Although best known as the co-founder and lead guitarist of The Cult, Billy Duffy has been working virtually nonstop since the late Seventies. Beyond The Cult—who are hitting the road with Stone Temple Pilots and Bush on the Revolution 3 tour this summer—Duffy has played in Kings Of Chaos (alongside members of Guns 'N' Roses, Stone Temple Pilots, Cheap Trick and ZZ Top), Coloursound (with The Alarm's Mike Peters) and Circus Diablo. Duffy has sold millions of albums between these acts, and always has a big catalog to pull on the road.
Duffy—who is well known for his signature Gretsch White Falcon—recently spoke to Guitar World about guitars, The Cult and more.
Even back in the early days you played a Gretsch White Falcon. What was it that led you to the White Falcon?
It was a combination of things. Initially it was the look of course, then the sound. Pre-punk it was Malcolm [Young] and Neil Young and post-punk it was the New York Dolls and Bow Wow Wow. I always had a soft spot for Gretsches and the Falcon to me was the most iconic, almost a semi mythical guitar (laugh). Magic powers, maybe. In a practical sense the guitar helped me in the search for my own post-punk rock sound when The Cult formed due to its uniqueness.
How does the Billy Duffy version of the White Falcon differ from what was originally on the market?
It’s identical to my original 1975 single cut Falcon in every way except for a more normal truss rod arrangement, and of course much more powerful pickups; Seventies ones were very, very weak. Oh, and no scratch plate and the bridge is fixed in place. All the little things I prefer and require of a guitar.
You seem to regularly change up between a White Falcon and a Les Paul. Do you exclusively write on a particular guitar?
No, I find I tend to rotate guitars at home every few weeks, and that helps me to get a bit of variety to what I may come up with. I’ll grab one for a month and then swap out, no preference, but like you say for live I prefer the Paul and the Falcon. I don’t have a huge collection, just a [Les Paul] Junior, a few of my own versions of Esquires with my signature pickup in them. They're fun. I have a Nash Strat that surfaces once in a great while [and] I need to get my hands on a Jazzmaster.
Hidden City is the latest studio album from The Cult. Is there another full-length in the works?
Never say never! Ian [Astbury, The Cult's frontman] and I enjoy the process of making new music, and we feel it’s vital to keep the band healthy, even if it’s pretty much in the law of diminishing returns area now. Who knows if it will be a whole album a series of singles or an EP? I can say new Cult music will be forthcoming, but these days we don’t rush it as there’s no point. Quality is key. We are past the point of having to release stuff so if we feel it’s good enough, then we will release it in some shape or another.
On your upcoming tour with Stone Temple Pilots and Bush, will your set be focusing on a particular period of your career?
No, it will be a mixed bag. What we feel most appropriate for a multi-headliner situation... Always a recent song or two in there along with the hits.
The Cult aside, I saw you perform with Kings Of Chaos a year and a half or so ago. Is that band still active?
I really enjoy the challenge of the Kings gigs, playing with some amazing musicians and a few legendary ones. It’s always a lot of fun as we all enjoy a break from our regular gigs. I’m sure if any opportunities arise for Kings Of Chaos, I’ll get a call from Matt Sorum, and if I’m free I’m there.
What about Circus Diablo? Or is The Cult going to be your primary focus for the immediate future?
(laughs) No, at the moment The Cult gets 100 percent of my attention.
When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?
I lead a split personality lifestyle, I suppose. Half outdoorsy and half couch potato.
What was the last concert you went to for fun?
Good question, actually it was Morrissey with Billy Idol as guest at the Hollywood Bowl. I went with Jonsey [Steve Jones] from The [Sex] Pistols and had a great night out.
Finally, Billy, any last words for the kids?
A word of advice… Well to be honest, I’d hope “the kids” are way too self-assured to listen to an old geezer like me, so I tend to keep my own council on these matters. However, if you put a gun to my head, I’d always advise on a great haircut and guitar and as many girlfriends as you can manage!