Of Meat and Fingers

Lately I’ve been getting swamped with a ton of equipment related emails and messages so I’ve decided just to lay out a few ideas here and give a basic overview as to where my head is at with my sound.

First off, i’m never truly happy with my tone. Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement as for the most part, it allows me to sound like me, and that’s all a player can really ask for. (Can’t blame the equipment!… i wish!). The best that I can sound is plugged straight into any amp, but we all know that it’s next to impossible to do so if i’m trying to cover 20 years of sounds! It goes without saying that I get bored really easy, and it’s a lot of fun looking for little bits of tonal inspiration. Kicking on the right pedal at the right moment usually leads to something good, be it a new riff or just pure satisfaction.

The key for me is my #1 black strat. Something really works between us and I can’t let her go. A lot has happened since i first bought it back in ’93, and the totally freaky thing is that right before the reunion shows, I took the whole thing apart to give it some love, and the neck date stamped on it is my daughter’s birthday. I never knew that. Chills. It’s a sign for sure…I know we are meant to be together.

I remember going to the Fender factory when we were recording Dig and sitting with Larry Brooks in their custom shop. I was completely overwhelmed walking around the factory floor… the smell, the sounds, … a million of ‘em hanging like sides of beef, sliding around from place to place, going through one process or another. Really incredible for me as my whole life I had worshipped the Fender Strat. Sexiest guitar ever… yes I still stare at one if it’s in the same room, and yes, it’s creepy.

Anyhow, I really had no idea what I wanted but my tech Rudy just said to roll with it and talk to Larry and figure something out. We sat in this little room that smelled of wood (and a hint of glue) with necks hanging all around and drew up the concept for two #1’s.

He handed me a couple of necks to find a profile where my hands were comfortable… but after me just saying yes to everything ( I never had a new guitar before so ‘no’ never entered my mind!) he decided a different tactic. He reached up and handed me ‘the one’. I swear to god it was like Ollivander handing Harry his fucking wand! Once I stopped wrecking shit in the shop, he told me the neck was the original prototype for the SRV Strat. It had this cool superglue finish on the back which I had never seen before, and my hand just gripped this thing like it was attached to me and I was 13 again! (I hope the door is locked!)

Now my ‘yes’ finally had some balls behind it and Larry new we had a winner. I wanted this neck with a brazilian rosewood board and a reverse headstock. A simple standard black Strat body with tortoiseshell guard, universal rout and a standard trem. The other #1 with a maple neck and a black Floyd Rose. Bookends! My one with the maple neck is floating around Quebec somewhere as it was stolen from Lee’s Palace one night when I lent it to some douche to play. What a turd. Nice. Not the guy who stole it, he was just seizing an opportunity. We found it eventually one day when we were touring, but what can I say to the guy who now had it, and who spent good money on it not knowing it was stolen. I hope he treated it well.

Perfect… I finally had a new girlfriend (x2). And the day they arrived at the studio in their tweed cases, I shit my pants. The rest is history… yes, I still occasionally shit my pants.

I get a lot of questions about pickups and I think I have never been happier. Im using an awesome combination of Andersons (H2+ in bridge, and two SC1s neck and middle) For some reasons, they really let me sound as close to me as I can. Next time you see us live, pay attention to my cleaner sounds using neck and middle. It’s the closest I have found to sounding like i’m playing through a maxed out Super Reverb and a tone i’ve been chasing for years. I can go from huge distorted sounds to SRV Fender tones in a pinch and these pickups are really helping me feel confident. They track perfectly and stick with me no matter what i’m doing. Some pickups just lose clarity or get mushy when hit with really dense chords and these things keep me feeling easy, knowing that everything is coming through clear. They match my guitars perfectly and together give me a great base to build on moving along the guitar cable over to the amp.

The amp I have always used for recording (and a lot of touring in the early days) is a Naylor SuperDrive 60 watt, 6L6 loaded head. It’s one of the first ones Naylor was making when they were located in Illinois (i think that’s where?). I’ve played other Naylors too but this one just works so incredibly well. The company had gone through so many changes that it’s inevitable that some design elements have changed since then, so I feel very fortunate to have this one. Apparently the new ones from the factory are just like the originals, but I haven’t come across one yet! Dying to. I have used this head on just about every single thing outside of Dig and it’s funny, but it’s been on the same settings (marked with tape and sharpie!) since I bought it. My ear just goes to these settings naturally or perhaps I’m incredibly lazy. I’m pretty sure it’s both.

