About The Torch: A monthly series, The Torch aims to help musicians of all ages and talent levels learn more about their respective instruments. Each issue features band members from around the world discussing their craft. They provide our readers with advice and insight towards their person experiences, as well as talking about the tool of their livelihood. Whether you’re an aspiring musician, beginner, fan, or expert, there’s something here for everyone. I truly believe it takes one generation to inspire another. With each issue, I hope we can motivate more and more readers to become the forces they admire.
Written & Produced by Meryl DeWitt | Edited by Rachel Rosell | Photos by ClickAndPrey Photography & other providers
With a sound louder than a voice, the guitar is hard to miss at a show. It's no wonder why they're usually one of the most loved members of the band and we needed to bring some shredders back to the series! Today the dynamic duo of Servant Sun, Ronald O'Kane and Colin Nicol, are here accompanied by Sins Of Motion's lead, Rikki Lee.
Meryl DeWitt: How old were you when you got your first guitar? What was your first guitar?
Rikki Lee: I got my first guitar when I was like 8 years old but I didn't have any interest in playing it until I was like 13 years old, and it was a very old Jackson/Charvell.
Colin Nicol: I was 14 when I got my first guitar; a Jim Deacon Fender Strat copy. It was red with a white scratch plate, which I quickly ruined with band stickers and a terrible homemade paint job. It’s probably worth more as firewood now.
Ronald O’Kane: I was 11 or 12 years old. My first guitar was a really cheap acoustic that cost, like, 60 quid from our local music shop. My mum bought me it and I hijacked my sister's guitar songbook, as she was learning guitar too at this point. I think the first songs I learned were “Scarborough Fair” and “Nothing Else Matters”.
Meryl: For anyone wanting to learn, what would you suggest as a starter guitar?
Ronald: I'd recommend an acoustic guitar for building up calluses in your fingers. You basically wanna be able to create a dead skin mask out of the skin remnants gathering under those thick strings. Slayer!
Rikki: I would have to say an Epiphone. I have owned an Epiphone Les Paul since I was 14 years old and I still use the same guitar in every show I play with my band Sins Of Motion. You can beat the Hell out of them and they last forever, they play decent and sound good!
Colin: Any guitar can be great with a set-up and a little bit of work, but depending on the budget you’re better to go with something with some resale value. Nobody is going to buy that dusty Axe sitting in the cupboard with more points than Russell Brand on political issues.
Meryl: Through trial and error in your career, are there any of your mistakes you'd warn young guitarists to be cautious of?
Colin: Boredom kills. Play with others to inspire yourself. Preparation is key in any situation and try not get frustrated. Music is passion, it’s meant to be enjoyed.
Ronald: Don't just learn something as an exercise and then fail to apply it to the music that you're playing. I remember obsessing over the John Petrucci Instructional DVD and not being able to go over 9000 BPM like him. Then I realized a while later that stuff didn't even interest me and I'd never apply it to the things I wanted to do with guitar. Also practice your vibrato and try to practice just guitar to amp. It kinda forces you to write something good than relying on FX or an amazing tone. Even if all your gear fails you at a show, you know it’s still gonna sound good.
Meryl: What's the biggest stage nightmare you've ever had?
Rikki: There have been a few nightmares I've had/experienced on stage. I've had strap lock buttons fall off while on stage. I've had my guitar jack input rip out while on stage, cables get ripped out of my amp and so on. But I think the biggest nightmare I have experienced while on stage was in one of my old bands. We were playing at a club in Indiana and the place was packed. The guy who was running sound sucked and the acoustics in the venue were horrible. We couldn't hear each other at all. Somehow we all ended up in a different part of the song and it was just a complete train wreck!! And to top things off I didn't bring a backup guitar and ended up breaking my 4th string, so the show was pretty much a total fail!!
Colin: I think Ron can answer this one better than I can, haha. Everyone has that fear of the cable falling out and being so lost in the moment that you don't notice you’re playing absolute silence... No? Just me? Accidentally hitting the wrong pedal for those crucial moments, exploding amps, sweaty fingers, forgetting how to even play the guitar... all the strings falling off at once... These are the things that keep me awake at night.
