Tools of the Trade: Musicians Talk About Their Gear Collections - Part One

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Tools of the Trade: Musicians Talk About Their Gear Collections - Part One

In the most recent edition of interview compilation articles, we explore some of the gems hiding in the vast collection of gear of some musicians covering several genres. Some of these gems are rare or vintage guitars, some have some sort of significance to the artist or music history, and some are essential to the artist’s tone. Some of the responses simply expose a glaring lack of a guitar collection, proof that all a musician really needs is one guitar. It’s just a lot more fun to have a bunch of them. If any of you have any interesting gear in your collection – unique, rare, or significant pieces of gear – please share them with us.

Richard Fortus (Guns N' Roses, Thin Lizzy, Dead Daisies)

Justin: We could (and perhaps someday we should) spend a very long time talking about the amazing collection of gear you’ve got in your arsenal. Guitars, like people, have unique backstories – where they came from and where they’ve been. Which guitars or amps have the most interesting backstories and could you share those with us?

Richard: I’ve got some good ones. I have a 1973 Fender Stratocaster that I bought from Ted Turner of Wishbone Ash. I also have a 1959 TV Les Paul Jr. that was owned by Steve Marriott (Small Faces, Humble Pie). I have a couple of old Marshalls that are very special to me, that I bought from Mick Mars (Motley Crue). You’re right, we could spend a LONG time talking about this subject!

Justin: Do you bring your vintage guitars on the road or are they strictly for studio use?

Richard: The last vintage guitar that I took on the road with me was when I was touring with Thin Lizzy. I took a 1956 TV Les Paul Jr. Jimmy Gravity, my guitar repair guy, convinced me that I owed it to the fans! It got pretty beat up, but I’m glad I took it. Ultimately, guitars SHOULD be played, not collected! Lately, I’ve been using these amazing guitars made by Leo Scala. They have that magical feel, tone and mojo of a vintage guitar. Truly amazing instruments. Also, I love my James Trussart guitars. They are also true works of art.

Justin: Leo Scala makes some great guitars. I’ve had the pleasure of playing one of those.

Richard: I think he is the finest craftsman of solid body instruments that I have found. I have never heard a better sounding Les Paul style guitar and, aesthetically, he is unsurpassed.

Justin: Your Trussart Strat has a left handed headstock on it. Are they made like that or is that something you requested? Do they have any other mods?

Richard: I’d asked James to put the left handed headstock on because I like more tension on the low strings. It gives it more of a piano-like quality, while the upper strings are easier to bend, with less tension. I also asked him to reverse the angle of the bridge pickup. The pickups were clones of my favorite Strat (a 1960 slab board). They were made by Arcane pickups and they are absolutely beautiful.

Mike Ness (Social Distortion)

The guitar that I write on is a 1940 Gibson J-45. I have three of them – I searched high and low for them. I had a 1940 Martin D-18 that I sold last year; I’m just a Gibson guy. I gravitate to the Gibson J-45 every time I write. It’s a balladeer’s guitar. Then my main guitar that I use on stage and recording is a 1976 Gibson Goldtop Deluxe. When I got that guitar I took the humbuckers out and tossed them immediately into the trashcan and replaced them with P-90s. I learned that trick from Neil Young. The rear is a Seymour Duncan P90 pickup that is made especially for me the way I like it. The guitar has a Maple neck and I use a capo. And something about that Goldtop with the Maple neck and a capo makes open chords ring out really nicely. The trick is to find one under 9 pounds which is hard to do.

My amp is a 1967 Fender Bassman which has been modified by Billy Zoom who owns that company Divided by 13. It’s modified with a preamp to give it better tone at lower volumes. Those Bassmans sound great at 10 but it was killing the microphone at that level so he modified it for me and it works really nice now. I play through that 50 watt head through 2 vintage Marshall Cabinets with Greenback Celestion Speakers. That’s my tone. It’s very organic because I don’t like a lot of processed sound.

Bruce Kulick (KISS, Grand Funk Railroad)

Probably my favorite is my old Les Paul is what they call a “Conversion” because it was originally a Gold Top in ’53 they didn’t make sunbursts yet, it still has a very, very beautiful maple top to it. It was stripped professionally and painted twice, a second time by Gibson’s Tom Murphy, pretty famous for Murphy’s finishes are very well sought after. My dad repainted it and it looked terrible it was a guitar that was in my family since ’74 actually my brother got and he didn’t want it, I guess it was ten years later and he didn’t want it anymore so I bought it from him. And it’s on everything I’ve done, it’s the guitar on “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” and on “Forever” you know I’ve just used it on a lot of stuff including my solo record of course.

Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters, Dead Peasants)

Well for the [solo] record I got this old 1970s Telecaster Deluxe a few years back and I played that on most of the record. I also played my Strat, a B-Bender, my 175, my 335, and my Gretsch Chet Atkins. I was always a Gibson guy and I only got into playing my Fenders in the past few years. But I really like the tone on that Tele Deluxe – that was probably my favorite guitar. For amps we just used a Deluxe Reverb, a Super Reverb, and a Vox AC-30. For my live setup with Dead Peasants, I play my Tele Deluxe and my Strat and I’m running that through a Super Reverb and an AC-18 in stereo. I also use a Red Snapper distortion box and a Small Stone.

Joe “Blower” Garvey (Hinder)

We’ve got a few Fenders and Ibanez’s on some of our stuff that we’ve played around with [While making All American Nightmare]. I’ve got a Les Paul Studio which is the main guitar I’ve used in the studio throughout my career. My oldest guitar is that ’73 335 and I’ve experimented with it in the studio quite a bit. Our first producer, who did the first two albums, Brian Howes, had a Goldtop that we used a lot. I have a black Les Paul Custom which I have on the road with me right now actually. That’s one of the things I bought when we recorded in Vancouver because we needed more guitars to record with and it was just perfect.

Howard Leese (Bad Company, Heart)

I do have more [guitars] than I probably should have. At one time when I was with Heart I probably had a couple hundred guitars. I have about half of that now because I’ve given a lot away and traded nine for one or ten for one. So I have fewer but it’s a tighter collection. I have a lot of PRS guitars because I work with that company so I probably have 20 PRS guitars. I have quite a few old vintage guitars too; the good old stuff. I have the Golden Eagle and they just made 100 copies of it. I have one of the copies too. [The Golden Eagle is a PRS that was built by Paul Reed Smith himself out of a 300 year old maple dresser. It is said to be worth $500,000. The copies go for about $10,000]

Paul Reed Smith

Justin: Owning a guitar company, I would imagine that you have a rather expansive collection of guitars yourself.

Paul: No. I have three guitars and my wife owns one of them.

Phil Campbell (Motorhead)

I’ve got the Scotty Moore Number 1 guitar, they only made 12 of them and mine is the #1. I’ve got a Gibson 125 from 1961 which is really nice. I’ve got a ‘66 SG in Pelham Blue, all original. I’ve got an acoustic Gretsch New Yorker from 1948. Brian May is sending me a black version of his “Red Special” guitar and I’m looking forward to receiving that. I’ve lost a few over the years too. I bought Brian Robinson’s Les Paul, the one with the white scratch plate that he used on The Thin Lizzy album, “Live and Dangerous” [Brian was also a member of Motorhead in the early 80’s] and that got stolen. But I’ve got over 200 guitars left.

James “J.Y.” Young (Styx)

I’ve got a vintage ’65 Stratocaster which I was the second owner of- I got it in ’68 I think. And I used that on all the classic Styx albums in our heyday all the way up until the 80’s. It might have some vintage value had I not put different pickups and things like that to it over the years.

Typically I’m a guy who plays a Strat, and that’s mostly due to Hendrix and his influence on me. All my Strats have locking tremolos so they stay in tune. Starting back in 1990, I discovered these Sustainiac devices which were on Kramer Guitars. Then Kramer went out of business I realized that the feedback, which is so hard to get and control in a live setting, this allows us to get that. Normally in order to get feedback, you need to crank your amp up really loud. This device allows you to get feedback at lower volumes, it’s an amazing thing. I’ve been using those devices for 20 years. I was using Kramer Guitars in the 90’s and then I found out I could get Sustainiacs installed on Stratocasters and that, along with some pushing from Tommy, I found my way back to the Stratocaster.

