with Bonnie Mercer
Name: Bonnie Mercer
Bands: Breathing Shrine, Dumb Numbers, Paul Kidney Experience (previously: Dead River, The Dacios, Grey Daturas, Slinkee, The Bobbitts)
Websites: bonniemercer.com, bonniemercer.bandcamp.com, soundcloud.com/bonniemercer, deadriverband.bandcamp.com
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?Bonnie – Wouldn’t mind something extravagant like this...the best of both worlds. Might need a minion to hold it for me though:
Bonnie – My Mum bought me a Stratocaster copy when I was about 13 (black with a white scratch plate). The brand was “ZZ Top” which I think was my main attraction to it, but I would’ve also have been going through a classic Eric Clapton/Jimi Hendrix phase. It’s still somewhere in my parents garage.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Bonnie – Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster to pedal board (R-L: Korg Pitchblack tuner, Boss HM-2, Jimi Hendrix Wah Wah, Big Muff, Crowther Audio Prunes & Custard, Jim Dunlop TVP-1, Boss DD-5, Line 6 DL4) to Orange AD140 running through either Orange 2x12 or 4x12 cabinet, depending on how energetic & strong I’m feeling on the day.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Bonnie – Effects. Usually willing to go on tour without my guitar &/or amp & pick up gear on the way if required. My pedals will hopefully hold it all together & make me feel comfortable should the quality of the guitar &/or amp end up being questionable.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Bonnie – Orange AD140 with an Orange 4x12 cabinet. I find Orange has beautiful, warm, loud, bassy tones.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Bonnie – Fender Jaguar. Aesthetically I’ve always been attracted to the shape of Jaguars & their excessive number of switches add an extra quirk. Playability wise, the size of the neck feels just right to me. They have a great resonance & combined with the single coil pickups provide me with just the right amount of sustain & sound variation that I’m looking for.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Actually, I don’t know...
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Bonnie – Probably a fuzz wah pedal. A Big Muff combined with a Jim Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Wah Pedal. I have been wishing I could combine my Jimi Hendrix & Vox Wah pedals recently. There’s something nice about the sweep of the Vox in the mids that I wish the Jimi Hendrix had.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Bonnie – 8. Mostly Fenders.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Bonnie – In their cases at home. A couple are at my parents’ house.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Bonnie – Not sure, but the middle storage section on most of mine usually seem to fall apart for some reason.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Bonnie – Affordability. Most of my guitars are cheaper re-issues. Would be nice to buy a gorgeous vintage Fender one day though.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Bonnie – Not certain that these two things are necessarily always related. However, some expensive guitars are definitely mind-blowingly nice to play.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Bonnie – I’ve been quite lazy when it comes to this. All of my guitars are still pretty much how they came, except for a couple of bridges & volume/tone pots.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Bonnie – I often do a lot of research. Sometimes perhaps a little bit too much research.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Bonnie – Maybe a few pedals here & there. Mostly switch between the modulation type of pedals, tremolos, phasers, etc. Sometimes I look forward to borrowing someone’s amp at a show. Adds a little bit to the excitement of improvising to not know exactly what variables you’ll be put on the spot to work with.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Bonnie – I suppose my guitar tone is fairly locked in. However, I like to think I am able to provide nice contrasts throughout a set, particularly when looping sounds & providing contrast between the different layers.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Bonnie – Ibanez Musician, Peavey Roadmaster, Buzz Box, Epiphone Crestwood Deluxe, Charvel Surfcaster, Boss DM-2, Martin D-28, Marshall Super Lead, Retro Sonic Chorus, Wasp amplifier.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Bonnie – A well set up guitar with good action. Those poor little fingers usually struggle holding those strings regardless of bad action.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Bonnie – I bought a green Russian Big Muff for $50 many years ago. The owner threw in an older Big Muff for free. Turned out to be a Civil War Big Muff, my favourite pedal that I own.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Bonnie – A series of random barre chords resembling a retarded version of AC/DC crossed with Black Sabbath. Most local guitar store clerks probably think that I’m the girl who would love to learn how to play guitar one day. They’re mostly right.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Bonnie – About 12/13.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Bonnie – Something maybe changed in my style of playing when I was about 30, probably due to just playing/touring a lot. More than anything, I probably just became more comfortable with making mistakes.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Bonnie – Not certain it does fit me more so than other instruments. Guess it’s a somewhat accessible instrument. I do also enjoy the fact that the guitar can make a very wide range of sounds. It feels good to hold & bend & throw about.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Bonnie – Piano was my first instrument & I found that to be a very valuable first instrument. Playing piano you learn a lot about rhythm, bass, & the melodic aspects of music. Playing piano you get to do all these things at the same time & the skills you learn are very much transferable & helpful in playing any other instrument.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Bonnie – A bit of both. I definitely love guitar but also enjoy to have challenges with it. I guess it is why I enjoy improvising when I play solo. There’s something about being thrown in the deep end with the guitar, not knowing what’s going to happen & wrestling with the sounds to make it into something.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Bonnie – Dave Thomas (Bored!, Magic Dirt, etc.), Jimi Hendrix, PJ Harvey, Lee Ranaldo, Kurt Cobain, Adalita, & Daniel Herring (also of Magic Dirt).
