The Torch: Series 2 - Issue #3
The Torch is a monthly tech series aimed to please the fascination of amateurs and experts alike. We’re closing out 2022 with a lot of hair & flair! Today’s venture takes us from doom to glam, via the streets of Houston, Brooklyn, and Finland.
D&D: How old were you when you got your first guitar? What was your first guitar?
Brandon Barger: My first guitar was an Ibanez Bass. My parents got it for me when I was 11. My older brother, Jarett, had a bass that a girlfriend let him borrow, and I'd sneak in his room and take it when he wasn't home. My first 6 string guitar was a white Epiphone Les Paul that I got when I was 16.
Henry Black: When I was 8 years old, my aunt sent me and my younger brother each a 1/2 sized nylon string classical guitar that I can safely say I picked up no more than 2 times. Several years later I got obsessed with country music, and my dad gave me a yellow Squier Telecaster with these cool Duncan Design p90s.
Pepe Reckless: I was about 9 years old when my older sister got a Landola nylon string acoustic, but I ended up playing it more than her.
D&D: For anyone wanting to learn, what would you suggest as a starter guitar?
Brandon: I learned on a variety of different electric guitars in my teenage years; Epiphones, Ibanez, Fender.... Any cheap electric 6 string would do. As long as the passion is there, you can learn it. I'd say I liked my Epiphone Les Paul the most.
Henry: I actually used to sell guitars for years, so I have a pitch for this: If you are serious about learning, it’s important to start on a guitar that not only inspires you, but also one that doesn’t fight you back. Starting on a brand new $50 unplayable junked up guitar does you no favors, and is a waste of money. If it’s too much to spend a few hundred, go to a music store every day and play their guitars until you have the money. It’s worth it. My first guitar was $20 and I never touched it. Cheapest guitars I’d recommend for a beginner are those cheap Yamahas.
Pepe: Get lessons, maybe? I never did. I studied music theory and got lessons for the French Horn, which I studied and played until my teens, but I never took any guitar lessons and learned by ear. It was before the internet and YouTube too, so I had to struggle a bit to get going, but slowly and surely I figured stuff out.
D&D: Through trial and error in your career, are there any mistakes you’d warn young guitarists to be cautious of?
Brandon: I think it's good to try and learn some technique as you're starting. Like vibrato, and how to bend notes/strings. If you learn in a weird way, it'll be kinda hard to unlearn that later. That happened to me. I had to work on my vibrato and change my hand positioning a few years in.
Henry: There aren’t really too many mistakes you can make as long as you’re learning. I went through a Yngwie phase, a Jerry phase, a country phase, and have landed squarely in the middle of all of my influences. The biggest mistake is not starting sooner than later. There’s no better time to start than now, if that’s what you want to do. Any head start you can give yourself now you’ll thank yourself for later. Also, get paid for your work. ESPECIALLY if you don’t dig the music.
Pepe: Again, I’d say take lessons, and take advice openly from experienced guitarists. Try different guitars, styles and gear out with an open mind, and figure out what suits your style of play and music tastes the best.
D&D: What’s the biggest stage nightmare you’ve ever had?
Brandon: I get pretty wild on stage, so all kinds of stuff can happen haha. I've fallen off a few stages before, rocking out too hard. I've unplugged my guitar on the opening song before. I think one of the most memorable happenings was when we blew the power in the club very early in the set. Like 2 songs in, the whole place just went black. It was wild.
Henry: I was a Blues Guitar Kid™️ when I was younger, and was recruited by these 20 something year old dudes to be their on stage gimmick. I fucked up a bit at a show once and was publically reprimanded on stage by the singer, and that one sucked.
Pepe: I guess it was the very first gig with Reckless Love (or actually ’Reckless Life’ as we were called back then). We were all proper amateurs back then and I had no backup gear - even only one guitar onstage. Of course I broke a string. Twice. And had to restring right there on stage between songs.
D&D: Current equipment setup for playing live?
Brandon: I have 3 guitars in rotation right now for my live set-up: 1977 Gibson Les Paul Custom, Gibson Les Paul Classic with P-90's, Gibson Flying V Traditional Pro; Marshall 1959 Super Lead 100 watt Plexi amp head, 1960 Marshall Cab with Celestion Creamback speakers, Power Plug 100 Attenuator from Recycled Sound, Boss Flanger pedal, Fulltone OCD Overdrive pedal, Boss Tuner pedal.
Henry: I have a newish Flying V (the 70s series bound rosewood board white one) and upon plugging it in, realized their “70s inspired pickups” were not at all what I expected. When I hear “high output vintage”, my eyes glaze over because the essence of vintage pickups is a relatively low output in comparison to modern pickups, and these clocked in around 20k. So, I put a Fralin Firebird in the bridge at around 6k (the OG fbird pickup construction with the two rails) and a Fralin PAF in the neck at like 8 or 9k. I run that through a pickup booster pedal to get some more gain and darken it up a little bit, a rangemaster copy, a 70s Ibanez phaser, and finally, a Catalinbread echoplex that I modified to control the preamp gain. That all goes to a 5e3 that I built from a kit and then fucked with immensely. I switched the ax7 for an ay7 in V1 to lower the gain, put in a negative feedback loop to cut some more gain, and left it on a setting that essentially cuts out the cathode bypass in that first tube. I also switched some of the capacitor values, and put in a Celestion Blue to make it louder.
