Rig Rundown: Pete Thorn
The Van Halen-loving star sideman for Chris Cornell, Melissa Etheridge, and Don Henley, welcomes PG to his tone temple to see signature Suhrs, eight amps in a flash, and his core pedalboard.
Pete Thorn has constructed a dream career on being heard, not seen. He’s toured the world backingChris Cornell, Don Henley, Melissa Etheridge, Jewel, and Japanese rock icon Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi (even performing at Mt. Fuji for over 100,000 fans on the biggest concert stage ever assembled in Japan). For a self-proclaimed “guitar nerd” (check out Pete’s 2011 album under the same name), it was a 21st century guitarist’s goal. After that, what does one do in between tours to stay busy and relevant in a modern world? You become a beloved YouTuber, of course!
His channel is a great destination for gear demos and comparisons, but Pete’s content stands out with his simple, and east-to-apply tone tips. (It’s worth noting that Pete did this very thing inside Premier Guitar for years with his “Tone Tips” column. Check it out!) The fun, diverse, informative videos Thorn has delivered have blossomed into a parallel profession with a built-in audience pushing 250k subscribers.
While PG was on the road in SoCal, Thorn graciously invited Chris Kies into his Hollywood-based recording sanctuary, where his YouTube channel takes form. The hour-long chat covers Thorn’s signature Suhr gear (guitars, amps, and humbuckers), he shows how his setup can switch between eight tube amps in a flash (only outdone by his ability to interchange cabs, mics, and speakers in a snap), and we dive deep into Pete’s primary pedalboard.
Brought to you by D’Addario XS Coated Strings.
Suhr Signature II
As you’ll soon find out, longtime luthier John Suhr and Pete Thorn go together like peanut butter and jelly, or, in this case, alder and maple. Suhr and Thorn have collaborated on several pieces of signature gear, and the above Pete Thorn Standard HSS is their latest. The S-style is built with a 2-piece alder body, roasted maple neck with a “Pete Thorn ’60s soft-V profile (a digitized copy of one of Thorn’s 2008 S-style Suhrs), ebony fretboard, Wilkinson WVS130 bridge, and Suhr pickups (V63 single-coils with a Thornbucker II in the bridge). Thorn is always trying the newest string offerings from Ernie Ball, and he’s currently using Primo Slinkys that are gauged .0095, .012, .016, .024, .034, and .044.
For His Spiritual Guitar Godfather
“I’ve talking a lot about Eddie Van Halen in this Rundown because he’s my spiritual guitar godfather. I’m a Van Halen nut and this guitar is something I had to have,” admits Thorn. After realizing that much of Eddie’s mind-blowing guitar work for Van Halen’s first albums were done on a 1976 Ibanez Destroyer, Thorn was on the prowl for his own. He recently acquired this “lawsuit-era” ’76 Destroyer in a Huntington Beach parking lot after securing the purchase online. The surprise of the score was that the pickups are early TV Jones P.A.F. humbuckers, because the owner that sold it to Pete actually bought it from the company’s founder Tom Jones. Pete’s thoughts: “Whatever’s going on in the pickups, they sound fantastic!”
Here’s Suhr’s first Pete Thorn Standard signature model, with quite a different recipe than the HSS. This one has a chambered mahogany body with a maple top, mahogany neck with an “even slim-C profile,” an Indian rosewood fretboard, and a pair of Pete’s Suhr humbuckers—a Thornbucker+ in the bridge and a Thornbucker in the neck. Like its successor, this one also has jumbo stainless-steel frets, Suhr locking tuners, a Wilkinson WVS130 bridge, and a Graph Tech TUSQ nut.
Sweet as Cherry Pie
This cherry Gibson ES-335 looks new or neatly relic’d, but it’s from 1963. It fell into Pete’s lap nearly 20 years ago and wasn’t an astronomical price because it had a broken headstock (and has since garnered another wound by Thorn) and one of the previous owners went at the bridge pickup cavity with a chisel trying to get at the electronics. The sweet sauce that makes this baby sing is its ’60s, low-wound P.A.F.s—original in the neck and early patent numbered in the bridge—that sound like honey tastes.