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming guitars)?
Bonnie – I’ve never been into anthropomorphizing anything. Guess it works for some people.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Bonnie – I have a terrible habit of driving the necks of my guitars into the ground, so most of the necks are in pretty bad shape, with a few of the bodies cracked at the neck joint. Other than that, not too much damage at all, surprisingly.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Bonnie – Occasionally I’ll go through a phase of learning/practicing some rudimentary exercises. Other than that, I just like to play along/learn songs that I love. Either by playing along by ear or following the tablature.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Bonnie – Varies between 0 to several. Love the idea of playing everyday, but it rarely seems to happen.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Bonnie – Jim Dunlop 1mm. Perfect firmness, & softer ones just seem to wear down too quickly.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Bonnie –.010 - .046. I like them light enough to easily bend, but the bottom strings seems to be just heavy enough to still work well in drop D tuning on the Jaguar & Jazzmaster.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Bonnie – As they break, or on the rare occasion I stop to notice how dirty &/or worn they are. Since I’ve been doing more home recording I’ve become more aware of the impact of string condition on the sound (particularly the sustain of the strings), so the strings are getting changed a bit more regularly.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Bonnie – A few times a year.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Bonnie – I feel like they’re on pretty equal par. Both could do with a bit of improvement really, but I enjoy pushing it to see what sort of surprise might occur when I push things hard... usually a glorious mess.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Bonnie – Like string changing, quite lazy when it comes to this stuff. I pretty much use everything until it falls apart, then enlist the help of a professional. Would really love to become more knowledgeable & self-sufficient in this area.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Bonnie – Mostly standard or Drop D tuning. I’ve been playing around with some different tunings recently & enjoy the spontaneity of not really knowing where notes/chords are at, but I’m not completely taken with the idea... yet.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Bonnie – I usually use some sort of shorthand tablature.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Bonnie – On the lower end of the spectrum I suppose.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Bonnie – Not just sticking to scales that I’m more familiar & comfortable with.... I’d like to extend myself further.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Bonnie – Probably piano...as explained earlier.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Bonnie – I’d love to be able to fingerpick well. Particularly the Travis fingerpicking style used by Robert Johnson to John Fahey, Townes Van Zandt, etc.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Bonnie – Once I decided I wanted to be able to play the album Appetite for Destruction from start to finish. I have the tab book, just haven’t applied myself to the task.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Bonnie – I had an enjoyable day recently watching the “Guitar Moves” series on YouTube. Picked up a couple of fun tricks in the St Vincent & Josh Homme episodes.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (Ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Bonnie – Have been enjoying practicing on an acoustic with a capo recently. That’ll probably just stay in the lounge room though.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Bonnie – I took a few guitar lessons when I was in high school. I learned a few blues scales & how to play “Under the Bridge”, “Johnny B Goode”, & a few other tunes. My guitar teacher had an amazing old Gibson (an ES-335, I think)...so I also learned to appreciate beautiful old classic guitars, as compared to the crappy metal guitars the boys in my music class boasted about.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Bonnie – Quite regularly. It’s an important mechanism I use to control feedback.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Bonnie – Strangely, great rhythm guitarists have an astounding sense of rhythm. I didn’t understand how special this was until I recently played in a band with a fantastic rhythm guitarist (Bindi Masterson in Dead River).
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Bonnie – Certainly not. Everyone needs to be able to back it up & keep all the other parts together equally as well.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Bonnie – I’ve always been intrigued by character of Willie Nelson’s Martin N-20 which he has named “Trigger”. Neil Young’s “Old Black” (a 1953 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop) is another amazing gem.