Ruban Nielson explains how custom collaborations with Baranik and Benson, along with a paunchy pedalboard with homemade clones, unlock a psychedelic playground in stereo.
“Gear is meant to be destroyed in the line of duty,” laughs Ruban Nielson. “I realize I prefer to see my equipment all dinged up rather than sitting perfect in my basement—that’s a dorky thing to do.”
That doesn’t mean Nielson doesn’t care about his sound. He noted in a 2015 interview with PG that he spends countless hours in his basement tinkering on breadboard circuits and swapping out components, trying to maximize a pedal for his needs. “I like the idea that instead of buying your sound, you’re building your sound,” he said.
Over the course of 14 years, five albums, and thousands of touring miles, Nielsen has been custom-fabricating his guitar voice. But as we all know, the quest is never-ending, like trying to catch the horizon. After all, isn’t it the journey, not the destination, that matters?
“I used to be too much of a savage to care about a clean boost or headroom,” says Nielson. “‘Just give me a distortion pedal already!’ But now I’m exploring the intricacies, subtleties, and nuances of guitar.”Ahead of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s headlining performance at Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl, Ruban Nielson welcomed PG’s Chris Kies onstage to explore his current sonic lab. Nielson covers his two space-age guitars (and what inspired them), explains how he convinced Benson to put a Monarch inside a vintage solid-state Yamaha, and details the pedals—including a few of his own designs—that extract a kaleidoscope of moods.
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Challenge Accepted: The B3-R
Since forming Unknown Mortal Orchestra in 2009, the instrument that Ruban Nielson has been linked to and inspired by is the Fender Jag-Stang. This short-scale offset was codesigned by Kurt Cobain in the early ’90s by simply taking photos of Fender’s Mustang and Jaguar, splitting them in half and pasting them together. The Jag-Stang was treated to separate production runs in the late ’90s and early 2000s before a wider release in 2021. Nielson’s friend gifted him a cherry-red model, shaping Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s first decade of music.
In 2015, Nielson told PG about its impact on his playing style and creative outlook: “When I started on the UMO stuff I pulled it out. It would never stay in tune and sounded really strange, but when I plugged it into a Blues Junior, I started to come up with completely different ideas. I tuned it a half-step down and started playing with my fingers. It was just a whole new style that emerged in the space of about two weeks after messing with this guitar. It’s a kind of imperfect creature and that’s what I like about it.”
Fast forward to a few years ago when Ruban met luthier Mike Baranik. Baranik was a longtime fan of UMO and knew of Nielson’s allegiance to the Jag-Stang, so he approached Nielson with a proposition: “I can make a guitar that will do everything that the Jag-Stang does better and more.” Nielson was intrigued, so the build began. They conversed and collaborated over several phone calls and text chains that culminated in Nielson realizing Baranik was “some kind of genius through his simple innovations that suited the way I think about music and guitar.”
The flaws of the Jag-Stang that informed Nielson’s playing style became features on the above Baranik B3-R. The biggest thing that Ruban wanted translated from the Jag-Stang to the Baranik was the slinky neck pocket that allowed for him to push the neck for emotive bends à la Bill Frisell.
Nielson explains: “When I tuned the Jag-Stang a half-step down—which I just did because Jimi Hendrix did it, and I thought if I was going to start writing some new music that this was my chance to start messing with that—that loosened the strings up. The neck was a smaller scale so it gave me the ability to do completely different things. I was able to get around the neck a lot easier.”
To make that body-neck connection even more expressive and manipulatable, Baranik constructed the trademarked Baraneck floating neck that fastens two springs to the neck joint allowing Nielson to tighten or loosen the neck as wanted. Nielson also routed out wood behind the pickups on his Jag-Stang to reduce the weight and keep it light as possible—just five pounds, nine ounces. The B3-R has a basswood body, koa neck, and ebony fretboard.
