with Gavin MacArthur of Schlong
Name: Gavin MacArthur
Bands: Schlong, Gasa Gasa Orchestra, Max & her Trail Mix, Nick Nevis
Websites: facebook.com/pages/Schlong/124852720896547, gimmesomethingbetter.com/excerpts/victims-family-Schlong, facebook.com/gasagasaonfreret, reverbnation.com/maxthetrailmix
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Gavin – My cousin gave me one of those flower pickguard Teiscos in the early 80s. I still have a few pieces of it, but unfortunately not the pickup. A couple years later I got a Squier Strat & I played it for years. That poor thing has been butchered every which way, the latest being the prototype for my first Outcaster, a guitar-bass hybrid.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Gavin – I like to just plug it in & play. I use a tuner pedal & a Tech 21 American Woman distortion pedal, I love that filthy thing.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Gavin – My hands! I’ll play on anything, anytime & love it. For The Gasa Gasa Orchestra & Nick Nevis, I play a homemade guitar-bass hybrid thing I call The Outcaster, I built it from a dumpster dived piece of swamp ash. It’s got 2 separate circuits in it, bass pickups for the low E & A strings - which are actual bass strings - & guitar pickups for the D, G, B, & E strings. I guess that would be the next most important part for those 2 projects.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Gavin – I have been using a Mesa 50 Caliber + from the 80s for the past 10 years, I adopted it when my buddy moved out of the country. A couple weeks ago Max bought me a Peavey Classic 30 to play with the trail mix, that amp is keeping the Mesa under the dust cover, I am very happy with the sounds that are coming out of it. When playing The Outcaster I send the bass strings through a 1x15 SWR la combo. When doing Schlong gigs, I use my friend Robby’s Peavey Deuce. That amp is amazing; it’s hard to find a combo that can keep up with Dave Mello’s drumming!
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Gavin – Depends on what I’m doing. For The Gasa Gasa Orchestra & Nick Nevis, I use The Outcaster. When playing live with Schlong, I use Dave Mello’s modified Peavey T-26. I used a Godin Artisan for the old Schlong studio shit. I wish I had discovered the Peavey years ago, that would have been my main axe. When playing with Max & The Trail Mix I have a no-name lap steel & Mexican Telecaster (a dear friend left her in my care when he fled after Katrina).
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Gavin – I do, I built it! The Outcaster. More noise, less people.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Gavin – It would have just one button that had beer delivered to the top of the amp.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Gavin – Let’s see, 2 Outcasters (one was the previously mentioned Squier Strat), 2 electrics, 2 big & 1 small steel string acoustics, a nylon string acoustic & a Fender resonator. & a bass. & a lap steel. & probably enough junk parts to build a couple more electrics. What’s that, 11?
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Gavin – They used to just lay all over the floor, but my wife made me build a pair of large cabinets to house all of it. I still have to leave at least one laying around, otherwise I forget to play.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Gavin – A GPS device to find the guitar player.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Gavin – The last guitar was because of pretty wood. I think I liked the sound too.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Gavin – Tricky. It takes so much time to build one by hand. I see customs at 5k+ & feel like whoever built that absolutely deserves it. I don’t think it’s silly if someone pays out the nose for a piece of art, that said, I personally have never paid close to 5k for a guitar. I like to buy cheap crap & fuck with it. A couple of my guitars might have been worth something on the vintage circuit if I hadn’t hacked them up.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Gavin – I butcher the hell out of the poor things. Not quite sure if they would be considered upgrades by anyone, but definitely customized. I haven’t done anything to the Telecaster yet, I was thinking of swapping out the stock pickups someday just to stay true to form.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Gavin – Obsessively. Then I usually wind up buying something else spur of the moment I know nothing about. My wife calls this phenomenon S.E.M., a “sudden entropic maneuver”.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Gavin – I usually just play with what I have, but I do like playing around with different stuff if available, especially in the studio. I’m actually a big fan of engineers tweaking my tone to what they think sounds good.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Gavin – I like being versatile. I actually love it when other people fuck with the knobs on the amp. I would have never allowed that 20 years ago, but I’ve come to realize that I probably don’t know best.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Gavin – A double neck pedal steel. A Vox AC30. Next on the pedal list is one of those green Line 6 delays. One of those midi controller pickups, maybe I’ll put it on the old Teisco.