with Stef Ketteringham of Shield Your Eyes
Name: Stef Ketteringham
Bands: Shield Your Eyes
Listen to "Drill Your Heavy Heart (Live)" by Shield Your Eyes
Listen to "Sergeant Major Lonely & Queen Bee Sadness" by Shield Your Eyes
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Stef – A nylon-string classical guitar that my Dad owned but hadn’t learnt to play. It’s in a poor state now, but I still play on it sometimes & I recorded a song on it in our last recording sessions.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Stef – My Fender Stratocaster into a Dunlop treble boost pedal into hopefully a 70s Fender Twin amp.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Stef – I would say my guitar. But also, no one ever says the importance of using good cables; a bad lead can ruin the signal reaching the amp.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Stef – These days for tours & recording sessions I hire a Fender Twin amp from a friend down the road. It’s a 70s one. I also used it to get some twats off my backdoor step last weekend.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Stef – My Fender Stratocaster. The features that make it such are more that it’s what I’ve been playing since I was 17, so I’ve gone through so many stages of learning on that guitar & done so many gigs & bands with the same guitar, broken & fixed it many times & I still love holding it & meandering away on it sat down. A significant feature is that I’ve removed some springs from the back & set it up so the bridge sits proud to the body, so I can lean on the bridge for melodic & feral effect & that’s gone from being something I found fascinating at first to now it feels like second or first nature to me. The other things I’ve done are cut the scratchplate back to only keep enough to cover the wiring hole because I think the sunburst wood looks beautiful, & I put a Lace Sensor pickup in the bridge about ten years ago when the old one unwound itself & the middle pickup is disconnected. I had the neck refretted a couple of years ago, which felt like a nice milestone to reach with my guitar. It is the only guitar that I’ve bought new & it’s got that thing of being what I saved up for with my first job.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Stef – The exact answer is 6. I’ve listed them:
Fender Stratocaster, mid 90s American deluxe, left-handed, sunburst. Lovely.
Fender Stratocaster, mid 90s American deluxe, left-handed, black, it’s ok.
Fender Stratocaster, mid 90s American deluxe, right-handed, blue, it’s in bits.
Arbiter electric double cutaway thing, right-handed, sunburst, it’s really nice.
Vintage SG copy, right-handed, red, it’s a decent cheap guitar.
That nylon acoustic I said about, right-handed, I don’t know its make.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Stef – In my bedroom.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Stef – That’s an amazing question. Sadly I can’t think of something.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Stef – I’m into buying & owning as few guitars as I can possibly get away with, bearing in mind my main hobby has been playing the guitar. I don’t want to spend time trawling through eBay or guitar shops looking for another bit of tat to put in my room. I only get a guitar if I really have to for some very pressing reason; the main one being if you use lots of different tunings, then you’ll probably need a few guitars for playing live. But I would say the two things people don’t check enough when buying electric guitars is if it sounds good at very very high volume & if it stays in tune well enough. The good thing about checking these things in shops is that the first involves turning an amp up to 120 decibels for a good while & the other involves twatting the thing about a bit.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Stef – Whatever! For instance I found my Vintage SG in a cash converter for £115 & there’s nothing wrong with that thing at all. (That’s Vintage as in the brand, not that I found a vintage Gibson SG in a second-hand shop for £115). I bought my Arbiter on eBay quite recently for £375 & it’s a really lovely motor. I mean, that is a lot of money, but it’s probably more of a nice guitar.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Stef – Yeah I’ve mucked about with my Strats quite a bit to make them suit me more, the others are kind of as I found them. Most upgrades I’ve done have been prompted by an actual failure of some sort, something that needed replacing because it was breaking.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Stef – I suppose I have, but I’m really into this Fender Twin I was banging on about. I feel very settled on my setup now & it’s very simple really. It feels nice to hire a great amp from a friend.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Stef – It would be called the Mutilator. It would just totally mute everything which would be very useful during band practices, I’d press it in-between songs for when we’re talking about other stuff like sport or loneliness.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Stef – Just the sound of my mate’s Fender Twin turned up full, with that boost pedal saturating the signal quite a bit more. Then I control all that potential pandemonium on the guitar’s volume knob. To use a comparison that everyone can understand, that’s the equivalent of buying a CR500, pouring in 5 liters of a fuel substance not approved by the ACU & then spending half the lap trickling around at jogging pace whilst you recover from the insanity of what happens when you twist the throttle back over all those bumps.