A Crusher for Chris Cornell
This meaty, hulking 2000 Gibson Les Paul Custom toured with Pete when he backed up Chris Cornell. It would see the stage for Soundgarden smashers like “Spoonman” and “Outshined.” This guitar took a lot of abuse while onstage with Thorn, as he’d often end the night ripping off the strings one by one and Cornell would slam his microphone into the pickups. During these collisions, nothing ever broke (except the strings). However, one slow-motion fall off a guitar stand onto carpet caused this axe to need headstock surgery. He dropped in a set of Thornbuckers and swapped out the gold hardware for chrome.
Not a Bad Day
During a Chris Cornell tour stop in Nashville, Thorn ventured into Gruhn Guitars to find a pre-CBS Fender Stratocaster. He walked out with this sunburst ’64. That night, he got to play it alongside Peter Frampton, starting a longtime friendship. “There’s just so many great things I remember about that day. You know, these times in your life where you’re going to have bad days, this wasn’t going to be one of them. This was a good day [laughs]. This guitar just gives me great memories.”
Thorn’s collection wouldn’t be complete without this EVH Striped Series Frankenstein named “Frankie.” It’s got the paint job, the exposed electronics, and the Floyd Rose. The rest is up to Pete. “How can you not have fun with a guitar like this? I’ve seen Paul Gilbert with one—and he’s a diehard Ibanez guy. I’ve seen Andy Wood with one—and he’s a longtime Suhr artist. We all have signatures, but we had to have one of these Frankensteins to shred on. We all bow down to the church of Eddie,” confesses Thorn.
For a dude whose main business is making videos and playing riffs, you need to maximize not only space, but inspiration. Before you is Pete Thorn’s twin tower of tone that can cover any amp sound he needs. Starting in the top left and working our way down, we have a 1972 Marshall JMP 1986 model pumping 50W, a handful of Synergy Amps modules (Synergy IICP, Engl Powerball, Soldano SLO, Vai Signature preamp, Engl Savage, Friedman BE-BB, Bogner Ecstasy, Bogner Uberschall, and a Fryette Pitbull), a Soldano SLO-100, a Jim Kelley Reverb, and a Suhr SL68. The right side is home to a Universal Audio OX Amp Top Box, a Suhr Hedgehog 50, a Top Hat Amplification Emplexador, a Suhr Pete Thorn PT100, and a Komet Concorde. Possibly the most impressive part of this whole structure is the Ampete Engineering 88S-Studio Amp and Cabinet Switcher that allows Thorn to switch between all these amps with a smash of a button.
Upside Down Cabinet Cake
The Ampete 88S runs all those amps into a late-’70s Marshall 4x12 loaded with Celestion Black Back G12M 25W speakers and mic’d with a Shure SM57 and an Audio-Technica AT4050.
Pete Thorn’s Pedalboard
For a pedal-loving session-booked YouTuber-guitarist, you gotta believe Thorn is stuffed to the gills with stompboxes. What’s above is the board he relies on for most demos and videos while performing in his Hollywood hideaway. Top left, he has a Source Audio ZIO, MXR Echoplex, Suhr Riot, Maxon Apex 808, J Rockett Archer, Ryra Tri-Pi Muff, a Strymon Mobius, and a DryBell Unit67. Elevated above them rests a Strymon TimeLine, a pair of Eventide H9s, an MXR Phase 95, a Suhr Woodshed Comp, a Boss FV-500L Foot Volume Pedal, a Dunlop CBM95 Cry Baby Mini Wah, and a DigiTech FreqOut. Everything is controlled by MusicomLab EFX-LE II Audio Controller and MIDI Pedal, and a TC Electronic PolyTune 2 Noir Mini keeps his guitars emotionally and sonically stable.
