We went, we saw, we conquered. Gear and Loathing in San Diego presents: Winter NAMM 2017 in photos. Many thanks to James Albers for his photo contributions (and for the badge!) — Dustin
I went to NAMM for the first time over the weekend and was alternately blown away and overwhelmed. It’s been a lifelong dream to go – and this year, I finally got to make the trek up to Anaheim (thanks, James!) While there, I tried to see/do as much as I could but, of course, couldn’t get to everything. I’ve made my top picks below, and hopefully can share some info on some new products that I found to be inspiring. Lots of lots of pictures to follow over the next few days. Thanks for reading – Dustin
Best Booth Experience: Earthquaker Devices. Going to this booth was the equivalent of being a kid in a candy shop. Beautifully laid out, super friendly staff, rad guest artists (Juan Alderete, Swami John Reis, Justin Pearson, and Earthless, among others) and some of the best, wackiest guitar pedals around. Their new Space Spiral is an extremely tasty, zany delay that only EQD could dream up. Loved every minute there.
Worst Booth Experience: ChickenPicks. OK, I understand a lot of companies can’t just give away tons of swag, but when your entire exhibit is based on a new style of pick — simply give them away (how much can they possibly cost?). One of their staff approached us with five picks on a silver platter and after he described why they were better than regular picks, I asked if I could have one to try out. He said no, and instead instructed me to go to their website to possibly get one sent to me (“they’re good about sending out samples,” he said). OK, if nearly every guitar company at NAMM is giving away picks, and your entire company revolves around picks, how can you not offer them to people who come by the booth? Makes no sense. Tip for ChickenPicks: Give one pick out to each interested booth attendee after scanning their badge QR code (like D’Angelico did). That way you build your email newsletter database and get something in return for giving away your precious picks. Ugh.
Best Swag: D’Angelico. Dude: hand sanitizer, rolling papers, strings, lighter, and a legit bottle opener? These folks did it right. Besides, their guitars are super legit.
Best Giveaway: Clip-on tuner from Reverb. Snagged the last one at the booth! #Winning
Best Off-the-wall Product: VR drums by Aerodrums. Watched a dude play an entire drum kit in real time with nothing in front of him. The future of music? No real instruments needed – just VR programs? Pretty trippy to watch.
Best New Pedal: (tie) Satellite’s White Amplifier emulator / Empress Echo System. Satellite (made right here in San Diego) blew me away with their new line of pedals and guitars. Their White Amplifier emulator in particular is just everything a great overdrive should be. Warm, raunchy, amp-like tones – it literally sounds exactly the way a cranked low-watt, small-speaker tube amp should sound. I was blown away. Pricey ($349) but very worth it. Can’t beat the build quality either. Super solid, like everything else they make.
The Empress Echo System pedal is like the anti-thesis of the White amp emulator. Whereas Satellite pedals take one concept and make the best pedal based on that, the Empress Echo System takes everything you’d want about a digital delay and ups the ante with 25+ different modes, presets, several different types of dual-delay engine settings while keeping it surprisingly easy to use. I’m not a huge fan of screens and menus, so keeping this all buttons and knobs appeals to me in a big way. Well done. Not sure on the price point but I’m guessing it won’t be cheap.
(Honorary mentions: Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe, JHS + Ryan Adams’ VCR, Chase Bliss Brothers Analog Gainstage)
Best New Electric Guitar: (tie) Supro Island + Americana Guitars / Ernie Ball Musicman St. Vincent models. Both of the new Supro guitar series are just great from top to bottom. Had the pleasure of plugging most of them in and they sounded delightfully gritty with much more comfortable necks than their baseball-bat-styled ‘60s brethren. At their price points ($699-$1,299), you can’t go wrong.
Whereas Supro is rehashing older designs, Ernie Ball Musicman and St. Vincent continue to push the envelope with her signature model ($1,899-$2,099). That unique body shape, new pickup configs, and more beautiful colorways improve on an already impressive debut last year. The necks are super smooth and you can get nearly any sound out of ’em too. So rad.
(Honorary mention: Satellite’s Coronet-style guitar)
Best New Acoustic Guitar: Martin John Prine D-28. OK, it’s a $7,000 guitar but it played like absolute butter. (Honorary mention: Taylor’s new 800 Deluxe series)
Best New Acoustic Amplifier: Orange Valve Pre Twin Channel acoustic pre-amp. “The world’s first stereo valve acoustic pre-amp and active DI.” Has got everything you’d need covered when it comes to an acoustic pre-amp, and sounds as good as it looks. Not sure on price yet.
