with Rich Bennett
Name: Rich Bennett
Bands: Monocle, Rebecca Pronsky, Mansions and Junipers
Websites: richbennettmusic.com, richbennettmusic.bandcamp.com
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Rich – The first guitar I played on was a hand me down Kiso-Suzuki I got from my mom. She had taken a few lessons in here time, but it never stuck. I still have the guitar &, up until a few months ago, I used it regularly as my “teaching” guitar.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Rich – I use almost exclusively a Gibson 335 (60s dot reissue) into a tuner, Boss Chorus Ensemble, Boss DM-2 Delay, Boss DD-6 Digital Delay, out into a 1980 Fender Princeton which has been modified to a Blackface.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Rich – None of the above. My hands are the most important part of what I do. All the other stuff accentuates what I’m trying to already do with my hands.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Rich – 1980 Fender Princeton, because I absolutely cannot stand anything else. I hate unwanted clipping & grit on my amplifier & I need to have the cleanest possible sound that is available while still maintaining character.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Rich – My Gibson 335. I’ve bought so many guitars over the years, but it seems as though the 335 can do anything I need it to do. Of course, it will never be as perfect for the epic rock tune as a Les Paul, or as perfect for the twangy spaghetti western as a Telecaster, but it gets damn near close on all of those & goes to all those places in between.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Rich – I would probably keep the same idea as the 335 build, but add a Bigsby tremolo, & a mute on to it. Maybe also somehow have just a tad bit less “acoustic” in it, so it is not AS prone to feedback. But I wouldn’t fill in all that much, maybe 15 %.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Rich – It would probably be the combination of three pedals/effects I use most. A pedal on which you could mix a short delay (analog preferable), a long or backwards delay, & a spring reverb.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Rich – Two - my Gibson 335 & a used Lignatone acoustic.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Rich – Usually either in their cases, or in stands in my music room.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Rich – More room for pedals/wires. I think they could expand on the little pocket they have on the hardshell cases.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Rich – Playability & intonation. I don’t want to spend time breaking in or constantly tuning a guitar.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Rich – I think up to about $2-3,000 seems fair. Although I recently met a luthier in Oregon who charges 5K for a guitar & barely makes his costs back. Makes you realize how much work & material goes into a really quality instrument.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Rich – The only customization I do is normal set ups & intonation.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Rich – I like to research a bunch about a piece of equipment, just to get a sense of what to try out when I go out looking for something new. But, if something sounds like shit to you, it sounds like shit. No amount of research can tell you that.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Rich – Not really. I think I try as best as I can to keep things as similar as they’ve been; any changes I make are to make the sound larger, or more engaging. I’d like to start playing in stereo, but that’s not always the easiest thing to do.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Rich – Probably more of the former. I love to play around with different sounds & ideas, but I seem to always lean towards the same sounds - long, clean, wistful, articulate, spacey.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Rich – I’m really loving the Eventide H3000 after using it on a recording session. I’d also love to get a vintage 60s Jazzmaster. And probably a really amazing nylon string guitar.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Rich – I’m also a guitar teacher, so I see this a lot. I think the most important feature is ease of playing. I always suggest the Yamaha CGS series for young beginners. If someone starts off playing on a really difficult guitar, I don’t think that it makes them stronger, as some people seem to think. In a lot of cases, it turns people off to playing.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Rich – As with many things in life, all the bad purchases I’ve made have informed the right direction to go, so I can’t say there’s one that’s entirely bad. But probably my first amp - one of those crap Crate amps with 30 built in effects on it. As for best purchases, I think I really lucked out on the Princeton I bought. I never knew that it was blackface-modified until 3 years after I’d been playing it, but I always knew it had a particularly unique sound for a Princeton.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Rich – Likes: Analog delays/Fender Reverb/Gibson guitars. Dislikes: Parker Fly.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Rich – Whatever song I’m most enamored with at the time. Or chord.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Rich – 12.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Rich – I think I was most technically proficient at around 19/20. I think I’m a lot better now, but there are some things I just can’t play now that I could then. But I’m definitely better all around, that’s for sure.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Rich – It doesn’t. I probably should’ve been a bassist or a keyboardist as far as my tendencies go. But I played & practiced guitar forever, so here I am.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Rich – Depends on the age. If you have a real passion & are around 10 or older, then yes. If your parents are just looking to expose you to music & you have no interest, start with piano. SO much easier to start out on.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Rich – That changes on the day of the week.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Rich – So many to list. But the real highlights are Ben Monder, Bill Frisell, & Robin Guthrie. The first two are so ridiculous at doing all the things I prize in good guitar playing. They are insanely articulate, but are still able to invoke a sort of mysterious, open-ended kind of sound. Robin really blew my mind in all the textures he creates & I still think he’s THE touchstone of “shoegaze” guitar.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Rich – Not at all. If you’ve got the desire to do so, do it.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Rich – I once tried to smash a guitar that was a piece of shit, just to see how it felt. & let me tell you - that’s hard work, that is! It took me like half an hour to do any real damage. In the end I set it on fire & it still endured.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Rich – I don’t practice much any more, but I used to practice FOR EVER. I would say the top things I would practice were arpeggios, chords, inversions, & technical exercises. & I used to play them SUPER SLOW. That’s the secret to being a good guitar player, just in case you were wondering.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Rich – From teaching & practicing & recording, probably 5 hours a day? From just strumming, maybe just 30 minutes or so a day?
