Interview with Tristan Welch
August 7, 2017
Name: Tristan Welch
Bands: Tristan Welch
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Tristan – My first guitar was a red Crate Electra Electric Guitar. It came in one of those starter packs. I got it when I was maybe 11-12. I treated that thing so horrible - it was unplayable after a while & I suck at working on guitars. Recently my mom died & it was in the basement all screwed up. I just put it on the curb & an hour or so later it was gone. I was sad, but happy that someone might give it a good home.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Tristan – Currently: Fender Telecaster 72 Deluxe - TC Electronic Polytune2 - Mr. Black Big Payback (Compressor) - Friday Club Fuzwami (Fuzz) - Friday Club Echo Machine - Boss DD7 (Digital Delay) - Akai Headrush (Delay/Looper) - Earthquaker Devices Hummingbird (Tremolo) - Mr. Black Dark Echo - Mr. Black Doublechorus - Electro-Harmonix 720 (Looper) - Electro-Harmonix 360 (Looper) - Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail (Reverb) - Mr. Black Ambience (EchoVerb) - Peavey Classic 50
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Tristan – The effects are most important for me. I’m a collector of middle of the road effects & just slam them on top of each other. Lots of layers. My amp is second most important, but I’m finding what works best within my budget & what I’m willing to carry around.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Tristan – I’m using a Peavey Classic 50, which I bought off Craigslist at a good price. It’s too damn heavy & I have decided tubes are not for me. The amp is a workhorse though & can get very loud which I enjoy at times. I recently purchased a Quilter Tone Block 201 head which is a 200 watt solid state head that can fit on my pedal board & I am hoping to receive a custom 2x12 cab soon. That should hopefully become my main amp & I’ll keep the Peavey for certain things.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Tristan – Fender Telecaster 72 Deluxe. I interviewed some guitar players I admire & this came up a few times so I went & bought one. I like it, but the input jack sucks & I’m not sure humbuckers are actually the best for me. The body is nice though... I actually think I like thinner necks more. But alas I have it & it’s my main guitar at the moment. I do like the volume knob, which I use constantly.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Tristan – I’d just want some sort of stained wood. No paint. Probably a P-90 sort of neck pickup... noiseless. A volume knob that is very secure & won’t fall off with constant movement. I think I just need 1 tone knob. An input jack that locks the cable in. Very playable & easy neck. I’d like it to look like a Les Paul, but not be that heavy. I’m into SGs too though & all the offset guitars. I don’t know - probably Les Paul body.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Tristan – Oh boy... A looper that could save like a 100 pre-recorded loops & also let you form a new loop in another channel while the pre-recorded one is playing. I would also like to be able to slow down & speed up the loop. Of course I need some delay & reverb as well. True bypass & little to no signal loss with the loops. Soft switches. I hate the sound of clicks.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Tristan – Three. My Fender Tele Deluxe, a Peavey T-15 & a Squire Jag Bass. There is a classical guitar in my living room, but that is my wife’s technically.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Tristan – I have one of those multiple guitar stands I got as a wedding gift. But my Tele just stays wherever I set it down last... which I need to get better at - sometimes it falls over.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Tristan – Compartments for cables & stuff of the sort. Most of these compartments are so small. Locks that come with a real key & can’t be easily opened up. Maybe even a padlock.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Tristan – If I’m buying new, I look into where it is made or at least try to research the company. I’m very into Fair Trade stuff & I try to carry that into my gear as well. So I look for that first... does it look cool second & then where the knobs are & if the hardware is quality etc... (I haven’t bought a new guitar because of this - I like expensive shit).