Best New Guitar Amplifier: Milkman Sideman (50 watt, 1×12” combo). While it’s got a little more power than I look for in an amp, it still sounds beautiful throughout the volume dial. Milkman craftsmanship is unbeatable too (btw, the amp runs around $3,099). Swoon.
(Honorary mention: Paul Reed Smith J-Mod 100)
Best New Bass: ESP Frank Bello J-4 ($3,999) / LTD Frank Bello FB-J4 ($999). Fantastic playing and sounding Jazz/Precision-style hybrid with rad red binding. Looks sharp, plays sharper. Honestly though, anything Anthrax gets a thumbs up from me.
Best New Bass Amplifier: Trace Elliot ELF Amp (200 Watts, 4 ohm, 1.6 pounds). Put this thing in your pocket and go to work. Only $299.
Best New Synthesizer: Dave Smith Instruments REV2. DSI revised their Prophet ’08 synth with a new step sequencer, wave shape modulation, effects and great price points (12-voice for $1,999 and 8-voice for $1,499).
Best New Snare: Ludwig Black Beauty 14×8 Snare. A reissue of a classic!
Booth of the Year: Moog Music Inc. The legendary company took the road less traveled with their booth this year but not displaying new products or their vast product line — but rather paid homage to some of the musical legends that we lost in 2016, including Don Buchla, Keith Emerson, Pauline Oliveros, Bernie Worrell, and Isao Tomita. It was refreshing to see and be a part of such a classy tribute. Hat’s off to y’all, Moog.
In December, I interviewed Dawes’ vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Taylor Goldsmith for NBC SoundDiego. You can read it here. Below are some excerpts from that same interview that didn’t quite fit the narrative of that writeup, but do seem to fit nicely into the Gear and Loathing fold. Many thanks to Eric James and Rodrigo Espinosa for contributing some of their own photos from the band’s Jan. 10 Belly Up show for this feature. Enjoy.
Dustin Lothspeich: Do you guys typically rehearse much for tours? Seems like you’re a well-oiled machine at this point…
Taylor Goldsmith: I mean, through the years there have been tours we set out for where we wouldn’t get together – but this one’s different because it’s “An Evening With” tour so not only do we have to know 2 1/2 hours of music every night, we have to keep it interesting from night to night. We have to brush up on a lot of old tunes that we haven’t played in a while, so there will be a lot of rehearsing for this one.
DL: I’ve been way into acoustic music lately. Been thinking about picking up a real nice Martin or something.
TG: To me, it’s the most expressive kind of guitar. You can’t pick up an electric and plug it straight through an amp and have it be the perfect sound for a really gentle ballad and a perfect sound for a really loud, angry song – unless you were to turn up the volume or get a bunch of pedals. Whereas with an acoustic, it really can go from the quietest and the gentlest to the loudest and the most aggressive very naturally. People associate it with ballads but it’s actually really expressive.
DL: Do you typically write on acoustic or electric? Or something else?
TG: There are songs I write on piano and then once in a while, I’ll have a riff that I come up with on the electric guitar, like “Things Happen” or “One of Us,” where it wouldn’t have sounded right on acoustic originally, or I wouldn’t have noticed it or thought it was worth paying attention to. But most of the time, most of my songs are written on acoustic.
DL: One of my favorite songs of all time is “Don’t Send Me Away” – how did you write that?
TG: That one was, weirdly enough, written on a piano. And there’s those kinda like “bop-bop-bop” quarter notes that are going throughout while the bass line changes. As you can imagine, it’s a lot simpler and easier on the piano to do that. It took some figuring out how to play it and move the bass part around while keeping those three notes up top. But yea, it was originally written on piano.
DL: The band’s new record mixes a few different types of styles; it’s pretty eclectic. Do you think We’re All Gonna Die is different from your other albums in that regard?
TG: To us, we’ve always done that. I would say that they’re recorded in the same way – songs like “Most People,” or even “When My Time Comes” or “Don’t Send Me Away” even would be right at home on We’re All Gonna Die. I think any of them would be! I think a song like “Quitter,” or “For No Good Reason,” or “Roll With The Punches” would fit on any of our previous albums. I like that each record has a personality but I don’t think any of our records have strayed too far from what we’ve always done.
DL: I think one of your strengths, in particular, is your ability to write about everyday problems and our constant struggle with losing or regaining hope – without being too preachy. That’s a fine line.
TG: I think a lot of us try to get to a place, and I’m a victim of this as much as anyone else, where we get to a place in our lives where we don’t have to suffer. That we can build something around us and we’re never lonely and we’re never depressed and the reality is, that’s not gonna happen. And the only way to deprive that fear of its power is by embracing it and knowing that it’s going to come in strides. And you’re going to have to sit with it and deal with it sometimes but other times, you are going to feel like everything is OK. There’s a great Smog song where Bill Callahan sang something along the lines of: “We all have peace on earth about every other day,” [laughs] and saying it like that kind of no longer allows you to be scared of ever going through the dark times because when they do come along, you can go, “I knew this was going to be part of this equation.”
