The Torch is a monthly tech series aimed to please the fascination of amateurs and experts alike. A happy and heavy New Year, my fiendish friends! We’re kicking it off with a melody of San Joséan death metal, Canadian power metal, and English darkwave.
D&D: How old were you when you got your first guitar? What was your first guitar?
Matt Harvey: I must have been 12, I think. It was a $30 flea market SG copy that my dad got for me back in spring or summer 1988. By 1989, I managed to get my first "proper" guitar, a sunburst Epiphone Les Paul. I think it was on sale for $349 at Guitar Center or something.
Grant Truesdell: I was 12 years old when I got my first guitar. I started playing music in middle school through the school band. I originally wanted to play the drums, but they picked me for trombone. In grade 7, all I did was hang out in the music room. I soon after acquired a bass guitar (because electric guitar wasn't part of the concert band). Shortly after learning bass, I traded it straight up for a Series A brand guitar.
Brandon Ashley: Hey, thanks for having me here today! I got my first guitar when I was 11 years old. After begging my dad for months, he took me to the local music shop and got me a $100 Squier guitar. That was definitely the best day of my life back then.
D&D: For anyone wanting to learn, what would you suggest as a starter guitar?
Matt: I mean, it depends. I think that a Squire Strat or an Epiphone of some kind would be ideal, unless you're starting really young. I've had guitar students who were like 9 and their parents had bought them full-sized guitars that were just impossible for these kids to play. Ultimately, if the instrument gets you excited to play it and can stay in tune, it's doing its job.
Grant: There's a lot of great guitars you can get for around $500-$1000. Some beginner Ibanez guitars would be the RG421 or miKro GRGM21M. The miKro would be great for a kid wanting to learn the guitar as it's a smaller scale guitar. Or, if you want to spend a little bit more, you can even go with the Steve Vai signature model Ibanez or the RG421HPFM.
Brandon: I would suggest any guitar in the range between $100-300. Why not a Squier?! Haha! Seriously though, you can learn on any guitar. I just feel like it’s nice to get your basic training down on a cheaper guitar, then upgrade to your dream axe later on. I’d recommend a Strat shaped guitar though, as I think beginners will find it easier to work out the fret as it’s not as large and thick as a Gibson for example.
D&D: Through trial and error in your career, are there any mistakes you’d warn young guitarists to be cautious of?
Matt: Again, every player is gonna be different. I think my errors were that I was so narrowly focused on just pursuing the heaviest, fastest stuff I could play and I disregarded some basic technique stuff that would have served me well later on. I had no interest in learning anything except playing the gnarliest, darkest riffs, so I still end up with some bad habits even now, my picking being the most glaring example. My technique is really awkward and unnecessarily percussive (I learned on my dad's acoustic first, even though I only tried to play thrash riffs). Because I couldn't get the instruments to sound as heavy as I wanted, I ended up just attacking the guitar rather than working with it or playing ergonomically/sonorously.
Grant: Start practicing to a metronome early in your career. Learn any new riffs slow to a metronome and then build up the speed.
Brandon: I feel like there’s a thing which is playing guitar in your bedroom and then there’s performing whilst playing your parts live. Whatever works in your bedroom might not exactly translate live the way you intended. So, make sure you get your parts right, but also learn how to perform moving around without too many fuck ups. Also don’t overdo: less is more. Think more about the feel of it rather than, I don’t know, how fast you play.
D&D: What’s the biggest stage nightmare you’ve ever had?
Matt: Most of them are thankfully in the rear view mirror and have more to do with collective intoxication than gear failure or anything. About seven years ago, we played in New Orleans and we made the mistake of hanging out in the city all day. By the time we played, we were just a mess. I had the foresight to take a 2 hour nap before the gig, but nobody else did. I was at least able to play the songs through, albeit poorly, but some of the other guys could barely stand, let alone finish the tunes. It was a profoundly humiliating experience that led to a massive argument afterward and some important lineup changes. It can be tough to balance some of the bad habits that make long-haul touring bearable with keeping the show and the performance first.
One of my favorite sayings is that drinking is awesome because it turns doing nothing into doing something. But when the partying starts to overshadow the performance of the music, then it's time to reevaluate and make some changes. I feel like we're in a good place now where we can have a lot of fun, but we hold each other accountable and always put the show first. There's a lot less instances of people waking up in bushes or puking or needing IVs of saline before the show because they're so hungover and stuff.
Grant: We've lit monitors on fire. Bassist plugged into the fog machine instead of his amp. More funny stuff than true nightmares.
