with Mason Jones
Name: Mason Jones
Bands: Numinous Eye, Tone Volt, solo, We’ve Come For What’s Ours, ex-SubArachnoid Space
Websites: www.charnel.com/mason, www.tonevolt.com, numinouseye.bandcamp.com,
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Mason – My very first guitar would have been an acoustic when I was a kid, & I have no idea. My first “real” guitar is one that I still have & play to this day, a gorgeous Ibanez from the late 70s that I bought from a friend in college.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Mason – I actually don’t have a typical set-up, as I’m always changing it. Plus it depends on who I’m playing with & what we’re up to. But if I imagine a most-common setup, it’d be:
guitar -> Z-Vex Fuzz Factory -> Subdecay Blackstar distortion ->
Electrix Filter Queen -> Eventide Pitch Factor -> Eventide Time Factor
-> volume pedal -> amp
I sometimes use a Moogerfooger low-pass filter, sometimes a Pigtronix Mothership, & often a variety of other fuzz pedals.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Mason – It’s probably the effects, but it depends on what I’m playing. I’m accustomed to borrowing guitars & amps when I tour in Japan, so I’ve gotten pretty flexible with gear. There are certain effects that I’ve come to love for psychedelic or noise work.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Mason – I trade off between two. I most often use my old 2x12” Music Man combo because it’s smaller & more portable, but for live shows I prefer my also old Ampeg VT-22 head, with a 2x12” Mesa cabinet. I’m a tube amp person exclusively.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Mason – Mostly I prefer my 70s Ibanez, which is a very heavy humbucker guitar, good sustain & a great feel. For some psych-rock playing I use a newer American Standard Stratocaster, because I get good use of the whammy bar.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Mason – Honestly it’d probably be the Moog guitar, for its dronability, but otherwise it’d be my old Ibanez. Dark woodstain, gold hardware, & ivory inlay down the neck; it’s a beautiful guitar that I was very lucky to acquire way back when.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Mason – It would probably be some ridiculous combination of fuzz, delay, & filtering, with tap-tempo & a foot pedal to filter.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Mason – I only own four. My Ibanez, my Strat, an electric-acoustic, & a cheapo beat-up Ibanez covered with stickers & used only for noise work.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Mason – Hanging on the wall in my studio downstairs.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Mason – A space-bending property so they’re only the size of a backpack, with tons of padding.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Mason – I care most about the feel, then the sound, because you can change pickups if you need to, but the neck is the neck. It has to be comfortable to play, a certain width, thickness, & wood feel for me.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Mason – It should cost little enough that I can afford it, but they usually don’t.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Mason – I generally stick with what I’ve got. I made the mistake when I was young of mucking with my Ibanez, & it wasn’t smart so I had it put back to mostly stock.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Mason – Probably not as much as I should, but I look around, wait if it’s new to see what people think. But I love weird custom pedals, limited handmade noise things or so-called boutique fuzz pedals & whatnot, & it’s usually hard to find out a lot about them in advance so I end up taking the chance, mail-ordering, & see what I get.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Mason – I keep the guitars & amps, & change the pedals all the time. It helps keep me from getting in a rut. I find new sound combinations & it can inspire interesting things. I’ll put a pedal away for a bit & then come back to it & discover new things.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Mason – I’m sort of after a particular tone, but even after all these years I can’t say that I’ve found the one I have in my head. I keep getting closer, though.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Mason – I’d love to be able to afford a Moog guitar for experimental/noise work, but a Paul Reed Smith would be my next purchase if I had the cash. Or a 1970 Les Paul. I’m not sure there’s a particular amp that I’d dream of getting. Pedals, there are always intriguing ones out there, but next up is finding the perfect wah pedal, I think.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Mason – I don’t think there are features that are necessary. It’s more making sure it’s got the right feel. I think people often try playing guitar & don’t stick with it because they got a guitar that doesn’t feel or sound right to them, so they get discouraged. It should be as easy & comfortable for them to play as possible. That goes double for kids. People tend to buy cheap-ass guitars for kids, & then the kids don’t want to play because it’s hard to play & sounds bad.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Mason – Probably the Fuzz Factory pedal is the best purchase I’ve made, though the Eventide Time Factor is a close contender. Hands down the best delay pedal ever. The worst purchase was the Line 6 Distortion Modeler. Seemed like a great idea, several fuzz pedals I use all in one pedal. Unfortunately it just sounds bad.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Mason – The Eventide stomp boxes are expensive, but totally worth it. They’re spectacular. I’ll also give Boss the nod because they’ve been offering solid, affordable pedals for a very long time. I like Fender amps quite a bit, even though I don’t have one.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Mason – No specific song; I don’t play recognizable songs, really. On an electric, I just play some blues leads to get a feel for the guitar. On an acoustic, usually some classical fingerpicking.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Mason – I guess I first started when I was about 13, playing acoustic guitar for a couple of years, then I quit & picked up an electric in college & have played ever since.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Mason – Probably when I was about 33 or 34, a couple of years into touring & playing constantly with SubArachnoid Space. But in some ways, of course, I’m always at my best because I keep getting better. If I thought I was getting worse, I’d have to stop!
