This episode of In the Head of the Artists is with Cameron Arndt of Highway 491.
Resident gear geek Martin has a chat with Cameron about his set up and the challenges of playing in a duo, and the transition into a 3 piece with the addition of Garry on bass.
WARNING - this article may be steeped in guitar geekiness, proceed with caution.
Cameron - not long ago it was just you on guitar/vox and Alex on drums. Has the addition of Garry on bass changed your approach to guitar playing and your live set up?
It hasn’t really changed my set-up, I’m more or less still aiming for the same sound and like to have the flexibility to revert to a two-piece anytime it’s necessary. It does have an impact on my playing though, as having the backing of the bass frees me up a lot more on guitar. When you’ve only got guitar and drums it’s more important to play rhythm, keep the song going, whereas now: solo time! The other great thing is that Garry has taken a lot of the lead vocals, which again gives me more freedom to play guitar. Neither of us are really singers but between the two of us we just about muddle through!
Do you think a three piece is the natural evolution of the band and your music?
Yeah, I think it’s added a lot to the band. I don’t think being a two piece is much of a usp these days – there’s plenty of them around – and for us we only really did it initially as we didn’t have a bass player available. The trio format, and having three people singing, allows a lot more variation in the music, and a lot more interplay within the band and onstage. I think it makes for a better show as I’m not having to do quite so much at once!
Tools of the trade - tell us about your favourite guitar, the one you go to before others. What you like about it and why it got the top spot. And any close seconds, don't spare the details. And of course any that you no longer have but wish you still did - the ones that got away.
Well… there’s maybe a distinction between favourite and most-used. For the band I pretty much always play my Ibanez Artcore. That came from wanting to get a bigger sound than I could from a solid body electric, but with more power than an acoustic – I used an acoustic when we were jamming at first and put it through some distortion pedals but that caused too many issues with feedback. With the Ibanez I can get a nice, full sound but with plenty of bite when I need it. It’s also great to play, it has very thin neck so much easier to solo on than an acoustic. It’s kind of the best of all worlds – and much cheaper than similar style guitars like the ES-335.
My favourite though, is probably my Maverick F1. I love those guitars, they came out right when I was really getting into playing and I went on and on at my parents until they bought me one for my… 16th Birthday I think it was. I now have two F1s, and an X1, but the original blue one is my favourite. Obviously there’s a lot of emotional attachment as it was my first proper guitar, but it’s also awesome to play. Really slim neck – again, great for solos! Also it looks incredibly cool. I love the rolling pots, they take a bit of getting used to but it’s really easy to tweak volume/tone once you do. The only downside is I rarely use it for gigging these days. It’s definitely a guitar for a player who’s more of a shredder – which I am definitely not! The design obviously takes a lot of inspiration from Steve Vai’s Ibanez and that kind of thing. So I don’t get to use it much, except at home, but it’s really fun to play.
Of more ‘classic’ guitars the Gibson SG is my favourite. I never wanted to be ‘just another strat or les paul’ player – probably trying to disguise lack of substance with style! I like the SG though, it’s a good heavy/classic rock sounding guitar… I kinda want to get a good strat one day for playing bluesy stuff though. Also a big recommendation for Yamaha’s APX500 acoustic which is what I mostly use for acoustic stuff these days. Sounds great, especially plugged in, and it’s another one with a thin, fast neck so it’s easier to play than normal acoustics. Dead cheap, and great for the price.
As for ones that got away… nothing does! I still have every guitar I ever owned (and a few that don’t below to me!), even the ones I don’t play anymore. Each one relates to a point in time, a place in my development as a musician, and I haven’t been able to part with any yet. Sadly this is also partly why I can’t afford any new ones now!
What's your personal choice for amplification and given the chance what would be your ideal rig for live shows or touring.
Amps… well… amps I’m still not sure on! I’m not by any means a tech-head when it comes to guitar stuff – or anything else! – so I tend to just use what I have, find something I like, or ask someone more knowledgeable than me. With amps I usually just use what’s available at a gig. Most of my sound comes from my pedal board so I can more or less make any amp work for me. In the old days when I played more classic rock stuff it had to be the standard Marshall cab and head, but I don’t really use it anymore – in fact I’d be happy to sell the amp head if anyone’s interested! It’s a JCM-2000 DSL, 50W special edition. It’s in great nick, with just a couple of dents in the leather and sounds awesome. Sadly it’s just not right for what I play nowadays.
