Playing everything from a Telecaster, to pedal steel, to banjo, it would seem Greg McMullen, guitarist with NYC psychedelic/indie band Lizzie & The Makers, has a setup for every project. Fresh from working on the Lizzie & The Makers’ new album, due out later this year, we sat down with Greg to talk about his set-up, how he got into music, and find out if there is anything missing from his musical armoury.
Thanks for your time, how is life treating you at the moment?
Greg McMullen: “I’m doing well, thank you. Itching to play shows that aren’t in my living room…”
You’ve got such a wonderful array of instruments in your resume, I don’t know where to start… So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
“My mother was always playing piano in the house growing up. Piano lessons were mandatory for my siblings and I, so my mother and her music performances for the family were influential at an early age. Piano didn’t stick with me, so I was allowed to take drum lessons, then moved to guitar in my teens. I was given an inexpensive Stratocaster copy as my first guitar.
When my grandfather heard I was playing guitar he gave me the guitar he had played in his youth, which was a 1938 Epiphone Model M electric Hawaiian steel guitar. That instrument blew my mind, I had no idea my grandfather played an instrument. I then started the parallel development of playing a Spanish style and a Hawaiian (lap) style guitar.”
Which was the instrument and musician that really made you want to play music?
“I had discovered Pink Floyd when The Wall was released. What child can’t relate to the line, ‘We don’t need no education?’ They were pretty hard to resist. I then found out Pink Floyd’s guitarist David Gilmour not only played electric guitar but also steel guitar, and I had found a true influence…”
When you’re writing, recording and performing with Lizzie and The Makers, what is your ideal set-up?
“Well, when writing and recording I like to have every option available to me, but ultimately writing is me with an acoustic guitar and Lizzie scribbling away and singing her heart out. I have a small project studio at home so usually, our writing sessions are there, surrounded by several different instruments, pedals, and amps, so that’s kind of ideal. The ideal recording situation isn’t that different from writing/demoing songs with Lizzie and The Makers, I like to have everything possible on hand… I wound up using ten of the 13 guitars I brought with me, a couple oddball guitars that the studio had, and piles and piles of pedals.
For live performances I prefer to keep it minimal; one guitar in standard tuning and one guitar open G tuning for all my slide guitar duties with a pedalboard and two amps for stereo effects.”
Tell us a little bit about your current set-up then and why you chose it.
“What fuels my decisions on gear is how well is it built? How often will it require maintenance? Can I optimize it for my needs?
For acoustic shows I’ve been using a Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster for standard tuning, and a National Resophonic 14-fret Collegian with a Lace Sensor Ultra Slim Acoustic pickup stuck to it running through a Moyo volume pedal into my ‘fly’ board consisting of a Blackstone Appliances Mosfet Overdrive, Strymon Mobius, and an Eventide H9 – sometimes straight into the board or I’ll use a Fishman Loudbox Artist amplifier for monitoring and send the outs to the board. The Acoustasonic Telecaster has proven itself to be a really nice ‘swiss army knife’ for live acoustic situations.
For full band electric gigs, My ‘go to’ for standard tuning is usually a Telecaster; either my mid-‘90s MIJ fender JD Telecaster or my mid-‘80s MIJ Fender Contemporary Telecaster with two humbuckers if I know the venue is noisy. Really love the 5-way switching on the JD telecaster. It’s quite versatile for my applications. To switch things up I will occasionally grab one of my Music Man Albert Lee guitars. They’re great utility guitars that I’ve rewired so they can get a lot of the tones I prefer. For my open G slide guitar work, I mainly use an early ‘80s Fender Bullet that has a Dimarzio MegaDrive humbucker in the bridge position. That guitar is one of the most stable guitars I own, rarely requires maintenance, just some new strings after a couple of gigs.
Occasionally will grab my 1978 Gibson ‘the Paul’ that also has the same type of Dimarzio pickup in the bridge position. My pedalboard for these situations consists of a Caroline Guitar Co., American Pizza ‘Fuzz,’ Zvex Jonny Overload, Subdecay Proteus, Analogman King of Tone, MXR Phase 95, Old Blood Noise Endeavors Procession, Red Panda Particle v1, Eventide H9, and a Strymon TimeLine. The H9 and the TimeLine are controlled via midi by the Disaster Area Designs DMC-6. My preference for amps is usually something Fender-ish with reverb, but since we play a lot of backline shows I have gotten used to amps just being pedal platforms… lately, I’ve been using Quilter amps, as they are light, loud and great pedal platforms.”
What are the pros and cons of your current setup?
“The pros for any of my setups/rigs are that they, for the most part, are adaptable to any gigging situation, until they are not… then I guess that’s the con.”
Have you made your own tweaks or personalization to it? If so, what are they?
“As for guitars, I will always tweak something to better personalize it for me, whether it’s swapping pickups, changing the action, modifying the switching to get a wider array of tones…”
Given the array of gear you play, where do you get your gear from? Brand New? eBay? Second-hand stores?
“I’ll always look at the second-hand market, there’s so much out there! And often I’ll find something that already has a modification that I would have done to it, like my Fender Bullet, it didn’t come stock with that humbucker, someone put that in there. I do prefer to purchase guitars in person, pedals I have no problem buying online.”
From your experiences touring, have you ever had a gear go bad incident on stage that you want to talk about?
“Back in the ’90s when I was playing with Chris Whitley, I was using a 12 space rack full of effects; there was a night when one patch cable had shorted out in the middle of the gig there was no time to go through and find the failure, so I had to just pull a few pedals (overdrive and delay) out of the rig and go for it.”
You sound like you’ve got an instrument for every project. What is the one instrument you’re missing from your armoury that you’re really wanting in there?
“I don’t own a 12-string guitar, acoustic or electric… I also would really like a Godin Glissentar, it seems like I could have a lot of fun with that…”
If money was no object, what would your ultimate set-up be?
“I’d first employ a guitar tech, someone to help me keep my gear straight and make sure I’m handed the right guitar with the correct tuning for the song. If money could buy stage space, I’d love to be able to set up my pedal steel rig alongside my standard guitar rig for every show, but alas stage real estate is always tight and set up and tear down time is always short…”
What is the next musical instrument you’re going to be adding to your collection?
“Probably a 12-string guitar…”
Thanks again for your time and good luck with the album, over to you for the final words…
“Thank you very much!”