Bad Omens on Mastodon, AC/DC & Metallica | Hooked

The metalcore maven details the triumvirate of riffs that equally contributed to his lifelong obsession.

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Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher wields his new signature model ESP Sparrowhawk during an April 22 concert at the Hollywood Palladium. He also has two models of signature pickups made by Lace. Photo by Debi Del Grande

With hearts plagued by sorrow, new amps that go to 11, and a new ESP Sparrowhawk signature model, the 6-string riff-master and his bandmates made the powerful—at times elegiac—new album, Emperor of Sand.

It’s Bill Kelliher’s birthday. While many rock stars would celebrate the occasion with debauchery, the Mastodon guitarist spent a good part of his morning with Premier Guitar. Over coffee at the Club Room in New York’s Soho Grand Hotel, Kelliher told the tale of the band’s eighth full-length studio release, Emperor of Sand.

Okay, so rock stars only party at night? Well, maybe. Later that evening, we reconvened at a Mastodon listening event held at the Sonos New York City flagship store. Here—in an upscale environment where even the trash can was decked out in black velvet—Kelliher was joined by bassist/co-frontman Troy Sanders and rounded out his celebration by doing more publicity for the new album. These guys live Mastodon 24/7, and Emperor of Sand is a testament to their unwavering dedication.

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Wren and Cuff and Mastodon’s Troy Sanders collaborate to bring life to a bass-fuzz monster.

All recorded playing through Gallien-Krueger 400RB and Ampeg 8x10
Clip 1 - XT mode engaged and set at 2 o'clock, volume at noon, tone at 1 o'clock, distortion at 1 o'clock.
Clip 2 - XT mode off, volume at 1 o'clock, tone at 2 o'clock, distortion at 2 o'clock.

Mastodon’s Troy Sanders is considered by many to be one of the more consummate modern-metal bassists. His lines run the gamut from simple to spider-like, and are often delivered in a rumbling, fuzzed-out package courtesy of his well-loved Wren and Cuff Tall Font Russian. A collaboration between Sanders and the SoCal pedal manufacturer made perfect sense, and the result is the Elephant Skin bass fuzz. The concept behind its design was simple: Start with the company’s Tall Font Russian, but offer up more saturation and volume in a footswitchable format.

Heart of Darkness
The beating heart of the Elephant Skin is the same exact circuit as the Tall Font Russian’s—which is the company’s take on the boxier-sounding ’90s Sovtek Big Muff series—and not modified in any way. The pedal houses controls for volume, tone, distortion, and the amount of gain boost (labeled XT). The latter only comes into play when a dedicated footswitch is activated. The boost circuit contains an extra gain stage that’s placed before the fuzz circuit and it can be used by itself for clean boosting or for pushing the gain over the edge when cascaded into the fuzz circuit.


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