with Ryan Potter of The Scrapes
Name: Ryan Potter
Bands: The Maryettas, The Scrapes
Websites: themaryettas.bandcamp.com, planetofthescrapes.bandcamp.com
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Ryan – My first guitar was a very cheap nylon string one & I think it must have been given to a friend
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Ryan – It depends who I’m playing with, but usually I go from the guitar to a ClinchFX TxFuzz, to a Hotcake overdrive, a tuner, a Boss RE20XL loop pedal & then a VanAmps Sole-Mate reverb. I avoid going through the loop pedal if I don’t need it.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Ryan – Probably the amp - that’s where all the sound comes out of. But I don’t think I rely on any one piece of equipment.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Ryan – A Vase Trendsetter 40. It’s an old one from the 60s with two separate channels so with The Scrapes we can run guitar through one channel & violin through the other. In this way both instruments go through the same tremolo of the amp, which we use for effect quite a lot.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Ryan – It’s called a Solist. It’s a 60s Japanese hollowbody - kind of a Gretsch copy with a Bigsby. The neck pickup is original, but at some stage someone put a P90 in the bridge. It looks as though it has been modified a fair bit over the years with different bridges, pickguards, etc.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Ryan – If not completely hollow than at least hollow chambers - I like the fullness in the sound from hollow guitars, the bass & the kind of feedback you get. I think it would be unpainted - leaving exposed wood & it would have to have a whammy bar. I like the Bigsby, but I also like the Strat style ones. Probably P90 pickups.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Ryan – I would love a pedal that makes crazy feedback without the amp having to be too loud... I’m not sure if this already exists, but it would be great.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Ryan – I think around 6, but there might be a few more around. The Solist, a Squier Strat, a Bolero steel string acoustic, a Fender Jaguar, a Rickenbacker 360 & a nylon string.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Ryan – I have 3 at home - the Bolero, the Solist, & the Strat. The electrics stay in their cases & the acoustic I have next to the bed so I can play it whenever I feel like. The others are in storage at the moment. They’re guitars that I don’t want to sell but they don’t get played regularly, so they’ll stay there until I have more room.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Ryan – If they could be strong enough to withstand baggage handlers, be lightweight & not take up any extra room, that would be great.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Ryan – Something with character & something different from what I already have. The guitars I have are great, so if I bought another one it would have to offer something special that my current guitars don’t have.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Ryan – I think $1000 for a guitar is a good price if it’s well made & you’re going to use it a lot - good tone, good feel, & a bit of character. I would pay more for a guitar custom made for me, but otherwise anything close to $2000 is too expensive.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Ryan – With the Solist I have left it how it is because I knew what I wanted before I found it & it came along at the right time. The Jaguar & Strat I have continually been upgrading & customising - different bridges, altering the vibrato set-ups a lot, fiddling with the electronics & pickups. The Rickenbacker is all original.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Ryan – Quite a lot of research for effects & then testing as much as I can. But with guitars I have always just bought them when the opportunity came along - if they were sitting in a store when I walked in & I had some money or they were a gift or I bought it from a friend. The amp was a gift & I really like it, so I’ve just stuck with it.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Ryan – I have changed it around a lot over the years, but for the last year it’s been settled & I’m happy with it.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Ryan – I don’t have certain settings that I always stick to, I change it around all the time. I’ve worked out a few different settings that I like for each of the pedals & I decide how I’ll have them before each show. There aren’t really any settings on my amp & for the guitar the most I do is change between bridge & neck pickups.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Ryan – I would love one of the new Vase combos. I have been playing my Vase for 8 years now & have never had any problems with it, but it would be nice to have something smaller & lighter. I like to choose something locally made if there’s an option.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Ryan – I think people should learn on acoustic guitars - you learn a lot more about guitars than you would if you started on an electric.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Ryan – My Bolero acoustic guitar I got by my father trading a coffee table for it & it’s one of the best acoustic guitars I’ve played! The worst is probably the Crowther Prunes & Custard pedal. I got it because I love the Hotcake, but I’ve never been able to find a way to work the Prunes & Custard into my sound.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Ryan – I like locally made stuff. All the old Australian made amps I like. There’s no guitars or amps that I particularly dis-like I think everything has its place.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Ryan – Normally the A string. Then some really slow chords, so you can hear every note & all the strings ringing together - that’s a good way to get a guitar’s sound really quickly.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Ryan – Around 10.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Ryan – I don’t think I have. I’m always shifting my focus towards different things. At the moment I’m not nearly as fast or precise as I used to be, but my ear is so much better I know how to get what I want & what to play when. I’m getting better at playing to bring out the musicians around me.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Ryan – It’s such a social instrument. I used to play saxophone as well, but in high school I stopped because there weren’t the same opportunities to play it with friends. The guitar is so easy to play along with other people.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Ryan – I think if someone falls in love with the sound of any instrument they should learn that. I don’t think the guitar is as inspiring to listen to as violin or saxophone, but you can get a good understanding of music through the guitar & it’s probably easier.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Ryan – I would say it’s my ally. We definitely have to work together, even if sometimes it takes a bit of convincing for it to do what I want.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Ryan – I have loved Neil Young for quite a while. I love the really messy soloists like Neil Young, Tom Verlaine, Robert Quine, Gareth Liddiard & Jeff Tweedy on A Ghost is Born. I like Blixa Bargeld’s style & I like the old blues guitarists. R.L Burnside, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bo Diddley are all great. Mick Turner changed the way I play a lot. I love Link Wray too.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming guitars)?
