Linescratchers contributor Joseph Mecham recently interviewed Brandon Kitterman (guitar aficionado of Utah’s indie rock band Fictionist) for GuitarJunkie.net. Linescratchers gets to join in on the fun.
Brace yourself, dear reader, for a lesson in being awesome. Brandon Kitterman is what I would call a sonic knitting artist. You know those really ugly knitted blankets you always try to warm up with at your Grandparents house, and they’re so riddled with holes they have a 10% heat retention rating? Then you end up freezing to death on their couch while developing terminal asthma because they have 40 years of dust collected in the couch cushions? Well yeah… that sucks, and I share your pain. However, if Brandon were to knit for you a blanket with his sonic textures and tones, it would be made of silk, be your favorite color, smell like vanilla, have a 99% heat retention rating, and it would wrap you like an Egyptian mummy. Yep… he’s that good. Read on for everything you wanted to know about Brandon Kitterman’s guitar set-up and technique.
What are your main guitars? Any custom mods done to them? What are the stand out pros and cons (if any) to your guitars?
My main guitar is Les Paul’s least favorite guitar: a Gibson SG ’61 re-issue, in Heritage Cherry. It’s very, very light and quite easy on the hands. I discovered that a large part of the secret to Jimmy Page’s tone is the Gibson scale, so I loved it instantly (the first time I played the Heartbreaker riff on it!). I’ve replaced the bridge pickup with a P-94 (Humbucker-sized P-90). I fell in love with the P-90 tone through my amp, so I prefer that sound in the bridge. The neck is the stock ’57 classic, which is warm, clear, and beautiful! When I combine the two, it’s really glassy but really deep sounding. Stuart’s Duesenberg has a P-94 in the neck position and a humbucker in the bridge, and is was a really cool sound, so I decided to copy him in reverse ;P As far as cons, sometimes it can have a bit of a thin tone for recording (but not often), just because there’s not as much mass in the instrument. I think the biggest con has been the Gibson electronics. I’ve still got problems with the pots and switch, but it’s not so bad I can’t fix/deal with it (and I’m pretty discerning). The thing just roars and punches really well.
I also use an 80s strat in Lake Placid blue. This one was made in Japan. I remember my dad gave it to me one Christmas in the late 90s and I wasn’t too excited about it. “Great….thanks…Dad…” but turns out that once I got over my Mesa-Boogie/Ridiculously Compressed Humbuckers/4×12 cab snobbery (thank goodnes…phew!!), I realized that it sounds awesome. The previous owner replaced the bridge pup with something, but I have no idea what. It’s just fabulously spanky and bright, and it’s really resonant in the wood so it feels/sounds great. It’s just difficult to switch guitars during a show, so I don’t use it too much live. Actually Stu has been playing it lately, but really it’s great.
As far as bass I use a Rickenbacker 4003 in jet-glo (black). It’s actually my dad’s, the one he used to play in his bands in high school. I’m working on getting one of my own, I swear The “Rick” is unmistakable in tone and very unique (Rush, early Yes, etc.). It growls like crazy and has such an amazing tone. I usually play bass on songs where Stuart just sings or plays just a little guitar. It’s a nice match in this situation as it’s got quite a wide frequency range and distorts really nicely, so it makes up for a second guitar pretty easily. The only con is that it’s heavy and big (and expensive), but I don’t care! I love it!!
What amp(s) are you playing through currently? Any custom mods done to them? What are the stand out pros and cons (if any) to your amps?
I’m playing through a stock Matchless Avenger 30-watt combo (1×12). I haven’t done any mods to it yet, though I’ve debated several. I’m actually just afraid to do anything to it because I love it!! It’s a really throaty, punchy amp when you turn it up. The brighter sound of the SG really goes well with it. And the strat for that matter. It runs on 12AX7′s in the pre-amp and EL84′s in the power section, so it’s got this funny Vox-Fender mix going on. Less glassy and shrill than a Vox, but dirtier and brighter than a Fender at high volume. Actually, it’s touted by Matchless as their “British meets American” amp. It’s a really simple, 1-input workhorse. A con would be that it really only has one volume. I run it “class-a” style so it’s pretty much “on/off,” which for some venues can be too much or too little. There’s a little bit of play with the 1/2 power switch, which I use frequently. Other cons would be that it’s ridiculously heavy and it kind of has one awesome sound. Some of my effects get swallowed up a bit, especially fuzz/distortions. I’m looking into a fender bassman or something like that to run with it; something that will push and punch but not get too gritty so I can run some more wacky sounds through it.
