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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 Todd Hawthorne of Greensect
May 2013

Name: Todd Hawthorne
Bands: Greensect, The Bureaucracy, Unacceptable Celebrity Figure, Bunker, The New Rock N Roll Dynasty, Garcias You’re Welcome
Websites: None at the moment, Greensect FB page forthcoming soon (retro page)

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

Todd – Aria acoustic, el cheapo.  Don’t know what happened, I might have traded it for my first hollow body Vox.

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

Todd – Mesa Boogie 40W head > Marshall 4-12” cabinet Roland Space Echo > Wah Wah peddle > volume peddle > Flower digital echo/reverb pedal > Boss tremelo pedal.  Also sometimes use Sans Amp pre-amp pedal.

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

Todd – Guitars & Space Echo.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Todd – Mesa Boogie.  Power, workmanship, tube quality for the price.  Much less than the high-end hand wired, but on par quality wise.

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

Todd – Vox Bossman, sunburst hollow body, single cut away.  Built in distortion & tuner tone.  So cool looking, sounding, & features like no other.  An unusual guitar, not many made & very retro with that Gretsch/Johnny Marr sound!

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

Todd – A hybrid between a Danelectro, a Gibson hollow body, a Gretsch, & a Guild.  It would have pre-amp built in like my Vox & sound like the most heavenly dreamy 50s-60s classic tones that you ever hear Johnny Marr of the Smiths crank out, but with incredible feedback ready sustain!

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

Todd – A real space echo in a mini pedal!

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Todd – Five & one pink Strat that belongs to my daughter, but is technically mine too!

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Todd – Two of them I keep out on display stands & ready to play.  My others are in cases in closets in house & my daughter’s is in her room on stand.

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

Todd – Areas to store notes/sheet music, storage for basic cords & maybe one pedal.  More rugged & replaceable parts for sustainable lifecycle.

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

Todd – Sound/tones, workmanship, accuracy of neck & fretboard, quality of bridge/nut, quality of tuners, quality of pickup, overall aesthetics must be very pleasing.

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

Todd – New less than $1000, used less than $500

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

Todd – Usually stick with what I get; but I keep fret dressing, neck, & strings in good condition.

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

Todd – Moderately.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Todd – Sometimes, depends.  With Greensect I needed a lot of sound variety & power.  With Bureaucracy I am very fixed with a folky dreamy clean sound.

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

Todd – See above, depends on artists I’m playing with or sound I am trying to convey & sometimes on the particular song.

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

Todd – Guitars: Gretcsh Country Gentleman, Danelectro, Silvertone, Rickenbacher, Gibson ES series, Gretsch White Falcon, Fender Jazzmaster, Fender Jaguar, Fender Stratocaster, Taylor custom hybrid hollow body, Taylor 12 string acoustic, Rickenbacher 12 string electric, Taylor classical.

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

Todd – Low action fretboard, adjustable neck truss, lighter strings, built in pickup or output jack.

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

Todd – Aria acoustic, Dean Markley amp.

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

Todd – I like Boss pedals, I also like Moog pedals.  Don’t like the cheap distortion pedals.  Also not a big fan of many generic chorus & flanger pedals.  They are often cheesy sounding.

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

Todd – One of my original songs. I know few covers so usually default to those.

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

Todd – 18.

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

Todd – 44.

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

Todd – My first instrument & it has as certain amount of retro-machismo that I related to in earlier years.

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

Todd – No, probably keyboards or drums.  Once you learn good rhythm it’s easy to apply to most other instruments.  Keyboards teach music theory very easily.

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

Todd – Both, depending on mood or attitude or outcome.  But mostly ally!

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

Todd – Johnny Marr, Chet Atkins, Neil Young, Kevin Shields, Robyn Guthrie, George Harrison, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Bob Mould, Django Reinhardt, Buddy Holly, Robert Smith.

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

Todd – No, it’s a very personal connection.  Who am I to question BB King & his homosapien to instrument love?

