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QRD #63 - Guitarist Interview Series IX
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Guitarist Interviews:
Chris Vaisvil
David M Birchall
Stef Ketteringham
Patrick Ogle
Xavier Watkins
Bill Berends
Todd Hawthorne
Michael Clamp
Eric Bessel
Benjamin LÝzninger
Benjamin Duvall
Tom Lugo
Peter Bingham
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Guitarist Interview with Bill Berends of Mastermind
May 2013
Bill Berends
Name: Bill Berends
Bands: Mastermind, The Berends Brothers Band, Treasures of the Spirit
Websites: billberends.commastermindband.comberendsbrosband.com

QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?

Bill – My very first guitar was a cheap, no name acoustic. The neck broke off when one of my brothers sat on it. My first “real” guitar was a Harmony F-hole archtop acoustic. I picked it out because it wasn’t so cowboy singer-songwriter looking. I sold it to my bass player (Kip Leming, Riot) & he still has it as far as I know.  My first electric guitar was a 1968 Gibson SG Standard, which I still have & play to this day. My parents got it for me new in 1968. They thought it would keep me out of trouble, which it probably did!

QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?

Bill – Guitar -> wire - > amp. I have dabbled with effects over the years, such as ring modulators, which can be heard on the Mastermind Excelsior! album, but my basic guitar sound has always been guitar-wire-amp. I rarely ever use pedals to “get a sound”, but only occasionally for special effects. With my band Mastermind I also used a guitar synthesizer, but that plays along side, or along with, the natural guitar sound like a second instrument. On occasion, depending on the gig - like the Mahavishnu band I play with - I will use a passive volume pedal. I have a tuner inline these days, but no effects that change the sound. Don’t need them, don’t care for them much, & they’re too much hassle.

QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?

Bill – My hands of course! Then the guitar & amp. A good quality wire or wireless is also helpful.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Bill – I’ve been playing a 100 watt Marshall JCM800 exclusively since I got in 1986. Why? Because it sounds great & has THAT sound I like so much. Depending on the gig, I will play it thru a full stack, half stack, or 2x12 Marshall cabinets. In my world there are two kinds of amps... Marshalls & not-Marshalls. I use Marshalls exclusively because of their distinctive sound, touch, & legacy.

QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?

Bill – For 35 years or so I played my 1968 Gibson SG Standard exclusively. It was the only electric guitar I owned! It’s been around the world with me & is the primary guitar I used on all Mastermind albums to date. It’s just a great sounding & playing guitar & easy access to the upper frets is a nice feature as well. The Gibson SG was THE sound of rock in my formative years.

QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?

Bill – It would be a Gibson, of course. An SG, no doubt since that is what I am most known for playing. It would be very close to the original ‘61 SG with a slightly different neck, more suited to my hands & playing style. A bit narrower & more rounded than your typical Gibson ‘60’s slim taper necks.

QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?

Bill – A box that makes any other amp sound like my Marshall!  What I would really like to see though is some advancement in guitar synthesizer technologies. If they can build a modeling guitar that simulates other guitars, why can’t they make a guitar that models a Moog synthesizer?

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Bill – It varies as guitars come & go, but I am down to about three that I play all the time.

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Bill – I leave them out generally, so I can pick one up & play anytime I like. Looking at them inspires me. When I store them they are locked away securely in a vault.

QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?

Bill – The new Gibson smell? A really good lock. Anti-gravity pads!

QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?

Bill – The Gibson logo, the sound, & playability.

QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?

Bill – As much as it takes I suppose. I have come to appreciate that expensive guitars do indeed play & sound much better. That generally tends to be well over $2,000 & often quite a lot more.

QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?

Bill – It depends on the guitar. I am not afraid to customize a guitar & with some lower end Epiphones I’ve owned over the years, I upgraded them with proper Gibson pickups & electronics. Generally speaking, these days, I just want to buy a stock guitar & have it be what I want it to be. I do tend to put Grover tuners on all my guitars.

QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?

