Holding court on Camden’s Electric Ballroom’s stage is The Hold Steady guitarist Tad Kubler, who has been Googling milliamp stats for his stomp boxes and stressing over the alarming LED array on his ’board.
“This ‘peak’ light is going off, even when it’s not on,” he says. Fellow six stringer Steve Selvidge’s sage advice? “Gaff it.”
It’s an indicator of what’s in store for the tour. There’s not an Axe-Fx in sight: just three veterans, a tangle of stomp boxes and an array of bruised guitars that ooze both utility and vibe.
Tad Kubler: “When we were working on Teeth Dreams, Gibson brought over a bunch of guitars and this stayed. It’s been my main guitar ever since. This one’s got the gold hardware, which feels a little ostentatious, but as it’s a darker finish, you don’t notice it.”
Gibson 2006 ’56 VOS Les Paul Goldtop
Tad: “I got my Goldtop new from Gibson but my friend, Brett, who is the reason I started playing guitar, his mum’s husband collects guitars and he did all the relic’ing on this. When it was brand new looking, I just didn’t really play it and it’s a fucking amazing guitar. I got it because I wanted a Les Paul with a big neck and P-90s.”
Fender ’68 Custom Princeton Reverb and Supro 1964 Reissue Saturn Reverb
Tad: “At home, my Bradshaw board is rigged so I can have four switchable outputs so that I can use four different amps. I’ve got a ’57 Deluxe, a ‘Bob’ amp - which our old sound guy built for me - and an AC15 and on each output it’s got a lift and a polarity. These are rentals. I like smaller wattage combos, so I got the Princeton and I thought I’d try this Supro. I want to turn on the amp and hit the fucker as hard as I can and leave that to make the sound. I don’t like something with a master volume. So I usually aim for something that’s 15-watts.”
Boss TU-3 and TC Electronic Polytune Mini
Tad: “I use two tuners and they’re on all the time. It’s just an OCD thing!”
MXR MC-401 Boost
“Then I run into this Bradshaw pedal. I keep it at about -10dB. It’s just a clean boost that I use to hit some of the pedals and the amps a little bit harder. It just breaks up a little bit diff erently. I don’t keep it on. It’s on for anything that I want a little more top on, or a little more sparkle, if it’s cleaner.”
Boss FDR-1 ’65 Fender Deluxe Reverb
“This I use as like a cut, so rather than needing to back off my volume, I can step on this and do cleaner stuff . I was using that a lot when we did Spinners and I love the fucking reverb on this thing. It’s got that great drippy, spring reverb.”
Earthquaker Devices Organizer
“This is like an organ effect. It’s got an up and down octave, lag, tone - to roll off some of the top-end - and then a ‘choir’ control that combines the up and the down and regenerates it, so you get like a third and fourth octave. I hardly use it. I keep putting it on my pedalboard and hoping I will learn to use it tastefully.”
“I use this as a kind of rotary. It’s got a nice accelerating feature where if you hold the tap down it speeds up. It’s got filter, vintage trim, destroyer, chorus, flange, phaser and rotary options.”
Union Tube & Transistor More
“This is a Vancouver brand and a cool boost pedal. They say to put this at the end of the chain, otherwise you tend to hit your other pedals too hard.”
Gibson 2004 ’54 Reissue Les Paul Goldtop
Steve Selvidge: “Yet another relic’d goldtop! With a Welsh dragon. To be honest, I’m a total nerd and I brought this specifically because this is my UK guitar.
“I was touring with this girl named Amy LaVere when I first got this guitar and I played it on Later... With Jools Hollands with her. I love the wrap-around tail. It’s a whole diff erent sound. It’s a little more aggressive and you get a little more of what they call ‘sitar-ing’. If it goes too far that’s bad, but just a little bit gives it that edge…
“It has Fralin pickups in it, but my buddy Mark Stow is coming tonight and he does OX4 pickups. I’ve got some humbuckers of his in a Les Paul that I love, so I’m hoping he might bring me some P-90s for this!”
1999 Mexican Fender Telecaster Thinline
Steve: “This is kind of a weird thing. It’s a ’99 Mexican Tele Thinline that I had MojoTone pots and switch put in. It’s just better quality components and they have a better sweep.
“Then these are the Lollar humbuckers. Fender just put in a humbucker with off set screws, so they weren’t a real Wide Range. Jason Lollar made a copy of a real Wide Range humbucker, so I use them in a bunch of stuff . I’ll use this for tunes that have more of a chime-y aspect.”
Vox AC15 And Orange Rocker 32
Steve: “I honestly feel like the AC15 is the best blending amplifier. I like a multi-amp thing because it’s a mix of stuff , but no matter what you do, I feel like this adds a good colour into the mix of things.
“The Orange is a little more woolly so the two of them together just gives you a good spread. I use that [blend] for the gain and maybe just a little boost with the pedal. For the longest time, I was just using a 50-watt Plexi reissue and an AC30 together, which is just like the loudest shit ever.
“Everyone’s come to the conclusion that the dream is over and you can’t play through giant stacks anymore, though, so it’s all 15-30-watt amps, you know?”
Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer
Steve: “We go into the compressor, which I use as a volume boost. It’s almost no compression, just a little bit, but the volume is turned all the way up. It gives you a little more sustain and it’s good for clean things, where you don’t want distortion, but you want to give it a little push. It’s also good for volume swells, because you’ve got that added sustain coming in.”
Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo
“El Capistan! I had this and then my ’board was in storage and I was home without it, so I had to buy another one, because it’s that good. They’re so expensive. I love all the wiggly bad tape stuff . It has the sound-onsound thing, like an old Echoplex, - a great way to drive people completely bananas because it creates this crazy loop that just gets more degenerated. It’s end-of-the-show mayhem.”
Boss RT-20 Rotary Ensemble
“What I’m looking for in modulation is movement, but that’s not obvious. There’s a lot of stuff on Teeth Dreams, that Leslie speaker type stuff . Sometimes I just trip out looking at it. I’ve actually missed cues staring at that.”
Radial Bones Twin-City ABY Amp Switcher
“This is how I get to two amps. I just leave them running in parallel all the time. It’s got the ground lift and the phasing so when you run the diff erent amps you can adjust.”
Gibson Melody Maker
Craig Finn: “I happen to be in a band with two really good guitar players and so when I play it’s pretty minimal. I just really like the simplicity of this guitar - there are two knobs, and that’s all.
“It always stays in tune, it travels really well. I’ve nicknamed it Rod Carew [after the Minnesota Twins baseball player] and it’s got a Minnesota Twins sticker on it. It’s a great rhythm guitar.”
Fender Princeton Reverb
Craig: “The amp I’ve got here is a rental, but I’ve got one at home that fits in a Peli tank and weighs about 50 pounds, so I can fly with it, which is amazing.”
Craig: “I’ve just got a tuner, a Z. Vex Super Duper, a Boss DD-5 Digital Delay and the EarthQuaker Devices Dispatch Master, which is like a delay/ reverb and I just use it to make things sound thicker. That was the first pedal I got in a long time that wasn’t a tuner!”