Brandon: I’ve had a recent one in London and it’s the worst of all: you get on stage and you have no sound. Somehow the stage DI provided by the venue was damaged and we didn’t realize that during soundcheck. We are about to kick off the show with “White Wolf”, which starts with a guitar riff and nothing else. I literally felt like walking off and call it a night after what happened. Further down, they were able to fix the issue so I could play the rest of the show.
D&D: Current equipment setup for playing live?
Matt: I try to keep my live rig pretty straightforward—I always feel like the more stuff you have, the more stuff can break or the more variables you introduce, and I don't want to add more stuff to stress out about or replace. I use a Peavey 6505+ with my pedal board, basic polytune tuner, and then all my Michael Klein audio design stuff. Anything he makes is gonna be incredible. I have a Slimer, which is in the tube screamer family but has an eq section that I like a lot better, a Ball Gag, which is a one-knob noise suppressor, and then I run a Lonely Ghost pedal in the effects loop—it's a reverb/delay/boost pedal that just has been a game-changer.
If needed, I sometimes add a phaser for certain things. I never leave home without a couple of ESP axes; I love my E-II Arrow, it plays so fucking good and stays in tune no matter how much abuse I put it through. My other go-to guitar is my LTD Deluxe Eclipse. I got it so I'd have something smaller for international flights and I absolutely ended up falling in love with it. I have another one that's closer to an LPJ kind of feel that I like a lot, but my main one that I use for Exhumed is such a workhorse. I have Seymour Duncan blackouts for Exhumed and they rule; lots of output without a ton of noise and a pretty flexible EQ that doesn't flatten every guitar out.
I use Ernie Ball strings because I like the idea that even if we're in the middle of nowhere, almost every music store is gonna have what I need. I run everything through one or two Marshall JCM 1960 cabinets I've had forever, although if I'm only using one, I use the B cabinet with the straight top. I feel like that one has a better low end. I have a lot of other effects and stuff that I use in the studio or for specific things, but I try to keep the live rig lean and mean.
Grant: A roster of Ibanez RGD and RG's, 6 and 7 strings. Tone will be coming from Kemper profiler with a Peavey 5152 profile. Ernie Ball strings 10-56 for the 7 strings and 9-46 for my 6 string guitars. I also use Swiss Picks’ Nuclear Cheddar 1.3 mm picks.
Brandon: Schecter C-1 Hellraiser BLK Black High Gloss, Line 6 Pod hd500x.
D&D: Does your setup differ in the studio?
Matt: I have a lot of different overdrives and preamps that I like to add in the studio for layering and just for finding different tones. The new Exhumed record has four different rigs going; two through the 6505+, one through an old Peavey VTM, and one through a Marshall JCM2000. I also used a couple of great preamps by Michael Klein, the Axecutioner, which is based on the old Ampeg VH140C circuit, and the Evil Chunk, which is based on the old Marshall Valvestate 8100 circuit. I also use one of the old oversized Mesa Boogie cabinets rather than my Marshalls. I think the Boogie is a little dark, but our engineer, Alejandro, would murder me if I swapped it out, and he's the guy that has to mix the records, so I defer to him.
Grant: Yeah, in the studio we use different amps. The past two albums we've recorded with Jacob Hansen in Denmark. We will track the guitars usually with an ENGL Fireball, and then Jacob will re-amp using a blend of a bunch of different amps. Guitars, strings, and picks stay the same.
Brandon: I got the same set up. I created 5 custom sounds for Corlyx, which I use live and in the studio.
D&d: Best guitar you’ve ever owned?
Matt: See above, although my old Gibson Explorer I've had for almost 20 years and my old BC Rich NJ Mockingbird that I had in the late 90s/early 2000s (RIP) deserve honorable mentions.
Grant: My favorite is my Ibanez RGDR4327 (7 string).
Brandon: I’ve owned quite a few, but I’m currently very happy with my Schecter, as it also has a feedback switch that makes a Hell of a noise anytime I want.
D&D: Worst guitar you’ve ever owned?
Matt: I don't know that my "worst" guitars were really that bad, but I had a Jackson King V and a BC Rich Warlock in the early 2000s and I could never get comfortable on either of them. For whatever reason, I just never enjoyed playing them. I also struggled with a really cool-looking Ibanez destroyer I had in the mid 90s, although I've had a bunch of other Ibanez guitars that I've LOVED, so who knows…
Grant: Probably a crappy acoustic I had when I used to busk on the street as a teenager. Or my first Series A guitar.
Brandon: Probably my first Squier… I was actually surprised it made a sound.
D&D: Do you name any of your guitars?