Bill – Not so much. I read about something & if it appeals to me, then I go try it out in a store.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Bill – Not at all. I’ve been using the same basic setup all of my life... a Gibson guitar plugged into a Marshall amp. With the synthesizer rig, I have reduced it in size over time. I haven’t used it at all these past couple years.

QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?

Bill – I like all the variations of the classic Gibson-Marshall sound. Les Pauls, SGs, 335s, they all sound a bit different & I can easily get the variations in sound I want from them simply by turning the volume & tone knobs on the instrument.

QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?

Bill – I don’t really lust after gear, but I would love to have some Gibson Custom Shop Historic reissues & more classic Marshall amps. I’ve also been acquiring some lower wattage amps for recording. Marshalls of course... & one little Fender for variation.

QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?

Bill – Decent action & proper intonation are critical.

QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?

Bill – I only purchase Gibson guitars basically & they’ve all been wonderful. I really *love* my new 2012 Les Paul Standard. So much so I want another one. I’ve bought & traded a few others along the way looking for the ones that suit me the most. The only issue I’ve had with a guitar purchase was a new 2013 white SG Standard on which the white started turning pink around the edges. I took it back to the store & traded it for the used ‘61 Reissue SG, which is a superior instrument. Better wood I think. One purchase that pleased me is an inexpensive little Epiphone SG Junior I picked up on a whim. Indonesian made, it’s TV Yellow, which I have a weakness for, & was only $119... for that price it’s an amazing little guitar! I keep it laying about the house all the time & pick it up quite often. It kind of feels like a toy compared to the real Gibsons, so not something I would use on stage probably, but you never know. Still in all, it sounds pretty good, especially after I upgraded the pickup.

QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?

Bill – In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a Gibson guitar & Marshall amp fan. This is the sound of rock to my ear & how a guitar should sound. I really do not like the over-compressed nasally midrange sound of a lot of modern players - especially metal guys & shredders. It sounds fake to me... the sound of a circuit board or worse, digital modeling. I hate Line 6 & digital amp emulators with a passion. They sound like razor blades on my ears & even if they get manage to get close, sound-wise, the touch is nothing like a real guitar through a good amp.

QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?

Bill – I dunno... some blues lick probably, around the 3rd or 5th frets.

QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?

Bill – I started dabbling with the guitar when I was 10 or 11 years old, but I got very serious about learning to play when I was 13 years old... after I heard Cream. That blew my mind.

QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?

Bill – I’m a better player now than I’ve ever been, I think.

QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?

Bill – Because I can play it! LOL... I started off wanting to play piano, but I have a brother who was way ahead of me, so I turned to the guitar. I still play some keyboards & have a great appreciation for keyboard oriented rock music, like Emerson, Lake & Palmer who didn’t even have a guitarist. They are/were one of my favorite bands. I also have a passion for cello, such a soulful, expressive instrument.

QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?

Bill – No! The world needs more keyboard players!!

QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?

Bill – A little of both.

QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?

Bill – Eric Clapton with Cream (but not after). Alvin Lee. John McLaughlin with The Mahavishnu Orchestra. These guys influenced & inspired me the most, especially in the beginning.

QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?

Bill – I think it’s silly. My guitars don’t have names & I don’t refer to them as “she” or “her” either. That makes me crazy. It’s just a thing. An “it.”

QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?

Bill – The finish on my ‘68 SG is all but worn away to nothing. I did it by playing the shit out of it for 45+ years.

QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?

Bill – I generally just sit down & play music. Whatever strikes me. Sometimes I will work on scales or difficult fingerings to warm up for a particularly challenging task or gig. The past few years I’ve been playing with a Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute band called Treasures of the Spirit & that requires some warming up & practicing scales to be able to pull that stuff off. I play along with the TV or the radio... I just like to play all the time!

QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?

Bill – I generally get in at least 3 or 4 hours of playing every day. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?