Barry Stock (Three Days Grace)

I’m an Ibanez guy. It’s funny, even when I was a teenager I played Ibanez guitars and I still do today. One of the coolest guitars I had when I was a teenager was a 1977 Ibanez. I know Ibanez doesn’t like to talk about it but the seventies there was a time they call “The Lawsuit Era” which was when Ibanez was knocking off Gibson guitars and making them better than Gibson did at the time and it caused them a lot of trouble. I had a 1977 Ibanez Destroyer in Korina. And that was one guitar I got rid of that I even kept a photo of it in my wallet for all these years. I missed that guitar, man. So I said if I see one of those again I’m going to get it. And it’s funny; I’ve been dealing with Ibanez now for years. Some of my stuff is Custom Shop. But a few years ago I went on this big vintage kick where I was scooping up all the 70’s stuff that I love. I ended up finding one of those ’77 Destroyers and I have that on the road with me right now. During that collecting period, I got a couple double necks (a white one and a red one), a few Flying V’s, a couple different Destroyers.

Steve Jones (Sex Pistols)

I’ve had a lot of guitars. None of them really meant anything to me, like you said, they’re tools. I guess one that I used the most was the white Les Paul Custom that came from Sylvain Sylvain [New York Dolls]. That was probably the one that meant the most to me. Also, there was a Gretsch that came from, funnily enough, Sylvain Sylvain, it then went to Joe Strummer, then to me, and then went to Phil Lynott and it’s in the Lynott Museum in Ireland right now.

Pete Loeffler (Chevelle)

Pete: I started out collecting a bunch of baritones so I do have sort of a decent sized baritone collection that ranges from Gibson to Fender to PRS to Danelectro to Ibanez. Whenever I saw a baritone I would buy it just because I was playing in A# all the time. Nowadays when we play a headline set, it might be only two or three songs in A#. It used to be a lot more. But since I’ve gone up to B and C, which is still low but it’s not low enough to need a baritone. Another guy I’m a big fan of is Jim Root. I’ve spoken to him a few times over the years and he’s given me some good tips – he’s a Strat guy. I actually have some of his signature models that are my backups in my live rig. I had to get a few of those and then customize them for my tone by putting in some Seymour Duncan Custom Customs and things like that. But those are good heavy toned guitars. But I have a collection of about 55 guitars now. It’s just what happens. I’ve been a guitar player since I was 12 years old and I have a lot of the guitars I started out with like old Kramers and little shredder guitars that I would buy the guitar magazines and go through the tabs and learn the solos. I think it was a good way to start out. It gave me good technique. I don’t play a lot of solos now but I had a lot of people come up and ask me why I don’t solo more. So on this last record I threw in some solos. They’re not crazy but I love my Holy Grail pedal and my wah pedal. Actually I use a bass wah pedal with an auto off switch – I don’t think a lot of people know that. I love that pedal and it works for guitars too, go figure, right? I’m going to try to experiment a little more musically on the next album as far as solos go but I got back into the idea of solos a little bit on this last record. So hopefully people dig it, I like to play it live, and it’s fun.

Justin: You typically play Strats now. After your departure from “the other company” [PRS], what made you switch to Strats? Why not switch to something that traditionally has humbuckers?

Pete: Well I just looked at my situation. I didn’t see eye to eye with the way that the Paul Reed Smith Company was headed. I didn’t get the attention over there that I had hoped for and some things went down. I had a huge collection of Fender Strats anyway so I just started breaking out the Sub Sonics and playing those live. It was just a natural progression - I liked how they felt when they hang on my shoulder. They’re not too heavy like a Les Paul, which have great tone and I love those. I have a few Les Pauls also. But a Fender Strat just fit me and it didn’t fatigue my back that much. I can’t really argue with their legacy either. Some of my favorite guitarists in the past have played Fender Strats. Some of the greatest innovators that have ever played guitar played Strats. I love the look of them. I was trying to get to know John 5 a little bit because he’s a huge Fender guy and I met up with him in Germany. We played a show with them and we talked about Fender and how much passion he has for them. It kind of kicked my butt into gear and reinforced what I was already feeling. He plays metal and is just a huge Fender Tele fan, it’s crazy. So I thought maybe I can make the Strat work for metal. So I got ahold of Fender and started to get a relationship going with them and they made me a mahogany gold Strat that I love and that is what initially sent me down the mahogany road and now I search for those online and I buy them whenever I can. It’s turned into a pretty cool relationship and I hope it keeps going.

Max Cavalera (Soulfly)

[The guitars I’m most proud of are my signatures…] Simplicity is the key for me. The less complicated the better; straight up, 4 strings, just one volume knob. So, just plug it in and you’re ready to go. The 4 string trademark happened long ago in Brazil. I broke the two little strings and my roadie said, “Well, we can buy the strings or we can buy beer.” So, I said lets buy beer and just leave those two off. So that’s how it started and since then it’s become my trademark. Now any new guitar I get I just take the bottom two strings off.

