with Corbie Hill
Name: Corbie Hill
Bands: Alpha Cop, Where the Buffalo Roamed, peripherals
Websites: alphacop.bandcamp.com, wherethebuffaloroamed.bandcamp.com, afraidofthebear.bandcamp.com, twitter.com/afraidofthebear
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Corbie – It’s a Fender DG-5 acoustic that I got for my 14th birthday I think, & it’s sitting in a case about seven feet away from me. It’s been dropped & thrown & all kinds of dumb shit over the years, but probably the most foolish thing I did to that guitar was cover it with stickers. It had a two dollar bill taped to it for years – don’t ask me why I thought that looked cool. Then, last year, I decided the guitar looked totally undignified. I mean, it really didn’t match how seriously I take music & how utterly serious the music I play is. So I took off all the stickers. I even ripped off the pickguard. I didn’t use any kind of adhesive remover or finish-saver, either. I wanted it to look hard-lived, because that’s accurate. Now I identify with that guitar again. I keep it in my living room with my other acoustics.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Corbie – Jesus. It’s pretty absurd – I have to look at a picture of my board to recall everything in the right order. Boss EQ, Boss BD-2 (2-switch Keeley mod), Boss DS-1, E-H Micro Pog. The dry out from the Micro Pog goes to a Boss Gigadelay, which then goes to my Fender Hot Rod Deville 410. The wet out goes to a GFS tuner (which is an amazing pedal, huge display) & then to a Baddy One Shoe Punch & Grind double fuzz, MXR Phase 90, Danelectro Cool Cat Trem, Rocktron Short Timer Delay, Crybaby Wah, & then finally to a Fender Stage 100 solid state head which powers a cannibalized Princeton 112 cab & a piece-of-shit Radio Shack PA speaker. None of the cabs are matched with the head at all, it’s a total Frankenstein rig & it shouldn’t work but I love how it sounds.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Corbie – Yep.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Corbie – Since I’ve started playing through a solid state & a tube simultaneously, they’ve become the halves of my sound. I can’t play through just one anymore & I can’t even pick which amp is my primary – especially since each amp gets a different signal from the pedalboard.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Corbie – Like the previous answer, I can’t pick one guitar & call it my primary. I have three primary electrics right now, & each has distinct strengths & uses. The guitar I’m playing at any given time is largely dependent on the mood I’m in, & whether or not it has fresh strings.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Corbie – It would probably be an ash body Tele with a hopelessly overwound bridge humbucker & a p-90 in the neck (probably the Seymour Duncan Phat Cat, which is my favorite pickup of all time). Either that, or I would just put two P-rails in it – I can’t decide, but the P-rails is an amazing pickup. I have one in the bridge of my Washburn & it’s an amazing pickup: the perfect balance of versatility & tone.
I digress. Let’s say an ash-bodied Tele with matte black finish, white binding & matching headstock. Let’s have the Fender logo be kind of understated, kind of a gray-silver against the black or something. Rosewood, 22 frets with dot markers. Seymour Duncan Phat Cat in the neck, & the bridge would probably be some overwound PAF-style humbucker, splittable. Let’s throw a piezo in the bridge, just for shits, which is going to mean we’ll need concentric knobs. It would need a Strat switch tip & a Les Paul jack plate rather than that idiotic, useless cup most Tele jacks go in.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Corbie – I would love to have a triple cascading stereo delay made up of three individual delay circuits, each with independent regen, repeat, & mix controls. The name would pretty much have to be some obscure Star Trek reference. I’m a lifelong fan.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Corbie – Eight or nine, I think. Three acoustics, one bass, & my three main electrics make seven. Then I have an old OLP MM1 that’s pretty much unplayable at this point. The pickups in it are really nice, so I need to just scrap it & put them in something I would actually play. I have this ridiculous Harmony Flying V that I got in a Craigslist trade & someone did this Jackson Pollock splatterpaint job to it. It’s at a friend’s house. I don’t know what I plan to do with it, to be honest. Maybe I’ll use it in a noise set. Then I have some bodies & stuff lying around, but nothing that’s especially playable.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Corbie – My Jasmine Acoustic/electric & my Fender DG-5 are in cases in my living room, & my 1940s Kay archtop is on a wall hanger near them. Everything else is in a hard case in my music room, which is a separate building out here at Camp Werewolf.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Corbie – Shoulder straps. My Washburn’s case is a hardshell with soft covering & shoulder straps & it’s the best thing ever. I’m forever carrying loads & loads of gear, & anything to free my hands makes that easier. If I could replace all my cases with that exact case, I would.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Corbie – Nothing in particular. I tend to leave myself pretty open to what should present itself. I very rarely can afford to shop for guitars, so typically what happens is some awesome guitar jumps out at me while I’m just minding my business. So I either sell something or trade something out on Craigslist so I can get it.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Corbie – $300 or less. Paying more than that for an instrument is bullshit.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Corbie – I typically upgrade them. I’m a big proponent of Seymour Duncan pickups. Recently, though, I got a Squier Jagmaster in a Craigslist deal with the explicit aim of putting the pickups in my trashed OLP (a Pearly Gates bridge & a Phat Cat nec) in it. The stock pickups in this guitar – which is something like $250 brand new or whatever – are the most fantastic, self-overdriving humbuckers I have ever encountered. It would have been criminal to change the pickups in that guitar, so I left it stock. But usually I upgrade.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Corbie – I really don’t do much research at all. The best way I’ve ever found to learn whether a piece of gear works with my style or not is by putting it in my setup & playing it at practice. You can’t do that at a store or by reading descriptions or reviews or – got, my least favorite – by watching some industry hack demo classic rock riffs on some YouTube video. Gear may be mass-manufactured, but it’s experienced personally.