with James Youngjohns
Name: James Youngjohns
Bands: Anna Kashfi, Last Harbour
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
James – It was an old East European classical that belonged to my dad. I think it’s still in the family somewhere, haven’t seen it in years though.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
James – Mainly Gibsons, an ES355 or an ES330, into a Fender Princeton ‘65 Reissue amp. I use a Roland Space Echo, mainly as a preamp rather than echo although the echo sounds great when it works, & a Proco Rat or a Mesa V Twin for overdrive. For Last Harbour the guitars are a bit different, a luthier built Tenor guitar styled on an SG Junior, & a Danelectro 12 string tuned in fifths.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
James – Guitar.
QRD –If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
James – I kind of prefer guitars that have been played in, so a signature guitar doesn’t really appeal. I have an acoustic that was made for me by Fylde Guitars, built from reclaimed whiskey casks & with a neck copied from my old Gibson L00. If Roger ever decides to make signature models for hugely obscure indie guitarists, maybe I’d be up for doing one with him!
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
James – A preamp circuit from a Space Echo, with a gain & a “worn out” control to simulate aging diodes killing off the high frequencies would be heaven. I hate taking an original SE out to shows, but it sounds so good! Apparently Brian Setzer fans consider the Space Echo preamp critical to his tone, so there’s a market outside of Last Harbour fans.…
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
James – Fifteen or so?
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
James – A few out on stands at home, the rest at my studio, a few minutes drive away.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
James – Features? It’s lust that makes me buy stuff!
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
James – It’s more does the guitar justify the expense? You know, my Dano 12 string was £200 second hand & amazing for what it does, but I can see why my 355 is worth a few thousand more. I guess I’ll pay whatever it takes to get what I’m looking for.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
James – Not really.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
James – Sometimes I’ll research carefully, sometimes it’s a gut reaction. If it’s a question of I’ve been borrowing Telecasters a fair bit for recording & it’s about time I owned one, then I’ll want to do some research & see what’s out there. But then my ES330 was an impulse purchase - I had an hour to kill before needing to be on a train at Euston, had a wander down Denmark St & ended up spending £2k on it. Sometimes the gut decisions are the best ones!
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
James – Yeah, I do fiddle a bit. I’m happy where I am for the moment.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
James – I think I’ve a pretty good idea what I want from a guitar tone these days.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
James – Amps & pedals are just tools really. I have some pretty good guitars as it is, but an early 60s 355 in cherry would be a nice upgrade on my brown 70s one.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
James – Playability & looks. It needs to look good in front of the mirror, gets your confidence right up!
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
James – Love my 355 & 330 & the Fylde. I have a Gibson L1, the little Robert Johnson model from the late 20s that is all over the Anna Kashfi albums - it cost me £800 about 10 years ago, which was an amazing deal & it recorded beautifully. It’s not the nicest guitar to play, but it served me well on those records & is living out its retirement on the wall in my bedroom. Worst buy was a Fender Tremolux amp, an early 60s one. It got held hostage by a rehearsal studio I fell out with & they stored it somewhere damp, never worked properly again. I sold it for a stupid amount, £100 or something, just to be rid of it.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
James – Fylde are the one of the best acoustic guitars out there & ridiculously cheap for what they are. I’ll always love old Gibsons. Nothing I particularly hate - there’s stuff out there that’s not for me, that’s all.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
James – 12.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
James – Hopefully there’s always room for improvement!
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
James – I’m actually a classically trained violinist & I love mandolin as well. So guitar’s not necessarily my best fit, although it’s the one I enjoy most playing for pleasure.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
James – Guitar or piano - they’re consummate instruments that allow melody & accompaniment, so well suited as a grounding in music, even if theory isn’t your thing.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
James – Bert Jansch, Neil Young, Bernard Butler, Johnny Marr, Nick Drake, Mick Ronson, Joan Baez, Paul Simon, Mary Timony, Elizabeth Cotten, Sterling Morrison & Lou Reed, James Gurley & Sam Houston, Chris Brokaw, David Roback. They cover the basics for me.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming guitars)?
James – Don’t do it myself, don’t judge others if they want to.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
James – Mainly fingers, occasional a medium pick. I like the orange Dunlops - are they .73s? Something like that.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
James – 10-52 Rotosound for electric, 12-53 Elixir on acoustic
QRD – How often do you change strings?
James – Before a batch of gigs, or every three months or so. I don’t wear through strings very quickly.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
James – Very rarely. I sweat mineral water, apparently.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
James – I do my own, except for electronics.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
James – Standard mostly, although Anna Kashfi used a few different tunings, often DGDGAD. My Dano is in New Standard tuning (CGDAEG)
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
James – I use a little Tascam 4 track for ideas.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
James – Playing a blazing solo on a clifftop or outside a church in the desert with the wind blowing my hair back whilst wearing leather trousers. It’s one of the great disappointments of playing in indie bands.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo/vibrato systems?
James – I love Bigsby vibratos. It’s a Bernard Butler/Neil Young thing I guess, they’re just so expressive. My 355 & 330 both have them & my SG tenor. I can’t really get with Strat or Jaguar type vibratos though.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
James – I generally set it where I want it in soundcheck, around 7-8 is average. I might tweak it once or twice mid set. If I’m struggling to hear myself I’d rather open up the tone a little than turn up, it’s a lot less obvious to the audience.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
James – The best bands that have both share roles. If you have a guy stood at the back strumming chords you’re just unnecessarily using up a seat in the van, in my opinion. Come, the Velvets, Big Brother, Radiohead, they’re all great examples of two guitar lineups that work perfectly.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
James – I can ignore them being average, perhaps. A poor band member is a problem whatever the guitarist is like.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
James – As long as they’re alive, I’d rather they kept them! When Neil pops his clogs I’d be happy to give Old Black a good home.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
James – Not sure there’s a lot of innovation left to happen with the guitar. I love the guy out of Temples, he’s awesome for his age & I’d like to see where they go, if they can tone down the 60s thing & be a little more experimental.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
James – Please buy anything by Anna Kashfi or Last Harbour: you can hear my best guitar work & I really need the money!