Interview with Ashkelon Sain
July 2010 (updated February 2014)
Bands: Trance to the Sun, Submarine Fleet, Soriah.
Listen to "Lotus Lantern"
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Ashkelon – My true first guitar was a nylon string my parents got me when I was still in the single digits. I wish I still had it. My first electric was a phony Les Paul made by Epiphone. I traded that in for a bass after about 3 weeks. I was much more interested in playing bass during my teens.QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Ashkelon – On the first few Trance To The Sun records in the early 90s I was running my guitar through one of those Roland GP16 rackmount units. You could do all sorts of interesting things with that, like auto-wah for example. Around ‘96 I switched to the Yamaha FX500 because I became addicted to the chorus effect it has. In both of those cases I was recording my guitars direct (no amplifier), with digital delay in the recorded signal (I use a lot of synchronized echoes). I added reverb in post process back then & my favorite device was the Alesis MidiVerb II. I still own three of them.
In the 2000s it became more realistic for me to afford to use stompboxes. Having a pedal board is an expensive hobby! The first upside to using stompboxes is you can adjust your settings on the fly, & turn effects on & off at will, so it becomes a compositional tool. The next upside is they sound way better than rack gear.
On my pedal board, in order, I have: Electroharmonix MicroSynth; Electroharmonix White Finger Compressor; Alesis Microgate looped from a Boss LS2; Cry Baby; Ibanez Tube Screamer; Exotic Pedal USA AC Booster Overdrive; Boss EH2; Diamond Tremolo; Mr Black Eterna; Boss BF3; Strymon Ola Chorus; TCE Nova Delay; TCE ; TCE Hall Of Fame Reverb.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig – guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Ashkelon – That’s like asking what’s the most important corner of a hypotenuse triangle, so I guess it has to be effects.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Ashkelon – I run my effects in stereo beginning with the Flanger, & carrying on through the delay pedals, & I have two 2x12 combos. A Music Man, & a Vox.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Ashkelon – I have an Ibanez Artcore series that looks like a Gibson 335. The low-end frequencies are extremely sweet. I also have a Danelectro Baritone, & the thick strings make a very rich sound. It has the Lipstick Pickups too, which have extraordinary dynamic sensitivity. I have another Ibanez, a 2004 Talman Series. It’s a very lightweight guitar & it has more of an airy tone, as opposed to the other Ibanez, which is watery, or the Danelectro, which is definitely more earthy. About 15 years ago I was using a hand made seven-string guitar pretty extensively. That one definitely has an icy sound. I have not used it for any recordings in quite some time, but it made an appearance on the Soriah tour in 2012.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Ashkelon – I guess it would be made out of that stuff they make mood rings out of, so it would glow different colors in sync with the mood of whatever song I play on it.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Ashkelon – I would design some sort of chorus pedal, but I have no idea how pedals work inside. There’s so many amazing pedals out there though, & they’re all so very flexible & mutually compatible. I’m happy enough with what’s available for now.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Ashkelon – There’s the five that I use regularly. Two basses makes seven, I think... & there’s a couple others in the closet.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Ashkelon – I always buy the case.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Ashkelon – Primarily I judge a guitar by how it sounds compared to other guitars & how well intonated it sounds as you play high up on the neck.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Ashkelon – Less than a wedding ring, but more than your allowance.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Ashkelon – I have nothing against customization, but I haven’t resorted to it much.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Ashkelon – I think it’s really important to make head to head comparisons with similar gear before you choose.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Ashkelon – No. I have an effects notebook, & I like being able to replicate sounds I worked on previously. It would be too complicated to do that if I changed my setup all the time, for me at least.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Ashkelon – I think I use a lot of different tones, but there does seem to be something fundamentally the same about them all too.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Ashkelon – That’s a dangerous question.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Ashkelon – A new set of strings.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Ashkelon – I’ve recognized that I have bad luck with used gear. It’s just what happens. I’m not superstitious (anymore). I believe in paying a fair price, & I try not to be too concerned about that which I can’t afford.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Ashkelon – I love Fender Guitars, but I really don’t like Fender amps because they’re too bright. I like my amplifier combo. The Music Man is very warm & it’s a little dirty, & the Vox is bright & clean by comparison. Together they make a beautiful tone, as you’ll hear on the next TTTS record.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - 4 3 - - - - - - 1 - - - 6 -
- - - - 5 - - 3 - - - - 1 - - - 3 - -
- - - 5 - - - - 3 - - 1 - - - 3 - - -
- - 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Ashkelon – Nine. But I didn’t get serious about it until I was more like 14.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Ashkelon – I don’t think that’s happened yet.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Ashkelon – More than any other instrument, electric guitar is something an imaginative creative person can pick up, & with some work, make a sound they can call their own. I like the originality of sound & tone that electric guitar is capable of. & I like that it has frets.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Ashkelon – I think voice is often people’s first instrument, whether they realize it or not. A little singing ability goes a long way when you can play a guitar.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Ashkelon – What?
