Thirty-one years after Gish, the Smashing Pumpkins are still exploring the architecture of sound in their often explosive and unpredictable songs. For their current Spirits on Fire Tour, Billy Corgan leads with his Reverend signatures and a few other carefully culled guitars, and Jeff Schroeder lends support with his fleet of Yamahas.
The Smashing PumpkinsSmashing Pumpkins' first two albums, Gish and Siamese Dream, were a huge part of the soundtrack for the early ’90s alternative rock revolution. Still sounding revolutionary all these years later, the band’s leader, Billy Corgan, recently brought the Smashing Pumpkins to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for the Spirits on Fire tour, on the heels of their 11th studio album, Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts.
The concept album is a sequel to the Smashing Pumpkins’ definitive three-LP masterwork Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, from 1995—which also brought them crushing into the mainstream. Acts two and three of Atum are scheduled for January and April 2023. But meanwhile, there are live shows … and all the gear it takes to recreate more than three decades years of the band’s signature sounds. PS: Special thanks to super-tech Trace Davis for his help with the fine points.
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
Billy Corgan’s main guitar, tuned in standard, is his Reverend signature Z-One in midnight black, loaded with Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One neck and bridge pickups. This model is the third collaboration between Corgan and Reverend’s Joe Naylor, and Mr. C’s axe takes Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys, gauged .010–.046.
For a back-up, Billy has his Reverend BC1 signature in satin purpleburst, loaded—again—with Z-One neck and bridge pickups, which blend the bite of P-90s with humbucker heaviness.
Those Pickup Covers!
Stare long enough at those pickup covers, and perhaps you’ll see the universe, putting a new spin on the old Zen koan. When Corgan wants things just a bit looser, in Eb standard tuning, he’ll reach for this Z-One sig in silver freeze. Oh! The strings? Ernie Ball Power Slinkys, .011–.048.
For a classic P-90 voice, Corgan lets the strings on this 1994 Gibson Les Paul Special sing. He keeps it tuned to C# standard and the switch has been modified (it's a secret), as has the sticker. Ernie Ball Not Even Slinkys (.012–.056) adorn this axe.
ES for Eb Standard
Another low-tuned Gibson, Corgan’s 1972 ES-335 with block inlays and a trapeze tailpiece, lives in Eb standard land and gets called out to play on the song “1979.”
The Silver Surfboard
For some mini-hum sting, Billy plays this Gibson Firebird with a Bigsby in silver finish. There are several switches in the headstock, which Corgan’s tech Davis says control the “secret sauce and voodoo magic.”
Corgan tours with two of his signature Yamaha LJ16BC acoustics—one in E and one in Eb standard. They’re medium-jumbos and all-stock, which means a spruce top, rosewood back and sides, a 5-ply mahogany and rosewood neck, and the company’s comfort traditional neck style.
Corgan tours with two identical amp rigs, with four different heads used separately for different tones, and all switched with an Ampete 444. This allows him to drive all four heads into one Laney Black Country Customs LA412 4x12 speaker cab loaded with Celestion G12H-75s. It lives in an iso box under the stage. The amps? There’s a Laney Supermod, an Orange Rockerverb 100 MKIII, a Carstens Grace, and an Ebo Customs Del Rio.
Billy Corgan’s Pedalboard
Here’s what underfoot: an RJM Mastermind GT/16 MIDI controller, an MXR CAE Power System, Analog Man Beano Boost treble booster with Mullard-style transistors, a Lehle III switching and looping tool, a Tone Bender-inspired Minotaur Sonic Terrors Evil Eye MkIII fuzz, a Strymon Brigadier delay, a Behringer Octave Divider, and a Dunlop Volume (X), used as an expression pedal for the Strymon.
Jeff Schroeder plays Yamaha guitars. And he’s got four Revstars on tour. This one has an especially elegant finish. They came stocked with P-90s, but now one has Black Cat Vintage Repro Minis, another features Lollar Low Wind Imperial Humbuckers, and the one he keeps in dop D is totally stock. Schroeder goes with Ernie Ball Paradigm .009 sets for standard, .010s for Eb standard, .009s with a heavier .046 on the bottom for drop D, and .011s for C# standard.
Cutaway to the Pacifica
This Yamaha Pacifica has a scalloped fretboard and Seymour Duncan Hunter humbucking pickups in the bridge and neck, and an SSL-5 single-coil in the middle. It also features a Floyd Rose whammy upgraded with titanium parts.
For a semi-hollow, Jeff goes with his Yamaha SA2200 guitars, with Lollar Low Wind Imperial Humbuckers.
