ERIC JAMES / ENDCASTLE

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EndCastle: Facebook / Instagram / Bandcamp / Spotify

1. Take me through that luscious rig of yours.

Guitar: 2014 Gibson Firebird

Pedals: Dunlop 535q Multi-Wah > EarthQuaker Devices BitCommander > ToneBone Hot British > ZVEX Box of Rock > Boss RV5 Reverb > Boss DD7 > TC Electronic Flashback > TSVG Emperor > Mad Professor Ruby Red Booster > TC Electronic Spark Boost > TC Electronic Poly Tune

Amp: Music Man RD100

Cabinet: Hand built by my buddy, Frank Andrews. It has 2 12″ Warehouse speakers.

I have a lot of distortion options on my set up and they all sound different. I usually use two of them at the same time. I can go from Skynyrd-style distortion to Dimebag Darrell distortion really quick. I recently picked up the BitCommander, which makes some incredible sounds. It sounds like a synth at times. I haven’t found a use in any of our songs for it but I cant wait to use it in one. For now I just use it for sound effects. I love my TC Electronic Poly Tuner. A lot of people don’t like the idea of it or are scared of it or say it doesn’t work but I have had lots of success. My old boss TU2 I couldn’t see during daytime shows at all, I think they fixed that on the TU3 though. My Poly Tuner pedal is so bright and clear its unbeatable, and once you get used to it, you just strum all the strings at once and it tells you if one is sharp or flat, it makes quick work of tuning in between songs or even during.

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2. Diggin’ the assortment of pedals on the board: I noticed you have two delays on your board — what is each for and why did you choose those two to use?

I use the Boss DD7 for just basic delay use. It has a built-in tap tempo that I’ll use. It is a powerhouse delay that I under-utilize however, only because it is a pain to get down on the floor and mess with the dials during a show. I like to just set it and forget it.

The Flashback delay is also a powerhouse – I wish I had bought the big boy one – the Flashback X4, which has presets and whatever else you need. I use the Flashback for modulated delays. It has a mode for Reverse which does exactly what it says, believe it or not. I go back and forth between the Reverse and the Lo-fi mode. The Lo-fi also does what the name says, it roughens up the sound of the delays and sounds like an old low-fi Beck cassette.

More often than not, I have both the DD7 and the Flashback going at the same time. It works great when clean or distorted. Most of the times I’ll use it clean with the DD7 on and the Flashback delay set on reverse and the notes ring out with a ghostly delay that creeps up back on the note again.

3. Same question with the boosters: Why use both a Ruby Red and a Spark?

The Spark has been on my set up for a few years now and will never leave. It’s a great little boost that I can use for solos to bring my level up a bit. A nice feature with the Spark is that you can either click it on and click it off like a normal pedal, or if you hold your foot down on the switch – it activates – and when you take your foot off, it will turn off right away, so it helps prevent my treestump feet from tripping up on stage, which still happens often.

The Ruby Red is kind of on loan to me from Jesse [Kling, guitarist in Dead Feather Moon]. I use it as a treble boost. I don’t run any EQ pedals and so my Firebird can at times sound more like a Crow when I don’t have any pedals going — so this adds a nice treble boost. It’s a night-and-day difference really and since I received it, I have had it turned on pretty much non stop. I used it in the studio on two tracks recently, and it is the only pedal in use I think for one of the songs.

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4. I remember talking with you about your guitars one time and you mentioned the Firebird was like the worst guitar ever built. But you’ve got it in your rig — why is that?

I have a weird relationship with the Firebird — anyone who has played in a band with me knows it. They are great guitars, but mine was a lemon, and Gibson was no help. Around the time I purchased my guitar, I noticed that a few of my guitar heroes were quietly switching from Gibson. Zakk Wylde, for example, who is known for his massive Gibson collection and signature Gibson guitars, all of a sudden cut ties with them and launched his own brand. Now as we all know, Gibson is dealing with bankruptcy issues. I feel like it is because their quality has gone way down.

