Total Guitar recently published a new interview with Devin Townsend, discoing all things related to our favorite instrument. However, when it comes to guitars, Devin isn’t super-keen on some of the classics, like the Gibson Les Paul. While he doesn’t think that these instruments are bad, there’s one thing that just doesn’t seem to work for him. He explains:
“I still occasionally bring out my white Les Paul Custom. But the problem with Les Pauls is they look shit on me!”
“On some people they look fantastic. When you see Joe Perry or Slash holding a Les Paul you think, ‘Damn, that’s a match made in heaven!’ I already look like a dork so if you add a guitar that’s too small for my stature, it looks awful!”
Discussing the topic, Devin also reflected on his signature guitar, the Stormbender. As he explains, the idea behind it was to have “that sound but with a shape closer to something I could get behind.”
Comparing it to the Gibson Les Paul, he continues:
“One major difference is the scale length. My Framus is 25″ because I mainly play in open tuning with 10-52 gauge strings. The Gibson scale length would feel a little shaky tuned down like that.“
“The pickups are my signature set that I designed with Larry Fishman some years ago, which have a bit more chewiness and less compression compared to the regular Fluence Moderns.”
Another somewhat unconventional and more modern thing that Devin prefers is the digital amp modeling technology. Although he’s not against conventional amplifiers, the digital side of things seems to be working the best for him.
For Devin, it’s all about serving the song. He explains:
“It’s funny, when you ask people about their favorite amp, the acceptable responses are always the cork-sniffin’ ones like the Dumble or some Super Overdrive that’s been hidden away since 1956. [Laughs]”
“And you’re allowed to say that, because that’s sexy. But if you go around telling people it’s an Axe-Fx, people go, ‘That’s sacrilege!'”
“My whole workflow. includes tailoring sounds to suit the music I write. When I’m done, the sounds I’ve created are perfect for that song.
“When producers ask me to re-do it through some hissy old amplifier, I’ll go down that rabbit hole but I always come back to digital because it’s clean and I can control it.
“What people find problematic with the Axe-Fx is that it gives you all the options to make something fantastic or monumentally shit. It’s up to the user.”
Regarding other guitar-related topics, Devin Townsend also discussed what the instrument means to him at this point in his career during a last year’s interview with Ultimate Guitar. When asked about “Lightwork,” his latest album, and the overall milder presence of guitar tracks, he said:
“Well, I never think that the guitar is anything other than a means to an end. When I was a kid, I very much did. I was obsessed with guitar like I’m sure you were and everybody else. That’s all I did.”
“And I was good, and I think I still am good. I learned enough, and I gained enough proficiency at the instrument that I got to the point where I could do whatever I wanted to do.
“I could play whatever ideas that I had. And, honestly, the ideas that I have just don’t include a lot of the technique that I learned.”
“So, although I still practice, and I still do solos and everything, when I write, I never really think, ‘Oh, this doesn’t have enough guitar’ or ‘This is too much guitar.’ It’s just ‘Does it need guitar there or not?’ If so, I’ve got the capacity to do whatever is asked.”
“If you look at a record like ‘Lightwork,’ there’s pretty subtle guitar on this album. But then, if you go back to an album like ‘Deconstruction,’ it’s just constant guitar. And I would say that the only criteria that I use for each composition is ‘What does it need?'”
“And sometimes, it doesn’t need any guitar. And sometimes it needs nothing but. There’s no real formula there.”
When pressed on about how he shaped his guitar tone for such a record, as well as about some of the gear he used, Devin replied:
“I have three basses — I have a Fretless. I have a Zon five-string. And I have a Sadowsky five-string. Oh, and I also have a P-bass that I use for like more rock stuff.”
“And they’re in different tunings as well because I know the Zon really works for music that doesn’t require a lot of attack.”
“Sadowsky is great for things that require a B-string that need more attack. The P-bass is great for rock. The Fretless is just for effects. I’ve got my system set-up so it’s one cable. One cable goes into a distribution unit that then goes to Fractal Axe-Fx III, Axe-Fx II, Line 6 Helix and a Kemper.”
“And in my template for recording, every time I start a song, I’ve got a template that all those tracks are pre-assigned.
“So there’s a Fretless track, there’s a bass track, there’s DI tracks, there’s Kemper, there’s four different Axe-Fx stereo, four different Axe-Fx mono.
“And so if I have an idea, I grab that guitar plug-in the one cable, the tuner’s right there, I arm the track and I can start to record. I have, on my desktop, open all the time – Axe-Edit.
“Basically, when I start an idea, I will pursue that idea in my head like ‘Oh, this should be a watery sound.’ or ‘This should be a dry, heavy sound.'”
“Or, ‘This should be a vintage sound.’ But oftentimes I’ll record a DI as well. So when it comes to mixing, if we find that it requires more of a vintage amp, and that didn’t cut it, which, frankly is rarely, I can re-amp that.”
“But I just create the sounds based on what the part needs, as opposed to coming out with a bunch of stock sounds. Although, I do have stock sounds, I’ll often modify the parts to go along with the song, like tempos and whatever.”
Photo: Florian Stangl (Devin Townsend Project – Rock Harz 2013 – 11-07-2013 (9351037914)), Robban Kanto (Devin Townsend Project GRF2012-5415)