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Rich – Fender Heavy, because it suits me best & because they’re the easiest to find. Playing a specialty pick sucks. You always have to keep track of them!
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Rich – D’addario 10s, again because they’re the most common. Although I’ve just recently tried some DWs. I think unless you have a very specific reason to alter from the main course of what’s used, you should stick with the basics.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Rich – Once every two/three weeks?
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Rich – Barely ever. I just don’t bend that much.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Rich – That’s a good one! I can’t say I think one is further behind the other. I might say that my left hand is better though; I can really get every note of every chord out at any time.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Rich – Yes, & I’ve just started. I do it because I’m obsessed with being in tune. I’d say 85% of guitar players play out of tune. It’s abysmal.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Rich – Standard. Although I’ll try something new to just break out of it. My hands are good enough to stretch about in standard tuning, so no real need to go crazy & change the tuning. Plus, altering the tuning changes the intonation, changes what tension strings you should use, etc. It’s just a mess. Now, if I had a guitar for each separate tuning....
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Rich – All. Sometimes tab can do what notation would take ages to do, or vice versa.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Rich – The same height as when you’re sitting. I’m a total nerd when it comes to strap height.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Rich – My constant alternate picking. I literally could not sweep pick if I was forced to. Not that I want to Yngwie it up, but sometimes it’d be nice to.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Rich – Piano. Everyone should play piano. Taught me all the theory I couldn’t learn from guitar.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Rich – Shredding. Even though my shred phase has come & gone, I never really got good at it.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Rich – To transcribe Ben Monder’s song “Dust” off of his album Dust.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Rich – That threading a twistie tie through your strings makes an awesome mute (thanks to Jeri Jones of Blame Sally for that one)
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Rich – A screwdriver. To keep the intonation set.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Rich – Double handed tapping, ala Michael Hedges or Kaki King.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Rich – I took tons of guitar lessons, & learned tons from them. I wouldn’t say it’s a path for everyone, but I owe a hell of a lot to my guitar teachers. Much more than I owe to false idols I’ve never met!
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Rich – I make my living as a teacher & I try to teach things that most guitar teachers don’t. My most important points are these: there are absolutely no short cuts, & you need to practice things slowly until you master them; & that you should rely on your own ear & intuition to guide your musical choices. If you think your solos/sounds suck, then go with it! Change the settings on your amp, move your fingers, learn a lick, whatever. You don’t have to land on the right answer straight away, but you do need to make an effort.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Rich – Focus on legato left hand movement.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Rich – Ummmmm.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Rich – A lot - depending on the room. Eddie Van Halen says tone knobs are only for bass & I get what he says. But sometimes a room is too bright/dark & a little tone adjustment can mean the world.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Rich – I wasn’t even aware people made that distinction any more. I’d guess I’d say people who consider themselves rhythm players are usually more musical than lead players.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Rich – No. As I grow older, I grow more & more bored with the guitar & what people do with it. I’m way more impressed by how a bass player phrases with the drummer & where they release their notes than how slick a guitar lick is. Although, I think Pat Metheny could make me ignore a bad band.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Rich – Joao Gilberto. There’s probably some magic in there.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Rich – Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve been all that impressed with any one guitar player recently. The landscape has shifted from the focus being on guitar athletics & I love that as a musician; but as a guitarist, I haven’t been hearing many people who have really wowed me. I quite like the guitarist from the Innocence Mission, Don Peris. And I’ve also recently played on the same bill with some great guitar players, like Rich Hinman & Sophia Johnson of The Toy Hearts. John Ceparano of Soundpool has a really amazing soundscape as well & a harmonic palette quite similar to mine, so I really love hearing him play.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Rich – I’m finally making good on my years of guitar work & producing a solo guitar album. But until that’s released, I’m really proud of the track “Good Life” on Rebecca Pronsky’s Viewfinder. It’s hard for me to pick out one thing in particular that I like. Even though I gave up the jazz path a long time ago, I guess I still see my playing/solos in that way; always shifting, always different, always influenced & changed by all the elements surrounding it. I wish I could remember my best live solo. & I wish I had taped it.
QRD – Anything else?
Rich – Thanks for including me in this! I have a lot of opinions about playing guitar & it was fun to get them all out!