Interview with Calvin Johnson
Name: Calvin Johnson
Bands: the Hive Dwellers
Listen to "Cowboy Coffee"
Listen to "Mega-Clash"
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Calvin – A red Lyle guitar that I purchased at Music 6000 in Lacey, Washington. I traded my clarinet & paid some cash. My mother was very upset because she said the clarinet was worth more than the guitar. I now know she was correct. Mother knows best. Ten years later the Lyle was lent to a local teenage anarchist punk who liked it so much I gave it to him. He covered it in tin foil.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Calvin – No pedals, guitar into a 25 watt Harmony H400A tube amplifier with an 8” speaker. This is turned all the way up. I don’t use any vocal amplification at performances, so this amplifies the guitar just the right amount.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig: guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Calvin – The guitar. I have three electric guitars, a Gretsch Electromatic from 1954, a light blue Kapa Continental from the late ‘60s, but the guitar I use most for performing with the Hive Dwellers is a Hohner HG596 my friend Sixx gave me for my birthday, she painted it pink. I added a Dean Markley transducer so it can be plugged into an amplifier.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Calvin – The Harmony H400A is the amplifier I use for live performances. At our Dub Narcotic studio I have two others that I use for recording, a Fender twin reverb that someone replaced the original speaker with one two inches larger (which makes replacing the tubes a pain), & a Randall Commander with one 15” speaker that I found at Tombstone Music in Clackamas, Oregon & a portable Hilton square dance public address amplifier that works really well as a guitar amplifier.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Calvin – The Hohner is used in the Hive Dwellers shows; I also have a 1954 Martin acoustic that is used for solo live shows & in the studio. It belonged to my father, he received it as a wedding present from his bride. The Kapa & Gretsch are used often in the studio, people love the Kapa & always want to purchase it from me, but that will never happen.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Calvin – How about a hornet green hollow body 12-string Mosrite electric guitar. Or a black Silvertone.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Calvin – That would be the Calvin Johnson
signature guitar tuner, made by Onboard
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Calvin – Uhhhh... eight?
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Calvin – They are on a shelf.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Calvin – “Made in the U.S.A.” stamped on them.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Calvin – Color.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Calvin – $12.00 - $75.00; or free.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Calvin – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Calvin – Go with the feeling.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Calvin – Non.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Calvin – Hmmm... what does that mean exactly?
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Calvin – Susannah Hoff’s Rickenbaker, Cliff Gallup style ‘56 Gretsch DuoJet.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Calvin – The strings should not be set far away from the neck.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Calvin – The MXR distortion pedal sounds right.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Calvin – A, D, G, or E chords
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Calvin – Thirteen years old.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Calvin – 40 years old.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Calvin – I’d like to play trumpet.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people‚s first instrument as often as it is?
Calvin – No.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Calvin – It is a tool.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Calvin – Rockabilly slingers like Paul Burleson, Billy Hancock; Barbara Lynn & other blues rockin’ soul players whose names are unknown to me; Jandek.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Calvin – Not into it.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Calvin – Dancing spazzy at a show, the guitar flew over my head & landed behind me, neck broken.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Calvin – Non.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Calvin – Three or four, maybe.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Calvin – No plectrum.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Calvin – 10 - 13 - 17 - 26 - 36 - 46
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Calvin – Rarely.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Calvin – Rarely.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Calvin – Uhhhhhh...
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Calvin – No guitar technicians around here.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Calvin – E - A - D - G - B - E
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Calvin – Mostly what is referred to as “tablature.”
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Calvin – High up, like the fellow second
from the right in this Easybeats album cover:
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Calvin – Looking at my left hand.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Calvin – Spanish classical guitar
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc.)?
Calvin – The guitar strap my mother made me when I was 13 years old.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Calvin – One lesson. The E, A, D, & G chords.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Calvin – Make up your own songs your own way. Whatever sounds right is the right way to play them.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Calvin – The Quadra-Sound Blender is a guitar effects box with deep tremelo & vibro sounds.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Calvin – Never.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Calvin – Their choice of clothing. Rhythm guitar players usually look good.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Calvin – Unlikely.
QRD – What famous musician‚s guitar would you like to own & why?
Calvin – Cisco Houston. He had style.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Calvin – I have no idea.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Calvin – Golly, the Dub Narcotic Sound
System 12” singles “Mega-Clash Version” [KLP147] & “Cowboy Coffee (Version)”