Ryan – I’ve never done it but I don’t have a problem with it.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Ryan – I’ve never really smashed a guitar or anything. The most damage I’ve done is probably to myself - playing too hard for too long after dropping a pick & slicing up all my fingers. Then the guitar gets covered in blood & damaged that way.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Ryan – Nothing!
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Ryan – I play for probably 5 hours a week on average - sometimes more & sometimes less. I think that’s a good amount for me to play.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Ryan – Most of the time I prefer a fairly hard plastic pick & recently I’ve been using a metal thumb pick, but I haven’t got to a level with that where I’m completely comfortable yet.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Ryan – Normally just 10s. I like the sound of heavier gauged strings, but I want to be able to stretch them, twist them, bend them around.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Ryan – Around every two to three months, which normally coincides with an important show or recording.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Ryan – Quite rarely. Maybe a couple of times a year.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Ryan – At the moment I’d say my strumming hand because I’m working a lot trying to create interesting rhythms.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Ryan – I normally only get it set up when I have something modified & then I get the guitar repairer to do it.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Ryan – Normally I start in standard & when it calls for it I change. I play in drop D, & open B mostly. In open B you can get a huge bass sound & I tune the highest pitch strings both to the same B, but slightly out of tune so you can play phase-y melodies that sound a bit sitar-like.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Ryan – I never really write parts down unless it’s a chord progression to go with some lyrics.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Ryan – Medium length? Just so it’s comfortable - just so my fingering hand is not too cramped up or stretched out at the wrist.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Ryan – I don’t always play in the timing/phrasing that I intend to so I would like to improve on that.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Ryan – I don’t really play any other instruments, but I’d like to play saxophone again.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Ryan – I wish I could play the old blues fingerpicking stuff, I can never get the rhythm & feel quite right.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Ryan – The feel of the old blues players & to be able to improvise at length creatively. I can improvise, but after a while it’s hard to keep it fresh & interesting. I’d like to play a pedal steel too.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (Ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Ryan – I often play with a metal file. You can play chromatically & because you’re not picking you get long sustained notes like a raspy violin.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Ryan – I had guitar lessons from when I was 10 until when I was 17 & I learnt mostly classical playing - fingerpicking, scales, chord shapes, how to read music, & every so often I would learn a contemporary tune.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Ryan – I would get students to start improvising as soon as possible - with a little understanding of scales.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Ryan – I think my timing is pretty loose so they could do that. & I play quite sparsely.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo/vibrato systems?
Ryan – I like ones that give you a big change in pitch. I like the Strat style vibrato the best.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Ryan – It’s mostly turned to the brightest setting & when it’s not it’s turned to the bassiest setting - I change it to get one sound or another but I don’t really fine tune it to any sweet spot or anything.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Ryan – A rhythm guitarist should set the feel of the song, while the lead player needs to be lyrical.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Ryan – Sometimes... If there’s any element of a band that is amazing, a great singer, a great guitarist, violinist, saxophonist, organist, I can ignore the rest of the band & lock on to what I like.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Ryan – Either Johnny Cash’s acoustic guitar because he’s one of my songwriting heroes, or Neil Young’s Old Black - that guitar has played some of my favorite guitar solos & seems to have some kind of magic to it.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Ryan – I’m not really sure... I think I’ve become a bit stuck looking towards the past.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Ryan – The Maryettas album Great Australian Rope Trick is the best example of my lead playing & ‘rock’ style playing while anything by The Scrapes shows the looser, improvised, experimental kind of playing.