My very first guitar was a Ventura Sunburst Les Paul. I played it for a few years before getting my first Strat-shaped guitar. I remember when I put the Strat on… I felt like I wanted to run around onstage. I just don’t like Les Pauls. They sound great, but to me feel like crap. Actually, I don’t like any guitar shape that isn’t beveled off/contoured for your right forearm (I’ve lost a few endorsement deals due to this). That sharp edge just digs in and I feel like it’s cutting off my circulation.
Back in my younger days, my dad did a lot of woodworking. He showed me how to use saws, sanders, a drill, etc, when I was in grade school, so building a guitar was just something that came easy for me. If I can build a guitar how I want it, why buy something at a store that I’d have to modify? I also was messing around with electronics, taking guitar cords apart, checking out the inside of amps (sometimes while they were turned on!), getting schematics from MXR, Peavey and Mesa Boogie, building my own pedalboards, etc…
The first guitar that I built was made out of a door. It was a black and white Flying V, but painted like Eddie Van Halen’s guitars (with the painted masking tape). After building a few more guitars, I learned that they’re supposed to be made of hardwood, so I then built my red white and black swirl strat (out of maple wood) that was my main guitar during WatchTower.
After building a few more guitars, I learned that they’re supposed to be made of hardwood. During my S.A. Slayer days, I built a white and back Flying Strat (mahogany wood), the red “Goose” guitar (poplar wood), and then I then built my red white and black swirl strat (maple wood) that was my main guitar during WatchTower.
Years later, an old friend of mine named Al Berlanga showed me how to refret guitars. I discovered jumbo frets at this time. Yngwie was raving about scalloped necks and I just didn’t understand what the big difference was between having super high frets and a scalloped fingerboard. I remember playing a guitar for the first time with jumbo frets and it was like walking on a tightrope (not that I’ve ever walked on a tightrope, but you get the idea.). Ever since then, all of my guitars have either jumbo or (if I can find them), Xtra high jumbos.
My main 3 electric guitars are the black with red blots 7 string, the black and white swirl 6 string, and the red with black blots 6 string. I built these guitars using various combinations of poplar, alder and maple woods. I paint them by laying the bodies down flat, then smearing around various paint colors. All 3 have 27 Jim Dunlop 6000 jumbo frets, Floyd Rose tremolos, and maple fingerboards that have been painted black. The reason they have 27 frets is so I can have total access to the 24th fret (I rarely play above the 24th fret). To do this I glue on a chunk of maple wood about 1″ to the end of the neck, then shape it. For necks, I just buy cheap guitars then take the necks off, sand off the fingerboard, refingerboard with 1/4″ maple, paint it black, then refret.
I played this red 6 string with the black patches at the 2010 WatchTower KIT gig in Germany. Since the gig was a one-off and my wife and I were going to check out a few sights while we were there, I didn’t want to have another case to carry around or check on to the flight. And so I bought a cheap guitar, took the neck off and tried to fit it into my carry on. It almost fit, but I had to cut the headstock off and install a hinge. It ended up looking like Beaker from Sesame Street. This body is the first prototype of the current wacky shape of my main 3 guitars.
I built this doubleneck to pull off material from Spastic Ink’s “Ink Compatible.” Spastic Ink never played any gigs, but I used this printed circuit board guitar quite a bit at local cover gigs.
I have several old guitar bodies in the garage. They are currently out of commission because the necks that were on them are currently on other guitars (two of them were signed by Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai).
I also have a few “store bought” guitars… an Ibanez acoustic and a generic Arbor bass which has been converted to a 5 string. The bridge is a chopped up and shaped toothbrush turned on its side, the nut is made out of some 1/8″ plastic material, and a hole was drilled in the headstock for another machine head. The body was also routed out for a Bartolini pickup. I used this up until ‘Solitarily Speaking Of Theoretical Confinement’ (2003), but now whenever I need bass for demos or whatever, I just fire up a midi bass.
I use Dean Markley and/or GHS Boomers strings 10-46, red Jim Dunlop XL series Jazz III picks with the point rounded off a bit with 220 sandpaper. Office Depot makes these cool paper holders which are also pick holders. I stick them to the lower inside area of the long horn on my guitars. My wireless system is a Line6 Relay G30.
To record, I’ve been using a Johnson J-Station pod since ‘Solitarily Speaking Of Theoretical Confinement’ (2002). I sometimes whip out my Line6 pod to record, but 95% of recording is done with the J-Station. The amp models that I use are “Rectified” for dirty rhythm sounds, “Brit Combo” and “J Clean” for clean sounds, and for leads I use “Rectified” and “J Solo.” Speaker cabinets setting is Celestion 4 12’s.
This is the amp/cabinets/monitors/effects setup that I use for local gigs. When I did the European and Japan tours with Marty Friedman, I didn’t take any of this stuff. I remember walking into the Friedman Japan rehearsals and there were 2 brand new bright and shiny Engl full stacks waiting for me to plug in to. At any of the WatchTower overseas festival reunion gigs, I just used whatever amp/cabinet the event provided (usually a Boogie or Marshall).
