If you’ve yet to discover Petoskey, MI’s post-hardcore/metal quintet, Famous Last Words, well... no better time that now! The group has previously landed two Billboard top #100 albums and their most recent offering, September 2016’s walloping The Incubus via Revival Recordings, included twelve new original tunes that subsequently brought even more pandemonium to moshpits the world over. Now, as the group continue to promote the new goods (check out some music videos below), we connected with guitarist Evan Foley to discuss gear; namely his custom, mahogany baritone “Telecaster” clone.
What one piece of gear do you use to obtain your signature sound? Evan Foley: There’s a lot of small bits and pieces that go into the sounds our fans hear when they listen to us. But to me, the most important one is my mahogany baritone ‘Telecaster’ clone. It’s something I put together myself after not being able to find anything like it available in stores. It’s definitely not your average Telecaster clone though. It’s my attempt at blending all of the things I love about different guitars and basses. (Yep, once upon a time I played bass.)
To start with, the body is a traditional Telecaster slab body with no body or forearm contour cuts. It’s just a single chunk of mahogany. I always loved Les Pauls because of their warm dense sound, which in a large part of is due to their bodies being solid mahogany. So, thus, I chose to go with that same wood for this guitar. If there’s a downside to that much of such a dark tone wood, it’s that sometimes the sound isn't bright enough. So, when it came to the neck construction for this build I went with Maple and Ebony. The way those two parts are built really come together in a very distinct, and to my ear pleasing, way to give me the tone that this guitar has.
After the physical build of it, there’re a handful of other little bells and whistles. The fret wire is a gold finished alloy to try to achieve a similar feel and projection that Warwick basses have. After some trial and error I ended up with a DiMarzio Titan as my pickup selection. And in regards to the circuitry, there’s just a single pickup, single volume, single tone, and an output jack. That’s it!
Here’s the music video for “Pretty in Porcelain”... check it out!
What about it makes it so important to you? Foley: What makes it important, or really the reason it means so much to me, is the fact that I specced it out and built it to be exactly what I wanted and nothing I felt like I didn’t need.
How was this gear used during the recording of your latest album? Foley: For this last trip into the studio, we as a band were really striving to write in a darker, ominous vibe. While I don’t subscribe to the “lower is heavier” school of thought in regards to guitar tuning, we found ourselves writing almost exclusively in drop G#. The thing about that is to achieve such a low tuning on a standard scale guitar you would need to use ridiculously large gauge strings, which is something I’ve never personally been a fan of. (I’ve been playing with a .54 6th string across all of my touring guitars for years.)
The sheer length of the neck on this baritone allows me to get away with being able to drop to extremely low tunings, while still using lighter gauge strings, without the sloppiness that would usually go along with that. (In the video I mentioned that the scale length was 28 3/4”. I don’t exactly know why I kept saying that when it is actually 28 5/8”. So, my apologies for adding that extra eighth of an inch. But who’s measuring anyway?)
All of that is just a really long winded explanation of why this particular guitar was so important. We didn’t have a ton of time in the studio here, so I needed to be able to grab the guitar, feel comfortable with it, and start writing. If I had to spend a bunch of time experimenting with different string gauges, or messing with intonation, we would have lost precious time. Even worse, it could have killed the entire vibe and kept us from getting these songs out.
How do you recreate your album (guitar/vocal/bass) tones in your live set? Foley: On stage we opted to use AxeFXs rather than traditional amplifiers, so we really are lucky that we can have any imaginable tone or sound we could want. But as much as the amps and effects impact the tone, there’s no denying that the instrument itself plays a huge roll.
What are the major pros and cons? Foley: For me, the biggest pro of this guitar is how bare bones it is. There’s one pickup, one volume knob, one tone knob, and an output jack. And that’s it. There aren’t a bunch of extra knobs and buttons. There’s no switches I can accidentally knock into. There’s not seven or eight strings just so that I can get down into extremely low tunings. You plug it in, you turn it up, and you rip. That’s the best part. The biggest con; it really only does one thing. But that’s why i built it. It does exactly the job it was made for. So it doesn’t really bother me.
Guitarist Evan Foley gives us a guitar rundown.
Do you have a backup for this gear, if so, what? Foley: We always travel with at least three guitars, usually all of them are set up in different tunings depending on what songs we’ve got in a given live set. But while I’ve got two more guitars with me at all times, no, I don’t really have another one that could directly replace this one given how it handles the lowest ranges of our tunings. Lucky for me there’s not a whole lot that can actually go wrong with this one. As long as it’s in one piece, we’re pretty much good to go.
How long have you had it, how do you use it, would you ever change it? Foley: I built this guitar about 9 years ago after I started noticing guitarists playing baritone guitars more and more as an alternative to using 7 or 8 string guitars solely to be able to drop their tunings lower. I don’t like extra shit. I don’t want strings I won’t play. I don’t want pickups and knobs i’ll never touch. I just wanted a bare bones ripper, and when i couldn’t find any of the major guitar manufacturers offering something like this I decided to contact Warmoth to start the process to make my own.
If i were to change anything, it would definitely be the placement of the truss rod adjustment. On this neck it’s actually hidden under the overhang of the fretboard (and thus to adjust it you have to actually remove the neck) which makes it sort of a pain to properly set up. But, luckily, because of how well it was made, and how stable it is, I’ve rarely found myself having to mess with it.
Check out the “The Judged” lyric video now that you’re pumped to hear more.
Give us your best “gear goes wrong” story. Foley: Luckily, I’ve never had any catastrophic issues with this guitar. But years back when my old band was playing a few dates on Warped Tour I watched one of my basses, in it’s case, floating down the street during a flash flood. It was the Tampa date, and it almost always storms like it’s the end of the actual world on that date. It just happened to go full on hurricane around 9am while we were supposed to be loading our gear to our stage. One of our carts flipped over and tossed my basses out onto the road and it got washed about a block away before anyone could stop it. RIP to that bass. I still have it, but after it’s olympic swim and subsequent days in the Florida summer sun, the neck ended up with about a half inch gap between the strings and the neck at the 12th fret.
Any final thoughts or comments on the gear? Foley: I built this guitar to be exactly what I wanted out of a baritone guitar. It’s got all the things I want, and none of the crap I don’t. It’s not for everyone. In fact, a lot of people find it kind of uncomfortable because of how insanely long the scale is. But, for me, and for my playing style, it’s perfect! It rips. That’s all i need it to do.