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QRD #46 - Guitarists Interview Series
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Guitarist Interviews with:
Azalia Snail
Alan Sparhawk
Jesse Grey
Michael Seman
Robert Brown
John Booker
Steven Mitchell
Ian McPhedran
Josef Echter
Jordan Barger
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Ed Ricart
Yair Yona
Jeff Schneider
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Guitarist Interview with Jesse Gray of The Pointless Forest & Wild Dead Rabbits
January 2011
Name: Jesse Gray 
Bands: Wild Dead Rabbits, The Pointless Forest 
Websites: www.myspace.com/wilddeadrabbits, www.myspace.com/thepointlessforestnc

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

Jesse – When I first became interested in musical instruments I played on my dad’s old guitars that were put away in closets & under beds with ages of collected dust.  The first guitars I played were an old Kay (probably an early 1950s model) originally set for nylon strings, but the saddle was replaced to hold regular acoustic strings.  The other guitar was a very old Martin acoustic, early 1940s model I believe.

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

Jesse – Ahhhmmmm?  I go either into my overdrive or distortion directly after my volume pedal. Then tremolo, then reverb, then delay, then memory pedals.  I use several custom pedals in the line that add unique elements to the others effects, so combining effects has been an onward drive for me as a musician.  The ever vast wonder into creating sounds.  I use two lines out where I use two tube amps, a Fender Twin Reverb & an Epiphone Blues Custom 30.  Other effects in recordings & performances are added such as cassette tapes played either through my guitar pickups or straight from the recorder into the amplifier. 
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig – guitar, amplifier, or effects?

Jesse – Effects.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why? 

Jesse – I use two with an ABY switch, but I’d have to say my Fender Twin Reverb.

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

Jesse – Bill Lawrence / Swamp Caster.  A little info about this instrument.  Bill Lawrence worked directly beside Loui Fender known mainly for Fender Guitars.  He was in charge with designing & making the electronics for the guitars, especially the pickups for the Fender Company.  Later he started making his own custom made guitars based off the Fender Telecaster & Stratocaster designs.  Since Fender guitars owned the patent on his designs for the pickups he began to design his own personal pickups for his custom made guitars.  I have been told the wood for the guitars is handpicked out of Louisiana swamps (Louisiana Swamp Ash).  I replaced his single steel plate pickups with some original 1951 Telecaster pickups.  The action on the guitar is perfect.  I’ve never played a guitar that feels so comfortable.

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

Jesse – I’m quite fond of the American made Fender Jaguar 1965 models with the blocked fret boards.  Black with a white pickguard, wax potted lipstick pickups.

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

Jesse – It would be a mix of the Empress Super Delay, original Space Echo, Death by Audio Supersonic Overdrive, & a something like the Digitech Memory pedal.

QRD – How many guitars do you own? 

Jesse – 3 or 4.

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars? 

Jesse – Properly in their cases.

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

Jesse – Better interior straps that could be used to hold the neck of your guitar.  More storage.

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

Jesse – Sound & condition.  Check out the tuning pegs, saddle, fret board, any infractions that could worsen with time & wear.  I am interested in particular models/brands/& years of certain guitars I have played & would like to own,

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

Jesse – A free guitar is always a good guitar.

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

Jesse – Yes, I replace frets, pickups (sometimes), interior wiring (if needed), adjust action, it all depends on what is or isn’t going on.

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

Jesse – I spend a good deal of time doing research before investing $ into something.  I check online reviews, call stores & try my best to find someone that has had or has that particular item & ask questions in person.  I always like to try out whatever I’m looking at a couple of times to make sure it is the right thing.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Jesse – Yep.  When experimenting with things.  Always looking for new ways to create music. I’ve gotten to a point I have found these sounds I have created with the use of a number of combinations/pedals.  I have no need to re-arrange anything should I say “soon.” But I do more so now build loops & samples to play with the use of other instruments & then guitar over that, vice versa.  
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot? 

Jesse – Depending on what’s going on with the song; yes, I do change my tones.  I like the diversity of the tone settings on my guitar.  Adjusting the tone to me is like adjusting the mood of the piece.

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

Jesse – Death by Audio stuff, vintage amps of all sorts; Twin Reverbs, Bassman’s Band Masters, Music Man amps are outstanding if you enjoy the sound Fender produces. Guitar wise, Fender Jaguars & a particular guitar called a Steelcaster!

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

Jesse – Don’t go by looks.  Never go by looks or brand.  Make sure you are comfortable with how the instrument holds & that it’s the proper size.

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

Jesse – Mexican Made Fender Jazz Master from the Guitar Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Awful guitar!!!

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

Jesse – Never been a huge fan of Morley equipment, though you will find flaws with anything.  Also Marshall amps have never been much of a turn on for me.  I guess you could say I’m a pretty big Fender fan.  I like to customize things according to the sounds I’m looking for.  I’m into effects ranging from different types of reverb, overdrives & fuzz, delay & echo pedals.  Not too much into tremolo even though I do use it slightly. I’m going to keep repeating myself about Death by Audio effects.  Absolutely amazing out of this world sounds (but expensive)!!!!

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

Jesse – Usually something in Am.  Don’t know why?

