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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TJ / THE PALACE BALLROOM

The Palace Ballroom: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp

1. Tell me about your rig?  Well, I’ve switched setups and rigs for most every band I’ve been in. So it’s safe to say I have quite a few guitars/amps/cabs/pedals and such. I like to experiment with different sounds to find the one that best suits the vibe of the songs I’m playing in any particular project. I’ve never really relied on pedals or effects to get my tone. I’m more of a traditionalist where I believe your tone should come from your playing, a quality amp and a clean signal chain.

For TPB,  I mainly play my ’98 G&L ASAT Special Telecaster. Guitar-wise, I’m a Fender guy through and through. I traded in a Les Paul I had for the ASAT at Buffalo Brothers sometime around 2001. I totally scored on that deal. I have had a few Fender Teles but when I picked the G&L up, it was automatically my new girlfriend. Chambered Swamp-Ash body, hand-wound single coil jumbo magnetic field pickups, saddle-lock bridge. It had a tone I’d never heard before. The chambered body gives it a ton of resonance so it sounds huge with open chords. I mean, it’s a Leo Fender-designed guitar. It’s everything he ever wanted the Telecaster to be. It’s one of the best sounding guitars I own, hands down. I think I would marry it if I could.

For amplification, I settled on a 1995 Fender Prosonic head with an open-back 2×12 Fender cab loaded with Celestion Rocket 50’s. My good friend O turned me on to the wonders of the Prosonic amp some time ago. It’s an incredibly versatile amp with loads of sparkle, plenty of low-end growl and that Fender clean punch you expect out of all the classic Fender models. The difference with the Prosonic is that it can be played Class A tube, solid state or a hybrid of the two in varying gain stages. In Palace, I always play it all tube. It’s a switchable two-channel amp with a whole shitload of gain potential and the 60 watts are more than enough to power through any size venue. A lot of my rhythm parts require body and punch to cut through, so I have the amp set on the clean channel as loud as it will go just before it breaks up. For choruses, leads or songs that need a more gainy (is that a word?) sound, I switch to the gain channel and it gets fatter and breaks up for a more growly, but still punchy, tone. So far, I’ve been really happy with the sound I’ve gotten out of it. The cabinet is a pretty standard open back box. It used to be Jason’s [Manuel, The Palace Ballroom’s lead guitarist] but I traded him for my Vox delay pedal. I like the Rocket 50’s sound. They aren’t the most expensive loudspeakers but they have a mid-range quality that just works with my setup. The amp/cab setup has been my standard since the band started. It’s whats on the record and what I play live.

As far as my pedalboard goes, I’m pretty much a minimalist and don’t use a whole lot of effects to alter my tone. The way my board is set up now with the two Radial Tonebone pedals, allows me to switch from electric to acoustic on stage. The Radial JX-2 pedal on the left is an A/B/both box with a great gain boost. I use the boost on this pedal quite a bit to get a bit more oomph when I need it during swells in songs. Since there’s no acoustic guitar on our most recent record, the Radial PZ-PRE acoustic DI doesn’t get used as much as when we were touring on our first record but we may start working some of those older songs back into our live sets here in the near future so I leave it in the signal chain. It’s a great sounding acoustic DI; live acoustic guitar sound can get pretty tricky in a lot of rooms and the Tonebone pedal had the most effective EQ I came across. Standard Boss Tuner of course. I think I’ve had that particular one about 14 years now, works like a Swiss clock. The little circular Fender switch switches between the clean and gain channels on the Prosonic, nothing fancy. Next to that is a classic Fender reverb pedal (the Prosonic is one of the few production amps they made without built-in classic Fender reverb). Sometimes you just need to make your sound a bit wet right? That little box reproduces Fender reverb pretty accurately. I use it sparingly but when I do, it sounds pretty rad.  Center front is my newest pedal. It was a gift from my friend Patrick, who’s out on tour pretty much most of the year. It’s made by Red Sun FX, a boutique pedal company out of Munich, Germany. It was originally designed for Flynn from the band The Picturebook, but they ended up doing a run of 25 of them.  I have #12. I’ve had a lot of boost/distortion pedals over the years and some work for some things better than others. But this thing has 35db’s of warm rich boost that doesn’t fuzz out your tone. It actually makes it fatter. I was blown away when I first plugged it in. Super warm analog boost sound and a shit-ton (that’s a metric unit of measurement) of power. It’s a no-frills, one knob pedal. Right up my alley. I added it to my chain right away and it’s become my secret weapon. Combined with the Radial boost or the gain channel on the Prosonic (or all 3 at once), I have lots of levels of varying tone from sparkling clean to fierce growl at my disposal. Linking the whole board together is my BBE Supa-Charger. In my opinion, the absolute best power supply for a pedalboard that’s made. No bullshit, compact and clean. It’s always reliable.