What I do use at most gigs, is two amps. This comes from the two piece thing (and is basically a rip off of what my friend Gordon Love did with his bass in The Fire And I) where I’d have one amp on all the time, and use the other (either a second guitar amp, or a bass amp) as a boost to add extra backing to certain bits of songs. I still often use two amps even with a bass player, cos it’s nice to be able to give things an extra kick every now and then!!
What I really want to get one day is a Vox AC30, they sound great and look awesome. But for now if I use my own amps I’ve got my hands on an Orange combo which has a great range of sounds, and I have a Line 6 Spider which, to me, is just fine. Finally one of my favourites is my wee Vox pathfinder practise amp. It’s excellent for it’s size. Really good for practise at low volume, and quite versatile – I often use it live to put my harmonica mic through.
Effects and pedals - what's on your board and what single effect can't you live without.
Do you like the minimal approach or feel at home tap dancing all night?
So a few years back I decided a minimal approach was best, and pared my board back, basically to a tuner and a distortion pedal or two. Then, of course, I kept adding and adding to it! I don’t go in for a lot of fancy sounds though, it’s all pretty basic. Lot’s of Boss pedals n stuff. First thing is the ol’ standard Boss tuner, then a splitter to take the sound off to the two amps. It’s a Fender made switch which can turn on each channel singly or both together. Simple! From there, on the ‘B’ side, I have an Ibanez tubescreamer pedal – on loan from Garry – which is an original from back in the 80s or something (he’s older than he looks!). It gives a big thick distortion from my back-up amp and it’s pretty much always switched on.
Meanwhile on the ‘A’ side I have two distortion pedals, a Boss Blues Driver for cleaner sounds – it’s handy because when you play lightly it sound nice and clear, but if you dig in you still get a bit of grit from it - and a Fulltone OCD which I use for the heavier gain stuff and for leads, though it’s not set for a big metal sound or anything! Then I have a Boss Graphic EQ which I basically use to boost the mid range for solos. Lastly the most recent addition which is a Boss delay pedal. It’s my one ‘extravagance’ on the board, used for a wee bit extra colour in occasional solos, and also more often for annoying bandmates at practise!
Then both the A and B channels feed into my loop pedal – again, just a classic Boss one - don’t use it so much with a three piece line-up but it’s vital when there’s only two of us so I can loop rhythm parts to play lead or harmonica etc. Also use it for wee sound samples and intros and things to add a bit extra at gigs. The two channels split off separately again from there into their respective amps.
One single effect I can’t live without? It would probably have to be the OCD. I can get a full range of sounds out of that. It cleans up similar to the bluesdriver, and can go right into huge, high-gain kinda sounds as well as everything in between.
All the small things - when on tour or playing local is there anything specific you can't do without?
The tuner! I'd be totally incapable without it!
From picks to strings, cables and capos most of us have tried and true preferences that are essential to be at your best. Any pro tricks you'd like to share with us?
You know, one of the most helpful things I ever saw was a video by Ace Frehley’s guitar tech about how he changes strings. My friend Cal Bowes (of West Lothian Guitar Services – check them out if you need great work done on a guitar!) sent it to me. It’s a great way of doing it. Much quicker and easier than any other method, I think, plus the guitar seems to hold it’s tuning far better doing it this way. I don’t know if it’s a widespread technique or not, but here’s the video for anyone interested:
And finally, which guitarist is your biggest influence right now. Who inspires you to keep playing and who was your first guitar hero?
Right now, probably Jack White. I think his influence is unavoidable when you play in a small, raw sounding blues/rock band. I love his sort of messy, dirty style of playing. Nothing’s quite perfect, but you really feel it. I’m no great player so it gives me an excuse for mistakes as well!
Interestingly, perhaps, my original guitar influences were quite different. The two biggest ones were Eric Clapton and Brian May, quite different players but both very measured and accurate in what they do. What I loved about them I think was how memorable their lead parts were, especially in Brian May’s case where you could practically sing the guitar solos as much as the lyrics. Meanwhile, when I was learning guitar I found Clapton’s stuff to be great to play along to. All his songs seemed to create a great base for soloing, it was really easy to jam along with and try out different things. Also in both cases I just loved the music they made and the songs they wrote.
We would like to thank Cameron for taking the time to answer our questions and you can find more about highway 491 in the following links
Look out for the next episode of in the head of the artist - and if your interested in being part of this series contact new hellfire club for details.