That’s right – I set a guitar on fire and smashed it. In fact, I’ve gotten to do that twice. Breaking a guitar is harder than it looks.
Monsters Of Rock, Castle Donington, UK * 1995. The good : we played a quality set, sold more merch than Slayer ( in your face!! ), got to watch Metallica from right under their shoes in the snake pit, and I spent the day shooting the shit with Kirk Hammet, Slash, and etc. and etc. — the notgood : I left my laminates at the hotel, my lanyard with every single one I’d gotten since 1992. This is very bad form ( ask a roadie or a tour manager ), and something I just don’t do, but jet lag, ugh. Lisa Johnson dislikes this photo because I was heavily backlit and the light was all wrong when she shot it, necessitating much burning/ dodging by the printer, but, disregarding the technical, it’s pretty goddamn good. JUMP.
Here’s a mid/ late-90s photo of my 1994 Ibanez IC500 Iceman ( referred to by fans as the Right On! guitar ), the Japanese factory-made set-neck guitar that I recorded all the ” Drop C# ” ( low to high, C#, G#, C#, F#, A#, D# ) tunes on Astro Creep : 2000 with ( Creature Of The Wheel, Real Solution #9, the rhythm parts for More Human Than Human, etc. ). I also played it in the More Human video.
There’s an article here that features some photos of this model as it came from the factory, and you can see that the body and neck aren’t modified in any way. The first thing I did was toss the pickguard, of course. The bridge and tailpiece are standard-issue, as are the tuners, although these guitars came with white plastic tuner knobs and there are chrome ones here — I can’t say for sure, but the Ibanez custom shop had a stock of vintage parts that I raided from time to time, and these may be NOS knobs from the 70s. Anyway, I think the chrome looks a lot cooler.
The bridge pickup is a Seymour Duncan Custom, and the neck’s a Duncan 59 – my standard setup at that time. I’d read an interview with Eddie Van Halen in a guitar mag where he explained his idea that anchoring pickups directly into a guitar’s wood body ( as opposed to mounting them in a pickguard or plastic pickup rings ) results in more tone, or harmonic richness, or something — which sounded plausible to me, so I had the guys at Ibanez ( specifically this guy, who is a wizard with all things stringed ) do that. I don’t really know if it makes much difference, but it gives a guitar a utilitarian, ” chopped ” look that I dig. I had all of my guitars wired with push/ pull coil-tap pots. Since I was 99.98% of the time playing loud, grinding heavy metal, such a thing might seem a little silly, but it’s a high-performance/ all-the-options feature that I like to have if I can. All of the rhythm guitars on Astro-Creep were played with the bridge pickup, volume and tone knobs on 10, but the are some lead and textural parts that were done with various humbucking/ single-coil combinations.
The More Human Than Human video shoot. Note #1 : We rented an old Kustom tuck n’ roll blue sparkle-vinyl amp as a prop, and I plugged it in and discovered that it was in full working order. I brought cables and pedals with me because I have a pathological dislike of videos where the band is pretending to play but don’t have their instruments plugged in — don’t ask, I don’t know, that’s just me. Anyway, video shoots are long, and they are boring, but at least I was able to play guitar to amuse myself. The two pedals you see here are a Roland AF-60 Bee Gee fuzz, and an original MXR script logo Blue Box – both were manufactured around 1975. Note #2 : Rob and I both showed up that day wearing old Sam Hain t-shirts. Weird, right? Also in the photo : my custom shop-made ICJ100WZ, and a selection of Ultraman toys given to me by kids in Japan.
Studio trick : in an effort to get a heavier tone, I took a D-string from a pack of Sean’s bass strings ( we both used Dean Markley Blue Steels, and I still do : that ” cryogenically frozen ” deal seems like bullshit, but they do, in fact, sound a little better .. and they wear out faster. Choose your battle. ) and used it for a bottom string. I had to notch out the slot on the nut a little, but that fat bass string actually did give the guitar a slightly more substantial sound. Also, If I was trying to do a part where my sound wasn’t working and something completely different was needed, I would patch my entire rig into one of her Ampeg SVTs – several lead parts on the album were recorded that way.
