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Axing nostalgic: Tucson musicians gear up

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Axing nostalgic: Tucson musicians gear up

  • Amy Mendoza shows off her custom tooled Fender Telecaster
    Courtesy of Amy MendozaAmy Mendoza shows off her custom tooled Fender Telecaster
  • Nirantha Balagopal shreds onstage
    Courtesy Nirantha BalagopalNirantha Balagopal shreds onstage
  • St. Vincent, eat your heart's Feverfew!
    Courtesy FeverfewSt. Vincent, eat your heart's Feverfew!

C'mon, ask a guitarist about their rig. If you've got tons of time, that is.

As a rule, musicians love to talk about their gear. And, let's be honest, a lot of the readers of this column are, well, musicians. Folks who play in bands, or who used to play in bands, or who WANT to play in bands make up what seems like a majority of the audience for live music in this town these days.

So, with that in mind, I did an informal little poll on social media of some of Tucson's finest musical gearheads. The question was simple: what are the favorite instruments, effects, amps and other gear that you've had the privilege of owning or using?

The answers are where it began to get interesting. The initial thread was a modest but still impressive catalog with pictures and inventories. Mostly of guitars because axe-wielders tend to be the proudest gearheads of all musicians.

There was another thing that stood out about that thread, though. And it was puzzling, to say the least. Tucson is a pretty gender-balanced town when it comes to talented musicians. But this thread was, as a friend so delicately put it, "a bit of a sausage fest."

Why so many guys? Where was everybody else? Mostly, not on this thread. But why? It's not like this town is lacking in talented femme players. The same friend (who happens to be a dude) had a theory.

"Shitty guitar magazines have been poisoning male musicians' minds since the 1970s."

Presumably, the same magazine industry was too busy hawking fast fashion, makeup and unrealistic body standards to notice that more and more teeange girls (and full-grown women, and gender non-binary folks) were picking up guitars.

This was not cool, but easily remedied. In the aim of getting a more complete picture of the true breadth of the gear of Tucson I reposted the thread, this time calling out some of the most talented women/femme musicians I know - and inviting them to call out folks they knew as well. That conversation, once it started, grew really quickly. It turns out that though pretty near 100 percent of the folks in Tucson's live music scene love to talk about their gear, for most part, nobody ever asks anyone but the cis het dudes about it. Which is a damn shame, since by doing so they're missing out on some killer advice and some fabulous equipment. Let's remedy that, shall we?

Without further ado, here's a showcase of some of the finest collections of music gear ever owned or played by the current crop of Tucson musicians. And, once again (though it sucks that I have to keep saying it) femmes to the front!

Gender disparity aside, everyone knows that biggest divide among rock and roll players, when it comes to gear enthusiasm is  actually guitarists vs. everyone else. No other player in a band loves to talk about their vast arsenal of sonic weaponry more so than a lead guitarist. Except for maybe a lead guitarist/vocalist/frontperson. Or, you know, a lead guitarist/frontperson/vocalist/bassist. Like Amy Munoz Mendoza.

Mendoza, a veteran of countless local bands, currently commands the stage with righteous rock and roll swagger in the Surf Broads, Sugar Stains, Loveland and Amy Mendoza and the Strange Vacation. And she had a LOT to say about gear.

Amy Mendoza: "I have an embarrassing amount of gear. My most recent acquisition being a melted guitar amp I purchased from a friend (Doug Floyd). We played at a piano burn and they put us way too close to the fire, it was its first time being played, and it melted (superficially) the grill cloth. Plays like a million bucks though and I bought it from my guitar player. It’s sentimental in that way. The melted amp (for gear reference) is a Paul Reed Smith, light-weight, loud, with tone for days."

"Instrument-wise, my first bass, was purchased with money came up on after hawking jewelry an ex gave me. I was broke at the time, it seemed like a grand way to turn a lemon into lemonade. I gave that bass away to a rowdy 13-year-old girl, who I know will do something great with it. The only caveat - she can’t sell it, she has to give it to another female if she gets rid of it. It was a cheap Samick five-string."

"The issue with learning on a five-string was that it took me a year to be able to play with a regular four-string. My favorite bass amps are SVTs, totally worth the 80-pound lug onto the stage. My preference is used gear. I like the stories behind the instruments. I find they translate well."

"Anyway, not sure if that’s what you’re asking, but I have gear for days, it would make for a great Tolstoy novel." Feel free to keep going as long as you like!