Another thing Nielson requested was an approximation of the sound of pickups found in vintage Japanese lawsuit-era instruments, which were often unique, unpotted, and unpredictable. Baranik worked his magic and, via his own alchemy, produced these potted single-coils. Other tag-team easter eggs include a custom Hawaiian print pickguard, an upcycled circuit board control panel, and custom inlays—a row of shark teeth, filled with crushed bone dust—that are a tribute to the family symbol.
All of UMO’s material is based on half-step-down tuning both of his electrics take Ernie Ball Super Slinkys (.009-.042). Nielson goes with a Shure Axient wireless pack at both his Sitar and Baranik guitars and to keep things quiet and tidy, his tech Ben Gram inserted an Electro-Harmonix Hum Eliminator and a Radial Dragster Load Correction box.
Two of the songs on UMO’s fall setlist required a sitar. Nielson previously toured and recorded with a Rogue Sitar, but found it to be a nuisance to maintain on the road. He searched for a sturdier stand in and found this electric sitar star: a Jerry Jones model whose voice wholly celebrates Nielson’s love for early psych-rock, and matches its chime with rugged dependability.
Nate the Great
Nielson has plugged into all sorts of amps since 2009 when playing under UMO. The longest sidekicks include Fender combos and Orange heads. (When Ruban spoke with PG in 2015, he had a Fender Hot Rod DeVille and an Orange AD 30 head.) He notes in the Rundown that a few years back, he was “getting frustrated with his amp setup and thought he should be like one of those real guitar guys and find a boutique amp company.” After auditioning some combos, he landed on a Benson. One half of Ruban’s stereo setup is the Benson Nathan Junior that maxes out at 5W, has a single JJ 6V6 power tube, and barks with a 10" Celestion Greenback.
Benson in Yamaha's Clothing
Nielson has his feet firmly planted in both amp camps. He appreciates the beef, brawn, and chime only produced by power tubes, but he’s also attracted to the old solid-state amps that offer quirky, charmingly weird tones. Chris Benson’s shop happened to be within walking distance of Nielson’s home, so after becoming acquainted and friendly, Nielson pitched a project for Benson: Could he turn a ’70s solid-state Yamaha TA-20 into a roadworthy tube amp? Benson initially balked at the idea, and Nielson thought his plan was foiled. Three years later, Benson reached out and asked if Nielson still had the Yamaha—he did—so Benson told him to bring it by the shop, and they’d retrofit a Benson circuit into the TA-20. “My weird dream to bring this on tour was finally happening!” says Nielson.
The TA-20 is packed with Benson’s Vinny Reverb guts that includes a JJ EL84 power tube, a 12AX7 preamp tube, a 12DW7, and a JJ 6V6 power tube as a voltage regulator that goes from .25W up to a snarky six watts. The overhauled TA-20 does still have the original polystyrene parallelogram speaker. Both amps are always on, and miked up with Shure SM7Bs.
Ruban Nielson's Pedalboard
Nielson is a tonal tactician. He’s never been satisfied with stock sounds and a pedal’s inherent limitations. “If I find a pedal I like, I use it for a long time and then I try to build a clone to see if I can improve on it,” he explains. “I sit around in my basement tweaking it plugged in—on the breadboard—and changing out different components and adjusting the trim until I get everything just exactly how I want it.” So, looking down at his stomp selection you’ll notice a few nondescript devices on the beautiful Twin Peaks Woodworks pedalboard custom-built by both Nielson’s tech Ben Gram and Caspian guitarist Jonny Ashburn.
His signal hits an Effectrode PC-2A Tube Compressor (you’ll notice two on the board—one is a backup). That’s a change from our 2015 interview, when he he was using an Analog Man Bi-CompROSSor and had it at the end of his chain. (“It’s nice to have a compressor at the end of everything—especially with a phaser pedal, which has frequency spikes,” he said at the time. “It’s nice to control them.”) He enjoys how the PC-2A up front fattens his entire sound, and how it smooths and shaves off the transient tinges. The Strymon Deco has a stereo out that hits a pair of Jam RetroVibes. Both are set to have slightly different speeds and depths so that they really take that stereo signal for a journey in real time, and Dave at FOH has them panned in the PA to really amplify this effect.
