with Mark Nelsen of The Electric Shepherd
Name: Mark Nelsen (yes, spelled Nelsen - not Nelson)
Bands: The Electric Shepherd
Listen to “Imitation Gardens Pt 1” by The Electric Shepherd
Listen to “Into The Forest Father/Andels Reprise” by The Electric Shepherd
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Mark – I learned how to play guitar on an old beat up classical acoustic guitar that my family kept around the house (mostly for looks). Nobody in my family knows the brand name or year. My first electric guitar was a baby blue Fender Strat.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Mark – Currently: guitar - White Fender Telecaster... pedal board - featuring fuzz/overdrive, analog delay, & wah-wah... amp - Fender Hot-Rod Deluxe Amp.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Mark – My Big Muff.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Mark – Fender Hot-Rod Deluxe... I favor Fender amps above all else because they contain the perfect blend of brightness & crunchiness. Fender guitars together with their amps sing like no other.… They are blues-rock’s best friend. Currently on the hunt for a vintage Twin Reverb.…
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Mark – Standard White Fender Telecaster.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Mark – If I had a custom guitar made for myself, I think my signature solid-body would resemble an orange or burgundy Gretsch Corvette crossed with an Airliner JB Hutto Montgomery with three different pickups.… It would be very light. Until then, I would like God to toss me a 60s-circa Rickenbacker 312 from the sky.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Mark – I have yet to own a loop pedal.… A fuzz pedal with a built in Wah/Analog Delay accessory would be pretty sweet.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Mark – 6 total - 2 electrics (1 solid body, 1 hollow body), 3 acoustics, 1 bass.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Mark – In my basement & in my car.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Mark – Texture, weight, tremolo/whammy bar.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Mark – These days, a brand new standard electric guitar made in Mexico or Asia is usually $300. $300 would be fair if American guitars were still made in America like they used to be.…
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Mark – I stick with what I get until I’m ready for a new guitar all together & that usually takes a while.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Mark – Not that thoroughly.…
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Mark – Not often.… My band has a solid live sound as it is, but I plan to experiment with new effects soon.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Mark – I change the overall tone/rig slightly depending on projects.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Mark – Orange Amp, Martin Acoustic Guitar, Airliner JB Hutto Montgomery (preferably orange colored - does that exist?), Fender Jaguar (it’s around the corner), the best condition vintage Silvertone acoustic you could find.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Mark – An influential, encouraging guitarist once sold me a custom Ibanez Artcore semi-electric that will never leave my collection. It was my primary guitar with The Electric Shepherd up until recently when I purchased my newest Tele, which fits exactly what I need. Wasn’t a fan of this Danelectro ‘59 reissue I bought at a novelty record shop... can’t really explain why, but I had to return it. Just didn’t feel right. Its sharp looks are deceiving. It’s like a greaser haircut in the form of a guitar & it wants to be a Rickenbacker reallllly badly.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Mark – Well, all digital amps sound like crap, like Line 6s & select Marshalls. They sound compressed, bottled, cheap, & dishonest - & they never seem to get loud enough! The only amps are tube amps as far as I’m concerned.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Mark – The Sunset-District Suite.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Mark – 14 years old.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Mark – I was not comfortable playing lead guitar until I was about 20, around the time I formed The Electric Shepherd. I had focused primarily on songwriting & rhythm guitar before that. There is still a lot to learn.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Mark – Because it screams & it confesses & forgives as often as it sins. It’s the most sexual of all instruments.…
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Mark – Rebellious types will naturally gravitate towards an electric guitar. If it’s not technically their first instrument, emotionally it will be their first instrument. You haven’t really lost your musical virginity until you’ve pick up an electric guitar.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Mark – It is my ally, my sword, my wishing well, my potion.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Mark – Robby Krieger, Jack White, Tony Iommi, Billy Corgan, Jerry Garcia, Jonny Greenwood, King Buzzo, Jason Simon, Pete Townshend, Dr. Know.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Mark – Not at all silly.… My acoustic guitars are all guys & my electric guitars are all ladies. Chivalry is important amongst instruments.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Mark – I’ve never harmed a guitar. Never saw the point. But from time to time I wonder about the thrill of destroying one.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Mark – Band rehearsals. Writing songs.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Mark – I’m not sure. I don’t like to keep track of these things.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Mark – Picks I borrow from friends & never return.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Mark – 10s - 10.5s.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Mark – Once every 4-5 months maybe.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Mark – Actually, I hardly ever break strings (knock on wood).
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Mark – That is a good question.…
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Mark – Boy, if I could afford a guitar tech.… But then again, a guitar tech almost makes me nervous. I take good care of my guitars. & there isn’t much to set up. I usually only have one guitar per live set; two guitars tops.…
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Mark – Standard E, open Amaj, drop D. I love dirty blues slide guitar open tunings. I want to experiment with more renditions of open tunings.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Mark – Reading chord tabs is as far as I go with sheet music. I learn new chords & new playing methods visually. I am self-taught & learn/play all by ear.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Mark – I am still figuring that out.…
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Mark – Sitar? Violin? Stringed instruments in general? If playing piano helps my guitar playing, I never noticed.… Drums was my first instrument & it helped immensely with my discovery of guitar playing. I had no real interest in playing guitar at first... rhythm comes before everything when learning a new instrument.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Mark – Flamenco/Classical. Maybe one day.…
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Mark – Jazz & thrash metal sweeps... But I am not a jazz guitarist nor am I metal guitarist
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Mark – Slide.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Mark – Travis picking. I’m getting there.…
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Mark – Never had an official guitar lesson, only the occasional chord exchange.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Mark – I’ll get back to you on that.…
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Mark – Using pedal dynamics with picking dynamics. There are lots of sporadic switcharoos within songs.…
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Mark – I can’t get enough of tremolos.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Mark – Hardly ever.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Mark – I think establishing oneself as a skilled rhythm guitarist/performer first can find a more unique lead guitarist in the person later on.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Mark – No, absolutely not. There are good bands & then there are good individual musicians. If the band has a virtuoso player, then that’s a plus; but a band takes on a singular entity & the band members must realize that. But also, if you are a solo artist/guitarist, then your backing band has to be a more than adequate. Otherwise you have no business having them back you live in the first place - you might as well perform by yourself. A band must always be good.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Mark – I wouldn’t want to own any of my idols’ guitars unless one of them donated a guitar to me feeling that I deserved it & had to care for it.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Mark – Jack White - he blends the classic with the new & its all his own. His guitar playing is a complete reflection of his personality & it’s more modern than anyone may think & its more than just blues-rock playing. Listen closely.