with Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Name: Jeff Barsky
Bands: Primarily Insect Factory & Plums, but I freelance around the DC area & play (or played) with BLK Tag, Catoctin, Blue Sausage Infant (RIP!), Authorization, etc.
Websites: http://www.soundcloud.com/insectfactory, http://insectfactory.bandcamp.com
Listen to "Globes"
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Jeff – My first guitar was a nylon string classical that my parents rented for me (so I’d have an instrument for lessons) for a few years before buying me one. My first electric was a Yamaha with a humbucker & a single coil pickup, a whammy bar, a volume knob, & a tone knob.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Jeff – There really isn’t any “typical” way I do things - it depends on a lot of variables, like the instrumentation of the project I’m playing with & the room I’m going to be playing in, etc. For solo stuff, I run a series of Headrush delays, but when I’m playing with other people who are also filling up space, I try to let things breathe differently.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Jeff – It’s all an extension of the same instrument; & on that token, it’s all an extension of my body & it all greatly impacts my ability to respond with sound in a way that is connected.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Jeff – My favorite amp is a small Fender 112 solid state amp - one 12 inch speaker. It’s simple & has a beautiful & bright tone. It’s not extremely loud, so it needs to be mic’d at shows or I can’t use it. It doesn’t have that huge ROCK sound. Otherwise, I’m really into my Sovtek M50 head & my Fender Bassman combo, but I tend to plug right into the PA just as often these days.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Jeff – Fender Tele & recently a Tele made by Bob Logan in Wisconsin. The attractive features are the pure simplicity - 2 knobs, 2 pickups, fixed bridge, great intonation.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Jeff – I’ve played Teles for over 20 years - that’s all I need.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Jeff – I wouldn’t have anything special, I don’t think. The things I tend to look for are durability & pedals that are silent when switching on/off.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Jeff – A nylon string, 2 electrics (Teles), a Fender jazz bass. Have talked to Logan about building me a baritone. His work is beautiful & solid. (http://logancustomguitars.com/)
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Jeff – In cases on a floor in a room.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Jeff – Nothing. Maybe personal ninjas?
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Jeff – Simplicity.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Jeff – Under $100. You’re likely to be freer to take chances with an instrument that isn’t a piece of furniture.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Jeff – Stick with it, unless you call getting graphite saddles to be an upgrade. I break strings with the banging around I do & graphite has probably saved me hundreds of dollars of low A strings!
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Jeff – I rarely buy any type of equipment. I don’t think I’ve bought a new pedal in 5+ years, but am in the mood for a new fuzz/OD pedal. Not sure which route I’ll go! I love the Turbo Rat, but those switches are awful.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Jeff – With Insect Factory, I’ve played directly into the P.A. for years. I don’t want the signal getting hot & affecting the layers I’m building & I also have grown to love the pure sound without anything getting hot. With Plums, yes - I play into different equipment almost every time.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Jeff – I genuinely don’t really like thinking about things like guitar tone - I find it boring & not as interesting as volume & dynamics & the room.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Jeff – None.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Jeff – David Fair’s article, “How to Play Guitar” should be plastered right on the back of the guitar. Same with Beefhart’s “10 Commandments” for guitar players.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Jeff – I’ve tried twice to get into Jazzmasters & Jaguars. Beautiful sounding guitars with horrid playability. I couldn’t play on them hard without feeling like they were going to break.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Jeff – Nothing really. Fender amps have been cool. I tend to find something I like & end my search because I’m impatient.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Jeff – I usually fade in notes with the volume knob to make sure the pots are clean.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Jeff – Twelve.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Jeff – Twelve years old - before I took any lessons & had no idea what the “rules” were for chords, etc. All downhill from there. I wish it was all recorded back when I had a true lack of any knowledge whatsoever & was just discovering the connection between my will to make sound & the actual experimentation coming out of the amp!
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Jeff – It’s customizable. You can detune a single string & recontextualize the entire instrument.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Jeff – Sure!
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Jeff – I don’t know - both?