What are your amp settings to get such a killer tone?
This amp is so simple, there’s not much to it. I just run the volume at about 11 or 12 o’clock (for saturation/compression – after that point it can get a bit too saturated), and the treble/bass/mid knobs don’t do a whole lot. It’s a scoopy sounding amp, so I like to run the mids a bit higher, like 2 or 3 o’clock, and the bass can be overwhelming in enclosed spaces, so I go anywhere from 0-6 on that, but the trebles stay about 12-1 o’clock most of the time. There’s a master volume attenuator, but I don’t like to use it because it really cripples the tone. Lots of the tone has to come from the speaker, so I have to get it loud enough that it’ll compress the speaker and the amp.
I run this amp “class-a” style, which means that I set it at a tone that is nice and gritty and use my guitar’s volume knob to clean up the tone if I want to. If I want more compression than full volume on my guitar I run a boost into the amp, which gives it more tone/compression without actually making it louder. That’s the way those class-a boutiques work, really – once you get up to about 1/3-1/2 the way up on the volume knob you’ve got about all the volume you’re gonna get. Past that it’s all tone.
What pedals are you currently using? Any uncommon tricks you use with your pedals for unique tones or effects?
Oh boy…well, in lieu of giving you the in-depth on my entire board, I’ll just give you a small list: EB VP JR (volume), Pigtronix Philosopher’s tone Compressor, Digitech (don’t cringe – it’s actually a good pedal) Hardwire Polyphonic Tuner, Stuart’s EHX Holy Grail Reverb, Danelectro Transparent Overdrive V2, MXR Tremolo (the big purple ones), Boss EQ (as a boost/shape for solos), Boss Giga Delay w/external tap switch, Danelectro Dan-Echo for slapback delays, Boss Roland Space Echo Emulator (awesome delays and murky reverbs), and EHX H.O.G. (harmonic octave generator – like a P.O.G. on steroids). I’m continually trying to figure out how to change out pedals or get new sounds. Right now my board is lacking rotary/oscillator type effects like crazy, but I may be getting some soon. I also am trying to find a ring mod that suits me. As far as uncommon tricks, that’s the name of my game. I love tweaking pedals and getting crazy sounds. I won’t tell you all of them, but one I will tell you: for the “Great Escape” washy step-sequence tone I use the H.O.G. on a relatively narrow “Q” filter sweep setting (controlled by an expression pedal). I dial in a good amount of “5th above” doubling for richer chords without the stretching. I put my tremolo pretty close to a square wave so that as I use the expression pedal it sounds like it’s sequencing through the harmonics of the chord I’m playing, but really just emphasizing them with the filter and grabbing “snapshots” of them with the trem. Add a little long delay from the Space Echo to emphasize that step-sequence thing and make it swim, and you’re set! That’s one of my best tricks.
What is the one pedal you find most vital to your setup?
I couldn’t live without the H.O.G. or the Space Echo. Those have really defined my tone for Fictionist stuff for a while. Stuart though I was crazy to spend almost $1000 on these pedals/accessories, but I proved him wrong!! Seriously – just go watch videos on the H.O.G. It’s amazing!!
Which guitarist(s) do you particularly strive to emulate with your guitar tone?
Brandon : You know, one of my heroes has always been Jimmy Page. So inventive yet many times straightforward with his tones. Such an intuitive player, seems to always know the exact part to make your ears happy. Just a really great rock player, lots of soul. Of course there are plenty more influences and hat-tips (David Gilmour, Johnny Greenwood, Mike Doughty/Soul Coughing, Tame Impala, Menomena, Steve Howe, Manuel Barrueco, Julian Bream, Dan Hoerner, Stevie Ray Vaughan, etc, etc), but Jimmy Page is probably my number one.