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QRD #61 - Guitarist Interview Series Part VIII
QRD - Thanks for your interest & support
about this issue
Guitarist Interviews:
Alan Bishop
Grégory Duby
Nathan Joyner
Nick Jonah Davies
Claudia Gregory
Matthew Filler
Julien Ottavi
Chris Brokaw
Andrea Vascellari
Jeff Barsky
Chas McKeown
Jean D.L.
Adam Cooper
Chris Summerlin
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Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
Guitarist Interview with Jeff Barsky of Insect Factory
April 2013
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.