DL: Off the top of your head, what was the record you listened to the most in 2016?
TG: Shoot, that’s a good question. I mean there have been several I’ve been going back to a bunch – my girlfriend kind of gets like, “Why are you listening to the same thing again?” So I don’t live with one record like I used to as much anymore, but I was going back to Blood & Chocolate a lot by Elvis Costello & The Attractions a lot. Putting it on over and over. I’ve always had that record, but when you first discover Elvis Costello, you’re obsessed with This Year’s Model, or Armed Forces, or My Aim Is True, and then eventually Imperial Bedroom and Get Happy!! and all that. I had Blood & Chocolate and I’d always loved it but I hadn’t had that feeling of I-have-to-only-listen-to-this-for-the-next-week moment the way that I’d had with all the other Elvis Costello records that I’d loved. So I kinda finally had that.
DL: What was the favorite gig you played last year?
TG: It would probably be Nashville’s Live On The Green Festival, where it’s just this pretty outdoor show and we were playing after Kurt Vile, who we love and they’re obviously an impossibly cool band. We thought, “Aw shit, they’re putting us up after Kurt Vile? Everyone’s gonna leave!” And I didn’t go out during Kurt’s set – I mean, I love Kurt’s show and we’ve seen a lot of his shows, but I was kinda backstage the whole time with friends so I didn’t see the audience until we walked onstage and there was like 18,000 people and it was the biggest show we’d ever played – at least in terms of us playing last. I mean, we’ve opened for Mumford And Sons, but we were the opening band – people were there because they had to be. But with this, they didn’t have to be. It was the most surreal experience playing for that many people and really feeling connected to them. I’ve never had such a high after a set than I did that night.
DL: What are you looking forward to the most in 2017?
TG: I mean, I guess it’s like equal parts – a good tour (I’m really excited to get on tour and play these shows), but I’m also really excited to get a handle on the next batch of writing. It’s always fun to either be playing new songs or in the studio playing new songs. We never wanna be taking too much time off. That’s kind of how we’ve always been and that’s kinda how we want to keep it. Life is better when we’re working. I’m hoping to have these songs start showing up in a bigger way. I’ve written a couple so far but I’m excited for the new year for that.
1.Tell me about your current rig: How does the individual parts help you achieve the sound you’re after? Best parts? Worst parts? Anything still a work in progress?
Ah, the never-ending quest. I was bad for a while with Craigslist buying and selling pedals and amps. I would read different forums and think, “Oooh if I can just get this one piece of gear, I will be happy.” I horse-traded probably 10 different amps and way too many pedals. Then my buddy O told me one time that no matter what gear I was playing, I always sound like me. He was basically saying it’s in our hands and in our gut. Not that I don’t geek out on gear anymore, but I’ve thinned the collection significantly since then and choose to take a much more utilitarian approach.
I always come back to small amps that sound like they are about to blow up. They sound huge in the studio and they don’t hurt my back. With Blackout Party, I always needed a bit more clean headroom and jangle so I like using a Bassman or something in the 40 watt range, but for everything else I use a 15-22 watt amp. Running different tube combinations in stereo is fun when you can, like a Vox and Fender. I sold my Blues Jr. to Jesse LaMonaca a few years ago and begged for it back, so finally he sold it back to me before we moved to Nashville. That’s my main right now — it’s cheap but sounds awesome and is such an easy load-in. One time the road case wasn’t latched when I lifted it up and it crashed onto the street and tubes were bouncing everywhere. I plugged them back in and it still works fine. I do see an old Deluxe Reverb in my future, though. 6V6’s are my favorite tubes!
My board changes a bit depending on what I’m doing, but I always go right into the Greer Lightspeed and it stays on. I use it as a slight boost to account for any signal loss and to act as a preamp. If I’m playing a smaller room and can’t turn up my amp to where it sounds best, I like being able to bump up the gain on the Lightspeed. It sounds open, natural, and makes the guitar just “feel” better. I like a slightly pushed sound and use my volume knob on the guitar for cleaner sounds. I’ve seen the Lightspeed on tons of boards lately, and for good reason. Also, Nick Greer and his team are good people and I like supporting good people!
