Bartees Strange and his other guitarists engage in complementary “guitar wars” with their piles of pedals and stash of slinky Jazzmasters, Flying Vs, Teles, ES-335s, a space-age oddity, and a ’60s Silvertone with an onboard amp.
“You gotta remember, I wasn’t really shit until about a year-and-a-half ago,” Bartees Strange reminds the crowd at Nashville’s Basement East just before performing his song, “Hennessy.” “I was just in my basement playing guitar. And my wife was like, ‘Do the dishes ... Do something other than play guitar.’ Now all I do is play guitar again [laughs].”
Strange (born Bartees Leon Cox, Jr.), is a sponge and synthesis of everywhere he’s been and everything he’s seen or heard. Born in England and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, his experience performing with Brooklyn-based post-hardcore outfit Stay Inside and a later move to Washington D.C. have all contributed to his singular cosmic-slop sound. He notes during the Rundown that, as an adolescent, his guitar heroes were Thomas Erak of the Fall of Troy and Omar Rodríguez-López of At the Drive-In and the Mars Volta. But in the next sentence, he confesses his love for Nelly.
“I always thought people aren’t really honest all the time with what they’re listening to,” asserts Strange. “I think a lot of people like a lot of things. I grew up in a pretty country town, and everyone would say they just like country music. But I was like, ‘You like the Nelly record, dog. You like Get Rich or Die Tryin', man, and you also like LeAnn Rimes and Toby Keith songs, and Brad Paisley’s guitar playing. But you also jam B2K and pop songs, too.’ I’ve never been afraid or ashamed of what I like, so it all goes into my own music.”
What he’s been saying through 2020’s Live Forever and 2022’s Farm to Table has been connecting with fans and critics alike. The magnetism is Strange’s smooth synergy. This allows him to touchpoint influences from albums like Nelly’s Country Grammar, At the Drive-In’s Relationship of Command, the National’s Boxer, and Phoebe Bridger’s Punisher into one harmonious, original package that has landed him on dozens of year-end lists and earned him an 83/100 rating from Metacritic for both of his full-length releases. [Editor’s Note: The Metacritic website uses their proprietary Metascore to distill the opinions of the most respected critics’ writing online and in print to a single number.]
Finishing his earlier thought to the Nashville crowd, he summarized: “‘Hennessy’ is a song I wrote when I was a kid, and growing up I thought there was all these weird stereotypes I had to get over to become who I am … [The hook of the song is meant] to kind of say, I know there’s all these expectations of what a black person does … but I just want you to see me for who I am and for what I’m trying to say.”
He might not have been “shit” 18 months ago, but he’s certainly on his way to becoming the something of the sort in the coming years. We’ll be here listening and appreciating.
Ahead of Strange’s final 2022 tour date supporting Farm to Table, Bartees and his guitar-playing compatriots welcomed PG’s Chris Kies onstage at Nashville’s Basement East to talk shop. During the interview, the trio explained how their “guitar wars” create a compatibly melodic arms race and structure their cohesive sound. We get introduced to a collection of oddball axes and go through their collective setups—which Strange fondly refers to as “Tone Capital”—assisted by a store’s-worth inventory of pedals. Plus, stick around after the Rundown to check out a heartfelt message from Bartees and the band’s wonderful performance of “Hennessy.”
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
Bartees’ Battle Axe
Strange’s main axe for much of 2022 was this 1959 Gibson Custom Shop ES-335 Reissue “Chicago Music Exchange Spec” that features the delicate deterioration of the Murphy Lab treatment. It has a maple body (with a maple center block and red-spruce bracing), a 1-piece mahogany neck, an Indian rosewood fretboard, Kluson tuners, and custom CME-spec “S” Gibson humbuckers.
“Honestly, it’s pretty sick. It’s the dopest 335 I’ve ever played,” contends Strange. “It has a very versatile sound, and with its low-output humbuckers I can get it to chirp a little bit, but I also can go off on it.”
It has replaced touring duties for his beloved 1967 Epiphone Casino and a 1963 Gibson ES-125T. This and the rest of his riders take D’Addario EPN115 Pure Nickels (.011–.048). The 335 will stay in either standard or D-A-D-A-A-E tunings.
After Bartees’ 2020 debut, Live Forever, came out, luthier Mike Baranik built Strange this Baranik RE-1 that boasts a reflective pickguard with the words “Never Die” emblazed on it. Its standout specs include a Baranik handwound gold-foil-style pickup that slides, a groovy, give-it-a-rip Göldo DG Tremolo in Shorty-Design, an illuminated control pod, and wooden saddles. It comes in at a feathery 6 pounds. Strange busts it out for his song “Heavy Heart” because of the guitar’s jangly grind.
