Vintage Trouble's Nalle Colt on his new Gretsch and high voltage tone
It’s been a whole two years since Guitarist caught up with Vintage Trouble’s inimitable six-string hero, Nalle Colt, and the four-piece rhythm ’n’ blues rockers have been typically busy in the interim.
As well as garnering all kinds of further acclaim for their frenzied live sets at festivals and concert halls across the planet, the band have also found time to cut their sophomore album, 1 Hopeful Rd, with legendary producer Don Was.
Back in July 2013, we met Nalle on the eve of Vintage Trouble’s Wembley Arena support slot on The Who’s Quadrophenia tour, the final gig on a mammoth 51-show trek.
This time around, the band is slap‑bang in the middle of yet another major world jaunt, opening for none other than AC/DC across Europe and North America. Tomorrow, they’ll be back in Wembley strutting their stuff in front of 70,000 rabid rock fans at the National Stadium. Nalle Colt, quite understandably, couldn’t be more stoked.
“Right now, it’s the largest tour in the world and it’s mind-blowing to get to see [AC/DC] play every night,” enthuses Colt.
“These guys are putting on such a show and it’s a great inspiration. It’s been really moving me a lot inside – music-wise, guitarwise, riff-wise and sound-wise. Everything about it really inspires me. I’m on a serious high right now.
“First of all, they offered us 14 shows of the European tour and, after five shows, they offered us the second leg of the European tour. Now, lo and behold, they’ve offered us North America as well, so it’s crazy! I think we’ve done 17 shows so far and we’ve played for over 1.4 million people already – incredible, man!”
Die-hard ’DC fans are a notoriously tough bunch to please when it comes to supports. What was the reception like?
“Yeah, we got really warned before the tour with AC/DC,” says Nalle. “They were like, ‘Our fans are not into support acts!’ I even heard they had Buddy Guy supporting them once and he had trouble. But they have been so supportive. Maybe it’s because we’re very different but, in a way, very much the same. We’re a basic rhythm ’n’ blues band. It’s guitar, bass, drums and vocals and there’s no frills about it. We just get up and play.
“The support’s been incredible and we’ve had a lot of communication with all the AC/DC fans all around Europe. They’ve been coming early to every show and even bringing flags with our name on it. In Spain, they wouldn’t even let us off the stage, so even the AC/DC crew was asking if it was our show or AC/DC’s!”
The last time we chatted to Nalle, he was gigging and recording with a mixture of Les Pauls and Gretsches. While his treasured Les Pauls still play an important part in his arsenal, Colt is now the proud owner of a Gretsch signature prototype that ticks just about every personal tone box possible.
“Right after I talked to you [in 2013] and we got off The Who tour, I went back to the States and Gretsch approached me about making a guitar and, to be honest with you, I was a little like, ‘Well, I don’t know, I’ve always been a Gibson Les Paul guy,’” explains Colt. “But they sat me down with Steve Stern at the Gretsch Custom Shop in California, and I explained what I wanted and I’m really proud of it. It came out incredible.
“We made a guitar based on a ’54 Gretsch Duo Jet and it’s kind of a hybrid of a Les Paul and a Gretsch. It’s actually my main guitar on this tour… and I also used it pretty much for 99 per cent of every song that you hear on the new album. It’s holding up really well. It’s a super-tough guitar to play live and I love it. It’s got everything I wanted, from growl to an old Chuck Berry-style kind of hollowbody vibe.”
Keeping the faith
When the time came to spec out the guitar, Nalle wanted to remain faithful to the sound of his trusty Les Paul.
“I gave Stephen Stern my main Les Paul and said, ‘If I’m going to make a new regular guitar, then it has to work like my Les Paul,’” says Nalle. “So they basically made a laser copy of my guitar neck from the Les Paul. Then, they put on jumbo frets, because I love the big old 6100 frets.
“While I love Filter’Tron guitar pickups, I always use humbuckers made by a friend of mine here in London – Monty’s Guitars. They make these incredible guitar pickups. So we ended up doing a kind of a crazy thing, because I wanted the Gretsch to look like an original old ’54 guitar with the look of the old Filter’Tron pickups, so we ended up taking the covers off the Filter’Trons and putting Monty’s humbucking pickups inside.
“It’s also wired like a Les Paul inside as well. Gretsch guitars have that original master volume in the front and I ended up disconnecting that and using it like a regular Les Paul with two volumes and a tone control. That came out perfect, because the guitar’s got a serious growl to it and it’s a hollowbody, so I can get a lot of feedback from the guitar in a very controlled way.
“It’s also got an old Bigsby tremolo and Grover tuners, and with the bridge, I insisted on using TonePros. Also, with Gretsch guitars, usually the bridge is kind of loose, so I made sure it was fixed and we drilled it into the body. I’m kind of a heavy-handed guitar player and I need to make sure that my guitars truly can take my beating them up.
“As far as looks on it go, they ended up mounting the Vintage Trouble logo into the guitar and then they relic’d it. Man, it looks and sounds so good and I’m really proud of it.”
On the current AC/DC tour, Colt is also packing two Les Pauls: his “girlfriend who stays with me at all times”, which was used on Vintage Trouble’s debut The Bomb Shelter Sessions; and another Les Paul, which is set up in open tuning for slide.
