The inimitable Nuno Duarte Gil Mendes Bettencourt achieved guitar hero status in the early '90s with Boston rockers Extreme. Nowadays, you’re just as likely to see the unsettingly well-maintained 48-year-old tearing up stadium stages with pop supremo Rihanna.
Making a return to his rock mainstay this summer, Nuno and the Extreme juggernaut rolled into London for two nights. TG was on hand to find out all about his famous Washburn N4s, view a stunning wall of Randall signatures and learn how the guitarist’s biggest tonal lesson came courtesy of one Eddie Van Halen.
"First off, this is the guitar that we’re using on the tour now. It’s a Washburn n4 that I’ve been playing for 300 years now and this one, specifically, is a little bit different for the tour because it’s got a carbon fibre fretboard.
"It’s a little bit of cheating I guess, because it’s a little bit faster. It’s also a little bit of a sacrifice, tonally, because it’s not as fat as my usual fretboards, but it’s got a nice feel to it and it’s just different, so I thought I’d spice things up a bit by using that.
“Other than that, the N4 is the N4. It’s always been the same pickups, the Bill Lawrence pickup [an L-500 in the bridge, partnered with a Seymour Duncan ‘59 in the neck], one volume knob, and a switch positioned on the lower horn, to not get in the way. It always gets in the way - I play a lot of rhythm right-hand stuff and the knobs as they’re normally placed on guitars always get in the way and drive me up the wall.
"And that’s it! A Floyd rose, a drop D tuner... and you can slice and dice meatballs on it.”
Washburn N4 backups
"I have a few backups on this tour. One of them is an original early 90s N4 [pictured left].
"I use that not so much as a spare, but just because it’s got a fatter tone and it’s good for the [Extreme’s mega-selling 1990 album] Pornograffitti stuff.
“I also have a white N4 with me as well. That’s definitely a backup, for both of the other N4s at this point.”
"I have a six-string solid [mahogany back and sides] guitar that I’m using for Midnight Express and More Than Words as the acoustic on this tour.
"For Midnight Express, especially, it’s a little bit faster. Also, it’s what I wrote and recorded Midnight on, so I just wanted to use the same guitar.”
Washburn 12-string acoustic
"Then there’s a 12-string acoustic that’s actually one of my favourite guitars.
"It’s got a big fat body and a sweet, sweet little tone for all of the 12-string stuff, like Hole Hearted, obviously. And I think that’s all of the guitars that I have!”
"I used to use GHS boomers, then I was with Dean Markley for a while and they did a signature string that I really liked, but we had a falling out with them, so don’t use those any more.
Those were my favourite strings. Right now, I’m bouncing between three or four different strings and the gauge has always been 0.010 to 0.052, but I think I’m using a 0.056 on my main N4, for some reason.”
Boss GT-8 Effects Processor
“The pedalboard that I’m using... well, I’m not much on effects anyway, and with Extreme it’s always about the real minimalistic approach.
"Even though it’s a multi-effects unit, I use four patches for 90 percent of the songs. There’s just a plain one, then a little bit of chorus on another one for all the chorus hooks that I play on.
"The third patch is like a solo boost - more for the volume and adding delay for the solo. The fourth is always a flanger. I just use that to go to for ‘vibe’ when I feel like that. That’s all that I really have on there. other than a few delay changes, that’s basically it.”
Boss OC-2 Octave Pedal
"I have a Boss octave pedal. I use it for a few songs. I don’t know if we’re doing anything right now, as in songs, that we’re using it for.
"There are songs like Comfortably Dumb and stuff off of [2008 album] Saudades De Rock, or whatever, that I’ll use it for if the songs were written that way.”
Boss NS-2 Noise Gate/ TU-3 Tuner
"Other than that it’s just a noise gate and I think that’s it. Yeah, I think it’s just the noise gate there.”
Randall NB King 100 Signature Amp
"I’d never done a signature amp before and I was messing around with a friend in Australia. I don’t know shit about electronics, but he does, so we started messing with stuff and it was more for fun [than anything else].
"Then we A-B’d it to some amps that I do like and I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really enjoying this,’ you know. So, Randall works with Washburn under the same umbrella and we decided to go for it and make a signature. And there it is!
“Aesthetically, I just wanted it to look how I’d always wanted it to look - like the coolest amp in the world would look! It’s got a big master knob. The VU [volume unit] meter helps me see what’s going on with the amp: where the sweet spot is and where I like it volume-wise, where it sounds the best. If something goes wrong with the tube it kind of diminishes that output as well, so I know when something’s up with it.
“There’s a clean channel on there, then just a distorted channel and obviously a boost for the solo. Like the guitar, it’s just a workhorse amp. It’s nothing fancy.”
Pro Co RAT
"I always used to use a RAT back in the day, but what I did initially is instead of having it as an outboard piece, it’s kind of in the input of my Randall amp now.
It tightens up the bottom end. but if I don’t use the Randall and I use a Marshall or something, I always have to have the RAT in front. It’s always a quirky part of my sound.”
"[It’s quite a stripped down rig], I think too much shit gets in the way. Ninety percent of what you hear me play, there’s nothing going on. Even though it’s going through the effects, it’s on a channel that is dead - no effects.
"It really is about the fingers. All of this stuff helps get you through what you want to do, but I learned that lesson a long time ago when I plugged into Eddie Van Halen’s rig.
“He asked me to play and I couldn’t wait: ‘Finally, I’m going to sound like one of my biggest influences! I’m using his amp, his guitar, there’s no excuse now.’ I was really disappointed when I plugged in; it sounded just like me. I thought, ‘Aha - that’s where it comes from.’ What a disappointment! The dream was over quickly!”