One of Nielson’s creations shows up inside the gray box titled “Octave Magic,” which is based on the Foxx Tone Machine. The suede purple devil next to it is the Jam Pedals Fuzz Phrase LTD, about which Nielson says, “It’s the wooliest, most-musical Fuzz Face I’ve ever played.” Sometimes the answer to Nielson’s problems is the Benson Germanium Boost. “If something’s wrong,” he explains, “I’ll kick on that pedal and it makes everything louder and resets the gain structure.” The Gamechanger Audio Plus pedal sees a lot of action throughout the set: it helps Nielson seam the tail end of a solo and discreetly rejoin the band in rhythm mode.
The remaining pedals include a Boss DD-3 Digital Delay (a gift from Mike Baranik), a Danelectro Back Talk reverse delay, an Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail reverb, and in the top-left corner, an unnamed pedal that Nielson built that is currently not in the signal. (He can’t remember if it’s a Rat or Tube Screamer clone.) Utility boxes include a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner, an Electro-Harmonix Switchblade Plus channel selector, and a Lehle Little Dual II switcher.
Shop Ruban Nielson's Rig
Benson Germanium Boost
Boss DD-3 Digital Delay
Danelectro Back Talk Reverse Delay
Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb
Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner
Electro-Harmonix Switchblade Plus Channel Selector
Lehle Little Dual II ABY Switcher
Ernie Ball Super Slinky Strings
See how this badass Texan uses her signature Epiphone Sheratons to create pop-music earworms that get wrapped in barbed wire thanks to a “patent-pending,” 3-pedal-combination trademark.
Emily Wolfe doesn’t play guitar. She bends it to her will. Like a bronco buster taming a stallion, she saddles up on her signature Sheratons and lets it rip. Much of the magic felt and heard on her self-titled debut was pure adrenaline hitting your speaker. Her second album, 2021’s Outlier, incorporated Wolfe’s love of Motown grooves and modern-pop stickiness, both of which refreshed her songwriting with backdrops of more polished, waxy tones, but tumbleweed oscillation, helicopter, square-wave chops, and barbed-wire fuzz are still howls welcomed in this Wolfe pack.
“When I go up there, something could hit me at any point—an emotion that I felt 10 years ago could come out in a bend on the low E. There’s so much rawness [to classic rock]; the edges are not perfect, but there’s a magic in that,” Wolfe told PG in 2021.
But how do you marry earworm poppiness with a gunslinger’s approach to guitar?
“Some of my rock friends say, ‘Pop isn’t relevant,’ and I’m like, ‘What are you talking about—it’s everywhere!’ It’s so sticky for people, and that’s really fascinating to me. I want my music to have that quality … but also the realness of a raw guitar tone. [With Outlier] I wanted to make something that would be classic 10, 20, 30 years from now,” she explained in our profile. “That was the goal, and I think we achieved it.”Before Wolfe’s headlining show at Nashville’s Blue Room (located inside the Third Man Records compound), PG’s Chris Kies joined the shredding songwriter onstage to talk shop. The resulting conversation covers the development behind her Epiphone Sheraton, how a boring night in Cleveland spent with her “Chex-mix-crushing, brother-in-tone” bass player Evan Nicholson convinced her to play a doubleneck guitar, and we discover what three pedals work together to make what she describes as “the sound that belongs to me.”