I wanted a Firebird ever since seeing the Def Leppard “Hysteria” album tour videos as a kid; 15 years later I finally got one. I should have backed away from the deal when the ‘Big Guitar Store’ employee couldn’t figure out how to tune it, nearly twisting the wrong end of the tuner off, and wouldn’t take my advice of turning the tuning knobs on the back of the head stock. Shortly down the road, it would have tuning, electrical, and cosmetic issues. As soon as I’d fix a problem, another would pop up. I want to point out that the Steinberger Tuners they used for only about one year on the Firebird are both incredible and also the worst thing to go on a Gibson. If one breaks, which they do, you cant just buy one you have to buy the whole pack of 6. Steinberger went out of business and Gibson would not tell me what I was supposed to do with my broken tuner. I had to look on eBay dozens of times per day because apparently it was in high demand, but there weren’t many out there. If it did pop up it would be a pack of 6 for almost $500. I got super lucky one day, months later, and only had to pay $50.

I remember one night throwing my guitar against a tree at an outdoor party that my cover band played, it has honestly played better since that night. I’ll occasionally go back and forth between it and my Telecaster and my SG, but the Firebird fits on me much better and Ill never get rid of it.

5. Love the cabinet you’re playing through: Looks like one of those old Marshall 4×12” tall boys. Surely it must be a pain to haul that around — why not play a smaller combo and mic it live?

It looks massive, but really isn’t too bad. My buddy Frank, who I used to play with (he now plays in SD’s best Black Crowes tribute band The Black Crowes Revival) built it for me. It has two 12″ Warehouse speakers. Really nothing special inside there but it makes a good sound. The top speaker is angled up to my head so I can hear it at shows where we don’t have monitors. I have often thought about a smaller combo and I used to have smaller combos but I like that it is tall so it’s easy for me to turn knobs during the show or more importantly set my beer on top of it so I don’t have to bend down and pick it up.

I really do think there is a sound benefit – although during shows the mic might not pick that up. In practice, it sounds great. Jason from The Bad Vibes has a small Music Man combo that sounds huge however. Also having smaller amps on stage with me makes me feel like I’m in Spinal Tap during the Stonehenge scene — I’m always stepping on whatever is rolling around on stage, so that also explains the big tall cabinet.

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6. I also had a Music Man head for a while and loved it. Where’d you find yours? What do you like about it? Have you had any problems with it, being vintage and all?

I found mine at Moze Guitars in La Mesa. I played Kyle Areford’s [from The Paragraphs, Dead Feather Moon] Music Man and knew I had to copy him and get my own. It took a long time to find but it popped up on the Moze Instagram and I drove down the next day and bought it. I like it so much because I am able to get a tight solid distortion out of it if I want, or I can switch to clean channel and have a warm clean sound with as much built-in reverb as I want. It sounds like a mix of Fender and Marshall to my ears. I think my amp was built in the early ‘80s. The only problem I have had is with the foot switch, but it’s aftermarket so it’s not the amps fault. It’s built like a tank. Kyle and I have had to take his apart to fix it and it took both of us to lift the guts up and put them back in the head.

7. Fun question: If a pedal manufacturer approached you and wanted to build a signature Eric James pedal — what brand would you want it to be, what features would it have, what would you name it, and why?

You’re right, that is a fun question. I don’t know if this would even sound good, but maybe EarthQuaker Devices will read this and be inspired: I want to be able to have a delay/tremolo thing where you can use an expression to slow the speed of it down or speed it up. I have the MiniMoog MF Tremolo that has the expression pedal so you can pretty much do what I described, and I’ve tried it with delays, but I just can’t come close to the sound I’m trying to make. So that would be cool, but realistically if the day ever came to make my own signature ERJ pedal, it would just be a big box with a bunch of lights on it, no effects or anything — just the little led lights all over it that turn on and off because I love lights.

8. What’s the worst piece of gear you’ve ever owned and why? Conversely, what’s the best?

The only thing that comes to mind is the Boss Metal Zone. I guess it has its use somewhere, and everyone likes their sounds but on my set up it sounded like garbage. I ended up selling it to a guy who collected them and had many Metal Zones for some reason.

I think my Music Man RD100 head is the best amp I’ve owned. Its built like a tank. It gets super loud but I am usually able to get a good sound at lower volume.

Not the best — but my favorite piece of gear is my Boss RV5 Digital Reverb. I bought it from Steve Stevens of Billy Idol. It makes some great hall reverb that doesn’t sound like anything an amp reverb could do. I use it often now in our songs.

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9. Wait…you bought a pedal from Steve Stevens? WTF?