“The RE-1s were designed to simplify the manufacturing without losing the most critical parts of a guitar, playability and tone,” says Baranik. “Almost every single one of the RE-1’s parts are made here in the shop from repurposed materials.”
Another one of Strange’s treasures is a 1959 Fender Jazzmaster. That classic stays at home, but he needs the instrument’s sonic flair for his nightly set, so he contacted Fender’s Jason Klein and sent over a request to recreate his ’59 with a few slight cosmetic changes. He wanted an Aztec gold finish with a matching headstock, complete with an anodized pickguard. Strange often starts the set with this golden goose on songs “Escape the Circus” and “In a Cab.”
A Low-Price Highball
Like his other touring guitars, this Gretsch G9520E Gin Rickey acoustic/electric fills in for his pricier, vintage flattops. The price was right at under $300, and Strange really loves its darker, boxier sound that meshes well with Graham’s brighter Orangewood acoustic. Another plus was that it came stock with a Gretsch Deltoluxe soundhole pickup that enables Bartees to run this into his Vox AC30.
A Voxy Solution
“In Tone Capital, U.S.A., things can change. The weather, all kinds of things … but honestly, the three of us are always kind of looking at each other like, ‘What is not right? Is it an amp? Is it a guitar?’ There’s dysfunction in Tone Capital, so after spending a lot of time with Fender amps, I’ve returned to AC30s for its crisp highs that match really well with the dark, mellower vibe of the 335,” says Strange. He plugs his guitars into the Vox AC30C2X’s low-input/top-boost section. This particular 30-watt combo comes with a pair of 8-ohm Celestion Alnico Blue speakers.
Bartees Strange’s Pedalboard
As the governor of Tone Capital, Strange has the most advisors on his board. Breaking them down by function, Bartees’ dirt and filth comes from a Land Devices HP-2, Fowl Sounds Obsidian Fuzzstortion (the unmarked black box), Bondi Effects Breakers Overdrive, and a ZVEX Box of Rock. Time-based effects include an Alexander Pedals Rewind Programmable Echo, a Boss DM-3 Delay, and a Source Audio Ventris. Bartees’ modulation machines are a Farm Pedals Tombstone Tremolo and a Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Water K-Field Modulator. Two other noise manipulators include a Chase Bliss Blooper and a G-Lab BC-1 Boosting Compressor. Other boxes are a Radial SGI guitar interface (upside-down at the top), a Radial HotShot DM-1, and a TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Noir Mini.
A V for G
“I just got this for this tour. I kind of bought it because I thought it’d be the most ridiculous guitar that I could bring onstage, but I’ve slowly discovered it’s the most the comfortable instrument I’ve ever had,” admits multi-instrumentalist Graham Richman. The 2022 Gibson Flying V in antique natural has stayed the same since he bought it, except for the fresh set of D’Addario EPN110 Pure Nickel strings (.010–.045).
Les Paul, More Gristle
This one used to be Richman’s number one, but only gets action for one or two songs, like “Kelly Rowland.” He still enjoys playing the Gibson Les Paul Standard ’50s P-90 because it has “more gristle and cuts in an interesting way,” compared to his V.
Orange You Glad to Play Me
For “Black Gold,” Graham puts on this Orangewood Sierra Live, that’s equipped with a L.R. Baggs Anthem pickup.
Richman runs all of his electrics into the above Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb. He landed on this combo because of the punchier Bassman circuit inside the Custom channel.
Graham Richman’s Pedalboard
When you’re a touring musician, cartage costs for gear are always a concern, and it’s no different for Richman. He downsized his setup to a Pedaltrain Metro 16 thanks in big part to the Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher that not only can control MIDI pedals on his board, but also offers 112 internal effects, too. Graham relies on the MS-3 for all his delays, reverbs, and modulation. His gain stages come from nearby standalone pedals: Black Mass Electronics The First Herald, Black Mass Electronics 1312 Distortion V3, Walrus Audio 385, and a JHS Double Barrel.
“Honestly, it was an aesthetic-first purchase,” concedes guitarist Dan Kleederman. “It’d be really cool to play a SG Junior in this band—I hoped I’d like it … and I did!” This sweet surprise is a 2021 Gibson SG Junior that appears to be all stock, but he added a Bigsby B7 vibrato and a push-pull switch on the tone that cuts higher frequencies when pulled out. He said he was sold on its sound once the band made the move to in-ear monitors, because it sits in its own lane within the three-guitar attack. And because of that, this one sees the most action of Kleederman’s trio.