Back in the early 90s, you could still find vintage, unused stickers of the biker-skull-devil-blacklight-headshop type, and I covered everything I owned with them. I don’t remember where I got the 1970s Right On! bumper sticker, probably at a flea market .. the DROP DEAD one, I think, came with a zine – I don’t remember which, possibly Jim Goad’s Answer Me! ( that sounds about right, right?) ? There’s also one of these, which I got from this excellent store.
In the mid-90s, I was approached by Guitar World magazine to write a monthly column. I was taken by the idea insofar as I wondered if I could pull it off, but columns in guitar mags are about how to play stuff on the guitar ..which I am, evidence to the contrary, not very interested in. A crazy new sound? Awesome, you’ve got my attention. A dangerous band with matching guitars and a singer who’s pacing like a caged animal? Okay, yeah. Music I’d be absolutely incapable of making? Sure, let’s go. Learning to play other peoples’ solos note-for-note or teaching people mine? Not so much. While I might admire the skill of a speed-shredding virtuoso player, it is in passing and in the same way that I’d admire someone with an aptitude for long-distance running, or mimicry, or speed-typing.
What I decided to do was write nothing about how to play guitar. Back then, you could take lessons or buy Mel Bay books ( or do what I did, which is to spend hours and hours listening to records and trying to keep up ) but there was no practical guide for what to do once you’d figured a few things out and were ready to go jam with other people. Unless there was someone to teach you how to be in a band, you learned everything the hard way – doing it, gaining experience, and making lots of mistakes. Those were very different times : I wrote most of the pieces out longhand on a tour bus and faxed them in from a truck stop or a gig or wherever, and I never really knew if anyone was reading the thing at all — but I’ve been hearing from people who got a lot out of the column, and many of them have been asking if there’s any way to read it again ( to which I’ve been like, ‘I don’t know, eBay?’ ) – and now there is. All 21 columns are transcribed here.
( click-click for full size-size ) It’s been interesting that fully half of the email I’ve been getting is about the records I’ve been producing and my various curatorial pursuits, which is not really what I was expecting, but gratifying .. and, yes, the other half is all about that White Zombie guitar sound. The volume of this mail is becoming difficult to handle, so I’m going to try and spell most of it out here, and we’ll leave it at that. Let’s begin, shall we?
Above is a photo taken of my on-stage rig by my guitar tech ( the mighty Michael Kaye ) – this would be from around the middle of the Astro-Creep : 2000 slog, which I can tell by the guitar lineup here : left to right, we’ve got my custom shop black Iceman ( in the ” straight C# ” tuning, i.e., low to high, C#, F#, B, E, G#, C# – we started using this tuning for some of the between-album stuff, like Feed The Gods and our cover of Black Sabbath’s Children Of The Grave, and then for a bunch of the Astro-Creep tracks ), then my black factory-made-in-Japan neck-through Iceman ( in the ” Drop C# ” tuning, low to high, C#, G#, C#, F#, A#, D# ), which is the guitar I used to record the rhythm tracks for More Human Than Human, Creature Of The Wheel, and etc. and my main guitar for playing those tunes live– next is a factory bolt-on Iceman in drop C# tuning, which was a spare. I honestly don’t remember if I ever broke a string and actually played this one.
Next is my blue Robin Machete ( in the ” half-step down ” tuning, low to high, D#, G#, C#, F#, A#, D# ) – we recorded the La Sexorcisto LP in the standard EADGBE tuning ( entirely with the cheap but solid Charvel 6 [ often referred to by fans as the '666 guitar' ] that you see on the cover of that album ) – we were, as far as I can remember, dimly aware of tuning down at that point but hadn’t messed with it yet – then, sometime during the long, long ( long ) tour for that album, we started tuning down half a step ( it’s amazing what that relatively minor change does to expand the width and breadth of a band’s sound ) and we recorded the ” tuned-up ” tracks on Astro-Creep ( Electric Head, Part 2, Etc. ) in that tuning as well, all of which were done with the same blue Machete. Next to that is the Astro-Surf guitar, custom made for me by Schecter — as per my instructions, a modern twin-humbucker copy of the iconic 1960s Teisco Spectrum 5 with a fantastic ” holo-flake ” finish .. you’ll notice that in the following years Schecter followed my lead and made the Teisco headstock standard on most of their guitars. Finally, after that, we have the custom shop prototype of my signature model ( the ICJ100WZ, or ” star ” ) Ibanez Iceman in straight C# tuning. The guitars for the recording of tracks in this tuning on Astro-Creep were pretty much evenly split between the two custom shop Icemans on view here — later, when the first factory-made signature model showed up, I retired the black one. Ibanez really did do a fantastic job with the production version – there is virtually no difference with the prototype.
