Brad Whitford's gear, guitars and equipment
Brad Whitford of Aerosmith discusses his gear - including a 1957 gold-top Gibson Les Paul and a vintage Fender Broadcaster with Steven Rosen - rock journalist.
Brad Whitford might be considered the “refined” half of Aerosmith’s guitar team – he’s a deliberate player, whose steady rhythm lines complement lead guitarist Joe Perry’s often free-form, no-holds-barred attack. But while on most Aerosmith albums Brad is credited as rhythm guitarist, the last member to join the band also solos; both roles create for him and important place in the band’s predominantly guitar-oriented rock and roll format.
Born in Boston on February 23, 1952, Whitford first came to music through the piano and trumpet. His tenure with these instruments, however, was short-lived; his father, recognizing that Brad had little desire to pursue formal training in either, bought him an acoustic guitar for his fourteenth birthday. Soon after, Brad acquired his first electric, “a Winston or Salem or something with a cigarette name,” he recalls. He took guitar lessons for six months, but abandoned this approach in favor of a self-tutoring program which included listening to records by groups such at the Beatles, the Kingsmen, and Booker T. And The MGs, as well as learning from friends.
In addition, Brad credits guitar work by artists such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck as having a lasting effect on his music – in fact, Whitford comments that Beck’s first two solo albums, Truth and Beck-Ola were important style guides for him.
When he was 16, Brad used a Fender Jaguar which he claims had an irritating habit of not staying in tune. He quickly abandoned it for a Gibson Les Paul after watching Jimmy Page use one during a Led Zeppelin performance. Braud used the Les Paul when he played in local bands like Symbols of Resistance, Teapot Dome, and Earth, Inc., performing at fraternity parties in the Boston area for which groups were compensated with $150.00 per gig and all the beer they could drink.
Whitford, then playing lead guitar, developed his single-note picking technique before ever attempting rhythm work: “I started backwards,” he says. After graduating from high school, he went to the Berklee College Of Music in Boston for a year but, attending school by day and playing in a band, Stray Cat, at night, ‘Threw me all off.” Nevertheless, he maintained this hectic schedule until receiving an offer to play with some musicians whom he felt were of “superior” talent. Brad then quit school and played on Nantucket Island with this band, Justin Tyme, and it was here his rhythm chops truly developed – the group’s lead guitarist, also an accomplished rhythm player, taught Whitford a great deal about rhythm techniques.
Steven Rosen has been a rock journalist for over 30 years interviewing the likes of Paul McCartney, Jeff Beck, Mick Fleetwood, Joe Perry, Billy Gibbons, Tom Petty, Les Paul, Ginger Baker and Brian Wilson just to mention a few of these rock legends.
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Other members of Justin Tyme were friends with Aerosmith – then just a local band as well – although Brad himself had never heard of the group before this time; often Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Tom Hamilton would come to watch Brad’s band play. Several months later, Whitford received a call from Perry, asking him to come down to where Aerosmith was performing – this was the first time Brad saw the group in action. Soon thereafter, Brad, in excited disbelief, was asked to join the group. He did so in August 1971.
When first playing with Aerosmith, Brad used an old Marshall 100-watt amp and a Les Paul. The guitar’s neck finally gave up the ghost, but not before Brad recorded with it on the group’s first self-titled album. This guitar was replaced with another Les Paul. For Get Your Wings, Brad used the Les Paul, as well as a 1960 red double-cutaway one-pickup Les Paul Jr. After Aerosmith had it's Marshall gear stolen, Whitford switched to Ampeg V-4s. “All Marshalls are so different and the really early ones were much better. Then they started changing little by little.
Shortly after the band’s financial footing became more stable, Brad bought a 1957 gold-top Les Paul with a Bigsby tailpiece for $1,000.00. And as the group continued to gain in popularity, his guitar collection grew: He added more Les Pauls including a 1952, a 1955, two 1958s (gold-top and a sunburst), and a 1960 flame-top to the arsenal. Recently, he purchased a vintage Fender Broadcaster and also replaced the Ampegs with revitalized Music Man amplifiers. The interiors were altered – exact mods escape him – but with the change, Brad believes, the amps now are virtually indestructible: “You could play them for a week and they wouldn’t blow up.” Brad had the amps modified because, in their original, off-the-showroom floor condition, “They had a tendency to diminish treble response when the bass boost was on. The bass boost now adds bass without detracting any from the other ranges.”
Depending on the venue, he uses one or two Music Man tops running through four custom-made cabinets similar to Marshall except they are ported and use JBL speakers. He may soon switch to Celestion speakers, however, because he feels that the JBLs are “so damn clean that they are actually too efficient for stage work.”
Live, the guitar arrangements includes two B.C. Rich Eagles (one is a spare); a Rich Bich modified by removing four of the ten strings; and a new Les Paul Custom with Bill Lawrence L-90 XL pickups. The guitars run through a rather elaborate set of pedals labeled “toyboxes” b the band. There are two sets of pedals; one resides in the middle of the stage and the second board sits off to one side. They include an AKG reverb unit, a number of MXR effects including a 10-band EQ, flanger, phaser, compressor, and a DDL with three presets.
While Brad does play a great deal of lead guitar, his main function is to provide a strong rhythm base for lead guitarist Perry. For this chore, Brad sets his guitar to the treble pickup, giving the instrument a more biting, well-defined sound.
Brad’s relationship with Perry is a balanced one; more often than not, lines are not specifically worked out. “It’s a feeling that happens. Joe will start playing something and I’ll just feel my way into it. It guess it’s about 50-50 because there comes a point when you have to sit down and think about some stuff.”
Whitford does like to work off the cuff. His solos are often single run-throughs and he is reluctant to play a line more than three times. “I hate to work out a lead. If I have to do a lead in a studio, an overdubbed lead, I try to do it straight. I like to play the song and not have to do an overdub. I don’t like hearing all of those piled-up guitars. When it came time for me to do the solo on ‘Milk Cow Blues’ (from Draw The Line), I played it through and went to rhythm and then Joe played his solo. And I think it sounds great. When I do an overdub solo, I just tell them to run the tape. I’ll play it once and then another time, or maybe three times, and usually I’ve got it out of those three.”
Due to a simple lack of time, however, he feels he is not able to develop his lead chops any further. He does feel that his playing has matured and he believes that he is playing better now than he ever was before. Brad is also currently giving some thought to doing a solo album; some material has already been recorded at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles, a trio comprised of Brad, drummer Vinnie Appice, and guitarist Danny Johnson. But he wants to further expand his musical horizons by playing with other musicians rather than by recording a solo album. “To me, the fun of this whole thing is to be able to travel and meet and play with other musicians. That’s when you can really get off.”
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