This 1998 Fender USA Thinline Telecaster is from Dan’s father, who bought the Tele in the early 2000s and recently loaned it to him. He gave Dan his blessing to customize it as he saw fit—so it now has a 4-way selector unlocking a series circuit that combines the bridge and neck pickup for a beefier, hotter signal. You’ll also notice that tone and volume control knobs are pulled from a Gretsch. “I’m in a phase where I like messing with the guitars and their looks,” says Dan. He uses this guitar every night for “Heavy Heart.”
Speaker of the House
“This is a very special situation here. Part of what makes this guitar unique is the fact that it has a built-in amplifier that you can turn on and off,” details Kleederman. The 1960s Silvertone 1487 TG-1’s gold-foil pickup is original, and was the initial allure for Kleederman to make the purchase.
And for “Hold the Line,” where Dan plays slide—to give the song a rustic, back-porch, AM-radio vibe—he engages the tiny amplifier and sends a signal to FOH via a Shure Beta 98H/C.
Kleederman puts all three of his electrics through a hand-wired Vox AC15HW1X that comes with a single 12" Celestion Alnico Blue Speaker. He borrowed the combo from Bartees’ FOH, Kitzy. He uses the low input of the top-boost circuit and says it works well for cutting through and providing some defined power to his sound.
His board starts with an always-on JHS Morning Glory. The next level of grime is the Matthews Effects Architect. He chose this one because it includes a boost, three different clipping modes, and a 3-band EQ, all in a small footprint. A Wampler Mini Ego handles compression, while an Xotic EP Booster gives him another intensifier of volume and gain. The ZVEX Fuzzolo helps Dan double bassist John Daise’s parts in a song like “In a Cab,” or give him a super-gated attack during “Boomer.” Then we enter the section of Dan’s crazier colors that get painted on with a Walrus Audio Mako M1, a Source Audio Collider delay/reverb, and a Boss DD-8 Digital Delay. And, stealing a page out of Bartees’ playbook, Dan slots a distortion (Animals Pedal I Was a Wolf in the Forest Distortion) at the end of his chain to “make everything messy and fun.” Off to the side of his board sits a Dunlop DVP4 Volume Mini Pedal, and a Sonic Research ST-300 Mini Stomp Box Strobe Tuner keeps his instruments steady.
The silky smooth slide man may raise a few eyebrows with his gear—a hollow, steel-bodied baritone and .017s on a Jazzmaster—but every note and tone he plays sounds just right.
KingTone’s The Duellist is currently Ariel Posen’s most-used pedal. One side of the dual drive (the Bluesbreaker voicing) is always on. But there’s another duality at play when Posen plugs in—the balance between songwriter and guitarist.
“These days, I like listening to songs and the story and the total package,” Posen told PG back in 2019, when talking about his solo debut, How Long, after departing from his sideman slot for the Bros. Landreth. “Obviously, I’m known as a guitar player, but my music and the music I write is not guitar music. It’s songs, and it goes back to the Beatles. I love songs, and I love story and melody and singing, and there was a lot of detail and attention put into the guitar sound and the playing and the parts—almost more than I’ve ever done.”
And in 2021, he found himself equally expressing his yin-and-yang artistry by releasing two albums that represented both sides of his musicality. First, Headway continued the sultry sizzle of songwriting featured on How Long. Then he surprised everyone, especially guitarists, by dropping Mile End, which is a 6-string buffet of solo dishes with nothing but Ariel and his instrument of choice.
But what should fans expect when they see him perform live? “I just trust my gut. I can reach more people by playing songs, and I get moved more by a story and lyrics and harmony, so that’s where I naturally go. The live show is a lot more guitar centric. If you want to hear me stretch out on some solos, come see a show. I want the record and the live show to be two separate things.”
The afternoon ahead of Posen’s headlining performance at Nashville’s Basement East, the guitar-playing musical force invited PG’s Chris Kies on stage for a robust chat about gear. The 30-minute conversation covers Posen’s potent pair of moody blue bombshells—a hollow, metal-bodied Mule Resophonic and a Fender Custom Shop Jazzmaster—and why any Two-Rock is his go-to amp. He also shares his reasoning behind avoiding effects loops and volume pedals.
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
Blue the Mule III
If you’ve spent any time with Ariel Posen’s first solo record, How Long, you know that the ripping, raunchy slide solo packed within “Get You Back” is an aural high mark. As explained in a 2019 PG interview, Posen’s pairing for that song were two cheapos: a $50 Teisco Del Rey into a Kay combo. However, when he took the pawnshop prize onstage, the magic was gone. “It wouldn’t stay in tune and wouldn’t stop feeding back—it was unbearable [laughs].”