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Mason – I’m just most comfortable with guitar. I also play bass, drums, & keyboards, along with a few other odd instruments; but I’ve been playing guitar for the longest & have concentrated on it the most. There’s something about the way the hands coordinate & work together on guitar that fits my brain, I think.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Mason – Actually, I don’t. I think piano is probably better because it’s possible to play with one hand, then move to two & watch them both. With guitar, the two hands are doing very different things & I feel like it’s harder to get started.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Mason – Definitely my ally. I don’t fight with it very much.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Mason – There are really three, & they’re a pretty odd trio: Jimi Hendrix, Adrian Belew, & Daniel Ash (Bauhaus). The link between them all is that they stretched the possibilities of the guitar beyond what most people expect.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Mason – I find it pretty silly, really.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Mason – During a noise show here in San Francisco opening for C.C.C.C., I played a duo set with Elden M of Allegory Chapel Ltd. I played guitar & partway into the set the jack on my guitar started fritzing out. It was really frustrating, so I decided to make it part of the performance & started pulling on it, yanking the cord in & out & ultimately tearing the jack off & ripping the wiring out, til I tossed the guitar down on the stage. It was a good show.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Mason – Nothing. I play when I play, whether it’s with others or by myself, but I don’t sit around & do scales or work on anything in particular.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Mason – It varies. Some weeks I’ll play 8 hours across a few nights or weekend days, then some weeks I won’t play at all. I’d like to play far more than I do, though. Life is busy.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Mason – I use medium-weight Dunlop .60mm Tortex picks, because they have the right thickness & edge, & they have a texture that means I don’t drop them. I pretty much never drop picks, but I used to when I used slicker ones.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Mason – I like the Ernie Ball Regular Slinky strings. I used to go with the .9 high-E because I like the bendability, but the sound is too thin, I think. I like the feel of the Ernie Ball strings.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Mason – Not very often unless I’m doing a bunch of recording. Under normal circumstances I’ll go for longer than I should before I change.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Mason – I pretty much never break strings, for some reason. If I do, though, it’s either the high-E or the D string.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Mason – I think they’ve developed to be about even, over the years. I play both blues-rock-derived music & more experimental stuff, as well as classical-style acoustic, so I’ve developed the fingerpicking with my right hand along with the leads with my left.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Mason – I’ll have someone else do it. I’ve never spent the time to get really good at it, so I’ll let an expert handle it.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Mason – Standard tuning only, mainly because I’m lazy & I just want to keep it straightforward.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Mason – For whatever reason I don’t write down my ideas. I’ll just fiddle with an idea & play it until I’ll remember it. If I forget it, then it wasn’t worth keeping anyway I guess. I also do quick & rough recordings as I’m working on things.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Mason – I don’t really know. Nothing particularly unusual, I guess.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Mason – Falling into a rut. I improvise pretty much 100% of the time & it’s always too easy to fall back on habits & unconsciously grab onto some pattern or riff that I’ve played before. It’s surprisingly difficult to break habits.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Mason – Probably bass, because it forces you to simplify & find the real meat of an idea. Physically it’s also good for strengthening your hands.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Mason – Flamenco, definitely. Really good flamenco playing is pretty marvelous.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Mason – Learning music theory as it applies to the guitar.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Mason – Good question, but I’m not really sure.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Mason – I guess it would have to be an eBow, though I don’t use it as much as I used to. For noise & drone work it’s a pretty amazing gadget.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Mason – Good rhythm guitar playing. I’m really a lead player & while I’m very rhythmic, I’m not a good rhythm guitar player.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Mason – When I was a kid I did, yes. I learned a lot of really important basics, from folk guitar & regular chords to some classical guitar & just a tiny bit of theory. When I picked up an electric guitar in college, having those basics from learning on an acoustic was extremely valuable. I also got started on fingerpicking in my guitar classes, which has been surprisingly helpful.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Mason – How to enjoy atonality, to experiment, & don’t automatically assume that anything not on a chord chart is bad.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Mason – Listen to a combination of psychedelia, noise, avant-garde, & industrial music I suppose.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Mason – I don’t have much of an opinion on the technical aspects of which is best & why. The tremolo on my Strat never goes out of tune, so I call that good enough. I really love having a tremolo; combining that with an eBow is actually a really nice way to start emulating a synth, if you put it through enough effects.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Mason – Very, very rarely. Generally only if I’m playing through a different amp & I can’t quite get to where I like things using the amp’s EQ alone.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Mason – In general with the sorts of music I’ve played, there hasn’t been any real difference ? it’s not standard “rock” music so players will move back & forth, even within songs. At times there might be multiple rhythm or lead lines happening simultaneously. So I don’t personally think about it as lead versus rhythm, but more about what sort of sounds the song needs & what’s the best way to achieve them. But at the same time, there’s an expertise to being a solid rhythm player that I don’t think is one of my strongest skills.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Mason – Not at all, no. I can appreciate the guitar work & enjoy it for itself, but that’s it. In particular if a song’s rhythm section isn’t working well, it’s hard for me to get into it.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Mason – I can’t really think of one. I’m just not that obsessed with hardware.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Mason – Innovative.… Probably Yamamoto Seiichi, who used to play with the Boredoms & Omoide Hatoba & is now doing solo work as well as playing with various bands including Rovo. He’s a good technical player, but more importantly he has a knack for playing cool sounds in the “right” way, if you know what I mean. He just fits into what’s going on & supplies something that fits.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Mason – Various releases from my old band SubArachnoid Space have work that I’m pretty pleased with, but it’ll always be my latest stuff that makes me happiest, so checking Numinous Eye on Bandcamp is where I’d point people: numinouseye.bandcamp.com is the place. There’s a new album being mastered now which is more song-oriented & has some playing I’m very happy with.
QRD – Anything else?
Mason – That should do it - thanks for the questions!