Thursday, March 25, 2010

My musical instruments (Part 3)

In this third and final part of my series on instruments I use for live performance and recording, we'll take a closer look at the stuff I used in the studio for the creation of my debut album. You can check out part one (my Martin D-18V acoustic guitar) and part two (my Hohner Special 20 harps) of this instrument series if you'd like.

This stuff isn't *my* stuff!
One thing to be aware of: almost all of the instruments I used on the Zak Claxton album don't belong to me, with the exception of the aforementioned Martin guitar and set of harmonicas. Instead, they all belong to Phil O'Keefe, the owner of Sound Sanctuary Recording Studios, where I recorded the album. Why did I use Phil's gear? Simple: his is better than mine! Like a lot of cool studios, Phil keeps a wide variety of instruments on hand, and keeps them in great condition so that they're ready to pick up and play 24/7. In any case, the only things of mine that I brought with me to the session were the Martin, my harps, and myself. Everything else that I played was waiting there for me. Nice, huh?

By the way, you'll note that in some places, you'll see guitars used on parts that seem to be replicated, and it's because they are. I would occasionally use two different guitars to do a rhythm part on a song, and then Phil, in his magical way, would incorporate both into the mix. So, with no further adieu...

Epiphone Limited Edition Les Paul Standard

This is a good place to start, since I probably used this guitar for more songs than any other electric. It's also good so I can make a point here: I am NOT a guitar snob! If a guitar plays well and sounds great, I couldn't care less about what logo is on the headstock. In the case of Phil's Les Paul, it's an Epiphone, which is the lower-cost brand of Gibson. This particular guitar, like many of Phil's, has been set up by Dennis Galuszka, who is a master builder at Fender and an amazing guitar technician in general. I'm not positive, but Phil may have upgraded the stock pickups in the guitar. Regardless of all that, it plays like a dream and sounds exactly how a Les Paul with humbuckers should. Phil's is nice looking too... a cherry sunburst flame top with a creme pickguard and binding.

I used this guitar a lot on the album. Check it out...

- The solo on "Lines on your Eyes"
- Rhythm and lead on "Come Around"
- Rhythm on "This Afternoon"
- My solo on "The Sands of Redondo"
- Rhythm and lead on "Fade Away"
- My solo parts on "Waiting for This"

Epiphone Casino

This is probably Phil's personal favorite guitar, and you can't blame him for this choice. The Casino is a terrific hollowbodied electric that was made famous by a little group called the Beatles; Paul, George, and John all played them at various times. It has P-90 single-coil pickups, and a terrific biting, trebly sound that cuts through anything. Most of the guitar work on Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's you hear is via the Casino.

On my album, the Casino really shines for the solo on "This Afternoon". It's also the source of the rhythm parts of "You're Like a Cloud".

Gretsch Pro Jet

I absolutely loved this semi-hollow guitar with mini-humbuckers. It was perfect for what we called "texture guitar", where we'd want something in the back of other stuff that wasn't too obtrusive, but added a lot of depth to the arrangement. On "This Afternoon", it's the Gretsch that I used for the doorbell-like chiming harmonics, using the Bigsby vibrato to slightly detune the notes. The Gretsch was also the source of the pretty solo on "Always Tomorrow". Finally, I used it for an arpeggiated background parts on "Falling Down" and "Fade Away". Great guitar.

Fender Telecaster Special


Ooh, I loved this guitar. Classic Tele sound, smooth as hell neck. Played like butter, thanks to Dennis' expert setup. In the video above, you can see me using it for the rhythm parts of "Lines on Your Eyes". I also used it for rhythm on "Fade Away", and for the electric rhythm at the end of "Waiting for This". I should have used it even more on the album, and probably will on the next one.

Danelectro DC-12

I don't play 12-string guitars very often. They have a very specialized sound that I don't often require. But while we were recording "You're Like a Cloud", Phil put on his co-producer's hat for a moment and asked me to try and do some big open strums under the solo section. Good call, Phil. It came out great. I liked playing this guitar more than I thought I would. Plus, it was blue and sparkly. Hee.

Fender American Standard Stratocaster

What's a rock record without a Strat on it? It's like a day without sunshine. We actually used the Strat pretty sparingly on the album. As time has passed, I've become less of a "Strat Guy", whatever that means. But when it was called for, we didn't hesitate to pick it up. You can hear it on "Thanks Anyway", where there's a single-note line that's sort of a counterpoint to the acoustic rhythm in the song's choruses. But the main place you'll hear the Strat is the lead guitar on "You're Like a Cloud", both for the intro and solo parts, as well as the solo on "Falling Down".

Ibanez SR1100 bass

I consider myself every bit as much of a bass player as I am a guitarist, and have spent plenty of time as a bassist in various bands. We only used one bass on the entire Zak Claxton album: an Ibanez SR1100. I played it direct, using fingers (not a pick), and got some great sounds from it without even trying hard. I know Phil has a great signal chain for bass, but we're not going to get into all the geekdom of the recording process. Anyway, every song on the album features this bass, and it was terrific, and I can't imagine using anything else for the next album either.

So, that's it! You now know everything I played on the album. Feel free to go out and get one of these fine instruments if you like what you hear. Speaking of which, you can listen to snippets of all 11 songs right here at the music area of the Zak site.