Posen was familiar with Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic—who specializes in building metal-body resonators—so he approached the luthier to construct him a steel-bodied, Strat-style baritone. Eich was reluctant at first (he typically builds roundneck resos and T-style baritones), but after seeing a clip of Posen playing live, the partnership was started.
The above steel-bodied Strat-style guitar is Posen’s third custom 25"-scale baritone. (On Mule Resophonic’s website, it’s affectionately named the “Posencaster.”) The gold-foil-looking pickups are handwound by Eich, and are actually mini humbuckers. He employs a custom Stringjoy set (.017–.064 with a wound G) and typically tunes to B standard. The massive strings allow the shorter-scale baritone to maintain a regular-tension feel. And when he gigs, he tours light (usually with two guitars), so he’ll use a capo to morph into D or E standard.
Another one that saw recording time for Headway and Mile End was the above Fender Custom Shop Masterbuilt ’60s Jazzmaster, made by Carlos Lopez. To make it work better for him, he had the treble-bleed circuit removed, so that when the guitar’s volume is lowered it actually gets warmer.
"Clean and Loud"
Last time we spoke with Posen, he plugged into a Two-Rock Classic Reverb Signature. It’s typically his live amp. However, since this winter’s U.S. run was a batch of fly dates, he packed light and rented backlines. Being in Music City, he didn’t need to go too deep into his phone’s contacts to find a guitar-playing friend that owned a Two-Rock. This Bloomfield Drive was loaned to Ariel by occasional PG contributor Corey Congilio. On the brand’s consistent tone monsters, Posen said, “To be honest, put a blindfold on me and make one of Two-Rock’s amps clean and loud—I don’t care what one it is.”
The loaner vertical 2x12 cab was stocked with a pair of Two-Rock 12-65B speakers made by Warehouse Guitar Speakers.
Ariel Posen’s Pedalboard
There are a handful of carryovers from Ariel’s previous pedalboard that was featured in our 2021 tone talk: a TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Noir, a Morningstar MC3 MIDI Controller, an Eventide H9, a Mythos Pedals Argonaut Mini Octave Up, and a KingTone miniFUZZ Ge. His additions include a custom edition Keeley Hydra Stereo Reverb & Tremolo (featuring Headway artwork), an Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain oil can delay, Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay and Pitch Shifter, and a KingTone The Duellist overdrive.
Another big piece of the tonal pie for Posen is his signature brass Rock Slide. He worked alongside Rock Slide’s Danny Songhurst to develop his namesake slide that features a round-tip end that helps Posen avoid dead spots or unwanted scratching. While he prefers polished brass, you can see above that it’s also available in a nickel-plated finish and an aged brass.
Ever wonder what it’s like to do a Rig Rundown? It’s awesome! PG’s editorial director explains.
Although John Bohlinger has done the talking for the majority of our Rig Rundowns, followed by our director of video content Chris Kies and chief videographer Perry Bean, I’ve been PG’s jaws on my fair share. So, here’s what it’s like to do a Rig Rundown.
It starts well before we get to the venue, with Chris handling the scheduling with the artist’s team. Then, at the appointed time, Chris, Perry, and I convene at the club or concert location. I either know the artist’s work or have done research so I can ask informed questions. Chris and Perry arrive with cameras, lavalier mics, SM57s, tripods, and lights. Since I’m just carrying a notepad, I like to lend a hand. Every Rundown I’m on is like a reunion with Chris and Perry, too. We get to catch up, and since they’re best friends, they radiate a rapport and positivity that’s infectiously good. (I haven’t worked directly with our new videographer, Jarrad James, yet, but I hope you’ve seen some of his Drum Rundowns.)
Usually, the artist or guitar tech is ready for us onstage, and when they’re not, it’s either a treat to hear part of soundcheck—like the Allman Betts Band ripping through “Whipping Post,” or Eric Johnson last-minute-tweaking his amp setup—or, on unlucky days, torture—like listening to a guitarist blame the sound engineer for his lousy tone for a half hour, without once trying to change the settings on his own Marshall.
I like to make Rig Rundowns engaging conversations, instead of mere show-and-tell.
When the stage is ready for us, Chris and Perry use their experience to find the best angles to shoot the action. They position me and the artists and set up lights to illuminate where we stand. They put the SM57s on amps, help secure the lavaliers, do a quick soundcheck, and make sure the lenses are getting the goods. Honestly, they do all the hard work.
If the artist or tech isn’t familiar with Rig Rundowns, I’ll give them a quick outline of the conversation we’ll have. Often, emerging artists aren’t just ready, they’re psyched! I’ve heard, “Oh, I know how a Rig Rundown works!” … often. And with undisguised glee.