After that, I use any number of fuzzes, but always on super low gain as more of a boost or second level. I try to keep things musical and most times I’m not a fan of having the gain past 10 o’clock. I’ve used a lot of Black Arts Toneworks fuzz, and the Pharaoh and Black Forest are my go-to. I will leave them set a little different and occasionally stack them when things need to go into full warp. Mark from BAT has become a good buddy since we started drinking beers together at NAMM, and he lives in Tennessee as well. I love his mentality and humility, and he will be the first to tell you that tone comes from the fingers, not pedals. The Pharaoh is a classic and was the first BAT I got into. I use the Pharaoh Supreme now on Germanium clipping, lo-output mode with minimal gain. It’s interesting to hear a pedal associated with metal used in different applications, I just love it. The Black Forest is set dirtier to take things over the top. My next BAT will be the Quantum Mystic — it uses the germanium clipping that I dig and has a 3-band EQ so it can be dialed in a bit more. Anyone out there looking for some new fuzz should look at the Black Arts stuff!
After my dirt is a Boss EQ that I use for a slight boost when I want a plain old volume bump, then a EHX Nano Grail that I keep set to a washy spring reverb for a spaghetti Western sound. I used that a lot when I was playing with John Meeks for a real spooky sound. I’m looking to replace the EHX reverb with a Strymon Flint, which does the reverb and a tremolo in one pedal. My friend Erik Olson turned me on to the Flint and now I need one bad.
Last is an old MXR Phase 90 that I got from my buddy Andrew McKeag. He is such a cool dude and badass ripper, so I feel like this one has a little extra something special in it. He told me he used this one with Presidents of the United States of America, which I love! I just use it for that slow Waylon-style country thing, very sparingly. Phaser is like cumin, it’s great but if you sprinkle too much in the pot you are in serious trouble. 1-2 phaser moments per album or set, max.
For guitars, I always used Telecasters until I got the Gretsch White Falcon. I am a huge Neil Young and Stephen Still nut, so to me the Creamy Pigeon is it, quest over. Listen to the intro of “Wooden Ships” by CSN, or “Alabama” by Neil — that’s what this thing sounds like. I’ve got the deluxe top-of-the-line model with the TV Jones pickups, which to me sound a lot better than what comes stock. I’m usually in bridge pickup with a small bit of neck rolled in. At first, it was a little flashy for me, but I took the pickguard off and now it looks perfect. I was worried about taking it out of the house but my Mom and Dad actually encouraged me to look at it as a tool, like a hammer. It has a job. Now she has a few small blemishes and probably some dried sweat and beer, but plays better that way.
The Tele was built by my friend Mark in Crest, CA, and painted by Mike Maxwell who has done a lot of art with the Silent Comedy. It’s an old Civil War general, so we call it “The General.” It’s got a custom hammered copper arrowhead over the truss rod and it’s a total Frankenstein model. We aged the body by dragging it behind a car and throwing it up in the air on the driveway. It was my #1 before the Falcon and I still use it a lot. The pickups are Seymour Duncans, and I only use the bridge.
I love playing banjo too, and am happy to call the Deering family friends. They are such good peeps! It was good to see Jamie, Greg, and the crew recently in Nashville, and it was cool being involved in their ad campaign for their “Solana 6” nylon 6-string model. It’s definitely my go-to back porch and/or travel instrument at our house. The other banjo with the crazy ninja unicorn inlays was given to me by one of my best friends Jeff. I guess he found it in South Carolina and thought I needed it! It’s still one of the most thoughtful things anyone has ever done for me, so thanks again, Jeff! It’s got a Deering head but the rest is totally custom woodwork and insane abalone inlay.
2. What song of yours do you feel is the best portrayal of your particular sound/style/gear?
I have to pick “All My Friends” off the newest recording. It’s a song that we’ve been playing since we started out, and even recorded previously. It’s so much fun to go into the extended jam at the end, you can really lose yourself on stage. Tim and Daniel have some neat guitar bits and Jesse and Hoth are just pumping. It feels good. On this tune, I used an old Silvertone acoustic with a P90 plugged into a Black Arts Pharaoh fuzz on germanium clipping and low gain, then layered that track with a baritone guitar into an AC30 and a Bassman in stereo. Really fun recording this one with the guys!
3. What’s the one “holy grail” piece of equipment you’d buy if money was no object?
Man, hard one because for so long I drooled over the White Falcon and now it’s sitting here. I have to say I’m pretty happy with my current lineup, but an old Martin acoustic would be real nice. There’s a store here in Nashville called Gruhn’s, and they have rows of old Martins STARTING at $10k. Some of them feel ok, but a few of them just sound like they are plugged in when you hit a G chord. An old D-28 or D-35 would be real nice!