I have a couple new designs [for signature models] in mind I just have to talk to ESP and see what’s up. I did draw one that I think is kind of cool and I would like to make that as my own design. I have to talk to them about that still. So far I have two signatures, The Viper and The Axe. And I’ve been using them on tour. I also have a line of camouflaged Axe guitars that I’m using now. But I love ESP, they are a great guitar company. I get along really good with them and they seem really cool.

Chris Bishop (Crobot)

Justin: You were playing a Telecaster Deluxe today, but your sound was so thick. So, why Telecasters and how do you get such a deep tone out of them?

Chris: Well, they’re bluesy guitars, they’re country guitars and when this band was starting to get together I was getting really into chicken picking. I love the bite of a Tele for that. But that paired with a low octave effect, almost like a CKY-ish tone with the low octave effect. I never want to get Zakk Wylde-y with the high octave because everyone does that now. But that low octave seems to compensate for all the frequencies that a single coil tele doesn’t reach and that octave effect fills up that space and creates this huge expansive sound. So you get the attack and the metallic sound of the strings of a tele but you still get the full sound with the low octave on it. You’ve got to know when to use that though because if you dig in on those octave pedals, you will get that shrill sound. The tele is a very dynamic instrument and you need to know how to use it to get the sound you want for the band you’re in.

Justin: You’re rocking the P90 pickups in there as well.

Chris: Yeah they’re a little bit hotter than the standard single coils and you get a little more noise and feedback which is cool because I can use that to run my other effects stuff. You also need to know how much head room you have in your amp in order to control the feedback you’re getting from that. The P90s are great and going between the humbuckers and the P90s, they’re completely different.

Is there anything else gear-wise that has worked its way into your rig after all the experimentation [on the new album Welcome to Fat City]?

Chris: When we were down there, we had the Earthquaker Devices guy come there and gave me two of their pedalboards for the recording. So we had all of their pedals. We used a lot of their stuff. A lot of it was for fuzz tones and some tremolo. I forget the exact pedal we used but we used a lot of Earthquaker devices for tone textures. But for my live pedalboard, the biggest thing I added to it is the cheesiest pedal I have ever seen or ever heard. When we were recording, it was this big joke between me and Adrian, who was the engineer that I worked with recording guitars, but it’s an Ibanez Airplane Flanger. It’s this big pink pedal. It’s a Paul Gilbert signature pedal. We would come to a certain part and we would joke about it being the cheesiest sound in the world. It’s got this “Take Off” button and when you hit it, it overrides everything that your guitar is doing and does this Bozo clown sound, it’s ridiculous. That actually make the record a lot. It almost sounds like a dive bomb. I use that live, it’s fun to just smash that button and things just go crazy. Other than that, I’m still running the Steve Vai Time Machine Delay for the crazy oscillations. I’ve got an Ibanez Echoshifter for another delay that I use a lot. I used that a lot on the first album as well. I’ve got a Bad Horsie Wah, spring loaded wahs are great – I use them for filters and also big crushing nose-downs. I’ve been using the Earthquaker Hoof Reaper which has two different fuzzes on it – it’s a great pedal. It also has an analog high octave up which is great to layer with the MicroPOG. I use the Micro POG for all my octave stuff. That’s really about it. I’ve got an Empress tape delay – which I use for all my traditional delays. I just bought a Hall of Fame Reverb. I’ve never really messed with reverb much but for this album we definitely put a lot of reverb on it so I felt that I needed to buy a reverb pedal. So that was my first introduction to reverb. I like it, it’s cool. It’s a cheaper pedal. I’m sure at some point I’ll get something fancier, maybe a Shaman reverb or something.

Justin: I like cheap though. Cheap is good.

Chris: Yeah it was maybe like 90 bucks. And I’m used to paying 300 bucks a pedal for anything I really like. I just bought a pedal train Pro. It’s a lot bigger board and I put an AB switcher on there now because I’ve been having issues with my cables going on me. So I put the AB switch so that I can just click it on and go directly into the amp. That’s saved my life a lot. Things break. I’m like a big clumsy monkey on stage. Just a big lanky hairy sweaty monkey.

