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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 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.