Ronald: I think I had a living nightmare actually. At one show, my guitar string snapped, I ran to grab the backup guitar and slipped and fell on beer to only plug said backup guitar in and find it started buzzing due to the electronics inside failing. It was hot up on stage that night. Real hot.
Meryl: What is your current equipment setup for playing live?
Ronald: I play through an EVH 5150 50w amplifier, and for guitars I'm using my beloved Parker P38 and my reliable Ibanez RG Chameleon (it changes hue depending on the light, it's pretty X-files-ish). I use just a few guitar pedals for FX. The most important being the BOSS OC-2 octave generator. It's the core of our meaty sound. I found out Deron from CKY uses it on everything they do, so naturally, so do I now. I also have a custom Servant Sun delay pedal built by Taurus Pedals (an epic pedal making company owned by Russ Pedersen, check it out). I also use a TC Electronic Hall of Fame for reverb, a BOSS PH-3 phase shifter and a BOSS NS-2 Noise Suppressor to keep it all quiet.
Colin: Let me enter gear geek mode for a second. I'm still slightly old school, I haven't converted to the church of Axe FX or Kemper yet. I use an orange TH30 Head (until my budget allows something tastier but it sounds amazing live), and my ever rotating pedal board. I'm a self-proclaimed pedal junkie and I need my f(i)x.
Rikki: I use a Bugera 333 120-watt amplifier head, with a Crate 4x12 cab, loaded with Celestion Speakers. Cabinets very from show to show. It just depends on if we have a supplied backline that night or not. I use very little effects. I use reverb and delay, and sometimes a Boss Metalcore distortion pedal. When I do use effects they are always Boss or MXR/Dunlop, but mostly it’s just direct into the Bugera 333 with reverb and delay in the effects loop!! I like to play with effects when I'm in the studio but live I like to keep it direct and simple because I hate tap dancing with a pedal board!! I mainly play Les Paul guitars, Gibson and Epiphone, but I own a few different guitars. So I just go with what I’m feeling that night, but usually It's either an Epiphone, Les Paul classic with Seymour Duncan pickups, and a Gibson Les Paul Custom with stock pickups. My backup for the Classic is a Les Paul Studio Custom with unknown pickups, and the backup for the Gibson Les Paul Custom is an Epiphone Les Paul Black Beauty with stock pickups!!
Meryl: Is your studio setup any different? If so, what is it?
Colin: I have a custom built Hoffnine cab that I use in the studio, but most venues have cabs so there's not much need to drag it everywhere. It will be coming on tour in April, though, for some rough road action. I try to keep everything on the pedalboard the same to stop any time-wasting while setting up on stage.
Rikki: When I'm in the studio I like to play with different guitars, amps, and effects. I just like to try new things and find new sounds for songs and such!!
Ronald: My studio setup is the same as my live setup. I like to be consistent and that way it's familiar when you take your gear elsewhere.
Meryl: What's the best guitar you've ever owned?
Rikki: The Gibson Les Paul Custom is the most expensive guitar that I have owned, but my favorite guitar for sound and playability is my Epiphone Les Paul Classic!!
Ronald: My tobacco sunburst Parker P-38. It was a childhood dream to own a Parker guitar ever since seeing Deron Miller from CKY use one in the 'Escape from Hellview' video. The fins of the body match the headstock shape. It's a work of art!
Colin: My Parker P42 is a total workhorse and is definitely my favourite. Even though it looks like it’s been attacked by zombies. Guitars come and go, but you will have to pry that out of my cold dead hands to separate me from that machine. They don't make that model anymore, sadly, but there is a beautiful white Parker Fly Deluxe on eBay right now...just saying, in case anyone wants to buy me it.
Meryl: What's the worst guitar you ever owned?
Colin: I try to avoid terrible guitars, but I guess it would have to be an Ibanez I had for a short while. It was the colour of a lime green ice pole, and hurt to stare at it too long for fear of getting radiation poisoning. It was a toxic eyesore and I wasn't in an 80's hair metal band, so it had to go.
