Searching for sounds
“Are you sure there’s only three of you?” someone once asked as we were unloading all our gear from the van. I think we all like having a variety of sounds to choose from and hopefully using all these different instruments creates interesting textures for our songs.
As a musician the search for your own sound can be quite a journey and sometimes a continuous one. I’ve always loved to experiment with sounds, techniques and equipment.
When the band first started I was trying to get quite a pure acoustic sound out of my guitars. The trouble was at that time I really hated the under saddle type of pick-ups, especially since I’m mainly a finger picker. They just sounded sterile and nothing like the guitar. After a few rather expensive experiments I decided to change directions and started using magnetic sound hole pick ups, some of these were quite cheap but distinctive. It wasn’t a pure acoustic sound but somewhere in between acoustic and electric.
After that I started getting into old arch top guitars. I absolutely love them and feel right at home with this style of guitar. The sound and feel is really alive and you pick up on the resonance of the instrument much more than with a solid body electric. I use quite heavy gauge strings on all of my guitars. This adds an acoustic quality to my sound and changes the way I approach the guitar, you kind of have to fight a little for each note.
As I often say, I’m a dedicated and faithful husband but as far as guitars go I’m a complete slut. I think most guitarists are the same and as you get older they just seem to accumulate. I’ve also been given some lovely instruments too. In fact I’d say the best guitars find you, rather that the other way round.
1952 Gibson 125 with P90 pick-up
Late 50’s early 60’s Hofner Committee – with modified Broadway pick-up
Lowden S23 with DeArmond & LR Baggs Ibeam pick-ups
This guitar and tuning came into it’s own on our album ‘Blue Trash’ and featured on 7 tracks. The tuning is close to what is known as a Baritone guitar, which I think is in ‘B’. The little twist that I came up with was to switch the 1st and 2nd strings around. So from low to high it goes: CGCGEC. Having the high E string (representing the major 3rd in the chord) in that position creates some interesting textures. Finding all these new chord shapes and intervals really inspired me as a songwriter.
It was also at this point that the band introduced some unusual percussion. With Constance on Zydeco washboard, Maurice on Udu drum combined with myself playing the low tuned Lowden, a whole new sound for us developed.
Martin Backpacker acoustic
Crafter SA12 12-string
An extremely home-made Diddly bow
…and a few others
1938 Vega Archtop
When I was about 15 and playing guitar for a year, on old nylon string classical guitar which was a bit hard to rock out on, a massive shift took place. One day my old friend Everett Bigbee put an electric guitar in my hands showed me how to play ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and plugged me into a cranked up fender amp. YEEEEOOOOWWWW!!!!
…I’ve been hooked on Fender Amps ever since. The three I use live are a late 60’s Fender Super Reverb, 70’s Fender Deluxe Reverb and a 90’s Fender Pro Jr. All have been modified by my friend and amp guru Jesse Hoff. Jesse also builds his own amps and has started his own company, Lazy J projects.
I was really honoured when he loaned me one of his Lazy J20 amps for the recording of our new CD. It really sounded amazing, warm yet clear and very sensitive to ones touch on the guitar. I’m saving up for one now to call my own. These amps have been getting rave reviews and you can’t argue when Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Joe Walsh (Eagles) & Mike Campbell (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) are just a few of your happy customers.
When I was young and doing more heavy rock stuff I really liked using a few effects but when I originally headed into a more rootsy acoustic style I didn’t use any. These days I now incorporate quite a few effects into my style. Being able to change from the rootsy acoustic style to a sound with much more edge really appeals to me and even going into psychedelic areas has a place in our music. Like anything, use it too much and it has little effect but a little here and there can add quite a lot of dynamics and emotion.
For live work I have a pedal board that only changes a bit now and then but in the studio I’ll bring in extra things to experiment with.
My guitar signal is sent to:
1st split signal
2nd signal from spliter
Morley Power Wah Fuzz
…and sometimes simple is best
I really love working with all this stuff but there is something very organic and calming when I just sit in a room with nice acoustics, grab my old Vega and just play….magic.
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