Then Perry, typically, says “rolling,” and away we go. I like to make Rig Rundowns engaging conversations, instead of mere show-and-tell, which is why I arrive informed and ready to talk about an artist’s history, recordings, stylistic interests, and more. If we can have a real discussion, and maybe even weave in a little humor or empathy, all the better.
If I make a mistake—ask a dumb question, stumble over words, stray out of the lens—I can stop or be stopped for a redo (and so can the artist), and Chris and Perry will cue me back in perfectly, coaching me on physical and verbal continuity. They’re really directors, making short documentaries. After filming a kabillion Rig Rundowns and demos, they’re also incredibly well-informed about gear, so they might suggest we focus on a particular instrument or stomp to hit all the right notes. They also encourage the artists to play, so we can begin each video with a live performance and really show off the tones these rigs create.
I love being onstage when somebody like Doug Aldrich, a great guy with a heart full of tone, rolls up the volume dial and hits the strings. Jimmy Herring did the same at a Widespread Panic Rundown at Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater, and if I wasn’t standing next to him when I heard the low, mournful roar that came out his amp, I could have been convinced that Godzilla was coming up the nearby Cumberland River. It was one of the greatest sounds I’ve ever heard. Absolutely primeval.
When the filming’s over, Chris starts packing up and Perry takes stills for the Rundown’s text on PG’s website. I usually snap a few cell phone photos to capture details I’ll want to use writing that text—just as visual notes. And then it’s a wrap … except for the hours of editing that go into each Rundown, where an entirely different magic happens.
The bonus for me, of course, is getting to talk to artists I love about their gear. After interviewing Eric Johnson and Devon Allman for years, it’s been great to meet them and find they’re also kind and generous in person. My favorite Rig Rundown was with Buddy Miller, who I’ve long admired, and who invited us into his home studio for a spirited, free-ranging talk about his favorite instruments, recording gear, and way more. He even let us use his vintage overheard mic when we came up short. And yes, Nick Raskulinecz’ Nashville pad is the ultimate heavy rock playroom!
Every Rig Rundown I’ve done has had real highs—moments of discovery, enlightenment, musical adventure—and I hope you experience that, too, when you watch them.
On the band’s new album, Pawns & Kings, its creative leaders prove the virtues of deep songwriting, tube amp tones, PRS guitars, and hard work.
On top of having all the trappings of an epic rock band, Alter Bridge, who’ve just released a new album called Pawns & Kings, has the necessary talent and magnetism to back them up. Just look at the lineup: Their charismatic frontman, singer/guitarist Myles Kennedy, is considered among the best vocalists in modern rock; guitarist Mark Tremonti is not just heroic on the instrument, but virtuosic; and together, Brian Marshall’s melodic bass playing and drummer Scott “Flip” Phillips’ Bonham-like power generate megawattage.
Tremonti, Marshall, and Phillips are also founding members of Creed, one of the biggest rock bands of the past few decades. Kennedy is the singer for Slash’s solo band. And, Kennedy and Tremonti have also been enjoying successful solo careers: Tremonti just released Tremonti Sings Frank Sinatra, recorded with Ol’ Blue Eyes’ surviving bandmembers and benefitting the National Down Syndrome Society.
Alter Bridge - Holiday (Official Video)
Clearly, Tremonti and Kennedy have their creative engines in high gear. “It’s an addiction,” Tremonti explains. “You write that song that makes your hair stand up, and you want to do it again. It’s the same with anything creative, whether writing a song or book, or painting a picture. It is like a drug.”
As Kennedy points out, the trick is balancing that addiction with the signature sound they’ve created for the past 20 years. “We’re nearly two decades in, and we have a good understanding of what boxes to check and what our fan base wants to hear. It’s that delicate dance of making sure that they’re content and that we’re also still pushing ourselves.”
“I started as a guitar player. Lead, in particular, was my big passion growing up.”—Myles Kennedy
For many fans, Alter Bridge’s second release, Blackbird, defined the band’s sound. It took everything they loved about the first record, One Day Remains, and made it bigger, darker, and more complex—epic, in a word. The title track clocks in at over 7 minutes long and pits Kennedy and Tremonti against each other in one of the best guitar duels in recent rock history. Since then, each Alter Bridge record has kept on this path, piling on more and more heavy, melodic elements. But there is a limit, and on Pawns & Kings, the band was ready to make a change.
“If you listen to some of the prior records, there were a lot of textures and elements weaving through,” explains Kennedy. “The other day, I was reviewing one of the songs from [2016’s] The Last Hero. I was listening on headphones and was like, ‘I didn’t even know that keyboard part was in there!’ We pulled all that out of this record. ‘Less is more’ was the motto.”Tremonti adds, “We decided, ‘Let’s get back to our old way of doing things.’ We want it to be more just the guys playing their instruments. No orchestration underneath. No pads. Just us. It gives it more depth, and everything else has more room to breathe.”
