with Ben Weyerhaeuser of Rags & Ribbons
Name: Ben Weyerhaeuser
Bands: Rags & Ribbons
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Ben – Yamaha Pacifica in cream with a white pick guard. I remember thinking that the all white looked cool when I was 13 & my dad bought me an electric guitar for Christmas.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Ben – Custom G&L Comanche in sparkle red flake (gotta have a little sparkle). I use GHS Boomer strings, 10-52 set. I just picked up a Vox AC30 TB - Korg reissue off of Craigslist that is my main amp right now. It has a really clean & punchy tone that is nice & consistent. Pedals include: RAT distortion pedal (88 whiteface reissue), Boss DD-20 delay pedal, Boss Digital Reverb, Digitech Whammy Pedal, Tube Screamer reissue, MXR Phase 90, Boss Chromatic Tuner. Dunlop .73 are the picks I have always used, they seem to do the trick.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig – guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Ben – I would say my guitar is the most important. I just love the feel of my guitar in my hands & it makes me feel comfortable. Although, if the sound is the priority, I would have to say my effects pedals are critical. I don’t have enough experience or knowledge of different guitar models & amp models; however, pedals seem critical to creating the right sounds & shapes. They are not as emotionally as important as my guitar, but they are probably the most important for my sound.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Ben – VOX AC30. It’s the one I used to record a lot of the riffs on our first album. My producer & resident guitar guru really encouraged me to get an AC30 because I was just rocking a Fender Blues Junior for the first several years of playing guitar. The AC30 has a great balanced tone that can do a lot & can fit many sounds. Stephan Hawkes is the producer on our record & he is incredibly talented & knowledgeable about guitars. I totally trust him & he knows our sound & our songs. So, whatever he recommends I am gonna pay attention to.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Ben – My friend Rob taught me a lot about guitars & he inspired me to get a G&L Comanche for my first electric guitar that I bought for using in the band. I played on my old Yamaha Pacifica for the first couple years & when it was time to graduate to a better guitar, Rob inspired me to get a Comanche. If it matters, I would dedicate the guitar & my sound to him & all his support & love that he showed the band. I decided to go with the sparkle red because it felt sexy & I thought it felt right for the stage.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Ben – I saw Prince play Coachella a couple years ago & he had his purple Prince sign custom guitar that just looked amazing. It would be awesome to have a shape shifter guitar that could transform instantly into a tele, strat, or les paul. Everything in one. Plus those auto tuners look really sweet, maybe a little much but they looked cool on you tube.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Ben – I would create a pedal & call it the “Badass Love Pedal”. Anytime when you are going nuts & the emotions are feeling super high on stage & it feels like you can’t get anymore out of your guitar, all you do is click on the Badass Love Pedal & you could get a little more volume, a little more distortion, a little more electronic synth, a little more space, & a little more delay all in one. Instantly just take your sound one notch higher haha!
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Ben – I own my G&L Comanche & my Yamaha Pacifica. I am still a guitar newby. Keeping it simple with one old & one new. Although, I do see a lot of guitars that I admire & would love to have.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Ben – In the case. I want to get some of those cool wall mounts too, but haven’t gotten around to it.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Ben – A place to store paper, music books, & notes. The ability to fold up & get smaller once you take your guitar out, hard cases that is.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Ben – Tone is important, a neck that feels good, & it’s gotta look sexy & badass.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Ben – As much as the market demands they should cost. There are cheap guitars for those that don’t want to spend too much & there are expensive guitars for those who want to spend a lot on guitars. I am somewhere in the middle.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Ben – I personally don’t know enough about guitars yet to make any personal modifications.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Ben – I research a ton. If I am going to commit to a guitar, it is something that I think over a tremendous amount before purchasing. I make sure to test out the guitar & get it or a similar model into my hands before I buy anything. I just want it to be perfect. Because I am not yet a guitarist who needs multiple guitars or knows enough to need multiple guitars, I want to make sure the one I do choose is perfect for me in my career right now.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Ben – I don’t change things too much. I don’t have enough time to tweak with my set up that often because we are doing so much as a band right now & I feel like I never have enough time to experiment with my guitar. So, I end up finding what feels right & trying to stick with that set up.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Ben – I am always looking for the one perfect guitar tone. The only problem is each song necessitates its own perfect tone so I end up changing my tone a lot dependent on the song.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Ben – I always have thought that a Marshall half stack would be so fun to have, but right now it just seems a little excessive for what we are doing as a band & where I am at as a guitar player. Someday.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Ben – Built in directions for how to restring a guitar.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Ben – Best guitar purchase was probably getting the RAT distortion pedal. It has been hands down the most successful immediate purchase that I have ever made for my guitar rig. Getting a music stand was probably another very clutch thing to pick up & have around. The most frustrating purchase was getting my Vox AC30 amp up & running. I ended up needing to put a new speaker & tubes into it & have the studio guitar tech, Doug, work with it quite a bit.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Ben – I don’t know enough about any brands of guitars or guitar products yet to make a definitive judgment on this. The more I learn about guitars & guitar products, the more I get stoked on all sorts of brands & companies.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Ben – Typically whatever scale or arpeggio I have been working on lately.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Ben – I started playing the guitar when I was 12 but then stopped playing when I was 15 & really got heavily involved in sports & playing football in high school & college. Ten years later, I picked it up for what felt like the first time & started relearning the guitar because we wanted to be more of a rock band. I have been obsessed with playing the guitar ever since. I also feel extra motivation & pressure to work hard to become a better guitar player because I am getting such a late start.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Ben – I am still getting better everyday. I have hopefully not even come close to being my best as a guitar player. I feel like there will always be so much to learn. I will probably always be taking guitar lessons.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Ben – I could play other instruments. I would love to play the drums, the bass guitar, or the piano. However, the guitar is what our band didn’t have but needed & that is why I picked it up. I have become attached to it as my own meaningful instrument ever since.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Ben – Honestly, I think the piano should be the first instrument one picks up. It is such a clear tool for understanding music theory & giving someone a musical foundation. But I do sometimes wish that I would have learned music on a guitar & started earlier now that I am trying to learn to play guitar in my 20s.