Changing Amps and Building Guitars with Intronaut’s Sacha Dunable

With the official launch of Gear Gods this week I wanted to do something special and set up some interviews with the artists behind some of my favorite albums of the year, one of which was Intronaut’s Habitual Levitations. The band’s co-guitarist and co-vocalist Sacha Dunable took a few minutes, during the band’s just-launched European tour with Scale The Summit, to answer a few questions about the core components of Intronaut’s tone.

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So I’ve noticed that Intronaut’s swapped out its amplifiers: Mesa/Boogie Royal Atlantics in place of the Laneys you used to use (VH100R, right?). How has this affected the sound of the band?

Both amps are more or less based on a classic British style amp, with separate clean, boosted, and full on dirty channels, with EL34 tubes.  Basically that classic nasally midrange you’d get from a JCM800 or something like that.  So the sound hasn’t really changed, I guess that wasn’t why we switched.  The reason for the switch was that since we started touring a lot more, I was looking to get some kind of deal with a company that would provide some support, mostly if an amp breaks down or whatever.  I had a power transformer blow up in a Laney VH100r a few years back and it literally took one whole year for their North American distributor to get me a replacement.  If that had happened while we were touring, it would be a huge pain in the ass and probably a financial inconvenience to get sorted.  So for like a year I was trying to contact someone at that company, saying basically that I loved those amps (which I did besides them having a history of blowing up) and that I’m playing them all over the world in front of a bunch of people, and that I just don’t want to have to worry about my amp working while on tour.  No free shit, just a little love, you know?  And I never heard anything back.  At the time I was working at a guitar store that was a Mesa dealer and fell in love with some of their amps, like the Mark series and Electrodyne.  The Royal Atlantic had just come out and did everything the Laney did and more, so I hit up their artist people and they were really enthusiastic about helping us out, so I got one and then Dave did too.  I can’t say enough about how killer these heads are.

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In the window of time when you had switched heads but Dave was still using a Laney, were you tempted to talk him into keeping it just for tonal variety? You guys play the same guitars with the same pickups, right? Do you make an effort to EQ your amps different? Or do you want your tones to sound similar?

Well the reason for that was I just got mine first to try it out, and then he got his right after that first tour.  We do use similar guitars and the same pickups, but we probably dial in our tones a little differently.  I’m not that meticulous about it honestly.  The eq on these amps doesn’t change anything too drastically so I usually just take 30 seconds to set it at the show and it sounds awesome.  I don’t even know how Dave sets his, but I think it sounds great.  In the studio we might spend more time, but live, we just make sure our overall volumes are similar and forget about it.

The Laney heads also had EL34s in them right? Just like the Mesa Royal Atlantics. Do you consider that the sound of the band? Is it just a tone you like or are you trying to differentiate yourselves from more standard metal guitar tones?

Yeah I’ve just always preferred the sound of an amp with EL34s.  At least for this kind of stuff.  One of the coolest things about Mesa amps is that they have a fixed bias so you can change tubes yourself easily.  You can also switch between 6L6 or EL34.  We actually got a set of 6L6’s from Mesa and tried it out just to see what it sounded like, and it was a much darker tone which didn’t work for us.  I like a lot of 6L6 amps, like the 5150, but that’s just not the sound we’re going for.  I think you need a lot of overdrive to get those amps to sound heavy, and we don’t use that much gain/distortion.

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I imagine amps with a more upper midrange focus leave more room for Joe to cut through the mix, and his playing is obviously one of your standout components.

That is definitely one of the many positives they have for us.  I’ve just always thought that honky upper midrange helped the guitars occupy their own frequency in the mix and not step on the bass and drums.

You and Dave both use active pickups, right? Were you using active EMGs before your endorsement or was that something the company recommended?

I’ve always really liked the sound of active pickups through a not necessarily “metal” sounding amp.  Like just the chunkiness and string/note clarity you can get by keeping the gain down a bit and letting the high output pickups just absolutely crush your amp’s preamp.  The problem before was that an EMG 81 is just unacceptable once you hit the clean channel.  Joe’s Ampeg rep Chrys Johnson (a/k/a the most excellent dude in the music industry) moved over to EMG, so Joe got some pickups, and I learned that they were making these newer pickups like the X series, Het set, and most recently the 57/66 set which are all a bit more reasonable on the clean tones, and actually even clearer for dirty stuff, but still have that intensity I’m looking for.  The 57/66 is what we both use right now.

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You also build guitars when you’re not on tour, right? Do you play your own guitars in the band? Do you bandmates?

I do!  I’ve been building for a few years now and just moved into a bigger shop where I’ve been able to crank out work quicker.  I don’t have a full on website for the “brand” yet but you can see some examples at www.valleyfretworks.com.  I haven’t updated it in a while so I don’t think everything is up there.  I’m still learning as I go, but I’ve made some guitars I’m really proud of.  As soon as I have the time I plan on launching an actual line of guitars, but for now I’m just taking orders for whatever people want built.  And yeah Dave and I are both playing guitars I made on this current European tour.

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Are any other noteworthy bands using your guitars?

A few, yeah.  Dudes in Red Fang, The Atlas Moth, Murder Construct, and The Proselyte out of Boston have guitars I’ve made.  I also freelanced for Fernandes for a while and made custom guitars for Municipal Waste and Overkill.  I also have a few projects waiting for me when I get home that I’m pretty excited about.

It’s been a bit since Habitual Levitations came out. Have you guys started working on any new material or has your tour schedule been taking up all your time?

Nothing really yet, no.  We have been extremely busy this year so there hasn’t been much writing time.  We’re hoping to get one out by the end of 2014, which would actually be less than two years since the last release.

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Thanks for taking the time to do the interview. Anything you wanted to bring up in closing?

Thanks for the interview Chris!

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Chris Alfano has written about music and toured in bands since print magazines and mp3.com were popular. Once in high-school he hacked a friend's QBasic stick figure fighting game to add a chiptune metal soundtrack. Random attractive people still give him high-fives about that.