Pete Thorn: Rockstars In Cars (visiting Cosmo Music) Web Series
We geek out with legendary guitar nerd Pete Thorn on the way to his Recording and Production for the Modern Guitarist Clinic in our latest Rockstars In Cars (visiting Cosmo Music).
Pete Thorn dives deep into Alex Lifeson's tone on Rush records.
[Neil] You brought up flange. Flange is one of those things that's really interesting to me. You were playing with Mike Portnoy and doing a Rush recording recently, and that reminds me of where it's sort of like to me, Rush is the kind of band that does flange right or one of the examples that does sort of the flange character right. What do you think about,you know, Alex Lifeson’s tone in terms of that.
[Pete] Well it was amazing and doing it was hard for me to actually, because I've never really analyzed it that closely, but then I know he used the Electric Mistress. Not that deluxe version, just the regular one, and I have a Hartman, which is a copy of that pedal basically, so I used the Hartman. It sounds really close but there's of course other factors of the tone involved. I don't know exactly, but the interesting thing actually, listening The Spirit of Radio in particular was when the clean stuff comes in the second verse: “Up on your way on the open road” right there there's these cleaner cords that come arpeggiated, and I don't think it's overdubbed. I think it's, it might be, but I think that what he did was do a passive guitar and then he was using back then, evidently like, he had this, I don't know if he was using the Marshall then, the 4104 combos, you know? And then he was using Twins in the studio as well and evidently Hiwatt, you know, sometimes. But I think you had all those amps on and then he was just blending them. So I think in the mix they’re riding that clip and it sounds like a Twin to me that comes up in that part. And it doesn't, like I say, it just sounds like it was all like one pass. So then I found out maybe like a year or two ago that with the Marshalls, the 4104, like around the Grace Under Pressure/Signals era, he was using those. One was clean and one was dirty. So he was big on doing that, like blending clean tones for definition. You can hear the modulation but it doesn't sound like he did a right track and left track. Sounds like the same take and then the clean guitar comes in, and its chorus and all that, which I think he was just running right into the front of the amps, and then this clean guitar comes in and it's like, it's varying in the mix at different... So when I did it with Portnoy, that thing, I just overdubbed it because it was difficult. I mean it kind of makes sense, like he wanted a very layered, you know they needed to sound really big. The interesting thing with Rush is like, because I have the, it's available on YouTube or whatever, you can find it, but the soloed guitar part, yeah things drop out. It's kinda like Brian May. It's the same thing like where things drop out and then things come in so I just did a version of “We Are The Champions” for Adam Lambert that he sang on one of those dancing TV shows in England. Dancing With The Stars, it was kind of like that, and so he's sang “We Are The Champions” so we recorded a track for him to sing to basically, and so I had to exactly recreate Brian May’s guitar parts as close as I could or whatever and in listening I'd never really noticed, but the rhythm guitars drop out all over. There's never a rhythm guitar going on when the solos are happening. One part maybe.
[Neil] And that’s why it cuts!
[Pete] It cuts and he was thinking about live, “We got to reproduce this so how are we gonna do it? I don't wanna be, you know…” So there would be, you know, there's a couple, you know just like parts drop in and out. You know and it's almost like a live, even though it's not live, it's like... So Alex is kind of like that to me where I think they were thinking about that a lot, where “We don't want to hire another guy to come up here and play with us. We've gonna figure out like Geddy’s got to have the Taurus pedals and keyboards and then go to the…”
[Neil] It’s almost a practical, you know…
[Pete] Yeah, like “How we gonna do it” like I love that!
Pete Thorn talks about his experience at Musicians Institute.
[Paul] Take us back, you know, Edmonton to MIT. What was that like? What was it, you know, anything you want to share with that whole experience?
