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QRD #42 - Guitarist Series
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Robert Poss
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Guitarist Interview with Robert Poss 
July 2010

Name: Robert Poss
Bands:  Tot Rocket, Western Eyes, Rhys Chatham, Band of Susans
Websites: www.distortionistruth.com - www.robertposs.com - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Band_of_Susans - www.bandofsusans.com - myspace.com/robertposs - myspace.com/bandofsusans - guitargeek.com
Listen to "Trash Train"

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

Robert – A very beat-up late 1970s Fender Telecaster that the previous owner had stripped bare, crudely painted orange & installed two humbucking pickups in. I paid $125. I subsequently had a friend put on a cherry wood veneer top, black pickguard, & add a phase reversal switch. (This was the 1970s, don’t forget.)

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

Robert – My Band Of Susans era touring set-up was: 
From GuitarGeek.com (link above)
.... But for recording we used a variety of Marshalls & Fenders & an occasional Vox or Bruno.  I now use Park, Decware, Frenzel, Valvetech, Fender Champ & Pro Junior, ZT Amplifiers Lunchbox amps as situations demand.

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

Robert – My distortion pedal set-up & its gain-staging is probably most important. With that I can make almost any guitar & amp sound like “me.” 

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Robert – My favorite amp is a 100-watt Master Volume Park head retrofitted by Sansamp’s Andre Barta to vintage non-Master Volume specs.  Since I used to stack two heads, Matt Wells (The Magic Shop) added a cooling fan. The amp had the bass response & power to handle the extreme distortion & high gain I would push through it. I generally ran it at a very low level. Even at the outdoor Roskilde Festival in Denmark I ran it at about 3. I prefer the sound of EL-34s & let my pedals do the distorting, rather than the pre or power amp stages. 

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

Robert – My primary guitar is the rare G&L SC-1. I have several - some with the stock single-coiled MFD pickup & some with a Dimarzio Humbucker From Hell & others with two MFD pickups.  I’ve written entire treatises on what makes this guitar so special; but essentially, it has the perfect combination of simplicity, playability, & sonics. It has the punch of the perfect Telecaster, but better bass response & sustain. 

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

Robert – I consider the G&L SC-1 to be my signature guitar. In fact Leo Fender & Dale Hyatt did a special run of three of the then-discontinued SC-1s for me in custom colors in 1989. These were the last three SC-1s made. I suppose since I sometimes use humbucking pickups because of noise issues, a signature model would be like the dual MFD pickup models I had made for me, having the ability to humbuck the bridge pickup. 

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

Robert – A signature pedal would combine a low-noise Tube Screamer type pedal feeding into a ProCo Rat or MI Audio Crunchbox-style distortion pedal followed by a three band parametic EQ followed by a Behringer SNR2000 Multiband Studio DeNoiser-style noise gate/downward expander circuit. Composer/Hardware Hacker Nicolas Collins did make a few pedals expressly for me. One if them is the Fuzz Dicer.  (see http://www.amazon.com/Handmade-Electronic-Music-Hardware-Hacking/dp/0415975921

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Robert – More than 20 electric guitars & electric basses. 

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Robert – In a closet &/or hanging on the wall &/or guitar stands. 

QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don't?

Robert – A better weight-to-strength ratio. A slip pocket in the wide space under the guitar body. 

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

Robert – Sustain rich in overtones. 

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

Robert – It’s possible now to get a fine Asian instrument for $300. Guitars should definitely cost less than the new $3,000 & $5,000 Les Pauls bought by dentists. 

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

Robert – I’ve always been a player rather than a collector, so I have modified pickups on occasion. 

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

Robert – I obsessively research & ruminate, but buy impulsively. 

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

Robert – I’ve had the pleasure of owning almost every guitar I’ve wanted over the years. I’ve bought & sold dozens & dozens of instruments. I wouldn’t mind another hollow body electric with Filtertrons & a 25.5 inch scale neck. I would like a Rickenbacker 1998 (Peter Townsend model.). It would be fun to have a well functioning AC30. 

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

Robert – A first guitar should tune & intonate properly, & have decently finished frets. 

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

Robert – Worst: Rickenbacker 610 I had custom ordered had that terrible R tailpiece & squealed at realistic volumes. Looked cool, though.  Best: when I discovered my first G&L SC-1 & bought it used for around $200. A vintage 1960s Jet Firebird I bought at a pawnshop for $235 was a rather good deal, as was a wonderful 1970s Cherry Sunburst Les Paul Deluxe (that I wish I still had) that I got for $375. 

