with Lucio Menegon of Fisted Lizard
Name: Lucio Menegon
Bands: Reverend Screaming Fingers, microdecibel, Fisted Lizard
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Lucio – My very first guitar was a classical nylon job that I got for lessons in third grade or something in the 70s. I still have that one. My first electric was a Univox Les Paul copy in 9th grade. I sold it when I got a Gibson a few years later. Incredibly, a non-musician friend found the Univox after whatever adventure it went on after me. I got to see it & play it a few years ago -- so lo-fi! I didn’t remember it had a bolt-on neck. He says he’s keeping it for when I become famous. Ha.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Lucio – I’m usually happy with a single coil pickup, a bit of overdrive (or a nice tube amp cranked up), a fuzz pedal, & delay. Sometimes reverb & tremolo. For outside/improv/soundscape stuff I usually have a sampler involved as well.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Lucio – It has changed over the years. I fastidiously setup my guitars to play & sound well, so that is really important. Tone is ultimately about the playing & the fingers, but the instrument is next in line. I love my pedals & amps, but I’ve got those to a certain place over the years & the instrument provides the biggest difference now.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Lucio – I’m not as much of vintage snob anymore & recently got a used Vox AC15C1 that totally rocks. For a touring rock gig, I could have two of those & be happy. It’s not setup like a vintage AC15, but has great tone for sure. The reverb isn’t so hot, so that stays off. For several years now I have often gigged with a ZT Lunchbox (they set me up with one, so I’m unofficially sponsored, I guess). I’ve used it on its own for smaller gigs, thru a 12” cab for bigger, & even into a bass amp with great results.
My favorite amp for recording has always been my 1965 Fender Princeton Reverb that I’ve had since 1995. I rarely bring it to gigs anymore. Incredible tone. When I used to gig with it more, I came up with a Neil Young type setup with that amp at the core of my sound. My tech Lawrence Fellows Manion came up with a special output that taps the speaker signal, so I get the tone of the amp/speaker - not just the preamp - & can put that into the preamp of another amp. For years that used to go into an amazing mint 1971 Hiwatt 100 head - the most solidly constructed amp ever, hands down - then into a varying array of speaker setups, usually 2 12” Celestion V30s.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Lucio – A 1967 Fender Telecaster with a maple cap neck. It just totally rules. Everything I do I can do on that guitar. Plays great, sounds great, never fails me. The neck has a beautiful shallow V shape. I’ve had different pickups in there, but my fave are stock G&Ls. Dialed back just slightly they are vintage Tele & full up they have a litter more growl.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Lucio – I wouldn’t want one unless it was my dream guitar. I guess it depends on the application, but for live work I’d love it to have the sound & feel of my Tele; but lighter, sort of like my Danelectro U2 & with an incredible trem bar that had the feel of my Gretsch archtop (they’re too stiff on a solid body) with bold Tele-ish bridge sound & a fatter P90 sound in the neck.
A guitar that came close was a Deusenberg Star Player that I owned for a red hot minute. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get used to the long scale on the Les Paul style body. The headstock was also a bit long/cheezy, so I sold it. Great guitar otherwise & the best trem arm.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Lucio – I am very picky about delay, so without a doubt a small footprint digital delay that really does sound like a 1970s EP3 Echoplex. Some do a decent job, but I’ve tried them all & none sound like one (despite varying claims to) - at least not like mine. It’d be nice to have one footswitch for classic slap back (without regeneration) & one for long delay (with regen). & a big analog style time adjust knobs like an old Memory Man.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Lucio – Seven six-strings & one bass.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Lucio – In their cases wherever I am.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Lucio – A hardshell that is low profile & super-light. Like carbon fiber light.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Lucio – Good sound unplugged, quality materials & the ability to stay in tune (usually after a few mods like a new nut & bridge saddles). Even in cheap ones you can sometimes find this. I love my Korean Dano U2, though it’s not as quality as a real Dano or Jerry Jones.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Lucio – Before or after the crash? Like many things they are generally too much. $500-$1000 for a solid body, $1000-$2000 for a semi-hollow electric or acoustic, $2500 for a decent archtop.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Lucio – I upgrade & modify everything I play to suit my needs. Guitars, pedals, amps, implements, everything. For guitars, the nut & saddles as mentioned before, sometimes better tuning machines. I sometimes remove the lacquer from the back of the neck. On my Gretsch Brian Setzer I totally modified the pickup selection by taking out the individual volume/tone pots (and those ridiculous dice). Now the pickup selector switch goes straight to the tone switch & then to the master volume pot. Bridge & neck are full volume & in the middle position (both pickups) the neck pickup is slightly to get that great “Gretsch chime” when you back off the neck pickup just a hair. My Dano has a Tele style master volume & tone setup, like the Jerry Jones, with speed knobs so I can do volume swells. I came up with a simple mod to fix the common bridge sagging problem without giving up the old style bridge by screwing an adjustable screw into the body under the middle part of the bridge plate, etc. etc.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Lucio – Very.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Lucio – It goes in spurts. I tend to be really happy with a setup once I’ve customized things.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Lucio – I make lots of small adjustments & then the occasional paradigm shift happens if I’ve had my mind blown by someone’s sound.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Lucio – Other than that perfect digital delay, none at the moment.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Lucio – Without a doubt, playability. i.e. The condition of the neck - action/setup & frets.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Lucio – Best: Do trades count? I traded a Vox V-125 amplifier head that I found in the garbage in Boston for my ‘67 Tele in 1989. The Tele was a total wreck when I got it, though & back then they did not command the prices they do now.
