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The good folks at Rolling Stone magazine have taken up residence at the Workers Club Hotel in Fitzroy through to October 9 with their Live Lodge series of gigs. This Wednesday, October 5th, they’ll be presenting a Guitar Masterclass featuring Ashley Naylor (Even/Rockwiz) and Alexander Laska (Kingswood), in which the two respected guitarists will discuss the ins and outs of their setups, styles and techniques, and while they’re at it, will play some sweet riffs too. Ahead of Wednesday night’s masterclass, Ash Naylor gave us a preview of what’s in store by answering a few guitar related questions of our own.
You’re presenting a guitar masterclass on Wednesday, along with Kingswood’s Alex Laska. When you were learning guitar, did you attend any similar kind of sessions?
I’ve never attended anything like this. I learned open chords from a Nun at my primary school and learned most other stuff by ear or tips from players who knew more than myself.
Who were your guitar mentors growing up?
My cousin Tony was my major family influence growing up, I was pretty transfixed by his playing when I was a kid. Ace Frehley from KISS was a massive influence in my junior years.
As a teenager, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Jim Moginie, Martin Rotsey (Midnight Oil), Peter Koppes, Marty Willson-Piper (The Church), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Brad Shepherd (Hoodoo Gurus), Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and John Squire (The Stone Roses), all inspired me greatly.
What was your first guitar?
My first contact with a guitar was a steel string acoustic which belonged to my brother Justin. I loved the sound of the string being plucked and the note sustaining. My first electric was a Suzuki Les Paul copy, it was my main guitar in my first band The Swarm.
When did you first really notice guitar tone on a recording as opposed to the melody or lyrics?
Such a good question! I think it might have been KISS or Led Zeppelin. The guitar tones are so crucial to the listening experience for those bands and that sound drew me in at an early age.
What’s your main guitar and what’s the story behind its acquisition?
I don’t have a main guitar but certain guitars have significance for different reasons. I bought a Japanese Fender Stratocaster from a mate in 1993 and it was the first guitar I took overseas on a tour that year with Pray TV. I have recorded some of my favourite EVEN guitar parts on it. ‘Life Gets In The Way’, ‘We Are The Purple Nazz’ and ‘The Full English’. I use this as my main guitar on tour with Paul Kelly
I bought an Epiphone Casino with my first publishing advance in late 1996 and that guitar was used constantly between 1997 to around 2004. Since then I have been slowly building a collection but at some point one has to be realistic about storage and the need for more guitars. I still use the Epiphone occasionally, it’s an all rounder. Some time in the mid 90’s I found a second hand Mexican Fender Telecaster which Wayne Connolly named my ‘lucky guitar’, we used it primarily on the EVEN self-titled album we did with him in 2006. I have flown that guitar overseas on a couple of occasions in a regular suitcase with the neck unscrewed and I just re-assemble upon arrival. It has been a very sturdy guitar for me and although not as easy to play as my favourites, it is a great touring guitar.
What amp do you generally play through and why?
I prefer a Vox AC30 but have been known to drag out the HiWatt in the past. I have a 60’s Vox AC50, which is great to record with but I generally prefer the AC30 for live as it versatile.
Are there any particular pedals you’re enjoying using at the moment?
I think the Boss Blues Driver is my favourite pedal. I have been using one since the mid 90’s. I’m not really a pedal boffin but if I have a boost, delay and wah I can get by. A friend recently gave me an XOTIC AC+ which has two boost channels in the one pedal. This is super handy as I have been taking a very small pedal board on tours and this gives me more options. The emergence of small pedals has also changed my need to drag a big pedal board around. I’ve been using a Dunlop mini wah and a TC Electronic Flashback. I assemble pedal set ups depending on the gig.
How much experimentation did it take before you arrived a combination of gear that gave you a tone that you were happy with?
I am still experimenting and searching for a tone to be honest. And as most guitar players can relate to, the ambient sound you hear from your amp from a few feet away is often at odds with the direct sound from the speaker cone so it is a challenge to find the happy medium between the two. On the first Even album I used a friends 70’s Gibson Les Paul Gold Top through an early 60’s Vox AC30. That combination has been one of my favourites and I tend to go back to that kind of sound.
What other guitarists have a tone that you love?
I always loved Johnny Marr’s tone. He is a fearless player as he would often play clean melodic lines on The Smiths albums and resists the temptation to shred all over the songs. I am a Jimmy Page devotee and marvel at the audacity of his playing and his limitless sonic palette. Both these players have an orchestral approach to recording guitars that I adopt at every recording opportunity.
What’s the best recorded guitar you’ve heard on an album?
This is an impossible question to give a singular answer to. One of the best would have to be the triple tracked Les Paul through the mixing desk on ‘Black Dog’ by Led Zeppelin.
What’s a few of your favourite riffs?
Cold Gin- KISS
Black Dog- Led Zeppelin
Out On The Tiles- Led Zeppelin
I Want To Tell You- The Beatles
So.Central Rain- R.E.M.
This Charming Man- The Smiths
Only The Strong- Midnight Oil
Can’t You Hear me Knocking- The Rolling Stones
I am The Resurrection- The Stone Roses
The list goes on…….
Over the years, how important have your accessories become … cables, picks, tuner?
Accessories are the stationery of guitar playing and I tend to accumulate a lot of them. They are often crucial to the outcome of a gig. I have become more familiar with buying quality cables to ensure the best tone possible. A friend recommended a Divine Noise cable which has been great. I use the Herco Flex 75 as they have good grip. I cannot use picks without grip. These days I carry multiple slides, picks and capos with me and plant them in cases and gig bags so I’m not stuck. I like the TC Electronic Polytune but have also got a couple of basic tuners like the Korg and Boss stage tuners. Although clip on tuners look unsightly, they are really handy when you do a gig without a tuner pedal.
What do you hope punters come away with after your session with Alexander?
I hope people can relate to my ongoing quest to find a good sound and develop a playing style that is a true reflection of their own influences. I still consider myself a pretty basic guitar player but hopefully whether the part is simple or intricate, it has to be played with conviction. Players who attend may try some technique or practice tips which will make certain parts easier to play over time.
What have you got coming up for the rest of the year recording and performance wise?
I have been applying guitar overdubs to the next Even album This new recording has an intentional focus on drums, bass and guitar, avoiding the temptation to overdub instruments which distract the ears from Even’s three basic musical elements.
As well as the Guitar Masterclass at the Rolling Stone Live Lodge I am doing Even and Rockwiz shows in December and some more concerts with the ‘Nothing Has Changed’ show which is David Bowie songs with orchestra. I was very fortunate to be asked to MD that show so I rang my good buddy Davey Lane who is an amazing guitar player. We have done some shows already and it is such a thrill playing that catalogue with Davey and an orchestra behind us.
Ticket info for Wednesday night’s masterclass here
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