[haha] The story isn’t as fun [as you’d think]. Steve Stevens is one of my most influential musicians. Occasionally he sells his personal gear on his website (his Premier Guitar Rig Rundown video is incredible by the way). I was lucky enough to catch one of his sales and that’s how I got it. He autographed it to me and included a Steve Stevens playing card and some of his signature picks with his ray gun logo. I also hit him up one day asking a question about how he recorded one of his guitar tracks and he wrote right back — he’s a great guy!

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10. That’s straight up awesome. Speaking of awesome — you’ve seen a ton of bands play in town and I know you’re always scoping out what everyone’s using: Who do you think has the most awesome gear?

I can’t remember the last time that I went to a show and didn’t come home wanting to buy new gear because of whoever played that night. There’s no shortage of great guitar setups and guitar players in San Diego or traveling through on tour.

Jesse, from Dead Feather Moon, has my favorite sound. Between his gear and his playing style, he definitely has a unique sound that really comes to life when he plays live. He’s a wizard when it comes to his gear. Also Daniel “Cuervo” Cervantes from Mrs. Henry and 10 other bands. I remember one night being blown away at one of their Belly Up shows at how great his sound was, and he explained it was just his cheap Acoustic amp. [Read Cervantes’ own Gear and Loathing feature here to find out more about his rig]

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(Photo by Moses Namkung)

11. If money was no object, and you could buy any piece of equipment on the planet for one of your bandmates — what would you buy, who would you get it for, and why?

Dennis, our frontman/singer/guitar player extraordinaire, is one of the craziest, most expressive guitar players and songwriters I’ve ever met. I would get the guy who made Matt Bellamy’s crazy guitars [Hugh Manson, from Manson Guitar Works] with the built-in midi pad and what not, and have him make Dennis something even better. Also I’d have to get him a Theremin because he knows how to use those things.

12. What does EndCastle have coming up?

We’re stoked to be playing with Bosswitch and M. Crane at The Merrow on Thursday, July 26th. After that, we are playing on August 18th at Manhattan Bar and August 19th at Aztec Brewery. We are slowly recording songs at Emerald Age Recording, so we will have a few more songs up on our Spotify page soon. We’re working on new artwork and merch; I’d really like to make some EndCastle pogs.

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JOHN VINEYARD / THE OXEN

 

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The Oxen: Facebook / Instagram / Soundcloud

1. Take me through your rig: You’ve got some really cool stuff – how’d you end up using what you do?

I’ve accumulated a lot of equipment, and a lot of junk, over the past 25 years! Some of my pedals were recommended by the other guitar player in my old band (El Gato) from Denton/Dallas, TX. We started in the mid-‘90s, so there were no internet reviews or YouTube demos. His guitar always sounded better than mine, so I just took his word for it on a lot of stuff. These days, I do some research online and peek at other people’s gear if I think their guitar sounds good.

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2. How did you end up with that Jaguar? What model is that? And give me the backstory on the Texas sticker…

I got that Jaguar new at a guitar show in Dallas back in the mid-’90s. It was made in 1994-95 in Japan. I recently put some Curtis Novak pickups in it, which I like way better than the stock pickups. I also got a modified Mustang bridge which has solved the problem of strings jumping into the wrong groove on the saddles when I play hard.

Aside from being from Texas, the flag sticker idea was inspired by (or stolen from!) one of my favorite guitar players, Chris “Frenchie” Smith, of the Austin band Sixteen Deluxe. He plays at high volume with a reckless enthusiasm that I love. He has an American flag sticker in that spot on his Jazzmaster, so I guess I put that Texas flag sticker on my guitar as a constant reminder that it is more important to play fearlessly and expressively than to be timid and technically “perfect.”

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3. I used to have Musicman head that I loved, so I’m way into that combo you have. What drew you to the Sixty-Five?

I really love my Musicman 210 Sixty-Five. I played a Vox AC30 for a long time, and I do still have it. My Vox is from 1985, and it has a darker sound than a lot of the more desirable AC30s. Recently, I started wanting an amp that would give me more of a twang sound, and I was researching Fender Twins. A lot of people were recommending vintage Musicman amps as a less expensive alternative. I found this one on craigslist for $400, and jumped on it. I’m super happy with it, and I’ve pretty much been using the Musicman live, but I use both amps for recording.

4. Love your pedalboard: What’s the one effect you use the most?

The effect I use the most is probably my Death By Audio Fuzz War. It’s my favorite distortion pedal that I have ever owned.

