“The strings I put on it cost more than the actual guitar”: Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley explains why he used a $5 junk shop guitar and a $10,000 Martin – in the same session

Adrian Utley of Portishead holding a 1936 Gibson L-4
(Image credit: Olly Curtis / Future)

Adrian Utley’s playing on Portishead’s landmark album Dummy might have made his name in the 1990s, yet for all critical and commercial success – both with his band and an extensive run of session gigs – the guitarist has clearly not developed expensive tastes.

In a recent interview filmed with British string firm Rotosound, Utley explains his gear philosophy and notes a surprising pairing of a £4 [approx. $5] “junk shop” guitar and a considerably fancier Martin that occurred in a recent session.

“I'm always looking for esoteric sounds. Sounds that interest me,” Utley explains. 

“It doesn't matter if it's really cheap or if it's really expensive. I don't care. I played on a record recently where I played a guitar that I paid £4 for in a junk shop, and the strings that I put on it cost more than the actual guitar. 

“That was the verse, and then the chorus is on an 8,000 quid [approx. $10,000], 1940s Martin that I love as well. So there's this juxtaposition of whatever does it, really!”

£4 junk guitars aside, Utley says he generally buys American guitars, favoring classic brands like Fender, Gibson and Martin on the six-string side and British brands when it comes to amplifiers, reserving a special nod for his go-to Vox AC10 combo. 

Elsewhere in the same conversation, the Portishead player recalls his time recording with Jeff Beck, having been recruited by the guitar great to play rhythm on 1993 album Crazy Legs.

“We did a rock and roll record that he really wanted to do,” says Utley. “I played acoustic – you can hardly hear me on the record – but I spent quite a lot of time with him, just me and him hanging out and playing guitar together.

“I was just working with Geoff [Barrow, of Portishead] on some really early tunes for Dummy. One was called Numb, one was Sour Times and I remember playing them to Jeff Beck and he liked them, you know, he got it.”

Check out the clip above for Rotosound’s full interview with Utley, for more on his guitar heroes, gear and, of course, some gratuitous string talk…

Meanwhile, on the topic of Jeff Beck and esoteric guitars, check out the story of this bizarre Jeff Beck Ibanez signature model that almost made it into production

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.