Adrian Belew (Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Paul Simon, King Crimson, Talking Heads, ect)

Justin: Let’s talk about the gear that drives those very diverse projects – you’re a Parker Fly player, those are pretty unique guitars, in their look and their construction.

Adrian: Well the Parker Fly, the day I picked it up I was in Tokyo, Japan and they brought it by my room, they weren’t actually bringing me the guitar to try, they were bringing me a box to try but they loaned me the guitar to try it with. From the moment I picked it up I felt like it was something completely different. It just totally matched everything that I wanted. It was the proper size, weight, feel, balance, and once I realized that the darn thing stayed in tune no matter how abusive I was with the tremolo arm, I was in love. I said this is the instrument for me. I didn’t immediately adopt it as my instrument because I had very customized Stratocasters that I still have and I still love. But they had MIDI and they had sustainer pickups and things like that and that wasn’t a part of the Parker Fly. It took me a few years to dawn on me that maybe Parker Fly would customize one for me which is what they did over four years and that eventually became the Adrian Belew Model Parker Fly, their first signature model they had made. Since then, that guitar has my heart, totally. It makes me play better, I feel like it makes me sound better, it’s just so much a part of me now I don’t even think about it. It fits me so perfectly. It’s very versatile, you can get a lot of different sounds out of it and as I mentioned before, it stays perfectly in tune. I can restring that guitar and within five minutes it will stay perfectly in tune. Mine is set up so you can pull the tremolo a full third up and down as far as you want and it still stays in tune. So that guitar has become my voice. But that doesn’t exclude other guitars. I have probably forty or fifty guitars sitting around here. You know there is something so different about a big bodied Gretsch or a Rickenbacker 12 string, all the different guitars I have here I have because they all have their own characteristics and their own sound and they cause me to do something I wouldn’t do on another instrument. I’m not a collector of guitars. I just have the guitars that cause me to do something musically.

Justin: The Parker Fly is pretty unique in its construction. They were using carbon fiber way back before anyone else was. How did you change the design for the Adrian Belew model?

Adrian: The guitar was already designed and it took Ken Parker 20 years to design it. He realized all the inadequacies that normal guitars have – intonation problems, frets going bad, tuning, balance, and all those kinds of things. So he set out to redesign the guitar and I think he took a very revolutionary and basic way to do it. What I really wanted to do on the Adrian Belew model is update the electronics. The Parker Fly came out in the 80’s and by the time I got around to it, there were a lot of cool things you could do that needed to be incorporated into the guitar. Ken Parker told me that when they first designed the guitar, they meant for it to be a MIDI guitar. But they felt it was already so revolutionary that they didn’t want to go too far out. So it took about four years to figure out how to make all of those things work in concert and put them in the back of the guitar which is so thin and small. When my guitar tech who lives here in Nashville, he’s very well know, his name is Joe Glaser, he works for all the stars here, when he opens up the back of the guitar, he almost passes out. Every time he comments on how he can’t believe how they got all that stuff in there. It’s so tight that it’s almost hard to work on but it’s got every bell and whistle that I wanted on it. We actually put on the Line6 Variax System as well. So then you have a guitar that has its own magnetic pickups, it’s got Piezo pickups, it has 26 different guitar sounds from the Variax, it can sustain at any volume, full on sustain, and it’s a MIDI guitar so it can turn itself into any MIDI instrument – piano, saxophone, whatever.

To be continued…

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Saw the word 'Tool' in the headline and insta-clicked. I'm pathetic...
    Tool sucks...
    Devil Biscuit
    It takes balls to say that around here, congrats.
    I did it for the lolz. But seriously Tool is boring and all their stuff I have heard is kinda boring. Never really cared for them. I will give them props for their success they have done well for themselves. Just not my thing.
    In comparison to what?
    Tool is cool, but they're totally overrated. Their two least interesting members get all the attention.
    And why are Maynard and Maynard not interesting? In my eyes that's quite subjective.
    Your mom. (I am kidding obviously but I know I need to put that out there nowadays because people don't know what a joke or sarcasm is)
    Really interesting and some very different takes on guitars by different players. Great article.
    Somebody ask Joe Perry, he has like 400 guitars and I'm sure that he has a story for every guitar
    I really don't get the whole playing 3-4 steps down metal with a strat.. with a custom custom--a very treble ranged pickup, just seems like a sloppy stringed tin can sounding disaster..but they make it work..