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QRD #41 - Guitarist Interview Series Part I - June 2010
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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 Martin Newman of Plumerai
June 2010

Name: Martin Newman
Bands: Plumerai; Goddakk
Websites: www.plumerai.com www.facebook.com/PlumeraiBand www.myspace.com/goddakk

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

Martin – Harmony – Flying V electric.  It was white with gold hardware & I eventually sold it to a classmate in high school after I got a Charvel Model-4 (this was before Jackson fully took over Charvel, so it didn’t have the triangle fret markers etc. yet & no Floyd Rose bridge). I think the Flying V came from a Sears or JC Penney Catalog. 

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

Martin – Guitar: Metropolitan – Tanglewood or Gretsch-5120 & sometimes a Fender reissue BassVI to Dunlop Crybaby WAH -> Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi ->Ibanez – SS10 Session Man (distortion w/ built in chorus) -> Boss-TR2 ->Boss DD-4 ->EH Holy Stain -> Roland JC120
I have to say the Holy Stain is a replacement for my old styled Holy Grail which started having issues.  And why two fuzzes? The Big Muff sort of lacks clarity, it’s more fuzz than distortion.

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

Martin – Tough question, for me personally it’s the guitar.  It has to feel good to play or everything sounds like shit to me.  But for the songs/sounds it’s probably the pedals. Although our songs aren’t as effect reliant as they used to be, too much or too little fuzz/distortion or the delay or tremolo dialed too slow can really mess up the feel & flow of a song.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Martin – Roland JC-120 for live & a Magnatone for recording. 
JC120s are sort of workhorses & can take a beating during a tour & still get really loud & full sounding regardless of the room.  The other feature I like about it is that the sound you send in is basically the sound you’re going to get coming out of the amp.  I remember it having a decent reverb but over the 9 years I’ve had the amp it stopped working & I never bothered trying to fix it.
The Magnatone just sounds sweet.  Great reverb & smooth lush sound.  It’s especially great playing a Fender Jazzmaster or Jaguar through. Sort of a classic sound like you’d get from the 60s or 70s.  An added feature is that it has an M that lights up when you turn it on.  Its built in vibrato & reverb are great, but the reason I don’t use it live is that there are intermittent crackles & pops.  We’ve taken it to the shop & they either say they fixed it or don’t hear it.

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

Martin – Right now it’s the Metropolitan – Tanglewood.  Mainly for the shape.  But also because it has a full & thick sound & for some reason it kicks out more power than the other guitars I use.  It’s versatile so it’s great to do regular rock guitar playing as well as ambient & the more wall of sounds that the kids love these days.  Overall it just feels good to hold too. 

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

Martin – It’d be big & bulky with thick ass strings.  All the characteristics I like about the Metropolitan.  With a synth element like the Guitorgans have. And a bunch of switches.  It’d be cool if I could do something with it like shoot off fireworks or lasers too & if you can pull hidden knives from it, all the better.

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

Martin – A wah controllable tremolo/delay pedal.  With a loop capability.  All of it would be able to be controlled via the wah in regards to the speed of the effect. My biggest problem in Plumerai has been not being able to adjust the effects mid-song to the drummer’s tempo or even just because I think a part would sound better slower or faster.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Martin – Personally I own the Gretsch & a crappy acoustic.  But in the Plumerai collection we have about seven. The Metropolitan, the aforementioned Gretsch, a Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Fender Bass VI, a homemade bass VI, aforementioned crappy acoustic.

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Martin – In the apartment either in a case or on a stand.

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

Martin – How cool it looks basically.  I tend to like humbuckers for both sound & aesthetics. After that how it feels in my hands.

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

Martin – What I personally feel it should cost is around $400.  But that’s me dreaming since they’re usually much much more.  I don’t particularly like newer brands/models.  People seem to like them but I still prefer older styled Fenders, etc.; not PSRs or Schecters.

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

Martin – Adjustments are made.  I most recently changed out the pickups in the Gretsch with TV Jones pickups & need to do the tuners.

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

Martin – Not very since I’m mostly judging it by its looks first, playability second, reliability third.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Martin – Not really.  I usually don’t play the guitar plugged into an amp except at rehearsals & recording sessions, so I don’t get to hear it as often as I should.  IT does change though.  I’ve replaced pedals or taken them completely out of my rig. Depending on where my playing is going.  More & more I use less pedals.  Less U2 more the Cure.

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

Martin – A lot is a bit much, but I like to alter it up.  I usually stick with a tone for a period of time & then change it.  I should do more changing during a recording session, but I don’t like to mess up the momentum of playing.

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

Martin – I don’t typically have equipment lust, but I wouldn’t mind a Fender Twin Reverb Amp or this guitar I used in the studio, a Univox Hi Flyer maybe.

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

Martin – Good songs.

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

Martin – Worst was the Line-6 pedal, best is probably the Gretsch & the wah pedal which allows for a bit more play with the delay &/or tremolo so you don’t just get the same tone spittin’ back at you, it allows you to create the allusion of rhythm when really it’s still the same old repeats.

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

Martin – EFX: Boss pedals & Electro Harmonix have been the best tone wise.  Line-6, Danelectro, ART have been the worse even though they seem like they had more functionality.  Nanoverbs were horrendous in terms of tone, but it had a decent swelling reverb you can manage on there with a single pedal.
Amps: the JC-120 of course, & the Fender Twin Reverbs, I’ve never had a good experience with Marshall, Peavey, or Line6.
Guitar: Fenders rule.  Never particularly liked any Gibsons I played or Schecters or PRSs.

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

Martin – A minor, D minor, E minor jam.

