Rabbits... cuddly woodland creatures or loud, ear-piercing rockers from Portland, OR? Technically both are accurate, but we only really care about the latter. This pulverising trio of metal/punk/hardcore/noise musicians released their latest offering, Untoward, on August 12, 2014. The 6-song album was tracked live to tape in Portland at Type Foundry and is balls-out loud. So as to get a better idea where these noisemakers get their sound, we spoke with vocalist and guitarist Joshua Hughes (ex-VSS, Angel Hair) about some of his gear.
What one piece of gear do you use to obtain your signature sound? Hughes: My sound is my guitar plus my amps, but for sure starts with my '65/'66 (not sure) Fender Mustang I've had since 1994. I replaced both pickups with DiMarzio Fast Tracks 2s right when I got it and took out the switches so both pickups are wired on all the time. Those pickups are pretty hot, plus I use 11-54s with a wound third in standard E, and I play with the tone and volume knobs always maxed. Subtlety eludes me.
What about it makes it so important to you? Hughes: I played that guitar since I first started touring and recording with my old hardcore bands, so I've had it my entire adult life. At this point when I put it on it becomes an extension of my body, it does what I want even when I throw it around and beat the shit out it. Sound-wise, with the thick strings and hot pickups it has a lot of heft and cutting power right from the get-go, no matter what I plug it into.
How was this gear used during the recording of your latest album? Hughes: In Rabbits I've only ever used this guitar with my two amps. One is a 1984 100w JCM 800 with 6550s through a mid '80s 4x12 Laney cab that has two of the original Fane speakers, and I just replaced the other two with 100w Celestions after I blew a cone to shreds at a show last week. I've been playing that amp and cab in every band I've been in for 20 years straight. The other is a '70s Burman Pro Series 500 100w combo with two 12-inch Celestions. It's a somewhat rare British amp I got when first moved to Portland for super cheap ($350) about 12 or 13 years ago. It has a fairly sophisticated hand-wired circuit that cascades nicely through three gain stages, giving lots of control over the break up. When I've brought it in for repairs amps guys usually haven't heard of it, but then they open it up and listen to it and end up impressed.
I also run it into an external ported 1x15 custom cab built by my friend Todd at Roller Sound. He builds beautiful boutique cabs (Aaron from YOB plays a couple), but I had him build me a no frills one just for this amp. I run my mini-POG through the Burman set up. Together I get a really broad spectrum of frequencies from big round lows to shrill highs and lots of great sounding mids. I used a BlueBeard fuzz for a long time, but I recently switched to a EarthQuaker Hoof. I use fuzz maybe a little over half the time, but just on the Marshall. I use a Boss DD-6 delay pedal for solos, single-note lines, and droney parts.
How do you recreate your album (guitar/vocal/bass) tones in your live set? Hughes: For our latest album, Untoward, we recorded live to tape other than vocals and solos, everything tracked in one day, so live we pretty much sound like the record except a little more unhinged. We share the Steve Albini philosophy that we're a rock band that practices and has our shit dialed in, so recording should just be us setting up in the studio and knocking out the songs. I love records full of studio wizardry, and played in bands that took advantage of that, but for Rabbits we like to keep it pretty raw and unfiltered. What you see is what you hear.
What are the major pros and cons? Hughes: As far as the guitar goes, pros are I'm super comfortable with it, it's easy and fun to play, and it can take a lot of abuse and rarely goes out of tune or breaks. A con is that after years of sweat and grime it's pretty disgusting--shit grows on it--but that also prevents people from wanting to pick it up, a pro. Some people think it's goofy that I play a "little" guitar because I'm a big guy, but I think it's goofy to think that. If Mustangs were good enough for John McLaughlin, they're surely good enough for a hack like me.
Do you have a backup for this gear, if so, what? Hughes: Man, if I lost that guitar or my JCM 800 I'd be devastated. I have a new Squire '65 Mustang reissue that plays nice, but it needs some breaking in and probably different pickups. If something happened to the JCM 800 I'd get another one as soon as possible. I have a hot-rodded 50W Carlsbro combo that could fill in for the Burman, but I blew it both times I tried that. We played on Arabrot' Hiwatts in Europe and they sounded great and reasonably like our own stuff.
How long have you had it, how do you use it, would you ever change it? Hughes: 20 years, harshly, no.
Give us your best "gear goes wrong" story. Hughes: Nothing too major. I blew a transformer in my Carlsbro when my Burman was down. It released a disgusting toxic gas throughout the club that has adhered to everyone's lungs. I busted three tuning pegs on my Mustang in one bad move one time.
Any final thoughts or comments on the gear? Hughes: I think people have gotten a bit too obsessed with certain gear or brands of gear, worrying more about sounding like someone else instead of developing their own sound, especially when just starting out. When I first started playing in bands, no one we played with ever had much money, so I saw people playing with strange guitars through weird amps and heard so many awesome and unique sounds because they made the best out of it. I think because of that I've never paid more than $500 for any piece of music gear... although admittedly I've paid WAY more than that maintaining all this old gear over the years.