4. What is your favorite piece of gear and why?
This ties into my favorite musician as well, which would have to be my Dad Jim and his 1966 Guild D-50. He put the love of all kinds of music in our house, and taught us to appreciate jazz and classical as well as rock and folk. I remember wanting to learn some Metallica riffs when I was a kid, but he sat me down and made me play James Taylor licks or the intro to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” to a metronome. At one point, he told me he’d buy me an electric guitar if I could play the riff in “Hot Rod Lincoln” by Commander Cody at any speed to a metronome. I must’ve sat there for months playing it so slow, but I finally got it — and a Yamaha Pacifica electric guitar. He passed on his prized Guild to me a few years back and it is the one thing besides my wife and dogs I’d grab if the house were on fire. It’s the guitar my Dad serenaded my Mom with at camp before they were married, and has always been real special to our family. Plus it sounds amazing! Turns out Guild gave it to the Serendipity Singers as a promo model just before my Dad bought it in ’66, and we have a clip of them using it on Hullabaloo earlier that year. It’s one of the 2 in the back middle:
5. Blackout Party has a new record coming out — how would you say it stacks up against the your guys’ last one? What’s changed? What’s stayed the same?
It stacks up great to the last one, and feels like the natural next step to us. Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed had a twangy Americana sound and influence, where the newest record is heavier and has more texture. The constant is songwriting and focusing on themes everyone can relate to. We were able to do more on this one and experiment with some different sounds and ideas, where on the last one we literally plugged in and cut it all live in 3 days, even most of the vocals. We cut everything live again on the new one, but went in and layered a lot more fun ear candy on this one. For example, on “Grape and the Grain,” I’m singing vocals through a distorted guitar amp that was plugged into a rotating Leslie speaker to get a really warbly sound. We layered that in below the main vocal, but it added a really neat texture and we took the time to do stuff like that all over the record.
Also we have some cool guests, like Maureen Murphy who sings her butt off on “Smart Too Late.” She sings in Zac Brown’s band and was passing through the studio one night when the engineer asked if she wanted to sing a bit. It was all very random and lucky, but we all had goosebumps the second she started singing.
6. You guys also took a strange route of going all the way to Nashville to record the thing, then did an Indiegogo for vinyl, and then either went on hiatus or broke up (while you moved away) before actually playing a release show — which you guys are getting around to now. What happened and why the weird chain of events?
Yeah it’s been wild, and totally weird! A couple of my buddies were in Nashville working at Zac Brown’s place as engineers, and they invited us out to track here at Southern Ground. It appealed to me to get the guys out of San Diego and our comfort zones. I like being able to unplug from everyday responsibilities and focus on making noise together. The pre-sale thing on Indiegogo was a natural next step, and a big success for us. I see those platforms as a way to let friends and fans be directly involved in the process, and offer a new experience rather than simply buying a CD at a show. We went over our funding goal and did almost $10k in sales before the release, and it’s cool to know that many of the people who supported this project have their names listed on the vinyl as “Executive Producers.” After the pre-orders shipped, I got a great opportunity in Nashville and had to make some moves pretty quick. Tim [Lowman] had a similar situation so now 2/5 of the band is in Tennessee. We never broke up, but just said hey we are going to step back and re-address this later this year. In the meantime, my wife and I were able to buy a little house out here, I love my job, and I’m graduating with a business degree on the same night of our Casbah show! Been very busy, but excited to finally be putting on a proper release for our San Diego friends and fans.
7. What can fans expect at the release show on Aug. 27?
The whole bill is solid, so come early and stay late! The New Kinetics, The Slashes, and Mrs. Henry all will be badass, and then we are going to tie a nice big black bow on the evening. We partnered with Jameson to offer some cheap whiskey specials all night, so hopefully everyone takes advantage of that. It will all be fun, no power ballads! We’ve got a couple covers to sprinkle in there, and we are mostly excited to be back in that room and just feed off everyone’s energy!
8. What’s next for you specifically, and also the band? Any more shows coming up?
I’m excited to be in Nashville and continue writing with a few specific people. My vision for this year is to focus on the publishing side of things, where I can be home at night with the wife and dogs, drinking a few beers in the yard, not in a sweaty van. I’d love to get the BOP guys out here for a few shows — I know we’d do real well in this market, but will ultimately depend on boring stuff like schedules and budgets. My next project is recording an EP with my neighbor Larry, who is a cool old cowboy. He heard me picking one day and showed up on my porch with a bottle of Jack and 2 vintage Martins! He’s an amazing songwriter and we have become buddies so I want to be involved with documenting the songs he’s written. I’m hoping to have it tracked in a few months, so when the time comes we will keep everyone posted on that.