[Pete] Well I was 14 when I first got the MI catalog and I was just enamored with the thought of going to LA and MI and really just wanted to go to music school and explore that dream so one day I remember being home from lunch from school, junior high, reading that catalog and telling my mom like “I'm gonna go to this school. This is what I'm gonna do. I’m gonna move and go” and she was like “Okay. You really want to go then I think you should go, you know!” and I was like “Okay” and I really just sort of set my mind to it at that point and then I went at like, I was 19 when I first went down and I got a one-bedroom apartment with two other guys and so with three dudes in a one-bedroom, you know, I shared, yeah we all sleeping on the floor on futons you know, and that's where I spent the first six months. And there was a guy that came to MI from Alaska. He was my roommate that I shared the room with and he had a car. I didn't bring my car down after my parents were maybe sort of thinking I wasn't gonna hang like that. I was gonna come back so yeah, “Don’t bring your car just yet” because I had a car but they wouldn't let me take it. So I drove to school every day with this dude from Alaska who I just met, you know, a few days earlier and just started going and loved it, you know. It was great.
[Paul] While you were there when you were at MI, was there a moment where you were like “Oh man, I think I'm over my head” or were you confident like you're just…
[Pete] I never felt that way. I never did feel that way. I knew, to tell you the truth, when I went down... okay so it was December 1989 and my family was on vacation in California so I went in September ‘90 that's when I actually left to go, but so December ‘89 I went down there. I'd submitted an application to go for the fall program the next year and we were in California and just on vacation for over the Christmas holidays and we went for a tour of the school and this woman gave us a tour, and one of the parts of the application was that you had to submit a tape, like a demo tape of your playing, and I'd done that, and I'd gone into the studio and tracked a song. A friend of mine had a 16 track analog studio so I went in and I tracked an instrumental tune and at the end of the tour as she's showing me around she goes “What's your name again?” and I was like “It's Peter Thorn” and she said “I just listened to your tape this morning. I reviewed your application”. And she’s Like “You're great. You have to come to this school!” and that's what she said and my Dad just went “Uhh…” because he was like “I can’t believe my kid’s going to move to Hollywood to play guitar...” I could just see his face, like “Don’t tell him that...”
[Paul] “I had other ideas!”
[Neil] Yeah he really did, he really did. But you know, but anyway so in that moment I was like “Okay like, you know, I think I can hang.” You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone sometimes in order to get anywhere and you figure it out, you know. and MI was definitely like, when I got there was some amazing players and teachers and stuff and then there were some players that were way more basic. You know and I realized that it's like “Hmm, this actually doesn't maybe that hard of a school to get into from an admissions perspective. They kind of want your money, maybe. I loved it but I think there was a little bit of that to me where I felt like “Okay this is, there's some players here that are pretty intermediate”, if not, you know what I mean? So I don't know where I felt when I first started going there but I was confident enough that I, it's like that I think I'm in the right place, I'm going to learn something here. It was an interesting experience. It wasn't, I was telling somebody today, they were asking me “What did you learn there?” and I don't really remember academically what I learned. I know I did but I just can't remember. I think I sort of solidified a basic understanding of theory there and the main stuff I took away from it was that the more the hangs. There were these open counselling where you get to sit with like Scott Henderson for three hours or two hours and he would just have five guitar players in a room and we'd all be, you know and guitar players who take turns jamming with him. And he'd kind of critique. Scary. He's scary, you know. He's a great guy, actually I love Scott. Now we're friends now, but back then it was you know, when I was 19 it was like…
[Pete] Yeah it was just very intimidating. Because he’d tell people “Man you sound like shit! You suck dude! You gotta work on this and that.” He’d kind of be a little brutal you know.
[Paul] Sometimes that's good!
[Pete] Yeah, totally yeah. I had a great teacher, Nick Nolan. He does a lot of film and TV music now, but he was a great rock guitar player and once a week he'd go in for a private lesson just to make sure that you were on track, kind of, with your curriculum and stuff like that, and I remember learning from him in those private lessons some good stuff, like because I can kind of tend to be a little uptight. Like a little... like some of the things I've said about Morello, just picking up someone else's guitar and doing his thing. That kind of stuff is stuff I really admire and I've tried to go more that way. Like my first instinct used to be that everything's got to be just perfect the way that I like it, like a little control freaky, about rigs and tones and my mix. You know, it's got to be just right or I get uncomfortable and Nick was maybe one of the first ones that ever sort of taught me that like “Hey dude, it's not about being a hundred percent perfect all the time. It's about you getting up and first of all, you're entertaining people”. Like you know, so maybe just let go a little bit and you know, be a little more... like you know, it's okay if you're emoting and putting more into the performance and having fun. If you miss, you know, one in every five notes or whatever it's not that big of a deal. Like people don't care. They just want to have a good time, you know?