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Emily Wolfe’s first “real” guitar was an Epiphone Sheraton. (She really wanted a Gibson ES-355 like blues hero B.B. King, but Wolfe was just a strapped college student.) That first experience with a semi-hollowbody guitar had a seminal influence on her guitar-playing journey, contributing to her singular sound. “Every decision I made with my gear was as a result of building my tone around that first Sheraton.” Now honored with a signature Epiphone Sheraton of her own, the Stealth is a modern take on John Lee Hooker’s longtime favored ride. It has a layered maple body with a mahogany neck, signature bolt inlays, a Tune-o-matic bridge, CTS pots, two volume controls and one tone control, and Epiphone’s Alnico Classic PRO pickups. She discreetly put her John Hancock on the back of the headstock. She uses Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalt strings (.010–.046) and strikes them with Dunlop Tortex Jazz III .88 mm picks. This one stays in either standard or drop-D tunings.
The White Wolfe
The “White Walker” edition of Emily’s signature Stealth features all the same specs of the black model aside from the aged bone white finish. This one does take a custom set of Slinkys (.012–.060) and holds a Wolfe-tweaked open-C tuning (C–G–C–E–A–D).
How does a boring night in a Cleveland hotel lead to Wolfe owning a doubleneck Epiphone? Well, her bass player (and best friend) Evan Nicholson wondered if Wolfe had ever tried a doubleneck guitar. She said ‘no,’ and so started the quest to prove that women can rock a pair of necks, too! She acquired this Epiphone G-1275 and uses it mainly for her cover of T. Rex’s “The Slider” by using the lower 6-string (in drop-C) for the rhythm parts and the 12-string for the song’s solo. The two necks tuned separately allow her to put both guitar parts under her hands with one guitar.
Dancing with the DeVille
Saying an amp has “no character” might be seen as negative by some, but Wolfe prefers the “middle-of-the-road” base tone in this Fender Hot Rod DeVille 410 III. It packs plenty of volume, and Wolfe adds, “I get to pick what character I want with my pedals.”
Emily Wolfe's Pedalboard
“If I get a new piece of gear, I have to figure out every single part of it before I can really use it,” Wolfe confessed to PG while talking about Outlier. That sensible curiosity has led her to dialing in precise parameters on the pedals and creating colossal combos with singular Wolfe gain staging. Her silver bullet is the EarthQuaker Devices Tentacle analog octave-up pedal, running into a Fulltone OCD, and an MXR Six Band EQ. She claimed to PG, “That’s the sound that belongs to me.” The sequence creates a “crazy fuzztone” from the overdrive. Then she uses the EQ to reduce some of the lows and boost the mids for a sound she says will get her guitar to cut through any mix.
Other spices in the rack include an Analogman King of Tone, an EarthQuaker Devices Dirt Transmitter fuzz, an Ibanez Analog Delay Mini, an Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe, a Walrus Audio Julia chorus/vibrato, and a Strymon Flint. The Empress Buffer puts the Delay Mini and Flint outside the RJM Mastermind PBC’s control.
But Wait... There's More!
Underneath the hood, Wolfe has tucked in a pair of MXR M109S Six Band EQ pedals (one hitting the King of Tone and the other hitting the OCD), an Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork, an EarthQuaker Devices Tentacle analog octave up, and a couple of Strymon power supplies (Ojai and Zuma).
Shop Emily's Rig
Epiphone Emily Wolfe "White Wolfe" Sheraton
Ibanez Analog Delay Mini Pedal
Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe
Walrus Audio Julia Analog Chorus/Vibrato V2
Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork
MXR M109S Six Band EQ Pedal
EarthQuaker Devices Tentacle
Come on down to the crossroads—or the CMA Theatre in Nashville—as we walk through the jaw-dropping rig of devilishly talented shredder Steve Vai.
Steve Vai is much more than a great guitarist. The American guitarist has established himself as a key figure in guitar culture, and one of the world’s leading masters of shred. Vai broke on the scene in 1980 as Frank Zappa’s transcriptionist, until Zappa hired Vai, age 20, to join his touring band—Zappa allegedly called Vai his “little Italian virtuoso.”