The fact that I’ve been using this thing forever makes me worry about it all the time so I retired it from touring and just use it in the studio. Although that may change soon…

Live I have just been using my EVH heads and they are pretty stellar. Who knew that a raging player with a raging sound could give us such an amp with the best Fender clean sound ever? Didn’t see that coming. Must be the Fender connection! I only use the first two channels… one set at “Lenny” and the other at “Mean Streets”. This allows me to cover anything we do live. I may be adding a dual amp setup with my Naylor for dirty, and the EVH for clean but i’m still getting my head around that one.

So right there, you have my tone. That is basically it for around 80% of any given night. The problems and the variations arise when I start putting shit between all of this. As of right now (and the past two years), i’ve been using Fractal in a 4 cable set up. I have the Fractal giving me all of my pedal sounds (phase, trem, wah, chorus, pitch etc.) into the front of the amp, and also giving me my delays and verbs from the effects loop into separate power amps for my wet/dry setup. The one thing it does is keep all of my ‘pedals’ directly in front of me so my pedal board isn’t stacked a foot high and 8 feet long (remember, i’m lazy and I have short legs!) However, lately I am ‘feeling’ something inherently wrong with this setup. I can ‘feel’ this thing between me and the amp and there are some small things eating at me now that I know they are there. Maybe it’s user error so I’m going to keep working with this setup and try everything to get my ear to hear what it wants, but I have a feeling I’m going back to rack mounted pedals and straight into the amp if I don’t find the solution soon. Don’t know yet. Fractal is also coming out with another new model and who knows… they are pretty spot on with addressing concerns of players and always improving, overall it’s an incredible unit and i really want it to work. Maybe i’m just being crazy and have psyched myself out.

My cabs are now made by Port City. These are a bit of a game changer. It’s a totally unique design for me to use and I’m still adjusting because they aren’t like any cabinet I have used before. I’m using 4-2×12’s in a stereo wet/dry set up. The two overized 2×12’s have celestions in them (V30s in one, and Classic 80 in the other) and the outside effect cabs have Greenbacks in them. I’m always looking different speaker combinations and haven’t settled on anything yet so I just went with what I know. My ear is still working with these cabs and I know I will land on an awesome combination soon. The thing with these cabs is that they force me to play clean! EVERYthing comes out with a strange precision that keeps me focused a little more. There is no sterility associated with it, just clarity. For big rock, maybe this is bad but I think I can make it a part of my style with a bit of effort and a smidge of grace. In the end I have learned to be happy with most cabs when I don’t have a choice, (rentals when touring) but the problem really is only that I have two things: time and choice. First world problem perhaps. I had some really good feedback from people after the Oakville show (and my amps were barely on!) so we will see how this pans out.

Strings: DR 10-52.
Pants: 32 waist x 34 inseam
Muffin: lemon poppyseed
Other Food: tapas

Ok, i’m tired and there are ants all over me. Wtf? Lets keep this blog going on gear as I need to nerd out like the rest of you.

Closing thought: In the end I have come to understand that I sound like me, for better or worse, not because of the gear, but only because I have some gear that allows it to happen.

Fingers first, always.

That sounds horrible.

Ama a tu Mamá



  1. sman.

    Cool write up!
    It is funny how we gravitate towards certain guitars. I am an SG guy, always have been. They just work for me. I have tried to love other guitars (Les Pauls, Tele’s and Strat’s), and I just can’t get comfortable with them. I always come back to an SG! But the cool thing about other guitars though, is how they make you play differently. For some reason, when I pick up a Strat I start raking the strings and trying to play like SRV (or rather, a very poor impersonation of him). I can’t help it! Tele’s make me want to and get all twangy. And a Les Paul always brings out my inner Jimmy Page (until my back start hurting)!
    But I have also found that at the end of the day, I pretty much sound like me through whatever instrument \ amp I play. There are obvious differences in tone (single coils vs humbuckers etc, 6v6’s vs el84 etc….), but it always still sounds like me. I have gone through tons of Marshalls and Fenders etc.. and have finally settled on an AC30 (for now). “British” sounding amps just seem to fit my style better. Fenders are too clean for me (or maybe I am too sloppy for them???).
    Now, don’t get me started on pedals. I find my pedal board spends more time being torn apart and being put back together then actually getting used! I have gone through just about everything. For a while I was into handwired “boutique” stuff. But now, I stick with the basics. I went through a dozen OD’s, that were all just basically modified tube screamers of some sort. So I just went back to a Tubescreamer, and I am happy (for now).
    I won’t even start talking about fuzz pedals. It is almost a sickness of mine.


  2. Mario

    hey jag, sent this on twitter as well… we met once years ago thru lonnie, i may have something to help you with; “…I can ‘feel’ this thing between me and the amp and there are some small things eating at me now that I know they are there…”

  3. Thom

    Wow great post, thanks for that!