[Neil] I think that's the kind of the thing about like, you know we're all guitar nerds here at Cosmo Music so it's like, when we got you, it's like okay you're the ultimate guitar nerd so I feel like that's kind of a characteristic of like the kind of people who tinker and try to get in and try to really shape something you know to be exact. So it's interesting what you're saying because I see your tone. You're so extremely thoughtful about your tones. It's almost interesting to hear you say that…
[Pete] Yeah to just let go of that!
Pete Thorn remembers seeing Tom Morello playing a bar gig with someone else's gear.
[Pete] I always admired Tom Morello because he… there’s a great article in Guitar Player magazine I think it was, where he talked about not getting on that train of just buying and selling gear and always trying to get the next pedals. You know, for a guy that actually made some pretty creative guitar sounds…
[Neil] Yeah I mean his whole thing was just tons of weird sounds, especially the solos, you know?
[Pete] Yeah and he, but really when you look at what he had, he had this crappy little pedal board with like five or six pedals and an old Marshall, and a Peavey 4x12 cabinet, and one or two guitars, and he used that for most of the Rage stuff. Like, just about everything. Got a little more later on, but it's like, I find that interesting that he decided that he would just not, he was like “It didn't even sound great”. He didn't think... he says “It sounds good. I set the knobs on all my gear”, like “Where I could get it to sound the best”, you go “Okay, that's my sound. Now I'm gonna just work with that”. And then like, he spent the next 10 or 15 years just recording with those tones and like nothing, not even like really moving… he got all the sounds out of that. Somehow by combining effects or using the wrenches on the guitar, all the different things he does.
[Neil] Yeah he’s always doing something like that with the guitar.
[Pete] Yeah, and I saw him play... actually when I was playing with Chris Cornell, Morello was actually playing a show in Vancouver with Nightwatchman, the project he did for a while.
[Neil] Oh yes, I remember that.
[Pete] It was a Commodore Ballroom, I think so I went and then afterwards we all went to like it was, like Chris wasn’t there but it was the rest of the guys from the Chris solo band and Morello’s band, and we all went to the Roxy up the street in Vancouver, and there was a cover band playing and they got Tom up to play. And of course he didn't have any of his stuff and he just, you know, some guy’s Les Paul was in there, and he did his whole trip on this guy stuff.
[Neil] That’s awesome!
[Pete] And with you know, he had the tapping the, you know, I think he had a wrench or something, and he was like, with the pickup switch and doing all this different stuff and he just did his thing, and I had a whole new kind of appreciation for him that night. He was totally entertaining just getting up in a bar playing somebody else's stuff and kind of sounded like him. So it was cool, it was like in his hands more than the gear, you know?
[Neil] Yeah it's like the tonal character was coming from the man himself.
[Pete] Definitely. There's a jam night in LA called the Sunset Jam and this guy I saw play the other day, he’s a young guy and he got up and him and the drummer had on sort of like, I don't know if they were Hawaiian shirts, but kind of like short sleeve kind of like, you know, and he kind of looked a little nervous, like he had a lot of energy when he got up but he kind of looked a little like… you know… and I could hear that his guitar was a little out of tune when he was gonna start to play, like kind of like, and I was like “Oh man, this is gonna be like…” when they started playing. This dude started playing and just blew the entire room away! He was so amazing, and I was just like, “This kid is a rock star!” and he had this kind of, like almost like punk rock, like Billy Joe kind of energy when he started singing. He’s an amazing singer too. And like just screamer, singer, like he's got it all. They did a cover of “Bennie and the Jets”, just bass, drums, and guitar and then he played an original. That was great, like really sophisticated, cool but kind of punk rock, and then he'd go to take a solo and it was like almost out of control, like he was putting so much into it.
[Paul] So even though the guitar was quasi out of tune, sort of thing, he managed him wrestle it in tune?