Ronald: My ex bought me a Stagg acoustic guitar once. I don't even think it was made of wood, some kind of ancient plastic. The strings felt like 6 metal prison bar poles were glued onto this bit of ancient Tupperware. However, one day I felt like playing it because I didn't have an acoustic. As it had been left lying in a damp cupboard the strings had all detuned, and it was left in this open A sharp kind of tuning. I fiddled with it a bit and ended up writing a lot of music with it for Servant Sun. The irony.
Rikki: I've owned quite a few beaters but the worst was a Squire Affinity Strat that sounded and played horrible. Me and my Dad tried hot roding it and put better pickups in it which made it sound better, but no matter how much you work we put into it the neck just felt like junk!!
Meryl: What's your dream guitar to own one day? (Custom, collectors, etc.)
Colin: There are some amazing custom guitars from lesser known companies that I occasionally drool over, like Daemoness, Carillion, Blackmachine and Mayones. Those things are works of art. Maybe one day...
Rikki: Original 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard!! I want to own multiple guitars but that is my DREAM guitar!!
Ronald: I think I'd like to own a Parker Nitefly, tobacco sunburst with black scratchplate. Or one of those Makena Blue PRS Custom 24's. But a top grade Parker guitar would always be my first choice.
Meryl: Do you name your guitars? (If so, what are their names?)
Rikki: I don't really name them. I just call them by numbers. So the Classic is Number 1, the Gibson Les Paul Custom is Number 2, The Studio Custom is Number 3, and The Black Beauty is Number 4. It's just always worked out for me this way!!
Colin: They’re named after all the great actors, Guitarnold Schwarzenegger, Keanu Riffs, Denzel Moshington, and Shredward Norton.
Ronald: No, I’ve never named them really, aside from the Tupperware Stagg, which had a few names, but none that are very polite.
Meryl: What's the most extreme way a guitar of yours has met her fate? (Ex: smashing on stage, getting stolen, being set on fire...)
Ronald: My old Schecter V-1 Hellraiser was left leaning against my bed when I took a break from practicing to eat dinner. I came back to find her on the floor and the headstock was splintered. I got it sent in for repair to only do the exact same thing to it again. I then binned it before Hellraiser V-3 happened, we all know how bad Hellraiser 3 was.
Colin: I had another Ibanez that I had just bought from the previous day and was walking with it on my back. I hadn't zipped the bag to the top, and the thing flew out the bottom, arse first onto the concrete and bounced away into the grass. Always zip it up to the headstock. Lesson learned.
Rikki: The Epiphone Les Paul Classic of mine has had the neck cracked on it by falling out of a truck. It’s fell off the guitar stand and broke the headstock off. It's broke down on me multiple times but I just keep fixing it or getting it fixed and keep using it!! It is literally my baby haha!!
Meryl: Who's your personal guitarist hero?
Colin: I used to be impressed by all the typical shredders like Zakk Wylde, Alexi Laiho and of course Dimebag, but as I grew I appreciated the dynamic elements to song writing instead of super fast solos. I appreciate unusual and unique sounds that add the overall sound. Guitarists like Nick DePirro (Night Verses), Mike Einziger (Incubus), and Hoss and Goddard (Karnivool) are incredible.
Rikki: I have so many to list. I love John 5, Joe Walsh, Malmsteen, Monte Money, Syn Gates, and the list goes on forever but my all-time favorite guitarist is by far my dad. He has taught me basically everything I know on a guitar, and I definitely wouldn't be where I am today without him!!
Ronald: Deron Miller from CKY and Buckethead.
Meryl: Finally, what is your favourite part of being a guitarist?
Ronald: When you write a riff that gives you goosebumps and then you play that riff for the rest of the night.
Rikki: Guitar work, riffs, solos; Everything about it. I love the feeling of picking up a guitar and punching out a new riff. I love the feeling of being up on stage!! I love everything about it, the feeling of playing is just the best feeling in the world!!
Colin: I love bass and drums (although I suck at them), but there is something about guitar that just feels right. I came back to guitar in my early 20's after giving up for years, and as the great Shia Labeouf says...just do it!