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QRD #43 - Guitarist Series Part III
about this issue
Guitarist Interviews with:
Jon DeRosa of Aarktica
Brian McKenzie
Invisible Elephant
Wim Lecluyse of Circle Bros
Nick Reinhart of Tera Melos
Matt Stevens
Dan Cohoon of Moral Crayfish
Clayton James Mick
John Trubee
Agata of Melt-Banana
Bones Denault of Shady Lady
Eric Hausmann
PD Wilder of Hotel Hotel
Ryan Wasterlain
Miguel Baptista Benedict
Jim Dennis of Random FX
Jon Attwood of Yellow6
Travis Kotler of Pineal Ventana
Brian Elyo of mobdividual
Joe Morgan
Bill Horist
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Guitarist Interview with Dan Cohoon of Moral Crayfish & Empty Shapes 
August 2010

Name: Dan Cohoon
Bands: Moral Crayfish, Empty Shapes, Taken Girls
Websites: Moral Crayfish - moralcrayfish.bandcamp.com, myspace.com/moralcrayfish
Empty Shapes - emptyshapes.bandcamp.com, www.myspace.com/emptyshapes
Taken Girls - myspace.com/thetakengirls

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

Dan – It was a no name acoustic guitar that my brother & I glued back together after it was sat upon.

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

Dan – I currently play a Hondo II Professional (it survived a house fire before I owned it). For distortion I use a Boss Metal Zone MT-2 distortion, Fulltone Fulldrive 2 FD2 -MOSFET, the distortion pedals are on perma-loan from John Gibbons from Bardo Pond. I have a Digitech RP70 Modeling Processor multi-effects processor, touchy as hell but lots of sound options. I also have a Digitech XDD DigiDelay Pedal (also very touchy) & a Danelectro DJ-17C PB&J delay.  For an amplifier I have an Epiphone Valve Junior Half Stack.

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

Dan – Since I play prepared guitar I would say the objects I use to alter the sound of my guitar. I shove objects like screwdrivers, chopsticks, & small wooden objects into the strings of the guitar. I then hit, rub, twirl screwdrivers, maracas, drumsticks, etc. against the strings. I also use a Gillette M3 Power Vibrating Razor neck as a cheap ass e-bow.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Dan – I have an Epiphone Valve Junior Half Stack. I like it because it is all tube & there is only one chicken head knob for the volume.  Since my bandmate just got a Marshall Cab that he is running his Fender Twin through, I might have to add an Epiphone Valve Senior Combo to my set up.

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

Dan – I have a HONDO II professional that a friend gave me after it survived a house fire. The conditions of keeping the guitar was that I was not allowed to remove the stickers that read “WORK”, “Spend” & “Pain” on a plastic flower, the crowning jewel is the 90210 sticker with the girls from the original series. For a Sears’ guitar it is surprisingly well built & heavy, it has taken a lot of abuse & still keeps on kicking. 

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

Dan – I would want something that is solidly built. Something that I would not feel bad about hitting with screwdrivers & dragging across the floor.

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

Dan – I love delay. Maybe something that could have multiple loops & delays going at the same time.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Dan – Just one.

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Dan – Not very carefully, in the gear bag.

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

Dan – More pockets for my screwdrivers.

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

Dan – Sound is the most important, how well it is built.

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

Dan – It all depends, I got my guitar for free & it is great. I would try & find an interesting used guitar before I bought a brand new one. Considering my budget a couple hundred bucks is where I would max out.

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

Dan – I replace stuff that gets broken. Guitars are just tools, I don’t fetishize them that much.

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

Dan – I read up on it on the inter-web. Go to a few shops & see the price range.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Dan – Only when things break.

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

Dan – I am self taught & only vaguely aware of this thing called tuning. I like to twiddle knobs & see what I can get.

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

Dan – I would like to get a Jazzmaster, but I would feel pretty silly buying the Sonic Youth model.  I could go for the J. Mascis model because it is purple. A Marshall Stack would be cool to have, but I would be happy with a Fender Twin. 

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

Dan – Strings. My first guitar kept on getting less & less strings because I did not know how to re-string it. 

