“I've never heard a single person play Hendrix correctly. People always try to rip him off, which is one of the saddest things ever”: Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis names 10 guitarists who shaped his sound

Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis
(Image credit: George Fairbairn/Future)

As they entered the '90s, Dinosaur Jr. had been plugging away for several years. And by '93, they had five solid records – Dinosaur (1985), You're Living All Over Me (1987), Bug (1988), Whatever's Cool With Me (1991), and Green Mind (1991) – under their belts.

Of course, all these albums featured quirky songwriting, emotive compositional fabric, and low-key guitar heroics through guitar anti-hero J Mascis. But it wasn't until 1993's Where You Been that Mascis and his cohorts in Dinosaur Jr. broke mainstream ground.

Looking back on Where You Been 30 years later, Mascis tells Guitar World, "Where You Been is the only record where me, Murph [Emmett Jefferson Murphy III], and Mike [Johnson] really played together in the studio. We really were trying to make a good record; above all else, I just remember working hard on it."

He continues, "As far as the success of it, I never expected anything. I'm always surprised if someone likes something that I've done. But Where You Been was also the first album where I had some different guitars are my disposal. I remember having a Tele, and a Fender Tweed amp, which I used during the sessions."

Of course, Mascis had delivered the goods across five albums previously. And so, did the sudden access to a candy shop's worth of gear inspire or alter his approach?

"Not really," he says. "But I liked having all those guitars because it gave me more options, you know? I had never really had the chance to try different things before Where You Been. I didn't have that much money, so having different guitars in the studio with me was very cool in exploring different sounds."

When asked if there's one riff or solo from Where You Been that stands out most, Mascis quipped, "The Get Me solo is pretty good. I'm unsure where I was when I recorded it; maybe in L.A., or it could have been down in Miami. But I know I had that Fender Tweed amp, and all the overdubs were done with the Tele I had."

In the present day, Mascis and Dinosaur Jr. are set to hit the road worldwide in support of the 30th anniversary of Where You Been. It's an interesting bit of nostalgia, given Mascis' creatively restless nature always has him pushing forward rather than looking back.

"It's hard for me to know how Where You Been changed me as a player," Mascis admits. "But since then, I've kept chasing sounds because I've gotten even more gear [laughs]. My signature Tele and Jazzmaster have incorporated things I've figured since then, like jumbo frets and a tune-o-matic bridge. I need more sustain, something more solid-feeling, and I don't like the traditional Jazzmaster floating bridge."

Gear and retrospective album musings aside, as far as the '90s goes, J Mascis – in all his distorted yet soft-spoken glory – is the ultimate unassuming guitar hero. Not that he cares too much about that sort of thing.

"It's great if somebody likes my playing, but I never think about it," Mascis concludes. "I have my heroes, but I don't know if anyone sets out to be Steve Vai. I just like making sounds. This isn't just my job; it's my main hobby. And now, there's like a million pedals and all sorts of gear that always comes out. So, I don't know about being a hero or any of that. I'm focused on searching for that ultimate sound. I haven't gotten there yet, but it's never boring looking."

As he prepares to hit the road in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Where You Been, J Mascis dialed in with Guitar World to run through the 10 guitarists who shaped his sound.

1. Greg Sage

"I've always loved the Wipers, and I've definitely tried to incorporate that type of playing and sound into my own playing. Greg Sage is a great player; I've always liked his feel, his touch, and his songs, too. It's hard to describe, but the whole atmosphere that Greg gets with the guitar is cool. And the way he uses the whammy bar is unique, especially in punk rock music. I always thought that style was, and the effect was pretty cool for playing rhythm stuff.

"Trying to pinpoint where he lies within my own style is tough, but there are certain things that I've ripped off from Greg over the years. For example, I noticed that the beginning of Kracked from You're Living All Over Me is kind of a Wipers-styled thing."

2. Keith Richards/Mick Taylor

(from left) Mick Taylor, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards perform with The Rolling Stones at the Forum on January 18, 1973 in Inglewood, California

(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

"I have to keep these two together because what they did together was so great. The Stones are very different from Dinosaur Jr., but I love them. Mick's melodic style against Keith's more stripped-down, bluesy approach is a guitar sound that I've always considered magical. The way Mick would play lead and his note choices influenced me. And his melodies and ideas always struck me as very cool. As with Keith, his rhythm playing is always so locked in.

"When I started playing with other guitarists, I noticed that I tended to look at rhythm more like Keith, where I was locked into the beat and taking a lot of time to observe the other guitarists I was playing with."

3. Ron Asheton

"Ron Ashton was a big one in my first stages as a guitar player. From the very first time I heard Ron play, I immediately knew that his sound was my favorite guitar sound. It's something that I've always been chasing throughout my career.

