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QRD #66 - Guitarist Interviews X
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Guitarist Interview with Denny Kopp of Above Us The Waves
February 2014
Kopp Archtops
Name:  Denny Kopp
Bands:  Played with LN (Gary Murray), Jessica Bailiff, & others.  Solo project was Above Us The Waves
Websites:  kopparchtops.com

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

Denny – 1965 Hagstrom 1 & I still have it.  Have a matching bass too.

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

Denny – My rock stuff would be my personal Kopp 419 Semi-Hollow, my Hagstrom, or my Duo Sonic.  The first pedal is a Goodrich Volume from way back... into a DD-5 to get me stereo.  The DD-5 then takes me to my main amp after going through the NeverEndingForeverPedal (RV-3) & a tremolo.  The DD-5 also goes out to my satellite amp, but through PS-3 & PS-5 pitch shifters.  These allow me to simulate distortion, add multi-tap delay, scratch sounds, etc.  When I (try to) play jazz, it’s a Kopp Betty Swing archtop straight into my main amp.

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

Denny – The guitar & a pocket full of ideas.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Denny – A ‘90s Custom Shop Fender Blues Deluxe.  Some one told me it is a Bassman at heart & all I really know about it is that it stays clean when you crank it up & I absolutely love it.

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

Denny – Probably my Kopp 419 Semi Hollow.  I love the tones it yields with independently wired Volume & Tone controls & the P-90 Stacked Humbuckers just seem easy to get the right sounds & dynamics from.

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

Denny – I don’t believe I would have a signature guitar & chuckle at the idea.  Thing is, I’m actually a guitar maker by trade now & my signature is inside over 100 guitars out there.

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

Denny – Not sure I would have one of these either, but a pedal that sweeps tone would be useful.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Denny – Nine.  My Hagstroms & Fender Duo-Sonic.  Then my 16” & 17” Betty Swings, 419 Semi-Hollow, Zigara & Runabout parlor acoustics, & a Koa 000 size that were all build by myself.

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Denny – All over the house.  Out of the case & ready to play! I have a humidifier on my furnace & it helps to keep them out in the winter.

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

Denny – Dual neck cradles on each side of the storage pocket.  An alarm that tells the owner when to put water in the humidifier would be cool & save a lot of repair costs.

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

Denny – Quality of construction first & foremost.  It’ll get used & maybe abused & needs to hold up.  After that, if it suits me & my playing.

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

Denny – I have a $200 guitar as well as a $4500 guitar, so that’s a bit of a tricky question.

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

Denny – I’ll do whatever I need to do to get it to “feel” right.  Usually pickups & wiring will do that, but considering that I’m a guitar maker by trade, you could say that I took modifying to the extreme end of the spectrum.

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

Denny – Quite a bit.  Cost, function, design, aesthetics... it all comes into play.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Denny – Nope.  I could live without the effects if I had to, but not that custom Deluxe.

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

Denny – It’s always been about the song & what it needs.

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

Denny – Really not any.  Every piece of gear that I ever desired, I found the means to acquire.  I found out that a lot of them were not at all what I really needed & a few are things that I’d never go without.

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

Denny – Tuning stability, action, & intonation.  At that point, the player knows not what they “need” or “like”.  They’ve only begun a journey into music.

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

Denny – Those mid-90s reissue AC30s were bad.  I bought one & it took three to get one that wouldn’t die after only a week.  Best one is my Creme Blues Deluxe.  All I know is that it is some custom shop thing & I just love it.  Not sure of more about it, but I did score it at a great price.

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

Denny – As I am a guitar maker, I’m finding that I like hand made gear more & more.  You get a lot better quality over production gear.

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

Denny – Whatever that melody is that is currently rolling around in my head... just to get it out.  When checking out a new guitar, I play a couple of my old tunes that pick, strum, & use harmonics & such, just to hear how expressive the guitar can be.

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

Denny – 20-ish.  A little earlier in life, but started to take it seriously in my 20s.

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

Denny – I may have been cool in the 90s, but I hope that I’ve yet to get to the top of the plateau.

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

Denny – It’s limitless! Great for exploring & song-smithing by yourself.

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

Denny – I don’t see why not.

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

Denny – Totally my ally.

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

Denny – Gary Murray & Torey Freeman.  The only tunes that I know how to play were written by these guys & myself.  Later on, I found Alan Sparhawk & Mick Turner & they kinda shattered my idea of what guitars could do, so I’d have to give them props for inspiration.  All of these guys, save Alan, currently play guitars that I have made for them.  & that’s a total honour for me to hear my influences using guitars that I have made.

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

Denny – Not at all.  A couple of my guitars are Ladies & a couple of them are Dudes.  In fact, my Zingara parlour size archtop is my little drinking buddy.  We sit with a glass of malt & learn new chords & lines together all the time!

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

Denny – I banged my Hagstrom I into the doorway & cracked the resoglass near the jack.  Nothing a little epoxy couldn’t fix, but I still feel bad.  Back in my early punk rocker days, our band hard wired a guitar to an amp & threw it to the crowd to let them smash it up.  It was really stupid to do as they killed it in about two fell swoops & we were hoping to have a bit more action out of it.

