During my formative years I’d often go to the newsagents in the train station of my hometown to pick up international guitar magazines. One of those magazines was the UK’s ‘Guitar Techniques’ and it often featured a small interview section called ‘What strings do you use?’.
Well, as the saying goes: “good artists create, great ones steal”. Therefore I've shamelessly reused these interview questions for my very own version of ‘What Strings Do You Use?’
Do you have a type of pick that you can't live without?
I have a box with all sorts of picks - nylon, stone, wood, plastic, you name it. It sometimes depends on the situation: am I playing lead or rhythm, electric or acoustic, etc. Horses for courses as they say. I’ve been using DAVA picks for several years now as my 'all-round' pick, mainly the Grip Tip Derlin ones. Recently I discovered their Rock Control Nickel Silver picks. They have a nickel tip and stay in shape forever. I guess it’s a bit like playing with a coin a la Brian May or Billy Gibbons. It's interesting how much your pick choice can affect your playing and tone.
If you had to give up all your pedals but three, what would they be?
Let’s see: my first choice would probably be a delay pedal, ideally one with darker repeats or an EQ. Something to give a bit of dimension to the notes. It’s a double-edged sword of course since delays can also cover up playing mistakes. So when I switch it on I often joke that I’m adding ‘a bit of extra-talent’ to mask my cock-ups. My second choice would be a wah pedal. I think it was the second pedal I’ve ever bought when I started out (after an overdrive pedal) a Jim Dunlop CryBaby if I recall correctly. Over the years I’ve had various types and makes and I like the Morley switchless wah. For the third pedal I’d go with some type of boost or overdrive pedal - something to kick the front-end of an amp into overdrive, possibly a tape-echo style preamp. I have an old Watkins CopyCat Tape-Echo and the preamp works great in that respect. I only use it for recording as it’s too finicky to take out.
Do you play another instrument well enough to be in a band?
I can play rudimentary drums - beginner’s grade. If I’d spend a bit more time practicing I’d be able to play a few easy songs. Having a basic understanding of how to play helps when programming drums though. And I guess I’d be able to fake it as a rock bass player. I’ve played bass on a number of occasions in various band set-ups but I’m not a ‘proper’ bass player.
If a music chart was put in front of you, could you read it?
When I was studying guitar at the Munich Guitar Institute I had to learn how to read, all the course material was fully notated (no tab in sight) and there were sight reading tests. I used to transcribe stuff as well. So at one time I was pretty fluent - these days I’m rather rusty. I usually stick with chord charts and my own notation ‘short-hand’.
Do guitar cables really make a difference?
The overall length of your cable will absolutely affect your sound. The longer the cable, the more high frequencies are cut from your signal. A 1m cable delivers more high-end information than a 10m cable - therefore they do ‘sound’ different. Once you are aware of this, it’s a matter of adjusting your gear accordingly. For me, a guitar cable has to be well-made, properly shielded and withstand abuse .
Is there anyone's playing (past or present) that you're slightly jealous of?
No, not really. If anything it’s more the songwriting or overall artistry that I admire. There’s always going to be someone who is ‘faster’ or ‘more outrageous’ or ‘more emotional’ or more ‘whatever’ than me. I obviously have my heroes and influences, and they do show in my playing. I’m just trying to be myself as much as possible.
Your house/studio is burning down: which guitar do you salvage?
Probably one of my Nash guitars. Or the Les Paul, or the MIJ Strat... I have a few guitars that are constantly in rotation. I'm also not much of a 'vintage guitar collector' so if my studio burnt down I think I'd grab the one that's closest to me. Of course, if I ever have my own signature guitar model the answer to this questions would very much change (hint, hint). ;-)
What's your favourite amp and how do you set it?
I like the hot-rodded ‘British Rock’ type of sound, so anything between a pushed Plexi and a JCM800 or variations thereof works for me. I have a selection of amps - Marshall, Bogner, Friedman, Soldano. I’m currently using the Line 6 Helix Amp- and Effects processor and I’ve got plenty of amp models to choose from, but I keep coming back to the modded ‘British Rock’ thing. In the Helix I’m particularly fond of the Placater Model - a model of the Friedman BE100. Having the option of assigning certain functions to footswitches on the Helix allows me to get a variety of different tones from just this one amp model. And to be honest: my two main tones are 1) ON and 2) OFF. :-)
In terms of settings, I find that the type of Cabinet or Speaker IR you use influences your guitar tone way more than where you set your bass or treble controls. For my instrumental music I prefer a 4x12 cab with Greenback speakers over more modern-sounding speakers like the Vintage 30.
What kind of action do you have on your guitars?
It’s relatively low so I can do all the legato-stuff but it needs to be high enough to make the melody notes sing. I usually have it set up so that I can bend up a minor 3rd at the 12th fret on the high e-string without fretting out.
What guitar strings do you use?
I’ve been using Elixir strings for two decades now and am very happy with them. They are consistently great sounding plus they last forever. Over the last few months I’ve been experimenting with string gauges and I'm currently using a ‘hybrid’ set. The top 3 strings are from a 8 - 38 set and the bottom ones from a 9 - 42. I used to go with heavier sets, usually 10s or 11s but I had some pain in my fretting hand and noticed that I simply used too much pressure while playing. Using lighter gauge strings helps me with controlling the tension in my hand. And since I do quite a bit of legato playing I find it helps. In terms of tone I think the differences between the gauges are noticeable but not to the extend that you can't compensate by adjusting your amp or pedals.
I'm not going into the debate about "SRV used 13s so if you want a big, fat tone you should do the same" as it's just silly. Everybody need to find out what works for them rather than just following what someone else did or what 'that one dude on the internet' said (and yes, that includes me and this post :-)
I hope you found this article interesting / informative / possibly entertaining. Feel free to leave a comment or ask me a question. Or tell me about your favourite piece of gear. Or what strings you use.
Cheers and rock well!