Bolstering his guitar theatrics with sharp songwriting and producing, Vai went on to conquer the world of guitar music, winning three Grammys and selling 15 million records. PG was lucky to be invited to Vai’s recent show at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s CMA Theatre in Nashville, where his tech, Doug MacArthur, took John Bohlinger through Vai’s jaw-dropping current touring rig.
Special thanks to Doug MacArthur for explaining this incredibly complex rig.
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Currently on its fifth neck, Vai’s trusty axe has been a constant for touring and recording since roughly 1992. It sports DiMarzio “Evolution Bridge” pickups in both the neck and bridge position, “EVO gold” Jumbo frets, and a cosmo black Ibanez LO-PRO tremolo. Vai keeps this one in standard tuning, courtesy of .009-.042 Ernie Ball Super Slinkies.
Flo III has been Vai’s main guitar since the late 2000s. This Jem was assembled at the Ibanez Los Angeles Custom Shop, where it was fitted with a Fernandes Sustainer, and modified with a lightly scalloped fretboard. It’s outfitted with EVO gold jumbo frets, a DiMarzio Evolution Bridge pickup, and an Ibanez LO-PRO tremolo. This one also lives in standard tuning, with .009-.042 Ernie Ball Super Slinkies.
A truly unique aesthetic. Circa 2001, BO was the prototype for the “Jem 77BRMR” model. You’ll notice the mirror crazing under the finish, on the forearm contour. This was worked out for production models, but Vai fell in love with the sound of this particular prototype, and has kept it in the touring lineup since the early 2000s. The neck boasts blue LED front and side dot markers, which were done by Martin Sims. It’s equipped with Jumbo Jescar nickel silver frets, a Fernandes Sustainer, a DiMarzio Evolution bridge pickup, and a LO-PRO Ibanez tremolo. This one rides in drop C tuning, with a set of .010-.052 Ernie Ball Skinny Top Heavy Bottoms.
This one is a production model Ibanez John Schofield JSM, outfitted in a loud Bonvillain Dip, with gold leaf binding and unique pin-striping on the back. The electronics are stock, although the tone controls have been disconnected. Little Pretty sports locking Grover tuners, and a Tusq nut. Doug MacArthur has also re-radiused the fretboard to 16” throughout, and re-fretted it with Jumbo EVO gold fretwire, giving this guitar a very familiar feel to Vai. Plus, it’s gussied up with a very well-loved fluffy white strap!
Zeus is a 1998 one-off prototype for the Hoshino 90th anniversary Jem model. Only one 7-string with this aesthetic was made, and it has remained stored away in Steve’s collection until recently, when pulled into touring duty in early 2023. It’s got custom chrome-topped DiMarzio Blaze pickups, and abalone dot inlays, mods made by MacArthur to get it ready for its first tour. It has jumbo nickel-silver frets, and hangs in standard tuning with a low A, thanks to .009-.056 Ernie Balls.
Made in the early 2000s by the Ibanez Custom Shop, this unique Jem/Strat hybrid boasts a classic sound while still maintaining the Vai aesthetic. It’s loaded with Fender Fat 50s single coils, a Wilkinson tremolo, and EVO gold jumbo frets over 21 frets with a custom 12” radius.
The Beast With Three Necks
This Frankenstein monster, known as the Hydra, has one body, two headstocks, and three necks, accommodating both seven- and 12-string guitars as well as a four-string bass and half-fretless neck. Pickup combinations include a sustainer, humbuckers, single-coils, and a piezo. Oh, and did we mention there’s also a harp onboard?
The Beast With Three Necks
The Hydra has two outputs. One is an ethernet cable, and the other is midi.