Besides the Casbah show, there’s nothing booked, but we are hoping to play some more in San Diego. There’s even talk of re-releasing Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed on vinyl with the original alternate art at some point, which would be badass. I’d love to come back to San Diego to play Oktoberfest or another festival soon, or maybe just to play Tim Mays’ backyard! We shall see.
1. Tell me about your current rig.
When I’m in my studio, I try different guitars depending on the vibe but as a live setup I’ve always played through a similar pedal setup, only changing out the overdrive a few times. For the past few years, I tried a more traditional amp/guitar combo with the ’65 Reissue Fender Deluxe Reverb amp and the Epiphone Casino and what I found was that the tone was incredible but I lost a lot of the dynamic control I had in the past. I recently switched back to my early ’90s Bedrock 2-12 amp; it was boutique before boutique amps were cool! The Bedrock is all hand-wired and modeled after the Vox AC-30 with a 100-watts of power at my disposal. The rumor is Bedrock made great amps but they were lousy businessmen!! I also love the Electro Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb and lately I use the Electro Harmonix Soul Food overdrive for it’s great tone. I was using the BBE Boosta Grande for added volume but now I added my JHS Superbolt on top of everything instead for some extra chaos!
2. Why do you use the gear you’re currently using?
I have used some version of my current setup for years because of how I play. What I do that’s kept me going in music is write songs and sing… frankly I play so much guitar because I have to! I’d much rather have a great lead guitarist but bands are a tough long-term dynamic so if you want to keep going in music for as long as you can, you do what you have to!! I started on acoustic in college so I am a strummy guitarist with some accents here and there. I haven’t had the opportunity to work with a lead guitarist regularly in awhile and I rarely solo so I find a nice reverb and some yummy overdrive help add character/dynamics to my guitar while allowing me to concentrate on singing.
3. What song of yours do you feel is the best portrayal of your particular sound/style?
When you’re writing and recording, sometimes you have no idea what songs people will grab onto or what sound will define them. As the years go by, certain songs stick around and tend to come up in conversation. For me, those songs are “Poorboy,” “Hillside” and “Closer Tonight.” “Hillside” was a song I wrote in a band called True Crime Authors with my buddy Lee Sammartino (drums) and I recorded it for my first EP in 2009. The song “Poorboy” really embodies the spirit and camaraderie I had with my close friends Chris Decatur (drums) and Mark Lane (bass) when we made the second EP in 2011. Lastly is “Closer Tonight,” which is a song that I carried around for years before releasing it last year on the full-length record.
4.Dream gig: What bands would you ask to play your all-time raddest show, and where would you play?
That’s easy…Stereophonics, Richard Ashcroft and Doves at Wembley Stadium!! I’m a Brit-rocker at heart.
5. What do you have coming up that we should know about?
I put an album out last year [listen/buy it here] but I am currently switching gears and getting back to my garage-rock roots so we should have a new single soon, hopefully in August. We’ll be playing next at the Soda Bar on Sunday, July 10, with the talented Jimmy Ruelas and a great band from Athens, GA called New Madrid. [INFO]
1. Tell me about the stuff in your photos: How did you come to own these things? Makes/models/brands, etc.? Best parts? Worst parts? Anything a work in progress?
The red Stratocaster with all the stickers is “Big Red,” my main gal. She started life as a Squier Fat Strat. I’ve done quite a few mods over the past 15 years. I have replaced the neck with an unfinished Maple Warmoth Neck (with custom star inlays), Schaller Locking Tuners, a Graph Tech nut, Graph Tech saddles, a Seymour Duncan JB Humbucker in the bridge and wired up to have a single volume knob. I gutted all the stuff I don’t use. I ripped out the tone controls, pickup selector, neck and middle single coil pickups, and some of the pickguard haha. Big Red isn’t just a looker, she’s got immense playability with the smooth and snappy maple neck and has a great, solid, mid-focused tone. I’d say we’re both lookin’ a bit worse for wear these days… but we’re both still kicking!
The pink one is my Gibson Les Paul Junior. She has her share of mods as well. First the headstock broke off at a gig a few years back…which sucked. I’ve since got that repaired, put on Sperzel locking tuners, a custom cut bone nut, a Seymour Duncan Antiquity humbucker, and a Leo Quan Badass wrap-around bridge. My bassist, Kyle, stripped and repainted this guitar. It was originally TV Yellow. I told him I wanted a pink Gibson and he obliged. Now I think she’s sassy and unique, as pink Gibsons are few and far between.
The Black one is my Gibson Les Paul Classic. I changed out a few bits here too… picking up a theme here? I added Schaller locking tuners, a custom cut bone nut, Graph Tech saddles, and Seymour Duncan Jazz/JB humbuckers. This one’s got a thick sound that can get bass heavy without getting muddy.
