Alain Johannes On Obtaining Extraordinary Tones

AN EXCEPTIONAL MULTI-INSTRUmentalist, an accomplished recording engineer, and a gifted singer and songwriter, Alain Johannes is a modern-rock renaissance man.

AN EXCEPTIONAL MULTI-INSTRUmentalist, an accomplished recording engineer, and a gifted singer and songwriter, Alain Johannes is a modern-rock renaissance man. The success of his band Eleven led to recording and performing credits with heavyweights Chris Cornell, Josh Homme, and Dave Grohl, and Johannes slung a Baratto Cigfiddle cigar-box guitar on tour in 2009 and 2010 with Them Crooked Vultures, which features Zep legend John Paul Jones on bass. Johannes poured his grief over the death of partner Natasha Schneider into songs that he eventually recorded in his home studio for his emotional ode, Spark.

How did you come to play the nylon-string contrabass guitar, and how do you capture its sound in the studio?

I’ve played flamenco music on guitar since I was a child; that eventually led me to the contrabass, which I picked up in earnest about three years ago. It’s essentially a big flamenco guitar tuned an octave lower; unlike most acoustic bass guitars, its rich overtones make it sound as if it were amplified.

I actually did amplify my contrabass, but not directly. I placed an inexpensive condenser mic near the bridge to capture the grit, and ran the signal through an old Vox T60 practice bass amp. Then I placed an old bottle-shaped Russian tube mic about a foot off the sound hole, which captured the amp’s sound in the room, as well. You can hear it on the first cut off Spark, “Endless Eyes.”

How else did you get the bass tones on the album?

I used percussion and fretless guitar— a hollowbody Messenger electric—for a lot of the low-end information. The guitar has a through-body aluminum neck. I took off the frets and strung it with flatwound strings so it would sound good tuned down two steps. I use an EBow to render sounds that are almost like a string section.

Have you always gravitated toward unique instruments for bass sounds?

Yes, although I use conventional basses as well. The Rogue VB-100 Violin Bass is my current favorite. Natasha played most of the bass in Eleven with her left hand on a Moog keyboard. She had the best groove, and a most musical way of thinking influenced by Paul McCartney, John Paul Jones, and Stevie Wonder. Some bass guitar purists may say, “Hey, that’s not a bass,” but I feel that anything capable of serving the bass function counts.

Alain Johannes, Spark [Rekords, 2010]; Spinerette, Spinerette [Anthem, 2009]

Basses Esteve Contrabass, Johnson Resophonic Resonator Dobro Bass, Rogue VB-100 Violin Bass, Rickenbacker 4001, vintage Epiphone hollowbody
Rig Studio: Ampeg BA-118, Ampeg VT-22 or VT-40, ’50s monophonic hi-fi amplifier through a 1x15 cab (for fuzz tones); live: Ampeg SVT heads and cabs
Effects Z.Vex Super Hard-On
Strings D’Addario Chromes


Zachary Carothers: On Keeping Tame & Tasteful

GROWING UP IN WASILLA, ALASKA WAS A UNIQUE experience that shaped Zach Carothers of Portugal. The Man. “We were so isolated that it was hard to discover hip, new bands,” he explains. “Luckily, my parents listened to great music by Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and Led Zeppelin.” After a few years living practically next door to then-mayor Sarah Palin, P.TM relocated to Portland, Oregon. The group’s new CD, The Satanic Satanist, inventively folds psychedelic and R&B influences into its distinctive take on indie rock.

Incubus Ben Kenney Talking Tone

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Michael Ivins : On The Joy Of Effects

MICHAEL IVINS WAS AN AMATEURB when he joined the Flaming Lips in 1983, but he’s since evolved into a capable sideman and sound connoisseur. He’s helped engineer the Lips’ complex studio sessions since the mid ’90s. Embryonic marks a return to the band’s early freak-out aesthetic. It’s unabashed psychedelic rock, loaded with truckloads of fuzz and wild effects. Most of the material manifested from jams with frontman Wayne Coyne on bass and Steven Drozd on drums. The Lips’ endless role switching in the studio does not carry over to the stage, where Ivins always holds down the low end.

Matt Snell On Tone And Tenacity

FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH’S MATT Snell—a former audio engineer and auto mechanic—is one of today’s top authorities of extreme bass guitar. Catch him on the tour supporting his band’s latest, War Is the Answer.

Dave Dreiwitz : On Taking It To The Stage

WHICH ONE’S PINK? WHO’S THE BASS player in Ween? Such questions have multiple answers. Guitarist and singer Mickey Melchiondo, AKA Dean Ween, plays plenty of bass on the recordings. Singer/guitarist Aaron Freeman, AKA Gene Ween, does too. In addition, producer and former Rollins Band bassist Andrew Weiss usually plays a bit on each record. Since 1997, Dave Dreiwitz has been Ween’s bassman whenever the wackedout alt-rock outfit attacks the stage. He usually plays a cut or three in the studio, as well.