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Stef – None! That fetishist stuff to do with amps & pedals & stuff give me the heeby jeebies to be honest, it always made me feel a little depressed hearing people rattle on about buying this or that bit of branded kit, & pedals in particular, just the sheer amount of consuming you can start doing if you go down the pedal route is frightening. Wait is “heebie jeebies” an old racist term? Sorry if so. What I mean is I stubbornly don’t want to own any bit of gear I haven’t been forced to admit I absolutely need. I’ve always had a sinking feeling when I see guitarist setting up their pedal boards before a gig, I suppose I’ve always equated more pedals will mean less care about touch & soul. I’m meaning people pursuing the lead-guitar in a rock band thing, but using pedals to get there - that twat out of Muse would be an example. I’m not meaning people that are truly exploring sound & are not rock music as such. Ah fuck it; there are loads of exceptions to the rule I was trying to make anyway.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Stef – Good intonation & tuning stability, because when you’re learning it’s easy to be insecure that it’s your fault if chords sound out of tune, when it might just be the intonations shagged. Which can usually be solved just by setting it up well, especially if it’s an electric guitar. Low action helps beginners a lot I think. Which for people that might be in that situation means it helps if the strings are quite close to the neck. High action is when the strings are set further away from the neck, there’re benefits to that too, but when first learning low action is probably better. If there’s anyone in London who’s learning & would like their guitar looked at a bit & has been put off by that muso stuff that can often occur often in music shops, then I’d be happy to check the setup for free if that can help.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Stef – Seriously, I buy so little guitar tat stuff that I can’t think of anything. Stay away from cheap eBay capos that have too tight a spring mechanism.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Stef – Yeah well I suppose I can’t help but assume all the brands are just remarketing the same old tired shit whilst downing production standards as low as possible whilst they do whatever they can to stay afloat during the financial crisis. Surely the combination of escalating prices of materials in particular metals & so many people on tighter budgets for non-essential items than before, the most obvious way for large manufacturing companies to cope is to strip build-quality back to within an inch of the warranty agreement. Companies like Marshall get away with it because there’s a load of photos of Jimi Hendrix using Marshall stacks in 1967 & that’s their marketing sorted forever, obviously the amps are complete dog shit now compared to what they were back then. A huge amount of people buy amps because of their name, which was usually created in an era when production standards were much higher.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Stef – Well it might be any set of notes at all, but last night it was Rory Gallagher’s version of Tore Down. Freddie King’s version is shit.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Stef – 14.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Stef – In that whole list of guitarists you’ve interviewed, I’d love to be the one who doesn’t say “now”. Just whenever I’ve had the bit between my teeth & whatever was coming out was what I wanted at the time, regardless what I’d think if I heard it now. Maybe it’s just something to make you feel better at the time of doing it.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Stef – Why do I think a guitar fits me more so than other instruments? The answer is yes.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Stef – Yeah, why not? It’s better than going out & mugging people or becoming a stupid clown. Or watching whatever shit some television company is bolloxing out.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Stef – Rory Gallagher was the first & still the main. Anything he did from Taste until when Wilgar Campbell quit as his drummer is beautiful & for me the absolute cornerstone of my thoughts on guitar music. I love John McLaughlin’s ultra-spraying style on the first Mahavishnu record. I love Danny Kirwin’s fierce vibrato style of lead playing & I’m sure a lot of what Peter Green is credited for was actually Kirwin; Eric Bell was totally amazing & audacious on the early Thin Lizzy albums, wonderful & strange; & very recently I’ve got into Bill Orcutt & I’m really excited to have heard something as amazing as that recently. Obviously the list could go on & on & I’ve only mentioned the out-&-out virtuosos. It’s a shame to note, but all of the people I’ve listed were truly amazing for only a few years, before either a meltdown or just becoming mediocre. I think people do lose their spark & play themselves out. In Gallagher’s case, I think he just got too good at guitar, too fluent, & his stuff after ‘72 doesn’t have that sense of risk that it might fall apart. Maybe lead guitarists sound best when they’re at the roof of their abilities, out on a limb, supply lines cut. I like the guitarists who would play it different every time, songs having a loose feel for a different expression each time, Gallagher’s a great example of that. Taste for me are the ultimate band. When I was 12 & started raiding my Dad’s record collection I was really lucky that he owned the two Taste studio albums, I’d be so melodramatic as to say pretty much my whole life since has been a direct consequence of that.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitars)?
