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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 Sarah June 
July 2010

Name: Sarah June
Bands: Sarah June
Websites: www.SarahJune.net - silbermedia.com/sarahjune - myspace.com/sarahjunesound
Listen to "Judgment Day"
Listen to "Bluesy Melody"

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

Sarah – My first guitar was my grandfather’s.  It’s a Fender San Luis Rey.  I still have it - it’s an acoustic, but has an electric headstock.  I played it when I first started doing live shows when I was 17-19.

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

Sarah – For recording, I have my Gretsch hollow-body jazz guitar plugged into a standard amp (I have an old Epiphone amp) & I just put the amp in the back corner of the room & then I play & sing into the mic, so that most of the guitar is mic’d acoustically, but some of the amped sound is also picked up.

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

Sarah – My guitar.  I don’t use any effects (except some reverb if the sound-guy at one of my shows puts some reverb on my guitar).  My guitar is so important because I do so much intricate finger-picking.  I have to have a guitar I’m very comfortable with & that has a very specific sound.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Sarah – Right now I have a Spider amp - Line 6, & also an old (70s) Epiphone Pathfinder.  The first one was just cheap & I don’t really need much as far as amps go & the other one just has a great sound because it’s old, huge, & just looks cool.

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

Sarah – I have a flat black Gretsch hollow-body archtop.  I like jazz-box guitars.  The features that make that guitar my main guitar is that it has an incredible sound just acoustic - very warm & jazzy.  It also is very sturdy & stands up to how hard I play it very well.

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

Sarah – It would be flat black with ivory piping, a jazz-box archtop that is loud even when not plugged in & only a tone & volume knob.  I like simple.

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

Sarah – I like the chorus pedal - but I would like to have the chorus effect, but with some of the loop-station pedal effects.  So I could tap it once to change to chorus effect & tap it twice to record a loop.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Sarah – I own 4 guitars - a Gretsch, an Eastman El Rey, a Takamine small acoustic-electric, & a Fender.

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Sarah – I store the Eastman El Rey in its hardshell case & my Gretsch is on a stand because I play it daily.

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

Sarah – Right now, I wish I could just find some non-standard size cases.  I can’t fit my Gretsch into any cuz it’s too big.  & believe me I’ve shopped around everywhere.

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

Sarah – The sound when played acoustic.  I like fairly high action.  No fret buzz.  I like guitars that are weighted well - not a very lopsided feeling when playing it, like the body is super light & the neck is really heavy.  I like small guitars with a big sound, because I’m a very small person so a large guitar can be hard to play while standing.

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

Sarah – Well, it seems that the very good guitars run between $2500 - $5000 or more.  But my best guitar was only $1000.  The most expensive one I own was $4000, & I play it less!

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

Sarah – I customize them minimally.  Mostly I change the action (usually it is too low), & I always put flat wound nickel strings on.  I also usually have to adjust the intonation, but other than that I don’t really change anything major.

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

Sarah – Basically I just play it.  I don’t really research much.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Sarah – Nope.  I play it until it falls apart usually.

QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?

Sarah – I have a very signature style of guitar playing, so I don’t change it up drastically.  But I do change my tone & sound up at times for different bodies of work.  But my playing style still doesn’t change much.

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

Sarah – Guitars - I like hollow-body jazz guitars.  I love Gretsch.  I also would love to get a really nice Taylor acoustic someday.

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

Sarah – Personally, I think that if someone wants to play guitar, it’s good to start off hard.  That may sound weird, but it worked for me.  I started out on a huge acoustic with insanely high action & very big strings.  My fingers bled & it was so hard to hold strings down & even get my arms around the damn thing.  But when I finally got good on that guitar, playing any other guitar since then has been a piece of cake.

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

Sarah – Worst guitar purchase was from Musician’s Friend online.  Sorry.  They just really screwed me over.  Sent me an Epiphone with literally a chunk of wood hacked out of it.

