Joe Perry: Traveling Man
GW What’s the difference between playing with the Project and Aerosmith?
PERRY Over the years, when you’re in a band with a catalog like Aerosmith’s, you accumulate a lot of instruments to duplicate those songs. Like, I wouldn’t be able to do “Back in the Saddle” without a six-string bass. So that automatically means I’ve got to bring two with me in case one breaks. It gets really frustrating to change guitars all the time. Even in the solo sets, so many songs come from so many different eras, but I gotta do what I gotta do. On Have Guitar, I really wanted to be able to play everything on one guitar. It also made me write songs in a different way, which was also another inspiration.
GW You’re using some unusual guitars in the Project, including a left-handed Telecaster.
PERRY When I started the Project in the Eighties, I wanted to change the vibe. At that point I was using Les Pauls, Strats, the [Supro] Ozark, which is my slide guitar, and the [Dan Armstrong] clear body. But I wanted to change things up, so I put this mongrel left-handed Telecaster together with Barcus Berry pickups, which I haven’t been able to find another set of. It’s a guitar that shouldn’t really sound as good as it does. I started using it in the Project, and it became the main guitar. When I went back with Aerosmith, I put it away, only to use it for the occasional session. I didn’t really use it until the recording of my  solo record. When I went back out on the road with the Project, I decided to make a duplicate copy. I put some Joe Barden pickups in it, and it sounds pretty close to the original.
GW You’re also using a guitar that looks like something that came out of the old American west.
PERRY That’s my “Bullets and Bones” guitar, which was inspired by old firearms. I collect firearms, and I’ve got a Winchester, an Indian rifle. It has tacks for every warrior that was shot, like notches on a pistol, and it’s got feathers and beads hanging off it. It’s like a work of art. So with this guitar I thought, Let’s do something with a lot of detail, similar to that Winchester. For the neck and body I picked walnut, which is the wood that the rifle is made of.
And then I took a bunch of pictures that showed all the detail of the weapon, and I sent them to RS Guitars. Their forte is replicating guitars down to the last nut and bolt. They’re all a bunch of musicians and have their own line of guitars, too. For this guitar, I asked them to build something from the ground up, and a couple of months later this guitar came back, and it was way beyond what I could have imagined. They used antlers from an elk for the knobs and capped them off with the ends of spent rifle cartridges. They put splits in the wood and repaired them with sinew and used different kinds of leather to hold the guitar together. They incorporated this with some of my favorite pickups. There’s a Lindy Fralin P90 in the bridge and Joe Bardens in the other two positions, plus a [Chandler] ToneX [variable-center-frequency bandpass filter] in the tone knob. I got what I wanted—an amazing guitar.
GW What kind of game plan do you have for the future?
PERRY Five years after Aerosmith got back together, I realized how fragile we are as humans. There was a time I thought we were bulletproof, but then things happened and I came to the realization that I had to play every gig as if it was my last show. You have to start thinking that way, because you never know what’s going to happen next. It’s like the old saying: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
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