All of my cabinets and racks are 29 3/4″ (width) x 14″ (depth) so I can interchange and rearrange them as I please, depending on what is required for the gig or rehearsal. I built all of my cabinets and racks. Yes, the folks at Lowe’s and Home Depot know me by name.
The PREAMP RACK has a single rack space Digitech GSP1101 preamp, a Crown XLS1000 power amp, a Line6 wireless Relay G30 receiver, and a tackle box. The wireless is mounted to a pull-out shelf, as is the tackle box with whammy bars, Allen wrenches, earplugs, picks, solder, and Halls Cool Berry Breezers. Yum.
I have no stomp boxes at all. Zero. The Digitech preamp has a foot controller, and that’s all that I have on the floor. The harmonizer in the Digitech is phenomenal, and the wah-wah/whammy pedal isn’t bad. It has 99 user presets for any combination of preamps and sound effects that I want. That’s pretty much all I need. The reason I don’t have an Axe-FX is because I’ve had this setup for quite a while, and it works for me.
The Mesa Boogie Simul Class 295 has two 95W power amps. I only use this when I need a full stack or more. The Crown power amp will run one cabinet at 4 ohms, while the Boogie will run the other two. A more ideal set up though is to run two 4 12″ cabinets with the Boogie, and two of my 2 12″ monitors with the Crown. Both the Boogie and Crown have variable ohm outputs, which means I can match amps/speakers so I don’t blow anything up. The open space to the right of the Boogie is for Goldschlager shots.
I have four 4 12″ cabinets, all loaded with four 16 ohm Celestion G-70 speakers. Only two cabinets are pictured here because the other two are in storage. I haven’t used the other two since the old WatchTower days when Doug (Keyser, WatchTower bassist) and I used to have 4 fully loaded speaker cabinets on each side of the stage. Back then I had an old Ampeg power amp that went down to 2 ohms.
My main 4 12″ cabinet is wired with two input jacks, giving me the option to split it up into two sets of 2 12″s at 8 ohms each. (This cabinet works great for rehearsals. I just run the guitar (Crown power amp) signal into 2 speakers, and the sampler (Rocktron power amp) into the other two). Or I can run the cabinet with the main input jack running all 4 speakers at 4 ohms. The other three cabinets are straight up 4 ohms each. I also have four 2 12″ monitors. Two are slanted, and the other two are stackable (with the speakers mounted at an angle).
At the bottom of my amp/cabinet/rack setup is sometimes a carrying case (with the same 29 3/4″ x 14″ dimensions as my cabinets/racks). It raises the cabinet a bit, and keeps cords, mics, stands, adapters, etc… organized while staying out of the way while actually playing the gig.
On top of my main 4 12″ cabinet are Hercules guitar holders. I took the actual holder off of the stand, and mounted them directly into the top of my cabinet. These work GREAT for keeping your guitars in one piece while gigging. I used to have guitar stands everywhere and guitars would always get knocked over. I currently only have two of the Hercules mounted, but I used to have 4 guitars draped around the cabinet.
The SAMPLER RACK has a Roland SP-404 sampler, and a Peavey PV6 6 channel mixer (4 channels in reality) mounted to a put-out shelf, a Rocktron 300 Velocity which has two 150W power amps, and a L/R channel selector switch which splits up the stereo samples into mono L and R signals so I can get twice the amount of samples in memory. I only use this rack for Exit Stage Left (Rush tribute band) gigs/rehearsals.
The TAURUS PEDALS are homemade. I built this contraption out of half inch plywood (bottom layer), 1/4″ pressed hardboard (outer frame), 7/8″ thick shelving wood (keys), metal wall mounts (contacts mounted to the frame) and those springy metal things that hold picture frames in place (metal strips mounted on the keys). Not kidding. Yes, it works great. The electronics were designed by Trevor Jacobs, an old friend of mine. This taurus “foot controller” sends midi signals to the Roland Sampler, which then spits out the audio to the house PA and the Rocktron power amp.
WAH WAH PEDAL
This was a stock Dunlop wah pedal. As you can see it has a volume knob. The knob adjusts the depth of the sweep (I usually leave it on 10). The pedal is actually a parametric equalizer. I found the schematic in an old Guitar Player magazine. Craig Anderton had a monthly column and he’d have all sorts of cool, guitar/amp electronic things to build. After building the parametric EQ, it sounded so cool that I took all the guts out of my wah, and “installed” the EQ. I had to fit the printed circuit board in, add a battery (it uses a bipolar power supply), and add a double potentiometer. You can really hear this on the intro of Blotted Science’s ‘Cretaceous Chasm’, the solo on Blotted Science’s ‘Amnesia’, and ‘Two Thirds Of Satan’ from my solo CD ‘Solitarily Speaking…’