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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 P. D. Wilder of Hotel Hotel 
August 2010
photo by Gavin Guthrie
Name:  P. D. Wilder
Bands:  Hotel Hotel, Chaos vs. Caverninha, P. D. Wilder
Websites: myspace.com/hotelhotel, myspace.com/chaosvscaverninha, myspace.com/pdwilder

Listen to “midwinter blues”
Listen to “mute/marred(edit)”

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

P.D. – I got my first guitar when I was 14.  It was some cheap off brand, a Strat clone, but that’s all you need when you’re first starting out.  In high school someone broke it, on purpose.

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

P.D. – Photo below...

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

P.D. – Hard to say, although, I have toured with just my pedals, borrowing guitars & amps along the way, but ideally, everything works together in one beautiful mess! 
For sure, I used to say effects.  I was always buying pedals whenever I could.  Constantly introducing new ones, rotating others in & out of service, & switching them around in the line-up.  I’ve managed to live with the same pedals for about a year now, but I do have a few new ones in mind that I’d like to get a hold of.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

P.D. – As far as amps go, I’ve been using an old Fender Twin Reverb for Hotel Hotel.  I’ve gotten really used to that sound now, so all the other amps I use just don’t compare.  For solo stuff, I find I can pretty much drone out with nearly any decent sounding amp.  I own two Fender Blues Junior amps I normally use for solo shows so I can go stereo.

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

P.D. – I have two Epiphone Les Pauls, one’s black, one’s red.  They were cheap & I didn’t have a lot of money when I got them.  I’ve had both of them rewired, the saddles sanded down, & I’m planning on replacing the pick-ups soon.

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

P.D. – I’ve actually been talking with my friend, Ian McPhedran (Ostrich Tuning), who’s building his own guitar.  We’ve been talking about features & how to make a better drone guitar.  He’s gonna build me a custom drone guitar after he finishes the one he’s working on now.  I’ve always preferred humbuckers over single-coils & I like the look of Fender Mustang bodies, so it’ll probably look something similar to that.
I’ve only read about them, but I would really like to play on one of those Lee Ranaldo Jazzmasters!  He’s one of my main influences & after reading about them; it sounds like something I’d be into.  Also, I like Mick Mars’ idea of taking an old Fender Strat & modifying it with 3 humbuckers. 

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

P.D. – A great distortion or overdrive is hard to find.  It would probably be some kind of custom blues driver pedal with reverb & delay.  The ability to loop is always a plus.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

P.D. – Two acoustics & two electrics. 

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

P.D. – I usually kept them in their cases until I need them.  I keep one of my acoustics (which is just some old cheap off-brand, but sounds amazing to me) out because I play on it more than any of the others.

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

P.D. – More room!  I always need to put some extra stuff in there:  more strings, cables, batteries, etc. 

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

P.D. – Lightness is always a factor, cause when you rock out, your guitar can’t be weighing you down.  & of course, sound, but I haven’t bought a guitar in quite a long time.

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

P.D. – $500, more or less!  Good guitars are so costly.  It seems I always want that nice $3000 limited edition guitar & drone don’t pay that much, so I don’t see that ever happening.  It’ll be really nice to have my own limited edition custom drone guitar.

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

P.D. – It’s all about the custom since I don’t have money to buy a costly guitar, I usually end up putting something or other into them.  For example, I want to replace my pick-ups soon.  Hopefully, it will help me get some new nice tones that I’ve been searching for.

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

P.D. – These days, I put all my money into touring, so I try to research as much as possible.  I’ve got a couple of buddies that build pedals, so now I’m trying to only buy custom pedals.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

P.D. – In Hotel Hotel, we’ve been progressing together, changing our tone in waves.  You want to remain true to the foundations while expanding upon it.  I think we’ve found a good set-up that works for the band at the moment, so no, I don’t change around my set up for the band often.  But for the drone, it’s all about tone, so I’m constantly trying to change everything ever so slightly.  I’m always moving things around to get some new sounds.

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

P.D. – I just found out that Boomerang is back, so I’m gonna have to pick up one of those new pedals.  & I wouldn’t mind that Lee Ranaldo Jazzmaster!

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

P.D. – That’s hard to say, I think there’s never really been a worst purchase of something.  I’ve been completely unhappy with repairs though.  Finding a good amp, effects, guitar repair guy I like & trust here in Austin seems near impossible.