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Gavin – A switch that automatically shuts the sound off when they play “Smoke on the Water”.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Gavin – Best - my 76 Guild acoustic. My dad convinced me to buy it rather than the trendy round plastic thing when I was a teenager, for this I am eternally grateful. Worst - several cheap effect pedals back in the 80s, a “loop”, a “compressor”, a “chorus”, they don’t do a damn thing except suck up tone & enhance single coil pickup buzz.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Gavin – I love Peavey gear. I’ve never played on anything made by Peavey, guitars & amps, & not been super excited about what I was hearing. Maybe someday they will sponsor me. I think they had a rep for a while for being cheap crap, but it’s not true. Peavey stuff rules, it lasts forever. I also love the Tech 21 American Woman distortion pedal, that pedal sent all my other distortion pedals straight to the drawer. I don’t think I sound like Randy Bachman at all playing through it though. I don’t like guitars that are too easy to play, I learned to play on guitars you had to fight with a little bit, things that are too touchy make me feel a little lost.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Gavin – Mmm... good question & a very important one. Maybe the first few bars of Chet Atkins’ “Trambone”? I think I will start playing “The Top Gun Anthem” or “The Theme to Benny Hill”.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Gavin – I started playing seriously at 12 maybe? My dad plays, so I have been abusing guitars since I could crawl -- I wouldn’t have called that playing. I had to wait until my hands would fit around the neck, there were no special baby’s-first-guitar purchases in my house.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Gavin – I feel like I keep getting better even now. Although when I was around 19 or 20 I started listening to too much Victim’s Family & jamming with Dave & Pat Mello & my playing went from Journey & Ozzy Osbourne covers in the garage to Steely Dan & Sesame Street on meth. After a few years of heavy touring I started to feel very comfortable playing weird stuff. Of course I still love punking out the odd Journey or Ozzy cover.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Gavin – It’s versatile. It’s what was laying around my house growing up. There was a piano too, which is a brilliant instrument & maybe the best one to learn music on. But the guitar is easier to tune & more portable.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Gavin – Sure. It’s cheaper than a piano. My first instrument was saxophone, but I kinda wished I had learned to play violin or cello. It’s just not as charming making horrible screeching noises trying to bow as an adult. I just didn’t think the violin was as... sexy as a saxophone. Whatever my idea of sexy was when I was 9.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Gavin – It’s as much of an ally as I have, but I tend to beat it like a captured spy.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Gavin – I could go forever here! First is my dad, Nowell. He plays old time country finger picking, he’s great. I love playing that style now. He is a huge influence & pretty much the reason I play. I grew up listening to Chet Atkins, the grooviest finger picker ever. My first “guitar hero” was probably Randy Rhoades, I first heard about him reading a news article right after he died. Of course the article made a big deal about drugs & Ozzy biting bats heads off & thought, “Wow, I gotta hear this guy!” So I went right out... well, a couple of years later after I bought my first Stratocaster, I went out & bought The Blizzard of Oz LP & learned every damn song. I was completely blown away by the guitar work; at first I thought Randy was playing an electric violin because he was so damn smooth. Then I heard “Dee” & my jaw hit the floor. My dad told me he had been a classically trained musician. Hearing that was super inspiring, it made me want to get really good at music. Of course I never formally educated myself, but I bought the issue of guitar player with the sheet music for “Dee”. It took a while, but I learned it. Broke my heart I didn’t get to see him live, but I was only 12 when he died so I gave myself a break. I love James Honeyman Scott & his twangy melodies. His guitar work was like a song inside of a song. I think his solo in “Kid” off the first Pretenders album is the most brilliant & beautiful thing in rock & roll. Whenever a song calls for a melody line, I just try to think of something that will move the song like that solo. I don’t think I’ve come close… yet. Seeing Ralph Spight from The Victim’s Family play was a real eye opener. I was always into all kinds of music, but I LOVED punk energy, playing punk & metal is what it was all about. I saw Ralph play & was all “Huh? You mean you can play metal & punk & jazz AT THE SAME TIME??? YES! Fuck my world up, why don’t you?” Michael Hedges was another dude who gave me all kinds of crazy ideas about what you could do with one instrument, he made the most creative noise I’ve ever heard coming from just a guitar. Aside from Adrian Belew maybe, who is way more effects-oriented but still an amazingly creative fellow. He makes all kinds of bizarre noises, yet still stays so tuneful, great musician. Why have half these guys died an untimely death?