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Ashkelon – Robin Guthrie. Robert Smith. John Vallentine Carruthers. John McGeoch. Charles Burchill. Jimi Hendrix. The Edge.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Ashkelon – I plead guilty as charged.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Ashkelon – I cracked the body of my bass while playing aggressively.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Ashkelon – I imagine playing & I imagine the sounds I’d like to create.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Ashkelon – A conservative estimate would be anywhere between 10-20 hours a week. Maybe more.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Ashkelon – Clayton .63mm, standard shape. They wear out at the edges, but they don’t break. I use the same pick on guitar & bass.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Ashkelon – On my Baritone I use the D’Addario 14-68 gauge set. On my six strings I use the Ernie Ball 10-46 gauge set. For a lighter sound I’ll often replace my low E with a 42 gauge. On my acoustic I think I use a standard 12-53 set? I know the low E is a 53, anyway.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Ashkelon – Pretty damn often.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Ashkelon – Only when I neglect to change the strings in a timely manner.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Ashkelon – Whenever I run across issues like that I just practice a whole bunch.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Ashkelon – I like to do it myself, if I can. Sending it to pro can be a good thing though.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Ashkelon – You can get some happy accidents when you mess with the tuning. Sometimes I’ll retune the guitar to something strange & if I come up with a riff that I like, then I’ll tune the guitar back to normal & figure out how to play it that way.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Ashkelon – All of the above. Whatever’s quickest for the idea.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Ashkelon – Not like Steve Howe, but certainly a little higher than average.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Ashkelon – I rarely use upstrokes when picking slowly.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Ashkelon – The opposite gender (or other person/same gender, if that’s your preference).
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing do you wish you could do that you can’t?
Ashkelon – Flamenco.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Ashkelon – Setting it on fire.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Ashkelon – Hendrix’s opening solo in “All Along The Watchtower”.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Ashkelon – I love all that stuff.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Ashkelon – Making the guitar sound like a piano.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Ashkelon – I took lots of lessons. I learned far more than I could include here.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Ashkelon – How to play Siouxsie & The Cure in an authentic manner.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Ashkelon – Be aggressive & graceful at the same time.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Ashkelon – As long as they stay in tune, I’ll take ‘em.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Ashkelon – One’s named Angus, the other is named Malcolm.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Ashkelon – Maybe possibly the first time I listen to it. Maybe.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Ashkelon – I’ve never thought about it.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Ashkelon – Reeves Gabrels... because that’s the most obvious answer.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Ashkelon – “Atrocious Virgin” by Trance to the Sun. “The Blue Obscurities” also by Trance To The Sun. “The Eztica Tour Collection” by me & Soriah. The next Trance To The Sun album will be called Aviatrix & I’ve never played better on an album. It comes out in Spring 2014.
Other QRD features with