How Mikael Åkerfeldt Made Opeth’s New Album: “Big, Pompous, and Epic”
The outspoken frontman pushes the muse—moving his band’s sound beyond metal by blending vintage and cutting-edge instruments and sounds on their 13th studio album, In Cauda Venenum.
Opeth’s 2011 album, Heritage, marked a drastic stylistic shift by Sweden’s premier progressive-metal band. Within the timespan of a single album cycle, they turned their backs on death-metal-style vocals, high-gain amplification, and blast beats. Opeth focused, instead, on vintage guitar tones, layered clean vocal melodies, and compositions that have more in common with Yes than Dimmu Borgir.
The shift was jarring for fans who embraced the band’s previous black-metal sound, but it opened Opeth’s sonic journey in progressive rock that continues to this day. On their new In Cauda Venenum, Opeth doubles down on their exploratory compositions. While there is plenty of familiar territory for fans to sink their teeth into, unexpected twists like the Broadway-approved middle section of “Universal Truth” and the jazzy swing of “The Garroter” are likely to expand a few listeners’ horizons.
And, according to frontman and guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt, fans should get onboard with this ever-expanding songwriting, or move on. “Many of the songs are really big, pompous, and epic, which I always liked,“ he says. “Basically, [this music] is what I want to do. If 100 percent of our fans hate this record, well, I’m sorry. But I love it.”
Not only does Åkerfeldt not care what the public thinks of In Cauda Venenum, he even kept his own band (lead guitarist Fredrik Åkesson, bassist Martín Méndez, drummer Martin Axenrot, and keyboardist Joakim Svalberg) at arm’s length throughout the songwriting process.
Åkerfeldt is clearly intentional about his music. From his iron-fist control of the material all the way to the gear used in the studio, every decision is made quickly, decisively, and with a hyper focus on the details. Yet even with so much of his energy currently focused on his art, Åkerfeldt took the time to talk with Premier Guitar about it all—from In Cauda Venenum’s vast orchestrations to the straightforward death metal of his previous band, Bloodbath. Everything was on the table, and he didn’t hold back. (Sorry Yngwie!)
Evolution is a big part of Opeth. Has that been a conscious direction from the beginning?
I don’t like repeating ourselves. If I find that I haven’t moved on from the last album, I usually hit the delete button and start over. But the most important thing is that it’s good. It doesn’t have to be completely different than the record before. If it’s superb, I'll keep it in. But I want to move forward, much to the frustration of some fans.
How did you move forward on In Cauda Venenum?
This time, I was very selfish and I’m only thinking about myself and what I wanted to present. There were no other contributions from the other guys in the band. I wanted it to be as close to my personal taste as possible. This is how I want to present Opeth in 2019 and 2020. My goal, I guess, is to become more selfish [laughs]. And I think I achieved the goal.
As I was writing, and as the songs were shaping up, my other goal with this record became to make the most emotional record of them all. I wanted to make a record that was tugging on the heartstrings more than the previous ones.
Take me through your songwriting process.
Once I start writing for a record, I work every day, and I don’t get too stressed out if I don’t come up with anything one day. I move forward quickly. I make decisions very, very quickly. Those decisions can mean that I delete stuff because I don’t want to keep shit. If it’s not good enough, it’s gone, and it’s gone forever. I can never go back and see what I did.
I’m sorry. But I love it.”
I write when I need to write, more or less. This record was a little bit of a different situation because I was going on a sabbatical. I thought, after the last tour, that I was going to take a break from it all and not be the Opeth guy. Just be me. But I got restless. Three, four weeks into that sabbatical, I was in the studio working. The good thing about that was nobody knew I was there. The management, the record labels, and the band didn’t know. I didn’t let them know until I had three or four songs. I wrote it under a minimum amount of stress or no stress at all. It was joyous. I had a great time to the point where I couldn’t stop writing almost. We ended up with the longest album we ever put out, and three bonus tracks.
