Joe Perry of Aerosmith discusses his left handed Strat among other gear in a rare 1978 interview conducted by Steven Rosen - rock journalist.
For a current 2010 Joe Perry Gear update click the video below. Joe's Guitar tech, Trace Foster, conducts a tour of Joe's complete Rigg.
WHEN: Late 1978
WHERE: This is a tough one to be specific about. I’m pretty certain it was held at one of the Tony hotels in West Hollywood.
WHAT: Joe without his guitar was a completely different person than the musician holding one. He was pretty quiet, studious, and really presented himself as somebody who had a great love – and knowledge – of the guitar. He talked incessantly about his gear and the minutiae of picks and strings and pedals and things.
We’d already met back in late 1973 when Get Your Wings had just been released. Then, a virtual unknown, he was the same person – maybe a little louder in voicing his displeasure that the records weren’t selling as well as he wanted – that he was during this conversation.
We’d meet again in about a year’s time when he’d actually quit the band to form the doomed and none-too-musical Joe Perry Project. What I remember most about that interview was the guitarist sitting in front of a mound of cocaine that looked like a scene from Scarface. It must have been 6” high and covered the circumference of a large pizza. He was helping himself to copious amounts of the narcotic (and drinking pretty heavily as well, if I remember correctly).
Externally, he presented the persona of a happy man, but deep inside, I don’t think he was. The Project had a meretricious feel to it and Perry’s playing was hardly inspired. To his credit, though, he’d pull it together to eventually rejoin his Boston bandmates. In fact if you think about it, there is no other band in history (at least I can’t think of any) that achieved success, fell apart, and then regrouped and attained an even more substantial popularity post-reunion.
But here, in 1978, Aerosmith was a monster and Joe Perry consumed everything in his wake.
When did you start playing guitar?
I remember having a guitar when I was five. I messed around with them off and on, but I actually started playing when I was 15. I took one lesson from a guy, and then a week later when I was driving to school I saw a hearse in front of his house. He had died – so that was the last lesson I took. I don’t think it was because of me, however, because I’m sure I didn’t make that much of an impression on him. I just took it as an omen.
Whom were you listening to on records when you were learning to play?
The Yardbirds, the Beatles, Roy Orbison, Ike & Tina Turner, Gene Vincent, the Shadows, and the Ventures – just anything I could hear.
What are the main guitars you’re using at the moment?
I use a Fender Stratocaster, a new, left-handed one, a couple of B.C. Rich guitars, a ’65 Telecaster and a couple of Dan Armstrongs.
What was it about a Stratocaster and particularly a left-handed instrument that grabbed your attention?
It sounds different and feels different to me. And I know the way the pickups are set in there, and the way the tension on the arm is and the length from the nut to the tuning pegs are all different. So it has to add up to something. I’ve shielded the guitar with this copper or aluminum paint, and we changed [Perry and Neal Thompson, guitar tech] the electronics by putting Bill Lawrence L-220 pickups in. We rebalanced the neck and removed the neck’s back plate, putting four screws in there to balance it. And we did a few other tricks with the vibrato arm that I’m not going to mention.
And what types of B.C. Rich guitars, specifically, are you using?
I’m using a Bich, which is the 10-string guitar. Brad Whitford has a blue one and I have a red one. I took the extra four high strings off. I have a solid rosewood Mockingbird and I did ‘Come Together’ [from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie soundtrack] with it and I used it for ‘Milk Cow Blues’ [Draw The Line].
And for different tunings, I have Dan Armstrongs. I use them for slide. And those guitars have been changed. All the guitars I own have been reworked; all the pickups have been changed. That’s how you can avoid paying more than $500.00 for a guitar.
What kind of amplifiers do you use?
Music Man. I’m not sure what model I use but we got the first prototypes about three years ago. In fact, I remember coming out of rehearsals for Toys In The Attic, and we went out on the road and got the Music Man amps then. We’ve been reworking them until now. We’ve put a graphic equalizer in the midrange and we have something that will change the amount of top end you want; it’s like a different way of looking at a midrange control. And all the guitars are set up to go in at line level – they all have cannon [balance line] plugs, so you can have 100-foot cords and there’s no noise, none of that radio frequency interference you get with a regular patch cord, although I can plug in with a patch cord if I want. The Grateful Dead used to do it but I don’t know of anybody else who does.