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5. I’ve heard mixed reviews on those Dunlop Tremelo pedals. Give me your quick review of it. Also, that big-box Memory Man looks like a slightly older one — late-‘80s/early-‘90s before the reissues? Totally drool-worthy. What do you like most about it?

The Dunlop Tremolo works fine for me, and I’ve had it for about 20 years. There was a time when I couldn’t get it to go as fast as it originally did, but some friendly elves must have come and secretly fixed it one night because it started working again. I think there are less expensive alternatives that work just as well or better, but that’s what I got. It takes up a lot of room – like the Memory Man – which is also about 20 years old. I can do some fun stuff with the chorus effect on the Memory Man when recording, but live, I pretty much use it as a straight delay.

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6. If you could get one piece of gear for one of your bandmates as a gift — what would you get, who would it be for, and why?

I think I would get Jozette a giant Orange Amps full stack that would tower over her. She loves those amps, and I think it would be fun to see such a tiny woman with such a giant rig. Of course, I would wind up loading and unloading it, so maybe I should rethink that…

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7. What’s your favorite Oxen song to play live and why?

Probably “Glass Pastures” just because it’s weird and has a lot of fun little parts.

See The Oxen at The Merrow on Saturday, Feb. 17, with Nowhereland and Sweet Myths. They’re also up for Best Rock Band at the 2018 San Diego Music Awards (vote for them here)

PETER DUFF / HARD TO HIT

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Hard to Hit: Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Website

1. Hey Peter, talk me through your live rig: Why is that Mesa amp your No. 1? I’m surprised not to see any modulation or delay/reverb effects on your board. What else would you add if you had the option? 

I decided to go with the Mesa 5:25 Express + for live for a few reasons. First and foremost, it just sounds the best for the kinds of heavy (but not too heavy) tones I’m going for, but also because of its flexibility and because it packs a ton of features into a head that will be easy to move around and keep in good shape. It has enough foot-switchable options that I was able to keep my pedalboard simple, which was important to me because for this band I decided I wanted to be able to focus more on playing and having a good time than setting up a complicated rig, and having extra patch cables, etc. to worry about. In addition to switching between a high and low-gain channel, it also lets me have foot-switchable reverb, two foot-switchable EQs per channel (the graphic EQ and the preset EQ knob which is a nice sounding midscoop) and also a foot-switchable boost. All that saves me 3 or 4 pedals on my board, which means I can keep it small in the one briefcase and I don’t have to use the effects loop since everything on the board is in front of the amp so that’s fewer cables to have to set up, trip over, or break.

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I didn’t bother with modulation, delay, or pedal reverb on this board because as of right now, the songs we’re playing don’t really call for it. There’s definitely a few spots where I would normally use my Carbon Copy a little bit, but not so much that I wanted to add the complexity or the tap dancing. I could definitely see changing it up and adding the Carbon Copy, Timeline, and Moore modulation pedal in the future if we end up using more effects for our next album. In which case I’d think about finding a smaller volume pedal, tuner, and/or power supply to free up some space.

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2. How did you settle on both an SG and a Tele?

All our songs right now are in drop D except one in drop C, so I’m using the Tele for the bulk of them and the SG for the one drop C song. Ironically, the Tele is the cheapest guitar I own, but somehow it just feels the best to play; the weight and balance is nice, the neck is fast, and I like the look of it. I swapped out the stock Fender humbucker in the bridge for a Seymour Duncan SH4JB and it sounds great. The SG handles the lower tuning the best out of all my guitars and it’s my second favorite, so it was an obvious choice.

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3. Out of all the effects you used on the record, which one got the most use and why? Were there any other effects you wish you had on-hand that you would’ve used?

The other pedals that got used the most on the record were the Tube Screamer and EQ. They were on pretty much the whole time, pushing our other guitar player’s amp a bit more for one of the main guitar tracks. I think I used a little Carbon Copy and reverb from the Strymon Blue Sky here and there, but for the most part, our guitar tones are pretty much straight-forward gain.

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4. Talk to me about the extra amps in this pic…what’d you use ’em for?

The other amps are a 1964 Ampeg Jet J-12, Peavey 6505 Mini Head, and Fender ’94 Twin (not to be confused with a Twin Reverb, this one has two drives that are actually pretty cool). I was planning on using the Peavey for the main guitar doubles, but our other guitar player’s Peavey XXX won out. I actually used the Fender for all the leads since its drive has a nice mid-range bite that compliments the mid-scooped Mesa and Peavey well. The Ampeg unfortunately didn’t make it onto the EP since I mainly use it for cleans or light bluesy drive, but it gets used in the studio all the time.