As with all his axes, his plectrum choice is Dunlop Tortex 1.14 mms, including the the just-for-fun Dunlop YJMP03YL Yngwie Malmsteen picks (yellow), but the Dunlop YJMP02RD Yngwie Malmsteen picks (red) are beefier at 2 mm.
Schroeder tours with two Revv Generator 120 MKII tube heads—big, beefy, and versatile.
Don’t Call a Cab
No big boxes for Schroeder … at least onstage. He uses a pair of Two Notes Torpedo Captor X simulators, emulating a 4x12 mic’d with a Shure SM57 and Sennheiser MD421 on Celestion V30s. As a back-up, there is a Marshall 4x12 in an isolation cabinet—with a Shure SM57—under the stage. And Jeff’s “icing on the cake”—a suggested addition from tech Trace Davis (of Voodoo Amps)—is a Retrospec Juice Box. This inconspicuous box is a transformer-less, all-tube DI that has upped his live tones to a studio quality.
His effects array has two Line 6 Helix Rack units that live in his rolling rock case.
At his feet he has a Line 6 Helix Control Foot Controller that works with an Analog Man Beano Boost, like Billy’s. These are fired up for solos. Also, Schroeder has a pair of Dunlop DVP3 Volume (X) pedals (one for volume and another for pitch-shifting effect from the Helix) and a Dunlop JB95 Joe Bonamassa Signature Cry Baby wah.
For part two of our crash course in harmony for bassists, we’re talkin’ triads.
As bass players, our job is often to indicate and support what is happening rhythmically and harmonically in the music we’re playing. And to do that, it’s important for us to understand the basics of tonality and how it works. In fact, every bass player must have a strong knowledge of harmony to do their job correctly. This month, we’ll continue last month’s harmony crash course with some more ways to brush up on your ear skills, in italics below, so you can do your low-end job effectively.
The basic building block of harmony is the dyad, which gives us our basic intervals. But the basic building block of tonality is the triad, a grouping of three or more tones (root, 3rd, and 5th) that give us the four chord qualities—major, minor, diminished, and augmented—which you’re probably already familiar with.
Just as with intervals, we should train our ears to recognize chord qualities instantly. Start with two qualities (major and minor). Once you can identify those two correctly about 95 percent of the time, add another. Keep going until you can identify all four qualities consistently.
Another great exercise is to take a melody (either major or minor) and convert it to the opposite quality. Start out with something you know well, like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” This may take a while at first, but the goal is to keep on doing these until you can convert most stuff on the fly instantly.
“This feeling of resolution, in some ways, is the whole point.”
Each chord quality has its own distinct sound, but major and minor are related, and both feel very grounded. Because of the 5th in each, our ears can easily hear which note in the chord is strongest (the root), which gives major and minor a sense of gravity. This feeling persists even if we change the order of the notes (invert the chord).
Have a friend or an app play inversions of major or minor triads. Find the root of each chord by singing it. Work towards being able to identify these triads in root position (root in the bass), first inversion (3rd in the bass), or second inversion (5th in the bass).
Pay attention to bass lines that land on a root, 3rd, or 5th on the first beat of the bar and then practice coming up with your own examples.
Diminished and augmented triads are much more ambiguous. Without a perfect fifth (diminished has a b5 and augmented has a #5), no tone in particular sounds strongest. Thus, both chords lack gravity. In fact, to most of us, every tone sounds equal, like being lost in the woods where every direction appears the same. Both seem to want to move towards something else more stable. When this occurs, it gives a sense of release, or resolution. This feeling of resolution, in some ways, is the whole point.
The top part of a dominant seventh or V7 chord is a diminished triad. For example, a C7 consists of the notes C–E–G–Bb. If you remove the C, we’re left with an E diminished triad. This is where the moving sound, or the desire to resolve, comes from. The important takeaway is that we’re making something very stable—a major chord—and making it less stable when we add the b7, because of the diminished sound, which in turn sets up the need to resolve.
Listening for V–I: On a guitar or keyboard play any major chord, then add a b7 (transforming I to V7) and try to hear where the progression “wants” to go next. Move to the new key (a fifth down) and repeat. After twelve V–I progressions you’ll arrive back at the original key.
The Dominant Gateway: On bass, try playing a walking bass pattern over the cycle of fifths, strategically using a b7 to move to the next key. This foreshadowing is a great voice-leading skill.
That's all for our crash course in harmony. If you take your time with these exercises, you should notice not only your ears improving, but your bass playing too!
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