( click-click for full size-size ) On to the rig. On the left, there’s the rack gear – this seems like a giant, complex stack of stuff, but if you look closely, you can see that it’s actually not. Top-to-bottom, there’s a Furman power supply, a couple of different wireless units ( you can never be too careful ), Whirlwind Multi Selector, Mesa signal splitter ( a quality device, although these days, when I have to send a guitar signal to a bunch of amps, I use a Radial JD7 ) .. next, there’s a vintage MXR 31-band graphic EQ, then a drawer containing a couple of pedals, which I think at this point was just an Ibanez Tube Screamer and an old MXR Phase 90.
Okay, now I’m going to take a moment to answer a question I get asked constantly : how did I get that cool sound on Blur The Technicolor? Well, so, we know that in recording heavy, guitar-driven music, to create a truly big sound we generally want to double the guitar – that is, record two of the exact same rhythm guitar parts and pan them so that one’s all the way in the left speaker, the other all the way in the right. This is not easy, as the technique only works if those 2 guitar tracks are as exactly identical as humanly possible — but the paradoxical thing is that you can’t just take one guitar part and duplicate it on another track and try to shift it with a little delay or by a tiny increment of pitch. That sounds like what it is, which is one guitar with an effect on it. The key to doubling guitars is that they must be alike enough to fool the brain into perceiving the two parts as one big one, but with enough tiny, human differences to where the sound is perceived as stereo. That’s retarded, right? Well, yes, but it works. It’s very difficult. At one point during the recording of Astro-Creep, I was having a lot of trouble doubling a part and to encourage me, Terry Date – producer of Astro-Creep – told me about how recording the rhythm guitar parts for Pantera’s Walk ( which he also produced ) took something like three days, with Darryl growing so frustrated that he nearly put a fist through the wall .. but the results are pretty stellar. If You listen to walk, it sounds like one very large guitar.
Anyway, so, I wanted to use my MXR Phase 90 ( block logo, therefore manufactured sometime between 1977 and 1984 – I bought it for ten bucks from a kid in the building WZ lived in when we first moved to L.A. ), which I managed to set so that the rate and tone of the phase-sweep ( yes, I know the Phase 90 has only one knob, but there is an internal control as well ) accented the guitar riff in a cool way .. the trouble was, one guitar track wasn’t going to cut it, so the guitar needed to be doubled. There’s no way that two guitar tracks are going to sound like one when the two have a modulating effect such as phase, unless that effect can be in sync, and how would you do that? Terry’s assistant Ulrich Wild ( who is kind of a genius with things like this, which is one of the reasons he’s been able to go on to become a big-shot producer himself ) figured out that, while hitting the footswitch on the pedal started the phase at any random point in its sweep, physically plugging the guitar cord into the pedal’s input jack started the sweep from the exact same point every time — so what we had to do was, Terry operated the tape machine, ..
( oh, let me point something else out here : Astro-Creep is an analog album. There was no pro-tools yet, per se — a lot of the loops were running on a primitive DAW that was synced up to tape, but the album was recorded and mixed on three 24-track Studer machines chained together. People assume that the ‘human’ instruments were chopped, diced, fixed, edited in a computer, the way anyone can do today – this is not the case. The guitar, bass, and drums on the album are as they were played, by people, in real time, working very hard. An odd fact is that the previous LP, La Sexorcisto, is a actually a digital album – producer Andy Wallace had access to a Sony 48-track digital tape machine, which was a pretty big deal at that point [ 48 tracks! You'll notice that I got really overdub-happy on that album. Because I could. ] but fell out of favor soon afterward. )
.. and Ulrich sat on the floor with the Phase 90 in hand and plugged the guitar cord into the pedal right before the part started, at exactly the same time on both takes, so that the phase effect would be in time with itself. A team effort which took all day to get right, but it sure was worth it.