Worst: I used to buy & sell gear in the 90s & got pretty good at it. Bought & sold some great stuff which takes more effort & luck now. However, back in high school I traded in my 70s Fender Twin for a really bad solid state Acoustic guitar amp - I wanted a Mesa Boogie/Marshall type high distortion tone which was impossible with that Twin. That amp sucked. The sales guy must have shook his head.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Lucio – So much boutique stuff out there! I love my Blackstone Overdrive. Last I checked it’s all the guy makes, this one overdrive pedal. Love that. I dislike overpriced vintage pedals & cheap clones.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Lucio – These days I’m working on improving alt-bass fingerstyle guitar, so usually something I’ve written with that or a John Fahey tune I might be working on.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Lucio – 3rd grade, then a break, then solidly from 9th grade on, so 35 years or so.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Lucio – I think I got to a place in the mid 90s where I was what I consider professional. I am 50 now, so that would be in my mid 30s. I’ve been playing a lot of free improv music for the past 10 & am finally at a place I consider a high level.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Lucio – I can get the emotions & sounds in my head across with it. I have always loved drums (& play okay), but it gives me better access to some of that plus melody. I also play bass, which provides even more of a connection there.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Lucio – Whatever floats. Piano & guitar is a good combo.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Lucio – Ally.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Lucio – Early on: Pete Townsend, Andy Summers, Brian May, Chuck Berry/Billy Zoom, & early punk rock. Then raw blues stuff, Neil Young electric, Richard Thompson, & Sonic Youth. Later still I discovered the avant players like Marc Ribot (my all time favorite). That guy can do anything. Also Frith, Frisell, a few others, but nothing too academic. I discovered John Fahey in the early 2000s & am currently obsessed with him & 20s-40s Americana fingerstyle. I like to bring styles into the fold rather than be all retro.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
Lucio – If it’s real, fine by me. I tried this at some point & soon forgot names, so I guess it’s not for me.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Lucio – I tend to be pretty rough with even my vintage instruments, jamming cymbals under strings, implements, etc. I just don’t care about that part. I used to play in a punk rock Who “Live at Leeds” era cover band. I did some frightening damage to my Les Paul Special at our last gig ever at Slim’s in San Francisco by pounding the butt end into the stage. I think the straplock snapped off & took a bit out of the bottom.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Lucio – Recently, I have made a concerted effort to work on small parts until they are done right, then finish the whole song/piece in one sitting. In the past I’ve often approximated/assimilated riffs & then got good with them over time by just playing.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Lucio – More than I do. When touring, sometimes it’s just that hour onstage a day.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Lucio – I’ve dispensed with a pick on acoustic. When I use one on electric, it’s the yellow Tortex.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Lucio – Custom gauges & makes for different guitars. All based around the .11 gauge/heavy bottom on electric & .12 gauge light on acoustic (.13 medium on low open tunings). My Tele has 10.5 & 13.5 on the top, the Dano & Les Paul regular .11s, Gretsch uses weird gauges specific to Thomastic strings.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Lucio – Not that often. On tour more often -- maybe once a week.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Lucio – Rarely. & I play hard. Proper nut & saddle setup & maintenance is key.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Lucio – About the same, but I’ve really upped the right hand finger style stuff & that has paid dividends.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Lucio – Usually myself with the nut cuts & more detailed work by a pro.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Lucio – On electric, mostly standard with some drop D. On acoustic I’m mostly using open C & sometimes D. I’ve got some variations of open D with sympathetic As (the G up a whole step, B down a whole) & a cool C tuning with a 2nd on the top.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Lucio – If I write down anything, it is usually for others & in that case is a chord chart with some standard notation.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Lucio – Not practicing well. Or at all sometimes.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Lucio – Piano & drums. Bass if you approach it like a piano or drum section.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Lucio – Playing over jazz changes. Can’t do that at all. I’d really like to play pedal steel. I could probably fake that better than traditional jazz though.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Lucio – The glass slide. Also an Ebow is very useful when not deployed in a hackneyed way. Various implements to change the tone of the instrument & produce new sounds like bullet casings, alligator clips, drumsticks, etc.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Lucio – Travis/Atkins/Gatton right hand technique.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Lucio – I am mostly self-taught, but have taken lessons for finger style (alt bass) & had a great country lick lesson with Jim Campilongo once. Still tapping that one.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Lucio – Stressing the importance of playing/practicing in time so you can play with others. More important than the scale itself.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Lucio – Play & listen for a long time. I’m more finesse that pyro/riffs.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Lucio – Like whammy bars? Love them as long as they stay in tune. A well-tuned Bigsby/Duesenberg is fantastic.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Lucio – More for maximum effect than subtle. It’s usually full on. I let the volume knob & pick/finger attack attenuate the tone.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Lucio – Great rhythm playing takes great skill & is more of an art than lead playing. I find lead playing better for expressing emotion though.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Lucio – I’d say NO, but there has been the rare exception. If the drummer’s good, then I’m most likely going to like them. The reverse is rarely true.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Lucio – I’d be happy just to hold Robert Johnson’s Gibson, Muddy Waters Tele, Neil Young’s Old Black. One reason: Soul.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Lucio – Marc Ribot. He can do anything at anytime. From avant to proto blues & rock, to Django to Arsenio Rodriguez, he’s the man.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Lucio – My Music for Driving & Film releases for restrained/melodic playing & Prehistoric Horse for the out there/improv. Singer-songwriters like Val Esway & Joe Rut for rootsy sideman work. My 90s punk rock work with Zebu was under recorded, but sits well.