2. What song of yours do you feel is the best portrayal of the particular sound/style?  This is one of those questions where it’s really easy to sound like an asshole when you answer it. The truth is, when I write songs, I’m not after any particular sound or style. I think they evolve into what they are, based on my influences and what I’ve learned over the years playing in bands. We recorded our latest record live, in one take, playing together in the main room at Phaser Control. So the entire album is a pretty accurate representation of what we sound like live. I’m a big proponent of being able to reproduce your recorded material live all the way down to the tones and nuances of the songs on the album. I can’t count how many times I’ve been disappointed by a band I was excited to see because I liked their album and then their live show was incredibly shitty. At least enough times to know that I wouldn’t want that for anybody who came and saw us play. There’s something very disappointing about being let down by a band you have hope for. See? I told you I would probably sound like an asshole. Oh well… Since this piece is about the gear I use to get the sound I want for my music, I think I can provide a succinct answer to this question: For me, if there was one particular song on the new record that I think essentially captured the tone and essence of my guitar and amp, it would be the last track on the album, “Valve.” You can really hear the G&L’s resonance and the bite of the Prosonic on that song. It’s a slow-moving ballad, so most of the other instruments are lower in the mix and my guitar and voice are front and center. If you want to hear how my gear sounds at it’s basic level, that’s the song.

3. If money was no object, what’s the holy grail piece of gear you’d buy?  OOOOHHHH. I get all tickly in my special parts when I think about this kind of stuff. It’s like when I wished for the Hoth ice base for Christmas. There are so many answers to this question. Well, it’s hard for me to answer that one because I own a recording studio and I’m constantly buying gear. It’s hard to draw the line sometimes between what I need to get, and what I really want to get. But if we are strictly talking about musical gear, I would like a 1958 Fender Stratocaster. Last one I saw in good condition was going for $60,000. So, yeah. Not gonna come across that kind of dough unless I win the Publishers Clearing House drawing this year.

4. What is your current favorite piece of equipment and why?  My past, present and future favorite piece of gear will always be my 1964 Vox AC30 Supertwin head and cabinet. I got it in England in 1999. In a small town just outside of London. I found an ad for it in the ‘items for sale’ section in the back of a local English circular. It said: “FOR SALE: Vox Guitar Amplifier with slopey sides.” and nothing else. I called the number, rented a car and drove 45 minutes out of the city to some guy’s house where he had it in his garage. He said it was his uncle’s. He sold it to me for around $850. It’s an incredibly rare amp with trapezoidal / \ sides. I’ve only seen 1 or 2 others like it on the internet over the years. I’ve had it checked out by a few amp experts and the one I have is rumored (pretty accurately so) to have been Peter Green’s amp. I used to play it live but it’s just too rare and amazing to take anywhere anymore. I still use it for recordings but it rarely leaves the safety of it’s case. It sounds like every classic Beatles and Kinks record you’ve ever heard. Just 30 class-A watts of badassery. Yes, I said badassery. It’s a word, look it up. I also have a pretty amazing Satellite amp and cabinet that comes in second place on the favorite gear list. Satellite is a local amp company. If you don’t know them, check them out.

5. What do you have coming up that we should know about? Any shows?  Yes!! There are a few shows happening that you should be privy to:

Saturday, March 12th: The Palace Ballroom with Western Settings at The Pour House in Oceanside, CA. This show is presented by local hero Lou Niles of 91X, and should be a banger. Oceanside is developing into quite he scene nowadays and Lou has been putting on shows at Pour House to much success. Get on it! [Show info]

Saturday, April 30th: Buckfast Superbee / Furious IV / Diamond Lakes / UJBOD’s 3 Wood at The Casbah!!! Yes, it’s reunion time. BfSb hasn’t played a show in 6 years and I think for Furious IV it’s been even longer! It’s good to know that we have Diamond Lakes to keep it fresh up there 🙂 Also, if that’s not enough, Uncle Joe’s Big Ol’ Driver will be playing as a 3-piece in the Atari Lounge all night. Really looking forward to this one. I think tickets are onsale now [buy them here]. Get em’ quick, nostalgia is a hot commodity. 🙂 We’ll have to do another Gear and Loathing for Buckfast Superbee, I play a whole different rig in that band.

Photos generously taken by photographer, Tim Fears.