
Considering Bryan’s long history with Vai, that makes perfect sense.
With that section, Bryan recorded a whole guitar part there, and we had a Skype conversation. I was asking him, “Bryan, how much of this is composed, and how much of this is filler? Because I can’t always tell which phrases I have to replicate because they’re part of the song, and which phrases are just you suggesting a fill or something in between.” So in the intro section, the actual fifths line is composed, and the stuff in between was like “insert fill here.” And then do the fifths again, then insert fill.
If I caught myself deliberately playing something because I wanted it to sound like Steve Vai, I would stop and say, “Let’s do something else.” Steve Vai is fantastic, but we already have one of him. I never really set out to rip off anyone else. In this case, yeah, I can hear how the stacked fifths might remind someone of Steve Vai. It reminds me equally of someone dropping a violin on the floor. It’s a popular interval.
Guthrie Govan's Gear
Charvel Guthrie Govan signature model
Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster
Fender Custom Shop cedar-bodied Telecaster
Victory V100 head, Victory 4x12 cab with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers Victory V50 head and cab
Victory V10 combo
Friedman BE100 old
5-watt Gibson combo
Dunlop Volume X
Boss volume pedal
Providence Anadime Chorus
Xotic Robotalk Envelope Filter
Xotic EP Booster
Boss Blues Driver Waza Craft
Strings and Picks
Rotosound Yellow (.010-.046, but with a .052 as the lowest string for dropped-D tuning, and the Strat had .011s throughout the Tres Cabelleros sessions)
Red Bear Guthrie Govan Big Jazzer (extra heavy)
What are you working on nowadays?
Right now I’m not playing a great deal of guitar.
I’m doing a lot of programming.
What kind of stuff?
I’ll let you know when it’s all finished. I’ll share a little observation with you: There’s a guy I went to school with called Tom Jenkinson. He now makes electronic music under the pseudonym Squarepusher. It’s really complex, bewildering, challenging electronic music somewhere between Weather Report and Aphex Twin, I guess. We get together every now and then, have a beer, and
just talk about our respective musical worlds. Something I always find fascinating about him is how quickly he can work. You listen to the results, and there’s some really in-depth, involved programming. I think to myself, “If I tried to program
something like that, it would take me a week just to program the first 10 seconds of it.” And by the time you’ve done that, you’ve forgotten what that initial seed of inspiration was. I would say to him, “How do you do this stuff so quickly?” You know, he’ll make a track in a day. He said it’s like any other instrument. It’s possible to attain virtuosity in programming as well. He’s thinking of the
computer or sequencer as another kind of instrument, and that stuck in my head. So in terms of writing music or being able to produce a demo of something while the idea is still hot, how quickly can you translate non-guitar ideas into a computer? So I guess I’ve been working on that kind of thing.
Let’s talk gear. I assume you primarily used your signature Charvel on Tres Caballeros.
Yes. Mostly the Charvel GG signature model, with guest appearances by two Fender instruments: an American Deluxe Stratocaster on “Kentucky Meat Shower” and “Texas Crazypants,” and a Custom Shop cedar-bodied Telecaster on “Stupid 7” and “Jack’s Back.”
How about amps?
I used a Victory V50 head and cab, Victory V10 combo, and a smattering of a Friedman BE100. At any given time, two of these three amps were running in parallel—the exact combination and blend varied from track to track. We also mixed in some signal from a very old 5-watt Gibson combo on “Smuggler’s Corridor.”
Govan plays his signature Charvel, which features custom Charvel MFB pickups in an HSH configuration with 5-way switching, master volume and tone, and a Charvel locking tremolo bridge. Photo by Kris Claerhout.
I assume your Aristocrats setup is smaller than the one you use for the Steven Wilson band.
That’s the main difference, really. By default, I go for the smallest rig that would work. Certainly if you’re playing instrumental music, consideration like how many flight cases you can take with you on the plane suddenly become a really big deal. If I tried to travel with the Aristocrats using all my Steven Wilson gear—a rack of four or five guitars and a pedalboard that weighs more than I do—suddenly the tour wouldn’t make any sense because we’d be losing money. A big part of my gear ethos is to keep it simple wherever possible.
What’s on your smaller board?