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

P.D. – I like Gibson electric guitars, Larrivée acoustic guitars, Fender & Ampeg amps, Ibanez tube screamers, Boss Delays.  But Crate anything is just not my sound.

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

P.D. – I don’t have anything in particular that I like to play first.  I’m usually just trying to work out some ideas I have for songs.

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

P.D. – Playing with great musicians makes you to play better.  Sometime last year, while on tour with Hotel Hotel, we were playing a show & I thought, “Man, we’re really on to something here.”  I thought I might finally understand how to play.  We got into this deep musical vortex & it felt like we really understood each other in a way we never had before.

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

P.D. – When I first wanted to play music, I wanted to be a drummer.  I liked banging on things, but my problem is, I can’t keep a steady beat.  I just wasn’t a good drummer, so I ended up on guitar.  If I had the money now, I’d probably buy a nice drum kit just to jam on.

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

P.D. – This is actually something I think about often, there should be more art/music in schools.  Everyone knows learning music at a young age does nothing but help kids in learning other things.  I wish I learned the piano when I was a kid.  I think that should be everyone’s first instrument.

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

P.D. – Ha!  That depends on how I’m feeling that day.  I’d say it tends on the ally side, but sometimes I wonder why I’m still playing the guitar at all.  I’ve broken a few guitars when I felt let down….

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

P.D. – Different people influenced me at different times in my life.  When I was a kid, I would listen to my Father’s records all day, Pink Floyd was the first band that really made me want to play music, so David Gilmore for sure.  Later in high school I found Sonic Youth & Led Zeppelin.  Shortly after that I discovered lovesliescrushing.  These days, I listen to a lot of blues:  Buddy Guy, Albert King, Muddy Waters, etc.
I’ve got some wide varying tastes these days, but my list will always have:  Lee Ranaldo, Scott Cortez, Buddy Guy, Roy Montgomery, Mark Kozelek, Robert Smith, Jimmy Page, & Jimi Hendrix on it.  & being a Texan, I’ve got to give mad props to Billy Gibbons & Stevie Ray Vaughan.

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

P.D. – I’ve never named any of my guitars & don’t imagine that I would, unless calling them by their colour counts.

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

P.D. – I’ve beat the hell out of some guitars & completely smashed them to pieces.  But that gets expensive, so lately, it’s just been accidental damage, I’ve dropped my guitars a few times.  I had to get those guitar strap locks cause the strap was constantly slipping off at shows.  Once the strap slipped off on my red electric & the guitar landed face down into my pedals.  But the worst was when I dropped my black electric on a hard wood floor & a piece of the wood chipped off.  It was in a gig bag, but I guess it just hit at the right angle & cracked.  The body damage wasn’t the main problem; the guitar just hasn’t sounded the same since.  I’ve even had it rewired!

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

P.D. – I think daydreaming helps.  I’m a big daydreamer.  I guess that’s why I still make music.  You kinda have to be.

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

P.D. – During a normal week I work a lot, so I don’t get to play as much as I like to.  I don’t even know what a good amount of hours would be, maybe 3 or 4 hours a day?  I constantly feel like I should be recording or practicing more than I do.  I always look forward to life on the road though, touring let’s me play a different city every night.  I never feel like I’m playing enough unless I’m on tour.  I’d probably spent 6 to 9 months touring out of the year, if music paid enough to do that.

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

P.D. – I use those green turtle picks - the Dunlop Tortex Standard .88 Green.  It’s rare, but sometimes I’ll use the orange ones for my acoustics.  These have the just right feel about them.  I’ve been using them for as long as I can remember.  Anything thinner or heavier just doesn’t work for me.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

P.D. – I use D’Addario Blues/Jazz Rock 11-49 strings for my electrics & D’Addario Heavy 14-59 strings for my acoustics.  Kinda the same thing with picks, I’ve been using these strings for so many years; I’m use to the gauge.  I never liked thinner strings, they’re just too bright & that’s not the sound I’m going for.

QRD – How often do you change strings/break strings?

P.D. – I used to constantly break strings on my electrics.  I finally got the saddles sanded down, so now that happens less often.  I almost never break strings on my acoustics.  I try to switch strings out about every three months or so if none have broken by then.