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

Denny – Listening & imagining the guitar in my head.  Back in the day, when I was doing shows as an opener in Above Us The Waves, I was too busy to practice.  I’d play a tape of my tunes in the car on the way to work & back & imagine playing in my head.
That really helps to know your tunes inside & out.

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

Denny – I play about an hour or two a day.  Consider that I’m a guitar maker & repairman now & I can say that I have a guitar in my hands about 10-12 hours a day though.

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

Denny – Those DAVA things.  They have rubber on them & my fingers are often too smooth from sanding to hold a regular pick.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Denny – I prefer 12s with a wound G & Thomastik Flatwounds at that.  Perfect tone & balance for me.  On my electric guitar (my 419) I use SIT 11s with a plain G.  Just something that I got used to from stringing it up for demo purposes & have grown to like.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Denny – Not very often.  Only when they lose intonation.  I don’t have sweat/rust issues.  I’m lucky in that department.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Denny – I have never broken a string in my life.  As a guitar maker & repairman... if you break your string, there is a burr or something at your bridge or nut.  Get a file & fix it.

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

Denny – Used to be my right hand (strumming & picking), but I’m so out of practice now from not playing live.

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

Denny – I’ve always done my own.  & my friend’s guitars too.  That’s how I started in my trade.  Setting intonation & choosing string gauge for altered tunings was my specialty back in the day.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Denny – Standard.  I never drop or alter.  There’s enough magic there that it’ll take my whole life to find only a portion of it.

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

Denny – I used to thing tab was cool, but now that I’m more learned on the instrument, I see it as inaccurate & lacking in conveying information.  So now I prefer sheet music, but will not be afraid to scribble & draw on it too.  Chord blocks are how I actually write down my own songs.

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

Denny – Not too low or too high.  I don’t want to cramp the wrist of my left hand.

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

Denny – I wish I would not try to play in position as much.  I really need to loosen up & get around the neck more.

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

Denny – Drums.  Bass.  Zither.  Organ.  Anything that makes music.  Listen to a sax player & then cop his lines.  It’s all about inspiration to me.  Drums or percussion would be a good thing for most guitar players... get your rhythm in shape.

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

Denny – Wes Montgomery’s thumb thing! I’m also trying to leave out the pick & use my fingers more.

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

Denny – Not really sure if there is one.  I still hold tight to my punk rock DIY roots & just make things happen.  I’ve opened for some of my favourite bands.  Played in a few of them.  I always wanted to make a guitar for Mick Turner... he now has three.  I wanted to score Bobby Ferrazza (Oberlin Jazz Music Conservatory) as an endorser of my Jazz Guitars... he now has three & our relationship is about 8 years strong now.  I’ve almost made 100 guitars now & look forward to the people & players that I’ll meet in the next 100!

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

Denny – How to play four note chords & actually stay in key?!?

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

Denny – Probably my string winder, but that’s more the maker & repairman in me.

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

Denny – Again, Wes Montgomery’s thumb thing.

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

Denny – Yes.  I’m learning to expand my box of Crayons from 8 to 16 & now looking for that 24 box.  Ironically, it has taught me more colours for chord textures & yet I still write tunes with G, C, & D?

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

Denny – That rhythm & melody are the two most important things in any song.  Also, to practice unplugged.  You’ll get more expressive on the instrument.

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

Denny – Ha! Start out with a guitar that has frets so bad that you cannot play a clean note! That’s where my chucka/chucka thing came from.  I’d also have to say that emulating me would serve you to no good end.  Go be yourself.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Denny – Love.  Hate.  Although the more I’ve learned, the less I reach for one?

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?

Denny – Constantly! I could do without a volume knob, but never be without a tone knob.

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

Denny – I thought we got passed all that in the 90s? I’ll say that I’ve played for over 20 years & I’ve never played a solo.  Never & I plan to keep it that way.  So I guess that I’m so one sided on this as to not be able to answer.

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

Denny – No.  No way.

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

Denny – Robert Ferrazza’s 17” Betty Swing archtop.  Why? It’s the one that I made for myself & he fell in love with it & took it from me, that’s why.  (This is only half in jest, btw.)

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

Denny – I’m not really sure how to answer that? There are some flashy players out there that stretch what guitars can possibly do, but I’m more a song lover & jamming the hell out of a tune with virtuoso playing has never inspired me.  I go more for heart & feeling.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Denny – In my garage, just as it began 20+ years ago.  Ha! In a different way than your question is directed... Any album with Mick Turner of The Dirty Three on it.  Any time you hear Robert Ferrazza or possibly 65+ other MidWester jazz guitarists play.  My best guitar work is truly in the hands of others in the form of the instruments that I have made.

QRD – Anything else?

Denny – Yeah.  My journey with guitar began as a kid who thought they were really cool & interesting.  My real reason for learning to play them is that I always wanted to make them.  I spent 10 years or so playing in bands & having fun, but by the age of 30, I left my job & playing behind to start building the things from scratch.  My real love of the instrument now is satiated by helping others get the most out of their playing/art by providing them with the perfect brush for which to paint that picture.  I’ll always play guitar, but bringing one to life where there once was not... that’s my true passion.