Anvil: Off the Beaten Path
GW What inspired you to play guitar?
LIPS When I was eight years old, my dad worked in the downtown area of Toronto where there were a bunch of music stores. I would stand outside the windows and just stare at the guitars. I really wanted to learn to play, because those guitars looked so amazing to me. When I was 10, my father brought home an electric guitar for the family. I had a brother who was eight years older than me who played, so I immediately had an in-house teacher. I learned to play “Secret Agent Man” and Rolling Stones songs like “Satisfaction” and “Get Off of My Cloud.” I liked the Beatles, but playing their music was an extraordinary undertaking, because they used uncommon chords.
GW Your main guitar is a custom semi-hollow Flying V. How did that come about?
LIPS I own a Gibson ES-335 that I got in 1970. You can see me playing it in my living room in the film. That was my favorite guitar, but I couldn’t take it on the road, because it became too precious and it was too cumbersome to play onstage. I like to run around a lot when I play. I would use it to play two sets a night, and I would play a solo with the drums where I did Ted Nugent–style feedback. I really like to make use of that sustain, and nothing feeds back like a semi-hollow guitar. People have these preconceived notions that semi-hollow guitars aren’t good for rock music, but it’s just a different animal, and you have to learn how to control it. A semi-hollow guitar is alive, so when you stand in front of an amp it will feed back. You need to control the strings with your palm. Even when you’re using distortion, you have to stand pretty close to your amp with a solidbody to get harmonic feedback. With the semi-hollow, you can get feedback from anywhere onstage.
In 1980, my longtime friend Gary, who works as a technician, had a connection to a guitar builder named Bob Wojick. I told Gary, “Man, if I could only get him to build me a semi-hollow Flying V, that would be my ultimate guitar.” Gary talked to Bob, and he said that he could build it, so I had Bob build me two of them. The body is shaped like a 1958 Gibson Flying V, so you have full access to the entire neck, which makes it very easy to play. The bridge pickup is also placed like it is on the ’58 V, so it’s a little further away from the bridge than an SG’s pickup. The neck is similar to a 335’s but a little bit thinner. The body is the same thickness as a ’58 V, which is thicker than the ones Gibson made in the Sixties, but it’s semi-hollow. It has a maple back and front, and the frame is made of mahogany. One of them has a block through the entire body, while the other has a half block that only extends from the tailpiece to the end of the body. I wanted them to have slightly different tones so I could use them to do overdubs.
GW Do you play any other guitars?
LIPS I’m having another semi-hollow V built right now by October Guitars. They’re an obscure custom shop that builds instruments for my friend John Gallagher, who’s in Raven. I’m trying some new ideas on this guitar. The Vs that I have right now have ebony fretboards, so I’m having a maple fretboard with black mother-of-pearl inlays put on this guitar. It will still have a mahogany neck, though. I’m using black hardware, and I’ll probably still go with a Gibson pickup, because that’s what I’ve been using my entire career. The rest of the construction is virtually the same, although the maple top is carved. One of my Vs has a laminated top.
I’ve been using Epiphone guitars as well lately. I have a 1961 reissue-style Epiphone SG, and that has full access to the frets all the way up the neck. I love to scream on the highest notes. The other Epiphone I have is the 1958 Korina Flying V. I play both of those guitars a lot. I actually like the Epiphones more than the Gibsons I’ve played lately. The finish on the necks feels smoother and better, although I prefer the sound of Gibson pickups, so I put those in my Epiphones. It only makes a little difference in the tone, but I just feel more comfortable knowing it’s a Gibson pickup in there.
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