Whoa: Walk me through that rig, buddy.
My main guitar for Babydoll Warriors is Goldie. It came together once Emily Connell (saxophonist) asked me to be in her soon-to-be band. I started following her on Instagram right after her plush album covers were put up for an art show at Fall Brewing, so I went to meet her and her husband (and now-Babydoll Warrior drummer) after a year of being up. A few days later, after adding me on Facebook, she messaged me about joining her band she was putting together with members of The Goldettes and Chinese Rocks. I had been out of the gigging band-scene for a while so I said “sure.” Multiple nerdy conversations later about cool bands, cult classic movies, and craft-making, and I knew I wanted to do something different than I had with prior bands. Emily’s favorite color is gold (gold is a color, right?) so that got me thinking — I should go over the top and have a full rig of gold — gold tolexed amp, only gold pedals (this posed to be a difficulty to find later) and, of course, a gold guitar — but not any gold off-the-shelf-guitar – it had to be obnoxiously gold. I have been building guitar bodies for myself and selling them to the DIY community for the past 10 years so building a Strat was as simple as getting 3 feet of 8/4 alder at the lumber yard, cutting and sanding, and finishing in some gold lacquer with gold flake.
Goldie is based off my #1 Strat, which oddly serves as a backup to Goldie. The sunburst Strat was made for me by Fred Marotta at the Repair Zone back in 1997-ish. I had expressed interest in learning the craft of guitar repair and he agreed to let me “intern” and show me how to do setups and basic repair stuff. In the end, he rewarded all my hard work with a custom Strat that was my ode to SRV and a nod to Hendrix with the bigger headstock. Both #1 and Goldie are built exactly the same — 21-fret maple/rosewood Allparts neck with the ‘70s headstock, bullet trussrod, and 7.25″ fingerboard radius. I found recently after using #1 for a while with Brodeeva and Secret Seven that I like fatter necks and rounder fingerboards. They’re both equipped with gold hardware, Seymour Duncan Classic Stack pickups (b/m/n), classic trems with full-sized blocks, no backplate (I did this first, John Mayer!), some foam from the Duncan pickup box under the springs, and Sperzel Locking tuners. I made Goldie’s body, but my #1 was an offcenter 2-piece alder body from Allparts. Goldie got extra lacquer love with the back of the neck painted, but leaving the rosewood stripe visible.
At the moment those are the two I’m using but since Babydoll Warriors is still growing as a new band, I may need to pull out some of the other guitars I own from the vault, or build myself another custom-made guitar. Or since I’m always buying gear, it could be a new guitar. (I literally just bought two more guitars).
My amp rig is set up as a pedal platform since I really can’t find a one-stop amp for all the sounds I need. For Babydoll Warriors’ debut show I used my 1×12” Dr. Z Maz 38 paired with a Dr. Z 2×10” extension cab. That one is also my #1 amp and if I had to sell all my amps, that would be the very last one to go. It’s a great mix between a Fender and a Vox. I got into Dr. Z after becoming infatuated with Brad Paisley’s guitar playing and gear. I was able to test a Maz 18 up in Seattle and ended up loving the amp’s preamp breakup when dimed and how clean it could run if the master and gain were flipped. A used, 38-watt version fell into my lap a few years later and it became love at first twang. It began as a blonde-colored amp, but there was bleed-thru with the tolex glue so after contacting Dr. Z, they referred me to their tolexing guy and I had it re-tolexed to look like a custom Dr. Z Mazerati amp in a Black with Red motif. It has a Eminence 12″ Texas Heat speaker. The 2x10s are stock Dr. Z speakers and I believe also Eminence. It was a beast to move as a mini-half stack, so for future shows, I may revert back to the amp I bought for the band.
My actual amp I got for Babydoll Warriors is a Fender Blues Deluxe. I bought it as a chassis off eBay and was going to build a custom cabinet with gold tolex, but I saw a used cabinet with speaker for sale in LA about the cost of the speaker alone. Its a pine cabinet — super lightweight with wheat grill and burgundy tolex made by Mather Amp cabs. It was such a good deal for the cab plus the Jensen speaker that I opted to not go the gold tolex route and leave it as is. Even though it is larger than the Dr. Z, it is much lighter, so for future gigs, I’ll probably be using the Fender going forward. It’s currently at home with all of his amp-brothers awaiting a mod of metal input jacks, a faceplate-facelift, and a new set of JJ tubes.
My pedals have gone thru a number of changes and at the moment I have this set up so it fits on this hoopty little board I built to specifically fit in this one bag. I realize basing your pedals on a bag to carry it in is probably the worst plan, but so far, it’s working.
