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1. Tell me about your current rig: for examples, brand(s)/makes/models? Best parts? Worst parts? Any funny/strange stories about how you came to use any of this stuff?
I’m currently playing a early 2000 “Raw Power” Gibson Les Paul Standard equipped with a Fishman Triple Play MIDI pickup. I also have a custom Seymour Duncan SB pickup in the bridge position, which is cleaner sounding then the stock P-90, but I usually keep it turned up all the way in the middle position to shoot the gap between dirty and clean. From there, I run into an A/B switch with one output going into the new Electro-Harmonix Mel9 Mellotron Pedal into a little Vox keyboard amp (not pictured, new addition haha) and then the main guitar chain goes through an Electro-Harmonix B9 organ pedal, into a custom distortion pedal made by my friends Squarewave Industries in Seattle, then a Fulltone Fulldrive 2, Strymon Flint Tremolo/Reverb Pedal, an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi, Deluxe Memory Man, a EH Micro Pog octave pedal, then a Catalinbread Echorec delay, and sometimes an old Boss RC-20, depending on what’s in the set. This then goes into my 1970 Fender Super Reverb. I run a cable out of the external speaker jack of the Super Reverb into an early 2000’s 100 Watt solid state Fender Bassman. For the Fishman Triple Play MIDI pickup, it’s wirelessly connected to a laptop, which I route to a volume pedal and then to a little 20W Johnson tube amp.
The best part of this is it sounds really amazing and makes a lot a noise for one guy playing. The worst part is that it takes a bit to set up, but I’m getting it pretty dialed in!
The Gift Machine has been through a lot of lineups over the years, but when I originally started playing with my now-wife Andrea Gruber Matthies, it was just the two of us, so I started bringing in the POG and the chained bass amp to beef up the sound. A few years ago, we were playing as a 5-piece with Andrea on the drums, Dan Chambers on the guitar, Phil Benavides on bass, and Karl Blau on keyboards. Karl moved back to Washington state, Dan went away to college in San Francisco, and I work in Los Angeles a lot so we have had no time to get together and practice with Phil. We got used to making a lot of noise, but it’s just been Andrea and I again lately, so I had to get creative to fill up the space. Since our record Hard Facts Are Still Uncertain came out last year, I have written 30 songs, and being a two-piece also makes it lot quicker to put together new material. Once we get the new stuff down, I hope to bring some humans back into the mix.
2. Talk to me about this midi/synth pickup thingy you’ve got hooked up to your Les Paul – how does it work? What sounds do you use it for? Hard to hook up or put together?
My first acquisition in this direction was the Electro-Harmonix B9 organ pedal. You plug your guitar in, and it emulates 9 different organ sounds which you can mix in with your guitar tone. I was hoping that it would be like a fake keyboard player doubling my guitar parts. It’s OK, I still use it but somewhat subconsciously for sustain, but if you a play a full open chord on the guitar, it triggers every string that you are playing, so it can get a little toppy if you are doing a full strum. I thought that if I could figure out a way where only a few of the strings on the guitar triggered samples, it would be much more useful for what I was looking for.
Fishman started making the Triple Play pickup a few years ago. Basically it’s a little pickup that sits right in front of the bridge that has a little sensor for each string. The signal from the pickup is transferred wirelessly to a laptop where you can use it to trigger any sound you want! I have been using it mostly to trigger string, mellotron, and synth sounds, similar or the same as the type of stuff we use on our recordings. I can create a custom sound for each song in our set where only the guitar strings I want trigger the keyboard sounds. For example, I could be playing full chords on the guitar, but only the A string is triggering a cello sample. It’s fairly amazing, I can even load in custom sounds I’ve recorded, or layer multiple sounds, or switch between two different sounds mid-song. It’s a whole crazy area of research…I use a volume pedal to bring it in and out.
Though the manual and website say it will work on a Les Paul, there was not enough room between the pickguard and the bridge so I had to get in there with a razor blade and do a custom hack job on the pickguard to make it work. It also raised the action slightly so I had to bring it in and have the guitar reset as that kind of thing is not my forte. I asked around before I bought it at some local shops and no one was willing to take it on, as it’s a relatively new kind of setup. Worth the bloody knuckles and pain and suffering at this point…
3. What song of yours do you feel is the best portrayal of your particular sound/style/gear?
We are recording a new record that features this setup and I am really excited about it, but nothing has been released so far. There are a few tracks off our last record that feature the chained bass amp and POG octave pedal that Andrea and I used to do in our version 1.0 two-piece. The song “Muddy Water” is a good example.
4. What’s the one “holy grail” piece of equipment you’d buy if money was no object and why?
I am also a recording geek and have a solid home studio where we record most of our stuff and I also do overdubs sessions with bands I am producing. I could talk even longer about that stuff. I would have to say my personal holy grail would be the Fairchild 660 compressor. At $50,000 it deserves that designation, right? I really enjoy the Universal Audio plug-in version and, of course, love the sound on all the old Beatles records. You can just crush stuff and it still sounds really smooth and natural. I have dreams about finding this and other strange analog gear at thrift stores in mysterious towns. I think it’s going to happen one of these days…
5. What was the first piece of gear you bought and what are your thoughts on it now? Do you have still have it?
The first “real” piece of gear I bought (or more accurately my mother bought) was a 1977 Yamaha SG2000 guitar when I was about 13. It was in the local music store in Mount Vernon, WA where I grew up, and, in a sea of very hair-metal oriented guitars, I picked it out because it looked like something George Harrison would play. Though it was a really expensive guitar when it was brand new, it was so incredibly out of style at this point that we got it for really cheap. As we were making the purchase, the guys behind the counter got really excited and went on to tell me a story that a roadie for the band Heart had been given the guitar by Nancy Wilson and then he sold it to them cheap because he needed the money. At that point, Heart was in the middle of their late ‘80s fame, and not knowing their “Barracuda” Seattle rock and roll history, it almost dissuaded me from getting the guitar at all! I did keep it and it was my main guitar for years until the frets got really worn down and one of the pickups became microphonic and I got the Les Paul I’m still playing today. I still have it, it lives at my parents house in Washington state. I had a little work done on it, but I’m afraid to get it re-fretted or too tweaked. I still play it when we tour up there and we don’t have room to bring all of our gear.
6. What do you have coming up that we should know about?
We are playing The Pour House in Oceanside with Mittens and Dirty Sidewalks on Friday, September 9th, and Soda Bar in San Diego on November 17th with our good friends from the Pacific Northwest, Karl Blau and LAKE. We are currently recording a new record that we hope to have out by the winter or early next year, but we will be doing a preliminary video or two this fall. We are also starting to book a European tour for next spring. I also just finished producing a great record for the North County San Diego band Sick Balloons which should be out in the next few months and I am also producing the next Trouble in the Wind record, which will come out sometime next year.