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Corbie – Not anymore. The most I ever do is switch out a pedal or two, but it’s been probably three years since there have been any drastic changes in my setup.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Corbie – I’m after variety, hence the dozen pedals, three main guitars, & two amps.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Corbie – Hmm. I’m pretty satisfied with what I have. I’m not lying, I would love to have $6,000 boutique amps & custom shop guitars & stuff, but that would only make me be afraid to properly abuse my gear. My guitars are a lot like me: they’re not top of the line by any stretch & they’re not going to win any awards; but, in their proper context, they fit in just fine.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Corbie – Jesus, I really don’t know. Guitars are such personal things, even from the get-go. I don’t think I have an answer.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Corbie – I’d be talking for hours if I gave you full answers for either. Let’s just say the Jagmaster I got last year consistently blows my mind. Everything in my current signal chain is essential, & I could go into absurd detail as to why each pedal or amp is the best thing ever. That said, I never want to see another Floyd Rose-style tremolo as long as I live. Also, the E-H Nano Dr. Q is a piece of shit.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Corbie – My tastes are pretty standard. I like Fender amps & I don’t like Marshall & I like Boss & E-H pedals & blah blah blah blah. See? It’s pretty boring. I do, however, have a thing for good Squiers like my Pro-tone Fat Tele or my Jagmaster. I’m not particularly brand loyal, but I do get consistently excited about cheap (as in, very cheap) guitars that sound & play amazing. I can’t afford anything else, so that works out.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Corbie – Whatever crosses my mind. I don’t have any specific exercises or whatever. Usually I just strum a standard chord to check intonation, tune if I gotta, & then play whatever.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Corbie – I was 13 or 14. I’m 30 now.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Corbie – It’s a constant process. I can’t think of any discrete milestones, but I do know that I improve the most when I’m challenged by my collaborators. I’ve been in a bunch of bands, & each set of collaborators has taught me something new about myself which comes out in whatever evolution my playing goes through while I’m doing music with them.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Corbie – Because the electric guitar – particularly in the amps & pedals era we live in – toes the line between chaos & finesse. Then again, I think I should have played drums instead. I think there’s more dignity to it.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Corbie – Probably not, but I’m glad enough people are even peripherally interested in playing music for this to be the valid question it is.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Corbie – I know this sounds cheeseball, but it’s an extension of me. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to call what I do “music.” I wouldn’t even say it’s an ally, because that implies that the guitar & I could potentially have different agendas (i.e. that as allies, our agendas are the same, but that we came to them separately). I think or feel something & say it through the guitar. It’s no different from talking or listening or thinking or walking or cooking or anything else you learn to do through your life.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Corbie – When I was a teen it was the guys in Pearl Jam. I was pretty obsessed with them in high school & their music is the reason I got started playing. I won’t even go through all the other, equally uncool-to-admit-ever-liking bands I took influence from along the way, but I will say Neil Young, Isaac Brock, the post-rock movement, & my current idol, Dylan Carlson, have all inspired my playing. I can’t say what it is about each guitarist I’ve looked up to that I took with me, but I can say each of those styles speaks to me (or has spoken to me at some point). There’s definitely a common thread of bluesiness, a quality I absolutely adore even though I find blues-rock & even the blues itself one-dimensional & fairly boring.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Corbie – It’s whatever. It makes sense to some people & not to others. I don’t do it, but only because I fall in the latter category. It’s personal, so it’s okay either way.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Corbie – I smashed a guitar once when I lived in Greenville. I was at the Spazzatorium, playing a July 3rd show but it was after midnight when we played. My goal for a few weeks in advance was to celebrate the 4th by smashing a guitar, so I bought this $50 Strat copy at a pawn shop for that express purpose. I probably just threw that money away, effectively, but it was a rewarding experience. There were maybe 15 or 20 people there.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Corbie – I don’t see how else I would practice.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Corbie – Maybe three hours? I only really play at band practice or shows. I would like to play more, but I’m also a writer & a bunch of other things so I feel like I play enough guitar relative to my other pursuits in life. When I was a teenager I played that many hours every day. I can’t imagine doing that now, though I’m glad I did so in high school. I don’t think I would be as comfortable with my instrument if I hadn’t.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Corbie – Dunlop 1mm (the black one). It’s easy to grip & its thickness matches my playing style. I’m really heavy handed & I’m a hybrid rhythm/melody player so I tend toward a pretty thick pick, but I need it to flex a bit too.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Corbie – I use Ernie Ball Skinny Top/Heavy Bottoms. I get good clarity from the high strings but really solid punch from the low. I’ll be really sad if they stop making this gauge.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Corbie – Heh. Infrequently. Too infrequently. Not until they get corroded & shitty sometimes.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Corbie – Infrequently as well.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that affect your style?