Pepe: My #1 guitar is an old Kramer George Lynch model from the mid 80’s. It goes through a Dunlop EVH Wah and a Digitech Whammy (the only two pedals I use onstage) to a Marshall JMP-1 preamp. From the preamp, the signal goes to a T.C.Electronic G-Major effects unit for modulation and time-based effects, and finally to the power amp stage of a Marshall JVM410h. I use two different types of Marshall Cabinets simultaneously—one with Celestion Greenbacks, and the other with G12T/75s.
D&D: Does your setup differ in the studio? If so, how?
Brandon: My set-up is the exact same in the recording studio. I will do double tracks and harmony tracks with different amp heads though. I like to use a Marshall Silver Jubilee and an Orange Rockerverb alongside my Marshall Plexi.
Henry: Same setup. I am lost without my rig, for better or worse.
Pepe: I always bring all my own gear to the studio but experiment with the gear available at the studio, so it varies… But the one thing that stays the same 90% of the time is the guitar. I’ve recorded almost everything with the aforementioned Kramer. Nothing ever beats it when I A/B test different guitars.
D&D: Worst guitar you’ve ever owned?
Brandon: I've never really owned a "bad" or "worst" guitar I don't think. The only thing that comes close was my Gibson SG Custom that was a let down. It just played weird and was too thin sounding for me. No sustain. So I sold it to a friend.
Henry: I bought a parlor guitar a few years ago that sounded like a tin can. I think it was an Alvarez.
Pepe: I guess my first electric guitar. The brand was Rocky—I don’t know if they even exist anymore. It was basically a cheap Stratocaster copy that didn’t stay in tune and was horrible to play. Still I’m sad I let go of it, the sentimental value would be sky high if I still had it!
D&D: Dream guitar to own someday?
Brandon: I already own my dream guitar. It's my Les Paul Custom. I wouldn't mind getting another one one day though too. Another Explorer would be rad too.
Henry: I’ve always wanted a real, all white and gold 1961 Les Paul Custom. That’s the Rosetta Tharpe SG. Or maybe this Martin 1930 00-21 that I played a while back.
Pepe: I guess an original Eddie Van Halen Kramer or Jimmy Page Les Paul or Doubleneck would look nice and inspiring hanging on the wall in my home studio.
D&D: What’s the most extreme way a guitar of yours has met their fate?
Brandon: I've never smashed any of my guitars haha. I love them too much!
Henry: I had a 70s Univox 3 pickup Black Beauty copy that was stolen by the person who gave it to me a year prior.
Pepe: A yellow Ibanez RG3550 of mine was stolen from our tour bus. The bus was broken into and gone was the guitar that I had left there in the cabin! It was never found...
D&D: What guitarist(s) had the biggest impact on you?
Brandon: I think one of my biggest influences was Randy Rhoads. I learned a lot of his stuff growing up and he definitely still inspires me. From the licks that I use, to the double and triple tracking solos like he would do. I really like Mathias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker. I also like Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham, Ace Frehley, Fast Eddie Clark, Angus Young, Traci Guns, Mick Mars.... the list goes on and on.
Henry: Probably Hendrix, but I’ve also cannibalized tons of Jerry Garcia’s diminished triplet runs for my own use. Right now, I really admire the way Neil Young plays. He’s simple, rhythmic, erratic, aggressive, and impossible to replicate.
Pepe: The first ones that made an impact when I was young were Slash and James Hetfield (GNR and Metallica were the biggest and baddest bands back then). After that, Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page became like gods to me. I guess those four have influenced different aspects of my playing the most.
D&D: Finally, what’s your favorite part of being a guitarist?
Brandon: My favorite part of being a guitarist is all of it! Haha. I love writing songs and writing solos. I love recording. Playing live is one of my favorite things in the world. Especially when you've really got the crowd going and you can see how excited they are to be there rocking out with you. It's really special.
Henry: I’m thankful for the fact that, should I ever need to be entertained, I can entertain myself as long as I have a guitar. It brings me a lot of joy and a sense of purpose.
Pepe: Playing live (LOUD!) for sure. Nothing compares to when the band is tight and on fire and the audience is electric. The energy exchanged can be so uplifting and music can communicate on so many different levels. With guitar, there are no words, just raw expressions of emotion. Letting it all out and having it bounce back from the people that are listening... That’s the best part!
Follow Brandon Barger | Killer Hearts
Follow Henry Black | Castle Rat
Follow Pepe Reckless | Reckless Love