Alter Bridge - Pawns & Kings (Official Video)
That choice worked out in their favor, and on Pawns & Kings, Alter Bridge’s songwriting, musicianship, and crushing guitar tones are more in your face than ever. The band’s longtime producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette—who has also worked with Creed, Mammoth WVH, Sevendust, and Slash—was crucial to the creative process.
“[Elvis is] such an important element,” says Kennedy. “He’s an incredible producer. He can get great tones, and he has a really great arrangement ability. More than anything, he understands the psychology of making records. That’s so much of what this process is about.”
Baskette, who’s manned the board for Alter Bridge since Blackbird, knows exactly what the guys are capable of, and he had them dig deep. “I think it’s our densest record by far,” says Tremonti. “It’s a lot to take in on first listen.”
Kennedy adds that “we’ve integrated more of a demoing process, where each guy will go to his corner and spend time on the ideas that he feels strongest about before presenting them to the band.” He names the new track “Sin After Sin” as an example of this recent dynamic. “It was this musical bed that Mark had, and then I came up with some lyrics, melodies, and whatnot.”
“Usually, when it’s the heavy, chunky stuff, I’ll track that first, and then Myles will track a lot of his atmospheric, effected stuff.” —Mark Tremonti
Although both musicians have a similar writing process, how their diverging styles meet creates the band’s trademark sound. For Tremonti, a die-hard metalhead, it’s about exercising those tendencies outside the band while opening the floodgates for Alter Bridge. “Usually, when I write for Tremonti [the name of his solo project], I try to put on my speed-metal hat. That’s when I get to pull out all my childhood metal influences. I love that stuff, so it’s always fun. Other than that, I like to write whatever comes out.”
Kennedy tends to follow a more traditional singer-songwriter approach, as heard on Alter Bridge’s acoustic staple, “Watch Over You,” from Blackbird. But he’s not afraid to branch out, even lacing his debut solo album, The Year of the Tiger, around gritty resonator-guitar blues. But this time, one song, “Holiday,” with its old-school rock vibe, seemed like a step too far.“I almost didn’t even present it to the band,” he admits. “I played the demo to our producer, and he’s like, ‘Oh, that’s going on the record! It’s got that swing and that swagger.’ I’m glad he helped.”
Mark Tremonti's Gear
Tremonti digs into one of his PRS signature guitars, which are made from mahogany with a flamed maple top, have a thin set neck, medium jumbo frets, and PRS Tremonti Humbuckers.
Photo by Chuck Brueckmann
- PRS Mark Tremonti Signature
- PRS Custom Baritone
- Martin acoustics
- Taylor acoustics
- Ramirez classical
- PRS MT 100 Signature prototype
- PRS MT 15 Signature
- Dumble Overdrive Special
- Cornford RK100
- Mesa/Boogie Oversize 4x12s
- Morley Mark Tremonti Wah
- Ibanez TS808HW Handwired Tube Screamer
- MXR Uni-Vibe Chorus/Vibrato
- Boss OC-5 Octave
- MXR Smart Gate Noise Gate
Picks and Strings
- Dunlop Flow 1.3 mm
- D’Addario (.011–.052)
The guitarists trade leads on tracks like “Dead Among the Living” and “Last Man Standing,” and Tremonti says they take very different approaches to the stage and studio. “I was never one of those guys who likes to stay up late at night, break out a million pedals, and experiment with tones. So, usually, when it’s the heavy, chunky stuff, I’ll track that first, and then Myles will track a lot of his atmospheric, effected stuff.”
With Tremonti and Kennedy at the top of their game as guitarists and vocalists, one constantly pushes the other, elevating the band. “Stay” stands out as an example, “because it’s a major key, it’s very anthemic, and you have Mark singing,” relates Kennedy. “He was insecure about his vocal, and I remember telling him to stop that nonsense [laughs]. His voice is great, and because I’m more of a tenor, there’s a nice blend there.
“I started as a guitar player,” Kennedy continues. “Lead, in particular, was my big passion growing up. The only reason I ever started singing was that it was easier to sing [my own songs] once I started writing them. When Mark discovered that I played lead guitar, he always pushed it. It’s the same nudging I did with him and his vocals.”
For their latest album, Alter Bridge scrapped their usual textured approach for a stripped-down-but-strong framework. “We want it to be more just the guys playing their instruments,” Tremonti declares.