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

Martin – Who knows, but I’d guesstimate around 12 or 13.

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

Martin – When I listened to a lot of metal, so I would say between 10th & 11th grade. I’m not sure how old you are then, 16 or 17? Or younger?  But it wasn’t til later that I played more interesting parts.

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

Martin – I don’t know that it does, it’s just I’ve had one & have been playing one for a long time so now it’s most comfortable cuz I can play without thinking & generally know where to go next for the next note I want.  Playing other instruments for me is still a struggle.

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

Martin – No.  Definitely not.  They’re so cheap & ordinary that nowadays nobody cares. It’s like skateboarding, something cool some people like to do but nothing to be really excited about or respected.   I don’t blame them really, who’d be excited about kids with baseball caps playing Dave Matthew songs.

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

Martin – A bit of both.  It limits me cuz I generally reach for it first or feel that since I’m the guitarist in a rock band that whatever song I write should be oriented for the instrument.

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

Martin – In no particular order, Robert Smith/Porl Thompson, Jeff Hanneman, Vadim Kolpakov, Alex Skolnick, Sergei Shnurov, Eugene Hutz. Jim Shaw/Mark Francombe. John McGeoch.

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

Martin – Chips in paint or knobs falling off. Mostly from dropping it, which is usually a result of the strap not being secured.  A singer for my first band ever pulled the headstock off of a Les Paul at the rehearsal studio we practiced in on accident & then tried to patch it together with gum.

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

Martin – Nothing.  Maybe writing parts that are more difficult to play.

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

Martin – If there isn’t a show or recording going on probably about an hour a week.   I think that’s enough.  I mainly use it as a tool to write music.  I’m not particularly interested in being a guitar god.

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

Martin – Usually the purple Dunlops, I don’t recall the size but they’re fairly thick & stiff.  Flimsy picks aren’t for me, I actually don’t even see the advantage of a pick that’s going to retreat when it hits a string.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Martin – .11s  anything thinner sounds weak, anything thicker hurts my fingers.  I have the hollowbody strung up with .10s cuz I do more hand strumming & live it started to cut my fingers which sucked on a week long tour where I’d cut the finger on night one & have to spend every other show in pain.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Martin – Before recording or when it breaks usually. 

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Martin – Not often anymore, it’s actually to the point now where I can just sense a string is going to break during a show.  You’d think that would get me to change the strings beforehand, but you’d be wrong.

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

Martin – Definitely strumming hand.  I don’t play solos or songs that require too much fiddling around so when I do try it, on occasions I notice that the fretting fingers sometime go where they want to.

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

Martin – My brother sets it up so I guess that’s like sending it to a guitar tech.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Martin – Regular ole E tuning.  Life is easier this way.

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

Martin – It’s all in my mind.  If I can’t remember it then I guess it’s not really worth remembering anyways.  Sometimes I’ll record it, but never write it down.  Seems wasteful.

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

Martin – It used to hang low, but now I play it higher sorta centered around waistline.  When I started using more than just power chords I noticed it was easier to play with the guitar a bit higher than slung around my knees.  But I’ll never play it Berklee high.  If it meant having it high or not being able to execute a complicated guitar solo “lick”…  I’d definitely sacrifice the lick/solo. 

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

Martin – Making the claw to hold down chords.

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

Martin – I hear piano, but I wouldn’t know personally.  Playing guitar definitely doesn’t help me play piano any better though.

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

Martin – Flamenco & gypsy.

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

Martin – Getting the perfect sound for a song.  There’s a tone that I can only describe as round that I can’t achieve, but hear in my head.

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

Martin – Raising the guitar strap.  Also the slappity strumming of gypsy guitar.

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

Martin – Fingerpicking where the thumb is playing a different rhythm than the other fingers.

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

Martin – I took lessons at University once because it was required in the program I was in to take lessons on an instrument.  The only thing I really learned was that my instructor was full of shit & didn’t think there was a difference in sound between all downpicking & alternate picking let alone thought you could get the same sound with your fingerpicking as you could with a pick.  He actually spent a couple minutes each lesson trying to convince me to buy his CD.

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

Martin – That there’s a noticeable difference in playing everything all on one string even though it’s more of a pain in the ass to play.  The easiest most efficient way to play a part isn’t necessarily the best.

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

Martin – Not care about technique.  Make the claw pay attention to the rhythm.  The Subtleties are the best parts.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Martin – Had a Khaler on my Charvel back in the day, it was fun to play with.  Have a Bigsby on my Gretsch & use it primarily for subtle chord dives like in surf tunes.

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

Martin – Who gets to play the guitar solo I would think.

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

Martin – Dream Theater is horrible anyway you slice it.

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

Martin – Elvis’s guitar.  I’d sell it & buy something I really wanted with the money. 

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Martin – In Muzine’s Issue #09, there’s a free extended “Empty Graves” EP.  For the short & online versions  Plumerai.bandcamp.com  I like “Empty Graves,” “Strike,” “Die... die slowly,” “Lavinia,” “Avernal” in terms of guitar work.  And anything from the Goddakk album is worth checking out in regards to guitar playing.

QRD – Anything else?

Martin – I think it’s important for guitarist to not listen strictly to guitar parts of songs.  Also pay attention to rhythm even if you’re doing wall of sound strummy stuff.  There’s a pulse in it & you should take note & use it.

Other QRD interviews with Martin Newman:
Guitarist interview update with Martin Newman of Plumerai & Goddakk (January 2013)
Plumerai interview (January 2008)
Plumerai interview (December 2005)
burMonter interview (April 1995)