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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OPIE TRAN / MARIEL

Mariel: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / SoundCloud / Bandcamp / Website

1. You’ve got quite the collection — which guitar do you play the most and why?

Up until a few years ago I only had a couple guitars. It wasn’t until last summer during recording guitar tracks for my other band did I catch GAS (guitar acquisition syndrome) haha. I’d say the guitar that honestly has been played the most is my acoustic guitar I got from Vietnam back in 2007. When I was a preschool teacher, I played it every day for the kids. I got tired of CDs skipping so I figured I’d just make my own versions of all the popular kid songs while making up my own along the way. It’s also been on random camping trips and is just always within an arm’s distance away when I feel like strumming some chords or writing new riffs.

Out of the electrics, I say the Squier J. Mascis Jazzmaster gets played the most. I originally got it to replace a P90 guitar that I was using with my other band but realized the tone and vibe fit Mariel much better. I also really like the fatter neck and Tune-o-matic bridge, being so used to Gibson-type guitars I felt right at home. I put locking tuners on it so string changing takes seconds and the balance of the body feels very comfortable. Its also a pretty inexpensive guitar so I don’t stress about too much about taking to gigs and beating the crap out of it.

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2. Is that the Ibanez DL7 on your pedalboard? Why do you use that and the Boss GigaDelay on the same board? Is one better than the other?

Yes it is! It was the first “effects” pedal I ever bought. I only ever use it for a slapback-type of delay and the occasional oscillation. The DD20 is my main delay used for medium to longer delay sounds. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other they just serve different purposes. I suppose the DD20 is more versatile but it also takes more brain power to use and the DE7 is less distracting with its simplicity. The main reason I got the DD20 is for the tap tempo function and LED screen (I have a terrible memory and need visual reminders). If I had to choose between the two, I’d pick the Boss just because it’s a tank and I tend to be rough on my gear. I have both because I’m lazy and don’t want to switch between banks on the DD20 and also I’m super sentimental and I get attached to my gear. Joking aside, stacking delays can make simple riffs sound gigantic and lead to super interesting sounds. I usually play super simple guitar parts and sometimes use delay as its own instrument similar to the Edge from U2. At one point, I had three delays but I realized it was overkill for what I was doing and that I should just get good at using two instead.

3. What’s the nondescript blue Digitech/DOD pedal?

Whoa you’re like a pedal detective! It’s a Digitech Bad Monkey, I’ve had that thing forever and it was the second “effects” pedal I’ve ever bought. I feel like there’s way better OD pedals out there but again, I’m super attached to my gear and it just works in my rig. One day, my bandmate and I got bored and started spray painting pedals so thats why it’s blue. I always have this dumb fantasy of some gear nerd trying to figure out my rig and starting a thread about it somewhere on the internet. Silly, I know. (Not necessarily! – Ed.)

4. Have you gone through a lot of different guitars and pedals to get to this point, or are you still searching for stuff?

Overall, I think I’ve been pretty good about getting to where I am with my gear. I tend to really research gear and make sure I really like whatever I’m getting. Considering how long I’ve been playing, I think the amount of gear I’ve gotten rid of is pretty low compared to how much stuff I have now. Pedal-wise I’m pretty satisfied, maybe one day I’ll replace that Bad Monkey with something else. If anything, I’d like to streamline my live rig and bring out my other toys for just recording. As far as guitars, I can’t see me wanting to stop collecting! I’d like to add an SG and Mustang to the quiver hopefully in the next year or so.

5. What song of Mariel’s is the best representation of your gear?

“We Lost the Fight.” We’re actually going to be recording soon so the best I have is from when we played at The Merrow a while back.

6. If money was no object, what’s the one ‘holy grail’ piece of gear you would buy?

A Gibson Les Paul Custom; it’s the guitar I saw so many of my heroes playing growing up and I still get aroused every time I see one!

7. What’s coming up next for the band?

We’re playing at The Merrow on 12/15 [INFO]. We’re also going to be working on new material, recordings and hopefully some touring.

 

BRIAN GOWER / PLANE WITHOUT A PILOT

Plane Without a Pilot: Facebook / Instagram / TwitterWebsite

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?

GUITARS:

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.

AMPS:

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.

PEDALS:

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)