"I know that everything I throw at Myles, he's capable of doing," Tremonti adds, "and he's going to fill a different sound. He's got a signature sound. It adds another layer for the band."
Guitar tone is a big deal in Alter Bridge. Tremonti was Paul Reed Smith’s second signature artist and helps design every piece of gear that bears his name. Although his PRS Mark Tremonti Signature rarely leaves his hands, a different PRS delivered Pawns & Kings’ heaviest moments. “I have a baritone that we used almost all the time,” Tremonti says. “Anything tuned low is that guitar. When I brought it into the studio, Elvis was like, ‘No shit! I used that when I recorded Limp Bizkit.’ Then, I was doing a show with Limp Bizkit, and Wes [Borland, Limp Bizkit guitarist] came over. He’s like, ‘Is that what I think it is? Is that the baritone? Shit, that’s a great guitar!’” Tremonti and PRS have also collaborated on the MT 15 amplifier. The lunchbox-style head is a favorite for its percussive high gain and clean channels. Pawns & Kings also offers the first hearing of the upcoming PRS MT 100, a 100-watt signature version that even dethroned Tremonti’s beloved Mesa/Boogie Rectifiers for the sessions.
Myles Kennedy's Gear
Myles Kennedy is a double threat: a great rock vocalist who can also shred like a maniac when called upon to do so.
Photo by Chuck Brueckmann
- PRS SC245
- PRS Custom Singlecut
- Diezel VH4
- Diezel Herbert
- Dumble Overdrive Special
- Diezel 4x12
- Custom Audio Electronics Wah
- EHX Micro POG
- Boss RV-6
- Foxrox Octron3
- Reeves Klon clone
- Line 6 MM4 Modulation Modeler
Picks and Strings
- Dunlop Ultex 1.14 mm
- D’Addario (.011–.052)
“I just approved the final version,” Tremonti says. “The clean channel, to me, is the ultimate clean channel. I pulled out all my Fender Twins, played through them one by one, and found my favorites. But when I played them back-to-back with the MT 100, I preferred the MT 100. The third channel is the overdrive channel, and it’s badass. I wanted it to be all I’d ever want at my home, studio, and on tour. And I made the middle channel an overdriven Dumble-ish kind of thing."
Kennedy is also a PRS devotee, and has leaned on his trusty tobacco burst SC245 for years. While he did experiment with a Fender Telecaster for Alter Bridge’s 2019 Walk the Sky album sessions and tour, he’s replaced that instrument with another PRS. “There’s this one-off PRS made me last year,” he says. “It does a lot of the things I wanted it to do in the Tele realm. It’s a black Singlecut, and that is what I played on 80 percent of this record.”
“We decided, ‘Let’s get back to our old way of doing things.’ No orchestration underneath. No pads. Just us.” —Mark Tremonti
Rig Rundown - Alter Bridge's Mark Tremonti & Myles Kennedy
Tremonti also notes, “I did half of a tour with a Kemper at one point, just to try it out. I never found the right lead setting that made me comfortable. I always felt some digital weirdness in there. When I switched to my MT 100, I wouldn’t go back. So, on the road, it’s just the one MT 100 now.”
All in all, Alter Bridge are still decidedly old-school in their business strategies: record, tour, work hard, repeat. “It was hard enough once people stopped buying physical copies of records, and then you add the way the world’s changing,” Kennedy says. “Being a musician … you got to work hard. But we’re in Munich right now, and it’s like, ‘So far, so good.’ It’s kind of blowing our minds that people are showing up. It’s been great!”
From left to right: Scott Phillips, Mark Tremonti, Myles Kennedy, and Brian Marshall make for a powerhouse collective that shows no sign of relenting in their epic delivery of hard rock.
Photo by Chuck Brueckmann
But does that kind of work ethic have a breaking point? “To be totally candid, there was a period when I was afraid that could happen,” admits Kennedy. “I was like, ‘You know what, I did three records back-to-back-to-back. I’ve got to shut this down for a little while and let the well refill’—which is weird for me. Usually, once a record’s done, I’m already on to the next one.”Tremonti hasn’t stopped long enough to think about it. “I remember watching an interview with Carl Verheyen,” who was a member of Supertramp and has recorded with Dolly Parton, the Bee Gees, and a host of others. “He’s like, ‘I’m a professional guitar player. I don’t go a handful of days a year without playing the guitar.’ That struck me. Now, I try to make sure that when I’m gone from home, I’m working all the time. Every day I’m practicing for the next Sinatra shows. I’ve got two coming up after this tour, and I have another one in March. I’m trying to book as many as I can. I’m also writing a book, which is taking up most of my time at the moment. Then, I’m writing songs for whatever happens next, trying to stay ahead of things.”
