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Dear Guitar Hero: Mike Ness

Dear Guitar Hero: Mike Ness

You’re into custom car and bike culture. What are you riding or building these days? —Craig Williamson


Man, I’ve always got a project going. I just finished a 1937 Chevy pickup lowrider and just put a new motor in the ’50 Merc. We’ve got it lowered now, but it’s too nice to chop. My goal is to get the ’37 chopped this year, probably by Cole Foster of Salinas Boys Customs.


Does Billy Zoom modify your Bassman heads, and does that mod include putting a tube rectifier in each one? —Mike Krug

Billy Zoom modified a couple amps for me back in the early days, but the last 10 years I’ve been using Fred Taccone from Divided by 13, who does a similar mod. I’m not sure what it entails technically, but it allows me to get a good tone at a lower volume. Instead of going to 10, I only have to go to about 6. I have it going through eight Marshall speakers, which just spreads it nicely, like butter.


Your live sound is amazing! What cabs and effects do you use with your Fender Bassman? —Philipp Guétat

I use two 1960 Marshall reissue cabs with Greenback speakers. I haven’t had to replace those speakers in a long time. I have one Boss stomp box for a slight volume and gain boost for solos. In the studio, I might use a little delay from time to time, but not too much.


Since the unfortunate passing of [founding guitarist] Dennis Danell, how have the guitar playing dynamics changed in the band with the addition of Jonny Wickersham? —Mike Hebert

Dennis was a dear friend of mine. He and I started this band. He wasn’t in the band because he was a hot guitar player—he and I were partners in crime, and best friends. I taught Dennis how to play guitar, and, you know, I could only teach him so much. But when we began playing together, I saw what an infinite amount you could do with two guitars. When Jonny joined, I knew that he was going to be bringing a lot to the band because of his abilities. And he’s great. What I love most is that he gives me textures that embellish the songs.


Your solos just flow so easily with the songs. They’re almost like vocal lines. What advice do you have when it comes to how to write a good solo? I seem to be getting stuck in the pentatonic box. —Jamie Sweeten

Well, that is something I do subconsciously with my leads: make them a continuation of the vocal line, or a variation on it. You need to bring a hook or something from the melody into the solo. Otherwise, it can sound like a studio session player, where there’s a solo that has nothing to do with the song. You really have to get into the song, listen to the melody and figure out how to wrap your solo in and around that thing. But I get stuck, too.

When I was 17 or 18, I had an accident where I almost cut my index finger completely off. I can only bend it about halfway. Since Jonny joined the band, I’ve relinquished a lot to him. There’s a lot of stuff I have Jonny do, because I can’t do it. A lot of people don’t know that, but I’m kind of handicapped. I do an A minor starting with my middle finger. But I take pride in my rhythm guitar. I think people underestimate that sometimes. Listen to AC/DC, and you’ll see why it’s important. That rhythm guitar is driving the band.


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