with Xavier Watkins of Fuzzy Lights
Name: Xavier Watkins
Bands: Fuzzy Lights, Violet Woods
Websites: www.fuzzylights.com, http://violetwoods.tumblr.com
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Xavier – Hohner Strat copy - it fell off the strap & the neck snapped. I fixed it with glue & gaffer tape & played it like that for years.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Xavier – For years I’ve played a vintage Fender Jaguar ‘65 & a modded Jazzmaster reissue, but recently I was looking for a hollow-body & got an Epiphone Casino. On my pedalboard there is usually a fuzz pedal (ZVex Fuzz Factory, Octane 3, or Frantone The Sweet), followed by an analog delay (EHX DMM or MXR carbon copy). I’ve started using an EHX POG to add harmonics to the fuzz tone. This then goes through a Fulltone Supa-trem & an EHX Holy Grail reverb before being boosted by a Zvex Super Hard On. The SHO really brings out the best of the amp. Amps are Vox AC15 or Fender Twin Reverb 65 reissue. Also got a couple of WEMs (my wife’s amps), which are really nice. For acoustic it’s a lovely Martin HD28.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Xavier – Everything is important, but most of the feel comes from the guitar.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Xavier – Vox AC15 (handwired series). I love the way it breaks up - I use the EL86 channel & push it with the SHO. Also, not anywhere as heavy & loud as the Twin Reverb.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Xavier – I’d say there’s two currently, the Jaguar for clearer sounds & vibrato work & the Casino for dirtier & grittier sounds. I like a guitar to have a thin neck & low-action.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Xavier – Jazzmaster neck (thin) & body, P90 pickups with Bigsby tremolo. No tone pot or rhythm switch circuit, linear volume knob. Sunburst nitro finish.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Xavier – I’d love to have some kind of uncontrollable feedback inducing fuzz pedal with random warbles like the ZVEX Lo-Fi Junky does, sounds like you’re pinching tape & letting it go.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Xavier – Around 9.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Xavier – I don’t really look at features, more the way it feels & sounds. Even with the same model there are differences.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Xavier – I customize them, got a few of my pickups rewired by Curtis Novak. Turned one of my Jazzmaster pickups into a P90 & rewired the wide-range humbucker from my Telecaster custom to vintage specs. I sand down the necks of my “newer” guitars, I hate the feel of sticky poly finish. Changed my Jaguar & Jazzmaster bridges to Mastery bridges. Put a Bigsby B5 on my Telecaster, which I later removed because I didn’t like the break angle required for the neck.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Xavier – Probably once every 6 months or so, although the basic principle of fuzz/disto > delay > trem > reverb always applies.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Xavier – I’ve mostly got one tone I lock to, but like to make subtle changes between songs or sometimes in the middle of a song.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Xavier – A vintage Jazzmaster, vintage Hangstrom hollowbody & Deluxe Reverb to replace my Twin, which is decidedly too heavy.…
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Xavier – Frets.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Xavier – 14 years old.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Xavier – I think at around 17 I reached a point at which I could play technically challenging parts, but I don’t think that means I leveled there. I’d spent the past 3 years obsessively learning how to play the Led Zeppelin back catalogue, but then it was time to find my own style & “de-learn” all the gimmicks.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Xavier – Neil Young.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Xavier – See what happened to my first guitar.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Xavier – Yellow ones. Just the right thickness.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Xavier – Skinny top heavy bottoms! I often play in open tuning so having heavier strings is best.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
Xavier – Every 3/4 months.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Xavier – Rarely happens nowadays (fingers crossed!).
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Xavier – I do them all myself. It’s easy & you can get them to your own specs every time.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Xavier – DGDGBC, DADGAD, CGDGBD, CACGCE.... I find that if I play in standard tuning, it’s easy to fall back into clichés. & I love the sound of multiple strings droning on the same note...
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Xavier – I can’t read music, so I use tabs & little fretboard stamps in which I write finger positions for unusual chords.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Xavier – Jazz/Manouche guitar.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Xavier – I love Bigsbys, they just feel so natural to play. I got use to the one on Jaguars/Jazzmasters with time, but they require really careful setup & bridge upgrades to work properly-ish.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Xavier – Never!
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Xavier – When there’re two guitars, their sounds have to be complementary & not fight with each other, that’s all - I’m not sure I ever got the lead versus rhythm thing.
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Xavier – Can I say Rhys Chatham because of A Crimson Grail? First one to spring into my mind, but there’s hundreds, thousands...
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Xavier – Probably on the new Fuzzy Lights album, Rule of Twelfths.