Alter Bridge Blackbird Live From Amsterdam
While on tour to support his new album View with a Room, Julian Lage invited PG’s John Bohlinger to his soundcheck at Brooklyn Bowl Nashville to share his insights into why he likes a straightforward rig and “honest” tone.
When it comes to jazz virtuoso Julian Lage, you’d be hard-pressed to find an electric guitarist who uses less gear. “Any time I’ve [used too much equipment], there’s an awkwardness where I’m still grappling with the fact that I play here,” he says, gesturing to his guitar, then gesturing to his amp, “but the sound comes out there.” He continues, “It sounds like a joke, but it’s been a struggle for me. Any time there’s layers or filters or anything, I feel dissociated.” Of course, Lage’s rig, which buoys his clean, no-frills tone, makes sense for a musician like himself—whose playing often comes across fluidly, and as gently as his personality.
For Lage, that fluidity stems from his conception of music as a language. “I think that the way people speak is often more unfettered,” Lage told Premier Guitar in 2021. “There might not be an obvious correlation between the way people speak in a lecture and the notes on the guitar. But it's just a little stretch of the imagination to see that those are pitches, those are rhythms, those are phrases."
On View with a Room, Lage’s second release on the hallowed Blue Note Records, he’s offering a fresh, bold continuation of the conversation he’s created over the years. The album features his latest ensemble, made up of himself, bassist Jorge Roeder, and drummer Dave King—but this time, he’s added the legendary Bill Frisell. Together, the musicians help to expand Lage’s body of work with performances of 10 of his original compositions.
While on tour for the album, Lage invited PG’s John Bohlinger to the soundcheck before his show at Brooklyn Bowl inn Nashville to share his insights into why he likes a straightforward rig and “honest” tone. In the interview, Lage elaborates on his three main guitars (his Nachocaster, Collings signature, and ’55 Les Paul), explains why he prefers low volume on his amps, and offers a remarkably brief tour of his pedalboard.
Brought to you by D’Addario XS Strings.
Not Your Caster
As a bit of an anomaly in the world of jazz guitarists, Lage prefers Telecasters. His number one T-style is his Nachoguitars 1657 “Nachocaster”—a saffron-colored guitar equipped with an Ellisonic P-90-size neck pickup and Fatpups Blackguard bridge pickup, built by Spanish luthier Nacho Baños. However, Lage states that he never changes from the neck position. The Ellisonic pickup, which was created by Ron Ellis for Lage’s other primary instrument, the Collings Julian Lage 470 JL, captures the clarity and acoustic-like feel of vintage single-coils. The guitar is strung with D’Addario Flatwound Electric ECG24 Chromes (.011-.050) with a .020 unwound G string. Lage also uses Tortex .88 mm picks.
The Collings 470 JL signature was built as a collaboration between Lage and Collings. It features a solid Honduran mahogany body with a laminated maple top, Ellisonic pickups, and a Bigsby B3 tailpiece. He shares that the Bigsby was added mainly for weight, as the guitar was 5 lbs. before its addition and 6 lbs. after. “That gets you right to this place where the fundamental is still there, and you have this brilliant overtone,” says Lage, who adds that much like the bridge pickup on the Nachocaster, he doesn’t touch the Bigsby. He strings this guitar with .011-.049 D’Addario flatwounds. “Honestly, I think it’s more of a rock machine than anything,” he adds.
Lage’s 1955 Les Paul goldtop was a gift from Spinal Tap’s Christopher Guest, and sports the actor/guitarist’s signature. “I feel very much like a steward of it,” Lage says of the guitar. “I’m learning how to play it constantly. It’s so luxurious. Anything’s possible, so it really comes down to what do you hear, what do you want to play, what’s the voice of the music … and this guitar will be 8,000 percent there for you.”
Les Paul's handwritten message to Christopher Guest.
Lage is a longtime fan of low-watt, vintage Fender amps, in the past having remained ardently loyal to his Fender Tweed Champ, until it became impractical to bring it everywhere. On this tour, he’s playing a Magic Amps Vibro Deluxe, reminiscent of a 1964 Fender Deluxe Reverb. He plugs into the normal channel and sets his volume to 3, treble to 2, and bass to 2. As he describes, “This one has this miraculous thing where it feels like it’s being pushed at a lower volume. It’s not terribly interesting, but it is what I do.”
Julian Lage’s Pedalboard
Lage’s stripped-down pedalboard includes a Strymon Flint Tremolo & Reverb (just for reverb), a Shin-ei B1G 1 Preamp Gain Boost, and a Sonic Research ST-300 Mini Stomp Box Strobe Tuner.