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QRD #53 - Guitarist Interview Series V
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Guitarist Interviews:
Jason Handelsman
Andras Fekete 
Phil Mitchell
Jessica Bailiff 
Jason Lamoreaux
Ben Weyerhaeuser
Greg & Kyrsten Magnuson
Brandon Helms
Matt Guess 
Rachel Staggs
Jun Minowa 
Michael Cosma 
Cheryl Hall
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Guitarist Interview with Greg & Kyrsten Magnuson of Magnuson
July 2011

Name: Greg Magnuson & Kyrsten Magnuson
Bands: Magnuson
Websites: www.magnusonband.com

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

Greg – A custom made tiger maple body Fender neck style I bought from a friend for $70. I still have it but its tuned crazy.

Kyrsten – A late 60s Tiesco EP-8T hollow-body my mother passed down to me. I still have it tucked carefully away. The pickups need some work, but it’s in otherwise perfect condition.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – We play a Brian Moore i81.13 through two amps. The magnetic pickups through a Boss stereo delay & a Digitech whammy pedal into a Randall RG50RT amp. We use the Randall distortion & for the bass tones, we run the midi out to a Roland GR-20 guitar synth, through a Sans Amp distortion, & into an Eden bass amp. Occasionally, we run the piezo pickup through an acoustic DI or separate amp for additional options & sparkle.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – The guitar. It pretty much solved our need for a bass player. But all the components we have, we need.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Greg/Kyrsten – Randall RG50RT combo amp. The tones are great & it’s plenty loud for its size. As a two piece, we have to keep gear to a minimum. We love our Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier combo, but its overkill. For bass, it’s an Eden wedge amp. It’s small, but it’s loud & meets all our requirements.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Brian Moore i81.13. It is light weight, super playable, & has three outputs that we use to fatten our tone.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – It would be a bit lighter than the Brian Moore & would have a flatter neck. Maybe it would have split outputs for the top three & bottom three strings through the magnetic pick ups, but the rest would be just like the BM. Maybe add some lasers somewhere...why not?

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

Greg/Kyrsten – The Acoustic Compressor/Delay/Reverb/Distortion/Octave… pedal. We’re having trouble finding one of those.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Greg/Kyrsten – About 7 electrics, 4 acoustics, 4 basses.

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Greg/Kyrsten – Frequently used guitars are in our home studio. The rest are in storage.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Casters.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Playability, construction, tone, bonding factor. Does it make you rock out?

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Depends. 500 to 1000 is probably sufficient for what most people need to play live. Any more & you’re likely to get it stolen.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Sometimes but we try to buy guitars that are ready to use. Wiring is not our forte.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – We thoroughly research something before we buy it. We looked at loop pedals for about a year before going with the Jam Man stereo.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Greg/Kyrsten – We’ve used a lot of different set ups; but this one is working pretty well, so we’ll likely stick with it... at least until we get roadies to help move it all.

QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?

Greg/Kyrsten – We stick with a cutting, bridge pick up tone with the amp set with 3 main settings: clean, dirty, & metal fuzz. We’ve got too much going on with vocals & switching to mess with a bunch of different tones.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – One day, we’d like to get a Parker Fly with the midi pick up. We will be upgrading to the new Boss synth pedal soon as well. & when we get roadies, we’ll be using 2 stacks of Eden 4x10s on the bottom & Mesa 4x12s on the top. Schwing.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Playability aka action that doesn’t suck. After that, tuners that stay in tune. Then a jack that doesn’t cut out.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Worst: a used Fender that I paid too much for. The Mako Flying V with the Floyd Rose I never used was also a bad deal.  Best: The Brian Moore was a game changer, it finally allowed us to do what we were envisioning, without having to modify anything.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – We typically don’t like Gibson or Fender as a rule because we think they’re over priced for what you get. Same with Marshalls. We prefer Ibanez necks but overall, the Brian Moore is probably the greatest guitar we’ve ever owned. For amps, we like the Randalls & of course the Mesa Dual Rectifier. For the low end, we prefer Eden. For effects, Boss gets our vote every time. Same with Roland, their synths are the best. We have a love hate relationship with our Digitech Whammy Pedal. It’s kind of like the Millennium Falcon. It will save your tonal life... when it works. When it doesn’t, it can wreck your plans something fierce.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Chromatic scales up & down the neck. Then some meedlies way up high on the tiny strings.

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

Greg – I started when I was about 15 but didn’t really get a handle on it until much later. Bass was a stepping stone.

Kyrsten – I started at 12 with boredom, the Tiesco I found in the closet, & a Beatles songbook.

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

Greg – Probably about 5 years ago. The Makkabees project I worked on really forced me to step up my game. I try to learn something new every day though.

Kyrsten – I would say around 7 years ago, I really started to fall in love with metal & different picking techniques. I hope to keep “leveling up” though, there’s always more to learn.

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

Greg – Well, I love bass but I kind burned myself out on it. Guitar is the most direct instrument for me to use to make the sounds I want.

Kyrsten – I had the opportunity when I was little to play around with the instruments that were used in the cover band my mother played keyboards in. Guitar was always the first one I crawled to... & still do.

