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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 Jason LaFarge of Hallux
June 2010

Name: Jason LaFarge
Bands: Hallux (current – debut record out end of June), formerly of Pineal Ventana & Blue Prostitutes
Websites: www.seizurespalace.com, www.myspace.com/jasonlafargemusic
Listen to "Waterlogged"
Listen to "Mothdust"
Listen to "Holograms"
Listen to "Control"
Listen to "Intrinsic"

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

Jason – It was a really crappy Global (Sears catalog) Fender-copy.  I sold it to a friend in high school & tried to teach him to play with little to no success.  I have no idea what he did with it.  When I was 14, I got the guitar which is my main 6-string today – a 1979 Les Paul Custom with a factory-installed 3rd pickup. 

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

Jason – Well, my set-up for Hallux is my Travis Bean TB-2000 bass through a SansAmp Bass Driver into a 1973 Earth Sound Research Super Bass B-2000 amplifier (complete coincidence on the – 2000 suffix) & through an Ampeg V4 4x12 cabinet.  My guitar rig in Pineal Ventana changed during my 5 years in the band.  Started off with my 1979 Les Paul Custom through a Marshall JCM 900 head & KMD 4x12 cab with a Morley Wah/Distortion & Boss RV-3 & DD-5 in between.  Before the Axes to Ice record, I changed my rig to a Travis Bean Artist going direct into a Johnson Millennium 250 combo.  The Johnson is an amp emulator not unlike the Line 6 amps, but in my opinion way better.  It allowed me to change my sound radically in between songs (and sometimes for parts of songs).  I still have it & it gets a fair amount of use in my studio.

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

Jason – At this point, it is a combination of the Travis Bean bass (which has a very distinctive sound) & the Earth tube head, which accentuates the low end of the Bean.  I should say that the Earth head has 2 channels & the “Normal” channel makes for a really nice guitar tone, not unlike a Fender Bassman.  For the rare times I pick up my Les Paul these days, the Earth is my amp of choice

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Jason – There may be a lot of redundancy in my answers here.  I’ll leave the editing to you.  My main amp is the Earth Sound Research Super Bass B-2000 made on Long Island in 1973.  Earth Sound Research made amps from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s.  They have a small but dedicated cult following.  It is perfect for the music I’m doing now, as it has a “Deep” switch that really accentuates the low end.  It’s like getting punched in the gut if you’re standing in front of it at raised volume.

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

Jason – My main axe these days is my Travis Bean TB-2000 bass, which has an aluminum neck through to the bridge & is made of super dense Koa wood from Hawaii.  It sustains for days.  I had a Travis Bean Artist 6-string as well, but sold it a few years ago because (unlike the bass) it is very neck-heavy.  Drove me crazy.  I’m pretty sure Vincent Gallo owns it now, as he has become the world’s foremost Travis Bean collector.  I don’t think he even plays.  What a cretin.  Anyway, my main 6-string is, & always will be, my Les Paul.

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

Jason – Well, I think the chances of that happening are pretty slim, but I would probably have an aluminum neck & some sort of double cutaway design – not unlike a Travis Bean Artist, except definitely with more weight in the body so as to cut down its lopsided tendencies.

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

Jason – It would be a distortion pedal for bass that enhances the low end when in use.  Too many distortion pedals thin out the sound when activated for bass.  Any signature distortion pedal I had would increase the punch.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Jason – 2 electric guitars (my Les Paul & a 1966 SG-style Melody Maker that has been reworked into a hotter machine with humbuckers instead of P-90s), 2 acoustic guitars, & my Travis Bean bass.

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Jason – I store them in their cases in the control room of my recording studio in Brooklyn. 

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

Jason – I haven’t bought a guitar in over 10 years, but good action & good sound come to mind…

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

Jason – Not sure how to answer that question, as the market now is ridiculous.  I’m a fan of vintage guitars – probably unlikely to ever buy a new one, unless the guys at Electrical Guitar Company do a custom design for me.  I wouldn’t mind paying up to $1500 for a custom guitar.

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

Jason – Other than general set-up work (i.e. lowering the action), I like leaving the guitar in its original condition.

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

Jason – I generally do a fair amount of research on any gear I buy (including studio equipment), but if I have had a great experience while borrowing a friend’s gear, I might pick one up without going overboard on researching.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Jason – No.

