Thrash Hits

August 22nd, 2011

PROGTOLOGY with James Monteith of TesseracT: #4 – Guitar porn. Gear geeks, roll up

Ahead of some big news (coming tomorrow), here’s the fourth installment of TesseracT guitarist, James Monteith periodical column. He tells you everything you could ever want to know about his guitar. Explicitly. Geekfest.

Progtology with James Monetieth Thrash Hits

The festivals have been good this year and there was much partying to be had – especially in celebration of us filling our tent at Sonisphere, which none of us expected at all. Since when have we been a popular band, eh?

Anyway, after a few beers in the bar at Soni I got chatting to Thrash Hits editor, Raz about the next column – my ideas mainly consist of stupid stories of festival debauchery – but apparently anecdotes of Jay (drummer) getting my cock out in the VIP bar [not cool, James – Raz] and vomitting on Prog mag writer Holly Wright’s shoes [I know how this feels – Raz] are too low-brow for this site. So we decided to do a gear chat instead and I quite like talking about gear, and as I’m in a rig transition period, it’s actually good timing!

Guitars…

My current touring guitar is an Ibanez RGD 2127z (below) and it’s one hell of a work horse. It’s the only guitar I’ve used live for the past year simply because it sounds great, plays beautifully and, most importantly, is super reliable. I was previously playing an Ibanez RG 7621, which is the fixed bridge version of the RG 7620 – the first affordable but quality seven-string Ibanez produced back in the 90s.

ibanez guitar RGD 2127z james monteith tesseract thrash hits

Prior to this guitar, the very expensive Universe was the only “Ibby 7” and was a Steve Vai signature guitar. Now I love Vai, but I wouldn’t ever want to play a signature guitar as… well it’s someone else’s! Having said that, I own a Joe Satriani JS 1000, but I doubt that’ll ever see the stage. Not with TesseracT anyway.

Anyway, back to the RGD… it’s almost, but not quite baritone length at 26.5 inches scale length, so is great for low tunings and minimises the up and down pitch bend – or as we call it, the “booow” (we like to keep things technical) on the low notes. When we played standard length guitars this was a real issue, but the long scale length sorted it right out. The other cool thing about a 26.5 inch neck is that it’s easy to adjust to after playing a standard neck.

The trem is interesting, as it features the Zero Point locking system, which means that you can leave the trem floating, and if you break a string it holds tuning, unlike traditional floating trems which detune so much the the guitar becomes unplayable should this happen. It’s not perfect, but it does work, so should a guitarists biggest nightmare of a string break happen (well, it’s one of mine, as I quite often forget to bring a back up, cos I’m an idiot!) then you can at least make it to the end of the song before you fix the string.

Both Acle and I replaced the bridge pickup with a Lundgren M7, which is a beast of a pickup. It’s very hot for a passive pick up, so you have to be sparing with any pre-amp gain or booster pedal or patch but it retains the warmth of a passive pickup. It’s tight and punchy, and great for heavy rhythm playing, so definitely worth a look if you’re checking out boutique pickups.

Basically, I love my RGD, but it’s soon to take the role of second guitar, as Ibanez are very kindly building me an LA custom shop beast. I’ve taken the look of the RGD, but under the paintwork I’ve given it a mega upgrade.

I love the tone of Gibson SGs, and as a kid I love the American hardcore guitar sound developed by Biohazard, Madball, Sick Of it All and so on. I also love the huge sound produced by the likes of AC/DC and Led Zep.

The SG sounds massive, but I’ve never been a fan of their playability so I figured why not make a guitar that looks and plays like an Ibanez, but with the balls of an SG. So with that in mind, I’ve gone for a swamp ash body, and thru-neck construction. I have to credit Acle on for the choice of wood, as he has an SG made of swamp ash, which sounds awesome. For the neck pickup I’ve gone for a Bare Knuckle Aftermath.. the newer updated version of the Painkiller. This is an uber tight and punchy pick up with a nice little peak in in high-mid end of the frequency spectrum, which helps to get that (dare I say it…) djenty tone.

The finish is going to be a black stain, so it shows the wood grain, and there will be a nice little customised inlay on the twelfth fret. And glow in the dark dots. Nothing more difficult than playing a tricky part and the stage lights go out. And I decided against binding… never really seen the point of it to be honest – but then I’ve never been the most stylish of people. Anyway, for you guitar geeks out there…

Spec
Material: Maple/Wenge 7 String
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Neck Scale: 27”
Frets: 24
Fret Wire: Jumbo
Nut: Graphite
Custom Tesseract Inlay

Body
Style: Neck Thru RGD
Material: Swamp Ash
Paint Scheme: Black Stain Matte Finish

Electronics
Neck P/U: DiMarzio PAF Pro
Bridge P/U: Bare knuckle Aftermath
Controls: 1 Vol, 1 Tone, Killswitch, and 3-way P/U selector.

It’s a beast.

Now I love Ibanez loads and I’ve played them for the majority of my playing life, but there are some other amazing boutique guitars out there. So when I grow up and have lots of money (I can dream cant I?) I’d love one of these each:

Black Machine

The saying, “Once you go black, you never go back,” definitely holds some weight in this case. Although I remember trying about one of BM main man Doug Campbell’s 27 inch scale length 8 strings six or seven years ago (and it was intimidating to say the least), having never spent any time on a seven-string at that point, his beast was just to big to handle!