Bill – Fender heavy picks. I like the way they feel & have used them my whole life.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Bill – D’Addario regular XL nickel wound .10 thru .46 gauge.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Bill – I used to change them all the time, before every gig... but that was when I only owned one guitar. Now I keep them on a bit longer, a month or two perhaps.  I change them when they start to feel dead, lose intonation, or get fret notches in them.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Bill – Almost never. In the past 10 years I can only recall breaking a string on stage twice. If they are going to break, they generally break right when I put them on. That has happened more times than I care to think about. I even complained to D’Addario about it & they sent me a bunch of strings, free, which was nice of them.

QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?

Bill – I tend to work more on picking than fingering, from a strictly technical perspective. Picking every note cleanly at high velocity can be quite challenging & still frustrates me at times.

QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?

Bill – I do it all myself, always have. Why? Because it’s easy to do & a lot cheaper! Plus I generally don’t like other people handling my instruments, getting their greasy DNA on them. Yuck.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Bill – Regular standard tuning. Why? Because that’s how a guitar is tuned. I’ve spent my whole life with those pitches in those places & don’t have any desire or need to change. I owned a 7-string for a little while to experiment with some lower tunings & I mastered it pretty well - you can hear it on the Mastermind Insomnia album - but it wasn’t me & I sold it. Plus it was an Ibanez... yuck.

QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?

Bill – I usually record ideas when I get them. I started off life sight-reading, but had such little use for it over the years that it is a skill that has been sadly neglected. At this point in life I wish I had kept up with it.  If I am looking at some guitar magazine or something, I look at the tablature because that tells you where to play the notes. Unlike some instruments, you can play the same note in several different places on a guitar, so ordinary sheet music isn’t really adequate for guitar, I don’t think.

QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?

Bill – Somewhere around mid-belly. I think holding a guitar down around your crotch looks both retarded (orangutan arms) & is really difficult to play. It puts undue amount of strain on your wrist. Damn you, Jimmy Page!

QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?

Bill – Not getting paid enough to perform.

QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?

Bill – Piano. The keyboard is the heart of western music & is a great way to learn how music theory works.

QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?

Bill – Be-bop jazz.

QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?

Bill – Becoming a millionaire.

QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?

Bill – Can’t think of any. Not really into tricks or “stunt guitar”, as Frank Zappa called it. I just play.

QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?

Bill – I like those new Dunlop Ergo Lok-Strap things. A strap lock you can use without changing the strap pins on the guitar is a great idea, & they’re much more inexpensive than other systems. So far I’m very pleased with them.

QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?

Bill – Making big money.

QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?

Bill – I took guitar lessons for a few months when I was a kid. Since the teacher played accordion & not guitar, I mostly learned sight-reading. I figured out the guitar on my own! I took some jazz-improv courses in college too. I also studied synthesizers at Princeton University, way back when they were something new.

QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?

Bill – How to make one single note sound good & the importance of actually having something to say on your instrument.

QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?

Bill – Buy a Gibson guitar & Marshall amp & listen to old Cream & Mahavishnu records.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Bill – I
don’t use one & think most people who do, over use them. I wouldn’t mind having one guitar with a Bigsby, but have no interest in the dive bomb stuff & adjusting little screws, springs & clamps. What a nightmare.

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?

Bill – Constantly.

QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?

Bill – A good guitarist should learn to be a good rhythm guitarist first.

QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?

Bill – No, of course not! I don’t generally listen to music exclusively for the guitar, although the guitarist better be good when there is one. At least interesting.

QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?

Bill – Whomever’s I could sell for the most amount of cash! Pretty self-explanatory. I don’t really care about famous memorabilia. 

QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?

Bill – Don’t know. I really don’t care about innovation as much as I care about being moved on an emotional level. There are tons of guys out there now who are mind-boggling technicians that just leave me cold.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Bill – On my albums & at my shows!!  I just released a new solo album called In My Dreams I Can Fly (2012) that has some nice rock playing on it. Listen to the Mastermind catalog for more fusiony & progressive stuff.

QRD – Anything else?

Bill – Buy my albums & come to the shows! LOL... thanks!!