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.
Since 1973 Steven has accumulated over 1000 hours of audio content and 700 articles of published interviews. All this content is now available for licensing or purchase. Contact Steven Rosen for more information.
What types of cabinets do you run the Music Man heads through?
I’m currently using Marshall cabinets – just straight Marshalls. What I’m going to do is plant a bunch of Marshall cabinets all over the stage as well as two stacks in back of me, and have an amp running them all. The way I have it now, one master amp is set up in the back so all I have to do is plug into the right places and one preamp will control all of the output amps. And I can slave them out like that, so one control can handle all the monitors and everything. I also have lights built into the backs and depending on what breaks, a light will go out so the guys can fix anything immediately. Those are the kinds of changes we made – different impedance selector switches. And in the back of the cabinets we have those spring-loaded wires which can be pulled right out or plugged right in.
What other sound equipment do you have?
What I have is like a mini-PA – it has ported JBL cabinets and they’re designed to be in a 4x12 configuration. I have two JBL stacks and they’re all redesigned cabinets and they all breathe incredible. All are equalized for guitar and we drive them with Music Man amps. And then it goes into this computerized effects box – in fact that it’s like is a mini studio. It’s all computerized with these fail-safe things so if anything breaks, you can take it completely out of the system with a flip of a switch. I have a compressor, an equalizer, a phaser and a flanger – it’s all MXR stuff. I have an MXR DDL [digital delay line].
Is this the same array you use in the studio?
No. When I’m at the Record Plant in New York City, I use some Ampegs they have there, really hot Ampegs that sound a lot like Fender Dual Showmans. The Ampegs are new ones but they’ve been reworked.
Jumping back to Aerosmith’s first album, can you remember the gear you used then?
I think it was a Stratocaster. And then I used Gibsons and a ’65 Tele on Toys In The Attic. I changed the pickups in the Telly with Bill Lawrence pickups. I used to use DiMarzios but they let me down sound wise.
You must like working with a second guitarist – what is it you find comforting in having Brad Whitford standing on the other side of the stage?
He’s written some good songs and he definitely has a different style and outlook on music than I do. Brad will come up with a riff – on top of the riff that I write – and it might end up being the catch phrase of the song. Or, he’ll take a lead naturally because he knows that’s where I’ll leave it open. There’s never a problem of who’s going to play a lead where. I don’t think we even actively discuss who’s going to play what.
Do you think you and Brad work in a similar way to Ron Wood and Keith Richard of the Rolling Stones? Where one guitarist keeps the rhythm and the other one plays off of that?
I don’t know how they work; I’ve never met them. I really don’t know how they do it. With us, it depends on whose song it is, what the riff is, and things like that. Brad will come up with a riff – on top of the riff that I write – and it might end up being the catch phrase of the song. That kind of stuff always happens because he knows that’s where I’ll leave it open. There’s never a problem of who’s going to play a lead where. I don’t think we even actively discuss who’s going to play what. The only reason I’m captioned the lead guitar player is because I write many of the songs – so the press isi going to pick up on that. But actually, onstage I may take the lead more in starting songs or something like that, but basically we play the same amount of lead onstage. They probably see me up there singing with Steven, and that’s why they say that.
Have you improved as a player? Has your sound and technique expanded with each passing album?
Definitely. As far as Draw The Line goes, that was a hard album to make. But I think my best playing has been on Rocks; it really stands out. There’s a lot of playing on Draw The Line that you can’t her. But you’ll notice a difference on Live Bootleg because we play a lot of songs off of Draw The Line and you’ll her how much crisper they now sound.
What is it about your playing that sets you apart from other guitarists?
I don’t like to brag but I do hold the North American Conference record for ‘highest thrown Strats’ and also for the ‘most smashed’ – five in one show. Sometimes I play two guitars. I have my Rich on my back, all plugged in and everything, and while I’m using the Strat, I’ll leave it there. Also, I have this switching box with LED lights and I have about five guitars plugged into it, so whichever switch is hit, I can pick up the corresponding guitar. Now I’m working on playing all five guitars at once!