As I know my way around extended range guitars a little better now I’m gagging to have another go on one of these. One of Doug’s main things is exotic woods. His workshop is full of loads of crazy woods that I doubt most foresters have even heard of. He has a huge passion for it too. When at his house to try out the eight-string he took me into a back room to show me his exotic wood, and talked about the six or so planks as if they were his children. That’s real wood love, man. He was also the first person to put me onto Bare Knuckle pickups too.

Mayones

These are fantastically built and beautiful sounding beasts from Poland. Just by looking at the finishes you know that these guitars are about as good as guitars get, and most of their models come in standard and baritone scale lengths. Acle’s got a Regius on order at the moment, which are their thru neck range. I cant wait to try it out!

TesseracT @ Sonisphere Festival - 09 July 2011 c/o Cochi Esse

Picture 1 of 10

Rig

Even the greatest guitar is useless without one. The Australian LXD tour marked an end of an era for me rig-wise as I now own an Axe FX. I feel like the last person in the world to get one, so the first plus about having one is that I don’t have to have the belittling conversation with the teenage geeks at shows who come over and ask, “So you don’t use an Axe FX? You use a pod and amp?… Oh ok.” Ok, this has only happened once, but it obviously an impact on my self esteem enough for me to bring it up!

Another great advantage is the lack of cables, pedals and potentially heavy amps. Since the beginning, my rig’s been a pod for cleans and leads direct to the PA and an amp for rhythms – which have been a Mesa Boogie triple rec, Peavey 6505 and ENGL Powerball – depending on either taste at the time or geographical practicality.

With amps comes the need for pedals – in my case a Noise Gate (Boss NS2) and Pre EQ (Boss GE7) mostly, and in the past I’ve used a boost pedal too (Tube Screamer TS808, Boss OD1 and an ancient TC elecronic preamp, which worked a treat with the Mesa). We also used a midi controllable AB box, which switched the signal between POD and amp, as the clean sounds and some of the leads go straight to the PA. So with four midi controllable devices, a bunch of pedals, power supplies and patch cables, I’m amazed we managed to get away without anything major failing on us live.

I suppose I will miss the randomness of amps provided at overseas shows. One of the best sounds I’ve got from a plug-in-and-play situation was when we played India with Meshuggah. We were provided with Marshall JCM 900s, which concerned us at first, as I’ve never managed to get a great metal tone out of a Marshall before. However with a little play with some pre-EQ, it was as meaty and as tight as hell!

On the other hand there’ve been a few disasters. We had this show in Russia which to be fair to the promoter, was a last minute booking. We were provided with these old Marshalls that had a reasonable bluesy tone, but no gain at all. And as we used amp distortion for all rhythm guitars, this was a problem. So we just cranked the amps and hope for the best. I seem to remember Mos’s bass rig situation being worse. There was one hilarious moment in a quiet section, where his amp sounded like it had severe flatulence.

So anyway, those days are gone now as I have an Axe FX. An entire arsenal of amps, cabs and fx in one 2u rack. I’ve owned it for about a week so am a proper n00b, but Acle’s had his for around three years now and created some great patches, which we’re now using.

For the next bunch of shows we’ll still be using amps, but only as power amps, and get the distortion tone from the Axe FX. After experimenting with a few amps, I’ve dug out my old Marshall JCM 2000 as the power amp on that with the Axe FX sounds great. Acle is using the power amp on a Mesa Boogie triple rectifier, and the two combined together sound great! So now we’re trying to decide whether we want to keep using valve power amps, as they do add a warmth and cut that digital modelling still hasn’t quite replicated yet, or do we go fully direct for more precision in sound as there are less variables (like mics and cab) and obviously convienient. Hmmm, decisions.

Anyway, if you want to know what we decide on the power amp/direct issue, come and see for yourself this September on the Lowering The Tone tour, our first ever headline run! We have the honour of going out with two incredible bands too: opening up are French atmospheric prog metallers Uneven Structure, who are immense. Their album, which is due out in autumn is one of the moodiest and powerful records I’ve heard in a long time, make sure you check these guys out. After them are one of may favourite and quirkiest bands in this whole scene – Chimp Spanner. Paul ‘Chimp’ Ortiz’s debut At the Dream’s Edge is a real scifi journey of a record, mixing elements of fusion, prog, metal and beautiful soundscapes. Think Blade Runner done metal with a sense of humour. Magic!

Right well that’s it from me, as always, if you have any questions about gear/music/the music biz/beer/cheese/kebabs/nappies etc, or have any thoughts on the direct/power amp issue, hit me up!

Lowering The Tone September 2011 tour
08 London Highbury Garage
09 Cardiff CF10
10 Birmingham Academy 2
11 Manchester Academy 3
12 Newcastle Academy 2
13 Glasgow Cathouse
15 Leeds Cockpit
16 Sheffield Corporation
17 Nottingham Rescue Rooms

For more from James, check out his other PROGNOSIS columns.

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