[Pete] Dude well I don't even know if it was in tune! It just didn’t matter. It was like Hendrix! You see Hendrix and he plays after a song, and you realize after the tune, how out of tune… like you hear him play a chord and you’re like “Oh it’s out of tune!” but in the context of a song, like you know like Jeff Beck never tunes, ever live! I've seen him, he doesn't ever tune. He'd play the same guitar the whole time. It’s just a part of his style, like bending, and he doesn't play a lot of chords, you know, so he's like constantly using that to kind of work the guitar into tune. I don't know it's crazy, a whole other way to look at it but anyway, this guy, it so did not matter. And I was just like “Fuck”. It was really great to to see, because every now and then, you get older and then like maybe a little jaded or not, you know I try not to, but it's like, I just had this preconceived notion of what it was gonna be, and I got my ass kicked.
[Neil] But you love that feeling though! It’s like “Oh! Nice!”
[Paul] I was so wrong!
[Pete] I hope I got his name right, I think it’s Danny May. But wow what a great... I went up to him after I gave her a big hug. I'm like “Dude! You just…” And he was like “Whaa?” He knows me from the internet, so I’m like “Come here, give me a hug!” I was so stoked to see somebody that was so, I don't know. So that gives me hope for guitar because I don't know how you'd be young and see that guy playing and not just be like “Oh my god, that’s what I want to do.”
Pete Thorn talks about the future of the guitar in the modern music scene.
[Neil] I wanted to ask you about sort of, the role of just guitar in modern music and how it relates to, I guess how it is on records? Because we talk a lot about recording and stuff so it's like, how it comes across on records, like is it, where do you see just guitar in terms of the popular zeitgeist, where do you see it going?
[Pete] Well it’s changed. You know, I think that guitar sales have declined somewhat, I think that's just a thing. But you're also seeing upticks in certain segments like with female guitarists, for example, it's becoming more of a thing now, and more girls are buying guitars and learning. And it's really just the ebb and flow I think of like, you know, music and music production and styles and stuff like that. Like, it's pretty fun that you can do some really cool sounding stuff just, you know, electronic style music or whatever just using an iPad or on a laptop and I get that. That's exciting, and I think that’s going to be probably a force that continues and stuff, and with that maybe less interesting if you know, if it's seen by younger folks as like “Your Dad’s instrument” or something, you know what I mean? Like the saxophone used to be super popular too, you know? I don't know that that's ever gonna happen to guitar because the guitar has a unique capability of being you know, obviously it's, you can play one more than one note at a time, you can convey an entire song on the guitar pretty well, and it's portable. So it's like, you know, taking one to the campfire or whatever. You can write songs, you can, you know. So I don't think it's ever gonna meet its demise or something. Like it's always gonna be popular, just might be a little less popular. But now you're seeing like, I was talking with my friend this morning about these groups that I find fascinating like Polyphia. They're playing like Ibanezes and tapping, and you know they look like they're, I mean I think now they're probably gotta be like mid-20s. They look like they're like 16. And kind of interesting, like intricate you know, sort of like prog inspired. I want to say it's kind of like, almost like, certainly the fashion, the stuff they wear and stuff it's very Japanese to me. Like when some of the Japanese rock bands have spent so much time over there.
[Neil] Yeah, you’re familiar.
[Pete] Yeah, and the music kind of sounds like a little bit, like it's in like you know, a little bit influenced by some of the rock stuff and stuff that I heard over there. I think they were probably hip to some of that stuff. But the interesting thing is they're doing all this like, and it's really interesting compositionally too, but it's a lot of tapping and clean tones too. Like quite clean. I think their new album I heard was done with like a hip-hop producer, so it's just blend of kind of like, I don't know how to describe it. Like you know that's the tapping Satriani did on like the middle section of “Satch Boogie” or like some of the clean stuff he used to do with the kind of like arpeggio sort of tapping. It's a lot of that and sliding around and doing these sort of melodies and stuff, so maybe they were influenced by him initially.
[Neil] I think everyone's influenced by Satch in the prog world, you know.