The last one is a Fender American Reissue of a ’62 Jazzmaster and it’s the most stock guitar I own. The only thing I switched was the Jazzmaster bridge for a Mustang one. It has a tone that’s really unique. I’d say it’s kind of twangy like a Telecaster, somewhat beefy like a Les Paul, and it’s a bit biting like an SG. With both pickups on it’s unlike any guitar tone I’ve ever played before. It’s worth noting that I use the shit out of the trem bar whenever I play this live.
Both amps are Orange 2×12 combos. I’ve become an Orange fan boy quickly over the past year. I blame my buddy Sean Tolley (Nothing Sacred/ Short Stories) for that. We used to share a rehearsal space with his band. One night, my amp was on the fritz so I asked if I could play on his Orange AD30 that was left in the room. I plugged in and was blown away immediately. It was the sound I had been searching for out of my similar Vox AC30 but couldn’t quite dial in. I swiftly bought my own Orange AD30r and ditched the Vox. It’s a Vox-y style EL84 amp that has more “oomph” in comparison. I’d say it has a ton more mid focus and more preamp drive on tap. It’s a fairly simple one-channel amp without an FX loop.
In addition to the AD30, I wanted a backup amp. You gotta have a backup, right? I wanted an amp with some more bells and whistles. So that brings me to the Orange Rockerverb 50 MKII 2×12 combo. It’s a 50-watt amp with clean and dirty channels, spring reverb, and a tube-driven FX loop. The dirty channel is where the Rockerverb really shines. It can go from subtle crunch to insane saturation. With these two amps, I can cover a myriad of tones. I only use one at a time for shows. Which one depends solely on my mood.
Pedal chain goes Guitar > Dunlop Mini Volume > Dunlop Mini Wah > Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive > Fulltone Full Drive 2 w/ JHS boost mod > Black Cat Mini Tremolo > Boss DD-500 Delay > Catalinbread Talisman Plate Reverb > Amp.
I utilize different gain stages and the volume boost at key points of songs to bring dynamics to the band. I stack the drives and can use the clean boost independently. The reverb is on all the time. It really fills up some space, gives the guitar more impact, and doesn’t clutter anything up. The tremolo is used sparingly and is dialed in for a slight effect. The DD-500 is an incredible delay station. I can get tape slap, crisp dotted 8th delays, modulated patterned repeats, etc. all at the click of a switch. It has 200 editable presets… I’m only using 8 of them.
I’d say the pedalboard is the best/worst part of my rig. I’m happy with the flexibility and dynamics it brings to the band’s sound but it’s such a constant evolving thing. Let’s just say I change my board more than most people change their socks. Sometimes I want to scale it back. Then other times I’ll want to add more. I’m working on getting a midi pedal switcher system for my board so I won’t have to tap dance around as much. Hopefully I can get that squared away by the end of summer.
2. What song of yours do you feel is the best portrayal of the particular sound/style you’re after?
I’d say “Falling For You” off our upcoming full length album, Just Another Unsung Tragedy. Taken at face value, it’s a catchy, upbeat pop-punk song but if you dig deeper you’ll find it has some desperate lyrics hidden behind that forced optimism. Guitar-wise, it has some nods and winks to various rock ‘n roll and post-punk stylings strewn about. The main riffs and choruses have been dubbed with heavy gained guitars that blend into the verses that switch to guitars that have a lighter crunch tone. The bridge cleans up with strummed chords that have a touch of tremolo and slap delay. These tones are sort of a call back to a more retro ’60s feel. The lead “solo” guitar comes in with a lot of delay and reverb to give it a big ‘80s rock feel.
3. I noticed you use those big button things on some of your pedals. I’ve never seen anyone else use them, so I wanted to know why you do, and would you recommend them?
They are called “Barefoot Buttons” [www.barefootbuttons.com]. They are a newer company I found whilst browsing reddit. These buttons easily attach to pedal switches and make it easier to click on/off. They were made to also not hurt your feet if you play barefoot. I never play barefoot on stage but I do like the idea of having a bigger target to hit when clicking my various switches. I’m the lead singer and only guitarist in the trio. I have a lot of space to fill and need to switch sounds quickly and as seamlessly as possible. These buttons help me do so. Also the red boost switch and “A” delay (one on the right) on the DD-500 can be switched on at the same time if I get my foot stomping just right. I do that quite a lot to make solos stand out. Also these buttons look dope.
4. I’m sensing kind of a Billie Joe Armstrong vibe with the Strat, the LP Jr. and the Orange (I think he used an Orange at some point?) — is there something to that or no?
