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Mark Tremonti on finding the right guitar, the economics of Dumble amps and the Goldtop that got away

Mark Tremonti
(Image credit: Scott Diussa)

What was the first guitar you bought with your own money? 

“I bought a Les Paul imitation called a Tara and it cost me 10 bucks. I had a buddy in sixth or seventh grade who had the guitar and he was going to upgrade and so he said, ‘I will sell you this guitar for 10 bucks if you join my band and I’ll teach you to play.’ 

“We started a band called Wit’s End. We did punk rock and heavy metal and Cheap Trick… lots of different things, whatever we could actually play. It wasn’t very complicated stuff. I got into the more Mötley Crüe kinda stuff later on and I wanted to play Metallica and Slayer, of course, but the band couldn’t handle that at the time.”  

What was the last guitar you bought and why? 

“Jeez, I can’t really remember to be honest with you. All my guitars nowadays are PRS, and they’re nice enough to give me those [laughs]. Maybe it was a Telecaster that I bought last? I bought a limited-edition Fender Telecaster with custom artwork and they were nice enough to let me pick one up. Sometimes I’ll use it just at home, but when I’m on stage I stick to the signature PRS model.”  

What’s the most incredible find or bargain you’ve had when buying gear? 

“I don’t know if you could call it a bargain, but I was playing with Paul Reed Smith at the NAMM convention and there was a bunch of amps on stage and I saw a Dumble up there. There must have been eight guitar players up there all racing to whatever amp they wanted to play and I plugged into the Dumble and fell in love with it.

“Ever since then I was obsessed with getting one of my own and the folks at Blackbird Studios in Nashville had bought two and I bought one of them. Everyone looked at me like I was nuts for buying it because it was so expensive, but it more than doubled in value over the 15 years that I had it. I ended up parting with it and getting different Dumbles, but when I think of any kind of gear I’ve bought and sold, that was the one I had the best deal on.”

What’s the strongest case of buyer’s remorse you’ve experienced? 

“It was a nice piece of gear that I just didn’t vibe with. I can’t say the name of it because I don’t want to be a mean guy. It was an amp and everybody was talking about how great these amps were and how I just needed to get one. So I hunted it down and, when I got it, it just wasn’t my thing, y’know? Not all amps are going to speak your language.”

Have you ever sold a guitar that you now intensely regret letting go?

“There was a reissue Goldtop Les Paul that I used throughout the big Creed days and I sold it because there was a lawsuit between Gibson and PRS. I was just angry that my [PRS signature] guitar got taken off the shelves for all those years, and so I got rid of that Les Paul just out of anger.

“But I should have kept it because the folks who had made that Les Paul had nothing to do with the folks who caused the lawsuit. And the business has changed hands; there’s new guys in charge who are doing great things. But that’s one I wish I still had.”

What’s your best guitar-buying tip?

“I think a lot of people want to spend $800 instead of the $2,000 that would be a lifelong guitar. When I was younger I spent a lot of money stepping up to guitars, spending four times as much as I needed to, instead of buying the right guitar in the first place. 

“It’s easier said than done as not everyone has that kind of money sitting aside to buy the nice guitar first. Especially when you’re young, you need to have a guitar that’s capable of making you a better player instead of one that frustrates you and makes you not want to play the guitar to begin with. 

“My point is, don’t look for the deal on paper. Pick that guitar up, put it in your hands, play it, be sure it’s not frustrating you and that you can do what you want with it.”

I see all these guys who do gear demos – and gear to gear to gear it all sounds the same because of the way they approach it

When was the last time you stopped to look in a guitar shop window (or browse online) and what were you looking at?

“It goes without saying that I see all these PRS guitars that I want, but, like I said, if I wait long enough and push hard enough they’ll give them to me!”

If you were forced to make a choice, would you rather buy a really good guitar and a cheap amp or a cheap guitar and a top-notch amp?

“Well, I’m an amp guy. So I reckon I would probably go with the expensive amp and a PRS SE Tremonti model. I think a ton of it comes from the way you play guitar, y’know? I see all these guys who do gear demos – and gear to gear to gear it all sounds the same because of the way they approach it. I think it has a lot to do with technique, how hard you play, how soft you play, what kind of pick you use… it’s a lot to do with those hands and those fingers.”

If you could only use humbuckers or single coils for the rest of your career, which would it be and why?

“Humbuckers all the way. I love single coils, but humbuckers just have a bigger rhythm chunk to them and that’s what I’ve used my whole life. I remember trying to play the song Lenny [by Stevie Ray Vaughan] for a long time and I just thought I was no good.

“I couldn’t get it, but once I picked up a Stratocaster and played it I went, ‘That’s why I didn’t get it, you cannot get that tone without these single coils.’ I love them both, but if I have to go with something for the rest of my life, it would definitely be the humbucker.”

What’s your favourite guitar shop and why?

“It used to be Rudy’s Music up in New York. I mean, every time I was there I would just spend all of my tour money. I haven’t been there in a while because it’s moved around so much – they have two locations and I haven’t gotten the chance to go in recently. But they were one of my all-time favourites.”

David Mead

With over 30 years’ experience writing for guitar magazines, including at one time occupying the role of editor for Guitarist and Guitar Techniques, David is also the best-selling author of a number of guitar books for Sanctuary Publishing, Music Sales, Mel Bay and Hal Leonard. As a player he has performed with blues sax legend Dick Heckstall-Smith, played rock ’n’ roll in Marty Wilde’s band, duetted with Martin Taylor and taken part in charity gigs backing Gary Moore, Bernie Marsden and Robbie McIntosh, among others. An avid composer of acoustic guitar instrumentals, he has released two acclaimed albums, Nocturnal and Arboretum.