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Butch Walker

"I don't know what makes a guitar sound great...I just know the moment I pick it up and hit one chord if it sounds right. It's energy. When it shoots a bolt of energy through you the first time you pull it off the rack, that's how you know it's right. It's like love at first sight". Butch Walker discusses choosing a guitar in this episode of String Theory.

Transcript

Butch Walker:
Well, guitar playing to me is the ultimate form of expression I suppose, especially when you didn't grow up being a jock or being able to throw a football very far. I saw KISS play when I was eight years old and saw Ace Frehley throw his guitar up into the air. It was tied to some string I guess, and it just kept going all the way up and then blew up in the rafters and 30,000 stoners went bonkers, and so did I. I was eight and I don't know if it was the pot fumes, but I was definitely like high as a kite when I left there from that concert, just because I wanted to start playing guitar the next day. Everything about it, the shape of the guitar, the color, the sound coming out of it, as a kid that's primal urges that it puts in you, to want to do that.

Butch Walker:
My uncle had a 50's Kay, a solid body electric, probably one of the first solid bodies he ever made, and a little Gibson Skylark amp and he gave it to me, which was just overwhelming. The first thing I did, of course, was put stripes all over it like Eddie van Halen's guitar and completely ruined the Gibson Skylark amp by painting it gold, I think. And just putting lightning bolts on the front of it, because everything was just... I was immersed in heavy rock and glam rock culture at that time. Just trying to soak it in. I would sit around and just play on the top string, which was the easiest thing to do, and pick out the bass root note of a song on my record player and sit there and just play up and down like this all day long.

Butch Walker:
I came from, at the time, pretty small town called Cartersville, Georgia and we picked up the radio stations from Atlanta an hour away and the rock station, 96 Rock, was the station that just... You were a cool kid at school if you were listening to 96 Rock. I would put a cassette tape in my radio combo thing and tape the radio all day long. The original pirating. And I would tape it and just sit there and like rewind, fast forward through commercials and practice the songs on my guitar.

Butch Walker:
I started using Ernie ball strings probably back in my hair metal youth, back when I was like 16, 17 years old. The local music store had every kind of string in the world. They always had all the Ernie balls slinky sets. I was always a sucker for any band that had cool album covers and artwork and I remember the packaging just looked so cool, because I didn't know. Who was I to say like what string was better than the next? I wasn't even a good guitar player yet. I just remember the cool packaging and the psychedelic, almost hand written paint on the front and grabbing a couple of sets of them and finally finding my own, because it's changed over time. I probably started playing a nine gauge and then worked my way up to tens and now I'm on eleven's.

Butch Walker:
I just ended up using them because they were always consistent. I never got a bad pack or a bad batch and I play a lot of acoustic guitars. I have a lot of acoustic instruments and so to me, I think they make some of the best acoustic strings out there. I've been using those earth woods for years and years and years. So I guess to answer that question, it's been about a hundred years I've been using Ernie Ball strings.

Butch Walker:
My studio I guess is my office. I mean, I guess if I had a real job this would be it. I would come to my office every day and I come Monday through Friday, just like whenever I'm not on tour this is where I go. Even when I don't have records to work on or music for anybody, I come down here and just hang out because there's no pressure. Some days I just come down here and I do nothing but sit on the piano and try to come up with stuff. A lot of times I'll just lay on the couch and listen to records, and that's just as much work to me as anything. You constantly need inspiration so it doesn't feel like you're phoning it in and just waking up and making the donuts every day. So I want to sit around and try to be inspired and listen to good music and come up with any new ideas. Sometimes it's just good head space.

Butch Walker:
There's no rule to whether or not a guitar needs to be old or new or worn in or none of that to me. I've played just as many old, expensive guitars off the shelf that played like shit, sounded like shit and gave me zero inspiration. But then I've got some that are beautiful and rare and they do that for you. But new as well. I've got some amazing guitars that are brand new as well as older than me, which is pretty old. So I guess I'm not very picky when it comes to that. I don't like my guitars to be trophy queen, glass case guitars. Like don't touch it, don't play it. It's got no scuffs, no scratches, original paint. Same way with motorcycles and cars. I don't give a shit about that. I want to use this stuff, I want to play it.

Butch Walker:
I don't know what makes a guitar sound great because it's not necessarily the builder, the quality, the year. I've got a hundred dollar guitars, I've gotten pawn shops that sound and give me just as much inspiration as like a 60's Martin that I've got. I just know the minute I pick it up and hit one chord, if it's right. I don't sit around and go, "Oh, this has got to grow on me." Not that at all. You just know. This sounds so stupid and pretentious, but it's energy and when it shoots a bolt of energy through you, when you play a G chord or a C chord or whatever, the first time you pick it off the rack, that's when you know it's right. It's like love. It's like love at first sight. It's like falling in love with another person. You know immediately, you just do.

Butch Walker:
I think the only thing I can really tell people starting out is just to not box yourself in with any rules. A lot of guitar teachers, people like that, will try to throw rules at you. You can't sit with it like this. You have to sit with it like this. Your proper fingering technique. The word technique is just... I hate that word. However you learn, however you do it. Some of my favorite guitar players just had the most fucked up technique. You can watch them and it's like, why is his thumb doing that? Or what's wrong? Oh he's only got three fingers, or he plays backwards, left-handed. But it's strong and normal. So he's playing up. Those people obviously didn't listen when somebody said, that is not the proper way to play.

Butch Walker:
Whatever makes you happy and whatever makes you want to keep learning and keep playing it. Because you can hit a wall very quickly and stop playing as most kids do. That sucks. That's a crime. I don't want to see that happen to people. So I think you just have to stay reaching for ways to learn that are interesting and exciting for you.

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