As the Once More ’Round The Sun tour marched its way through the UK, our rig hunters approached the fabled tusked beast with caution on a mission to dissect the tonal details of its leathery hide and fearsome tusks.
We were soon reminded that the ’Don have two very different players at their disposal to explore the proggy depths of tone that have resulted in six superb records and thousands of road miles across the globe.
Brent Hinds’ and Bill Kelliher’s contrasting mindsets apply to their rigs, too (shown here with their European tour set-up); one is a self-confessed gear-head on a dedicated quest, the other doesn’t sweat the small stuff; as their respective contributions here attest.
Electrical Guitar Company Custom Series Three
Brent: “I play this in the first part of the set. It’s a guitar made by my friend Kevin Burkett out of Pensacola, Florida. It has an aluminium neck and lucite body [pickups are an EGC humbucker in the neck and a Lace Brent Hinds Hammer Claw in the bridge].
"It’s kind of nostalgic of Greg Ginn and you can see through it, so it’s really neat. And when the lights hit it, it turns whatever colour the lights are. And it sounds good! It’s a bit heavier than your average gitfiddle.”
Electrical Guitar Company Custom EGC DS
Brent: “It’s the same, but an SG shape. The way it’s balanced is really hard to play and it hurts my back. I’m going to have to send it back and get it readjusted.”
Gibson Custom Silverburst Flying V
Brent: “I had that made for me back in 2005 [it features Gibson ’57 Classic humbuckers]. I play that on the drop A songs.”
Gibson SG 'Mustard'
Brent: “I really like mustard a lot, and figured I might as well get a guitar the colour of mustard. I use that on the standard tuning drop E to D songs across the board.”
Gibson Bill Kelliher Halcyon Custom Les Paul
Bill: “It’s a signature model. I think they made 400, but the one I have is custom to me because it has a special paint job on the back. It’s like my Golden Axe [the Explorer signature model Gibson produced], but in a Les Paul version. It has Lace Dissonant Aggressor pickups that I designed.
"It’s been really humbling. I remember when I couldn’t afford a Gibson. I saved up $600 and bought my first Gibson Explorer in white, a 1991 or 1992, thinking ‘This is the cream of the crop, this is the top of line.’ I finally owned one... I couldn't believe it.
"Now, having one with my name on it’s incredible. It took a while, but it’s better late than never, right? I’m very happy that Gibson would honour me by giving me own guitar.”
Les Paul Custom 1982 Silverburst with Lace Pickups
Bill: “In the early days, I had a lot of guitars stolen, and I’d always wanted a Silverburst. I got this in 2003 at a Guitar Center in Houston. This is my favourite guitar.”
Lace Bill Kelliher Dissonant Aggressor Pickups
Bill: “Lace were saying to me, ‘You've gotto have your own signature pickups.’ I’m like, ‘Well I love your pickups and I already think they sound great, but how do I make them sound better? I don’t know.’
"So I talked to the owner and the guy who was designing the pickups and said, ‘Just start sending me pickups and I’ll start tweaking them and I’ll send you my specs back, then you send me a new one and we’ll get closer and closer to what I think sounds like my sound.
Something I’d be proud enough to put my name on and say it was my pickup and I designed it.
"It’s literally built from scratch. We started with, ‘Okay here’s a pickup, what do you want to change?’ ‘I want more gain, less high end...’ I actually took five or six different pickup companies that I liked qualities of in each one and said, ‘Can you make it, first off, sound like all of these in one pickup?’
"It took about a month and a half to two months. Every week, I’d get the pickup, put it in the guitar and then say ‘This is what I like, this is what I don’t like.’ Then I’d send it back, they’d send me a new one... until, finally, I said, ‘This one is awesome, let’s just stop and I’ll put my name on it and see what happens.’
“So it was pretty involved. I’m really hands-on; I soldered it in myself and I was very excited to wait for the mail for the newest pickup. We got to a place where I was really happy with it.”
Brent's Marshall JCM 800s
Brent: “I’m running two JCM800s, unfortunately, that’s what I’ve got to play. At home, I run old JMPs, Diesels [VH-4] and stuff like that.
"The JMPs [‘77 and ‘78 MKII 100-watt Lead Series] I play at home are the ones I played in the very beginning of Mastodon, and I bought them from Nashville Pussy.”
Bill's Marshall JCM 800s
Bill: “One of them is a reissue, a 2203 reissue. The other is an original, an ‘81 or something. I swap amps around a lot. Tonight, I’m using those, other nights I’ve been using a Blackstar HT Metal head, which I love. The natural distortion and the clean on it sound great. It’s a great amp.
"I’ve got an Orange out with me as well, so I play around with all those different amps and combinations. At the moment, I’ve got a good thing going on with the Marshalls. But who’s to say tomorrow the Orange wouldn’t be plugged in. It’s the TH100 model, which has a great distortion channel. I’m never happy with just one amp. I always have a few different types of amps running.
“I treat both heads the same usually, but with the Axe-Fx you can run one direct with a distortion box in front of it, and with the other use the actual distortion of the head itself.”
Brent: “Everything just pretty much stays on all the time. I just have to knock the (TS-808) off and then the phaser off and on quite often."
Fractal Axe-FX II w/ MFC-101 Midi Foot Controller
Bill: “I’ve tried all sorts of combinations and never been able to do that with other effects processors; sending one signal doing one thing to one and another signal to the other thing doing something else.
"I haven’t been able to figure that out until the Axe-Fx. Because certain amps I have sound great with a distortion box in front of them, and some don’t.
“I’m using it like a pedalboard at the moment and I’m finding it really useful. I don’t use a lot of effects, but it does exactly what I want it to do. It does everything; there’s nothing it can’t do really, it’s great.
"One of the things I like about it is it runs off a cat5 cable right to a pedalboard that’s specific for it. It’s all easy to understand. You can hook up your laptop to it and tweak stuff inrealtime, like it’s a real pedalboard in front of you. I’m still learning about how to use it, but at the moment it works great.
"I’ve got delay, one clean channel that has a phaser. I’ve got reverb, a little bit of chorus. I’ve got an octaver, a boost... those are the ones I use the most. I just touch them here and there, it’s for peace of mind that they’re in there if I need them, it’s just for effects.
“At home, I use it with a couple of Friedman heads; the HBE 100 and I’ve just got a Jerry Cantrell signature Friedman head. They’re top of the line, and they just sound so amazing - so good. They’re building an amp for me, the way I want one, so I’m excited to hear how that’s going to turn out.
"I own probably 30 different amp heads, so at home I’ll dust one off to see how it sounds... tomorrow I might be, ‘I don’t like that, let’s try this old Marshall.’ I always run at least two heads. I’m always searching for that perfect sound, but I think I’m pretty close.”