[Pete] Yeah I mean, he's gonna he's got it differently. He’s made his mark. But so they're doing a lot of that kind of stuff and it's instrumental and it's kind of popular, you know? Like they've got this whole following. There's this other girl, named Yvette Young that I can show you, that's amazing and she does similar stuff, tapping. She plays one of those Strandberg guitars a lot, and she's got a band called Covet and they just did a tour together, like her band and Polyphia. And you see these people, I mean I think they played at Coachella, like Covet, and they play like you know, big shows, like they’re doing a lot of stuff and it's this kind of proggy, you know, I don't know how to describe it. It's like really creative music, and these folks are young and guitars like, really out there in the forefront and kind of technical! And it's like, this has nothing to do with, at least, like maybe there's some similarity to the 80s but you know how we went through the 90s and it was like this, everybody just disassociated from the 80s. They don't want to know about guitars. I mean I remember doing sessions being like “Can you play a guitar solo but don't make it sound like a guitar, just play the vocal melody, no vibrato?” Just you know, it was like that for a long time. This is just, we're so far past the 80s and the 90s too now, that we're all the way to 2018, and there's these people doing this stuff that to me sort of sounds like throwback a little bit to the 80s but they don't have, there's none of the stigma that was attached to hair metal or any of that shit.
[Paul] Today’s stuff is like, really super dynamic as well. That’s what I’ve found as well.
[Pete] Yeah huge dynamic changes for sure. Clean and dirty and you know, and you know people can really play, which I just attribute to like the internet and yeah, you can teach yourself so much, you know. Like people can sit there, you know, six years old you can be like, mastering.
[Neil] It's interesting you say stuff like, you know it's like “Oh play a guitar solo but almost like don't make it sound like a guitar solo”, but I've been hearing lately a lot of, in a few pop, like hit pop records or whatever, sometimes you'll hear something that it's like “Is that a guitar? It sounds like a guitar solo”, but it's so, there's like a lot of processing in it, so it doesn't try to feel like a guitar solo, but you could tell if it's probably a guitar.
[Pete] You know that's funny, I was talking to John Mayer about this. I've read an interview with him and it said that he was using this Akai thing, like a new MPC on a lot of sessions. More than amps when producers would hire him to go down and play, like on all kinds of records, he would bring this thing and use it because it fit more into the production styles, the modern production style. And so I asked him about it and said “So tell me about this thing” and he's like “Dude, it's crazy”. He's like “I think I'm using it maybe not in the way it was intended”, but it's basically an MPC.
[Paul] The MPC live?
[Pete] Yeah maybe.
[Paul] Is it the portable one, the battery one, or the bigger one?
[Pete] No it's a big one.
[Paul] Okay so it's, yeah.
[Pete] And it's like you can multitrack on the thing. Yeah it's got all kinds of effects and amp modeling and stuff built in but then you can take it and cut it up and probably like, loop parts and do all kinds of stuff with it. So he's using that a lot, which goes back to our conversation about like, people too stuck in like, what's better, what's worse. It's like, his point was like “I'm using this thing, I think I'm using it in a way that maybe it wasn't intended, but the reality is it’s just a tool” Yeah it's another studio tool that you know, he's using it in an interesting way that maybe they did intend. I think he goes in there in place through that thing and then like, you know, plays parts or whatever and then flies the takes into Pro Tools or whatever, or whatever the producer wants to do, and you know he's processing them and maybe he's reversing. I don't know what he's doing, but he's doing. He's just said that that sort of flow and running through that thing works better than you know, micing up a tube amp the way that, you know…
[Paul] So is he tracking on the spot or does he come in with samples already of his playing?
[Pete] I don't know. That's a good question. I think he's going in and just kind of plugging that thing in, maybe he's got a, maybe he's giving them a line out or maybe it's synced to the session via MIDI, so all the, you know times of the effects or something, and then he comes up with some stuff. He's done some interesting things, like with the, what was that song that had the sequencer in it at the beginning? You know the sequence kind of guitar part?
[Paul] Oh with the, but that was the older, the Roger Linn.
[Pete] That's right. So things like that is kind of what I'm thinking. You know maybe he's coming up, he's coming in and doing some stuff like that with effects or with you know, and it's falling into the production flow nicely of, you know.
[Neil] Would you do that for your records? Would you think about doing that?
[Pete] Yeah I'll do anything! If it sounds good!
[Paul] Serve the song!
