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Jon Schaffer Discusses Iced Earth's Latest, 'Incorruptible'

Jon Schaffer Discusses Iced Earth's Latest, 'Incorruptible' Jon Schaffer onstage with his Gibson Custom Flying V

As far as your guitar history, who are the guys that influenced you?
That’s a funny thing, man—my heroes are really bass players. Okay, if we go back to the early, early days, it was definitely Ace Frehley. He was the reason I wanted to play guitar. I was a huge Kiss fan—I bought Alive! the day it came out.

So the initial idea of wanting to do this was definitely from Kiss. But when I started to actually fumble my way around on a fretboard, all of my energy went into making up my own riffs. I never was interested in playing cover tunes. Ever.

So when it came to writing riffs, I really feel my biggest influences were Steve Harris, Geddy Lee, Geezer Butler, Roger Waters. These guys are really up there. And you know, Tony Iommi, of course—he’s the riff master and a huge influence. But I was never really into playing like somebody else. Or even trying to. It really was more about these guys who were awesome songwriters and who I felt were visionary dudes.

And those guys, for me, were bassists. Probably if you broke it down the guy who I rip off the most is Steve Harris. I feel like on a subconscious level, those gallops, and the shit he does with his fingers on a bass, I’m doing that with a pick on a guitar.

Do you think the fact that you approach guitar from more of a bass player’s perspective is partly the reason you’re more focused on playing rhythm rather than lead?
It is. I played a couple solos on the old Iced Earth records, in the very beginning, but I didn’t really care about it very much. I am more of a rhythm guy. There are so many guys out there that play the lead guitar stuff, and honestly dude, I just don’t have the time and haven’t had the time for many years to really get great at that, because I’m doing so many other things that make Iced Earth a force. I felt it deep down in my soul then I would do it. But I just don’t. I do a lot of lead guitar melodies on our records, but I just don’t do solos. I don’t really feel it. I’m more into the songcraft, man.

What gear did you use on Incorruptible?
There were two main guitars. The first was my Les Paul ’59 reissue that I’ve been playing a long time, probably since 2006 or so. It’s a tobacco burst I call Smokin’ Joe. It’s really killer. It never goes on tour though because I don’t want it to get trashed. And the other was my “Don’t Tread on Me” Gibson Explorer, which is from 2008 or 2009. I did rhythm stacks of each of those. For the clean parts, I have a couple Strats that I like to use, and also a Reverend Horton Heat Gretsch and a couple different Telecasters. But for the typical Iced Earth rhythm sound, it’s a Les Paul or a combination of a Les Paul and an Explorer.

Amp-wise, for this album cycle I pulled out my Larry Dino amp, which is the one I used on Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s made by a guy named Larry Grohmann, in Germany. He only builds 10 to 12 amps a year, and they’re all handmade. They’re expensive but they’re worth it. Then I use one Marshall cab loaded with 25-watt Celestions and another loaded with 75-watt Celestions. I like the pick attack you get from the 25 watts but I like that low-end thump that comes from the 75s. And I use four mics on each cab. So it’s a process. Then for the stage, Larry built me a Jon Schaffer signature preamp, so I can use the power amp section of a Marshall DSL 2000 and run my preamp through it and get it pretty close to the sound of the Dino head. And I don’t use any effects. Live, I usually just have a chorus and delay for the clean parts. But that’s it.

Iced Earth (from left): Luke Appleton, Jake Dreyer, Stu Block, Jon Schaffer and Brent Smedley (Century Media Records)

Incorruptible is your last album for your current label, Century Media. You’ve said that after this you’ll go the independent route. Do you feel like Iced Earth is on the cusp of a new beginning?
Well, I’m not saying we’re not gonna work with record companies. But a lot of things are being discussed right now. We have a lot of options. But the one thing that is for sure is that, for us, there’s never going to be anything that represents the old model of the business again. Those days are absolutely done. Is it like starting over? Not really. Because I have a wealth of knowledge. When you’re a kid that splits from home at 16 years old and starts a heavy metal band, and you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into, it can be a pretty ugly wake-up call. So I never have to go through that again. I guess my initiation has been done. But it’ll be new in the sense that we’re gonna have more responsibility on our shoulders.

When you were a high-school kid sketching out the Purgatory logo could you have ever imagined the band you were creating would last this long?
I just…I never really thought about it man. I think it’s just been such a commitment to the overall thing. I don’t have a desire to do anything else, you know? It just is. I’m married to it.

So Iced Earth will continue on for as long as you can do it.
It’s gonna be as long as I feel like I have something to say as a songwriter. Because the records are really a testament to who we are. They’re gonna outlive us by centuries, I hope, and people will enjoy the music for many lifetimes after I’m gone. So if I felt like I was really just going through the motions, with no inspiration behind it and no real spirit, then I would just stop. Because I don’t want to tarnish the name I’ve dedicated my life to. That’s not the way I roll. I would rather just say, “Okay, it’s time.” But I don’t think that time is gonna happen any time soon. I think there’s plenty of inspiration to come.


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