For the most part, my pedal need is tuner, low-gain overdrive into a Dumble-style overdrive, boost, tremolo, delay, reverb, and EQ. Currently, I use TC Electronic mini’s and a few Wampler pedals to make this happen. The Wampler Tumnus is a Klon clone and I always leave it on so that my cleans poke thru the mix and it gives a little gristle when you hit the strings harder. I recently changed from a Mad Professor Simble pedal to the Wampler Dual Fusion. It’s meant for those super technical sweep-picking fusion jazz guys so it’s a ridiculous pedal for our style, however it works for my needs on the songs. I had used the Wampler Euphoria for years as my main overdrive tone, and always paired it with a TS-style low gain pedal for boosting the gain on it. The Dual Fusion is essentially that in one box – a modded Euphoria and the Brad Paisley signature pedal (TS-esque, but based on the Trainwreck amp). The Paisley side I use as a solo boost and the Euphoria is my main overdrive. The effects are all TC Electronic and I use them because of size and their beam-in setting function. The Pipeline Tremolo is set for a fairly heavy square wave tremolo. The Hall of Reverb pedal uses a spring reverb patch, and the Flashback Delay uses a slapback patch. I have a number of other delays, reverbs, and tremolos, but I found these were pretty versatile because if the effect didn’t suit the song, I could beam a new setting using the app on my phone. Size also does matter on this board so the mini Flashback and HOF are a plus. The board is rounded out by a MXR 10-band EQ for fine-tuning the EQ spectrum. I found that it helped round out my Blues Junior amp and not make it sound boxy, so I kept it onboard for the Dr. Z and Fender Blues Deluxe. I might replace it with the Source Audio EQ since there are no sliders on that pedal and right now I have a piece of plastic protecting my sliders from being bumped. The second tier of the pedals sit on a hidden Voodoo Labs Pedal Power.
I love your Strats. I’ve been craving a Strat again lately and I like that yours look so clean. Since there’s such a huge market right now “relic”-ing, what are your thoughts on it? Do you like the trend?
Dustin, I can build you one! Just let me know. 😉 As for relic-ing, I have mixed feelings about it. It definitely has the mojo look and with true artisans who can recreate it, it’s awesome. There is a science to understanding lacquer shrinking and expansion of lumber, cracking patterns, and how your body-interaction with the guitar creates the wear. So those builders that understand it, or have studied it, I think it’s cool. However now I’m rolling my eyes as it’s starting to be over the top with almost every company having a line of relic’d instruments. Relic-ing can also be lame if builders half-ass it or don’t even take into account actual wear and tear. I mean really, how long are your fingernails that you “relic” a circle around the knob? And ewww…
As a builder of guitars — what’s the one guitar build that is your dream project?
I would say a Benedetto archtop-style jazz guitar. It’s essentially the Stradivarius of guitars IMO. Each step a luthier takes to learn and refine their craft is in that direction. For years, I’ve done bolt-on Fender- style bodies and that’s relatively simple if you purchase a neck and have the woodworking tools. Building a flattop body is just like shaping a cookie with a cookie cutter – as long as measurements are “square” (perpendicular or parallel), then it’s fairly simple. You then move onto building necks, and then archtop electrics, like a Les Paul or PRS style. Eventually you learn kerfing and bracing and can build acoustics. The last step is learning to carve a 1″ piece of wood to be uniformly thin top with structural integrity…AND you don’t do it with $20 piece of maple from Home Depot, you do it with some expensive wood — the kind that hurts your soul if you mess up and that you apologize to the tree it came from — so skill is the utmost importance at that point. But I think that’s decades away for me, so when I can build out a Gibson Les Paul Custom without hesitation, I’ll feel like I’m at my high point.
What’s the worst piece of gear you’ve ever owned? Conversely, what’s the best?
I usually do my research on stuff before I commit to buying it, so I don’t think of it as “worst,” but I did buy an Epiphone Dot flametop semi-hollowbody back in the early 2000s. It lasted a week with me and I returned it because the neck didn’t feel good to me. Best would be my 2003 Ruby Red PRS McCarty Rosewood that I got while in Divided By Zero. I’ve used it on every recording I’ve played guitar on since 2004 –whether it was a hard rock band, indie rock, or singer-songwriter. The low gain pickups can still push an amp or pedal to metal territory, or retain a sweetness through a low overdrive for bluesy singing. It’s my Swiss army knife. Actually its the same color as a Swiss army knife, haha. It’s still relevant to me tonally in the music I enjoy now, as was the music that I was into when I bought it 15 years ago.
I know from stalking your Insta that you just picked a Silvertone “Chris Isaak” semi-hollowbody — tell me about that guitar.
