Steve: He’s right. Old habits die hard and I don’t mind admitting to anyone that Page is my all-time hero. I’ll be the first to admit that he did lose the plot for a short time during the later stages of Zeppelin but that happened to a lot of the ‘legends’. When Page is ‘on’ though, nobody can touch him. Apart from being a great player, he was an exceptionally clever rhythm player and also one hell of a producer and song writer/arranger. He made great use of the studio too. Yeah, he’s one of the all-time greats and I’ll always love listening to his work.
Phil: I played Les Pauls for a long time and then shifted to using Ibanez Destroyers almost exclusively right up until the end of our ‘Pyromania’ tour. At the moment though I’m using Jackson guitars. The head of the company, Grover Jackson, sent me one a while ago and it blew me away completely. I then met Grover in person and he made me a Jackson Soloist with Jackson pickups in it and a Kahler tremolo and I fell in love with the thing straight away. As a result I’ve now signed a deal with ’em and I can see me using them exclusively for a long time to come. At the moment they’re building me a specially shaped guitar with a 24 fret neck. They also gave me one that glows in the dark which is quite novel – looks great with the lights off.
Steve: Oh, by the way, I have been using a Gibson Firebird for songs like Too Late For Love and Love and Affection. I use it because it’s a sort of compromise between a Strat and a Les Paul – it’s got a Strat-like bite to it but it’s also got the warmth of a Paul. The one I use was specially made for me by Gibson and I got ’em to put coil taps in it that are controlled by a push/pull pot in the treble pickup volume control position. Actually, a couple of my new Les Pauls have this facility too.
You both use the Kahler cam-operated tremolo system don’t you?
Phil: Yeah, I’ve used that system for ages – mainly because I’m so used to ’em. Actually I had one of the very first prototypes. I’ve known Dave Storey ever since he used to be a guitar repairer in Shoreditch. Dave came up with his idea when the Floyd Rose was in its infancy – it didn’t have any fine tuners and it felt very big and clumsy to me.
I had one of ’em for a while and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get on with it. Then Dave showed me his design and I ended up having one of the very first ever made Kahlers put on the old Ibanez Destroyer I used to play. I felt very comfortable with Dave’s system right from the first time I used it and consequently I’ve used ’em ever since. Having said this, I’ve got a Kramer guitar with a Floyd Rose on it and it’s great. It’s one of the newer Floyd’s though – y’know, the model with the fine tuners at the back.
The reverse is true as well though… Both systems definitely have their own strengths and weaknesses. Of the two I much prefer the Kahler though – purely because of familiarity probably. You have to be very careful with them though because it’s very easy to be too heavy-handed with a Kahler, especially if you’ve just been using a Floyd – it’s very much of a feel thing really.
Steve: I got into the Kahler tremolo thing because of Phil and I’ve got ’em on pretty much all of my stage guitars now. Phil’s right about what he said about feel though ‘cos when I first started using ’em I found them very light, even with heavier springs. It didn’t take me long to get used to it but like I said, if it wasn’t for the fact that Phil uses and likes ’em, I would’ve probably never entertained the idea.
Did fitting a cam-operated Kahler cause a change in the sustain/tonality of the Les Pauls ‘cos a lot of folk claim it does…
Steve: That’s a very good question but I can’t really answer it because all my guitars that have Kahlers fitted on them were like that when I got ’em so I didn’t have the chance to hear what they sounded like before the units were fitted.
I’ve got some really nice old Les Pauls that I used to use on stage though and I wouldn’t dream of letting anybody rout great holes in any of ’em – that would be sacrilegious. So, when I decided to go for the Kahler system, I retired my old ones and got a bunch of new Pauls with the Kahler already fitted. Apparently, a lot of people do think that fitting a Kahler to a guitar changes the sound, but in my professional opinion once the sound has gone through a pickup, into a rack of a thousand and one effects, through an amplifier, down a microphone, through a mixing desk and then through a massive PA, who can tell anyway?!
What pickups do you use?
Phil: I use Jackson pickups now but not the active ones – I did have a couple of guitars with the active stuff in but I took it all out. The Jackson pickups I’m using at the moment are all the J90 Ceramic model – it’s a pretty pokey unit and it sounds great. I used to use DiMarzio Super Distortions all the time but not anymore – I still like ’em though.
Steve: The pickups I use vary from guitar to guitar actually. My older Les Pauls still have the original pickups in – they’re all rusted up but they sound great anyway. One of my newer Pauls has ‘Dirty Fingers’ in it and they’re really nice. I think I’ve put Gibson PAFs in everything else.
