Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson might be a guitarist at heart, but his approach to the six-string is that it's anything but sacred. “It's about thinking more of the guitar as a sound source, which is there to be processed,” he told Australian Guitar last year.
But despite his comments, which suggest he views the electric guitar as nothing more than a compositional tool to bring his musical ideas to life, he still has a six-string love in his life: his relic'd Fender Custom Shop '63 Telecaster.
“I always thought of guitars as tools... until I got this one,” he explains in a new video on Porcupine Tree's YouTube channel. “This is a guitar I can genuinely say I have some kind of attachment to. It feels like a treasure to me in a way that my other guitars didn't. Sorry all the other guitars I've played, but this is special.”
“It's something about the fact I don't have to put a lot of gain on this for it to sound real meaty and powerful,” he says of the guitar he now uses “almost exclusively” on his records. “And I say this only partly tongue-in-cheek because it is partly true, it's the only guitar that I've ever truly loved.”
Elsewhere in the video, Wilson recalls the story of how he came to own his beloved '63 Tele.
“About five years ago, [I realized] I'd had this really cheap Mexican Tele sitting in the corner of my studio for about 10 years,” he says. “Because at a certain point, I thought to myself, ‘I'm a guitar player. Nominally, I'm supposed to be a guitar player. I should have a Tele, I should have a Strat... And I half-heartedly started collecting all these things.”
He adds that he “barely played” the Mexican Tele, as he was “very much attached” to his PRS, due to his love of “big metal riffs” and “warm tones” at the time.
“As I moved away from those heavier tones into cleaner tones, I was missing that sound of wires,” he continues. “And it's a beautiful thing when you have a guitar and you don't have to put a lot of gain on it, but it still sounds fuck-off aggressive. And the Tele is all about that.”
Wilson recalls one day picking up the Mexican Tele – which he notes “wasn't even set up properly” – plugging it into a Hughes & Kettner practice amp with very little gain, and writing what became People Who Eat Darkness, from 2017's To the Bone.
“One of the great ironies is sometimes when you add a lot more gain to a guitar, there's a certain point it gets less heavy,” he muses.
“And I've got to the point now where I hear really metal, heavy [riffs] and they don't sound heavy anymore. Because the sounds are so processed [and] so driven, they've almost become textural. You no longer hear the sound of the twang of the wires. And that's what I was missing and this Tele suddenly gave it back to me.”
Wilson went on to write most of To The Bone using the cheaper Mexican Tele, but when it came time to subsequently tour in support of the record, he felt compelled to upgrade the six-string.
“Not that I thought the Mexican Tele was bad,” he says, “but I thought I'm gonna get myself a Rolls-Royce of Telecasters, rather than a Mini Metro. So I went down to the Fender shop and played a lot of Teles, and fell in love with this one.”
We'd say it's likely, therefore, that the '63 Tele will feature on Porcupine Tree's forthcoming record, Closure/Continuation, which arrives June 24 via Music For Nations/Megaforce Records.