Ha…yeah itchy eBay trigger finger. It’s a 1963 and its mostly all-original — I’m going to get a Bigsby and and a set of period-correct tuners for it. So the long story is I love hollowbodies and had a few that I loved but had to sell (Epiphone Casino, Sheraton, Dot, Gibson ES-137) and now only have the Gretsch White Falcon (yeah, yeah…woe is me with a White Falcon :P). I like the deep-body versions equally as much as the thinner-depth versions, and love hearing it through a clean amp with reverb. I was on the hunt for either an ES-330L (similar to the Casino which were full hollow, but the neck joins the body farther out) or the well-known semi-hollow ES-335, but newer models were outside of my price range, and vintage ones I could only dream of owning. I thought it was not a dream in grasp so I gave up on the search. Stephen El Rey opened our first show and his guitarist, Mike Butler, had this model. I immediately recognized it as the Silvertone Chris Isaak model — one that I had looked at years ago when I was in the market for Silvertone 1484 and 1432 amps — and mentally put it on my “to get” list. I went home that night and checked eBay and found this one, bid, and won it. I thought it would be a tough one to play, but it was set up awesomely and plays so easy.
I love the logistical ease-of-use of your pedalboard — but if you could put together a board of your favorite 5-6 pedals EVER on a board of any size, what would you put on there?
Funny you should say size. I have four boards — the mini, the big one with the pedal switcher, the home version, and Babydoll Warrior’s board which borrowed a few pedals off the others. They are pretty simple and relatively the same set up. All have a low gain OD, higher gain OD, tremolo, delay, reverb. The two different overdrives give you a third tonal option when you stack them together. I like Dumble-style overdrives because I like sitting in the mix without fighting drum and bass frequencies. It’s mid-heavy but still has low and high frequencies, so whether you are in a band jamming or at home by yourself, it feels like the overdrive fills out the tonal spectrum. I found that most Dumble ODs on the market are exceptional, but the Wampler versions (Euphoria/Dual Fusion) do it for me. I am a fan of the Strymon Flint (tremolo and reverb), so if that counts as one pedal, I’m going to add a Dunlop Wah to the mix, haha. But if I had to roll into a guitar store to build or replace a pedalboard, I’d pick up either the Wampler Euphoria (or Suhr Riot if I needed metal tones), pair it with a Mad Professor Sweet Honey or Tubescreamer type, into a digital delay with tap tempo that does dotted eighths (like my Diamond Memory Lane Jr, or Wampler Doctor), Strymon Flint, and top it off with a TC Electronics tuner. I hate being out of tune so that’s probably the most important pedal.
If Wampler approached you and wanted to build a signature James Albers pedal — what would it be, what features would it have, and what would you name it?
Ha! The guys at Wampler are awesome. Side story: those guys are from Indiana, so I used to bring them beers from San Diego breweries to the NAMM show every time I went to give them some SoCal beer love. I had listened to their older podcast religiously and grew to love all of the products they put out. On one of the podcast shows, Max Jeffrey was joked at because he was a fan of the fancy hipster beers, so I thought I would do something special for that one guy in Indiana that likes craft beer. The next NAMM, I brought him the Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Stout and a Modern Times IPA. In the “NAMM episode” podcast he makes reference to it, so after years of going and bringing them limited release San Diego beer, I am now officially James “Beer Guy” Albers to them. So on that note, it would probably be a double overdrive pedal — a Tunmus (Klon style) into a modified Euphoria (Dumble OD) where the Tumnus side has the option of on/off or switches from a low gain (i.e. always on) to higher gain mode. No clue what I’d call it, but I guess appropriately it should have some reference to beer on it.
Little-known fact: We actually first met each other years ago through Craigslist while trading each other pedals — what’s the one or two things gear-wise you regret getting rid of the most?
Yes! And other little known fact, we used to run into each other at the Normal Height’s Vons and have long conversations about gear in the meat and produce sections for extended periods of time. Haha. I am a bit ADD with my gear, so gear comes in and then goes out, and usually I’m fine with selling gear because it usually means getting something newer and cooler. But there are two that I know of that I can say “I wish I hadn’t sold it”. A few years back, I had to take time off work for a few months for disability. I ended up having to sell a number of my amps and a few guitars just to pay bills until the state caught up with back-filling paychecks. Most of them I made peace with in selling but one of the guitars I had to sell was a limited edition John Mayer Fender Stratocaster in Shoreline gold with a maroon racing stripe. Kicking myself for selling it because I can’t seem to find another now and all of his Fenders are going up in price due to him leaving for PRS. But in standard fashion, if I can’t find it (or afford it), I’ll build it. I decided to build myself a custom one out of swamp ash and purple heart, and hot rod it the way I always hot rod my guitars. The other was my second guitar I ever owned, a late-‘80s/early-‘90s black and gold Japanese Epiphone Les Paul Custom my mom bought me for my birthday for $200 used. The Japanese models featured a cooler Gibson-esque “open-book” headstock, and the craftsmanship probably rivaled Gibson’s in that era. It was my main guitar in high school. My logic (way back in 1994) was that if I sold it to my brother so I could buy this hard-to-find Ibanez Sabre S5407 seven string, then I could buy the LP back at some point. He ended up loaning it to friends in a band, who I believe sold it for weed. Sigh…
To put you on the spot: I know you’re a fan of John Mayer and people talk about him like he’s the best thing since sliced bread in the guitar world. Who do you think is the best guitarist (or your favorite) alive in the game right now? (and you better not say Mayer or God help me)….