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

Sarah – I don’t like a tone of unnecessary distortion or fuzz, when it is not artistically layered.  I don’t like Epiphones that are mid-range because they are all made like crap - you can see how they are just slapped together.  I also don’t like the 80s metal style guitars in the shape of stars or V’s or stuff like that.  It’s like a mid-life crisis car.

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

Sarah – Weird, but I play my little version of “God Rest Ye Mary Gentlemen,” because it’s become a very quick little practice of fast fingerwork.  I also usually will test out “Blackbird” since that involves a lot of moving up & down the neck & any intonation issues will stand out while playing that.

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

Sarah – 13 years old.

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

Sarah – 19 years old I think I reached being “very very good,” but I’m better now only in that I can play things with less concentration & more ease due to muscle memory.

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

Sarah – It is intimate to play.  I like that it is an instrument that reverberates against my body while I play it.  I grew up playing classical piano & while I loved it, I felt detached from the instrument, since I wasn’t actually touching the strings & was sitting at a chair in front of it.

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

Sarah – I think that it can be a frustrating first instrument, because if you’re trying to actually play well, it’s not very easy.  & I mean fingerpicking or playing classical or jazz or blues.  & doing it well.  But I think it’s a great instrument to start with.

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

Sarah – My ally.  My guitar part is the first part of writing a song always.

QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?

Sarah – Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Ani Difranco

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

Sarah – Yeah, that’s silly

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

Sarah – Somehow I scratch up the back of the neck of every guitar I play.  Like scratch all the finish off.  It’s weird.

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

Sarah – I do practice scales & all that crap.  I also practice a lot by just turning on a song I like & making my own improvisational part to go along with it.

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

Sarah – I play probably 8-10 hours a week.  That’s pretty good for me.  I’m obsessed with playing guitar.  I play at least an hour a day usually.

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

Sarah – I use a thumbpick, & then my fingernails are grown out on my right hand because I play claw-hammer.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Sarah – I use 11 guage nickel rockers.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Sarah – When they break

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Sarah – Whenever I’m about to go on to play a show it seems.  Right before I break a string.  Totally irritating.

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

Sarah – I think they are both at the same level honestly.

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

Sarah – Depends - I do a lot of the simple things myself, but a lot of times it’s easier for me to bring it in, just because I don’t have all the tools to do everything I need to do.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Sarah – Standard only, because I’m a purest I guess.

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

Sarah – My own notation system that is loosely similar to tablature.  I can read sheet music just fine.  I just don’t prefer it.

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

Sarah – High.  Not slung low at all.

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

Sarah – Bad “form” or position of my fretting hand that causes me to cramp sometimes.

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

Sarah – Piano.  Makes your hands work independently of each other & also makes the transposing of chords up & down the scales make more sense.

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

Sarah – Slide.

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

Sarah – Slide guitar playing!

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

Sarah – Flamenco guitar style.

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

Sarah – Capo!

QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?

Sarah – Playing with a flat pick.  I’m so used to claw-hammer that anything else is awkward.

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

Sarah – I took some guitar lessons when I was 16.  I’d already taught myself for 3 years before.  I learned a lot of improvisational guitar, bluegrass, & jazz scales.

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

Sarah – No paper.  No writing things down.  Everything by ear.

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

Sarah – Lots of complex fingerpicking, & a lot of mixing styles of jazz, blues, & classical.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Sarah – Not a fan.

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?

Sarah – Not really ever.

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

Sarah – Lead guitarists have to know hot to improvise & know their scales & transposing chords up the neck.  Rhythm guitar players need to know basic chords & keep a very steady rhythm.

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

Sarah – Nope.  Everything’s got to be good.  Otherwise, just be an instrumental guitar group.

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

Sarah – Ani Difranco’s guitar.  Because she beats up on that thing so it must be sturdy as hell.

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

Sarah – Ani Difranco - still.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Sarah – My latest album in black robes.  I think on the songs “judgment day,” “from my window high,” & “bluesy melody.”

QRD – Anything else?

Sarah – Thanks for interviewing me!

Other QRD interviews with Sarah June:
Sarah June interview (January 2009)