[Pete] I use plugins on my record. I used like, for amps. I used to you know, “Kyushu Blues” is a cranked up amp through a 4x12. The beginning of “À L'avenir” is a plugin. So it's like, it doesn't matter if it sounds good. The reason that I used the plugin for that guitar tone was it just sounded good. Like I was tracking it at home and just was writing the song and I was like “There’s nothing wrong with the sound. Like it sounds great so I'll just roll.” This is actually before the PT100 plugin came out for Brainworx and UA. I used the BE-100 plugin for Brainworx, which is my friend Dave Friedman’s amp, and that's what’s on the record, is that sound for at least for that one part. I mean there's another, in that same song, there's some clean guitars that come in stereo. That's just the output of the Reactive Load with a PT 100 set super clean and I didn't use any speaker simulation. So on that, so it goes “Dun-dun-dun-da. Dun-dun-da. Clang!” Clean cords come in and they just kind of sustain, and it's like that's just like, raw tube amp, no speakers, because I wanted it to sound almost DI, like a Rockman or something. That's also going back to your point about like, what's the stuff people argue about. Like less sort of arguing and talking and whatever and more writing and playing and actually doing is probably my main thing. What's the point of talking about it all if you're not you know…
[Neil] If you're not trying it out or being open to it I guess?
[Pete] Yeah like actually just making music like with whatever. Because you can, my whole point with like, be it a modeler or a guitar amp or, those are tools and like you can kind of do, you know, you can just have like a field day with it all and like, get work done. Like that's the most important thing, is that there’s all this stuff. It's like, why’s it gotta be “What's better, what’s worse?” It’s just like, just use whatever happens to be available to you and do something good.
Pete Thorn explains a theory about why modern pop has less distorted guitars.
[Neil] This may be a silly question because you're so versatile and all that. You play a ton of different stuff. Like what are you, a distortion or overdrive guy?
[Pete] Oh well to me it's one in the same. There's a blend between the two. Like so you know I'm an amp overdrive person to the core, kind of. And I love Marshall sort of tones. So distortion, it's like at what point when you look at a waveform, you know the top starts getting more and more clipped off. You know you've got your waveform, it looks like that on a scope, and as it starts to go into overdrive like an amplifier, as you're turning it up or whatever, you can see those tops of those, whatever the sine wave, they sort of start to get flatter, the peaks. And then at some point they just square off and that's distortion as we think of it. And then the other thing is overdrive, you know this, the slightly smooth peaks, so to me it's just at which point you hear it, sort of a more hard clipping sound, it's generally when it's more distorted, more overdriven.
[Neil] You’re hearing the clipping. But it's interesting because, that's almost interesting because like when things got, I guess digital or solid state, or whatever, that clipping became unappealing.
[Pete] Interesting. That's interesting, good point. Well Tim Pierce has this theory that on LPs, distortion sounded just better. Like you know, it had this pleasing quality, kind of like... we were just talking about guitar speakers rolling off top end. So something about an analog tends to you know, and you don't get any of that character with the digital thing. It's just like whatever went in is what comes out, and maybe in the early days of digital, it even became more gnarly, because of a you know, like converters aren’t what they are now, digital analog converters and analog to digital converters. So Tim has this theory that distortion and maybe the sort of, not demise, but you don't hear… there's a lot more sort of clean tones in music these days and stuff. Guitar tones and you know, certainly with pop artists and stuff like that. There's not just as much distorted guitar going on, it just became less of a thing. And I get that, it's like people listen to music on their phones and stuff and then like it's like these little speakers, and like that just doesn't sound like what did when we had a stereo with the turntable, and you put down the needle and the AC/DC comes out or whatever.
[Neil] So that's why, I guess he's extending that theory to why there's sort of a rollback of guitar, distorted guitar in modern popular music. Am I getting that right?
[Pete] Yeah. I think that he just thinks it doesn't sound as good.
[Paul] Well and you gotta think of it as well with tape machines back in the day, you could drive a tape machine plus three, plus six, plus eight, and then get a nice pleasing saturation. Whereas with digital, you can't really. Well you can, but when you get to absolute zero, there's no going back.
[Pete] Yeah, it’s just an unpleasant crappy sound.
[Neil] Because of the whole thing, yeah. Most people do listen to stuff on you know, Instagram or even, they just you know, turn up the volume on their phone speakers, you'd lose the distortion, the distortion in particular.
