Interview with Bill Horist of Master Musicians of Bukkake
Name: Bill Horist
Bands: Master Musicians of Bukkake, Nervewheel,
Ghidra, Paul Rucker Ensemble
QRD – What was your first guitar &
what happened to it?
Bill – When I was 14, I took two guitar
lessons while living in Chicago & had some unremarkable acoustic.
I traded it later for a skateboard that took over my life until I was about
17 & got into music for real.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar
to effects to amplifier?
Bill – When I’m playing a standard electric
it’s typically my SG 69 reissue into a tuner, Digitech Whammy Reissue,
Fulltone Fulldrive II, Vox Wah, one of a number of distortion/fuzz pedals
- could be a Rat II, Mid-Fi Electronics Glitch Computer, Taz Tube, or Devi
Ever Dream Mangler (my latest acquisition), Ernie Ball Volume Pedal Jr,
MoogerFooger Ring Modulator, Electro Harmonix 16 second delay & a Line
6 DL-4 before heading to an Electro Harmonix Micro Holy Grail & into
my 1969 Fender Bassman.
For my prepared guitar setup, it’s some
of that stuff but way less & add a Tech 21 Bass Compactor compressor.
I prefer to let the sounds of the guitar itself, as coaxed by unusual objects,
to take center stage as opposed to layers of 7 pedal dip.
QRD – What’s the most important part of
your rig – guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Bill – It’s all important, but I’ll have
to go with guitar on this one.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier &
Bill – I use a 1969 Fender Bassman with
a 2x12 cab. It’s growly & warm, not a lot of bells & whistles
mucking up the circuit.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what
are the features that make it such?
Bill – Hmm, main guitar... I have
been using a Teisco (model unknown) for my guitar experiments. It
is well abused but still works well. Plus it has on/off toggles for
the pickups as opposed to a select switch, which I find particularly fun.
Otherwise it’s cheap, old & has a set of incredibly awesome microphonic
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what
would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Bill – I shudder at the thought.
Lots of different strings & fretboards & pickups that are wired
into a several channel mixer.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what
would it be & what would some of its features be?
Bill – I’m happy enough with what I find.
I do have a guy that is a master at modding existing pedals so I feel pretty
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Bill – Probably around six or seven
QRD – How & where do you store your
Bill – In closets, some in cases, gig
bags, some without.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had
that they usually don’t?
Bill – A mini bar.
QRD – What features do you look for when
buying a guitar?
Bill – The same thing I look for in an
amp - How long does a simple E chord sound good? The longer I like
it as it decays, the better I like the guitar or amp.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar
Bill – Whatever someone is willing to
pay. I have good guitars that cost $5 & good ones that cost close
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your
guitars or just stick with what you get?
Bill – Not typically. I’m more apt
to customize & mod pedals. I have gotten nice guitars in the
past that have had some shoddy workmanship & I will have those things
attended to. Not so much an upgrade as maybe just a “grade.”
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or
test a piece of equipment before buying it?
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Bill – Not very thoroughly in most cases,
but I will wait a long time before I commit. I’m not sure if anything
benefits from that strategy. I do get very particular about returns!!
Bill – In little ways
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar
tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a
Bill – If I’m gigging, I like to stay
with some consistent ideas, if I’m recording, I’ll fuss around a lot more.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, &
pedals you particularly lust after?
Bill – I’d love a pre-CBS Fender Jazzmaster.
As for pedals, there are just too damn many makers out there now for me
to even have a concept of what I’d love.
QRD – What do you think are some important
features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Bill – Good intonation & good tone
in general. The better it sounds when you’re learning, the more you’ll
play it. Took me YEARS to realize this!
QRD – What have been the best & worst
guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Bill – I had a 1964 Fender Twin &
it was awesome, but only on indefinite loan; so when it was returned I
bought one & it was a nightmare - always breaking down somehow.
Some are tanks & some of them just, tank!
QRD – What are some effect, amp, &
guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Bill – I hate Cry-Babys, they break all
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when
you pick up a guitar?
Bill – A D chord.
QRD – How old were you when you started
Bill – Except for two forgotten lessons
at 14 after which I quit, I started at 17 but didn’t get serious until
about 19 or 20.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled
up to your best guitar playing?
Bill – Hmmm. good question. Things
started feeling good around 30, but there’s always the sentiment that anything
I was doing 2 or 3 years ago was much better than what I’m doing right
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you
more so than other instruments?
Bill – I’m not actually sure it does!
It is, however, what I went with.
QRD –Do you think guitar should be people’s
first instrument as often as it is?
Bill – I think piano might be best.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally
or adversary in making music?
Bill – It’s both. I think it’s true
with any instrument. As I play guitar, it’s my go to construct when
making music & I need to remember that sometimes a part or riff is
best played on another instrument.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most
influenced your playing & sound?
Bill – Fred Frith, J. Mascis, Danny Ash,
Greg Ginn, Nels Cline, Robbie Basho, & Hans Reichel to name a few.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing
their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Bill – I honestly don’t feel strongly
one way or the other.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve
done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Bill – Given the nature of what I do when
playing solo electric, all my approaches to eliciting sound from the guitar
QRD – What do you do to practice other
than simply playing?
