with Benjamin Duvall of Ex-Easter Island Head
Name: Benjamin D. Duvall
Bands: Ex-Easter Island Head
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Benjamin – Falcon, cheap Stratocaster copy of indeterminate origin. Traded for an Argos brand acoustic guitar with a schoolmate. Despite being technically woeful, it is still being used as part of my current setup.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Benjamin – Guitar > Lead > Amplifier - I’m currently not interested in using any digital or analogue guitar effects & haven’t been since starting Ex-Easter Island Head - it’s all about mechanical/physical alterations to the guitar & strings to elicit unusual sounds & resonances.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Benjamin – Electric guitar & amplifier equally.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Benjamin – Fender Blues Junior because it’s my only valve amp & most expensive one I own, thus justifying more frequent usage.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Benjamin – The nature of our music - treating electric guitars as percussion instruments/sound sources - means that I more or less have four guitars of equal importance for writing & performing, but the one I’m most fond of is a Squire Telecaster Custom, because it’s the most expensive & comparatively sounds like it too & also because it holds its tuning the longest.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Benjamin – Behind the bridge pickup, baritone scale length, several outputs, no frets, & really good machine heads.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Benjamin – About seven six stringers & three basses, nearly all of them acquired for £50 or less (or nothing) & most of them very much sounding & looking like it too! It’s a bit of an old cliché talking about how each guitar has its own quirks & positive idiosyncrasies, regardless of how good or bad it is, but it’s most definitely true.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Benjamin – How the body sounds when struck, how well it holds its tuning & how solid it looks.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Benjamin – I find a noticeable improvement in quality from bad to good around the £150 mark - after that “good” becomes entirely subjective I feel - around the £150 mark they tend to last longer, have better intonation, tuning, pickups, etc.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Benjamin – Customization is a very large part of how I approach music making, but usually doesn’t involve what you would normally think of as guitar upgrades – I’ve changed the odd machine head or saddle, but never any pickups or anything like that. Primarily it’s about mechanical alterations to the guitar, which can run the gamut from marking the best place on the body to hit with a drum stick, or inserting objects underneath or on top of the strings to create a “third bridge” in the string field in the manner of a prepared piano. (More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3rd_bridge)
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Benjamin – So much of the music I create is concerned with tone & texture that it’s constantly changing in service of the particular piece I’m playing - nearly always defined by being clean & very harmonically rich.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Benjamin – That it stays in tune & is particularly robust - it took me a long time to learn not to leave it propped up with an amp lead still plugged in, leading to lots of hilarious/tragic jack socket wrenchings.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Benjamin – Like: Fender & Vox amps because they have character & are also quite transparent for putting your own character onto them.
Dislike: Randall amps, because I have one & it’s given me naught but trouble & sounds shite. Guitars are mostly aesthetic reasons - Flying Vs, Firebirds, Warlocks, & Les Pauls because they all look rubbish, frankly.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Benjamin – 14, but not a shred of originality until 18 or so - getting a terrible “200 FX in one box” budget pedal really opened my eyes to playing with texture, delay, distortion & started me on the path to developing my own sound.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Benjamin – In terms of actually playing the guitar as a fretted instrument with riffs & chords, 2007-2010 when I was playing in a fairly proggy/post-punk/weird band that demanded a lot of unusual time signatures & complicated melodies, but in terms of playing with extended techniques as I do now, I’m learning how to best use those approaches & their strengths & limitations on a weekly basis. Certainly I think that my current playing feels like the most honest expression of how I’d like to play music for the foreseeable future.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Benjamin – The electric guitar is pretty democratic - you can move beyond the basic mechanics of getting a sound out of it & start realizing your creative intent very quickly, even if you’re not particularly technically gifted - more people make a creative virtue out of their inability to play the electric guitar “properly” than on any other instrument I think.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Benjamin – Yes because of the reasons outlined above, but no because on a practical level you can get yourself into some unique opportunities by being able to play a less common instrument. You will probably get more interesting opportunities out of being a really, really average harpist than in being a merely good guitarist.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Benjamin – In all honesty, the biggest influences are my friends, peers, & countless small bands that I’ve seen over the years; just because you can relate more to each other, learn things first hand, observe closer.
Otherwise: Joey Santiago, Glenn Branca, Ian Williams, Efrim Menuck, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (only up to first Mars Volta album though), & Robert Fripp (particularly the Fripp & Eno collaborations - the riff at the start of “Evening Star” is literally the sound of a guitar gently weeping).
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Benjamin – Severed one completely in half by leaving it propped at a stupid angle in a stupid place & not reacting fast enough when a very drunk person started to fall onto it.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Benjamin – Listen to lots of other musicians talk about playing.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Benjamin – 1-5 hours is the real answer, 10+ is what I would like it to be.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Benjamin – Completely different for everything we play - our pieces are based around each guitar being tuned to one chord the whole time & altered with additional bridges. We arrive at the chords through what sounds good & has the most potential for different preparations - a lot of the time the chord might only be two or three notes doubled an octave up or down.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Benjamin – For large ensemble/workshop pieces I’ve used graphic notation to teach some parts - which is simple, lots of fun, & means you can explain things in non-specialist terms. For sketching ideas a mixture of tab, graphic notation, & very occasionally some primitive stave notation.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Benjamin – Not playing often enough.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Benjamin – Coach bolt, allen key, percussion mallet.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Benjamin – Stop playing with a pick/frets/riffs, acquire several worthless guitars.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Benjamin – I think the best guitar players make it impossible to distinguish between the two.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Benjamin – Yuri Landman - he’s not really a traditional guitar player but he designs instruments that are descendants of the electric guitar. His ideas & designs suggest ways for how guitar playing might evolve, with third bridges, microtones, & non-western scales.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Benjamin – Over on our Soundcloud - https://soundcloud.com/ex-easter-island-head - & on the two records we have coming out later this year on Low Point Records (www.low-point.com); Mallet Guitars Three & Large Electric Ensemble. Thanks!