    I played in a blues band back in my early 20’s with guys that were all in their 50’s, and our guitarists had some amazing tone. One sounded a lot like the SRV tone and another more like Mark Knopfler. One night we were playing a jam night and after we were done, the next band got up and used the exact same equipment. I was floored by the difference in sound, yet no settings were changed! You are so right that the gear is just an enabler for you to sound like you. Obviously better gear will make you sound better, but in the end it’s all technique and how you play. If I hadn’t seen/heard it for myself I might not have believed it was that significant, but it really is!

    Regardless – I’m a gear nut and love these types of posts. I’m also in agreement with Matt… time for a studio gear one! Cheers!

  4. PeterM

    Wicked insight into your sound, and your pension for poppy seed muffin…im a blueberry dude myself. I seen Billy Corgan clone his amps from over the years into aveack mount so he calls on amps for sounds more so then pedals.
    So how has your clean sound developed over the years and whats your cab/speaker choice for recording?

  5. Matt

    That was amusing as it was enlightening (as always)…how bout nerding out on some studio stuff..you are a Juno winning recording engineer after all :)

  6. PeterM

    Awesome blog, I got some entertainment sitting on bus in traffic after work! I hope you are getting out as much out of this ‘sharing is caring’ as your fans are!
    I got a fuck load of questions but I’ll just start with two….
    I suppose one of the hardest things to do is to decide what to compromise when trying to recreate the studio in a live setting…spanning years of music and tones….I remember seeing Billy Corbin’s (sp?) rig rundown and he found some dude in Eastern Europe to clone all his amps into a tiny and useful rack mount, so in effect his amp clones were his pedals. Kinda cool idea

    Now….there is this tone that appears in choice sections on some of your tunes…i know, awesome description…but its like being in an underwater dream…its sounds like a trem and chorus and maybe a bit of POG…..does that sound vaguely familiar.

    Im amazed at the number of kids with gig bags walking from school no matter gender or race. Is it the same in GTA??


  7. Adam Swanson

    Why are you running all of the modulation stuff (chorus, phase, flange, etc) in front of the amp? I find they all sound MUCH better through the loop. Enough effect, but natural and not overpowering. My favorite chorus is a Boss CE-2 Chorus Ensemble. It doesn’t over power the tone, yet it blends very nicely and sounds more organic (to me). My favorite phaser of ALL time is the Boss PH-2 Super Phaser. They don’t make it anymore, it’s the last analog one they made. It’s my secret weapon so to speak. It’s a little left of the phase 90. Love the EVH flanger. That has a nice and big warm tone. Delay… Definitely the TC Flashback x4. I like having a few different delay types and a real time tap tempo. Reverb, TC Hall of Fame.

    I don’t like to run anything except a volume, wah, tuner and maybe an auto-wah in front of the amp. I have the EVH 5150iii 50w. If I need more than blue, there’s always red, haha. But your tone, Jag, has always been awesome. So whatever head you run will sound like you. So no worries there.

    As far as cabs… There are way too many options these. Try V30s and G12 T-75s in an X, or V30s & Hellatones in an X… Check out http://www.avataramps.com – custom USA made cabs that are insanely well built, with many options (tolex, grill, cab type) at very reasonably good prices. They know their shit when it comes to speakers and are very helpful with helping you to mix/match because they’ve done it all already, haha. I had a premier 212 with v30s and it was great. So if you’re looking to go crazy, that’s a good place to start.

    But right now I actually really really love the EVH 5150iii 212 cab. I want another. It feels & sounds like a 412 already. I can only imagine how much bigger it would sound with 2. And yes, it has different speakers than the EVH 5150iii 412.

    Just my 2 cents

  8. Jon

    Love those Port City cabs! I built my own, looks different, but same design as their oversized vertical 2×12. Best cab I’ve ever had! Have that fill the room feeling of an open back, with the tight bass response of a closed back. If your’re looking to try some different speakers, definitely check out Warehouse Guitar Speakers Reaper HP’s. I loaded two into my cab with the intention of eventually mixing them with a different speaker but I love them so much I think I’ll leave as is. If it’s not broke don’t fix it! They are a take on a Celestion g12H, but have a little more oomph to them. Very articulate, and clear, throaty, sparkly with nicely balanced mids. They say they pair well with their Veteran 30’s which are an improved version of a Vintage 30. Check’em out if you haven’t Prices can’t be beat either!

  9. Big John

    Thanks for signing my guitar after the Oakville show. The new cabs are real clean, but it makes the pickups jump out at you. Even the distortion has great presence. Your tone is in hands and the gear you are using now really makes it pop.

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