I haven’t quite decided yet. My typical, everyday touring board has a volume pedal, Xotic Wah, Providence chorus, maybe an Xotic envelope filter, Xotic EP Booster, a little tuner, and a TC Electronic mini delay and mini reverb in the effects loop. That’s pretty much it. Our tour for the new album will kick off in about a month, and there are a few strange sounds on the record that I might want to replicate with pedals that wouldn’t normally be on my board.
What sorts of pedals?
On this album some of the more memorable sounds came from an MXR Phase 99, which I borrowed from the good people at that company. It’s like two Phase 90s in one box. That’s all over “Pressure Relief” and “ZZ Top.” I don’t know if there was a subliminal Van Halen influence going on because we recorded in Sunset Sound where Fair Warning and Van Halen were recorded. Maybe some subliminal echo of Van Halen was there when we were recording. I felt the need to phase certain things.
a lot of programming.”
There’s also a freaky pedal called the Pigtronix Quantum, which is surprisingly small and portable—it’s smaller than a Boss pedal. It seemingly does the impossible in the sense that it’s actually replicating the DynaFlanger [MicMix], which was a big unwieldy thing that Zappa used in the ’70s—a Shut Up ’n Play YerGuitar kind of thing. I used that for the solo in “The Kentucky Meat Shower” and the chordal overdubs in “Pig’s Day Off.” It’s not like a normal modulation pedal. With this one, the harder you hit it—the higher the dynamic level hitting the input—the more pronounced the effect. On the downbeat of the first main bar in the intro, the first big spraang where suddenly the chord sounds more expansive—that’s the Quantum on the left side and another on the right side. It sounds expansive but not obvious. It’s not the kind of modulation you hear all the time. I’m going to have to work out a way to get that onto the pedalboard.
The biggest pedal problem is “Stupid 7.” I might just go for something completely different from the record. What you hear in the solo in the middle section of “Stupid 7” is my new toy, the Electro-Harmonix HOG2. It’s awesome. It’s an amazing, synth-like, warm, analog kind of pedal, but it’s as big as the rest of my pedalboard put together. It’s hard to justify traveling with it just for that one moment in “Stupid 7.” We will see.
In the past, you’ve cited the volume pedal as the most important pedal in your arsenal.
I would say so, yeah.
With effortless transitions from prog-funk metal grooves to jazzy breakdowns, “Bad Asteroid” showcases the Aristocrats’ telepathic synchronicity and incredible virtuosity.
Do you use it to go from shades of clean and dirty or just to regulate level?
It’s on the go constantly. For the stuff we did on the album I was using amps with more than one channel, so I wasn’t completely old school. But whenever I have an overdrive channel, the volume pedal is a big part of how I control each note. I’m pretty much nailed to the thing all the way through the gig. That’s why every live photo of me looks the same. There’s always an uncomfortable posture with one leg sticking forward and bent. The luxury there is that you can set the amp to scream mode so it’s just wailing, howling, and feeding back uncontrollably, and then you can tame the level by backing the volume pedal down a little bit, so you know you always have that headroom there. Whenever you do want a note to scream obnoxiously, you just push the pedal all the way down, and it unleashes the full gain setting.
Is the volume pedal going straight into the amp or in the loop?
It’s straight in.
Some people consider you the world’s greatest guitarist.
Well, I couldn’t possibly comment on that. I’m not the world’s greatest guitar player, and I’m not trying to be. I’m just trying to be the best me I can be. I’m really trying to stay away from any of that competitive, Olympic league-table mentality. Given that this is music and it’s such an open-ended universe, you never really get there. And I’m sure if you talk to any committed, serious player, they would tell you something similar. I’m guessing if you ask Allan Holdsworth or Steve Vai or Eric Johnson or any of these people, “So, what’s it like, now that you’ve completely mastered the guitar?” They would say, “Well, I haven’t. I’m still working on it. I’m still learning. I’m still trying to get better.” I think you need that humility. You need that sense of perspective. That’s the thing that allows you to keep getting better and keep polishing your art form. When you start congratulating yourself, that’s where things go wrong and you become stale.
The Aristocrats played new tracks “Stupid 7” and “Jack’s Back” from their new album, Tres Caballeros, at the G4 Experience 2015 held June 28-July 2 in Cambria, California.