When I’m buying used I drop a lot of the previous qualifications & it is just bang for the buck & hopefully I can deal with it.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Tristan – It’s hard to say - I feel the big brands should be able to sell their nice stuff for less. I think 600-700 bucks or so should get a guitar that doesn’t need any work done to it. But I’ve been burned in that price range before so I don’t know.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Tristan – I stick with what I get. My current guitar needs work, but I don’t want to let it go for more than a day so I’m just dealing with it.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Tristan – Buy first & ask questions later.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Tristan – My current set up has been good for almost a year! Once my new cab comes though, I’m changing again.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Tristan – I have a general tone that I like & kind of dance around that. My ears like what they like so I always end up in the same general area of sound.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Tristan – McSwain Guitars: I just think they look so cool. Other than that I like any custom built guitars. I want a stack of amps & cabs like Jucifer or Boris, but play total ambient music. I’ve yet to play any Strymon or Red Panda pedals, but want to try them! I really need to get into effects pedal switchers, but those things just confuse me - ultimately I think my life would be a lot better with one though.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Tristan – A neck that is easy to play. Simplicity & easy playability.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Tristan – I have this Ampeg GVT-50 amp I’m kind of stuck with. I bought it off of Craiglist... when I tried it out it seemed cool (& it actually is pretty cool); but when you really try to run fuzz or distortion through it, it just sucks. It’s a rare amp of sorts so it is alright to have around, but for the money - it was bad purchase. I have bought many cheap pedals or rare weird pedals that just don’t work as advertised. When my Line-6 DL4 died on me I was on a search for a new looper & I ended up with the Electro-Harmonix 720 & 360 loopers & I am a fan of those. My Peavey T-15 guitar was a good score. Awesome, fun, unique, & playable guitar for a great price.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Tristan – Mr. Black / Friday Club guitar pedals are awesome. They are available at a great price (100-200 bucks normally), easy to use, small & made in Portland, OR. I also forgot to mention that they sound great! Quilter is a really cool brand. They make solid state amps that sound so nice & you can find them at decent price sometimes. I know everyone loves tubes (I do too), but they just are not practical most of the time so I’ve been on a search for a decent replacement & this seems to be in the running. My clean tone sounds good, but I am trying to make sure it can handle the fuzz tones. There is no brand I really dislike, but I am not a fan of Guitar Fetish. I just think the quality is so poor & I really don’t trust the manufacturing process.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Tristan – Pluck a note & swell the volume knob to see where it catches the note. I don’t use a volume pedal & rely on the knob to make my swells so that is in essence the most important part of the guitar for me. From there I just move my left hand around the neck to see how it fits my hands playing a slew of simple chords.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Tristan – About 11 - 12 years old. Took my first lessons in school at about 13 years old.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Tristan – I’d say currently. When I was 18 – 20, if I wasn’t busy screwing off I would have grown a lot. Today, at 30 years old - I understand my limitations & work within those.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Tristan – I think it was just the most accessible. I wore the glove that fit. I tried playing violin, but the rules were so stiff. With guitar I could learn a few basics then go out on my own. I’ve never wanted to play other people’s songs.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Tristan – Sure. It is a very good starting point if you put the time in.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Tristan – Both. I feel limited but unlimited at the same time. People can take the guitar lots of places... I can only go so far, but I’m trying to refine the places I take it. More often than not the instrument has been my friend. Though really it is just a sound source for me.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Tristan – Johnny Ramone was my first big influence. Very minimalist & pure expression. I was able to view the guitar as a paintbrush. Thurston Moore was another big influence in my teenage years - just watching the sounds being created. Over the past few years Kamil Antos of A Death Cinematic has been a big influence of creating dark soundscapes with what seems to be fairly simple playing. I listen to Noveller a lot & she really knows how to play well & creates supreme soundscapes. The guitar playing from GYBE, Explosions In The Sky, Mono has been something I’ve always turned too for influence. Michael Gira of Swans... Watching the last incarnation live taught me a lot about repetition. Rhys Chatham has been a great influence as well.
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming guitars)?
