Interview with Ryan Wasterlain of Summer of Glaciers
Name: Ryan Wasterlain
Bands: Summer of Glaciers
Listen to “Entrench Us”
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Ryan – My first guitar was a twelve-string acoustic from a company called Konn or something like that. I got it at a garage sale & promptly took off the higher set of harmony strings to make it a standard 6 string. I played for a while, wanted to put all 12 back on, but didn’t know how to tune it (early days of the internet, no YouTube yet). I ended up giving it to a friend.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Ryan – My setup keeps getting more & more complicated. I run my Gibson SG into a Danelectro Distortion, Electo Harmonix Tremelo, MXR Distortion +, DL-6 delay, Holy Grail Reverb, into a Motu Firewire breakout box, into a MacBook pro running Ableton Live, back to the Motu, & out to a Fender Blues Deluxe & Fender Twin.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig – guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Ryan – The most important part of my setup now is Ableton Live in combination with my APC 40. I used to use loop pedals & drum machines, but really wanted to get more complex & dynamic. Creating beats in Ableton, making live guitar loops, starting & stopping all my loops independently with the ability to effect the individual sounds has expanded my sonic capacity. I couldn’t do this (easily) without looping in Ableton.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Ryan – I have used a Marshall Plexi in the past & it was just too damn loud. To mellow this out & be less offensive to club owners, I got a Fender Twin & Blues Deluxe. I love the combination of these two amps. The twin is bright while the deluxe is warm & heavy. Blended together they sound really full.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Ryan – My main guitar is a Gibson SG. I love the warmth of this SG. It is from 2000 & is heavier than my one from the 70s. But it is really versatile & allows me to have subtle variations when looping 12 guitar lines.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Ryan – Honestly it would probably be a cross between a Rickenbacker & an SG (if that is possible). I would also want multiple outputs & a midi pickup built in.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Ryan – I am a reverb fanatic. A custom pedal for me would be the most realistic/unrealistic & dynamic reverb possible. Add some strange circuit bending abilities to effect only the decay & I could probably geek out for days.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Ryan – I own 4 guitars.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Ryan – I live in a small studio apartment in San Francisco. So I store them wherever I can. All except one have cases.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Ryan – Weapons, like in “El Mariachi.”
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Ryan – Comfort mainly. It can be the nicest Les Paul in the world but if my arm is severely bruised from playing it... what’s the point?
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Ryan – My 2 favorite guitars were bought used for under $400. One is a Gibson SG from the 70s, the other was a Harmony semi-hollow. I got that for super cheap because it is super cheap. Despite that, I love playing it. Gear isn’t always about the best name. It’s also how you feel when you play something.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Ryan – Usually just stick to what it is. I am starting to meet some people who have better mod skills, so eventually I might start tweaking things more; but for now I just work with my limitations.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Ryan – I research the hell out of things. For months. But generally I don’t try it out much. I just buy it & hope for the best.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Ryan – Somewhat. I am always trying to be more efficient or trying new techniques. Often that means changing gear. I try to not do it too often so that I can just master what I have & not always be in a learning curve.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Ryan – Because my set is loop based, there really isn’t one tone I am going for.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Ryan – I have always really wanted a Rickenbacker. Guy from Fugazi is a huge influence & I have always loved his tone. A real Space Echo is on my list of effects. That thing is un-fuck-with-able
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Ryan – Tuning pegs & strings
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Ryan – Best: my 70s SG
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Ryan – Some weird pattern that I have played for years. It gets into most of my music.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Ryan – 12 years old.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Ryan – I think around 20. I really started doing things that weren’t so standard. I am not a technically great guitarist, but in my 20s I learned how to embrace that. I think this is when I started to grow exponentially.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Ryan – Because I know how to play it. Also there are things you can do with strings emotionally that you can’t do with other instruments as easy. Piano would be my other instrument if I knew how to play it.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Ryan – I actually think piano is better. It teaches you to multi-task better.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Ryan – Ally.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Ryan – The guitarists of Slint, Hot Cross, Guy from Fugazi, & Kaki King.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Ryan – Silly.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Ryan – I broke a chunk out of the back of my SG. It was when I used to play in my old punk rock band & would jump around a lot. I jumped, used my back & the guitar to land.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Ryan – Sadly, I just play right now. I don’t have much time anymore.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Ryan – Currently I probably can only play 2-3 hours a week. I would really like to have at least 8 hours to practice & record.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Ryan – Dunlop Standard Tortex picks. Green .88mm
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Ryan – D’Addario EXL 115 Nickel Wound Blues/Jazz .011 - .049. I used to play really heavy strings, but I switched to these. Now that I play more notey guitar lines, I don’t break them as much anymore.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Ryan – Not enough.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Ryan – Usually only at critical points in my show.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Ryan – It is actually a mixed bag. My fretting works great for some stuff, not others (can’t shred). My strumming is usually strong, except palm mutes.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Ryan – Not set it up at all. I’m kind of lazy.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Ryan – Dropped D for the most part. It just feels more comfortable. I really want to start working with some open tunings, but just haven’t done it in Summer of Glaciers yet.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Ryan – I actually don’t write ideas down. I try to always practice with some kind of recording device. I use my computer in my rig now, so often I will just record through that while working out ideas.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Ryan – Low. I grew up in the grunge era.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Ryan – Melting people’s faces when I solo.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Ryan – Piano. It is my unicorn. I feel like if I could really grasp how to play the piano, I could play anything. But then I guess drums would probably become my new unicorn once I mastered piano.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Ryan – I actually really wish I could tap. There is some amazing math rock that utilizes tapping in a strong rhythmic way. I would love to be able to incorporate that.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Ryan – Mastering it.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Ryan – Don’t know if I really know any tricks.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Ryan – Tuner. More musicians should be diligent with those.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Ryan – See above about tapping.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Ryan – I took them for a few weeks. I really didn’t want to learn how to read music. I just wanted to learn how to play jazz. I didn’t end up learning either.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Ryan – The joy of pedals & experimentation.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Ryan – Suck pretty bad.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Ryan – Eh, I guess it works for others. I’ve never really had the need.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Ryan – Not often.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Ryan – I really don’t separate the two much. I always thought I played rhythm because I couldn’t solo, but it turns out I just did very rhythmic leads. It’s all music.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Ryan – Not at all. You’re only as good as your weakest link.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Ryan – Jimmy Page because I could sell it & buy a home.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Ryan – Hmmm. I’m not really up on current guitar music. Although, I have to say that Christopher Willits is doing some great guitar/technology work right now.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Ryan – My latest album Concentric. http://summerofglaciers.bandcamp.com
QRD – Anything else?
Ryan – Thanks for reading down this far & thanks to Brian for setting up these interviews!