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

Jesse – About 14.  I found music an interesting alternative to what had been normal to me all before (baseball, basketball, & football year round).  I came to an age where I found music to be more self-absorbing & personal, that was a huge turning point in my life.

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

Jesse – About 26.  About the time I got out of the Navy & was able to commit to spending more time playing, starting a band, & once I began recording things a lot changed & became somewhat fine tuned with more of a direction.

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

Jesse – Good question.  I don’t know.  After playing for so many years, it really is the only thing I can sit down with for hours & lose myself into the music.  Having extreme A.D.D this has almost been an abstract form of meditation/concentration.

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

Jesse – Not really.  Personally I think learning piano will teach you more about rhythm & definitely music theory.  I started playing drums before I picked up guitar, which kind of led me into the interest of the instrument.

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

Jesse – Ally, but more like a companion.

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

Jesse – Connor Oberst of Bright Eyes, Oliver Ackerson of A Place to Bury Strangers, Kurt Cobain from Nirvana.

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

Jesse – They are the type of person that could very well be in a Judas Priest tribute band that plays in denim & leather at Bone Daddy’s or the Berkley.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it? 

Jesse – I think I burnt one one time?  I can’t remember, I was told by a friend I did it.  I threw a MIM Fender Jazz Master through an amp one time because it was just a piece of shit guitar & drove me insane with its shitty always feeding back pickups.  Fender should be ashamed about that line of guitars.

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

Jesse – I like to record practices.  Create phrases & play over them with other instruments.  Sometimes I’ll make notes on things I am positive I will forget (then I loose the sheet of paper, HA HA). I relax in a different way when I play music.  I don’t considerate it practice, but I like to go to shows & see what is going on in the music scene wherever I live. 
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to? 

Jesse – Everyday about.  Maybe 10 hours a week give or take.

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

Jesse – If I could only use one pick for the rest of my life it would be the Dunlop .53 (the red ones).  They are the perfect thickness that allows me to strum extremely fast without causing the strings to go on a carnival ride.  Or maybe an egg beater would be pretty cool.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Jesse – Usually a medium gauge string, like 12’s.  I guess I don’t like slinks because they break pretty easy since I play fairly heavy at times.

QRD – How often do you change strings? 

Jesse – Always before tour, usually every few months, possibly the night before a gig.

QRD – How often do you break strings? 

Jesse – In the past 20 shows I’ve broken 2 strings.  One will break at practice every few months.  I’m particularly careful about not breaking strings because I think it’s a bitch to put them on (even after 15 years of playing guitar).

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

Jesse – Definitely my strumming hand when it comes to an acoustic due to all the finger picking I do.  With my electric guitar it’s kinda a different style with my effects so my fretting hand is more prominent in this style.

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

Jesse – Myself unless I need something major done such as re-fretting or straightening out a fret board.  I’ll go as far as installing new pickups, cleaning electronics, changing strings, adjusting the action, & changing strings... those kinds of things.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why? 

Jesse – Standard.  Every once in a while I’ll drop D to revisit the 90s.

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

Jesse – None of the above.  Just remember with the old brain, maybe make notes.

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

Jesse – Usually I always sit down when I play, more comfortable & able to use the entire fret board with ease.  Though when standing, I prefer to have my guitar low belly, not punk or jazz geek.

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

Jesse – I don’t use my pinkie when I finger pick.  That bugs me.  Sometimes it’s like I can’t feel that finger when I play.

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

Jesse – Drums & piano or if you want to go to the extreme a harp, no questions!

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

Jesse – Honky tonk.

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

Jesse – Acquiring a vintage Fender Jaguar.

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

Jesse – Hammer ons & pull offs back when I was 15, recently probably finger tapping.

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

Jesse – I use the capo for particular pieces.  Ebow is cool, but makes my brain feel like a microwave after awhile.  I like playing the harmonica through my pickups sometimes.

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

Jesse – Fast finger tapping.

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

Jesse – Yes I did.  I learned quite a bit about music/guitar theory which was very helpful starting out.

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

Jesse – Finger stretching exercises.

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

Jesse – Drink a lot, forget who you are, wake up in strange places, do what you can to make your mama proud. In between all that pick up a guitar & sing to the moon.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems? 

Jesse – Uuuuhhhmmmm?  Not much, tremolo is okay if it fits the piece.  I don’t use much tremolo, but see where it would add a nice element to some of my compositions.

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob? 

Jesse – Often, usually during each song.

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

Jesse – I think a lot of lead guitarist have these wack-ass egos & I think in “some” bands the rhythm guitarist just takes up space on stage.  But that’s being one-sided, I’d rather see a band with one guitarist pulling off both kinda styles.  

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

Jesse – Yes & no.  Please explain.  What if someone else just plain sucks or lord forbid freezes up.

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

Jesse – Kurt Coban’s acoustic guitar from their unplugged show in New York

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

Jesse – Don’t know.  I would have to say Oliver Ackenson of A Place to Bury Straingers; he builds all of his own effects.  I appreciate the time & effort & energy that is put into that mindset.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work? 

Jesse – The Pointless Forest - silent amongst frozen black plains.

QRD – Anything else? 

Jesse – Not at the moment.  I am very short with words these days.  Come to the show.