Bingo! Guilty as charged! Yes, I am very heavily inspired by Mr. Armstrong and Green Day. They were the first band I ever started listening to and I am still listening to Green Day albums to this day. I continue to find more and more things I enjoy about them. Whether it be the songs as a whole, his use of guitar tones/sounds, song structures, the album production, his lyrics, his live sound/gear… yikes I’m sounding like a creep, huh? As far as Orange amps, I know he’s more of a Marshall Plexi guy and has used JCM 800s & 900s in the early Kerplunk days but who knows, he might rock an Orange every now and then.
5. If money was no object, what’s the one ‘holy grail’ piece of gear you’d buy?
OK, so we’re back to the Green Day/Billie Joe thing. I’d buy a Marshall Plexi and get it modded with his same Dookie gain mod that cascades the front end and adds a preamp tube. I could finally have THAT tone. Maybe one day I’ll pull the trigger and get one.
6. What was the first piece of gear you bought and what are your thoughts on it now? Do you have still have it?
“Big Red”, the red stickerfied Strat, was my first guitar I ever bought. I was 12 and I really wanted to play guitar. My dad wouldn’t just buy me one because he said, “If you worked for it and bought one on your own, you’d appreciate it more.” Boy, was he right! As impatient as I was then, I truly appreciate that sentiment nowadays. So I did all the chores, mowed all the lawns, recycled all the cans I could until finally one day, I had enough cash to buy a guitar. I went to the local guitar store and the clerk asked me what I wanted and I just pointed to the red Squier Stratocaster that was on the display rack. The clerk was gone for a while then finally came back from the stockroom and said “I’m sorry but we don’t have anymore of these in red. Do you want the one on display? I can take some money off the price and give you a cable, some picks, etc.” I said OK and was out the door a happy boy. It was already dinged up and scratched a bit from being a display model but that didn’t bother me in the slightest. I threw some stickers on over the years, broken a piece here or there, swapped some bits and I am still playing it at live gigs. My USA Fenders and Gibsons are all quite nice in their own right but they could never replace this one. It’s special. It’s the guitar that started PWP.
7. What do you have coming up that we should know about?
We’re headed on a West Coast tour the first week on June (dates below). Our first show is on Thursday, June 2nd, at Soda Bar with Squarecrow opening for Toyguitar (Fat Wreck Chords). We are also releasing our full-length, Just Another Unsung Tragedy, this fall. The album is mixed/mastered and we are in the final stages for artwork. We’ll have a few more things to nail down before we can have a release date and corresponding tour. Keep an eye out for that. For everything else you can check us out at www.planewithoutapilot.com and your various social media sites. We out here… we grindin’.
“The Big Dirty Tour”
Thursday, June 2nd- Soda Bar (San Diego, CA) [INFO]
Friday, June 3rd- The Caravan (San Jose, CA)
Saturday, June 4th- Triangle Tavern (Salem, OR)
Sunday, June 5th- High Water Mark Lounge (Portland, OR)
Monday, June 6th- Le Voyeur (Olympia, WA)
Wednesday, June 8th- The Roxy (Vancouver, BC)
Thursday, June 9th- Johnny B’s (Medford, OR)
Friday, June 10th- Jub Jub’s (Reno, NV)
Thank you for visiting Gear and Loathing in San Diego. As the guy behind the scenes of this whole thing, I figured I’d start the whole project off by sharing what musical equipment I use and get the ball rolling. I hope y’all enjoy the site and find some musical inspiration along the way. ~ Dustin
1. What is your favorite piece of gear? The JHS Colour Box. I’ve never been able to get the perfect light, full-bodied overdrive sound I’d always heard in my head until I played through that thing. It just purrs at all frequencies – and it’s great at doing a ton of other stuff (like crazy velcro fuzz noises). It’s pricey but worth it.
2. What song of yours (or your band’s) do you feel is the best portrayal of your particular sound/style? I think “Get Along,” off Old Tiger’s record, Love Have Mercy, is a good indication of what I try to do as a guitar player. That record has a lot of cool parts and different players, so while it’s not a great example of how I actually play live, that song has always been a nice one to listen to.
3. If money was no object, what’s the holy grail piece of gear you’d buy? Probably a vintage Gibson ES-355, ES-330 or Gibson Barney Kessel model – because vintage guitars (especially old Gibson semi-hollowbodies) have so much mojo, and they’re so comfortable to play.
4. What’s the worst or weirdest piece of gear you’ve ever bought or used? I have a weird Squier Bass VI that I still haven’t bonded with yet. It’s a cool instrument and has some funky sounds in it, but playing a bass with that many strings on a neck that thin has turned out to be a difficult task.
5. What do you have coming up that we should know about? Currently working on writing lots of music for Old Tiger’s next record. Hope to share some new stuff soon.