with Fred Frith
Name: Fred Frith
Bands: Henry Cow, Art Bears, Massacre, Skeleton Crew, Keep the Dog, Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, Tense Serenity, Cosa Brava, Fred Frith Trio
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Fred – Hofner Senator, 1963. Charles Fletcher took the neck & made it a part of the double neck guitar he constructed for me in 1974.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Fred – Effects change according to context & generally I try to avoid anything becoming too fixed in the setup. Just to shake myself out of habits on a permanent basis.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Fred – Yes.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Fred – Fender Blues Deluxe, because it sounds good, is reliable, & when rented at different venues you know it will always sound the same.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Fred – 1958 Gibson 345, stereo switch removed, original pickups, mountable/removable pickup over the nut end of the neck.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Fred – No idea, never thought about it, very happy with what I have.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Fred – It would have an enigmatic name & I would have no idea what its functions were or what to expect when I switched it on.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Fred – Eight or nine.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Fred – Some at home, some at work.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Fred – Handles that last more than three flights, clasps that last more than two flights. The case that a friend made for me in 1978 lasted for 25 years. Everything I’ve owned since then is another story.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Fred – I don’t buy guitars.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Fred – What you can afford.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Fred – I customize unless they were already made for me (which three of them were).
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Fred – Almost never test anything. I hear good things about a unit from colleagues & go for it. Or else I buy, check, & then sell right away.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Fred – See above.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Fred – I try to do what needs to be done in whatever context I’m working in.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Fred – Don’t understand the question. On your first guitar you learn to overcome limitations & work with what you have. Isn’t that an essential lesson?
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Fred – My Gibson 345, bought in 1971 for £300, still my main instrument.
A Fender speaker cabinet bought from a shady dealer, which turned out to have only one speaker in it. Alright, I was very young & stupid!
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Fred – I like working with whatever comes to hand. Everything has an interesting characteristic if you listen for it.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Fred – I tune up.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Fred – Thirteen.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Fred – That’ll be sometime in the future if I keep working.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Fred – It doesn’t. I play other instruments. It all depends on what’s going on & what I’m trying to do.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Fred – I think these days the computer is people’s first instrument.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Fred – Yes.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Fred – Jean Stokes, Mississippi John Hurt, Snooks Eaglin, Skip James, John Renbourne, Bert Jansch, Davey Graham, Pete Townsend, George Harrison, Syd Barrett, Daevid Allen, Dave Gilmour, Jerry Garcia, Hans Reichel, Eino Haapala, Keiji Haino. Etc.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming guitars)?
Fred – Huh?
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Fred – Dent in the fretboard where the bolt sits that holds the pickup the correct distance above the first fret.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Fred – Listen to birds & the wind & traffic & water flowing & music with no guitars in it. Read poetry. Watch movies. Look at art. You know.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Fred – Varies enormously. Sometimes not at all. Sometimes many hours. Depends on what I’m working on, or if I’m touring, or…
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Fred – Jim Dunlop .88 or .76. They tend to stay between my fingers.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Fred – Sorry to sound like a broken record, but it depends on what I’m doing. For composed music I generally use a heavier gauge string (10/46), for improvising lighter (9/42), & sometimes heavier than either to experiment with tone….
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Fred – Whenever they don’t sound good any more. Depends on how many gigs I play, how many rehearsals, the temperature, & many other variables.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Fred – More or less never.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Fred – That depends entirely on what you mean by proficient!
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Fred – I set it up most of the time & give it to Gary Brawer if I feel it needs a more expert touch.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Fred – Many, constantly changing, because it keeps life interesting.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Fred – Depends on the ideas. & whether or not I feel the need to write them down.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Fred – Don’t use a strap most of the time. When yes, all I care about is that my hands can move freely.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Fred – Ah, habits….
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Fred – Any other instrument. Just by the fact of it not being a guitar.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Fred – Western Swing. Bach lute suites.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Fred – I don’t know yet.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Fred – How to get the clip-on tuner to stay on.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (Ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Fred – EBow for sure.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Fred – Flamenco.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Fred – One. I didn’t learn anything other than that I would be very bored if I continued with them.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Fred – How to listen.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Fred – Develop a very strong masochistic side.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo/vibrato systems?
Fred – I like them.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Fred – Constantly.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Fred – One plays lead & the other plays rhythm.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Fred – What do you mean by good? If the guitar is standing out from the rest, maybe it’s the guitarist’s problem, no?
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Fred – Nah.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Fred – Ava Mendoza -- her take on the blues is compelling & original. Mary Halvorson’s pretty great too.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Fred – Where I’m performing. Hopefully.
QRD – Anything else?
Fred – Thanks for asking.