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

Todd – In a Garcias You’re Welcome show I destroyed a very cheap Strat rip-off by using it like a pickax & hammering its shreds on the ground.  It was part of the show, performance art man!

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

Todd – I am working with a finger strengthener & have sought out friends that are more accomplished to teach me new licks.  My take on lessons.

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

Todd – A handful lately, but that can vary.  I’d like to make sure I play about an hour a day outside of band rehearsals.

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

Todd – I make my own with a pick punch.  Usually out of old credit cards or other plastic I find. Other than that I like light to medium picks.  I strum more than pick... been learning to pick & finger pick in the last few years.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Todd – Mediums, 12s.  Because I’m more of a rhythm player, but if I go light I’ll break them... I strum with hard attack.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Todd – Depends on the guitar & how often I use it.  Also if they look worn, sound dead or are dirty.  But for the guitars I play the most, when not playing often about 3 times a year.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Todd – Not as much as I used to!  Maybe 2-3 a year.

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

Todd – Strumming.  I’m getting better at things like hand fretting.  It’s limited me in the past & it took me a long time to realize that.  Tones are very much tied to technique for vibrating the strings solo or in harmony.

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

Todd – I usually set it up myself, but have been lucky enough to have techs help at times in my music career.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Todd – Standard concert C with capo.  But I have experimented with G & D key.  It’s just easier & I’m a bit lazy.  Also I don’t have enough guitars when playing live to have alternates set up & ready... this is the future for me as I evolve.

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

Todd – I write down in non-tablature, english.  I can’t read sheet music... I’ve been taught, but haven’t internalized it.

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

Todd – Between waist & stomach.

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

Todd – Bending my thumb over the top of the neck & grabbing instead of properly pressing it against the back of the neck.  Also sloppy strumming overall & with too much attack.

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

Todd – Keyboard/piano & drums/percussion.

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

Todd – Leads, slides, sweep picking, & muting.  I also want to grow my finger picking & use my thumb more.

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

Todd – Playing an intricate solo to a classical piece or some jazz, maybe one of Chet Atkins’s more complex tunes.

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

Todd – Capoing & transposing across tunings.

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

Todd – Probably tie between a capo & an ebow.

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

Todd – See above... more lead/picking styles.

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

Todd – Yes, from Scott Olin, a local guitar wizard/teacher in Raleigh, NC.

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

Todd – Not to let the “rules” limit you.  I know many players that are more accomplished than myself, but that have a hard time writing songs.  They are limited by the proper music theory chord progressions & arrangement rules.

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

Todd – Be sloppy, like walls of noize, & write in a way rebellious to music theory.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Todd – I love the old spring loaded versions that Fender & others built into amps.  I also like the analog tremelos.  Some of the new digital ones are getting very close to re-producing the old sound in a small pedal form factor.  I use a tremolo pedal, but it’s limited compared to the spring loaded analogs of the past.

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?

Todd – Quite a bit, that changes more than set up.  I tend to like a very middle of the road tone, but for some songs & pieces I go very low or high.

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

Todd – How long do you have?  In all seriousness, I appreciate both & value the player that can do both.  But often they act like they come from different planets.  The setup, guitar & rig can have a lot to do with the differences.  The most important differentiating distinction - more precision with leads.

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

Todd – Sometimes, but not very often.  I’m just not a fan of Yngwie Malmsteen, but appreciate where’s coming from & his talent.  I’m more song oriented overall.

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

Todd – Johnny Marr’s Gretsch or Billy from Chet Atkins’s country gentleman.  Because they are part of history & it would be like having them at my house in person!

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

Todd – Hmmm, how long do you have?  That’s too difficult to answer.  I’m a believer in Kevin Shields & Robyn Guthrie.  They both turn the guitar into many different instruments.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Todd – Email me & I’ll send you some stuff till I start playing live again.  Or on the Greensect/Common Thread split 12” - “Elem Tele 2”.

QRD – Anything else?

Todd – Nope, this was fun & an honor!