The album sounds terrific. Each instrument is very distinct, yet they work together as one. Was that a goal when you were tracking?
We were in Park Studios [in Stockholm] and worked with [engineer] Stefan Boman [Def Leppard, the Hellacopters], who is the same age as me. He’s like me. He’s a vintage buff. I don’t like to fake it in the studio. It was a pretty old-school setup with the exception that we didn’t record onto tape. Everything else is a good old microphone in front of a good instrument, speaker, or acoustic guitar. It’s important to us.
We had a nice Hammond B-3 organ. We had a nice original M400 Mellotron, lots of old guitars, lots of amplifiers, and pedals. We even recorded all the effects on the guitars. They’re not added afterwards. That basically ties in with my fascination to make fast decisions. We get a good sound, that’s it. That’s what we’re going to record and then we can’t change it. I like that.
Even at your heaviest, Opeth’s music always maintains a human, rock ’n’ roll feel. Do you guys track live?
We didn’t track live. We’ve done that before, but then my attention seems to be directed in one way. It’s really hard for me to keep control of what two guys are doing. If I focus on the drums, then I can miss something on the bass. I didn’t want to do that this time, because the music was much more complex. So we did this [album] one instrument at a time.
TIDBIT: Mikael Åkerfeldt wrote the songs for Opeth’s 13th studio album in secret. “The management, the record labels, and the band didn’t know,” he says. “I wrote it under a minimum amount of stress or no stress at all. It was joyous. I had a great time to the point where I couldn’t stop writing almost.”
The guitar tones have an incredible vintage flavor throughout the album. What did you use to get that vibe?
One thing that’s been important for me since [2008’s] Watershed, I would say, is to try and get away from the generic metal tone that’s so popular today. I wanted to hear the human behind the instrument. So for guitars, there was everything from a bunch of Stratocasters to a mid-’60s SG with P-90s. There was also a Les Paul Junior on there with a P-90, and a Jaguar. We played the Jaguar a lot, actually. There’s a Flying V on the first song, “Dignity.” Some PRS models, too. I think a Tremonti was on there and one other guitar I can’t remember. Acoustically, I only used a Martin 000-28, which is my favorite-sounding guitar that I have. It’s not too bassy, not too trebly. It’s perfect for recording.
Amp-wise, we had a Friedman. I can’t remember which model. We had a Swedish amp—an Olsson, which is basically the one that we used for most of the record. We also had a plexi, but I can’t remember if it was used. Then there were a bunch of vintage and new stompboxes.
I’m a sucker for spring reverb, so we used a nice spring reverb that was actually made from a box in the studio. We put that on pretty much everything. I loved it. And analog delay or tape echo. We have it all on there.
I love how you allow your acoustic guitars to breathe. I’m guessing that goes back to your love of ’70s-style production.
I’m very peculiar with my acoustic sound. I know what I want. And it’s got a lot to do with how you sit in front of the microphone. You can change the sound of the guitar if you just turn a little bit. But generally, we put a nice Neumann at the 12th fret. That was it.
Synergy Announces the Engl Savage, Friedman BE/BB, and Synergy OS Modules
A trio of new modular preamps that covers the tones of a few high-gain monsters and one of the most in-demand builders ever.
Huntington Park, CA (April 12, 2019) -- Dave Friedman is the man behind some of the most impressive tones in rock 'n' roll and has been for over 25 years. Throughout that time, luminary players such as Jerry Cantrell and Eddie Van Halen have been relying on Friedman's amplifier modifications, repairs, and builds to keep them sounding at the top of their game. With that expertise in tow, Friedman moved into crafting his own line of top-shelf electric guitar amplifiers, instruments, and effects, and in doing so has built one of the most enviable roster of artists out there. Whether discussing the plexi-on-steroids tone of the BE-100, or the pedal-platform versatility of the Buxom Beauty, Friedman amps are undoubtedly taking over as the premier rock 'n' roll electric guitar amplifiers.
