NHC MUSIC - In The Head Of The Artists Volume 1 - David Burns - Guitarist / Singer - Marshall Chipped

So David, great to have you on our new segment, where we get a little more musician geek than we normally do! Hey, the readers seem to love peering into the minds of other musicians, so please do start us off by telling us what you are playing on now, and why that's the guitar for you.

Hello NHC, always happy to talk guitar geek and talk you through the gear collecting here at Marshall Chipped’s Haiverin’ Studios HQ (aka my flat). Right now I have three guitars on rotation as my main instruments. With Marshall Chipped I’m playing a Rickenbacker 330/6 in jetglo, my PopArt guitar is a German made Harley Benton Telecaster copy, and for solo gigs or playing with Furory Ceilidh band I’m using an Epiphone EJ-200ce acoustic.

The Ric is something of a nod to my musical heroes. Peter Buck of R.E.M., Johnny Marr of The Smiths, Paul Weller with The Jam, and The Beatles records I remember my parents playing when I was a kid, pretty much everywhere I heard music I liked there was a Rickenbacker being played. My 330 is still pretty new to me, I’ve had it just about a year so it still feels like I’m getting to know it. I don’t think a guitar is quite truly yours right at first. Once you’ve been playing it so long that it feels like a part of you, once it’s been soaked in blood, sweat and tears gigging, rehearsing and writing with it, then you can say it’s your guitar. I love it to bits and the sound it makes is incredible, but I don’t feel I’ve had it long enough for it to really be a part of my guitar story just yet. Give me time with it though and it will be.

The same is true of my Epiphone EJ-200. It’s too new to really tell many stories with it yet. I was lucky to have a little bit to invest in new equipment last year and I still feel like I’m playing with something just out of the shop. The guitar it replaced though, a Tanglewood TW-55, I’ve had for over ten years. It’s been retired from gigging now because it’s been getting beat up too much, but I still use it for busking. This is the guitar I used to record my first solo album ‘This Is Not A Drill’ back in 2005 and it’s been with me for gigs from Inverness to London and back again and has been the instrument that’s put food on the table and paid the bills ever since I went full time with music. It’s on to it’s third pickup now. Busking in Scotland doesn’t tend to be good for gear. Rain killed the pickup that came with it, there’s a hole in the bottom of it from a time the strap broke and sent it falling onto the pavement outside BHS on Sauchiehall St, there’s cracks around the soundhole from the days when I busked without an amp and had to thrash it to be heard. Of all the guitars I have, this is the one I couldn’t be without.

This is the guitar I use when performing with PopArt, a strange beast of a band, a ragtag collective of old friends making a punk racket for Ben to shout daft lyrics over about Harry Potter, Doctor Who and how much he loves Christmas. I picked it up a while ago in a second hand shop when I thought it would be a good idea to have a cheap guitar I could thrash around on as a backup to the Ric. I was going to use it with a covers band when I got it, but that fell through. When we decided to turn PopArt from an acoustic duo into a full band I decided to make this the PopArt guitar. I think I’ve spent more on decorations for it than I actually paid for it in the first place, but for a cheap copy guitar it’s actually got a pretty decent sound and it’s a great fun guitar to have just to make noise for this strange little band.

If you could choose any guitar to use, and money wasn't an option, would you still stick with the one you have, or go with something more elaborate? Tell us why you would choose either option?

Ever since I started playing guitar I’ve always wanted a Rickenbacker, it’s always been my money-no-option dream guitar, so I’m still pinching myself when I wake up and see one sitting there! Of course, just because I have my ideal guitar now doesn’t mean I’m going to stop buying the things when I can, it’ll just probably be the only expensive one I ever own! I’ve always really liked odd cheap little guitars anyway though. Things that look a wee bit different from the standard Fender/Gibson mould, or that have their own little eccentricities in the set up or the sound. One of my favourites in my collection is a Danelectro DC59 which I have set up in Nashville tuning, where you take a 12-string set and only use the octave strings. It’s such a specific sound that it’s only used as a studio guitar now, it’s not really versatile enough for live use, but it’s great to throw on to recordings for weird little overdub parts. When I’m choosing guitars now, that’s often what I have in mind, can I find a bargain oddity rather than a money-no-option elaborate set up? (That’s if I buy them in the first place. A confession to make, the Danelectro was bought after a breakup because it was the closest thing I could find to the guitar the girl that had just left played. Not long before that Ben and I had written a PopArt song about complicated relationships, and I nicked her guitar to go and record it. I got it back before she ever knew it had been gone.)

Onto pedals, are you a bit of a 'huge pedal board madman' or do you work with a limited few? Can you go into a bit more details about the ones you have, and why you use them?

My playing style is very much based on rhythm guitar strumming, I’m not a lead guitar virtuoso player, so pedals are a great way for me to alter the texture of the sound so it doesn’t become to samey throughout a set. The set up I’m using just now is an Artec Big Dots tuner (with a display so big even someone as short sighted as me can get in tune on a darkened stage!) into a Dunlop Crybaby wah, Electro-harmonix Big Muff for really heavy distortion like the intro to The Railway Lines, a Marshall Bluesbreaker for a slight signal boost to just push the amp into overdriven sounds, Marshall Jackhammer for something halfway between the two, Danelectro BLT echo, Marshall Vibratrem tremolo, and an Electro-harmonix Holy Grail used for reverse reverb.

Any other instruments you have that you cannot do without, outwith the guitars and pedals?

For live work it’s only the guitars I’m using just now, although I did used to play mandolin with Dave Hughes’s band for a while and bass with Roscoe Vacant & The Gantin’ Screichs. My favourite toy in the studio just now is a Stylophone. I’d forgotten I had one and found it again recently, so Pete and Jimmy have had to stop me putting it on everything on the album! In the end I did manage to sneak one stylophone solo in on Wired To The Moon.

Musicians Tech secret time! Any knacks you have learned as a musician you can share with us, whether it be with a live set up, or with a recording set up? Was it an accident you learned it, or was it passed on by someone else?

Have spares. Of everything! I learnt that pretty quickly when I started doing pub covers gigs where I’m the only one playing on the night and there’s no one else there to help out if you realise you’ve left something at home or a string breaks right on the first chord of the night!

And finally, what guitarist inspired you the most to pick up and learn how to play?

I doubt anyone who’s ever heard me play will be surprised when I say Peter Buck. I’d already become a big fan of R.E.M. as a teenager from listening to their records but when I first got the chance to see them live on the Up tour in 1999 at Stirling Castle, that was the night when I came home thinking ‘I have to learn how to do that, I need to know how to play guitar’. That was the starting point and there’s not much hiding that’s my biggest influence but there have been quite a few others, although how obvious their influence is on my playing I don’t know. Robyn Hitchcock and Thea Gilmore I always find really inspiring to watch live, more as songwriters than guitarists. I love bands like Art Brut that mix talented musicians with people with more enthusiasm than musical ability (a big influence on PopArt!). Most of all I love watching bands where it’s really clear that everyone on the stage is absolutely loving what they do. I love watching bands where they look like if they weren’t on stage themselves they’d be down the front at a gig anyway.

The new Marshall Chipped album will be out later this year and they are also playing a free gig in Box on Friday 19th. Check them out here too; https://www.facebook.com/marshallchipped/