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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 Joe Morgan of The Late Virginia Summers
August 2010

Name: Joe Morgan
Bands: The Late Virginia Summers (TLVS), asentimentalsong (solo project), occasionally sit in with other bands or friends (virgineola, hotel hotel, p. d. wilder)
Websites: myspace.com/tlvs, myspace.com/asentimentalsongmusic, hardingstreet.wordpress.com
Listen to “winter”
Listen to “Marbled Atlantic”

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

Joe – My first guitar was an Epiphone Dot, which is basically a cheap version of the Gibson ES-335. I saved up & bought it when I was 15 & quickly found it was made of some pretty cheap hardware. I upgraded the parts & pickups & used it for a while. I still have it, but don’t really play it anymore. I mostly just hold onto it because it was my first guitar.

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

Joe – Gibson Les Paul (special promo model made for the band Alabama that I was able to buy off a friend) into a Pro Co Rat distortion pedal --- Ernie Ball Jr volume pedal (with tuner output to a Boss TU-2) --- Boss GE-7 equalizer pedal --- Boss RV-5 reverb pedal (stereo out from here until end) === Boss DD-20 delay pedal === Line6 DL4 delay pedal === Electro Harmonix deluxe memory man with Hazari delay pedal === Boomerang III looper === into two different amps (Fender Blues Deluxe reissue & a Peavey Classic 30 for when I play with TLVS. Fender Blues Deluxe reissue & a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe when I play solo.).

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

Joe – Effects definitely. I feel naked without them. I need them to create the sounds that I play.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Joe – My main amp is a Fender Blues Deluxe reissue. I chose this because it seemed to be an affordable amp that had really great clean tone. I use my effects to create all of the differences in my guitar sounds so I wasn’t worried about on board effects or overdrive or any of those types of things in an amp. This amp just seemed to do what I needed.

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

Joe – Gibson Les Paul. I bought this guitar off a friend of mine. It is a promo guitar made for the band Alabama. It isn’t fancy in its looks, but it has some nice features. It has a slim neck, ebony fretboard, & the body is made to be lighter than normal Les Pauls. It plays really well & sounds great.

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

Joe – A Les Paul. Honestly I really like how my guitar is now. I don’t know enough about guitar specs to really come up with any neat features.

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

Joe – Oh this could be really interesting. I’d love to have some type of delay/loop pedal. It would have some really neat features to help create washes & drones. Something that would cut out most of the attack on the guitar & really muddy up the sound to make things really hazy.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Joe – I have 2 electric guitars, one regular acoustic, & one 12 string acoustic

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Joe – My acoustics just sit around the house at my house. My electrics are either in the case or on a guitar stand.

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

Joe – Well the handle on my Les Paul really squeaks a lot. I don’t know what else.

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

Joe – Honestly I’ve only bought 2 guitars in my life. The first I was too young to know what I was doing. The second I just bought off of a friend. I’ve always liked Gibson guitars because I feel they just have good workmanship. Again since I really haven’t “shopped” for a guitar in years I really don’t know what I’d look for.

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

Joe – Well if you are going out to buy a guitar at a store new I’d say at least probably $800-$1000. I mean you may find some decent stuff cheaper, but the way things are these days I feel a lot of the companies just charge too much for junk & you have to really look at the higher end stuff to get something of value. I mean for something like a guitar that is extremely important to you as a guitar player, wouldn’t it make more sense to spend a decent amount of money on a quality instrument instead of saving some money on a cheaper model that really won’t last as long?

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

Joe – Well I did on my first guitar, but with the one I have now I haven’t. I really think it just depends on the guitar.

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

Joe – The items I’ve bought most are effects pedals & I really do spend quite a lot of time researching them before buying one. I watch a lot of demo videos & read blogs or forums. I don’t really spend much time trying out stuff because I think it is hard to really be able to do that unless you are using it in your own setup.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Joe – Not really. I have taken a few pedals out in the last few months that I feel I didn’t really use ever. I do want to experiment more with the order of my pedals, but I am pretty comfortable with the current setup I have.

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

Joe – Yeah, I’d say I’m pretty much after one tone. I do use different effects to change the sound of everything, but as far as setting & such I really just leave things the same on my amp & guitar.

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

Joe – Well as far as amps I really would like a Cox AC30 & a Fender Twin Reverb. For guitars I really don’t have any that I desperately want. I would like to get a decent acoustic. Maybe a Gibson Hummingbird or a nice Taylor or Takamine. I’d always be down for another Les Paul. As far as pedals I’d like an Electro Harmonix Cathedral Stereo Reverb & I’d always like to try out some more delay or looping pedals. Also I kinda want to get a few more EQ pedals to use to filter my sound a ton.

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

Joe – I really don’t know. It is hard to say when you are learning & don’t really know what style you are going for & all that. I just guess my biggest piece of advice is don’t buy a crappy guitar.