And thanks to the Synergy Friedman BE-BB preamp module, those exact tones can be at your fingertips with a new level of convenience and affordability. Far from modeling or emulating, Dave Friedman himself designed this module, nailing every detail of the amps’ to-die-for tone and impressive touch sensitivity. By utilizing a pair of 12AX7 preamp tubes to power its BE [BE-100] and BB [Buxom Beauty] channels, whether you're switching between a crystalline clean tone and a boosted lead sound or a harnessing the BE channel’s vintage British-like abilities and switching to a more aggressive distortion, true tube tone will always be present, detailed, and hopelessly addictive. If you want to give your Synergy rig cream-of-the-crop British roar while tapping into the finest cleans Synergy and Friedman have to offer, you'll want to grab a BE-BB preamp module.
The Synergy BE-BB pre-amp features two channels. Each channel has a gain and volume knob and 3-band EQ. You’ll also find 3-way bright switch and 2-way mid boost toggle on the BB side of the module for further crafting your perfect cleans.
MAP and MSRP: $399.99
In the world of guitar amps, there exists one legendary designer and brand that very few ever get to meet, see, or play through. This is Alexander “Howard” Dumble and his namesake Dumble amplifiers. Normally reserved to the paragon of players, you’ll find his amplifiers backing up such artists as Carlos Santana, Robben Ford, and even the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan.
No two Dumbles are the same, but it’s the Dumble Overdrive Special that continues to reign as the man’s pinnacle design. The amplifiers boast a unique sound and feel that is praised for its ability to enhance and uncover every nuance of a player’s technique and tone. It is this ability that has earned the amp a reputation for being one of the finest and most revered ever made.
Because these mythical amps are extremely hard to come by, we created the Synergy OS preamp module as our tribute to its iconic sound. The OS module packs the Dumble personality and user experience in a compact format, providing affordability and convenience that the original can never match.
Across the front panel, the OS features the same basic controls as the Overdrive Special amplifier. Dual footswitchable channels enable switching between the unique Dumble clean with its mid-forward clarity to the fabled smooth, singing sustain that gives the Overdrive Special its name. You’ll also find Bright, Deep and Rock/Jazz switches that, along with the 3-band EQ, will tailor your tone while always retaining the Dumble character. Finally, a master presence control adds just the right amount of clarity to the module’s OD mode.
While nothing sounds or feels exactly like a Dumble, with the Synergy OS preamp module, you can possess the essence of one of the finest amps in the world alongside all of the other classic tones available from the Synergy system.
MAP and MSRP: $399.99
Engl amplifiers have long been known as a premium example of boutique, high-gain tone. And a large part of that legacy is due to the esteemed Engl SAVAGE amplifier. From the moment it hit the scene in the early 1990s, guitarists the world over took notice of its ability to blend searing gain with a string-to-string clarity that stands as an industry standard. Engl’s Horst Langer has crafted numerous top-tier amplifiers that continue to inspire legendary artists such as Richie Blackmore, Marty Friedman, and Steve Morse. But it’s his SAVAGE that continues to stand on top of Engl’s lauded line.
Never ones to ignore a classic design, Synergy reached out to Horst Langer and asked him to focus the SAVAGE’s massive tonal palette and intense touch response into one of our incredibly popular Synergy preamp modules. And we’re proud to say, he nailed it. Not only does the Synergy SAVAGE preamp module give you a giant of an amp into a compact and convenient package, but thanks to two Gain Lo/Hi switches and a carefully sculpted Contour switch, you’re in control of an astoundingly flexible assortment of tones.
By partnering with such iconic amplifier designers as Horst Langer, we’re able to offer you the most sought after tones in all-tube designs that are perfect for the direct-recording, lower-stage-volume, and compact-guitar-rig demands of today. It’s easy to see why the Synergy preamp module system is taking the industry by storm.
MAP and MSRP: $399.99
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