Lenny Kravitz interview: Beatles' desks, giant gear hauls and keeping it reel
Fresh from the release of his new album, 'Black And White America' (out this week), TG caught up with certifiable A-lister Lenny Kravitz to find out about his Abbey Road desk, his 300+ instrument collection and why he's stopped buying guitars. Let's get 'Kravitzed'...
Interview: Lisa Cope
What guitars did you use to record this album?
"Out of all the guitars I have, there are like four that always make it on to all of my albums: a Les Paul Standard that I have from the late '50s, that is just the best sounding guitar, I don't allow that to leave the studio. Also, a three-pickup Les Paul Custom and a Tele and a Strat. That's about it man. It's really down to those few guitars."
How was the album recorded?
"It was pretty straight ahead: a recording studio, some microphones and a great Helios desk from the '70s that used to belong to Leon Russell. There was some great outboard gear too. I used my tape machines, my 3M and my Studer, and it's just pure sound, as straight ahead as I could. I don't like there to be a lot of elements between the instrument and the tape.
"I recorded on analogue to tape, but then transferred to Pro Tools immediately with a unit called CLASP [Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor], so your end result is you have it on Pro Tools, so you can edit and do what you want in there, but it's all done old school."
How does your live rig differ from your recording one?
"The studio gear and the live gear have nothing to do with each other. The amps, guitars, drums, basses, keyboards – yes, that's all the organic material – but the speakers and the boards, the desks and the outboard gear for my live shows is a completely different animal. The stuff I use in the studio wouldn't survive on the road."
Check out the rather amusing video for 'Stand' above, which you'll enjoy if you like game shows, felonies and androgynous frontmen.
Do you use a lot of pedals to help get your tones?
"The sound mainly comes from the amps, I don't use a lot of pedals in the studio at all. If there is a solo and perhaps I want a little more bite, or a little more fuzz, then yes, but for the most part it's a straight amp.
"I like to add distortion on top of the natural amp distortion by overdriving the mic pre-amplifier, just a little bit because the Helios pre-amplifiers that are in my board are beautiful sounding and they break up really easy. The board wants to break up, it's a very rock n roll sounding board, so if you just hit one more click, you get a nice distortion that's completely different from anything else coming from an amp or pedal."
Do you still use a Fender Reverb and Twin Reverb?
"Oh yes, the Fender Twin Reverb is one of my favourite amps ever, and the Tweed Deluxe is my signature distortion sound. My whole first album was that amp."
Is it true that you own some of the original EMI recording equipment from Abbey Road studios?
"Yeah, I own the red console that The Beatles used and it's a great piece of equipment. I got it twenty years ago and it goes where I go. Historically, it's a beautiful piece of gear, when you see pictures of The Beatles sitting around it, it always blows my mind, but also as a piece of audio equipment it's beautiful, the mic pre-amplifiers and the EQ are beautiful."
This is what happens every time Lenny pops to the shops.
What was the last guitar you bought?
"I haven't bought a guitar in ages. I'm very fortunate to have an endorsement with Gibson and they make me beautiful guitars, so I don't really know the last guitar that I bought.
"Everything Gibson has made me has been amazing. Last year I got a beautiful Les Paul in Iced Tea finish, it's like a Sunburst but it's really mellow. That's my favourite new one.
"I bought so many, for so many years and I don't even see them, they're in storage units, it's ridiculous, so enough is enough."
How many guitars do you own?
"I own about 300 guitars. My favourites are my collection of custom colour Strats that I like, a lot. My Les Paul Goldtop that I told you about that I use in the studio. I've got a beautiful Gibson L5 that I really appreciate. It's a vintage – a real one, not a re-issue. There's also a beautiful old SG that I love. Those are some of my favourites."
How does your Gibson Flying V signature model differ to the standard stock Flying V?
"Well, the version that I put out has got, well, I mean the differences are the finishes. It's got a black, like metal flake paintjob, it's got gold parts; it's got a gold mirrored pick guard. It's dressed up!"
Keep an eye out for a full String 'Em Up interview with Lenny Kravitz in TG220 (on sale 3 October).