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Ben – I don’t ever think of it as an adversary. Sometimes I prefer to write music on a piano more than a guitar, but that’s about it.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Ben – The people that I have taken lessons from have been my predominant influence. Because I am trying to spend so much effort being a solid guitar player for my band, I don’t spend a whole lot of time trying to study other guitarists. I admire guitarists like Jack White, Mathew Bellamy, but I am not sure if that is because of their guitar playing or just being a huge fan of their music.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Ben – I kinda think that it’s cool. I have never gotten around to naming my guitar, but for those who are amazing guitar players who name their guitars, I admire that.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Ben – I have never done any damage to a guitar that is worthy of note. Knock on wood.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Ben – Right now I have been working with my guitar teacher, Jonathan Barker, on learning different arpeggios, modes, chord structures, & pulling it all together to solo with intent. Not the most glamorous of things, but it is something that is helping my work with the band & being more knowledgeable during the composing process.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Ben – I probably end up playing guitar for six hours a week, but would like to be playing 15 hours a week.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Ben – Dunlop .73. I tried some thinner ones & they seemed to weak & I tried some thicker ones & they seemed a little too rigid. That brand was what a friend told me to stick with & I just haven’t gotten around to trying anything else yet. I still feel like a newby.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Ben – 12s on the low strings with some thinner 10s on the higher strings. My producer on our first record, Stephan Hawkes, encouraged me to try them & I liked them. I trust my friends who have more experience & know more than I do.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Ben – Once every 6-8 weeks.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Ben – Not very often. I guess I am not that hardcore in my guitar career yet.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Ben – I feel like they are about equal at this point. Both hands have been getting better now that I have been playing consistently for three years. I don’t think of it affecting my style too much. I can’t shred really fast yet but I just try & make due with what fits the songs & then incorporate style.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Ben – I will put on my own strings & tweak with it a little bit; however, when I need to do a full set up, I take it to the studio guitar tech. Our rehearsal space is in the same building as the recording studio & guitar tech’s business so it is really convenient.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Ben – Normal tuning. I haven’t learned how to use anything else yet. I have heard drop D is fun & easy to rock out with, but that’s the only other one that I have heard about.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Ben – I like sheet music if I can make the time for it. Whatever I have close by to scribble ideas works. Iphone recorders are probably the king of it all right now.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Ben – I keep changing my strap length. A couple months ago I tried wearing it lower & it felt cool, especially because I am a bigger guy I sometimes thought it looked better to not have the guitar so high on my torso. Lately, I have been rocking it a little higher though, a little more comfortable & a different look.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Ben – Sometimes when we play shows my fingers will freak out on the first couple songs as they are getting into a rhythm. I wish I could just come in cool as steel from the very minute the show starts & have my hands be relaxed but explosive.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Ben – Piano helps to bring things all together.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Ben – I still struggle with playing really fast shred guitar. I don’t think it fits in our band’s music & sometimes it seems absurd to me, but it is still a skill that I would like to be able to have. Gotta get better at my pull offs.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Ben – I still have yet to play this Bach Sonata No. 1 in G Minor all the way through. I have gotten all the parts, but never taken the time to work it all the way through.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Ben – I am not sure if I have ever learned any tricks on the guitar.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Ben – I have never tried using any guitar gadget other than a pick & some pedals. I want to try playing with a slide though, that has seemed cool to me for a very long time & I have never really gotten around to it.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Ben – Getting better at more open chords higher up on the neck. Getting back into classical guitar would be fun too. I learned playing classical when I was a kid.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Ben – I have always taken lessons. I thrive in a setting like that where there is structure & someone to run ideas & questions by. I love the accountability; otherwise I can get distracted & end up not being productive. I have learned a lot of music theory & technique through lessons.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Ben – I would teach them to take lessons, hahaha. I might be able to teach them something about performing because that is a skill that I have spent a lot of time with. I was in theater programs all throughout high school & college & the way I present myself on stage is very important to me. Performing with my guitar is something that I really get excited about & think about a lot. I like to be intentional, but natural when I am on stage.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Ben – Just listen to a lot of different styles of music & go to a lot concerts. That’s where I get my style from, seeing other musicians that inspire me & trying to incorporate some of the things that they do into my own style & routine.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Ben – Never used it & don’t really know what it’s for.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Ben – Not really much at all. It stays set pretty much in the “perfect” spot all the time. I get paranoid to tweak with that one too much. Maybe I need to start tweaking with it some more.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Ben – Both are two critical pieces to the puzzle. Although leads get a lot of the attention, anyone who uses their guitar effectively in a tasteful manner with their band is winning in my book. I like to do both. I think a good rhythm guitarist is definitely underrated in the world of music.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Ben – Maybe in a live setting because I can focus on admiring that one person, but I won’t listen to a band with a great guitarist if the band’s music is not interesting or enjoyable.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Ben – One of Prince’s guitars would be rad. He is hands down the greatest individual performer I have ever seen live in concert & he slays the guitar like a sexy beast.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Ben – Tom Morello & Matt Bellamy again seem to be two guys who are just always doing something interesting with the guitar.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Ben – I think some of my best guitar work can be found on our new album in songs like: “How the West was Lost”, “the Minds”, & “Liar”.
QRD – Anything else?
Ben – I feel new to the guitar & have only been playing seriously for the last three years, but I am fascinated by it as an instrument & want to continue to pour as much of my musical work into it as possible.