WE SHOULD lead this new series off with a bit of a warning: what you’re about to read is very geeky, and may not be especially pertinent to the average reader. That said, if you have any interest or fascination with instruments and music gear whatsoever, this is for you!
Gear Geek is our chance to shine a light on local musicians and talk about something musicians love perhaps more than anything: their gear. When figuring out where to start with this, it was clear right away that Ty Thompson was the only logical person to kick it off.
Best known for his long tenure with The Hypnotics, the brilliant guitarist and songwriter currently fronts Rev Bro Diddley and the Hips, as is by all accounts the most gear-obsessed person this writer has ever known. His guitar collection is full of sought-after Rickenbacker and Vox models, rare oddball pieces, and some classy classics like Gretsches and Fenders.
With all of that said, and our geek disclaimer activated, we present to you: Gear Geek.
Do you remember what age you got your first instrument? What was it?
Yup! I was in eighth grade so I guess I was 13. I’d been geeking over electric guitars for a while so my parents finally relented and bought me a Takamine acoustic/electric. They figured if they bought me a full on electric instrument then I’d probably just go nuts on fuzz boxes and never learn how to really play. I don’t if that’s true or not but I learned how to play on that.
Was there a moment or a particular time in your life when you really started getting into guitars and gear?
For the longest time I had my acoustic/electric and then later down the line I got an electric...and I really just thought about guitars in those terms and to me that covered all the bases! In general I’m pretty slow to learn stuff but at a point I had to concede that my electric guitar with humbucker pickups didn’t sound like the Beatles records or even the Nirvana records I would attempt to play along with. My best bud growing up had a Fender electric that sounded far more in line with what I liked so somewhere along the line noticing that must’ve awakened my ears a bit.
Really it’s a total can of worms cause then it was like, “Okay so what guitar or amp or effect box makes Satisfaction by the Stones? How does Chuck Berry get that woody chunky sound? Nirvana distortion sounds so different from Smashing Pumpkins distortion...why?” And then at a point I’m asking myself why people either don’t or can’t make records like they used to in the 1960s...and a decade or two later I’m still learning the answers!
What is it about guitars, especially Rickenbackers, that you love so much?
I’m definitely into a lot of different kinds of music but guitar-based rock and roll is my favorite. I love the range of feelings guitars can so effectively evoke! I don’t really think of it as a collection so much because if one is not getting used then it gets sold or traded. As for the ones I keep THEY ALL DO DIFFERENT THINGS! Guitar is my main instrument, or certainly the one on which I’m the most comfortable. But my main focus in recent years is recording songs, and different guitars bring SO much so the table. They are imperfect instruments, and no two (even from the same company made in the same year or even same day) will play or behave or sound exactly the same. They are this wonderful blend of identity and conformity, in that any guitar will conform at least somewhat to the person playing it. Even my fiancé, who hasn’t been playing guitar very long, can pick up two vastly different guitars and still sound like herself on either.
Even still, there is also this beautiful identity that each guitar also brings to the table. It sounds contradictory...maybe it’s just the sorta thing you have to experience to understand. I can’t sound like Jhovana even playing through the same guitar and amp that she uses. I also can’t make a Gretsch sound like a Strat. So there’s this irreplaceable human element involved in the chain, and there’s also an irreplaceable characteristic that different instruments bring to the table. All that said, yeah Rickenbacker seems to nail guitar sound the way I most commonly want to hear it. So yeah, I particularly dig the Rickys!
Tell me a bit about what you’ve got in your collection right now.
I’m mostly a nut for the 1950s and 1960s musical sounds but I also love a few different eras of punk music. So I keep around a couple Gretsch guitars and a couple of Fenders and then as many Rickenbacker and Vox instruments as I can afford. There are also a few total randos by Harmony and Danelectro that I’ll load with flat wound strings or tune super weird just to make them sound almost like different instruments altogether. The Gretsch instruments are a 1962 Country Gentleman and a newer Chet Atkins (maybe a 2014 or so). The Fenders are a Japanese Strat from the 1980s and a ’62 reissue Jaguar of which Jhovana has claimed ownership! The Vox stuff is maybe the most interesting. They really aren’t known for their guitars but you’ve seen their amplifiers if you’ve ever watched a Beatles performance. But Vox made these quirky, rickety guitars that ooze with character, no small part due to the fact that many of them had fuzz boxes and tremolo effects built into them! For the Rickenbackers I’ve got a 12 string and a few 6 strings that are all vastly different models which sound completely different.
As for amps I’ve got a vintage Fender Deluxe Reverb (also taken over by Jo) and then a ’64 Vox AC30 that I use a lot when I’m recording. Other amps I’m not getting rid of anytime soon are a ’62 fender Bassman head and cab and then I’ve got two of those little Squier amps that are just a 6” speaker and cost like 15 bucks on marketplace or Craigslist. Another super quirky amp I’ve got is a clone of a Vox UL715, which is a hybrid tube/solid state design with onboard fuzz and tremolo and reverb and just sounds like 1966 British garage rock. I’ve got a buddy over in England who makes them faithfully and I was stoked to get my hands on one. It’s the Sgt Pepper amp and the Revolver amp and it’s maybe the best piece of evidence AGAINST the idea that “guitar tone is all in the hands of the player.” You play through that amp and it’s just like, “there it is....that’s clearly the Sgt Pepper amp!”