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Jeff – The earliest pair of Def Leppard guys - Pete Willis & Steve Clark. Then probably Fripp, Sharrock, Keith Richards, Mary Timony, Johnny Ramone, Keith Levene, John Fahey, Sandy Bull, Terrie Ex, Neil Young. That Meat Puppets dude. Chris Brokaw’s sheer honesty & versatility. Having said all that, I’m way more into performances (live or on a record) than specific people. Larry Coryell has some badass records, which account for about 1.9% of his output.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Jeff – Yes.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Jeff – I’ve never really done any damage.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Jeff – I just turn on my 4 track & see what sounds good. Practicing is just as much about practicing my ears as it is my instrument.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Jeff – I am most happy with my output when I’m playing frequently & recording, but I also really love not getting to play for a week or two & then picking a guitar up.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Jeff – I love the Dunlop black ones with the grip, & the dark grey ones with the grip - they’re nylon. I cut them up with a knife & scratch the strings with ‘em. They sound great.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Jeff – 11s on one Tele, 10s on the other. They just sound best with those particular guitars’ setups.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Jeff – Every 2 days when I’m on tour playing with rock bands. With Insect Factory, I don’t tour for more than a week at a time & the playing is low impact, so rarely.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Jeff – When I didn’t change strings frequently, every three shows - without fail! I found that 2 was my threshold for not breaking strings. On day three I’d break several! Ha-ha. I’d be scrambling mid-song for the right gauge, etc.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Jeff – When I play live & get excited my right hand just kinda flails around rhythmically - guitars can be forgiving that way on a right hand. My left isn’t nearly proficient. Oh - I’m not a lefty. (My wife is a lefty, so I’m imaging her kind (goofy foot) might be confused!)
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Jeff – I try to set it up myself, but if I don’t get it right, I go to my place in Silver Spring.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Jeff – Generally standard, but I manipulate that by playing with cut-up capos. I have one that I cut right around the high ‘G’ string that I’m particularly fond of! I also like tuning down strings slowly as I’m playing. If I’ve tuned down several strings in a set, I sometimes end the performance in some weird tunings!
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Jeff – A combination - I can read music, although I’m slowly forgetting how to do so in a practical manner - I just record into my phone or 4 track.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Jeff – With Plums it’s pretty low - I like a lot of strap room to rest the guitar flat on surfaces. With Insect Factory it’s usually flat in my lap.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Jeff – Tuning too precisely. It rarely matters that much. Plus, surprises can force you into some fresh territory.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Jeff – Sax. Anything with pitch bending ability - it can help you move out of safe diatonic spaces & start listening more to vibrations & air & human breath.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Jeff – Not in particular.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Jeff – Nothing, really!
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Jeff – Putting it away when I find I’m just noodling & done for the night.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Jeff – I bought these triangles (percussion instruments) at the $1 store about 7 years ago, & the metal rods used to hit it have been in my guitar case ever since. They make great percussive sounds when you wedge them in the lower strings.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Jeff – Sweep arpeggio picking.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Jeff – I studied for a year in college (classical guitar) & took lessons privately for a few years prior to college. I learned the rigidity of the “rules” so I could decide for myself what side of breaking those rules I wanted to exist on. But really - recorded music is a lesson, right?
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Jeff – I’m not sure that I’m the kind of person who should be giving guitar lessons. (Although I do happen to be a grade school teacher.) I would tell people to listen carefully. & I would teach people how to play the spaces instead of just the notes.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Jeff – Be me? Not because I’m doing anything that’s that original, but because everyone who does anything probably does so in a distinct way.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Jeff – Annoying, but they can spring up some surprises. You go to hit a note after just doing a divebomb & find that it’s out of tune!
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Jeff – Constantly! I try to think about every possible variable & mess with it.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Jeff – Egos.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Jeff – No - I cannot.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Jeff – One of those triple neck guitars that the Cheap Trick dude played - it’s ridiculous! Not even sure I’d be able to hold it right.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Jeff – I’m not sure about sheer innovation, but I’ve loved a lot of Loren Connors’ recent output - purely on a soulful level.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Jeff – I’m real proud of the last Insect Factory LP, Melodies from a Dead Radio. Stream/buy at Bandcamp! New split LP coming this summer (‘13)!
QRD – Anything else?
Jeff – Nope - thanks! This was fun.