"To this day, Ron got the most amazing guitar sound, and his leads were very cool, too. They weren't technically hard, but they were singular to him. I'm not sure what it was about Ron… his sound just really affected me. To this day, it's the most amazing guitar sound I've heard. I tried to find it myself, but to date, I've never gotten there."

4. Anthony 'Bones' Roberts

"I've always liked Bones from Discharge. I first heard him while I was playing drums in hardcore bands, and when I heard him, he immediately stood out. I always liked his atonal leads, and when I started playing guitar, I definitely put some of that into my style. He's got a very unique sound and vibe and is another that has a sound I've often referred back to."

5. Bob Mould

Bob Mould performs during Riot Fest at Douglas Park on September 15, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois

(Image credit: Daniel Boczarski/Redferns)

"I love Bob Mould's guitar playing. I still remember the first time I saw him play; he was so loud and completely overtook the room. I liked that aspect of his playing and remember thinking, 'Yeah… I like this. I'd like to incorporate some of that.'

"He was great with Hüsker Dü and, later, an album called Black Sheets of Rain, which is a great description of Bob's playing. His guitar sound is one where it just feels like the guitar is everywhere in the room."

6. Tony Iommi

Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell live on stage at High Voltage on July 24, 2010.

(Image credit: Will Ireland/Classic Rock Magazine/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

"Another guy with that same guitar-being-everywhere type sound is Tony Iommi, who I didn't realize was such a big influence on me until later. I've always loved Black Sabbath, but for a long time, I never really thought about how they influenced me.

"But a few years ago, I saw Sabbath live for the first time, and that's when it totally struck me just how awesome Tony Iommi was live. And then that show also made me realize that he was a significant influence on me, even though I never singled him out previously. Like I said, I always loved Sabbath but never picked apart the individual sounds. But Tony really impressed me with his live playing, so he's made it onto my list."

7. Paul Kossoff 

"Paul was a great player who had an incredible feel. He was especially impressive when he slowed it down, and you could hear his vibrato. The way he slowed it down is something that I find inspiring because I have a hard time playing slow, so I'm impressed when people can do that.

"I liked his leads; I've watched a lot of videos of him playing, and you can tell by the faces that he made that he was deeply into it. He had such an intense vibrato that I can't help but think it is undeniably cool. It's hard to say where any of that comes out in Dinosaur Jr., but it's definitely in there somewhere. I just can't place exactly where and when it'll come out."

8. Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan performs live

(Image credit: Nagel - Sportbild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

"I've always liked Bob Dylan as a guitar player. As far as acoustic stuff goes, Bob is very underrated as a player. His rhythm playing, the sound he got, the way he can accompany himself, and his strumming are all very cool. He's obviously not much of an influence on me as an electric guitar player, but Bob Dylan definitely influences me on the acoustic side.

"I don't know why he's so underrated, but when I hear him playing alone on some of the bootleg stuff I have, he just sounds so amazing. His style and rhythms morph constantly and always keep your attention."

9. Jimi Hendrix

"Hendrix probably seems obvious, but he's the best guitarist ever, you know? No-one is ever gonna get close to him. So, he's on the list for that reason alone. He's an influence for all the obvious reasons, but I've never even tried to figure out a Hendrix song, meaning I've never tried to play like him. I'll never even try to play like him.

"I've never heard a single person play Hendrix correctly. People always try to rip him off, which is one of the saddest things ever. People trying to play like Jimi Hendrix are just depressing. I mean… I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan once, and he was OK, but I don't know… he was a bit more repetitive than Hendrix. With Hendrix, it was all in his hands. You can't duplicate that."

10. Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher

(Image credit: Fin Costello/Redferns)

"I loved Rory Gallagher for his energy. He was like a bolt of lightning on stage, focusing all his energy on the guitar and the gig. I've only ever seen a video of him, but I can imagine that seeing that in person must have been awesome.

"His style comes out in what I do because he was a player who often thought outside the box, and some of his solos were really weird. It can be hard to understand where he came from, which is an aspect that I like. I also like that his setup was so simple. Rory played through one little amp, which was different than all these guys playing through stacks of Marshall amps. The idea of Rory Gallagher sitting with his little Vox AC30 with a treble booster appeals to me."

  • Dinosaur Jr. celebrate 30 years of Where You Been with a run of shows in London and New York in November and December – see DinosaurJr.com for full dates.

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Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is an iced-coffee-addicted, oddball Telecaster-playing, alfredo pasta-loving journalist from Long Island, NY, who, in addition to being a contributing writer for Guitar World, scribes for Rock Candy, Bass Player, Total Guitar, and Classic Rock History. Andrew has interviewed favorites like Ace Frehley, Johnny Marr, Vito Bratta, Bruce Kulick, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Rich Robinson, and Paul Stanley, while his all-time favorite (rhythm player), Keith Richards, continues to elude him.