[Pete] Not to mention everything below like 800hz!
[Neil] (Laughs) Yeah there’s only a narrow band that you can actually…
[Pete] A phone, you know… and I try and like, you know when something new comes out and it's like “Oh the new such as such” and then you start listening on your phone. I almost get mad at myself, like “No. Stop. Just wait until later.”
[Paul] Wait until you get in front of some real speakers, yeah.
[Pete] Until I at least got my headphones. Yeah it's like it’s gonna be a terrible experience, it doesn’t matter how good it is.
[Paul] Wow, that 900hz sounds amazing!
[Pete] Yeah. It's part of really, I mean right. I mean like when you think about it, the way that people, and the short attention span and stuff now. People just listen to a track for a minute and they barely get to the chorus or if you're lucky and then they switch to the next and it's like, it used to be this exciting thing where you go buy the record and go put it on and put the needle down and it would, you'd have to kind of commit. It was like talking on the phone with the cable connected to the dial phone.
[Paul] You’re there!
[Pete] You’re there! You couldn’t walk around and do twenty million things and multi-task.
Pete Thorn talks about the "happy accidents" that made great guitar gear.
[Neil] You know you talked a lot about tone. You talk a lot about stuff, you review ton of gear and whatever, and no doubt that invites a lot of debate and that invites a lot of comments or whatever. What's sort of, the most, what's the silliest internet debate that people like debate over, like tone-wise or whatever? What's the kind of thing where you’re like “No, no, no”.
[Pete] You know on the internet, it's like, I talk a lot about this with my friends, but a lot of people do a lot more talking than playing it seems. And maybe kind of like, “Well yeah okay, so the impulse responses or the digital versus modeling…” Look, at the end of the day, the most important, or I mean analog you know tube amps or whatever versus modelers, you know, all this kind of stuff. It's like if somebody's getting great musical results, that's all that really matters. You know I went to see A Perfect Circle a couple weeks ago and Billy Howerdel is a friend of mine and he's a big Axe-FX user and has been for a long time and he sounded amazing and played, he was really great. I mean he's got a unique style and the sound was really cool, like I loved it. I didn't think for one second about what he was using.
[Paul] It’s whatever works for you really.
[Pete] Yeah! That's the thing is people get caught up and they forget one of the most interesting things I think, is that the electric guitar is such a happy accident, low-fi, instrument. I'll give you a great example. Pete Townshend, now I'm not sure this was the way this exactly went down, but I'm pretty sure this is the way that this went down. Pete Townshend wanted Marshall cabinets when The Who was getting started. He wanted 8x12s. That's what he requested. So I think they're pretty easy to find on the internet, actually got them on my computer, there are photos of him with these 8x12 Marshall cabs, they're gargantuan, right? And the roadies were like “We can't carry this. Like we can't deal with this, they're so heavy with eight speakers”, and they're you know, they're the size of two 4x12s obviously, so they said “Okay well no problem we'll cut him in half”. So they literally sawed them in half and I've all-I couldn't find the photo but I've seen it before of the cabinets after they were cut in half, and then they bolted a piece of wood down on top so it's like no tolex, the raw wood on top. And I don't know if that was the first Marshall 4x12 but I kind of think maybe, you know.
[Paul] I kinda want to think that!
[Pete] Well I think maybe they did something for other people, but you know, I was sorta like there wasn't a hell of a lot of thought put into the exact dimensions of this thing. Like “It’s gotta be exactly this deep and that.” They were these, you know, Pete's slice in half cabs and they bolted the wood on top, and then they took them on the road. And now people get so caught up in like, this exact cabinet dimension or that speaker or this, and I get that because it's, you know, it's fun to be nerds about gear and stuff like that a bit, but we gotta also recognize the fact that, like I have this theory too that Jim Marshall back in the day when he was making those cabinets was calling Celestion going “Send me those 12-inch speakers, no not those ones, they're too expensive. Give me the cheaper one. Yeah, you want the 30 watt? No, give me the 20. Oh the magnets are smaller so they’re less expensive? Give me those ones.” Yeah you know and it's like…
[Neil] That could have been how it was, a happy accident.