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Gavin – Depends on the name I guess, I felt like I had to name The Outcaster. But if I built another, it would be called AN Outcaster. So that’s different, it’s just the model name. If you’re not BB King, maybe you should just call your guitar by the model name. Naming a touring vehicle is fine though.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Gavin – Aside from chopping up the instruments & making mutant things? I bought a new Godin Artisan about 20 years ago. It was a lovely sparkly curly maple thing with gold hardware. A good friend of mine saw it & laughed - “In 2 weeks that thing is gonna be all fucked up & covered in beer & dumb stickers!” I looked at it & agreed that it looked a bit precious, so I took the strap off & dropped it on the floor. Took a big ol’ chunk of wood off the bottom. It felt good to get the first ding out of the way. That was incredibly stupid of me; it still looks great except for that ding.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Gavin – I riff out in my head all day long. I always have, can’t help it. It turns the voices into lyrics. It annoys other people though, they think I am ignoring them. They are correct.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Gavin – It varies. I’ve played several hours a day for weeks on end, sometimes I’ve gone months without touching it. If I have a music project deadline I will play every chance I get. It always feels good to play so I do like to pick it up often.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Gavin – I use those light grey thin Dunlop ones. I break too many strings if I go heavier. I also use my fingers a lot.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Gavin – Usually 11s. I break too many strings if I go lighter. Except for The Trail Mix, for that I’ve been stringing the telecaster with 9s or 10s as the music is mellow & it’s easier to do full step twangy bends.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Gavin – When they break or turn my fingers black or I can’t tell the notes apart, whichever comes first. Translation: not often enough.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Gavin – I break the D & G strings pretty often. The B & A not quite as often. I guess I don’t pay much attention to the Es, as I have a huge surplus. Maybe I will build an instrument that only uses the low & high E strings.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Gavin – They are both best at what they are supposed to do. I do a lot of fingerpicking & left hand muting, so sometimes I feel as if my fretting hand is just an assistant to my strumming hand; but fretter is a great assistant, he’s not in any danger of losing his job to a younger faster left hand.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Gavin – I do it all myself. I have had a tech set up my guitar before & was the best thing ever, they were so much better at it. I should probably bring a couple of the beasties in for a checkup. Did I just name my guitars?
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Gavin – Mostly standard 440 tuning, for some of the fingerstyle stuff I use a drop D, a drop D with a flat G, an open C, or an open C with an A on top. I like C6 on the lap steel & the resonator is set up for slide & usually tuned to an open G or C. I love playing around with funky tunings.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Gavin – Most shit I just keep in my head. If I need to write ideas down, I just use crude standard music notation. I’m a slow music reader, but I can read sheet music faster than tabs. I also just write the chord down if that’s enough to remember whatever needs to be remembered.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Gavin – Crotch cover height.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Gavin – Maybe turning the treble knob too high? Maybe hitting the strings too hard, being able to lay off a little at times. I’m getting better at that. I have a bum ankle so I wish I could stop tapping that foot, bad.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Gavin – I know a couple people who played violin who turned out to be brilliant multi string instrumentalists. But playing any music at all will help.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Gavin – Pedal steel guitar. That is the most amazing sounding instrument. Someday I’ll get one of those.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Gavin – Doing an interview with a guitar magazine. Thanks!
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Gavin – I learned to use a volume pedal with a lap steel to make it sound like someone not very good playing a pedal steel.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Gavin – Strap locks!
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Gavin – I want to get better at everything! Slide, chicken pickin’. I’ve been playing a lot of twangy bendy stuff lately, but I want to get better at it. Maybe get a hipshot & try one of those out.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Gavin – I took a few when I was a young teenager. The dude taught me the pentatonic scales. It was good, I could play in any key anywhere on the neck after that. At some point I stopped taking lessons & started playing nonsense.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Gavin – How to turn deplorable mistakes into a fuckin’ rose garden.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Gavin – Write new guitar lines to all the songs on my iTunes on shuffle.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Gavin – Love the way they sound on certain things. I used to use them all the time, but I’m pretty rough on my gear so it never stayed in tune. Locking tremolos have too many parts to lose, so I just play without tremolos now.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Gavin – Never. My Outcaster has no tone knobs, only one volume per circuit. I met a guy once who used his tone knob, he was awesome. Too many things to remember for me though.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Gavin – Lack of ambition. Play both!
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Gavin – Probably not. A shitty song is usually exactly that.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Gavin – Michael Hedges’ harp guitar, that crazy guitar with the horn looking thing & bass strings attached to it. That would keep me out of mischief for a long time.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Gavin – Does a bass player count? Mike Silverman, That 1 Guy. What an incredible thing he’s got going on. His Magic Pipe was definitely an inspiration for building my own (tame) instrument. So much crazy shit comes out of that contraption. He hits some of the coolest grooves, it really does sound like Dr. Seuss meets Nine Inch Nails. His shows are quite an experience, everyone should catch it at least once.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Gavin – Maybe Schlong’s Fish Booty. We did so much crazy shit on that record, I played some banjo & beat on the acoustic guitar as well. Schlong’s Punk Side Story might be a close second, the entire West Side Story score arranged for guitar, bass, & drums. I think I played some banjo & ukelele on that too.
QRD – Anything else?
Gavin – If you are still reading here, you are awesome. I want to hear your music.