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

Jason – Depends on the project.  Hallux requires a certain sound all the time.  But with Pineal Ventana, I had gotten very tired of the same sound that the Marshall gave me so I switched to the Johnson for that very reason - I could change sounds radically with one click of a pedal.  We were doing music that required me to change my sound frequently.

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

Jason – I think Electrical Guitar Company is doing a great job of building on Travis Bean’s work in the 1970s.  I would like to have one of their guitars one day.  I’ve also always liked the way the Gibson Firebirds looked (especially ones with the reverse headstock).  I’ve had a friend’s MusicMan 210 Combo on loan down at the studio for a year or so & really like its sound.  I could see picking one of those up one day.  But in general, I have so much equipment in the studio world to lust after, that any guitar stuff is way down the list of things I need.

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

Jason – Really depends on the kind of music they are doing.  For me, the Global guitar that I first owned didn’t have humbuckers, & in fact had really shitty pickups that were really thin sounding.  So I guess good pickups (& good tuners) are essential.

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

Jason – I can’t say I’ve ever really had a bad guitar purchase.  The Travis Bean Artist was neck heavy, but there was still a lot I liked about it.

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

Jason – Never been much of a Fender guy.  Obviously the basses they made in the ‘60s & ‘70s are classic, but the Stratocaster has never done it for me.  I’ve always thought they sounded thin.  There have been a few Telecasters that I like, but that is about it for Fender 6-strings.  In fact, the best Telecaster I’ve ever played was a Schecter & not a Fender. 

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

Jason – I don’t have a set routine.  Sorry.

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

Jason – I was 9.  I had been playing violin for about 3 or 4 years at that point & got the Global guitar for Christmas in 1978.  Because it was so thin sounding, I didn’t really get into playing it & started playing drums for a couple of years before I got my Les Paul – then I returned to guitar playing.

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

Jason – Late 20s when playing with Pineal Ventana.  We were rehearsing 3 times a week & really working out material for records & tours.  Definitely the best I’ve ever played….

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

Jason – Well, I don’t know that it does.  I think I’m as proficient on drums, bass, & violin as I am on guitar.  I’m a pretty well rounded musician.  I’m not brilliant on any of them, but I would say I’m above average on all of them.

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

Jason – Well, I don’t know about that.  I would say that piano should be taught concurrently with whatever instrument you start with.  The keyboard makes it much easier to understand music theory & makes it easier to relate theory to whatever other instrument you are learning, whether it is guitar or bass or clarinet or whatever.  Being able to see all of the notes in linear fashion in front of you helps you understand the 12-tone system & intervals.

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

Jason – Certainly an ally.

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

Jason – I would say inspired more than influenced – but guitarists that come to mind are Paul Leary, Duane Denison, Malcolm Young, & believe it or not, Alex Lifeson (pre-1980).   I would also list Travis Kotler, the guitarist I replaced in Pineal Ventana.  His work on Living Soil & those first 7” singles PV first put out is amazing. Bassists I’m in awe of are Jeff Pinkus & Tim Dahl.

QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?

Jason – Well it is a little silly, but I understand it.  I’ve never named my guitars, but I do refer to my Les Paul as “she.”  I have no excuse for it….

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

Jason – I’ve been very lucky in this regard.  The worst I’ve done was taking my guitar case out of my trunk when I was 17 or 18 without remembering that I had been playing my guitar in a parking lot with friends & put it away without latching the case.  When I lifted the case out of the trunk, the top opened & the guitar landed on the pavement, scratching the binding on the top of the guitar, but very luckily not scratching (or breaking) the wood at all.  In another incident, I had let a friend use the Les Paul at a show in 1989 opening for Mary My Hope (with Clint Steele of Swans) & his singer thought he was Roger Daltrey & swung his mic in big 10-foot circles.  Mic came down right on the headstock, but luckily again only dented the binding.

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

Jason – Absolutely nothing other than listen to music.

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

Jason – At this point, less than 3 hours a week (& sometimes way less).  Recording others takes up most of my time these days.

