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QRD #41 - Guitarist Interview Series Part I - June 2010
about this issue
Guitarist Interviews with:
Jason LaFarge
Aidan Baker
Jamie Stewart
Brian John Mitchell
Martin Newman
Mat Sweet
Robin Crutchfield
Darren Hayman
Anna-Lynne Williams
Larry Marotta
Andrew Weathers
Mike Cosper
Sibyll Kalff
Tam
Jamie Barnes
Nathan Amundson
Jenks Miller
Chris Olley
Don Campau
Colin Newman
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Guitarist Interview with Aidan Baker of Nadja
June 2010

Name: Aidan Baker
Bands: Nadja, Whisper Room, ARC, solo
Websites: http://www.aidanbaker.org - http://www.nadjaluv.ca
Listen to "Liminoid Part III"

QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?

Aidan – My first & only electric guitar – a strat-style Kramer from the 80s. I still use it.

QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?

Aidan – Guitar to effects: Profile Overdrive, Zoom Multieffects, Boss Super-Chorus, Boss Overdrive/Distortion, Boss Loop Station, Akai Headrush, Ibanez Digital Delay, Behringer 4-channel mixer. I don’t use an amp anymore; just go direct to the PA from my mixer.

QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig – guitar, amplifier, or effects?

Aidan – Guitar.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Aidan – I used to have a VT Phaser Twin (proudly made in Quebec, according to the sticker on the back), but I sold it a couple years ago as I stopped using amps live. The only amp I have now is a little Ross practice amp that I fished out of the garbage a couple years ago & had a friend fix up for me (though it’s still in that friend’s basement, to give you an idea of how often I use it).

QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?

Aidan – Afore-mentioned Kramer is the only one I have. I like its bass-heavy tone & sustain.

QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?

Aidan – I’d like something like a harp guitar with extra bass strings with maybe a secondary set of resonate strings... it probably wouldn’t look pretty, though.

QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?

Aidan – Delay, reverb, & distortion all mashed uncontrollably into one.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Aidan – Two; one electric, one acoustic (a Seagull).

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Aidan – My acoustic is in my brother’s apartment on another continent & I have no idea how he’s storing it. My electric goes wherever I can find a space for it.

QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?

Aidan – Feel of the fretboard, action, response.…

QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?

Aidan – Less than they always do.

QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?

Aidan – Usually just stick with what I get.

QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?

Aidan – Not very.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Aidan – Not very, apart from the occasional addition/subtraction of a pedal or two.

QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?

Aidan – I think I’m pretty locked into my guitar tone already... though within that tone I like to change the variety of sounds at least, if not the tone itself.

QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?

Aidan – I’d like a better Pitchshifter than the one I have (in the Zoom), & a Pan/Tremolo pedal would be cool. A nice vintage Gretsch or Rickenbacker guitar would be nice to have...

QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?

Aidan – Hmm... don’t know.

QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?

Aidan – My Akai Headrush has lasted me a long time & helped create my sound/style. My worst purchase was buying an as-is Boss Digital Delay off eBay that I never got to work.

QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?

Aidan – I like the consistency of Fender guitars, less so their amps (which never seem to take to my pedal set-up very well). I’ve never liked Gibson guitars, for some reason I’ve never really been able to pinpoint.

QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?

Aidan – If I’m in my open tuning (which I usually am), I usually just strum that open chord...

QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?

Aidan – Twelve.

QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?

Aidan – I suppose technically I leveled out around 18 or so. Creatively, I like to think I’m still improving.…

QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?

Aidan – I started playing music on flute & one of the main appeals of the guitar for me was that you could play it by yourself & not be dependent on an accompanist or an ensemble of some kind as you almost always are with flute. I’ve taken that idea of guitar as self-sufficient pretty far with my music.

QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?

Aidan – No. Guitar is an easy instrument to teach yourself, but it’s also a lazy one – you don’t need to know much, if any, theory to play it; so starting with another instrument, even piano, can provide at least a little bit of a theoretical background. Which I think is good. Not absolutely necessary, just good.

QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?

Aidan – Ally, definitely.

QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?

Aidan – In order of discovery: David Gilmour, Dave Navarro, Steve Albini, Thurston Moore/Lee Ranaldo, Justin Broadrick, PJ Harvey, Mark Kozelek, Caspar Brotzmann, James Plotkin.

QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly?

Aidan – Silly.

QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?

Aidan – My bridge popped out once at a show many years ago, but I didn’t do it intentionally. That was pretty scary, but it screwed back in easily enough & has never done it again (so far).

QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?

Aidan – Not much.

QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?

Aidan – After touring, I often go without touching the guitar for a long time. & sometimes I don’t pick it up again until I’m leaving on another tour & need to figure out what to play...

QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?

Aidan – Anything thick – at least 1.5mm. I hate thin picks, they always just frustrate me.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Aidan – Heavy, largely because I keep my guitar tuned low & the heavier gauge keeps the tuning better. But also because thicker strings seem to have more resonance.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Aidan – When I actually notice how grimy they are.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Aidan – Sporadically.

QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?

Aidan – Strumming. I’m more interested in the hows of playing than the whats.

QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?

Aidan – I set it up myself (if at all). The few times I’ve sent it to a tech, they made changes I didn’t like.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Aidan – With Nadja I use C-G-C-G-G-D, mainly because it has a big, bassy sound. Solo, I either use that one, a drop D, or standard, depending on what I want to play.

QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?

Aidan – I don’t usually write down my ideas. I either record them or (try to) keep them in my head.

QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?

Aidan – Average. Not too high, not too low.

QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?

Aidan – Sloppiness of technique. But I usually use so many effects no one notices it.…

QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?

Aidan – Something totally different – a woodwind or brass – so that you’re exposed to a completely different methodology of playing, which helps you focus on musicality rather than technicality.

QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?

Aidan – Really complicated fingerpicking.

QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?

Aidan – Really complicated fingerpicking.

QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?

Aidan – Um...it’s been awhile since I learned any new tricks...

QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?

Aidan – Really complicated fingerpicking.

QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?

Aidan – No.

QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?

Aidan – To think of the guitar not as an instrument, but as a tool; so that mastering sound is a goal, not mastering an instrument.

QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?

Aidan – Think about space & time, allow for natural resonance...flow.…

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Aidan – They’re superfluous.

QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?

Aidan – Every guitarist should be able to do both (which isn’t always the case), & if a single player can combine both rhythm & lead into his/her playing at the same time, that’s even better.

QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?

Aidan – Sometimes. But not usually.

QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?

Aidan – Um, never really thought about that... & no one’s immediately coming to mind.…

QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?

Aidan – I don’t know that I could narrow that down to a single person – there are tons of innovative guitar players & they’re innovative for different reasons.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Aidan – That depends on what you might consider best... I’ve tried to record my albums using lots of different techniques, exploring different sounds & textures, & I’m still not sure which of any of those results I liked, or would consider, best.…

QRD – Anything else?

Aidan – Just this: I think the cult of the guitar is pretty idiotic. The guitar is, in the end, just another instrument, just another tool – just a means of expression – & it doesn’t (& shouldn’t) mean you’re going to be any cooler...