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

Greg – I think it’s a good instrument to start on because it’s easy to play songs you know. You can get excited about it very easily. Piano is good too, since it’s easy to see how the scales are configured, but piano lessons are definitely much more tedious.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – It can be both. Ally when you’re able to play what you want. Adversary when you can’t play a riff or you can’t come up with new musical ideas.

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

Greg – I’ve always liked Kirk Hammet, Johnny Marr, Steve Vai, Tom Morrello, but more recently, Matthew Bellamy & Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.

Kyrsten – John Lennon, Sami Sirviö from Kent, Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth, Steven Wilson, Matt Bellamy, & Andres Segovia.

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

Greg – Kind of. I’ve just never had a desire to do that.

Kyrsten – I named my Jackson Flying V “Captain Jack Sparrow”, it just worked too well. I’ve tried to name the rest, but I can’t ever remember them.

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

Greg – I threw my strat down at the end of a show once, but it just kind of chipped it. It felt pretty good for some reason.

Kyrsten – There’s just no way I could damage a guitar, it would be like kicking a puppy.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Chromatic scales, finger picks techniques, work with the grimoire series books on chords & scales, & sweeps.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Maybe 2-3, but we wish it was more. We try to keep a guitar out at all times so we can just pick it up whenever we feel like it.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – We both prefer the Dunlop Tortex 1.14mm. Greg likes the standard point, Kyrsten likes the sharp point.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Kyrsten – I prefer Ernie Ball light tops, heavy bottoms 8s.

Greg – I prefer the same, but in 9s.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Greg/Kyrsten – Once a week when we’re playing a lot.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Greg/Kyrsten – Lately, every week for some reason, but usually not for a month or so.

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

Greg – I’ll say fretting as I’m still refining my strumming hand. Scales carry over pretty well from bass.

Kyrsten – I’m the opposite. I was really into playing classical guitar & bluegrass banjo for a while, so my picking hand definitely feels more proficient.

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

Kyrsten – Ourselves. We know what we want it to be like & Greg used to build guitars.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Greg/Kyrsten – Mainly standard or drop D. There’s just not enough time during our sets to constantly have to re-tune or switch out guitars.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – We both write out chords for main parts & supplement with tab for more technical parts.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – We both play about mid chest so it’s approximately the same height standing or sitting.

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

Kyrsten – Greg rocks out too hard sometimes & unplugs his chord. I need to warm up more before I play a show, time always goes by too fast & I hit the stage cold far too often.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Bass, then piano, then drums. Banjo if you’re feelin’ crazy.

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

Greg – I really want to be better at finger picking & sweeps. But I’d settle for a bigger knowledge of chords.

Kyrsten – Definitely sweeps & arpeggios, I’m getting there though!

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Sweeps!!!!!

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Pinched harmonics & mixed pick/finger style playing.

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

Greg – I am discovering the benefits of the capo, though Kyrsten doesn’t approve.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Leo Kottke style finger picking.

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

Greg – I did for about a year. Then I took bass lessons & then went the self-taught route. I learned my teacher didn’t appreciate the Sex Pistols... & that it takes work to get good.

Kyrsten – I took a semester of jazz guitar in high school & a semester of classical guitar in college. Learned barre chords & finger picking techniques respectively.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – The importance of knowing basic music notation & notes on the fret board as well as that you need to listen to your other band members.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Be pretty darn ADD.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Kyrsten – Not really a fan. They aren’t needed for what we do.

Greg – I could never figure out how to sound like Steve Vai on the PIL generic album so... I moved on.

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?

Greg/Kyrsten – At the beginning of the set to make sure it’s all the way forward.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Rhythm players are usually super solid pickers & have a great sense of... rhythm, but sometimes have a hard time thinking outside of the box. Lead players tend to think the most important part of the song is their solo. But, if they’re good, they can be right & blow your mind.

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

Greg/Kyrsten – Pretty much no. We like songs to be good in addition to having good musicianship.

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

Greg – Vernon Reid has a pretty amazing signature Parker Fly. But last I checked, they’re about 6k so probably won’t be getting one very soon.

Kyrsten – I’d like to have one of Matt Bellamy’s Manson guitars... I’ll take any of them, I’m not picky.

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

Greg – I’ve been listening to a lot of Explosions in the Sky & I dig what they’re doing. I’m also a fan of Meshuggah. Those guys are always on the cutting edge.

Kyrsten – I’d say Muse & Kent have pretty innovative guitar techniques. Muse because of the integration of the synth & Kaoss pad & Kent because of their use of effects to enhance the mood of the song, instead of “I’m going to use it just to use it.”

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Greg/Kyrsten – Kyrsten does her best riffs in “Real Control,” “Strange Lights,” & “Dying to See.” Greg’s best work is on “Blame,” “Fear & Deception,” & “Here & Now.”

QRD – Anything else?

Greg/Kyrsten – Thanks for caring about what we had to say. Bottom line, figure out what you want to sound like, & keep at it until you get there, even if it seems unconventional. & check out our new album Crash of Cassini for more guitar awesomeness!!!