Brutus guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden: “I used to make my sound thick – now it’s the opposite”

Brutus guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden
(Image credit: Anton Coene)

Belgian trio Brutus are an ultra-dynamic, post-hardcore force to be reckoned with. Comprised of vocalist/drummer Stefanie Mannaerts, bassist Peter Mulders and guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden, the band are striding into new sonic territories on third LP Unison Life, as Stijn explains...

How has your playing evolved since the last album? 

“I’m starting to learn more now about the way I play. I’m not a schooled guitar player and I never studied or had lessons, but there’s things on the last record that I always used to do that I’ve tried to put behind me. I always tried the same things and came up with the same licks, so I’ve tried to switch things up by using different tunings and different types of guitars.”

What guitars did you take into the studio for Unison Life

“The things I used most were a ’90s ’54 reissue Les Paul Custom with a Staple P-90 in the neck and a Gretsch White Penguin. It sits really nicely in the mix – somewhere between a Gibson and Fender sound. I also used a Jaguar, a Les Paul Goldtop with mini humbuckers and an aluminium-necked Kramer.

“There was also a Danelectro 12-string, which I put into a double Nashville tuning. Because it uses just the thinner strings, Peter had to try harder to fill up some space!”

What advice would you give to guitarists in trios to help them make the most of their spot in the mix? 

“I used to make my sound thick to fill all the space, but now, it’s the opposite. The less space I take up, the more room there is for Stefanie’s voice and for the bass. In a three-piece, it’s not the best thing to just have the biggest sound all the time; it has to fit with the rest of what’s going on.”

What’s your favourite amp for recording?

“I’ve been playing Marshalls for the last 15 years and I like 50 and 100-watt Plexis. I’m lucky enough to have an old one from ’69 – a Super Bass – and I used that a lot on this record with the matching 4x12 cab with Greenbacks.

“Most people think Marshalls turned up are the best overdriven sound ever, which is true, but it’s always easier for me to keep it clean or just at the edge of breakup and push it with pedals.”

Brutus guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden

(Image credit: Eva Vlonk)

What pedal combinations do you enjoy using most? 

“I love reverb and delays. My favourite sound for reverb is a simple Holy Grail from Electro-Harmonix, but I always mix it with something else – two or three reverbs – to make it a little bit different and more special. It could be a [Strymon] BigSky or something from Boss or Walrus Audio. For delays, I use a [Chase Bliss] Tonal Recall and the Boss DD-200.

“I have an overdrive that I’ll never get rid of. It’s a homemade pedal that a friend made for me, and it’s two overdrives in one. They’re both on all the time and if I remember correctly, one of the sides is based on an Xotic BB Preamp.”

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Since graduating from university with a degree in English, Ellie has spent the last decade working in a variety of media, marketing and live events roles. As well as being a regular contributor to Total Guitar, MusicRadar and GuitarWorld.com, she currently heads up the marketing team of a mid-scale venue in the south-west of England. She started dabbling with guitars around the age of seven and has been borderline obsessed ever since. She has a particular fascination with alternate tunings, is forever hunting for the perfect slide for the smaller-handed guitarist, and derives a sadistic pleasure from bothering her drummer mates with a preference for “f**king wonky” time signatures.