Power Cuts (part 2)
Your next subject is guitars, Andy. Go.
"I've been fortunate enough to get the first one of a new series of 'strats' that Schecter have been developing. It's got an upside-down neck, like Hendrix's, but it's right-handed. That means that the string tensions are reversed; the top E is much slacker. It's really odd to play until you get used to it and at first it presented tuning problems but they've got it together now. You can put much heavier strings on it, if you don't cut your fingers to pieces on them, and it's brilliant for solos and string-bending things."
"I used that, and a normal Schecter 'strat' and a Telecaster on the album. I don't use the Yamahas that much these days because I find I can get more versatility out of the Schecters. The pickups on those are very powerful, even though they're single-coil, so you can get that very loud, very dirty sound even on the back pickup and you can go in between on the five-way pickup switch and get a very powerful out-of-phase sound. Really lovely necks on them, too."
"I never used to like Strats much until a little while ago. I had one which I stripped down and rebuilt myself which was just a newish Fender, but I was never into the whole Strat sound, having five ways with the pickups and all that."
"But recently, particularly with the Power Station stuff, I've had to draw on many aspects of the guitar so I started using a Strat and a tremolo arm. It's for the more mature player, I think. When you're young you just want to hear cranked-up humbuckers screaming. But as my style has developed — and it's still in the formative stage; I don't think anybody really does develop a style until at least their late twenties — I've got more and more into the sort of style you find sounds best on a Strat."
"I've been listening to loads of things, shopping around and taking different elements of other people's styles to try and form my own out of that."
"Jeff Beck, mainly. The way that he plays is mindblowing. That guy is so good. The Jesus Christ of guitar. His soloing particularly is outrageous; as a guitar player you listen to him and you're amazed. One second he'll be up here on the neck and a hundredth of a second later he'll be at the other end... that annoys me when I hear it so I listen to it and copy it and work on it until I can do it. And then I'll take the element that intrigues me and try and incorporate it within my own style."
"I love Nile Rodgers' guitar playing — he's one of the foremost rhythm men in the world, certainly the best Funk player without a doubt. I like rhythm players generally. Chuck Berry... Bo Diddley, he's a monster. And Pete Townshend. A choppy player, again, very tight; down on the beat, on the 'one' every time. He's no lead player though."
"Lead guitarists? Angus Young, definitely. I love that manic approach. Eddie Van Halen, of course — he's the boss of that superfast style. And the Blues men, B.B. King, Muddy Waters."
"With B.B. King, though, you can't copy what he does at all. Watching him live he just puts his head up and plays. He probably doesn't know what notes he's playing, it's just years of practice and knowing the neck."
"That's the reason why you need a lot of time to really get good at guitar playing. The only person I can think of who had a distinctive, good style of his own when he was still young was Gary Moore. Everybody has to treat it like an endurance test, almost. You can get bored with playing and then you put the guitar down for a while and come back to it with fresh enthusiasm and new ideas, but you've got to keep going. I could stop playing now, just keep my hand in enough to play a few concerts and make a few quid. But I don't want to, I want to keep going. Now I've got the opportunity I'd like to blow people's minds."
"But that's enough of me going on."
Okay, then, let's get technical again. What amps do you use?
"Marshalls. I'm having some specially made with two pre-amps in each one so it's like a clean and a dirty channel and you can switch instantaneously from one to the other. I use a stereo set-up, so that's four amps and four for backup."
"Why Marshalls? They're such a basically useless amp, that's why. They're simple, solid and easy to handle. On stage you know what you're doing with them. You turn the treble up and you get more top, you turn the presence up and the sound's there... and that's your lot. They're clean or they're dirty and that's all the choice you get."
"I've taken Marshalls round the world three times and never had a problem. They just don't break, and when all's said and done nobody's ever built anything that sounds like them. There's something... undeniable about the whack you get out of them. When you're a kid you dream of having racks of Marshalls because everyone seems to use them but really when you've tried everything — and I must have — you find out why."
"In the studio I use Mesa Boogies and they're great, but if you're playing live and that particular night there isn't enough cut to your sound, there's far too many controls to have to play with on stage. Marshalls are foolproof. And they're the classic Rock amps. I've got an old Les Paul Goldtop and if you put that through them you get that great, thick late '60s Rock sound. Instant Jimmy Page!"
What about effects?
"I've got rackfuls of effects. I use a Nady wireless system which goes to a little Boss Octave Divider in mono, and two Ratt overdrives which I use because they complement the valve overload sound rather than screw it up by giving it that horrid transistorised quality. It's really unusual to find overdrives which'll give you a good sound through a valve amp. Sometimes I use the two out-of-phase with one another which sounds real weird."
"Then a little mono echo thing which I nicked from Steve Stevens, Billy Idol's guitarist, and sounds like a machine gun. Then I split the signal into stereo and use a stereo AMS echo, a flanger and a harmoniser. And finally it all goes into the amp."
"But having described all that lot, I still think it's in your fingers and the feel you've got, not your gear. I still look for the same things any guitarist has ever looked for... competence on the instrument and stretching your technique within your own time, mastering the art of the guitar to the level of today."
"And you've got to keep going. They figured the basics out a long time ago. Rhythm playing, solos, scales, the rudiments of guitar playing haven't changed for years. R&B is still a great area to draw on for influences. Chuck Berry could play pretty fast and probably exactly the same licks I'd play but with a different sound and in a different context. But there are people like Eddie Van Halen, and even still Beck, who are taking R&B or even Funk styles and orientating them to today, taking them one step further."
"It's just what people have been playing for years except we play it faster now."
So will the next Duran Duran album be full of screaming Metal solos? Or did Mr T enjoy it so much he's not going back to playing pretty Pop?
"Oh no, this was just a one-off. We were allowed to do an album like this Power Station one because everybody ignored us. The record company thought we were just pissing about and they only decided to take any notice when we sent them a bill for a photo session. Next time, though, they'll be breathing down our necks to make it more commercial, saying 'we want singles' all the time. Mind you, the next Duran album's going to be pretty hot..."
I believe some like it that way.
Chris Maillard (International Musician & Recording World - juin 1985)