Haha, yeeeah, I’m a fan, but don’t judge me. I like John Mayer’s gear (Dumbles and vintage Strats, even that Powell Peralta Charvel!), his guitar licks, and his guitar experience, not the pomp and circumstance that follows him. But I digress… if I’m not putting in a John Mayer vote or any obvious “idol-worthy” guitarist, I would go with Mike Sullivan of Russian Circles. I grew up listening to U2’s “Joshua Tree” album and it was an eye-opening experience to hear texture applied to music from the guitar instead of just riffs and flashy scales. It eventually became something ingrained in my style and something I craved when listening to new music.
Fast forward to recent years of trying to appreciate hard rock and metal again, a few bands I liked (for example I love Red Fang) but all the guitarists out there didn’t wow me on how fast they could play or what scales they knew, or how low they tuned their guitars. Enter Russian Circles — a three-piece instrumental hard rock band that just kicks ass. Mike Sullivan creates textures using loop pedals and live playing over the top, does two-hand tapping, chugs out massive stoner rock riffs, and does all of that within a single piece of music that still has melodic lines. I met him at NAMM last year at the Nik Huber booth and he was super nice and chatted with me and my buddy for a good 30 minutes. Check out “Carpe” and “Death Rides a Pale Horse” from their first album “Enter”.
(Photo credit: Alex Matthews)
You’ve seen a ton of bands play in town and I know you’re like me and scope out what everyone’s using — who do you admire the most, gear-wise?
Well, I haven’t caught everyone yet, so I could easily change this answer…but one person I’ve recently nerded out with is Ian Owen of Oh Spirit and who plays in a number of the Redwoods Collective bands like Midnight Pine and Dani Bell & The Tarantist — all bands who I enjoy seeing play. Ian is another Dr. Z Maz amp user so we bonded on that originally, but he’s also got an awesomely cool pedalboard of boutique pedals that make you go “oooh, what’s that pedal?”. Our last conversation was about his recent acquisition — a Satellite Amp which he is gleaming over. Satellite amps are from San Diego and on my list of amps to get at some point — support local! Ian is not only super friendly but he took the time to nerd out with me, and that’s something I respect guitarist to guitarist. Also there are guitarists out there that make guitar playing sound so good and seem so effortless, and he’s one of them.
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 and who would you get it for?
Well, our drummer Kevin is in need of a drumset. The one he’s been using is cool, but belongs to a friend, so he needs one of his own. I would probably try to track down a cool looking vintage one with the weird drum wraps, like one of those old Ludwigs or Gretsches in sparkle white or oyster blue. But likely, Emily would chime in and say “get one in gold!” so I probably would end up getting a Champagne gold sparkle drumset.
Since I know you’re a beer guy: If Babydoll Warriors had their own beer — what style would it be, what name would you give it, and who would you want to brew it?
I love IPAs and recently the hazy IPAs, but my original love of craft beer was Belgians. So I guess appropriately it should be a Golden Belgian Ale. As for who, I would probably be most excited if Mikkeller, Amplified Ales (who did Low Volts’s beer recently), or if Modern Times did it, however there are a number of awesome breweries in San Diego, so I would not be unhappy with any local brewery doing it. If we aren’t talking local, Unibroue from Quebec — the Maudite and La Fin Du Monde have been some of my favorites for a while, so I figure they’d be a good option. They specialize in Belgian style, and it’d give the Megadeth beer a run for it’s money! Agh …naming … hardest thing ever. I would probably be lame and just call it “The Golden Babydoll Warrior Belgian.” Golden Babydoll Warriors used to be our original band name before we shortened it, so it would be good to put it back in use.
What’s coming up next for Babydoll Warriors?
We are scheduled to play The Merrow on Tuesday (July 10th) this week and Vinyl Junkies at the South Park walkabout later in July. The response to us from just our one show has been awesome so we’re taking it all in and trying to be strategic but move quickly. The next item of business for us is to get the songs we have recorded and put out either an EP or the full-length before the end of the summer.