For the first of hopefully many features, we’ve asked our regular guitar teaching scribe Leigh to pick through some players setups and gear rigs to hopefully get to the bottom of how a guitar sound is made. First up under the microscope is Los Angeles guitar player and now solo artist Mike Christie whose record we recently reviewed here at RPM. He talks guitars, amps and pedals with Leigh…
Mike Christie is one of the busiest players on the LA scene, between his many hours spent throwing shapes and breaking hearts he finds time to be a total gear nerd. He took the time to sit down with RPM’s Leigh Fuge to chat gear.
Leigh: Tell us a little bit about what you’re busy working on right now? What studio and live projects are you currently working on?
Mike: Currently I’m pushing the solo album. Some reviews/interviews are starting to come in, and I’ll be scheduling an appearance on the “Black Lung Show” soon. Just trying to keep it all up to date. As far as live projects, I recently joined up with Something Ferocious. Guys from the Amplifiers, and the Misguided. This is pretty new (a few weeks) for me. The band has been together for some time now, but I believe they have gone through a few line-up changes. I’m coming in working on some of their older stuff and writing some new tunes for them. We have a few shows coming up in Southern California over the next few weeks. I’m also working on a 60’s influenced Neo Soul band called Briana & the Fates. Briana has a hell of a voice and was kind enough to sing on my solo record. We have a debut E.P. we are currently working on and played our first show in Texas last month with the Bastards of Soul. Between all of that, and continuously writing for all 3 projects, it keeps me pretty busy.
Leigh: Let’s talk guitars, is there a number one that you tend to gravitate towards or are there are few in circulation with you?
Mike: Can’t say that I have a current #1. Over the years I think a lot of people saw me with the early 2000’s white Gibson Les Paul Custom. I toured heavily with that guitar and I used it for a lot of the ADHD, White Demons and Hellride shows. Skipping ahead a little bit, I tend to build a new rig around a specific project. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to use the guitar with a few different projects. Right now, I have been relying heavily on a 1989 Gibson 335 I bought of Kevin Bombay (Black Marquee). He’s an even bigger gearhead than I am. There’s a group of friends that basically circle like vultures when Kevin gets a new guitar because we know it’s just a matter of time until one of us gets a shot at buying it off him. The 335 is all over the Solo Record and the Briana & the Fates record. It’s getting quite a bit of play time with Something Ferocious as well.
Mike: The 89 Gibson 335 is just a solid guitar. It’s a little old, heavily worn and get the job done for damn near everything I’m currently working on. I have always loved hollow-body guitars and over the past few years, I have been leaning more towards lower output pickups. This allows me to make the amp work a little harder and not have to depend on pedals as much. This guitar has a Bigsby which is new for me but came in handy for the soul band and I get a lot of use out it for the rock stuff as well. It’s loaded with a set of Alnico II humbuckers (about 8.2k in the bridge, and probably about 7.8k in the neck), a 50’s style wiring harness and a treble bleed mod. This guitar is a beast, I haven’t weighed it, but it feels much heavier than most of the Les Pauls I have owned in the past. I can get so many tones out of this guitar between the pickups, rolling off my volume or tone knob and some combination of the 3. It’s very easy to control the feedback at high volume, higher gain settings, and just screams when I step on boost. It has that really great musical feedback that I can weave in and out of between notes.
Leigh: What other guitars might someone see in your rig?
Mike: I’ve had a 92 Gibson Les Paul special that I have played on and off since the early 2000’s. It was originally a two P-90 guitar that was routed out for a humbucker in the bridge. It was also heavily damaged in a flood when I was living in Arizona. A few years later, I put some work into it and its back up and running. There’s a Halo 335 hollow body (first guitar endorsement I ever got from a company in Southern California, not sure if they are still around) that I still play. I have completely re-done the entire guitar. Paint has been stripped, new tuners, pickups, and wiring harness. It’s currently loaded with a set of the Dimarzio 36th anniversary PAF humbuckers, Emerson wiring harness, and Grover tuners. I also picked up a Nash T63 recently (also from Kevin Bombay), loaded with a set of Joe Barden single coils. I was never a Tele guy, but this guitar has a huge baseball bat neck, good size frets and just plays fantastic.
Mike: For most of my life I have always been a Gibson guy. I guess it’s just how I grew up. There’s something about those vintage Gibson’s that I have always gravitated towards. Some sort of Gibson has always been the basis of my sound regardless of the type of band I’m playing in. I have only wanted/needed other types of guitar for studio work mainly. Fortunately, most studios or friends of mine have let me use or borrow anything I needed.
Mike: Right now, I’m down to just a 1996 Korg Era Vox AC30. I picked it up specifically for the solo record and threw in a set of T.A.D. tubes. Those Alnico Blues just sit great in a mix, especially against a Marshall or other EL34 based amp. I have gone through a number of amps over the years, most recently I was playing a TopHat King Royal, Divided by 13 RDT 200 or a Friedman. The Vox sounds amazing and I can get some great tones out of it for rock music and/or the soul band. It is ungodly loud when you really open it up. It just sits in its own space and is damn near impossible to drown it out even in a loud band. It is also extremely unforgiving which has made me a much better player.
Leigh: Do you have a one-stop shop rig that you use for each project or are you someone that builds a rig for a job. Personally, I drive myself nuts with this because I totally re-build my rig each time I have something different to do.
Mike: Much like you, I typically build a rig around each project. If I get multiple uses, it’s just a bonus. There are always the tried and true amps that will work for anything rock related. You can’t go wrong with a JCM 800 or a solid JMP. I have stuck with the Vox for now 1.) because its sounds awesome and 2.) I can typically find another guitar player with a great Marshall sound but it’s really hard to find the Vox guy. I decided recently to be that guy and it’s been really enjoyable. The EL84 break-up and sparkly chime make me rethink what I add to each song and how it will sit against another guitar tone.
Mike: It really depends on the situation. If I’m in the studio I try to go as direct as possible to clean up my signal path unless it’s a very specific overdub however I always bring a ton of pedals with me. Live performances are a whole other deal. Nowadays live I’m almost always depending on a boost of some sort and some sort of slapback delay to thicken up my sound at least. With the band Something Ferocious, I’m running a TC Electronics Polytune, RYRA Treble Boost, Xotic EP Booster, a wah, a buffer and an MXR Carbon Copy Deluxe. If I’m playing guitar for Briana & the Fates (I’ll bounce between bass/guitar depending on the players we have at the time), I’m running a tuner, Magnetic Effects Double Feature, Modified Tube Screamer, Malekko Spring Chicken and an MXR Carbon Copy Deluxe. Certain projects I have played in have been heavily pedal based. With the Black Marquee, I was playing bass live and had a pedal board that put most guitar player’s boards to shame. We ran a lot of fuzz pedals live and I needed to cover different frequency spectrums for different songs. In order to not muddy up the live mix, I would use different fuzz boxes, dirt boxes, micro synth, EQ pedals etc. Now the Black Marquee was a pretty extreme example, and on the other end of the spectrum when playing bass in Briana & the Fates, I’m simply running a tuner, a D.I., and that’s it.
Author: Leigh Fuge