AM: "I also lend gear to other femmes who just want to try shit out without judgement or scrutiny. Womyn who are tired of being asked if they play an instrument as they thump along on one in a store. Please excuse the photo, but this is my favorite guitar. I had it custom-tooled in Nashville. It’s representative of Waylon (Jennings) and reminds me of Bakersfield, where I was born. I play a lot of over-the-top metal guitars, but I’m a diehard Tele fan. They fit well, sound well, and just make me happy."

"My first guitar was a Tele. It was stolen; that broke my heart on so many levels. I find myself chasing Teles. Anyway, I can go on and on... careful what you ask for!"

Not all the folks on my list were as prolific in their comments as Mendoza. But that doesn't mean Tucson music folks don't have a lot to say about their gear. Here's a sampling of what I gathered. Expect more stories in the next week or two, as they keep coming.

Jillian Bisset (Jillian and the Giants): "Currently running my Vox and Nord keyboard into a Boss rc505 looping station then out to a Fishman amp. Every coffee shop singer in the world needs a Fishman amp. Super loud and easy to use and they can be a monitor when you need to bump it up to the PA. Looping sound is turning out to be a totally different animal from 'just turn it up friends' and is currently how I’m spending most of my practice time."

Nelene DeGuzman (The Rifle): "Boringly, probably, my most favorite gear purchase was an Original Fuzz guitar strap. Before this strap, I had used just the cheapest worst straps, just whatever I could find at Bookmans. They never lasted, occasionally my guitar would just fall out of them. I finally invested in a nicer one (before I stopped purchasing non second hand leather goods) and I've had the same one since. Crazy the change a quality guitar strap can make when you're gigging a lot.

Snackbirdy: "Loop pedal with multiple faders I got a 2nd hand one that I started writing music again and it saved my life. When my leaky roof pissed on it and the landlord hadn’t fixed the roof despite multiple complaints I told him I wasn’t paying rent that month!"

Cristina Williams (Silver Cloud Express): "My latest toy is an  Electroharmonix Synth 9 pedal (for both bass and guitar!) It is SO fun to go through all the different settings and just make some cool weird sounds."

Feverfew: "I run my guitar through and AB-Y pedal. One signal runs into a pretty basic Bherenger octave pedal. It's not a great pedal and I'll update at some point when I have actual money. Then that signal runs into a MXR bass chorus and into an old Peavy 2x12 TKO with new bass speakers. The Second signal runs into Big Muff Pi where I have a clean signal running in to a pretty basic Donner reverb. The Big Muff and Reverb signals blend into one signal with a Boss line selector. That signal runs into my Sunn Concert Bass head and through a 2x10 cab I put together myself. The bass head ads an extra deep tone to everything and the reverb adds more body to the almost thin fuzz. I defintely have a very distinct/interesting guitar tone I haven't been able to replicate through other amps. For my vocals I use a TC-Helicon Harmony G XT and a Boss-r3 looper (which is more than I really need honestly but I got a good deal on it)."

Bernice Lomelli (Sugar Stains): "So one of the guitars that I love and I keep using is my LTD EC1000 with EMG pick ups, love the distortion and the feedback I get from it, it plays like butter. I play it straight through an Orange Rockverb 50, love that british sound. Dont usually use pedals, usually go straight. I am currently playing a US Telecaster with humbuckers through the Orange amp." 

"One guitar that I have a love/hate relationship is a BC Rich mockingbird with a floyd rose, I love that it plays like butter, but setting up a floyd rose is a pain in the butt. Also one guitar that I rarely play out, have maybe played it out once or twice is my '54 reissue Gibson explorer, jumbo frets, it just looks super cool! One guitar I dont play as much and it was pretty much set aside for Pop Gestapo is my Epiphone Zakk Wylde guitar, that thing is a tank, that one was a impulse buy, but have never regret it! An amp that has been my loyal steed has been a Crate GFX212, great "practice" amp, have played it out and it is loud AF! Love it!"

"When I do acoustic shows, which are rare, I play my little french LAD acoustic, perfect size and weight, love the sound of it. I just bought a JamMan SoloXT loop pedal, but still trying to figure out, will probable end up getting something else. I could go on and on since all my guitars are my children and they are all my favorite, but I think I bored you enough with what I have shared so far. Anytime anyone wants to check more of my equipment, please feel free to message me or stop by, let's do a jammy jam sesh!"