Corbie – My fretting hand, by miles. I never learned fingerstyle, so I tend to just hammer along like a caveman with my right.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Corbie – Neither. I mean, I’ve had my guitars set up a few times, but usually I just wing it. Perfect intonation is cool & all, but I’ve only experienced it a few times in my own guitars.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Corbie – Typically just standard, though when I do solo freeform guitar I invent different relative tunings for each set. I used to write & play in open tunings, but it’s been several years since I’ve done anything more non-standard than DADGBD (though I do love that tuning).
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Corbie – I only write down my lyrics. If I’m trying to preserve a tricky riff, I record it.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Corbie – Pretty low. I was a teen in the 90s & I’m not ashamed of that, which shows in how I sling my axe.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Corbie – Not so much a bad habit, but I do think it would behoove me to learn how to set up my guitar. Intonation is important & I need to stop winging it.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Corbie – Any other instrument, I’d say. Knowing the properties of other instruments helps you know the guitar in its full context. I think the drums are important, since the guitar’s a percussive instrument & many players aren’t aware of that.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Corbie – Probably fingerstyle.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Corbie – I can’t do fingertapping. I don’t really have a use for it, but it would still be cool to be able to do.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Corbie – Not a trick, per se, but a different kind of thinking. I’m in a band with two guitarists now. For years, I’ve been the only guitarist in bands I’ve been in. So it’s been really cool getting used to writing guitar parts together.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Corbie – I really like the slide or anything that can be used as one – like screwdrivers, etc.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Corbie – Can’t think of one.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Corbie – I took a few lessons from a classical guitarist when I was 13 I think, but I can’t say I learned anything, so I stopped going. It wasn’t at all oriented toward rock guitar & it made the instrument seem much more complicated than it really is. So I experimented for a while, but I was over-thinking it. Eventually someone told me what a power chord was & then it crystallized, so I taught myself from there.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Corbie – I do know I wouldn’t waste any time learning Zep licks or whatever. But I don’t even know what guitar teachers do, so I probably have an inaccurate picture of what that’s like.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Corbie – Be reckless & more than a little willing to potentially damage their gear in the pursuit of the right sound. They’d also have to crank their amp quite a bit.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Corbie – No Floyd Rose! Regular fulcrum tremolo is okay, but I tend to prefer hardtails.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Corbie – I usually just leave it wide open. I like snap.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Corbie – Most of the guitarists I’m into are hybrids of the two, so I see these as more ends of a continuum than as discrete categories.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Corbie – No way. A good band is a collective effort. The last thing I want to hear is one person wanking off while everyone else chugs along in service to whatever they’re doing.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Corbie – Can’t think of one.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Corbie – Dunno.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Corbie – Hm. In Alpha Cop, I’m really happy with my playing on “Beast Easter.” All our songs are collaborative, which is great because it leaves me all kinds of space to write within the framework as it comes together. I’m also quite happy with “Wolf Wings,” a Where the Buffalo Roamed track, because it’s really simple & circular but the basic riff leaves me all kinds of room for expression. As for songs I’ve written on my own, it’s way up there for me. When it comes to my experimental work, I cut an album-length freeform session called Terrified: Meditations on an Empty Universe that I still haven’t topped. I’m scared of playing solo experimental work, because it’s not only experimental but I never use the same invented tuning twice. So the likelihood is just as strong that I’ll be able to do something like Terrified, which is one of my proudest recordings, as it is that I’ll be uninspired & play some lackluster set that never crystallizes.
QRD – Anything else?
Corbie – I just want to get to where I feel confident enough to play freeform noise guitar sets as peripherals, my solo identity. Aside from that, all is well in the valley.