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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
Mike Cosper
Sibyll Kalff
Jamie Barnes
Nathan Amundson
Jenks Miller
Chris Olley
Don Campau
Colin Newman
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Guitarist Interview with Jenks Miller of Horseback
June 2010
photo by Katie Fanfani
Name: Jenks Miller
Bands: Horseback, Mount Moriah, Jenks Miller (solo), In the Year of the Pig (drums)
Websites: myspace.com/horsebacknoise, myspace.com/mountmoriah, myspace.com/intheyearofthepig

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

Jenks – A 1980 Gibson SG.  Still play it.  Just got some TLC at Fret Sounds in Graham, NC.

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

Jenks – gtr>Boss chromatic tuner>harmonic percolator>stereo Memory Man>amp

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

Jenks – Amp.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Jenks – A Peavey Delta Blues (1x15), because it has an excellent clean signal (modeled after an AC30) but is easier to carry than an AC30.  The 15” speaker provides a nice bass response, in case I need to fill out the tone for spare (or solo) arrangements.

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

Jenks – Totally depends on the situation.  A modified Telecaster (in Mount Moriah, sometimes in Horseback, whenever I need that twang), a Gibson SG (heavier sounds, & often solo), a Les Paul (heavier sounds &/or ebow), & a 1964 Gretsch Astro Jet (solo).

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

Jenks – I don’t like signature guitars.  I like basic stuff.

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

Jenks – Ditto for pedals.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Jenks – Too many!  Not enough!

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Jenks – Out of the way.

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

Jenks – How it plays & how it sounds.  The fewer bells & whistles, the better.

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

Jenks – Between $400-$1000, used & broken in.

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

Jenks – I usually stick with what I get.  The setup is important, especially for different tunings.  So sometimes additional setup is needed.

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

Jenks – I must play it first.  It takes only a couple minutes to tell if a guitar is right or not.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Jenks – No.

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

Jenks – I am after one particular tone (well, maybe two or three particular tones) that can be modified dynamically while playing, with my fingers &/or pick strokes.

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

Jenks – None.  The gear is always in service to the playing & not the other way around.

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

Jenks – It’s probably a good idea to buy a cheaper (used) guitar first, so one can decide if playing guitar is something he or she wants to do.

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

Jenks – Best: my Peavey amp, in terms of value.  Worst: a chorus pedal.

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

Jenks – I think effects are generally overused & can hinder the development of a player’s individual technique.  I try to dislike all effects as much as possible (sometimes they still sneak into the signal chain).  Most brands of amplifier & guitar have at least a couple excellent models; those choices completely depend on the application.

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

Jenks – I tune it.

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

Jenks – 15.

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

Jenks – 23 or 24, but I’m always trying to improve.

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

Jenks – I don’t think this is true, necessarily.  I also like playing drums, bass, & keys; but I’m not very good.  Guitars have a wide range of sounds & stylistic applications, so I tend to gravitate to guitar.

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

Jenks – No.  Piano is probably the best introductory instrument, since its interface is very logical & makes for a good teaching instrument.

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

Jenks – Ally.

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

Jenks – Neil Young, John Fahey, Loren Connors, Keiji Haino, Tony Iommi, Matthew Bower.  Non-guitarists:  John Coltrane, Tony Conrad, Brian Eno.

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

Jenks – Natural.  Guitars have “personalities,” so it’s kind of inevitable.

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

Jenks – Nothing significant.  I’m pretty protective of my instruments.

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

Jenks – I don’t practice much any more outside of playing.  Sometimes fingerpicking exercises are built into the songwriting process, in order to train my muscle memory for a specific part.  I used to practice much more, developing my ear by playing along to recordings.

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

Jenks – It varies greatly, probably between 1-15 hours.  On the higher end if I’m recording or touring.

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

Jenks – Medium.  It seems to be the most flexible, ie: able to produce the greatest number of distinct sounds.  I use my fingers a lot, too, for greater tone control.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Jenks – 11’s, for a similar reason.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Jenks – Maybe once a month.  More if needed.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Jenks – A couple here & there.

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

Jenks – My strumming (picking) hand, because it controls the rhythm of my playing & dynamic sound of the guitar.  Both hands have to work together, though.

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

Jenks – A guitar tech: Usually Brian Haran at Fret Sounds in Graham, NC.  He’s a pro & knows much more about set-up than I do.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Jenks – Standard, Drop-D, & DADF#AD.  I prefer open tunings for fingerpicking or droning sounds.

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

Jenks – I usually don’t write my ideas down.  I record them instead.

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

Jenks – Fairly high, to allow access to the entire fretboard.  When playing solo, I usually hold my guitar on my lap.

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

Jenks – Improper intonation drives me up the wall.  I’m continually trying to get better at intoning notes.

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

Jenks – Piano, drums.  Practically any other instrument will help in some way.

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

Jenks – Sweep-picking death metal style guitar.  But this would require a completely different set-up, so I don’t lose sleep over it!

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

Jenks – I’m still working on them all, I guess.  Probably always will be.

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

Jenks – I don’t know any tricks.  I actually don’t know what a guitar trick is!  Slinging a guitar around my back?  Playing with my teeth?  I can’t do either of those things.

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

Jenks – Still working on them all.  There’s always room for improvement.

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

Jenks – I took lessons for two years when I first started playing guitar.  Lessons helped me make the mental connection between what I am hearing & what I am playing ? this has proved to be a very valuable skill.

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

Jenks – Most guitar lessons seem to focus on technique (which is important) & neglect how your playing effects your sound.  I suppose I would talk a lot about sound.  I’d also talk about playing with other musicians as a group, & how to listen for changes in dynamics & mood in this kind of ensemble situation.

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

Jenks – Play fewer notes.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Jenks – I love tremolo.

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

Jenks – Lead guitar players have bigger egos & less rhythm.

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

Jenks – No.  Good guitar playing plays to the band (& the arrangement) as a whole.  If I’m noticing the guitar playing at the expense of the rest of the band, it’s usually a bad sign.

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

Jenks – None.  I would just worry about banging it up.

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

Jenks – As long as Keith Rowe is around, he’ll probably qualify.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Jenks – Any Horseback record (Impale Golden Horn, The Invisible Mountain, the upcoming Forbidden Planet), the upcoming Mount Moriah debut, or my solo-improvised record, Approaching the Invisible Mountain.

QRD – Anything else?

Jenks – Nope!  Thanks, Brian.