UK trio, Steel Trees did a lot of self-reflecting prior to their relaunch near the end of 2018, a change of form that brought about, as they put it, “pure fuckin’ fuzz filth.” Very, very stoked on their new sound, the charge of which was lead by new single and video, “Deaf In One Eye,” we connected with the trio to chat gear. So, while the band are hunkered down with producer Matt Elliss (known for his work with groups like Black Spiders, Massive Wagons, Groop Dogdrill) writing and recording their new album, due in summer 2019 via These Bloody Thieves/Cargo Records, we spoke via email with vocalist and guitarist Tom Hannon about the great gear on which he grates.
What gear do you use to obtain your signature sound?
Tom Hannon: I’m hardly an uber muso gear-head, so it’s no surprise to anyone who knows us that my sound in Steel Trees is quite simple and 100% down to a 1970’s Orange OR120 found in a skip and a 1970’s Arbiter SG (pre-lawsuit) guitar that was in some guys loft for about 30 years. I use a Blackstar valve distortion, and a Harmonic Percolator shoved into a whammy octave for extra girth.
What about it makes it so important to you?
Hannon: All the hardware from the Arbiter SG is from previous guitars I had growing up, a ‘90s Epiphone SG that I ripped the humbuckers out of after trashing the guitar under a bass rig at a rubbish festival when we first started out, so it’s kind of sentimental, but also means if it gets trashed it can be quite easily replaced. I also like how someone painted the Arbiters neck and body with white gloss, no primer or sanding, just FUCKING GLOSS. It’s yellowed and worn all over the neck and body, which looks really cool to me, I can’t stand brand new shiny gear, it needs breaking in for a few decades.
Dude, what are you, “Deaf In One Eye”? This video is so rad!
How was this gear used during the recording of your latest album?
Hannon: I rarely use this gear to record with actually, the pickups on my SG are extremely microphonic and pick up the drums, vocals, etc. really clearly. They’re quite reminiscent of the burns tri-sonic pickups that are in the red special, I love playing with feedback between notes so haven’t bothered to upgrade them. I might dip them in wax if I ever fancy a different sound. I also usually go for some hi-gain amps in the studio, like a Vox AC30, Fender, even used a solid state Stingray amp haha, basically experiment with tones as much as possible.
How do you recreate your album (guitar) tones in your live set?
Hannon: I don’t try haha, it’s more about raw power and energy when we play live, not trying to recreate what’s on a recording.
What are the major pros and cons?
Hannon: Pros, looks and sounds cool as. Cons, everything weighs a ton!
Do you have a backup for this gear, if so, what?
Hannon: I have a ‘70s Selmer Treble and Bass head, nothing can really suffice as a back up but its a decent sounding valve amp for a 50-watt beast, I also found this in the back of our TM’s van, he said it was beyond repair but a hundred quid later and it was back to new. I don’t have a replacement for the SG but I use a battered Mexican Fender Tele with a “This Guitar Kills Cunts” decal. After I smashed my first guitar up at that rubbish gig, this dude was like “You can buy this fender tele for £60 if ya want?” I was like, “Fuck yeah!” he was like “It fucking stinks of piss though, but it will put you on.” I’ve had it for 10 years now and it still stinks of piss…
Check out these exclusive stills of some of Tom’s go-to gear.
How long have you had it, how do you use it, would you ever change it?
Hannon: Since 2007. This local dodgy fella turned up on my doorstep with it saying he stole it from the mechanical skip at the local tip (dump-it site). I was the only guitarist he knew and he wasn’t sure what it was, just that it was an amplifier of some sort, the bloke only had 3 teeth in his mouth so I knew to low ball with offers and eventually gave him £35, he seemed happy and went on his way.
How do I use it? Well you simply crank the gain knob and it sounds ace, they’re aren’t many amps that are as simple and effective as the OR120, it’s a true hand built one-off. I once tried to swap it after owning it for a couple of years, mainly due to some issues that mean it runs on higher rated fuses than it should do, if you use the ones that its meant to run on, it conks out, I’ve had this checked out by amplifier luthiers and for some reason it’s safe and just the way it was built! It’s running 200 watts instead of 120 and maybe that’s the reason? I dunno, I’m just a guitarist…but! I’m so glad I didn’t trade it for a Marshall super lead, there was more than 4 knobs on that…way too much pissing about.
Give us your best “gear goes wrong” story.
Hannon: For weeks I had a reoccurring dream where I was on stage and all my gear kept failing, cutting in and out and the lighting was so dim that I couldn’t see my pedals and everything just fucked up resulting in me trashing everything and walking off, obviously I disregarded it as a weird nightmare but then it happened in REAL FUCKING LIFE, everything blew one night at a gig, almost exactly like the dream, I just started hitting everything, for the record that NEVER helps. Weird.
Any final thoughts or comments on the gear?
Hannon: I think it’s nothing to do with what gear you’ve got, it’s always down to how you use it, I would love to run a few OR120’s in stereo for full blown-melt your face off-effect, not a new one though. Maybe something out of a skip or someone’s loft.
The “Deaf In One Eye” single was released on December 7, 2018, via These Bloody Thieves Records.