The ethernet plugs into a custom Hydra Brain built by Ibanez, which is mounted in the middle of the rack. The ethernet input distributes the signal for each individual instrument on the hydra, and the brain gives each instrument its own 1/4” output, as well as a master level control for each instrument. The harp, bass, and 12-string 1/4” brain outputs go into individual inputs of the AXE FX III TURBO, for the Hydra Song Patch. These three instruments utilize effects and amp modeling in the Fractal, and come out stereo to the front-of-house mixing console. The 7-string, however, doesn’t utilize modeling at all. Its output from the brain goes into the Little Lehle III A/B pedal on Vai’s pedalboard, which gets routed into his pedalboard and normal amplifier signal path. In other words, the 7-string runs through Steve’s rig just like his normal guitars.
There are 3 small MIDI trigger buttons hidden in various locations on the Hydra’s body, which trigger sound effects featured in the song. The MIDI cable goes into a small custom-built splitter box, which feeds each trigger button into a Roland TD-27 drum module, hard-mounted in the middle of the rack and routed to front-of-house.
Rack 'Em Up
Vai runs a neon green, 60-foot-long custom DiMarzio instrument cable from his guitar to his board. The first pedal in the chain is a Little Lehle III A/B switch, that allows Vai’s team to switch between the Hydra and his regular guitars.
From there, the signal hits Vai’s Dunlop 95Q automatic wah, modded by MacArthur to remove the gain switch and add a volume and Q control on the left side of the wah. Vai runs the volume pot all the way up, and the Q around 95 percent of the way up.
From there the signal hits an Ibanez Jemini Distortion then a Digitech Whammy DT. Vai always has the right side of the pedal set to jump 7 semitones up from the moment the switch is stepped on. He uses this constantly, and its work can be heard on songs like “Weeping China Doll,” “Lights Are On,” and “Greenish Blues.”
Then the guitar goes into the input of the rack unit. There’s a Morningstar Effects ML5 MIDI looper, which has an Ibanez Jemini (seen on top of the rack) in a loop, that only comes on during various points during the Hydra performance, via MIDI.
After the ML5, the signal flows into two Synergy SYN-2 preamps, which are daisy-chained together to allow Vai full use of all four modules that are loaded into them: two Synergy VAI modules, and two Synergy B-MAN modules. The 2 Vai modules are set fairly similar—the first is his main tone, and the second one is set virtually identical, but with the gain backed down a bit. The B-MAN modules are used mainly for their beautiful clean channels, but also for their great ’70s overdriven channels, which Vai occasionally uses throughout the night. The module channels are controlled via the Mastermind LT MIDI footswitch on Vai’s pedalboard.
From the Synergys, the signal exits into the input of a Fractal Axe FX III Turbo. This unit is controlled simultaneously by the FC-12 switcher on Steve’s pedalboard, and a second FC-12, at MacArthur’s guitar boat. Each song in the set has its own patch in the Fractal, mainly utilizing different digital delays, chorusing, and reverbs for each song. Vai runs his rig in stereo, so the signal exits the Fractal’s outputs via left and right.
From the stereo output of the fractal, the left and right outputs now go into the left and right inputs of the Fryette LX-2 Stereo Tube Power amp. This power amp is 50 watts per-side, and both left and right are controlled via one single volume control, which allows Vai’s team to maintain even levels between the left and right guitar cabinets. Vai usually rides the volume around 1 or 2 o’clock (depending on the venue), with the depth control pushed in. A second LX2 powers Vai’s front-stage 1x12 stereo guitar monitors, which were custom-built by CARVIN.)
The main Fryette sends its output to the Carvin Legacy 4x12 cabinets on stage left and stage right. These cabs are each loaded with a quartet of Celestion Vintage 30s, and feature unique “Inviolate” artwork grill cloth, which MacArthur had custom-made by NoiseyHammer. These cabs have been with Vai for a long time, and can be seen in the Where The Wild Things Are DVD, when they were fitted with custom grill cloths from the Sound Theories album artwork.
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PG’s John Bohlinger joins Derek Wells in the studio to check out the decorated Nashville hit-maker’s recording rig, which includes a custom-built pedalboard and a six-pack of tube amps.
