Interview with Ted Johnson
Name: Ted Johnson
Bands: Current bands: Random FX, Dreamphonic, National Holographic, Ted Johnson (solo gigs)
Past bands: Groove Stream Attractor, 61 South, Drive Shaft, Furious George, Scrapyard, Smokin’ Granny (guest musician)
Websites: www.studio713music.com - www.myspace.com/studio713music
Listen to "Atmospheric Disturbance"
Listen to "Phaseshift"
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Ted – It was a cheap Harmony acoustic that I played for about six months. I traded it in on a cheap Japanese electric (Kent).
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Ted – I currently play a black Fender Stratocaster
factory-fitted with a Roland GK-2 (synth guitar) pickup. The Strat
outputs both (1) a regular guitar audio signal (from the three guitar pickups)
& (2) a synth signal from the GK-2 pickup.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Ted – A guitar with a Roland GK (synth guitar) pickup is essential to my rig.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Ted – Currently, I use two Roland KC-300
keyboard amps (or a stereo PA) to amplify the stereo signal from my rig.
Because the rig includes various guitar amp emulators (VF-1, GE-70, VG-8,
etc.) that provide gain & distortion effects, I don’t need a guitar
amp at the end of the chain.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Ted – Currently my main guitar is a black Fender Stratocaster with a factory-installed Roland GK-2 pickup. The GK-2 pickup is essential to my current style of music (ambient/electronica/experimental), since it enables me to produce a wide variety of spacey sounds using both a guitar synth & a traditional guitar with effects.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Ted – It would look pretty much like my current guitar (see above). I might like to have a mini-Kaoss pad installed on it to enable me to manipulate sounds as I play them.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Ted – I would like to have a stereo stomp box combining distortion, delay, & phaser effects. The distortion & phaser section would produce a smooth, swirling sustain. The delay section would have a digital readout of the delay tempo (bpm). You could set the delay tempo by either a knob or by tap tempo. Adding distortion & phaser effects to the TC Electronic ND-1 (Nova Delay) pedal would do it.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Ted – I have two Fender Stratocasters, a Fender Telecaster, three Gibson SGs, & a Univox U1800B Hi-Flyer bass (Mosrite copy).
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Ted – I store them in their cases. The location is a secret.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Ted – Fast neck, light weight, good tone, & the ability to mount a Roland GK pickup.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Ted – Upwards of $1,000.00 (new).
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Ted – I tend to stick with the guitar as purchased.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or
test a piece of equipment before
Ted – If possible, I will borrow the piece of equipment from the store & try it out in my rig. I also read the online reviews at Harmony Central.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Ted – The rig keeps evolving as I replace old effects with new ones.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Ted – Because of the types of music I play (improvisational, experimental, ambient), I like to produce as many different guitar sounds as possible.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Ted – Although they are not considered good guitars, I would like to own a Vox Phantom 6 & a Mosrite Ventures model because I think they look cool. As for effects, I would like to own a rack-mounted Eventide Harmonizer.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Ted – Locking tuning machines & a good chromatic tuner.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Ted – Best: Fender Stratocaster with built-in Roland GK pickup. Worst: Seymour Duncan Convertible amplifier.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Ted – I particularly like the multi-effect units produced by Roland (VG-8, VF-1) & Lexicon (MX 200, Vortex). My favorite recently-purchased pedal effect is the TC Electronic “Nova” delay pedal. I also like Electro-Harmonix pedals, particularly the Stereo Memory Man.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Ted – I typically improvise in the Dorian mode.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Ted – Twelve.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Ted – I hope that I’m still improving.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Ted – In my opinion, the guitar is more versatile & expressive than most other instruments (with the possible exception of the synthesizer). But mainly I like the looks of an electric guitar.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Ted – Yes. The guitar is relatively affordable, it’s portable, & it can play both single notes & chords.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Ted – Definitely an ally.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Ted – Carlos Santana, David Gilmour, early Jeff Beck, Neal Young, Wes Montgomery, & the Ventures.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly?
Ted – Although I have never named one of my guitars, I don’t see any harm in people doing that. I think it’s natural for a guitar player to treat his or her favorite guitar as a good friend.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Ted – I mistakenly asked a guitar tech to dress (file down) the frets on a Fender Telecaster. It never played as well afterwards.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Ted – I often improvise in different modes (scales) to a drum track or looped bass pattern.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Ted – I think I average about four hours a week playing guitar (including jam sessions).
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Ted – I use heavy-gauge Fender “confetti” picks. I can’t play with a thin pick.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Ted – I use a set of D’Addario regular light gauge (nickel wound) electric guitar strings (EXL110). The gauges are 0.010, 0.013, 0.017, 0.026, 0.036, & 0.046. They seem to have the right balance of tone & bend-ability.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Ted – Not frequently enough. Maybe once a year or when a string breaks.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Ted – About once a year.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that affect your style?
Ted – I think they are about equal in proficiency. Although both could use improvement, I don’t feel that one is holding the other back.
QRD – Do you set up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Ted – I generally have a guitar tech set up a newly-purchased guitar to ensure that the neck & bridge are adjusted correctly. I make fine adjustments to the intonation later as needed.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Ted – I use standard tuning (even for slide). Someday I hope to experiment more with alternative tunings.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Ted – I prefer standard musical notation, but I don’t have a problem with tab.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Ted – The guitar pickups are level with my belt buckle.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Ted – Leaving the volume up when I’m not playing.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Ted – Probably piano because it enables you to hear how melody lines sound combined with chords & bass parts.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing do you wish you could do that you can’t?
Ted – Jazz rhythm guitar with complex chord progressions.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Ted – Playing a duo guitar gig with Brian John Mitchell.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Ted – How to use backward delay effects.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Ted – Reggae rhythm guitar. It sounds so simple, but it’s so hard to get right.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Ted – I took lessons for less than a year at a music store in Charlotte, NC. The most useful thing I learned was the concept of the movable chord.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Ted – I think the guitar is inherently more fun (& rewarding) to play when you can improvise. Consequently, I would focus on scale structure (modes) & simple harmony theory early in the lessons. & I would encourage the student to begin improvising as soon as possible, rather than waiting until he or she has mastered all the basics.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Ted – Combine smooth sustain with delay & phaser effects. Improvise interlocking guitar parts. Play too many notes.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Ted – I don’t use them because of past problems keeping them in tune.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Ted – I don’t know many guitar players who consider themselves “rhythm guitarists.” In most of the groups I have played in, the two guitar players shared lead & rhythm duties.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Ted – Yes, but I particularly enjoy bands in which the musicians are evenly matched.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Ted – I would like to own the guitar rig that Pat Metheny used on “Phase Dance” & other songs from the Pat Metheny Group (white cover) album. I want to make those harp-like tones.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Ted – I really can’t answer this one because there are just too many great guitarists playing these days.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Ted – I have archived the best bits from
several years of jam sessions by Random FX at the following five sites.
QRD – Anything else?
Ted – Thanks for including me in your survey
of guitarists. I look forward to reading the other responses.