|February 1999||Guitar Player||–|
|This 500 word article originally appeared in Guitar Player but was later included in a press release sent out by Matador Records to promote The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion release Acme.|
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
It took several producers to complete the Blues Explosion’s latest blues/rock/punk/hip-hop album, Acme [Matador]. But the band’s two signature guitar tones – clean and stinging, and fat and fuzzy – always remained in the hands of guitarists Judah Bauer and Jon Spencer.
“I use trashy sounding stuff,” admits Spencer. “but Judah is very serious about his equipment and owns a lot of vintage guitars and amplifiers. I sound like ‘blaaaaahhhggg’ – like a vacuum cleaner – and Judah is bouncy, like ‘bouw bouw bouw.'”
Spencer’s lo-fi sound begins with a no-name Japanese solid-body his wife picked up a few years ago for $17, and a 100-watt Sunn 2×12 combo. While recording one of the album tracks with producer Steve Albini, however, Spencer fell in with the scruffy glory of a custom CMI 2×10 combo.
“One of the speaker cones was all ripped up and the tubes were damaged,” says Spencer.
“But it was the messed up stuff that I liked about the sound. After the session, I decided to get the amp fixed up – which was a mistake because when I got it back from the repair shop, it sounded totally different.”
Bauer’s contrasting hi-fi tone is produced with a ’66 Tele in open-E tuning, a ’67 Fender Esquire in standard tuning, and a ’51 Esquire – modified with a ’63 pickup because the original “squealed too much and picked up a lot of noise” – in open G. His amp collection includes a ’61 Fender Twin, a ’61 Fender Concert, a Silvertone combo, a Vox AC30, a Fender Bassman, and an Ampeg Reverberocket.
The band recorded Acme live in the studio, and although there was no baffling between Bauer’s and Spencer’s amps, the separation of their contrasting guitar sounds is wide and distinctive.
“We always throw the guitars opposite of each other in the mix,” says Spencer. “And a lot of our music is very sparse, which allows the listener to really hear what each instrument is doing.”
As there is no bass player in the Blues Explosion, Spencer occasionally acts the part. On “Calvin,” for example, he plugged into a vintage Maestro Octave Box to play a fat and dirty mock bass line. Again, maintaining the distinct contrast between their instruments, Bauer dials out much of his amp’s bass tone. “I’ll get rid of the low end.” he says, “because Jon is covering it.”
While the guitarists obviously think a lot about their guitar tones, their approach to song-writing is less formal. “We don’t ever say. ‘Let’s write a blues song or an Otis Redding-style song or something like a George Jones song.” says Spencer. “It’s great if you can get some clever intellectual stuff happening, but if the song doesn’t make you smile and shake your hips, all the clever stuff isn’t worth a damn.”
– Kyle Swenson”