Tristan – Silly. Sometimes cute. But silly. I don’t.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Tristan – When I was involved in various noise groups I would hurt my guitars a lot. Throwing them, banging them. I’ve left childhood guitars in damp basements. Put steel strings on classical guitars. Dumb stuff.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Tristan – Pull out chord books & finger pick them out. Look up scales & just play them. I only last so long before I’m writing something.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Tristan – It depends on how bad my day job is killing me & what else life has in store. It also depends how many shows I have lined up. When I am playing out a lot, I practice a lot more - so I try to book a gig about once a month, but I’m thinking of slowing that down. I would like to get in an hour a day, but really I’m lucky to get 15 minutes a day with some extended periods mixed in. The goal is to at least touch the guitar daily.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Tristan – Orange Dunlop. Factory is in New York so I enjoy that & they are just stiff enough but not too flimsy. Just comfortable.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Tristan – 9’s are on the Tele at the moment, but I may move to 10’s next change.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Tristan – Almost never. They are bad right now. It’s been about 6 months.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Tristan – Never.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Tristan – Neither are very good. If I really had to pick one, it would my strumming hand when finger picking... But that is not saying very much.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Tristan – I take it to somebody. I got a guy that will clean out all electronics & shine it up with the set up. I want to be good at that stuff, but hardly have enough time to play the damn thing.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Tristan – Standard. I play around within that... Sometimes flat or sharp... But I need to keep things simple or else I’m just lost. If I had more guitars to keep in various tunings I would mess around with it more.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Tristan – Tabs & weird charts. I can sort of read music, but not well enough to sight read. I used to just try to remember everything... Then I forgot a bunch & had a minor freak out. Now I have tab charts.
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Tristan – I guess middle of my body. Not high or low.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Tristan – I probably have so many I am not aware of. I guess I have a bad habit of ignorance.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Tristan – I’d say piano. I say that mainly for song writing. Strictly for skill... guitar & only guitar is probably fine.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Tristan – Death metal super fast picking & writing catchy riffs.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Tristan – Playing through a wall of amps.
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Tristan – I’ve recently been trying out a slide. When the guy at the store showed me how to use it, I was astonished at how simple it was. I even started researching slide guitars because I liked it so much. I’ve tried using the violin bow thing, but haven’t gotten it down.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (Ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Tristan – Ebow is the most amazing invention ever. Some songs I play live use the Guitar Triller which is neat string tapping device I guess, which comes up with some cool sounds.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Tristan – Oh boy... I just want to be better at everything, but again I’m just focused mainly on creating cool sounds. I want learn to get good at a wah pedal.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Tristan – I took lessons through middle school & high school, but really just learned the basics. They were big classes & not one on one. I got the hang of the instrument - showed up to class stoned & sat in the corner & wrote riffs. It was the best part of the day for a few years.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Tristan – I guess to learn what your ultimate goal is. For me it was creativity, for others it may be to learn songs & for others it may be theory.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Tristan – Ha! Live a life of depression & use the guitar to cope.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo/vibrato systems?
Tristan – Very cool, but not for me.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Tristan – Depending on my pedal settings, I turn the tone knobs when I’m playing the ebow to control some feedback I get sometimes. I’ll also do it to change the color as I layer a lot of the same notes so the tone knob becomes like the corner of a paintbrush for me.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Tristan – The lead guys tend to be in the front & the rhythm guys tend to be in the middle... Neither want to be in the back (normally).
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Tristan – To an extent. Bands need to be able to work together. It’s a group effort. I can listen to great guitar work with decent to mediocre other instruments... But it has to work.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Tristan – Meh. I wouldn’t play it were valuable & I’d feel guilty selling it. I’d rather avoid that emotional & financial roller coaster.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Tristan – Oh, that is difficult. I mentioned Noveller earlier & I think I will go there again. I also really enjoy Hotel Neon. Both are very different; but create large & unique atmospheres, which is what I like to hear when it comes to guitar.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Tristan – My releases Washington D.C. & my collaboration with Ron Oshima (Sax) titled God Bless America have very minimalist heavy drone textures that I tend to focus on. My other release Haunting N.Y.C is a little more loose & just based on sound, feel, & emotion.
QRD – Anything else?
Tristan – I’m honored to be answering these questions - I remember reading tons of these after I stumbled across the Aarktica band interviews (who I adore). Thank you this was fun!