Phil: I’ll tell you a pickup that is really neat – the Hamer Slammer. I’ve put ’em in a couple of my guitars and they sound really happening.
Steve: Yeah, he’s right – the Hamer Slammer is an excellent pickup. I’ve put a pair in a Gibson Heritage I recently got and they sound great. Oh yeah, I’ve also got a Fender Strat with Bill Lawrence pickups in it.
What about strings?
Phil: I use a regular ten set – that’s 0.010 to 0.046 from high to low. This is gonna sound stupid but I dunno what make they are. I can’t remember. To be honest, I’m not even sure if we have a string endorsement but there are always boxes of ’em lying around and that’s what we use!
Steve: I use the same ones and I’ve got a feeling that they’re GHS strings. Actually, when it comes to strings, effects and backline our set-ups are pretty much identical.
What about your backline and your effects then?
Phil: We’re both using two rack mounted Randall heads in stereo through Randall cabinets. What’s unusual is that most of our cabinets are at the front of the stage, so they effectively act as foldback systems.
Steve: You can’t actually see anything on this tour though because everything is hidden underneath this time around.
Phil: As far as effects go, on tour we’re using TC Electronics stuff. Each of our effects racks contains a ‘Spatial Expander’ and a ‘Multi-effects’ system which has something like 100 programmable presets that you can programme into its memory. I hardly ever use the Spatial Expander but the Multi-effects thing is on all the time – it gives you stereo, various echoes, chorus etc.
Steve: On the album though, we used whatever was there and sounded good. We’d use the studio gizmos and loads of pedals like Boss Overdrivers, Ibanez Tube Screamers and so on.
Talking of overdrive/distortion units, what do you use on stage when it comes to a ballsy lead break?
Phil: What I do for the solos is merely boost my signal via the Multi-effects system by changing to a pre-set that has a higher output level. If you talk in terms of numbers then I’d say that my average rhythm pre-sets have an output of say 85% whereas the lead ones are 99.99%
You both go through a vast number of sounds during the course of a performance. I take it you each have a roadie to handle your effects switching while you’re on stage…
Steve: Yeah, that’s something we learned from Prince, actually. We always used to shy away from using pedal boards because it ties you down too much. Then we met Prince in this tiny jazz club in Paris and he taught us all about getting yourself an effects rack and letting someone else do the work! It’s really just a case of adopting a more professional approach to things and expecting a little bit more from your road crew.
Actually we learnt an awful lot from Prince. I can’t say that I’m his biggest fan in the world, but I admire the way he presents himself and his band on stage and I have ultimate respect for his high level of professionalism.
What else did you learn from him then?
Steve: Oh, things such as getting to know your set so well that it is possible to chop and change songs each night. Once you know something inside out it’s easy to experiment with it and still maintain that all-important band tightness. Actually we rehearsed so much for the road this time that it raised our playing standards considerably; we’ve learnt a lot more songs than we actually play in the set so we can bring extra ones in sometimes if we feel like it. Being able to do this at the drop of a hat makes it much more exciting for us as well as the audience.
Another thing we learnt from Prince is working hard on making sure that the show is always together behind the scenes as well as on stage. For example, he doesn’t allow any of his people to drink until after a show. In the past we used to let a lot of things slide but now we’re on top of every possible aspect.
Talking about your live performance, some of the tracks on ‘Hysteria’ feature passages that contain four or more different guitar parts. Obviously it isn’t possible for you to perform all of them, but having said that, your live versions of such things are excellent. How do you pull that off so successfully?
Steve: What we do is we pick out the most featured parts and then condense them. You may think we’re cheating but we’re not really because when we play live it still sounds exactly like the record, because the audience hears all the prominent parts. I wouldn’t say that it’s exact, but it’s pretty bloody close.
Phil: Anyway, we definitely make up for any little missing ‘frills’ through sheer energy. Basically, live playing is a totally different thing from being in the studio. When you’re on stage you expect to make the odd mistake – you expect to sweat off 20lbs, you expect that your voice won’t remain in perfect pitch for every single harmony and you expect to cock-up the odd bend every now and again. An album is immortal, it lasts for ever and then some; a live show comes and goes so you can afford to be spontaneous and you can get away with the occasional mistake. You should always make sure that the album is right though!
Steve: Phil’s 100% right. We definitely adopt a different approach when we’re playing live. On stage there’s always atmosphere because of the crowd and that always gets you buzzed up. In the studio though you end up playing to four bloody walls and so you have to try and simulate some form of atmosphere – like switching off the control room lights to create a moody feel.