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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 Jason Handelsman of The President
May 2011

Name: Jason Handelsman
Bands:  Haitian Voters, Walrus, Ghost of Dirty, The President
Websites: filthysouth.com, blogs.miaminewtimes.com/crossfade/prunktv, thepresident.bandcamp.com
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Jason – My stepmom had an old acoustic steel string guitar in the garage next to her boxes of old records (Doors, Hendrix, Beatles, etc). She never played the guitar & she never listened to those records. They were collecting dust until I got a hold of them. I would sit in the garage for hours as a little kid playing the guitar upside down (I’m a lefty). I remember learning how to play Ratt’s “Round & Round” by ear.  I was about 10 years old in the early 80s & hair metal was quite mainstream in those days: Ratt, Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Ozzy... MTV had just begun.  That guitar & most of those vinyl records were later sold in that garage during a garage sale. Around that time, we were being taught ukulele during music class in elementary school. The music teacher wanted to put me in LD because I couldn’t play it right handed. She called my Mom & told her that I had a serious disability. My mom yelled at her, explaining that I needed lefty scissors to cut paper & that bitch needed to give me a lefty ukulele. Mom was pissed. Shout out to Mom! This song is on my new album, it’s about being left-handed.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Jason – Gibson SG, Boss Loop Station, Line 6 distortion & delay modelers. I had a Marshall JCM-800 for a few years, but sold it because I moved to Europe in 2004. There is a video of that amp on the Brooklyn Bridge for this outdoor sound sculpture that I made for the Brooklyn Sculpture Festival in 2003, using lots of guitar effects & a loop station. These days, friends let me borrow their amps, sometimes for long periods of time. I had a Laney cab with a Line 6 head for about 6 months, but I didn’t like the Line 6 head... it had too many gadgets.  I use my friend Alex’s Orange amp quite frequently for live shows & it sounds delicious. I’ve been using the Loop pedal as a drum machine recently & I don’t use any other effects pedals right now. With that Orange, you really don’t need any... it sounds perfect when I plug my guitar straight into it. I hope to buy an amp of my own pretty soon.

QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig – guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Jason – Right now, it’s the guitar that I have. My black Gibson SG has sentimental value. I bought it in NYC in early September of 2001 for $1000. It was with me on 9/11 while we stood in a building about five blocks from Ground Zero watching bodies fall from the sky & shards of glass floating through the air. When women dump me, I sleep with my SG. I wake up & say good morning to the guitar. When I play that guitar... I just feel better. It is my BFF. I almost sold it a couple of times during broke periods, but I am really glad that I didn’t sell it. I sold an acoustic around that time for $60 & wasted that money on a one night drug binge. I was sleeping under a bridge, but the SG was safe at someone’s house nearby who refused to let me sell it. I am so thankful that I didn’t. It is priceless at this point. We have been through a lot together & somehow I held on to that baby. In 2004 I took the guitar to Europe with me & left it with a friend in London for about six months while I traveled around the world. Almost 10 years later, we are both back in Miami. Every time I pick it up I feel stress free & tranquil.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Jason – Right now, the only amp that I own is one of those really small $30 mini-amps that you can clip to your belt. It runs on a 9v battery. I can walk around the house, backyard, or down the street with it on. It has really good distortion & it gets pretty loud. Sometimes I’ll take it to the park across the street & play Black Sabbath, Slayer, & Van Halen for the kids smoking weed in the park. Kids still love metal! I tell you, that little amp gets loud!
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Jason – It has been that black, lefty, Gibson SG mentioned above. I had an acoustic Guild lefty 12 string for a while that I really loved... but I traded it for a pedal. The SG is light & the neck is perfect for my small hands. If it’s good enough for Tony Iommi & Angus Young, it’s good enough for me.

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

Jason – Um...an app for iphones. Jason Handelsman’s Sludge Fest. It would be down tuned sludge & there would only be two or three different chords that were easy to play by pressing different icons, heavily distorted power chord minimal riffage. You would be able to feel the iphone vibrate while you played it. If you held the phone close to your face, you would feel a hot wind blowing on you. You would be able to plug your iphone into an amp... maybe have some app pedals... maybe they already have that...?

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

Jason – An actual nuclear bomb pedal. If I stomped on it we would all die. But I would never use it. Call it Suicide Bombing is Not Fluffy or the SBiNF.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Jason – One at the moment

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Jason – In the hard shell case next to my bed or in the bed with me.

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

Jason – A roadie/guitar tech that would carry it around for me, change the strings every day, keep it in tune, adjust the intonations, clean the guitar, etc. Hello?

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

Jason – Affordable price, weight, just the feeling & sound. Also, the employees at the guitar store & the store itself. I will not buy a guitar from one of those huge chains. I don’t care how much I love the guitar; I’m not going to buy it from a Guitar Center employee who has a Slipknot tattoo. But seriously, because I am left handed, the choices are more limited at most guitar stores... they’ll have hundreds of regular guitars & then maybe two or three lefties in a corner. Usually the lefties are those Korean made Fender Strats or an Epiphone. Lefties are a minority. But... if I pick it up & it feels good... it’s like trying on a pair of sneakers & just knowing that they are the right ones. I spent over a year going to every guitar shop in New York City, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Long Island, etc. before I chose the SG. It just felt perfect & it sounds awesome... & most of my favorite guitarists use an SG. It’s like the Porsche of guitars.

QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Jason – I once bought a decent Epiphone Les Paul for $40 from a crack head.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?

Jason – I have never upgraded a guitar.

