Interview with Joe Morgan of The Late Virginia Summers
Name: Joe Morgan
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
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.