It might actually be easier to list the artists Derek Wells hasn’t worked with, than the ones with whom he has.
The Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist and producer has lent a hand to more than 100 number one singles over the years, with household staples like Kenny Chesney, Maren Morris, Dolly Parton, Carrie Underwood, even Shakira. He’s also piled up production credits with artists like Hardy, Lainey Wilson, Maddie & Tae, and Scotty McCreery, and over the years he’s collected a flashy mantle’s-worth of awards: the Academy of Country Music named Wells their Guitar Player of the Year two times, and he was MusicRow’s 2022 Guitarist of the Year.
Wells invited PG’s John Bohlinger to the studio to run down his main recording rig.
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Make It Rain
“The Money Maker” is Wells’ 1961 Gibson Les Paul SG with original PAF pickups.
Wells’ 1953 Fender Telecaster features a Fralin neck pickup and a Fender lap steel pickup in the bridge.
This 2008 goldtop Gibson Les Paul also sports a Fralin in the neck position, while a vintage PAF pickup holds down the bridge.
Wells’ sharp 2003 Gretsch 6120 runs TV Jones FilterTron pickups.
This bloody good 2000s Danelectro Baritone has been upgraded with custom saddles and bridge from Jeff Senn.
Last but not least, Wells’ 2000s Duesenberg Double Cat is dressed up with an Asher Double Palm Bender.
The Magnificent Six
When Wells goes into a studio session, he doesn’t travel light. This time, he’s brought six trusty friends with him: a Supro Black Magick head, a 1960 Fender Tweed Deluxe, a ’67 50-watt Marshall Plexi, a Matchless HC-30 from 1996, a 1961 white knob Fender Bassman, and a quirky custom amp titled The Knob.This heavy-hitting tonal bullpen runs through either a Matchless 1x12 or a Bogner 4x12.
Drowned In Tape
Wells’ amp rack houses a gorgeous old Roland Chorus Echo RE-501, while the rest of his effects are on his pedalboard built by Nashville’s XAct Tone Solutions (XTS).
XTS constructed Wells’ do-it-all-and-then-some board utilizing a Gig Rig G3 Switching System. Right now, the stomp headquarters includes a Line 6 M9, Strymon’s Mobius and Timeline, a Mission Engineering Expressionator, Electro-Harmonix’s Micro Synth, a MXR Bass Compressor, and doubles of the Boss GE-7 Equalizer (which have both been modded by XTS). Wells gets his dirt from an Ibanez MT10 Mostortion, a REVV Shawn Tubbs Tilt Overdrive, XTS’ own Winford Drive, and Xotic’s RC Booster. A modded Digitech XP series pedal, a Boss FV-500H, and a Dunlop DVP3 round out the collection.
Witness how this Ecuadorian-via-Switzerland duo evokes everything that’s beautiful and bleak from the desert, using hollowbodies, a serendipitous Strymon, and rhythmic hypnosis to paint an Ennio Morricone soundscape.
When some people travel, they take photos on their phone to remember the trip. Old-soul voyagers will recount their adventures with pen and paper. But for Alejandro and Estevan Gutiérrez, who together make the globetrotting Ecuadorian-Swiss duo Hermanos Gutiérrez, their experiences conjure soundtracks, and a visit years ago to the American Southwest changed their sound forever.
A couple years after forming their duo, the brothers took a trip through Death Valley and the Mojave Desert. “It just blew our minds,” Estevan told PG. The desert, he says, “is where our music was born.”
“Part of what we’re doing is traveling together as brothers,” Alejandro told PG in 2022. “We go to places, we come back and we’re feeling inspired, and we feel like we’ve gotta write something about this place.”
After finding bountiful inspiration in the West, the duo began turning out mystical compositions, like sonic souvenirs and passport stamps on their consciousness. “It’s just beautiful where we can go with this music,” Alejandro said last year. “It’s just my brother and I together, and we’re so happy to have this.”