Bill – Stretching & listening to other
QRD – How many hours a week do you play
guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Bill – Right now not enough!! I’ve
had varying success setting out a minimum practice routine as sometimes
such structures can have the opposite effect to what I wanted.
QRD – What type of pick do you use &
Bill – Yellow Dunlops. I like them,
but I don’t feel strongly about particular pick brands.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use &
Bill – Different on all my guitars.
I like heavier gauges sometimes for their tone & it’s difficult to
squeeze to hard & throw your intonation off. But lighter strings
are nice for making me feel more dexterous than I actually am. On
my prepared guitar I use anything that can withstand files, nails, threadwire.
The only thing I avoid are GHS Boomers. You can hear the tone dying on
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Bill – After three or so shows.
They rust & break. I can barely get two uses out of my acoustic
guitar before that damned G string breaks. I’ve always wondered why
that one is so temperamental.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Bill – More often when I play standard
guitar instead of attacking my guitar with sharp bits of metal.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient,
your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Bill – I’m actually a lefty who plays righty,
so I’m completely backwards! My fretting hand is way more frenetic
& my strumming hand is a little developmentally disabled. I play
with the reverse dominance in my solo stuff a lot more. I think with
standard playing it lends itself to a more angular approach, but I will
admit my rhythm suffers!
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself
or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Bill – Depends on what it is. Basic
intonation I’ll do, but refrets are left to the pros. I worked at
a guitar store & got comfortable handling basic setups. Plus
it’s handy on the road!
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Bill – I use a number of tunings for my
acoustic stuff. I’m into a lot of drone-based music so open tunings
lend themselves to that. I also like tight clusters & intervals,
which ironically call for long stretches on a standard tuned guitar.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music,
or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Bill – Being an untrained guitarist, it’s
expected that I can’t read or write. In truth I can, but I’m VERY
slow. Obviously writing standard notation is best, especially if
you want other instruments to play specific parts.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar
when playing (strap length)?
Bill – I’m a fan of keeping it up pretty
high. Yes, not as cool looking but the effect of low-slung guitars
on backs, arms, wrists, & tendons is no secret anymore.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing
you wish you could break?
Bill – Growing up on a steady diet of
punk & then playing a lot of free improv, I suffer from being ahead
of the beat all the time. Playing slow & in the pocket is very
difficult for me.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do
you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Bill – Playing ANY instrument will help
someone’s guitar playing. Maybe horns or reeds as they force you
to learn chord tones, something most guitarists (present company included)
are very weak with.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you
wish you could do that you can’t?
Bill – I really wish I could handily tap
into any worldwide idiomatic guitar playing. I’ve always done it
my own way, which has given me a pretty distinguishable sound. Traditional
saz playing would be first on the list.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never
Bill – I’ve never finished a more rock-based
guitar record where I have been the bandleader.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you
Bill – I’ve been working on some acoustic
techniques involving simultaneous finger-picking & up/down strumming
with my thumb.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget
(ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Bill – Surgical hemostats!!
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like
to master, but haven’t?
Bill – How to make answers to technical
guitar questions much more interesting! No, I really wouldn’t know
where to begin for this question. There are some things that are
so basic that I’m too embarrassed to say!
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons
& if so, what did you learn from them?
Bill – I took a total of around 10.
I didn’t learn much because it was at a time when, even though taking them
willingly, I was too strident to be willing to learn. Certainly something
QRD – What would you teach someone in a
guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar
Bill – I have reluctantly taught in the
past, but I quit because I realized that I was telling these kids they
need to practice & I wasn’t really practicing. My students didn’t
need another hypocritical adult telling them what is best without demonstrating
QRD – What’s something someone would have
to do to emulate your style?
Bill – Go to a hardware store & think
of patterns on the fretboard in terms of triangles as opposed to squares.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Bill – If they stay in tune, I like them!!
Had to get a guitar without for a while. I tend toward hyperactivity
& am prone to, um, whammy abuse.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone
Bill – Only when it needs it. Quite
QRD – What do you see as the difference
between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Bill – I didn’t even know these terms
were still in use? Seems like there is such a blur in more contemporary
music. A lot more dual or tripartite unison playing. But in
terms of these traditional roles, I’d say rhythm guitar is harder!
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can
you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Bill – No the only instrument this works
with are drums. They’re simply the most important. Great band
with shitty drums sucks/mediocre band with great drums sounds much better.
Keep that to yourself, we don’t need drummers realizing how critical they
are; hence all the drummer jokes.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would
you like to own & why?
Bill – I think I’ve been out-nerded with
this one. I simply have no idea or interest. The celebrity
factor does nothing for me. This is like one of those home run baseballs
& I’m just not in that deep!
QRD – Who do you think is currently the
most innovative guitar player & why?
Bill – I really have a hard time answering
any questions with terms like “most” in them! I’d say see my list
of guitar influences.
Other QRD interviews with
Horist interview (December 2005)