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

Robert – I loathe the Roland Jazz Chorus amp. I don’t really like Fender Stratocasters.  That thin bridge pickup & that dreadful out-phase-Mark Knopfler sound. Ugh. 

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

Robert – An arpeggio figure from the song “You Were An Optimist” to check intonation & harmonic balance as well as open string drone sustain & overtones. 

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

Robert – 12. 

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

Robert – 30. 

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

Robert – A great potential for abuse in wrong hands, while the search for transcendence takes discipline to avoid tired clichès. 

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

Robert – It’s a good first instrument, because with a little effort one can feel musical & play tunes & songs. My first instruments were piano & trumpet & I failed miserably at those. 

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

Robert – Ally. 

QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?

Robert – I don’t name my guitars or think of them as living beings. I think of them more as magical deities.

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

Robert – I smashed a Guild solid body at a club in New York City in the early 1980s after I felt the headstock snap.  I was angry. The crowd was frightened, because my rage was real. 

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

Robert – Mentally run through possible compositions. 

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

Robert – 0  to 10.  I play less now, because I know more & I am distracted by composing, working, internet, domestic life….

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

Robert – Light colored Fender medium. They are easy to see on an amp or locate on the floor. 

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Robert – .010 - .046 used .009s when I was a young blues rock lead player. 

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Robert – I almost never break strings unless using a set of 9s. 

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

Robert – When up top speed from touring and/or recording, my right hand. 

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

Robert – I do my own set-ups unless there is a truss rod or nut problem I can’t solve myself. 

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Robert – I started using the five string Keith Richard tuning for some songs in 1972 after reading an article about him in the London Times Sunday Magazine. I use regular most commonly, but have several songs written in & for my own special oddball tunings that no one else uses. 

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

Robert – I am incompetent at writing/reading conventional musical notation. I usually rely on recordings & oral instructions along with descriptions & drawings that I have trouble deciphering later. 

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

Robert – Longish, but not cartoonishly long. 

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

Robert – Not playing enough for my own pleasure.

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

Robert – Bass. 

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

Robert – I sometimes wish I had learned finger-picking & bluegrass guitar, as well as Blind Boy Fuller style. 

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

Robert – Touring at a high enough level to avoid more of its unpleasantness. 

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

Robert – I’ve never been interested in guitar tricks. 

QRD – What's your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?

Robert – Using an EL-34 as a slide. I’ve never seen anyone else do it. (Now the secret is out.) 

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

Robert – Someone taught me what an E chord & how to make barre chords. 

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

Robert – Many guitarists do not how to listen to precise rhythms. Most play before they have really listened & absorbed. We used to have auditions for guitarists in Band Of Susans & applicants would hear what they thought was a very simple chordal part & then, thinking they had mastered it, would embellish it with all sorts of imprecise clichèd garbage.  Next! 

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

Robert – My style is rather subtle, but it is amazingly consistent.  Anyone listening carefully could recognize my signature approaches to chording, rhythm & lead playing. No one bothers, of course. 

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Robert – I use a Bigsby, once in a while, for gentle vibrato. That’s about it. I do some extreme bends using my left hand that others would use a vibrato bar for. 

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?

Robert – I occasionally only roll off if I’m getting unwanted feedback squeal. 

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

Robert – Ego & a sense of narcissistic entitlement. Lead players usually see themselves as musical athletes in some sort of macho competition to see who can play the fastest, with the most complexity &/or can make video-ready grimaces to try & give the impression that playing an Albert King riff badly is somehow more difficult than it really is. 

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

Robert – No. 

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

Robert – It would be cool to own the Gretsch played by The Dutchess when she was with Bo Diddley. One of Mike Bloomfield’s Les Pauls. 

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

Robert – I don’t have an answer for this. Maybe I’m just jaded. 

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Robert – A good place to start would be these three Band Of Susans CDs:  Love Agenda, Veil, Hope Against Hope

QRD – Anything else?

Robert – Listen to the music of Rhys Chatham & Phill Niblock. Listen to 1960s & 1970s Dave Davies, Mick Ronson, Mick Taylor, Albert King, Mike Bloomfield.  But really listen.  & seek out those out of print Band Of Susans records.