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

Joe – Well my Les Paul was definitely the best purchase I’ve made. Great guitar & it was really cheap. My first Epiphone guitar was too expensive for the quality. It started falling apart way too soon. Besides that I don’t think I’ve had any other really bad experiences. I did buy a pedal on Ebay once & the guy totally ignored all my emails when I never got the pedal & then he ended up finally sending it after I had already gotten my money back from Ebay. Then he didn’t even send the correct stuff. It was a huge mess & in the end he lost out.

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

Joe – I used to play on a Crate amp when I was learning. I don’t think I’d ever buy a Crate. I guess beyond that I’m really not a fan of solid state amps. I really hate it when amps have digital effects built into them. I mean seriously it is an amp & not a delay/chorus/flanger/phaser/etc. pedal. I guess I’d also add a lot of the multi effect units to this as well. I like to have control over what I do & I feel these really limit what you are able to do as far as customizing your sound until you sit down & laboriously tweak settings that would be so much easier to tweak if you had just bought several regular pedals. I guess this isn’t really a brand related answer, but those are a few things that I dis-like. As far as things I like, I like Gibson guitars. Always have enjoyed playing them more than Fenders. I like Boss pedals & Electro Harmonix a lot. I think Boss just makes good reliable pedals & Electro Harmonix comes up with lots of neat little effects that can be really fun to experiment with. I look forward to getting more of them.

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

Joe – Probably a G chord to make sure it is in tune. Or I start playing some stupid lead around the 5th fret.

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

Joe – I think I started around when I was 13. That is when I think I started seriously trying to play.

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

Joe – Well I like to think I could always improve. I always want to learn more & become a better guitar player. I think I’ve come into my own style though in the last few years.

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

Joe – Well for one it is the only instrument that I am really comfortable playing as it is the only instrument that I can really play. I guess it just feels natural.

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

Joe – Probably not. I think some things about guitar make it really easy to pick up the basics & way too many people just learn a few chords & think they are a master. If you really want to learn music I’m sure piano would be a better choice. It is still something I wish I could play.

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

Joe – I’d say it is my ally. It is more about if I can come up with any good ideas to actually play on the guitar.

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

Joe – I would definitely say the Appleseed Cast had a huge influence on me. I’d also credit Explosions in the Sky & Mogwai. I know these are all huge typical influential bands, but I really think I do pull from their style a lot. I also feel my style constantly change based on what I’m currently listening to & how I am evolving as a musician as I get older. Their are guitarists or bands that I feel really effected my taste in music & my love for music, but that doesn’t really come out in my style of playing.

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

Joe – I dunno. Never really thought about it. I never have & I don’t really think I will, but I suppose I can understand the attachment to an instrument & wanting to name it.

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

Joe – I don’t think I’ve really ever done any physical damage on purpose. I might have dropped a guitar here or there by accident, but that is about it.

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

Joe – That is really about it. Sometimes I am at home & get an idea & just grab my guitar & try to flush it out. Other times I just turn on my amp & start screwing around & maybe I come up with something neat. Maybe not. I don’t really do much else to practice. I just play.

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

Joe – I have no idea. Probably not that many. Again this depends on whether or not I have a show coming up or not. Sometimes I do just play to play, but a lot of times I’m busy & don’t even spend much time at all playing. I guess it just varies based on what is going on & how much free time I have.

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

Joe – Jim Dunlop picks. I’m not sure how thick. Probably something in the medium range. I don’t like picks really thick or really thin. I like medium because it can hold up well if you start to play hard, but not feel incredibly bulky.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Joe – Well I’m sort of in the phase of trying to find what strings I like. I’m interested in maybe a medium gauge set of strings with a heavier bottom string section. I like my strings to really resonate & ring out & have a fuller tone & it seems the thicker strings do this better. I also don’t really like super thin higher strings because I hate breaking strings. I also dislike having a wound third string on my electric guitar.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Joe – Not hardly as much as I should. I had strings on my guitar for at least 2-3 years & just finally changed them like a month & a half ago. They weren’t in too bad of shape so I just never did. I am trying to get better at it though.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Joe – Honestly I don’t think I’ve broken a string in 2-3 years. I just don’t play that hard & I use heavier gauged strings.

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

Joe – I think I go back & forth. I feel both are pretty equal. I’m not the best with either & each has its strong points & weak points. As far as my style I don’t think it effects it that much. I think getting better at both will just give me more stability in general. I don’t think becoming better with any one is going to make a huge difference in my style.

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

Joe – I like to take it to a shop every now & then to get it setup right. I probably could do it myself. I might try in the future. It is just nice to get someone professional to do it from time to time to make sure everything is right.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Joe – Mostly standard tuning & every now & then I use drop D. I also have one song where I tune the G up to an A. basically the different tunings help me to let more strings ring out to provide a fuller tone. When I’m the only guitar playing I really have to use whatever tricks I can to make the sound as full as possible.

