“I have had moments where I got the best tone on the cheapest guitar because I spent so much time with them”: Tora Dahle Aagård on the guitar gear in her life

Tora Dahle Aagård
(Image credit: Per Ole Hagen)

With Tora Dahle Aagård's new album, Seventeen, in stores now, and ably demonstrating exactly what makes her such an exciting talent with an electric guitar, we check in with the Norwegian guitarist for this month's instalment of Bought & Sold

Yes, it's the guitar interview, gear talk, and that means regrets, first loves, and the existential poser of single-coil versus humbucker pickups.

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

“My first guitar that I bought was actually a Nash guitar. It cost – I’m going to try and convert it from Norwegian to dollars – maybe $1,200? It was a lot of money for me at the time and it actually got stolen after three years. That was heartbreaking. I had just started playing and I thought that I wanted to spend all my money on a guitar.

“And I thought I should try to have a really good guitar and not the bad one my dad had in his basement! I only listened to Michael Jackson in those days. He’s my number one, musically. I’m one of those fans – I know everything about him. But I also discovered John Mayer, so that was my Mayer/Jackson era.”

What was the last guitar you bought, and why? 

“Actually, I think it was an acoustic guitar. I work with Alvarez and I had one of their guitars and they sent me the second one, a DYM60HD. It’s a beautiful guitar. The thing is, I don’t play acoustic guitars live, I only use electric. So what I use the acoustic for is basically songwriting on the couch. 

“It’s interesting to see how important it is to have a good acoustic guitar when you’re writing songs from your heart. And this is a beautiful guitar. It’s so rich in sound and so warm. So it really helps me to write good songs. That’s the most important thing for me.”

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

“You know, I don’t really think I have ever looked for anything that expensive, so I can’t give you an answer. But I think my signature guitars are a bargain. I think it’s mind-blowing the fact that I have two! 

“They are built by Marceau Guitars and the first one is an S-type and the other is a T-type. They make everything at the workshop, even the pickups, and my name is inlaid on the 12th fret in mother-of-pearl. The necks on both of them are roasted flame maple and they are soft reliced. I want them to look kind of broken in.”

When I started out, I was so broke. I was like a desperate musician for many, many years. So everything that I bought, it didn’t really matter, I just made it work

What’s the strongest case of buyer’s remorse that you’ve ever had after buying a piece of gear?

“When I started out, I was so broke. I was like a desperate musician for many, many years. So everything that I bought, it didn’t really matter, I just made it work. I think I had to be positive and say, ‘This is what I have, I’m gonna figure it out.’ So I’ve always been happy to have anything that I can play with. 

“But I have experienced seeing something online and then going and not buying it and still regretting it to this day. I’ve had moments like that, but not anything that I bought that I regret. I like everything that I have.”

Have you ever sold a guitar that you now intensely regret selling? 

“I’m a smart Norwegian, so I have never sold anything [Laughs]. I know that guitar players are usually very into gear and stuff and sell things, but my apartment is full up because I don’t sell anything. I’m just saving everything in case maybe one day I need it. I have, I’m guessing, maybe 12 guitars and amplifiers, effects pedals and things like that as well.

“For the past two years I’ve been using a [Line 6] Helix, so I haven’t been using an amp for a while. I used to have a Fender Blues Junior at home that I really loved. I used it a lot for practising. I also had a Boss amp, but now I don’t have an amp at all. There’s no space.”

Stop caring about what is cool and what is expected of you to use

What’s your best guitar-buying tip? 

“I would imagine that you get a lot of the same answers here, but I would think that it’s to stop caring about what is cool and what is expected of you to use. I have had a lot of very cheap guitars over the years and I just learned to become best friends with them. And, to be honest, I think that maybe I have had moments where I got the best tone on the cheapest guitar because I spent so much time with them. 

“So it’s about being patient and open to trying things from brands that you didn’t know about. There are so many talented people out there who make so many amazing things. So I think what I would say is just be open to anything and try as much as you can before buying anything.” 

If forced to make a choice, would you rather have a high-end electric guitar and a cheap amp or a cheap guitar and a top-notch amp

“As I’ve said, because I’ve played a lot of very cheap guitars and have been able to make them sound the way I want them to, I think I would choose an expensive amp and a cheaper guitar. Because if the amp sucks ass, you’re fucked. That’s my opinion. I think I’m capable of making a cheap guitar sound decent, but if the amp is totally off, I can’t fix that.”

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

“I’ve actually never owned a guitar with humbuckers so I’m definitely going to say single-coils. It’s kind of weird because I like a deeper sound. I always turn the treble down to, like, 3 on the amp, so it’s weird that I really haven’t been using humbuckers. But Marceau and I are working on something, so I think very soon I will have a humbucker in my house. But to answer your question, single-coils.”

Tora’s live Rig

“It’s a very simple rig. I would say 90 percent of the time, I use a Helix. And I have a [J Rockett] Dude pedal – which is always on – connected to the Helix so that it’s in the chain. Then I have a wireless guitar system, a Sennheiser, and that’s it for the guitar rig. 

“I try my best to get a decent guitar sound with the Helix. I’m still trying to get better at it and it’s starting to sound okay. Then I have my two signature guitars. So it’s an easy rig. We travel a lot, so I need it to be portable. So two guitars in the Mono bag and the Helix bag in the suitcase. I try to keep it as simple as I possibly can.”

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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.