The majority of Nalle Colt’s unique gigging amp rig has largely stayed the same over the course of the past couple of years. He still uses two Lazy J tweed amps and a Fender Vibratone, but these days, an additional Lazy J amp head powers the Vibratone.
“Jesse [Hoff ] at Lazy J ended up making me a J 20 head that runs the Leslie [ie, Vibratone],” explains Colt. “He had a great old 60s blonde Fender Bandmaster that he let me use when I was touring here in England and I blew it up. Somebody plugged it in without putting the Leslie in and we smoked it! Jesse never forgave me for that, but for this tour, he ended up making me a J 20 head instead and it sounds incredible. So it’s all Lazy J amps and it sounds so good. I will never change!”
The Vibratone, which Fender originally launched in the late 60s to provide guitarists with a way of creating Leslie cabinet-style Hammond-esque tones, is still a core component in Nalle’s rig and is particularly prominent on Vintage Trouble’s recently released second album, 1 Hopeful Rd. A rotating Styrofoam drum in front of the speaker is powered at either a slow or fast speed to create a variety of different guitar tones.
“We really emphasise the Leslie on the new album,” enthuses Nalle. “If you put the headphones on, you can really hear it. I wanted it on all the ballads and stuff, because – since we’ve got such a barebones band with just the guitar, bass and drums – the Leslie is such a great kind of add-on with an old [Hammond] B3 organ kind of vibe.
“That came to me when I heard Couldn’t Stand The Weather by Stevie Ray Vaughan when I was a little kid. I was like, ‘What the fuck is that? It sounds so natural and organic,’ so I ended up looking it up. [Vibratones] are really hard to find these days, but I own four of them. I keep buying them when I see them on eBay and then I restore them. They create such a beautiful old Booker T & The MG’s kind of sound.”
On the new long-player, Colt also utilised a new 40-watt prototype combo amp with a 1x12 speaker built by David Friedman, who also makes Nalle’s pedalboards and services his Lazy Js in LA.
Although Colt does hawk a pedalboard around on tour, he actually uses effects very minimally, both on stage and in the studio.
“To be honest with you, I’m trying to use less and less pedals,” says Colt. “It’s something that I really want to get away from. I still use the Strymon [El Capistan] echo. It sits on all the time, but just with the smallest amount of slapback echo, at about 250 milliseconds.
“I use it as something to just split up the amps to get a little bit of space. If you check out Scotty Moore from all those early Elvis Presley recordings, you’ll find they always had that kind of tape echo. There’s also a lot of that slapback on most of the new record.
“We’ve got a shorter set of about 45 minutes on this tour with AC/DC and, with the songs we’re playing, all you hear is the Vibratone, that little Strymon echo and the Schaffer Replica, which is basically sitting on all the time. I’ve also been using treble bleeds with the guitar volume and they work really well with the Schaffer Replica.
“Sometimes, when you turn down the volume of your guitar, it can sound really muddy but – with the treble bleeds – you keep the treble when you turn down. But I think my dream is to not even have a pedalboard on stage. That would be such a freedom.
“Just using the volume knob on the guitar is such an expressive way of playing and you’d be amazed what you can do with the guitar on its own, and just a tone control and the splitting of the guitar pickups and stuff like that. Jeff Beck is the god of that, creating a million guitar tones from just a guitar and nothing else!”
Nalle Colt is rightfully proud of his band’s new album, 1 Hopeful Rd, their first for legendary imprint Blue Note Records.
It was overseen by multi-Grammy Award winning producer (and president of Blue Note) Don Was and Nalle describes Was’s role as “almost a fifth member of the band” during the sessions at Hollywood’s EastWest Studios.
“It was very, very cool working with Don,” explains Nalle. “First of all, he’s a musician because he’s a bass player, and he’s also an incredible musical director. He listens to everything in such a ‘song’ way, and I think he really brought out the songs in us.
“He really cared about everything I did on the guitar, too. Sometimes, I was just sitting and noodling and he would say, ‘Wait a minute! What was that? That’s really cool’, and I’d say, ‘Oh really?’ I’ve got to thank him for a lot of cool little guitar details that I would have never thought about doing myself.
“I also want to mention the recording engineer Howard Willing. He was so into the tone and we really spent a long time moving microphones back and forth on the speakers. He did an amazing job of finding the sweet spots…
“When I speak to guitar magazines and stuff, they’ve been a little bit surprised there’s not more big guitar riffs on it, but it was all about the songs this time and being more structured. It was really fun to make and I’m really proud of it.”
1. The Schaffer Replica sits on constantly throughout the set
2. A Malekko Omicron analogue tremolo, another of several (ironically) very modern pedals on Nalle’s ’board
3. Strymon’s El Capistan tape echo, constantly on to provide separation between Nalle’s amps; next to the Strymon Tap Favorite preset recaller
4. The Tone Freak Abunai X, a gritty drive pedal
5. A Lovepedal Pickle Vibe, an ultra-compact take on a Uni-Vibe
6. Voodoo Labs’ Proctavia, for fuzz and octave hijinks
Hopeful Rd by Vintage Trouble is out now on Blue Note Records. See the website for more info www.vintagetrouble.com