The sold-out Hermanos Gutiérrez concert at Nashville’s Basement East on June 20th marked their first time performing in Music City since recording El Bueno Y El Malo with Dan Auerbach at Easy Eye Sound in 2022. The pair invited PG’s Chris Kies onstage to decode their spellbinding cinematic sounds. The conversation touched on their symbiotic alchemy, enchanting hollowbodies, and how a single Strymon reset their slow-burn backdrop.Brought to you by D’Addario Nexxus 360 Tuner.
Like their muse the desert, the brothers’ setups are sparse. Each one totes a single hollowbody. Alejandro travels with his 1963 Silvertone 1446, which is stock except for a refret and custom-made, snake-like Bigsby arm, both done by longtime Dan Auerbach tech Dan Johnson. (You might recognize Dan from his three different Black Keys Rig Rundowns. Check out the latest one from 2019!)
Alejandro is a fingerstyle player (inspired by Estevan) and, at the suggestion of Johnson, uses Pyramid Gold Heavy (.013–.052).
For songs like “Tres Hermanos,” Alejandro gets down with this 1940s Rickenbacker Electro NS lap steel.
Estevan connected with Dan Auerbach’s 1958 Gretsch 6120 “Rudy” while tracking El Bueno Y El Malo at Easy Eye Sound last year. For road duties, he never leaves home without his own Gretsch G6120T-59 Vintage Select 1959 Chet Atkins hollowbody. Inspired by a random YouTube video of an older gentleman playing Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk,” Estevan built a partnership with the 6120. “I’ve tried many, many guitars, but none of them gives me the sound that is me except this Gretsch,” he says. Estevan puts D’Addario EXL 115 (.011–.049) strings on his creamy crusader.
Check out all the hip hardware substitutions and rattlesnake-approved artwork on Estevan’s 6120.
Given that Nashville and Easy Eye have become an oasis for Hermanos Gutiérrez, it makes sense they would take advantage of the studio’s library of vintage and vibey gear. For the Basement East show, Alejandro borrowed a 1960s Fender Deluxe Reverb from Easy Eye and plugged into the first input of the vibrato circuit.
Spaghetti in Stereo
When creating El Bueno Y El Malo, Estevan plugged into Auerbach’s vintage Magnatone for the whole recording process. (You can really hear the amp’s magic vibrato pulsing during the album’s opening title track.) For this show, he compromised by running his 6120 into a modern Magnatone Panoramic Stereo model.
Alejandro Gutiérrez’s Pedalboard
Alejandro packs light with a compact board that holds a MXR Dyna Comp Mini, a Boss GE-7 Equalizer, a Strymon Flint, and the influential Strymon El Capistan. While Estevan discovered the El Cap and unlocked its magic for Hermanos Gutiérrez (more on that in a second), Alejandro has molded it to his sound in different ways. “I use it as a layer,” he explains. “Really subtle. My brother uses it more as a delay. He has this horse sound, like this galloping sound he can create with his slapping, which only he can do.” A Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner keeps the Silvertone in line.
Estevan Gutiérrez’s Pedalboard
You can see that Estevan utilizes nearly every square inch of his pedalboard. Overlaps between the brothers’ boards include the MXR Dyna Comp Mini, the Strymon Flint, and the aforementioned Strymon El Capistan. You might think their setup is basic now, but they used to play sans pedals. Eventually, Estevan discovered the Strymon El Capistan, and their sound was never the same. “I remember that day,” he recounted to PG about first playing the pedal. “I fell in love. I knew it was gonna change something in our sound.” As soon as he purchased the El Capistan, he called his brother and said, “You have to buy this. This is gonna be next level for us.”
The remaining effects for Estevan include a Malekko Omicron Vibrato, a Boss RC-500 Loop Station, and a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner (off the board) keeps his Gretsch in check. Lastly, you’ll notice a G7th Performance 3 ART Capo on the pedalboard, too.