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5. You guys have a new EP coming out — how did the recording process go? Who did you work with and where did you record it? 

In addition to playing in the band, I’m actually a full-time professional engineer, so I recorded most of it at my studio: The Grey Brick Recording Studio. Two of the songs were recorded up at Catacomb in Orange County last year before I joined the band, but we ended up making some changes to those songs so the only part of those recordings we really kept was the drums; everything else for the five songs I recorded, mixed, and mastered.

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6. If you got to buy ANY piece of gear for one of your band mates, what would it be and why?

That’s a hard one since we’ve all got our rigs pretty well dialed in right now. Our bass player just got a new P-Bass and has a great Amgeg SVT and cab, our other guitar player’s Peavey XXX and Tele sound great, and our drummer just refinished his kit. Really the best thing for the band would probably be nice in-ear monitors. I just got some Shure SE315s which are awesome and some of the other guys are just using normal earbuds. Not the sexiest answer, but hearing protection is important, kids!

7. Besides the EP release show at SOMA on Friday, December 1st, what else does Hard to Hit have coming up?

The release is definitely the biggest news, it’s been almost a year since Hard to Hit has played because of some changes to the lineup and we decided to just focus on the EP before getting back out on stage, so this will actually be the first show back with the new lineup. We will also be releasing a video the same day. The following weekend, we will be doing a short run up to Bakersfield, Grover Beach, and one other city that’s still TBD. We will have another local show in February and we’re planning on a bigger West Coast tour for March.

DANIEL CERVANTES / MRS. HENRY & CREATURE AND THE WOODS

Mrs. Henry: Facebook / Twitter / InstagramWebsite

Creature and the Woods: Facebook / Twitter / InstagramWebsite

1. Tell me about your current rig.

My current rig is an early 1970’s Acoustic 150 Solid State Head through a 6X10” 104 Cabinet. I’ve come to love pretty everything old and vintage but particularly ‘70s solid state and the amazing Acoustic Control Corporation. ACC was a staple of the ’70s rock sound, from John Paul Jones to Frank Zappa to Robby Krieger. Real good stuff and mine breaks up a bit more then the average model so I’ve been told. My main axe is a 10-year-old Mexican Fender Strat. This guitar has outlived them all, been beaten and abused for years and has an incredible neck and feel, setup with 12-gauge strings and a bridge to dive and soar bomb to heaven and hell. The two other guitars I’ve been using a lot recently are a 1970s Hohner Les Paul and a Fender Thinline Reissue Telecaster with humbuckers. Both have incredible sustain and tone, the tele I usually keep in open G or tune up for country stuff. For pedals, I’ve always got my Dunlop wah-wah and volume pedals, Diamond J Drive MK3 Distortion/Clean Boost, MXR Carbon Copy Delay and Xotic EP Booster which is modeled after the EP3 Echoplex Tape delay pre amp used by the likes of Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen. Can get the bulk of sounds I am after with these guys.

2. What song of yours do you feel is the best portrayal of your particular sound/style? 

“Rock N Roll Band II” would be a great example of my tone and gear. Used a combination of these three guitars on the majority of the new Mrs. Henry recordings all done analog and to 2” tape at Audio Design Recording here in San Diego, CA. On this song, I am using my trusty Strat tuned to open D with a real crapped out and glassy tone getting that Stones/Faces a la Ron Woods vibe. Hit the EP boost on the solo and let it ride.

3. If money was no object, what’s the holy grail piece of gear you’d buy?

Gotta go with the Holy Grail Gibson ’59 Les Paul. Nothing swings like a Les Paul around the neck. Sustain for days, go have a bite and come back and that sucker is still ringing.

4. Who is the musician you admire the most sound/gear-wise?


One musician I am particularly in awe every time I hear him is Adrian Belew. His use of the whammy bar is out of this world. First time I ever heard noise with such finesse and atonal fuzz was Talking Heads Live in Rome 1980, got the whole concert on YouTube and it’s just crushing. Parachute pants and all, and I believe a Strat through a Roland JC-120.

Be sure to catch Mrs. Henry at The Casbah on Thursday, June 2nd with Taken By Canadians (record release show)and Jimmy Ruelas. [INFO] Copies of Mrs. Henry’s new album, Otay, will be available on vinyl at the show.