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QRD #42 - Guitarist Series
about this issue
Guitarist Interviews with:
Ashkelon Sain
Zac Keiller
Eric Muhs
Patrick Vega
Russ Stedman
Bret Hart
Rick Ray
John William Gordon
Evan Peta
Evgeny Zheyda
Dave Halverson
Charles Rice Goff III
Calvin Johnson
Kim Chee
John G Sosnowski
Michael Walton
Annelies Monseré
Eric Quach
Robert Poss
Sarah June
Ted Johnson
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Guitarist Interview with Calvin Johnson 
July 2010
Calvin playing a show with Julie Doiron in Chicago, IL June, 2007 - the guitar istaken at a show in Portland, Ore., May 13, 2010
Name: Calvin Johnson
Bands: the Hive Dwellers
Websites:  www.krecs.com
Listen to "Cowboy Coffee"
Listen to "Mega-Clash"

QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?

Calvin – A red Lyle guitar that I purchased at Music 6000 in Lacey, Washington. I traded my clarinet & paid some cash. My mother was very upset because she said the clarinet was worth more than the guitar. I now know she was correct. Mother knows best. Ten years later the Lyle was lent to a local teenage anarchist punk who liked it so much I gave it to him. He covered it in tin foil.

QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?

Calvin – No pedals, guitar into a 25 watt Harmony H400A tube amplifier with an 8” speaker. This is turned all the way up. I don’t use any vocal amplification at performances, so this amplifies the guitar just the right amount.

QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig: guitar, amplifier, or effects?

Calvin – The guitar. I have three electric guitars, a Gretsch Electromatic from 1954, a light blue Kapa Continental from the late ‘60s, but the guitar I use most for performing with the Hive Dwellers is a Hohner HG596 my friend Sixx gave me for my birthday, she painted it pink. I added a Dean Markley transducer so it can be plugged into an amplifier.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Calvin – The Harmony H400A is the amplifier I use for live performances.  At our Dub Narcotic studio I have two others that I use for recording, a Fender twin reverb that someone replaced the original speaker with one two inches larger (which makes replacing the tubes a pain), & a Randall Commander with one 15” speaker that I found at Tombstone Music in Clackamas, Oregon  & a portable Hilton square dance public address amplifier that works really well as a guitar amplifier.

QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?

Calvin – The Hohner is used in the Hive Dwellers shows; I also have a 1954 Martin acoustic that is used for solo live shows & in the studio. It belonged to my father, he received it as a wedding present from his bride. The Kapa & Gretsch are used often in the studio, people love the Kapa & always want to purchase it from me, but that will never happen.

QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?

Calvin – How about a hornet green hollow body 12-string Mosrite electric guitar. Or a black Silvertone.

QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?

Calvin – That would be the Calvin Johnson signature guitar tuner, made by Onboard
Research Corporation.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Calvin – Uhhhh... eight?

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Calvin – They are on a shelf.

QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?

Calvin – “Made in the U.S.A.” stamped on them.

QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?

Calvin – Color.

QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?

Calvin – $12.00 - $75.00; or free.

QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?

Calvin – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?

Calvin – Go with the feeling.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Calvin – Non.

QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?

Calvin – Hmmm... what does that mean exactly?

QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?

Calvin – Susannah Hoff’s Rickenbaker, Cliff Gallup style ‘56 Gretsch DuoJet.

QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?

Calvin – The strings should not be set far away from the neck.

QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?

Calvin – The MXR distortion pedal sounds right.

QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?

Calvin – A, D, G, or E chords

QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?

Calvin – Thirteen years old.

QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?

Calvin – 40 years old.

QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?

Calvin – I’d like to play trumpet.

QRD – Do you think guitar should be people‚s first instrument as often as it is?

Calvin – No.

QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?

Calvin – It is a tool.

QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?

Calvin – Rockabilly slingers like Paul Burleson, Billy Hancock; Barbara Lynn & other blues rockin’ soul players whose names are unknown to me; Jandek.

QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?

Calvin – Not into it.

QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?

Calvin – Dancing spazzy at a show, the guitar flew over my head & landed behind me, neck broken.

QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?

Calvin – Non.

QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?

Calvin – Three or four, maybe.

QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?

Calvin – No plectrum.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Calvin – 10 - 13 - 17 - 26 - 36 - 46

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Calvin – Rarely.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Calvin – Rarely.

QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?

Calvin – Uhhhhhh...

QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?

Calvin – No guitar technicians around here.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Calvin – E - A - D - G - B - E

QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?

Calvin – Mostly what is referred to as “tablature.”

QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?

Calvin – High up, like the fellow second from the right in this Easybeats album cover:

QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?

Calvin – Looking at my left hand.

QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?

Calvin – Spanish classical guitar

QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc.)?

Calvin – The guitar strap my mother made me when I was 13 years old.

QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?

Calvin – One lesson. The E, A, D, & G chords.

QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?

Calvin – Make up your own songs your own way. Whatever sounds right is the right way to play them.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Calvin – The Quadra-Sound Blender is a guitar effects box with deep tremelo & vibro sounds.

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?

Calvin – Never.

QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?

Calvin – Their choice of clothing. Rhythm guitar players usually look good.

QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?

Calvin – Unlikely.

QRD – What famous musician‚s guitar would you like to own & why?

Calvin – Cisco Houston. He had style.

QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?

Calvin – I have no idea.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Calvin – Golly, the Dub Narcotic Sound System 12” singles “Mega-Clash Version” [KLP147] & “Cowboy Coffee (Version)” [KLP155].