Less a band, more an unstoppable showbiz steamroller, US metal titans Five Finger Death Punch may have formed on the West Coast, but they’re every inch the product of their adopted Las Vegas home.
One of the dominant forces in the world of modern metal, they’ve hit upon a winning formula that seamlessly combines complex post-thrash riffage, dramatic lead-guitar histrionics and an awe-inspiring live show designed for the big stage.
We caught up with guitarists Zoltan Bathory and Jason Hook on their recent UK tour, and was shown a window into a world of splittable double-necks, twisted picks and, err, illuminating Explorers...
Gibson Jason Hook M-4 Sherman
Jason Hook: “This is my signature Gibson Explorer - the M-4 Sherman Jason Hook model. I’m very proud of this guitar, it’s a modification of their standard Explorer. This one has some features that, in my opinion, make it a little easier to play, and it’s a little bit more hot- rodded than the Standard.
“First, I had them scoop some wood out on the cutaway so I could get all the way to the top frets, which is important for anyone who’s a lead player. Then there’s a forearm contour, as I always felt it was a little uncomfortable coming over [the upper horn] just to get to the bridge. It’s loaded with a Seymour Duncan JB [at the bridge], then the neck is a ’59. I hardly ever use the front pickup, so I had them pick it out for me, because they said it was a nice complement to the JB.
“Then there’s a plastic conduit that covers the wires and a three-way toggle switch - and there you have it, the M-4 Sherman.”
Gibson/RM Guitars Explorer
Jason Hook: “This is a guitar that a friend of mine in Vegas built for me - a fellow named Rod Miller at RM Guitars.
"On the surface, it just looks like a black version of my signature guitar, but it has LEDs that have been routed into the body. I can turn them on and it lights up. It’s my throwback to Ace Frehley, who is my favourite guitar player.
"It’s got five different sequences and there’s everything from a backwards sequence, to a full on meltdown ‘DEFCON 5’ sequence.
"I also have a control for the speed, so I can adjust the sequence speed, depending on what mood I’m in. So that’s my Las Vegas guitar!”
Gibson Jason Hook M-4 Sherman Double-Neck
Jason Hook: “This is a heavy guitar! Gibson made it for me specifically to take out on tour with Five Finger Death Punch. Not only is it the only one of its kind - Gibson’s never made a double-neck Explorer before - but this one you can pull apart for ease of travel. It actually has two separate hard-shell cases and you just unbuckle it and it pulls apart [down the centre].
“I’ve got it set up with B-standard on the bottom, which is baritone tuning: and that’s basically everything we do with Five Finger Death Punch. Then, on the top neck, it’s D-standard, so I can play some of the solos from the record that were played on a higher pitch guitar.”
Fractal Axe-FX II
Jason Hook: “This is my B-rig. It lives in Europe, so we don’t have to keep shipping stuff back and forth. The A-rig utilises a bunch of Marshall heads, but the B-rig is designed for lightweight and portability. Therefore, we’re using amp-modeller units - the Fractal Axe-Fx II.
“I have it dialled in as a JCM800 with an overdrive pedal in front of it and it sounds pretty close. It’s not as a good as the real thing, but it’s definitely a lot cheaper when it comes to airlines!”
Jason Hook: “Going down, I have my effects switching, which sticks in a drawer and [my tech] can select from all of the effects, which are almost all in the Axe-Fx.
“I have a synth thing on my Line 6 Filter Pro for Mama Said Knock You Out. Then, there’s a Shure four-in-one wireless system, which is very space efficient for fly dates. So if I have to hop on a plane to Russia, we just pull the wireless and the Axe-Fx.
"Then all of this is run off the Matrix power amp, which is a new product from the UK. It’s lightweight and sounds like tubes, so it’s beautiful.”
Marshall 1960 Cabinets
Jason Hook: “I have two Marshall 4x12s loaded with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers.
"These are the 1960 bottoms, and they have locking quarter-inch jacks on the back so that nobody can trip and unplug me. I would have Marshall heads with these normally, but not today.”
Dean Zoltan SK6
Zoltan Bathory: “This is my signature Dean Guitars model, the SK6. We used to call it ‘Shreddy Krueger’, but we couldn’t use that name for obvious reasons, so we just called it the ‘SK6’.
“On the back of the neck, the coating stops at the first and the 21st fret and I keep the back of the neck satin [finished] - I like how fast it is. I use very heavy strings - 0.013 to 0.066 - and I’m tuned to B so I need them to stay in a playable tension with the guitar.
“I usually set up my equipment in a way that I control my overdrive with the strength of my picking. The pickups are custom-made by Dean. I like the dynamism of classic pickups over the squashed tone of the active ones - and I get a pretty heavy signal to noise ratio, given [they’re not] active.”
Dean Zoltan SK6 (#001)
Zoltan Bathory: “This was ‘Shreddy’ number one, the very first guitar from Dean. The neck has different curvatures, the headstock is also different and it’s also got the brass knuckles inlay.
"They kind of made it to my ‘assumed specs’ as my welcome guitar.They were like, ‘Check it out and let us know what you think.’ They already knew I liked certain features, such as the maple neck [and through-neck design] and it has the same Ferrari Red colour.
"It’s such a good guitar, they selected the wood very carefully, so I really love the sound and even though it’s a prototype, I still use it on stage.”
Shure ULX-D Wireless System
Zoltan Bathory: “I’m really happy with this system. I’ve taken it all over the world and I’ve rarely had any problem with it - you literally have to have a radio tower next door for this thing to have any kind of interference.”
MXR Custom Shop Smart Gate
Zoltan Bathory: “I used to use the Smart Gate Pro MXR pedal, but it’s just much more efficient to keep it in a rack.
"It’s a very good gate that I set to catch any noise or interference in the signal, so I can really utilise the heavy strings. It’s complete silence, and then full power, and this chops off all of the buzz.”
Furman Voltage Regulator
Zoltan Bathory: “If you’re touring the world, this is something that you want to think about.
"If you use tube amplifiers, the voltage that feeds your tubes is changing [night to night] and if your tubes are getting different voltages, they’re going to sound different.
"So the Furmans are making sure that the amps are getting the right voltage and it’s the same everywhere you go.”
Diamond Nitrox USA Custom Series Head
Zoltan Bathory: “I’m tuned to B, so I need an amplifier that doesn’t just die on that low frequency. This amp has huge transformers in there, and it’s almost like a hi-fi amplifier in a brute casing. I’m really happy with it, and I’ve been using it for five or six years now.
“My signature model of this amp is coming out and that one will have the MXR Custom Shop Gate unit licensed and actually built into it, between the preamp and the amplifier, so it’s going to be extremely efficient.
“I’m picking really fast, complicated patterns and I want to hear every note, so my gain is fairly low, but this amplifier has a brutish power, even then. Then the noise gate really emphasises the silence that needs to be there between notes.”
TC Electronic G-System
Zoltan Bathory: “I only use effects for some leads - a little bit of delay, a tiny bit of chorus and maybe a little bit of reverb.
"But the [rack- mounted] unit, with the pedal, can switch the amp in an analogue way, so I don’t have any MIDI stuff that creates delays.”
Zoltan Bathory: “These are X-pattern cabinets, which means that I have both Celestion greenbacks and modern speakers in there in an ‘X’ pattern.
"The greenbacks sound really nice and have that vintage, classic sound, but it’s a little bit lazy, so if you wanna play machine gun-like rhythms, you need something fast.
"Modern speakers have a much quicker response, so this way I kind of marry the two worlds.”