Stephen Pearcy’s Guitarist And Main Riff Master Talks Gear, Guitars And Creating A Smash
Watch for Pearcy’s fourth original solo album, Smash, in stores January 27
What influenced you to pick up a guitar?
Watching live performances from AC/DC and Van Halen on early MTV. I was eight years old at the time. I knew right then that being the lead guitarist in a heavy metal band was the coolest thing anyone could ever possibly do in life.
What was your first guitar?
My parents got me my first guitar. It was a really shitty acoustic that had like 14 gauge strings on it that were an inch off the fretboard. It was basically unplayable for my eight year old fingers. They also wanted me to take traditional guitar lessons with it. That was a nightmare. I lasted one lesson. I couldn’t wait to be 15 and get my first job so I could buy an electric. I saved up and later that year bought a decent Fender Strat from Guitar Trader in San Diego.
What do you remember about your first time playing guitar in front of an audience?
The first audience I remember playing to was at my junior high school in the lunch auditorium. Me and two buddies threw down some Metallica stuff and the kids loved it. They stood up and cheered. I remember suddenly feeling a lot cooler and hopeful that I was on the right path.
What is your favorite guitar?
My favorite guitar is my Wayne telecaster that Michael Charvel built for me in 2006. I still play it at the Pearcy shows. The monster graphics are actually printed fabric that he sealed into the guitar. The neck is unfinished maple and I have a Seymour Duncan Hot Rail in it. It’s an extremely well built guitar. He did a great job.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.
Who are your heroes?
My earliest heroes were Eddie Van Halen, Angus Young and Neil Schon. I also loved George Lynch, Jake E. Lee and Warren DeMartini. All of them have inspired me at some point.
Have you ever had something embarrassing happen on stage?
I remember playing a show with one my early bands and the bassist had super long hair that he would whip around. About halfway through the show he whipped his hair and it completely wrapped around my headstock like five times. I tried to yank it away but his whole head and hair was stuck to the guitar. We kept playing but I led him offstage by his hair where we had a tech that was laughing his ass off. I was pissed off and embarrassed. I didn’t even let him finish untangling the dudes hair. I just ripped it away and went back to my spot on stage with a big bloody clump of hair hanging off my headstock.
Tell me about the gear you used in the studio while working on Smash.
I tracked all the rhythm guitars at Matt Thorne’s studio up in Burbank (MT Studios). I used my 100 watt Splawn Quickrod and Matt’s modded Marshall 800. We also used a small Orange amp of his on few spots. I used my Les Paul, Wayne tele, and Fender Strat. Matt had a Martin acoustic for “What Do Ya Think.” I didn’t use many effects, just chorus and delay here and there. I recorded most of the solos at home with a digital interface from Line 6.
You’ve stepped up big time on Smash – some of the riffs and guitar tones have a familiarity that Ratt fans will love, all while sounding unique to the writing style you have with Pearcy. How do you remember the complete experience of writing and recording Smash? How does it compare to previous Pearcy solo releases?
I have a home studio that I record all my song ideas at. If it sounds like something Pearcy can use, I’ll email it to him as a full arrangement. He then writes all of his own lyrics and melodies. In late 2015 we started to put some new stuff out independently, like “I Can’t Take It” that Beau Hill did the mix on. That actually got the attention of Frontiers. In mid-2016 they signed Stephen to do a few records on their label. They wanted “I Can’t Take It” but felt the other tracks had been out too long, so we had to record 12 new ones. It was a lot of work but we pulled it off. Pearcy had enough material from me over the years to make it happen. Matt engineered the sessions and performed the bass tracks as well as some cool synth parts. Greg came in for a few days to lay drums. Matt did the mixes. As far as Pearcy’s past three solo releases, he actually wrote and played guitar on a lot of those. This is the first time that we’ve worked completely together on a record, and he trusted me with all the guitar stuff. It ends up coming out better when we work as a team. I’m excited for his fans to hear it and hope they all love at least something on there! If they are old school rock fans they will dig it!
Is there a guitar moment on Smash that you’re particularly proud of?
I like my solo on “I Know I’m Crazy.” It starts out melodic and bluesy, then builds into some faster stuff toward the end. Also the lead in “Jamie” is pretty cool.
What gear do you prefer on stage?
I prefer to have my Splawn amps live but when we play fly-out shows I typically ask for Marshall JCM 900’s. They get the best old rock sound for what we do. I bring a few Boss pedals – Overdrive, Delay and Chorus. That’s it. I don’t like a ton of effects.
What songs do you think will work their way into the setlist this year?
We want to play at least three or four new songs from Smash. I’m not sure exactly which ones yet. We’ll see what his fans want to hear once it’s released. The set will be a mix of those and the hits from Pearcy’s career.
What would you like to say to wrap things up?
Just a big thanks to Stephen’s fans for supporting us and picking up Smash. We will see you out there in 2017.
Erik Ferentinos photo by Joe Schaeffer