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

Joe – I usually write all my ideas in tab. I really can’t read sheet music hardly at all. Sometimes I just write down a mess of effect settings & such as well because they play such a big part in my sound, but usually all the notes are written in some type of tab format.

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

Joe – I guess I would say normal level. Not really high & not super low.

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

Joe – Writing too many songs in 4/4. Also I guess I get fixed on some patterns in songs & feel I use them over & over. Maybe a chord progression or a note progression that sounds good & I just play the same idea in different keys based on the song. I feel sometimes I just revisit the same trick that I used for another song & I wish I could be more original.

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

Joe – Well I really can’t play much else. I’ve messed around with the bell kit & piano, which essentially teach the same things as far as understanding the music scale. I think learning notes on a piano or chords can help understand how to make up chords better in regards to what notes make up a chord & this could really help with understanding what you are playing with guitar chords better.

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

Joe – I guess I wish I could sweep pick & play really quickly. I don’t think I would ever use this in my style of playing guitar, but I think it would be nice to be able to.

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

Joe – I remember as a kid I just wished I could one day have an electric guitar with distortion. It finally happened one day. It is still something I think back on from time to time & it makes me happy to think about. As far as something I’ve never accomplished, I’d really like to do a solo record of just ambient guitar stuff. I’ve always wanted to record more & work out songs I’ve written, but just have never made myself do it.

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

Joe – Wow, I really have no idea. I don’t feel I’ve learned many new tricks lately. I guess maybe just tweaking a pedal until I found a neat sound.

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

Joe – I’d probably say ebow if we are using that list of things. I use it more & more as of late & I am enjoying figuring out how useful it can be.

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

Joe – Again, as I said before, probably playing faster. I like to use scales & things just to warm up & build finger strength. I feel a lot of times I just am not really very quick at playing scales or I feel one hand gets ahead of or behind the other. I wish I could play faster & more precise when I’m playing fast.

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

Joe – I never did. I just used some instructional books & tried to play along with songs I liked.

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

Joe – I’m not sure. I guess maybe not make thing so textbook & teach them more to just play things that sound good as opposed to things that are supposed to be played based on the key you are in & the scale you are playing & all that. I guess I’d say don’t worry so much about being technically right. Just learn to play things that to you feel are right & sound good. Play music that makes you feel something.

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

Joe – Well you need a lot of delay pedals. Other than that I guess just be able to layer lots of sounds over & over that hopefully work together. Also you need to be able to keep good time so that your looping doesn’t sound all over the place & out of sync.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Joe – Honestly I’ve never had one on a guitar I’ve owned, so I really don’t have much of an opinion on them. Maybe I would like it, but as it is right now I’m pretty much indifferent to them.

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?

Joe – On my guitar I never really do. Only a little bit while recording. On my amp I might a little bit, but I mostly stick with the sound I have now.

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

Joe – I have always felt a rhythm guitar player could get stuck playing too many boring parts. I guess it all comes down to your style again & how complicated the music you write is. I like to think that a band can exist without a lead & rhythm guitar. I think music should just be written so that it all sounds good together & it isn’t classified as rhythm or lead. Of course in some styles you have to have these two different parts & I guess the lead part just seems to often get more attention, as opposed to the rhythm part which basically holds the structure of the songs together. Both are often necessary & missing one can really change a song for the worse.

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

Joe – Well I guess that depends on what you mean by not being good. Maybe a band has a strong guitar presence & the drums/bass/etc. are there to just accommodate the quality guitar work. I guess this doesn’t bother me that much. If they other instruments are just not played well, then yeah I definitely think this can lead to not wanting to listen to the band.

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

Joe – Can’t really say there are any that I really want to own.

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

Joe – I think the way Christopher Willits has his setup is pretty unique. He has this great big pedalboard/mixer/laptop/etc setup that he has all hooked together to sync up with the computer to do some pretty neat things. Beyond that there are a lot of people who have neat setups & things, but I don’t know who I would say is the most innovative.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Joe – http://www.myspace.com/tlvs for The Late Virginia Summers
http://www.myspace.com/asentimentalsongmusic for my solo stuff.
These are also on Facebook. You can also check out the local label here for some more stuff at http://www.hardingstreet.wordpress.com

QRD – Anything else?

Joe – I tried to do my best to answer these questions, but honestly I don’t really think I have a huge insight on the things I use & play. I just research effects that I buy & I try to experiment to come up with good ideas. I always want to get better & learn new tricks & things. I guess my final thoughts are that I really enjoy making music & hope to continue to expand my abilities & the equipment that I own to help me develop new ideas. I hope that the things that I create can in some way touch people & that they can really listen to them & feel something. I love music & I hope that I can make music that other people will love also.