Stef – Yeah I do. I’d be ashamed to treat people the way I do my guitars. Ignoring them for days on end, occasionally picking one up & twatting the shit out of it until it’s made the particular sad screaming sound I was hoping for, just so I feel better about myself.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Stef – I carved off the bottom horn from both my Strats because it’s pointless & gets in the way when you’re right upstairs in the treble frets.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Stef – Just a lot of absent-minded thinking I suppose.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Stef – 60mm Dunlops.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Stef – 11-49 D’Addarios.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Stef – Every gig.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Stef – Both pretty good or more, but both really prone to muscle memory playing which is something I’m thinking it’s time again to play away from at the moment. Would always like the whole thing to feel more & more natural.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Stef – Well I’d love to say all the time, but the reality is it goes that sometimes I just really want to play & sometimes those times fall on at a time when I can. It ended up being quite a lot I suppose. & also a fair bit of noncommittal noodling too, just inconsequential stuff to pass time.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Stef – Most Shield Your Eyes songs are in one of these tunings:
D A D F*A D
E x D*G*A*D*
F* x x A*C*D*
E x x x C*E
x means a missing string. Then capo-ing within those as well.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Stef – Just playing around with something & remembering bits, I don’t mind if I don’t get it back to exactly how the idea started. The only thing I’d write down are new tunings I’ve landed on & lyrics.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Stef – Another totally amazing question! & the answer is midway.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Stef – Always need to be wary of muscle memory & not let too much of it creep in to new ideas.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Stef – I’ve never asked the two outside fingers on my fingerpicking hand to do anything, but actually I’d prefer to think that it obviously didn’t come naturally to me so I’ll leave it be.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Stef – That thing about putting graphite shavings into the nut when changing strings & it helping the guitar to stay in tune, I wish I knew that when I started playing in bands.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Stef – I’d just like to feel more fluent at getting into a state of total spray. That sound like you’ve just left it to bounce on the rev-limiter, too stubborn to change up. When less is not more. I’ve looked the word “less” up & it means the opposite of “more.”
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Stef – No, I did the opposite of that, I taught myself to play & kept it a secret from my school friends, because some of them could already play & I didn’t want them to know I was trying now too. It felt great having a secret. People have less cool secrets these days, which is because of the internet.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Stef – I would teach them that it’s okay to start writing you own ideas & riffs & things & songs right from the start, it can be a more rewarding way of learning for some people & I suppose it’s what I did.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Stef – Singing & lyrics.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Stef – Make the bridge on their guitar sit up from the body & muck about with those tunings I wrote down.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Stef – Great! It’s a great way of removing yourself from being bound to that whole thinking of there only being 12 notes.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Stef – When you’re running a Fender Strat into a Fender Twin, you’re gonna want to turn your guitar’s tone away from treble or gigs will start looking like that scene in Biggles.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Stef – Lead guitarists, if male, are the ones talking to attractive women after gigs, rhythm guitarists are the ones talking to the barman about stout or simply crying. Female lead guitarists are for some reason the only rare type of guitarist.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Stef – Yep. Same could be said for drums, even when the other members are all shit, as in really fucking badly shit, shit at their instruments & god-awful at singing their trite & banal lyrics, like totally appallingly shit & over-celebrated & devoid of any merit or worth other than the drumming, Led Zeppelin for example.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Stef – You can never be sure that you’ve heard someone’s influences, but I would say Bill Orcutt.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Stef – At our gigs.
QRD – Anything else?
Stef – Nothing that I should burden you with.