Okay, back to the rack. Next, there’s the MXR Flanger/ Doubler. Notice that in the top photo, which is from later than the lower one, I’ve covered up both MXR rackmount units with black tape. I did this because people were always sniffing around, trying to figure out how I got my sound – and that’s, of course, ironic, because I 100% stole the Flanger/ Doubler idea from Darryl from Pantera. And he didn’t care at all, thought it was funny. Next, there’s a bunch of Rocktron stuff : Intellifex, Guitar Silencer noise gates, Rocktron-Bradshaw switching system. You can also see the foot controller for the switching system on top of the rack in both photos. The only pedal I had out on stage was my Dunlop 535Q wah ( although later I replaced that with a Dunlop remote wah ), and my guitar tech actually operated the pedals in the drawer, and the big stereo delays from the Intellifex, and channel switching, by hand with the foot controller. If you look at live footage from the period, you’ll see me stomping around a lot. Some of that was just stomping ( rarrrrrr !! ), but a lot of the time it was actually me signaling for a switch to be hit. Another backwards-ass thing I used to do is with the Tube Screamer – I did use it as my ” a little bit more ” boost pedal for solos, as is commonly done ( that’s the great thing about that pedal, is that it doesn’t actually sound like you’ve stepped on a pedal when you turn it on ), but I used a lot of controlled feedback in my playing, and I would set the Screamer to overpower the noise gates, which were necessary to make rhythm work sound tight through a massive-gain amp setup.
Let’s move on to the amps in the middle. Two Mesa-Boogie Triple Rectifiers, and two Randall Century 200s, each head feeding two Mesa standard Rectifier cabs, so that’s 4 stacks, two for each side of the stage, in stereo. Sean had an SVT 8X10 cab on each side of the drums as well — so we were, you know, loud, and we could hear everything wherever we were on stage. The idea behind this particular amp setup is that, yes, I was quite influenced by Darryl’s setup, feeding the Flanger/ Doubler into the Randalls, and I wanted to use aspects of that sound ( it’s a really weird sound, when you think about it ), but not have it sound exactly like Pantera — so I started running the Randalls through the Mesa cabs instead of the Randall Jaguar-loaded cabs ( which I liked a lot ), which resulted in a very different but cool sound, and I started running the more-normal-sounding Triple Recs alongside the Randalls, although set to ‘silicone diode’, not ‘tube’.
The setup in the studio for Astro-Creep was a little different. I wasn’t carrying a camera around at that point, and to my knowledge there aren’t any photos of what was going on, which is too bad. The setup for the album was the rack of gear you see in the photos and four half-stacks : A Randall Century 200 head through a Randall Jaguar cabinet, a Randall Century 200 head through a Mesa cabinet, a Mesa Triple Rec through a Mesa cabinet, and a Marshall Valvestate ( I was in love with that crazy transistor-metal sound that Tommy from Prong had ) through .. I don’t remember, either a Randall or a Mesa. These were all going at once, but each cab was miced with only a single Shure SM57, and then the four signals were summed in the console and sent to one track on tape. I was determined to achieve the sound I had in my head, and I was quite picky ( and a little bratty ) about the tones we were getting : there was quite a bit of moving the mics around, and I made Terry and Ulrich do quite a lot of radical EQing. I didn’t understand much about recording at this point, so I didn’t grasp that the general practice when recording most sound sources, especially electric guitars, is to use EQ as little as possible so as to leave room for EQing if it needs to be done during mixdown .. and that it’s a point of pride with recording engineers to attain a desired sound by selecting the proper microphones and positioning them correctly, which is a big deal, because when a mic is jammed right up in an amp’s speaker cone, moving it just half an inch can change the sound drastically.
Not that I would have given a fuck if I had understood any of that at the time. I was making a big-budget major label album, and I knew that this might be the one and only time in my life that a major corporation would pay for me to work at one of the best recording studios in the world, with the best engineers, and keep paying for it until it was done. My mantra was ” There is no reason for this to not be PERFECT “.
Later, when I dropped in at mix sessions for the Deftones’ Around The Fur album, Terry played me a track and said, ” Hear that? That guitar has NO EQ on it! ” .. and it did sound really good, and I just smiled and thought, ” Well, who cares? My record’s awesome! “. That’s a very good feeling.
P.S. I did not become interested in the Iceman because of Kiss, as is widely assumed. It was because of this guy right here :
.. And this other guy, seen here on the back cover of the first record I ever bought, might have had something to do with it too.