Matt: Nah, although occasionally I'll talk to them and it's always "c'mon girl, we gotta do this" or "fuck, darlin' how are we gonna pull this off" or something like that, haha
Grant: My Twitch chat has helped me to name all of my guitars. We have Boba Frett, Moonchild, Darth Artemis, Sandstorm, and Knight Rider. Come help name my next one at twitch.tv/granttruesdelluta
Brandon: I honestly never did but I decided to name my current Schecter “Lilith”.
D&D: Dream guitar to own someday?
Matt: I'd love to get something like my old BC Rich Mockingbird again. That was a great guitar and I just didn't take care of it. I'd like to get one of those ‘80s Explorers with no pickguard and a Floyd Rose. I don't really lust after guitars like a lot of players do, but I would dig getting my hands on those and a vintage Gibson V.
Grant: I would love to create my own custom signature model with Ibanez.
Brandon: I’d like to get myself a Gretsch at some point. Always found those guitars very sexy.
D&D: What’s the most extreme way a guitar of yours has met their fate?
Matt: I got my whole rig stolen out of my car in the 90s—my old Ibanez RG-570, that I absolutely loved, and my Ampeg VH140-C. That was a tough one. My Mockingbird ended up having a bunch of electronic problems and the body was getting thrashed, so I ended up throwing it away, which I deeply regret in hindsight, but I wasn't particularly sober during that whole process.
Grant: Unfortunately, I don't have a cool story for this one. I once had to sell one of my guitars, an old Jackson Kelly that I played for a good decade… But through the kindness of heart, it made its way back to me.
Brandon: I once caught on fire...yeah. I honestly did it all myself but I wasn’t quite in a state of being where I was able to understand what was really happening, you know? I was in my early 20s. Last thing I know I’m getting sprayed with foam by security and found myself short on hair afterwards.
D&D: What guitarist(s) had the biggest impact on you?
Matt: Growing up, it was all about players like Hetfield/Hammett, then Gary and Rick from Exodus, Murray/Smith from Maiden, and then getting into guys like Tom Warrior, Mille from Kreator, plus Chuck, James, and Rick from Death. Jesse from Napalm/Terrorizer, Bill and Mike from Carcass/Carnage, Eric Cutler from Autopsy, and Matt Olivo from Repulsion were huge ones as well. As time went on, as far as rock and metal, I came to really appreciate guys like Ritchie Blackmore, Gary Moore, Uli Roth, Michael Schenker, Brian Robertson, John Sykes and Brain Tatler. I love non-metal guitarists as well; Thurston Moore, Justin Broderick, John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola—people that can just get interesting and unique sounds from the instrument. There are so many great players in metal, and getting to watch some of them up close is inspiring/intimidating. Both Brandon Ellis and Ryan Knight of Black Dahlia Murder really stick out as just outstanding guitarists with incredible phrasing, vibrato and articulation. I love anything Kevin Hufnagel does. He's just such an interesting player with a quirky sensibility that always shines through and he's so versatile. I'm also a big fan of the guys I play with. Sebastian, Dan, Bud and Tom are some of the best players I know and I learn a lot from jamming with them.
Grant: The guitarists that really got me into playing heavy metal and pursuing this career were Adrian Smith and Dave Murray from Iron Maiden. Some other guitarists that had a big impact on me were Paul Gilbert, Kiko Loureiro, Marty Friedman, etc.
Brandon: Slash was one of my early influences. Clapton and Robin Finck are definitely huge influences that shaped my actual guitar style.
D&D: Finally, what’s your favorite part of being a guitarist?
Matt: I'm probably a terrible person to ask this, because the guitar itself doesn't terribly interest me. I love the music that's made with guitars, I love the genre of music that I play and if you played it with a tuba or a kazoo or whatever, that's what I would have picked up. I mean, guitars definitely look cooler than tubas or kazoos, but... My favorite part on the whole is that I get to play music that means a lot to me and connect with people that get something out of it, all while traveling the world with my friends, and usually having a pretty great time doing it. I may not be the greatest guitarist out there or have piles of money or whatever, but what I'm doing feels like success to me and I'm the guy I gotta look at the mirror every morning, so I'll take it.
Grant: My favorite part of being a guitarist… It's really hard to pinpoint one single thing because there's so many parts of my profession that I absolutely love. For one, being able to express yourself through an instrument is just magical. Two, having a passion that has kept me grounded and motivated to pursue something larger has been the most impactful thing in my life.
Brandon: I think I like having a real bond with my instrument and also I love helping out the lead vocal by playing harmonies around the singing parts.
Follow Matt Harvey | Exhumed
Follow Grant Truesdell | Unleash The Archers
Follow Brandon Ashley | Corlyx