Gabi Montoya (Juju Fontaine, Taco Sauce): "I'm fairly new to gear but my strymon BlueSky pedal was a game changer and I love my Way Huge Saucy Box Overdrive. My Blues Jr is too small for my needs now so I decided to try a solid state and bought an old Roland Jc-120 Jazz chorus and that was also a game changer because of the added possibilities of loud clean tone and chorus and vibrato effects. I'll eventually switch to a bigger fender tube amp probably but it's pretty fun for now and made me realize I really do want ALL THE PEDALS."

The above are just the tip of the iceberg, though, dear readers. Tune in next week for more gear love, including more tributes to the versatile Fishman amp, some epic praise for fuzzy, fuzzy pedals, stories of catastrophic instrument theft and more fierce femmes and guys with guitars wielding weapons of mass distortion and telling tales of all the amps they've loved before. 

Gene Rules

A few weeks back, we noted the untimely passing of one of Tucson's finest musicians, Gene Ruley. This weekend, a loving assortment of friends, bandmates and fans are gathering to pay tribute to the inimitable local guitarist at one of his favorite and most-frequented local venues, Club Congress.

If you were among the lucky folks to see Ruley on stage a time or two, you can take some small comfort in hearing the songs he loved played by those who loved him one more time. If you never had the chance to see him play, you're just going to have to take it on faith. Still, it's likely that a little of his low key virtuoso style will outlive him in the performances Saturday night. 

Perfomers include Hank Topless, Infinite Beauties, Chris Martin, Howe Gelb, Al Perry, Chris Holiman, Tom Stauffer, Howe Gelb, Caitlin Von Schmidt and more. In fact, at a venue well known for its famous ghosts, it wouldn't surprise us if Ruley finds a way to sit in.

Gene Rules! A tribute to Gene Ruley takes place Saturday at Club Congress. Doors open at 7 p.m. 

Waxing nostalgic

Chicago's Wax Trax! Records was the epicenter of Windy City underground music throughout the '80s and '90s. It was also an important part of the genesis of industrial music and its derivatives. Wax Trax! closed its doors in 2001 following a bankruptcy and declining sales, but like many iconic relics of the vinyl era, it's enjoyed a resurrection of sorts following a 2014 reopening. Learn the history of this iconic label (and hang out with the kind of cool folks that want to go to a film like this) as the Screening Room hosts a showing of the recent Wax Trax! documentary "Industrial Accident" on Friday night.

See the film "Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records" at 7:30 p.m. at the Screening Room, Friday, Oct. 5.

Dylan lives!

The legendary Mr. Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, makes a rare appearance in the Old Pueblo this Friday night. As past Dylan concert goers will tell you, every appearance is unpredictably different and if you're lucky enough to make it, you'll hear one of kind versions of Dylan's vast career classics.

Bob Dylan play the Tucson Convention Center, Friday at 8 p.m.

Check your local listings...

Friday, Oct. 5 

  • Little Cloud - 6 p.m. Saguaro Corners
  • Tom Bailey (of Thompson Twins) - 7:30 p.m. Fox Theatre
  • Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records - 7:30 p.m. The Screening Room
  • Bryan Thomas Parker & Friends - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • Natalie Pohanic - 9 p.m. Dusty Monk
  • Retrolesque Dark 'n Stormy Halloween Show - 9 p.m. Surly Wench
  • Bob Dylan - 8 p.m. Tucson Convention Center

Saturday, Oct. 6

  • Royal Agaves - 6 p.m. Sand-Reckoner
  • Street Blues Family - 10 p.m. Che's Lounge
  • Gene Rules! A Tribute to Gene Ruley - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Paper Foxes, Actual Wolf, Juju Fontaine, the Happy Fits - 7:30 p.m. Cans Deli
  • Dan Soder - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Musk Hog, Quantum Colossus, Dayak - 9 p.m. District Eatz
  • Fuentes, Febbo and McCammond - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern

Sunday, Oct. 7

  • Kevin Pakulis - 2:30 p.m. Borderlands
  • Garden District Porch Fest - 3:30 p.m. Garden District Neighborhood 
  • Tax Tips for Artists, Musicians and Side Hustlers - 6 p.m. Cans Deli
  • FEA with Pigmy Death Ray - 9 p.m. Surly Wench
  • The Oxford Coma - 9 p.m. 191 Toole

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