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

P.D. – I usually let the professionals handle stuff like that, although one time I took my black guitar in the shop after I had dropped it & the guy set my pick-ups way low, so when I got home it was too quiet.  I thought my amp or my guitar was messed up, so I had to take it back.  He told me that’s the way he likes it & that’s great for him, but this is my guitar!  That’s the problem with taking gear in, guitar shops set things up the way they like it, not the way you want it. 
Luckily, Evan Caverninha (Chaos vs. Caverninha, Hotel Hotel) knows how to set-up guitars.  He’ll usually to look over my gear about once a year.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

P.D. – I stay tuned normal or in drop D with Hotel Hotel.  Those seem to work the best when interacting with violins & keyboards.  If I’m playing solo or with other musicians/bands, I’m more inclined to try out different tunings.  The last time I sat in with Northern Valentine, Bob & I were tuned to B flat.  Now that’s a great drone tuning!

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

P.D. – I don’t write down a lot of my stuff, especially since most of it is improv, however I recently bought a sheet music book, because I’ve been thinking about writing down some ideas for later.

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

P.D. – I keep my strap lower than I should, an old habit from when I was younger.  Although, it has been moving up slightly over the years. 

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

P.D. – I guess I should look at the audience more when I’m playing live?

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

P.D. – The guitar is pretty much the only thing I play, sometimes I’ll mess around on a keyboard, so I don’t know.  Different things help different people.

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

P.D. – I’ve been getting more & more into the blues over the last couple of years.  Right now, I’m trying to combine everything I know into some kind of post-rock Texas drone blues!

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

P.D. – Hmm, probably playing “The Star Spangled Banner” live at Woodstock….

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

P.D. – I recently read an interview with Billy Gibbons about getting a fuller sound, but I haven’t had time to try it out yet.

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

P.D. – Ebows are fun, but I rarely use mine.  I’ve never really used capos, but I do like my string cutter, I’ve got the kind that also doubles as a string winder.

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

P.D. – Maybe tuning by ear, but I hear that’s overrated.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

P.D. – I don’t care for them on guitars, none of my guitars have them, but I’m on the lookout for a good tremolo pedal.

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?

P.D. – On the guitar, it just stays in the same place, all the way up, I move knobs around on the amp a lot though.

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

P.D. – In Hotel Hotel we have three different lead instruments:  guitar, violin, & piano.  We all trade back & forth between the lead & the rhythm.  The lead gets the solo while the rhythm lays back with the beat.

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

P.D. – No, usually not.  Of course everyone’s tastes are different, but I feel like songs should be great as a whole.  Music is such a personal & emotional thing, so why listen to bad or half-bad songs.

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

P.D. – I haven’t really thought about this much.  I know Jimi Hendrix gave Billy Gibbons one of his guitars after Gibbons opened up for Hendrix in Houston, cause he was so impressed.  I always thought that was awesome.  I’d like Billy Gibbons, Lee Ranaldo or Stuart Braithwaite to give me a guitar cause they were so impressed, but I don’t see that happening….

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

P.D. – I have no idea about innovation.  I think my problem is that I see so much incredible stuff & absolute nonsense when I’m out on tour or seeing shows while at home that I’m into & use to a kind of sound that others may think as innovative or extreme or experimental, but to me it’s normal.  Half the time nothing & everything makes sense!  There are no rules anymore.  I mean that Bon Iver album, For Emma, Forever Ago I consider flawless, but so is lovesliescrushing’s Glissceule as is Ali Farka Touré’s The Source, you know what I mean?

 QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

P.D. – Hotel Hotel’s next album!  Which we’re currently recording.  Seriously, wait for it!  Or at our live shows, if you can’t wait.  For drone that would be my last solo album, f/m.  Evan Caverninha & myself did a release with another buddy of ours called:  When Black Holes Collide & that’s got some fine guitar work on it!

QRD – Anything else?

P.D. – Thanks!  & buy any of my albums from me or the labels that put them out & I can mail you a bunch of live shows or something for free!  Please don’t download struggling musicians’ (like myself) albums for free; if you have to download, download U2 or something shitty like that!

Other QRD interviews with P.D. Wilder:
Hotel Hotel interview (March 2009)

photo by Ashley Cole