Since winning the Kerrang! Best Newcomer award in 2012, While She Sleeps have amassed a dedicated fanbase while keeping their DIY approach. Guitarist Sean Long, though, couldn’t find the right SuperStrat.
“I went on the mission to get a gloss black Strat that I really loved. It was a harder mission than I anticipated. They were all missing something,” he explains. “I always felt like I had to settle.” That changed when he teamed up with the originators of the SuperStrat, Charvel.
“I tried a San Dimas and I’m like, ‘This is exactly it!’ They sent me a white one and it went from there.” The result is the Sean Long Signature Pro-Mod San Dimas.
Like any self-respecting metaller, Long wanted his Strat none-more-black and with no unnecessary frippery. He went for a hardtail, describing locking tremolos as “an extra bit of shit I don’t need”.
Electronics are deliberately simple, with just a single volume control and a three-way switch for the two active EMG humbuckers.
“I’ve been with EMG for all my career – it’s just been my sound from the beginning,” Long explains. “I’ve recorded a lot of albums with the 81/60 set. One day I emailed EMG and said I want something like the 81 but maybe a bit more warmth, a bit more vintage.”
EMG responded with the 57/66 set found in this guitar, which has a rich midrange and PAF-like quality.
The bridge pickup’s neon yellow cover, matched by a neon Charvel logo on the headstock, are the guitar’s most distinctive visual features.
Sean remembers, “I actually had a white one and colored it in yellow. I used an illuminous pen that reacts to UV light so it’d really glow. So that’s where that idea came from. I wanted it to seem like whenever you’re playing, there’s a mystical element to it, some energy and some magic. I hope that’s what it gets across.”
It’s the famed Charvel playability, however, that most attracted him to the San Dimas.
“It’s really simple for me,” he muses. “I don’t need to know where the wood’s from or the dimensions between the frets. None of that shit really matters to me. Give me any guitar and I could let you know if I could play it comfortably within two minutes, no problem.
“So when I first got the white one I was like, ‘I have nothing to say.’ It’s a good guitar if you don’t have to change anything, if there’s no friction, there’s no resistance and you can just play. The point is to almost feel like the guitar’s not there, so you can just jam away and not be worrying about the technical issues. That’s kind of what I’ve got with Charvel.”
Locking machineheads make for rock solid tuning and rapid string changes. “Live, I throw it around like it’s nothing all the way through the show,” Sean grins. “I’m riffing so hard and it stays in tune.”
Additionally, the guitar's hardtail bridge enables Long to play the tightest palm-muted metal rhythms.
“I never just do an open riff and I’ll never just do palm muting,” he says. “It’s always a combination of the two, opening and closing, so it’s the way that I can dig in and control the tone by moving my wrist further up and further down.”
As he mentions previously, Sean isn’t picky about choice of wood. “I’ve never been like a spec wizard and known all the ins and outs of the dimensions and stuff,” he admits. He trusted those design aspects to Charvel, who went for the unfailing combination of an alder body and maple neck: “I was so attracted to the maple because I’ve played darker woods my entire career. I just wanted to try it out. It does have some tonal benefits, so it was a happy accident that I went maple. I feel like they will poke out in any given mix a little bit more than the rosewoods.”
Rather than having a list of requirements for a signature model, Sean looks for problems and things that hinder his playing. When he couldn’t find any on the San Dimas, he was satisfied.
“Does the action feel right? The intonation? Those have been my main principles as a guitar player,” he says. “I’ve always had really heavy guitars in the past, and neck-heavy guitars. I never had a guitar that really sits comfortably, so those are the main things. I’ve never needed to know much else. I think over time I just eliminate those things that are causing those little frictions and I’ve landed here.
“The reason I don’t really know what I like about this neck is because I play so well on it. It just suits the way I play perfectly. The guitar should be enhancing your ability to express yourself. It’s just a piece of wood with some electrics in it. We are the real magic here. This is just to aid what we want to bring to the world, so if it gets in the way, it’s not the right instrument.
“Creativity only comes once in a while, and when it does you want to get it quick. It’s also an incredible manifestation of human capabilities that have built this incredible instrument. I feel like in a cheesy way I’m destined for this guitar, because why else did it happen?”
To pass muster for working with While She Sleeps, the guitar had to work with Sean’s array of recording amps: “The Peavey 6505 is my go-to for riffs. The Marshall JVMs are more for rocky rhythms and riffs as well, but for real metal riffs I’ll go for the 6505 or 6534+.”
His studio also houses a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier and a Victory VX100 Super Kraken. The signature San Dimas was immediately put to work in the band, and it can be heard on While She Sleep’s latest single Eye to Eye, released this month.
Sean has come full circle, returning to Strat-style guitars years after he started out with an Indonesian Squier purchased from Argos, a UK catalog retailer.
“I told my parents I need a guitar: ‘I don’t know why but my friends have got one so I need one!’” he laughs. “It came with an amp as well. It’s funny how I got that when I was a kid and I’ve just come all the way around. I’ve never fallen in love with a guitar more out of nowhere. I’m 31 now, and when I was 29 all my nostalgic feelings of when I [was] a kid started to resurface, so that was part of it.”
He shows us what remains of the Squier, which is currently in pieces. “I’ve got an idea to either build it back up myself, or send it to Charvel to completely redo, make quite a thing of it and get it playing live again.” The Squier hasn’t been used since Sean’s earliest 8-track demos.
When he got his first Strat, Sean was mostly self-taught, and begged his friends to show him how to play riffs by Blink-182 and Sum 41. It’s a happy coincidence that on the day his signature Charvel arrived, Sean used it to write and record the solo to No Defeat for the Brave, featuring guest vocals from Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley.
“My signature guitar arrived for the first time. Obviously my excitement’s through the roof and I think that played a huge part,” he says of the session. “All my problems were solved. Since then I’ve written almost a full EP on the guitar now. It’s contributed to a lot of the tones on the latest record.”
Now Sean says he hopes his signature San Dimas will inspire other songwriters, even if they aren’t fans of his. To have the broadest appeal, his signature and the While She Sleeps band logo are concealed tastefully on the back of the headstock.
“I want this to be the songwriter’s guitar,” he enthuses. “I want it for people to be up at 12 o’clock in their bedroom pissing their parents off and writing some shit that’s making their fucking world feel so meaningful. That feeling is just unbelievable, and that is what this guitar is going to do because I put two years of my energy into manifesting that idea.
“The whole reason I’m here is to inspire people growing up playing guitar. Getting a signature model can feel so out of reach and so, ‘That’s for other people, that’s not for me.’ I’m here to show people that that’s not the case. I’ve made it possible for myself and I’m a fucking idiot! I don’t know anything about music. I’m the same as you, just trying to wing it. I’m faking it till I make it.
“We all put so much energy and authority in idolized people of the past, like Jimi Hendrix, these huge iconic characters. I no longer want to put all of my eggs into these people. We all have so much more power than we believe, because they’re people, too. All these amazing artists, they’re just people, too, and we’re all in this crazy universe life thing together.”
- The Sean Long Signature Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HH HT M is available now for $1,199. For more info, head to Charvel (opens in new tab).