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QRD #42 - Guitarist Series
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Guitarist Interviews with:
Ashkelon Sain
Zac Keiller
Eric Muhs
Patrick Vega
Russ Stedman
Bret Hart
Rick Ray
John William Gordon
Evan Peta
Evgeny Zheyda
Dave Halverson
Charles Rice Goff III
Calvin Johnson
Kim Chee
John G Sosnowski
Michael Walton
Annelies Monseré
Eric Quach
Robert Poss
Sarah June
Ted Johnson
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Guitarist Interview with Ashkelon Sain
July 2010 (updated February 2014)
photo by Ingrid Bluephoto by Circle23
Name: Ashkelon Sain
Bands: Trance to the Sun, Submarine Fleet, Soriah.
Websites: soriah.net - projekt.com - myspace.com/trancetothesun - myspace.com/ashkelonsain

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?

Ashkelon –
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - 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 Ashkelon Sain:
Trance to the Sun interview (october 1997)
Trance to the Sun interview (september 1995)
I Heart FX - Ashkelon Sain (Trance to the Sun) 1998?