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

Jason – I try it out over & over until I am sure that I want it...(see above). I am extremely cheap & picky with everything that I purchase: clothes, sunglasses, food, music stuff, energy beverages, books, etc.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Jason – Yes. It seems that no matter what amp I play out of, or pedals I use... I basically sound the same. Even if I play straight through a club’s PA system... it sounds the same... at least that’s what I tell myself.…

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

Jason – I love all types of music, so I like to change the tone. I am usually in the mood for slow sludge riffage with lots of gain & distortion. I love bands like Earth, Sunn))O, Neurosis, & I love to play slow Sabbathy metal.… But sometimes I like to play around with a wah, or some blues, or improvisational noise... practice scales & whatnot... but again... it all sounds like me. I just close my eyes & blast off. You know that place when you are just in the zone, all alone, forgetting where you are. Playing guitar is a spiritual ritual for me.

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

Jason – A lefty flying V, a Gibson Les Paul, Green Matamp, I had a pedal addiction for years... I’m over it... my friend has this pedal, I think its called a Mooger Fooger that I love to mess around with. I want one!

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

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

Jason – The best guitar related purchase was my first pedal: Boss Metal Zone. I saw that Matt Pike was using one when I saw High on Fire’s first show in San Francisco in 1998 (I think) & I bought one the next day. It taught me how valuable pedals are. They really can change the sound. I eventually got tired of that pedal... it’s so limited.… I bought a volume pedal once that I loved for about a day. Ebows are amazing to have, you can harmonize feedback with it. An Ebow & a Boss Loop Station = hours of enjoyment. The sound would fill the room & make my adrenalin pump. Imagine if Hendrix had had an Ebow.

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

Jason – I have a lot of Boss stuff. Not just pedals. I have a Boss BR-1180 8 track digital recording “studio”, & I have recorded over 300 songs on it. It is like an instrument in itself. It has almost all of Boss’s effects internalized, so you can adjust the tone & effect settings before recording. It even has different amp models. It is also a good friend.

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

Jason – Tune it. Close my eyes & usual play some power chords, start banging my head like I’m a teenager again. Get the pinch harmonic squelches going... a new riff will form... words that fit the riff will pop into my head... I’ll turn on the Boss BR 1180 & have two or three songs by sunrise. Burn them onto a CD & give the CD to Matt from Roofless Records, which is the greatest potential power in the world today. Roofless Records puts out the best music in Miami, which is the best city.

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

Jason – 9 or 10.

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

Jason – When I was 27 a friend gave me a huge stack of tablature books: Robert Johnson, Slayer, Rush, Cream, Beatles, Van Halen, Metallica, Black Sabbath... I was surprised at how easy it was to learn all of those songs & solos via tablature. I started playing around with different tunings... listening to guitarists like Al Di Meola.… Then I started watching videos & spending all of my time & money on guitar stuff. All I did was play guitar & think about guitar... I got technical.… Around that time, I was living in New York & playing in a band called Walrus. I started getting paid to play at this bar in uptown New York. $100 for two hours. I would sit & play all the songs that I had learned with the tab books, without singing. People especially loved when I played Beatles songs like Blackbird & Here Comes the Sun. But then I started doing drugs again & stopped playing the guitar regularly for a few years.

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

Jason – Guitar was easy for me to pick up & play. It felt natural, like I had been playing forever. There is so much that you can do with a guitar. I love to play riffs, or just noodle... it’s fun... it can be really loud or really quiet... I love banging on drums, but I’m not a drummer... I’m a guitarist... someone like Bob Dylan can play guitar & someone like Kerry King can play guitar. Johnny Cash, Elvis, Muddy Waters, great men play guitar.  There is a reason that it’s the most popular instrument in the world. They’re easier to move then say... a piano... guitars are just convenient. They naturally become an extension of your body. They feel like an extra limb.

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

Jason – BFF.

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

Jason – King Buzzo, Derek Bailey, Sonny Sharrock, Tony Iommi, Jimi Hendrix, Dylan Carlson, Matt Pike, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, also he is not a guitarist but Thelonious Monk had a huge influence on my playing. I wanted to play guitar the way he played piano.

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

Jason – Both. My guitar has a name: Lolita. But it’s sort of just a joke.

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

Jason – Never.

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

Jason – Come up with lyrics.

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

Jason – There are 24 hours in each day... I try to spend at least one of those hours actually playing my guitar. I would like to spend all 24 hours playing my guitar.

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

Jason – Varies. Usually medium. Thin picks are for people who do lots of solos... I rarely solo... heavy picks are just too heavy for me.…

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Jason – Thicker strings are better.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Jason – Not often enough, I wait until they break.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Jason – Like once a year.

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

Jason – Myself.

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

Jason – Memory.

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

Jason – Kind of low.

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

Jason – Not changing strings often...usually playing them until they break.

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

Jason – Drums.

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

Jason – Randy Rhoades style shredding

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

Jason – Playing sober.

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

Jason – Ebows are awesome.

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

Jason – No.

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

Jason – Ramones riffs if they were just learning how to play. Ramones riffs are easy to learn, fun to play, & may even impress your friends.

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

Jason – Sleep under a bridge.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Jason – Never had one.

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?

Jason – It’s always on 10.

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

Jason – Apples & oranges. Kirk & James.

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

Jason – No. Drums make the band.

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

Jason – The one that Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock. Just to hold that specific guitar & play it would be sick.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?

Jason – Lil Wayne. The self-proclaimed best rapper alive plays guitar too. He is not a great guitar player (yet), but he is a great & innovative artist... & hopefully we’ll see him progressing on the instrument.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Jason – http://thepresident.bandcamp.com/track/ingrid-abigail

QRD – Anything else?

Jason – Thank you!