Interview with Don Campau
Name: Don Campau
Bands: Don Campau, The Desmonds (1976-1978), The Roots Of Madness (1969-1976)
Listen to "Confidential Matter"
Listen to Days Out of Order
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Don – A cheap steel string that I got when
I was 16. I can’t remember what happened. I think it got passed on when
I got better instruments as time went by.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Don – I usually plug directly in to my BOSS 8-track digital recorder. It has tons of effects & can be operated easily & on the fly. I do not play live, although occasionally do live recordings with others. Then I bring the 8-track & use it as an effects output.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig – guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Don – Guitar & 8-track digital recorder.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Don – Acoustic 135 made in 1970. It is powerful & provides a clean sound. Too clean actually, no distortion whatsoever so I have to use a pedal.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Don – For electric I use two: Gibson Les Paul XR-2 (1982) for rock style lead. It has a strong & powerful tone way up the neck. My 1960 Gibson ES 175 for chords, rhythm, & jazz lead. Super good action & intonation & so easy to play.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Don – I think I have them already. I have all the features I need. Maybe some kind of “Fripp” pedal for ultra long sustain. I don’t know what that would be though.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Don – I don’t really use pedals anymore, just effects from the 8-track. Mainly distortion, sustain & delay & a super sharp & clean biting tone called “Country Comp”.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Don – 3 electrics (listed already but also a faux Telecaster), 1 Richenbacher lap steel, 1 steel string acoustic (Yamaha), 1 classical, 1 bass (my wife’s 1965 Fender Jazz Precision).
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Don – In my studio under lock & key.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Don – To get a sound that I don’t have already. However, my interest is in getting other instruments besides guitars now.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Don – Hmm, good question. But good quality is rarely cheap, although I did buy my ES 175 for $250 in 1975. Probably more than I would be willing to spend now.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Don – Sometimes I take them for a tune up, the electronics get dusty, the inputs loose, etc.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Don – I just play it in the store & see how it sounds. That being said, I rarely buy anything new now.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Don – Rarely. It is for recording only.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Don – I do like specific tones & go to them often, but also look for contrasting tones when recording a song. To me, it is more about the composition & less about any virtuosity anymore. I want to play less & have it mean more.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Don – None that I can think of. Probably some sustain or delay effect that I don’t have.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Don – Make it easy to play so I usually suggest a nylon string to start with. That is what I gave one of my daughters recently.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Don – Both of the high quality guitars I have were fantastic buys. My brother gave me a fake Telecaster from Denmark. I can’t remember buying a bad instrument.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Don – I like Roland effects. I don’t have a lot of experience with other stuff recently. I used to use a “Heavy Metal” pedal with a Digitech Sample/Delay pedal before my 8-track. Before that I used a Foxx Wah/Fuzz.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Don – Simple chords, simple leads, harmonics.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Don – 16 in 1968.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Don – Probably years ago in the late 70s/early 80s.Maybe early 1990s as well So, I was 30-40s. I’m OK now but have gone downhill with execution, speed, & finesse.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Don – I’m not sure it does. My fingers are short, my arthritis bad. It’s what I know, but I have branched out into other areas now besides guitar.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Don – Tough call. I think it depends on if you are a “natural” for it. I originally started on flute & alto sax in school & wish I would have stuck with it.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Don – Definitely an ally. If the tune isn’t working with one instrument I will switch to another. Guitar is only one part of my arsenal.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Don – Harvey Mandel, Terje Rypdal, John McLaughlin, Clarence White, Derek Bailey, Hendrix, Robert Fripp, & many, many others.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Don – It is natural to give nicknames to your friends although this is not something I’ve done.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Don – In 1982 I tripped over my strap bringing my 175 to the concrete floor & snapping it in two at the headstock. I cried & let it sit for 9 years before I fixed it. One could never tell now that is was broken.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Don – I’ll either turn on the drum machine for a metronome, practice to pre-recorded rhythm tracks, or occasionally still turn on the cheapo auto chord keyboard because it can run through key changes easily. However, I rarely do this now & it has begun to show when I go to cut a solo.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Don – Hmm, it varies. During the winter I rarely go to the garage studio. When the weather gets good I start recording again. Would probably be 1-2 hours a week. I would benefit by practicing more, but never get to it now because of so many other projects.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Don – Depends on the song & application. Medium for most leads. Sometimes thin for light sounding rhythm.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Don – Light starting at .09 for high E. I can still do string bending & it stays in tune, mostly. Plus, not as many string breaks as with super light gauge.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Don – Maybe once a year.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Don – Occasionally the high E, but not often.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Don – Good question. I think my arthritis has affected my fretting hand because I can no longer make the chords I used to. However, my style has evolved into less chord changes now. In fact, I don’t even like chord changes for the most part. I still do them though, but less. My strumming hand is fairly good still.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Don – Myself except for occasional tune-ups.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Don – Several. Open G, Open E are the main ones. Also minor key variations of those. Then, I also use a capo in those tunings. I also use unspecific tunings to surprise me. Tunings that I don’t even know the names of.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Don – I simply record sketches onto the 8-track. Sometimes I sing it as a sketch.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Don – Mid level I guess although I usually sit now. The Les Paul especially is hard on my back. I hold the ES 175 higher I guess because it is lighter.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Don – Playing habitual positions & cliché ridden riffs. Also, playing too many notes.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Don – Almost any other one I’d say. The ability to listen is sometimes lost by being a guitarist & having to be louder than everyone else. My advice: Turn down & listen more.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Don – That Allan Holdsworth type of flowing lead where the fretting is done with the three lower fingers & the barre is made by the index.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Don – A live instrumental album with a trio.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Don – Tuning randomly & seeing what happens.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Don – I like slide with electric & acoustic. I also like super high capo with open tuning.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Don – Classical & flamenco. Master would not be the right word though. Too much work & commitment is required.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Don – No, I am self-taught.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Don – When not to play & to listen effectively.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Don – Why would they want to do that?
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Don – I don’t know what that is. I sometimes use a tremolo effect, is that different?
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Don – Rhythm players listen better. Bass players listen better. Drummers (sometimes) listen better.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Don – Depends on the material. Of course I love a virtuoso but showing off for that sole purpose doesn’t move me as much now. You don’t see guys like Frisell or McLaughlin playing with untalented players. The main point is that musicianship should serve the song, not the other way around.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Don – Clarence White’s Fender with the B string bender. Because it can sound like a pedal steel. Then again I’d have to be good enough to handle the string bending strap. I’ll bet that’s not easy to master.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Don – Eivind Aarset because he serves the material & doesn’t have to show off except when needed. Bill Frisell of course because he has such a distinctive style & uses restraint.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Don – Peppered through my massive
discography. I’ve put a few guitar oriented tunes on “The Best of Don Campau,
Vol 2” available for free here: http://www.archive.org/details/TheBestOfDonCampauVol.22000-2009
QRD – Anything else?
Don – Thanks for asking. My musical ambition
has moved into different areas besides guitar now although I still get
a kick out of playing. Now, I am interested in other instruments &
what I can learn about myself from playing them. It makes me listen better.