[Pete] Yeah, just kind of like “Send me whatever. I don't know, I'll try them”. You put them in, you try them. Yeah that sounds good, and then people went out and made music, you know.
[Neil] I kind of look back, it's like, you think about the first distortion, it was actually a cut. It was just a cut speaker, I think. Like someone slashed a speaker, you know.
[Pete] Yeah The Kinks say they did that, they probably, which is funny to me because they could've just turned the amp up louder.
[Paul] (Laughs) “Those were our speakers! How do we get our clean sound now!”
[Pete] Yeah totally, they pretty much killed that!
Pete Thorn talks about why he decided to focus on recording in his clinic.
[Neil] You're no stranger to the constant internet debates and whatnot, but I think there has for a while been this resistance to digital as you know it's like “It’s always too digital sounding” but it's like people don't realize like you know, there are modern recording techniques that that do bring back the character of what is involved.
[Pete] Yeah well, the nice thing with something like this and doing it this way is, I call it modeling the back end. Like you're just modeling with the cab and the mic. That's it, really. You've still got your amp and all your pedals. All that stuff stays the same and now you're just you know, doing something so that you're making it far more easy to record. You don't need to buy preamps and mics and you don't need to especially have a room where you crank it up where it's so loud, which isn’t an option for most people and it's probably the main reason people go to modeling. So I still love all that stuff but it's like, this is another way if you want to use amps, because I love, you know, I just sort of showed-you guys, obviously you've got the PT 100 here, right?
[Pete] I just show in the clinic, like I like to be able to turn the knobs and it smells good, you know, it’s like the tubes heat up, it’s an amp! You know, kind of like, there's something about that, but this is awesome.
[Neil] And you actually, I read about where you talked about the relationship between you know, the amp and guitarist, you know. Where there’s, you know there's that interaction, how feedback works. I don't think it's just feedback, it's a whole lot of other subtle things that you were talking about.
[Pete] Totally, yeah feedback being you know one of the components, but it’s-yeah I mean, I talk a lot about like, you know, the amps are part of the instrument sort of just as much as the guitar to me so there's always something about a tube amp where that's the real deal and a modeling amp is always gonna kind of be like a digital simulation of the real deal. It can be great, kind of really useful and stuff, but it's something not quite as sexy about it you know, like the real thing which is the amplifier physically moving air and the tubes and that response. The best thing about the clinic for me so far has been when people walk away and they go “You know, I've never tried recording but I’m really pumped up to go try it. Like, because you know, I got a Mac, get a couple things, I can do this, you know. It's like at home”, and that's the best thing, if you know, people go in and start writing songs.
[Neil] Right, exactly, and then you have the tools to go and do that.
[Pete] Yeah I mean, with this particular clinic, I was just, I've never really felt comfortable getting up and just playing to tracks. Like you know “I'm gonna shred, blow you away” or whatever. Like I’m not that kinda guitar player. It's just not my bag so I did a couple clinics like that and I felt like a fish out of water. It was like this isn’t my comfort zone. And then I was like “Well why don’t I do exactly what I do”, right? And that maybe is more valuable for a lot of people anyway, like actually teaching more. And I am playing to a track, I'm just starting from scratch with the basic drums and nothing else and then building it.
[Neil] I think that's a really interesting part about like, the whole building, I guess demystifying some of the things, right?
[Pete] Yeah as I'm going I talk about the musical choices too. Like why I play a certain part or why I wait for the bass to come in or why I wait-you know, right? Approaching it you know, dynamically, and kind of hold the listeners interest, build interest, you know. One thing drops out, something else comes in. All that kind of stuff, I touch on a lot of that stuff too. And then at the end I like to talk about the fact that it's the way the industry is kind of going anyway. Like everybody's doing everything on their own now and labels and stuff, they don't even want to look at you unless you've already built your own thing, you know. They’re lazy, they just want to go “Oh, has he got over 400,000 followers?” and you know, and they want to know, so I make the point that you know, the bad news is you kinda have to do everything yourself, but the good news is you can do everything yourself! You know, you don't need some guy to tell you you're not good enough, or whatever. Like “Oh write some more songs, we want to hear a hit”. It’s like “Well screw off! I’m doing it on my own anyway!”