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

Dan – The best is my Valve Jr. Half Stack, it looks good & sounds great & was cheap. The worst: the Digitech RP-70. I will never buy a pedal made solely out of plastic again. It has a habit of breaking right before a show.

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

Dan – I am not a gear snob, I like my Epiphone amp a lot. You get quality for a good price. Boss pedals are built like tanks. Brand I don’t like is Digitech, they are touchy as hell & are constructed & designed poorly. 

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

Dan – I usually start by jamming a screwdriver through the strings & then bang on it some with another screwdriver.

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

Dan – Fifteen or sixteen maybe?

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

Dan – I still don’t know how to play chords after 15 plus years of playing.

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

Dan – I played saxophone in middle school, but anything beyond 8th notes eluded me. I wish I knew about free jazz or I would of stuck with it. I like the ease of getting sound out of the instrument.

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

Dan – I wish I had some formal training in guitar. I think whatever instrument inspires one to make sound they should use that instrument. 

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

Dan – An ally on most nights, I have been known to break all the strings on my guitar on stage though. 

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

Dan – Glenn Branca, Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore, Dean Roberts, Keith Rowe. (Not a guitarist, but John Cage’s influence on me cannot be underestimated.)

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

Dan – The way I treat my guitar, it would be a bit sick if I called by a nickname. 

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

Dan – One night I broke all the strings on the guitar, shoved a drumstick through the pick guard. I ended up screaming the lyrics of “Freebird” through my pick-ups. 

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

Dan – Since what I do is mostly improv, I don’t practice per-say. I like to experiment getting new sounds out of my instrument. 

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

Dan – I am very lazy. Sometimes never. I should do more. 

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

Dan – Whatever the kind my bandmate has. 

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Dan – Um, I just sort of pick them at random, kinda like a chance operation.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Dan – When I break the strings.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Dan – I can go months or days it all depends.

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

Dan – I guess my fretting hand because that is what I use to put objects into the strings & I like to mess with the strings high up on the neck.

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

Dan – Luckily my band mate Jack in the EMPTY SHAPES is pretty handy with guitar fixing. I generally have him work on it.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Dan – When I do tune I use open tunings, I am slowly learning how, but still need my bandmates to tune for me.

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

Dan – I am totally self-taught so I record my ideas if I want to remember them.

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

Dan – A little above waist height.

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

Dan – Being lazy, not playing unless there is a show.

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

Dan – Piano, maybe, I am totally self-taught & don’t play either instrument in the traditional way.

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

Dan – At some point I think I should learn about such things as tuning & chords. If I could I would like to play like Jack Rose.

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

Dan – Learning chords, I just recently started “tuning” my guitar. 

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

Dan – My bandmates taught me open tuning.

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

Dan – I use the neck of a vibrating razor blade as a ghetto ass e-bow. I can use it to either vibrate the strings directly or place it near the pick-ups & cause strange noises to occur without touching the guitar strings. 

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

Dan – One day I would like to play a real song on the guitar. 

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

Dan – I have no formal training on the guitar. I did take saxophone lessons from 5th grade through 9th. The last two years I faked it because 8th notes eluded me. 

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

Dan – How to shove foreign objects into there strings, how to feedback effectively. 

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

Dan – Be completely unskilled & be willing to abuse their instrument. 

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Dan – If the guitar has it I will use & abuse it.

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?

Dan – I use the tone knob a lot to adjust the tone of the drones I am making.

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

Dan – I guess Mike Watt had the best line about that, “Be a Ball Hog or Tug Boat,” he was talking about bassists but it could apply. 

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

Dan – NOOOOO! I prefer crappy guitar work versus guitar wanking & no soul.

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

Dan – Lee Ranaldo’s, he is an inspiration to me. John Fahey for the same reason.

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

Dan – If you asked me last year I would say Jack Rose, sadly he passed away. Glenn Jones was a close friend & collaborator with Jack. I really admire him, not only for his acoustic work, but his work with his great band Cul De Sac. 

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Dan – The Empty Shapes split with Carlton Melton. Jamie our bass player spent an insane amount of time mixing it. He made me sound like I kinda knew what I was doing. 

QRD – Anything else?

Dan – Don’t let your own musical incompetence stop you from making sounds, it never stopped me.