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

Jason – Dunlop Tortex orange.  Perfect thickness for me.  & it doesn’t ever break (unlike Fender picks), it just wears away.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Jason – For the Les Paul, I use 10s.  Light, but not too light.  For my Melody Maker I use 9s.  It has the more fragile neck, so I try not to strain it too much.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Jason – With guitar, if I’m touring I’ll change them every few shows unless I break one.  If I break one while on tour, I’ll replace the whole set.  With bass, I change strings once a year.  I actually prefer the sound of dead strings on a bass.  Especially for recording.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Jason – With Pineal Ventana, I would break them fairly often.  But we were also rehearsing & gigging a lot.  With bass I never break strings.  Ever.

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

Jason – Probably my fretting hand for guitar (although I’m not a bad picker – just not a finger picker on 6-string).  Not sure how it affects my style.  With bass, I finger pick or use a pick depending on what the song calls for.

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

Jason – I will do minor set up things, but if it needs a major tune up, I’ll take it to a professional.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Jason – With guitar, I’m a pretty standard tuning guy.  Occasionally tune the low E down to a D, but that is it.  With Hallux, many of our songs are drop C, so I just tune the low E on the bass down to C.

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

Jason – I occasionally will write out music notation (left over from my classical music/violin days).  But I have a studio, so often I’ll just record ideas & listen back to them later.

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

Jason – I hold it in the technically incorrect rock pose (below the waist).

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

Jason – Writing in E.

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

Jason – Again, piano. Just for the theory insights it gives you.

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

Jason – Maybe Pedal Steel?

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

Jason – I think I’ve chosen the wise path in never setting goals & letting my playing take me where it would naturally.

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

Jason – I honestly don’t remember.

QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?

Jason – I’m really not that much of a gadget guy.  The Tube Screamer is a helluva stompbox.  Does that count? 

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

Jason – Finger picking.  I took classical lessons when I was 18 & really worked at the finger picking aspects, but it was never natural for me.  I recorded Devendra Banhart 6 years ago & watching him play was amazing.  Wish I could play like that.

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

Jason – I did.  Starting at 9, I started taking lessons from Terry Cantwell in Macon, GA.  He was a classical guitarist that had studied under John Sutherland at UGA.  But my guitar (the previously mentioned Global) sucked & I lost interest.  When I got my Les Paul at age 14, I started taking lessons at a Ken Stanton music store in Roswell, GA.  The instructor’s name was Mark (unfortunately don’t remember his last name) & he did a good job in keeping me interested by teaching me songs that I was into.  He taught me the basics of blues theory & after a certain point I wasn’t learning anymore from him – which he recognized & suggested I start playing in bands.  Later, I took classical guitar lessons from John Sutherland who had retired from UGA, but I wasn’t disciplined enough to reap the benefits.

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

Jason – Music is mostly about feel & not technique.  It is certainly a blend of the two with a heavier dose of feel.

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

Jason – I really don’t know how to answer that question.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Jason – I haven’t used them much myself.  But in dealing with the guitarists that come into the studio, I know that many have tuning issues.  They are great for certain effects though.

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

Jason – It really depends on the band & type of music.  Some guitarists play rhythm in a lead style.  In your traditional rock band, I would say the lead guitarist has to hold the attention of the audience while the rhythm guitarist lays the foundation underneath him.  Perfect example is AC/DC.  Angus is a great guitarist, but he’s really a showman.  Malcolm is in the background & HE is the one responsible for all of those classic riffs.

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

Jason – Actually, the guitar is to me often the least important instrument in determining my interest in a band.  Vocalist is #1.  I can love the music & hate the vocalist & I’ll never listen to the band again.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love a good guitarist.  Just doesn’t make or break a band for me.

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

Jason – Maybe Duane Denison’s Travis Bean from the Head through Liar years.  Just because I love those records. 

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

Jason – Well, Duane Denison is still playing, so I would choose him for rock guitarists.  I think Bill Horist & Ed Ricart are doing very creative work in experimental music.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Jason – I would choose the songs “Control?” from Pineal Ventana’s Axes to Ice,  “Waterlogged” & “Intrinsic” from PV’s Breathe as You Might, & “Crack in the Light” & “Taenia Soleum” from PV’s Malpractice.

QRD – Anything else?

Jason – I’m pretty sure you’ve covered everything.  Thanks for having me be part of this series!