From Bass to Guitar
We chat with Ben of Circles about his transition from bass to guitar, and his collection.
WHEN DID YOU START GUITAR?I started mucking around on my brother's guitar when I was 11, but I didn’t really get into it until I was about 13 or 14.
YOU STARTED ON BASS, WHEN/WHY DID YOU MOVE TO GUITAR?I took what I was learning in bass lessons and used it to figure out chords on guitar so that I could write more complete songs on my own, and from there just kept on adding whatever I learnt from bass on to guitar and tried to make it more applicable. Eventually it just became easier to lead a band and write while playing guitar and to have someone else play bass instead. I still love playing bass, but it’s probably 9 or so years since I was the bassist in a band.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST DECENT GUITAR?My first decent guitar was a Fernandes Dragonfly Elite. It had a Sustainer pickup in the neck, and at the time I was all about super sustained notes with reverb and delays all over the place. Plus it could switch to harmonic mode, which made it sound like feedback that I could control and play, so that was pretty mad. I let go of it a few years back though, it was small for my hands and didn’t quite feel right for me.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM GUITAR?The specifics change depending on how I’m feeling on any given day, but the general idea is some kind of Paul Reed Smith with a humbucker in the bridge and a neck single coil (not a coil split). So a PRS Studio would be ideal, but then on top of that, some days I want the piezo pickup too! So we’re probably talking a Private Stock, which is definitely just a dream at this stage.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE YOUR GUITARS?The Tele’s I chose because I love the sound of a single coil in the neck and there were a bunch of T-sized humbuckers I could switch the stock pickup for. The length feels comfortable for me, and I feel really comfortable and safe with the hardtail bridges. The PRS Baritone I chose because it holds the low tunings used in Circles much better than the Tele’s do. I did a couple of tours with my Tele, and I was constantly aware of how it didn’t respond quite the way I wanted to. I like to dig in and hit hard with this style of music, and it wasn’t really allowing me to without going sharp. I know there are a heap of players who tune lower than I do with Les Pauls and Teles, but it didn’t feel right for me. After picking up the Baritone, everything sounded and felt more natural, it responds well to the way I play, and it holds tuning incredibly well. It’s relatively cheap, too.
WHAT GUITAR DO YOU PLAY MOST, AND WHY?It’s a tie between the PRS Baritone, which is my main for Circles, and the sunburst Telecaster, which I use for another band I’m working with called Cityhalls, as well as for teaching.
ARE YOU A TUBE AMP OR DIGITAL FAN? HAVE YOU HAD EXPERIENCES WITH BOTH?I’m a tube amp fan, I’ve owned a few over the years and gotten to play on some incredible amps, but in terms of practicality, the Axe-Fx is indispensable for what I do. It allows me to pitch shift quickly and to different amounts, which I need for some Circles songs, as well as quickly changing the levels of drive, gate, reverb, delay, all the stuff you’d expect, and it means I don’t need to have a different rig for any other projects I do. There’s a few tube amps I’d love to own one day, but they’re just a luxury at this point.
DO YOU USE EFFECTS IN YOUR RIG?All of the effects I use are part of the Axe-Fx. I have a couple of pedals that I use for recording that do something particularly well, such as the EHX POG 2 and the Zvex Fuzz Factory, but live I just try to get as close as I can. There’s a few I stick to, like delays, reverbs and pitch shift, and then sometimes I’ll add in modulations just on the reverb tails, or distort the delays. The great thing about the Axe-Fx is how you can rearrange and stack effects, and control some parameters with the expression pedal. There’s one part on the new Circles album in which I used the expression to manipulate the rate and feedback for the MegaTap Delay that made it sound like a glitching and freezing. When we play Sand & Wind live, I use a Whammy along with a harmonizer that adds in a flat 2nd for the solo, which sounds chaotic and confusing. I love it.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FendersFender MIA Standard Telecaster (Sunburst)
I bought this off a friend I worked with. He had it for years but was saying he didn’t really connect with Tele’s, so when the time came that I needed another guitar, I was happy to take it off his hands. It has a Seymour Duncan Little 59 in the bridge, which is one of my favourite pickups that I’ve ever played. This is my main E Standard/Drop D guitar these days.
Fender MIM Nashville Telecaster (Candy Red)
I got this when I was 21 and figured out that I was into single coils. Before then, I never thought I’d be into Fenders, but this one changed my mind.
Fender MIJ Stratocaster (Candy Red)
This one was a gift to me from my Uncle. He had been given it by a friend years before as thanks for helping him out, but he wasn’t really a player, so he decided that he’d rather I have it. I really love it, it’s a joy to play.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR PRS SE modelsPRS SE 277 (Tobacco Burst)
I’ve only had this for about 9 months, and it’s made a solid impression in that time. I’ve put a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound in the neck, to give it nicer clean neck sound but one that can keep up with the stock bridge pickup, which was surprisingly decent. I’m hoping to get another one of these soon as a backup.
PRS SE Custom 24 7 (Vintage Burst)
I got this when my old band, Glass Empire, decided to start using 7 strings. Then we only ever ended up writing one song with it, but we tuned it to Drop A with the 3rd string tuned up to G# so that we could make some interesting chords and keep the first three strings ringing in most cases. I’ve swapped out the pickups a couple of times, but nothing has really struck me so far as being what I’m after. I think there’s a Dimarzio Super Distortion and a Seymour Duncan Pegasus in there at the moment, but I might change that when I can. This guitar doesn’t see much action anymore, I used it for the first few months with Circles, but now I actually just pitch shift the Baritone down when we play anything from Infinitas. It might be seen as cheating, but I’m happier doing that, and it’s one less guitar to worry about at the show!
TELL US ABOUT YOUR Warwick bassesWarwick Corvette $$ (Burgundy Stain)
This was my first decent bass, I got it when I was playing in a funk/soul band, and I fell in love with it instantly. It was just after I started getting into Karnivool pretty heavily (which hasn’t stopped), and seeing Jon Stockman playing Warwicks got me intrigued. This one came up second hand at Bass Centre and I put a deposit on it the instant I saw it, then saved and borrowed from whoever I could to be able to get it. I was lucky to have some people around me that didn’t mind helping me out, and I still play it heaps. I also use it for teaching.
Warwick Thumb BO 5 (Natural)
This was purely a dream bass for me, I bought it after I’d stopped playing bass in bands. It was another second hand purchase, and it was at such a low price that I couldn’t say no. It’s a monster of a bass, it sounds incredible, I absolutely understand why so many players I listen to use them. They do have a very particular sound though, it doesn’t work for everything. Mine is a little hard to play at the moment, it had a pretty bad fall when someone I used to play with dropped it. I actually need to get a new neck for it, which won’t happen for a while. I’ve adjusted and can still play it, although it’s a bit more work than it used to be. Hopefully one day I can swap out the neck and get it back to it’s optimal state, and we can be happy together again.