This special episode of In the head of the Artists is with Simon Hinkler of The Mission! NHC's resident guitar geek Martin McCann gets the lowdown on Simon's set up and finds out what he's been using on the latest The Mission tour.
WARNING - this article may be steeped in guitar geekiness, proceed with caution.
Simon - you're best known as being the lead guitarist in The Mission, give us some history about your past bands and what sparked you to get started with guitar.
As a kid, I used to muck about on the family piano, and I taught myself to play bits from Bowie, Elton John, Stevie Wonder. One day when I was 14 I was walking home from school and a kid shouted out from his doorway "hey Simon, do you want to buy this guitar? - five quid." I can still picture that moment. I said YES! and ran home to get a fiver off me mom. It was a nylon strung piece of crap, but by the end of that day, my sister had taught me G C and D, and within a day or two my brother showed me barre chords (ouch) and explained 12-bar blues.
I went to after-school guitar lessons, and found myself teaching the teacher about barre chords...so that ended there.
At 15 I was listening to Hendrix. I saved up my pocket money and got myself a second-hand K-Electrics guitar, which I plugged into the family tape recorder using a lead I soldered-up from some coaxial TV aerial cable which I pulled off a derelict house, and two jack plugs which I bought from Bardwell's radio spares shop. When I put the tape recorder into "pause record" and turned up the input gain and output volume, I got a distorted sound. Not very loud, but good.
For the next couple of years, I was listening to virtuoso guitarists, particularly John McLaughlin, and I concluded I was crap, and more-or-less gave it up as just a hobby. Then at 17 I heard the Sex Pistols, which really fired me up and I realised I was plenty good enough.
At 18 I started playing in a New Wave sort of band, and by 20 I was playing keyboards in a great local band called Artery.
Then I had a period of being in 2 or 3 bands simultaneously - including Pulp. I played guitar, keyboards, bass, even drums in bands, and I used to engineer/produce in a backstreet studio. This was a very good time.
In 1984-85 Artery decided to do a rock guitar album, so I focussed on my guitar playing, and started to think of myself as a guitarist. At the end of '85 I was invited to audition for a new band - not yet called The Mission - and I got the gig.
Tools of the trade - tell us about your favourite guitar, the one you go to first. What do you like about it above all others? And any close seconds, don't spare the details. And I'm sure there were some that got away, is there any you regret losing for whatever reason?
One of the albums I had as a kid was The Faces live. There were photos of Ronnie Wood with that great looking metal front guitar. It took me a while - years (pre internet) to figure out what it was, a Zemaitis, and it became an object of desire. When I was in The Mission I had a couple of Yamaha SG2000's - which I found to be not only cooler looking than a Les Paul, but played and sustained better too. One day, I got a call from Raven (mate from Killing Joke, RIP) pointing out an advert in Melody Maker for a Zemaitis Metal Front. I took the train down to...somewhere beginning with "C" - Crawley I think, to unexpectedly find myself at the home of the legendary Tony Zemaitis, where I was welcomed, given a cup of tea, regaled with stories of rock legends, and took the train back to London with a beautiful hand crafted guitar for £900.
I had that guitar for less than a year before it was stolen...a break-in at Swanyard Studio in London. Devastated, I called Tony Z for a Metal Front to replace it. Fortunately, he was just finishing a Custom Deluxe, so I snapped it up. I used this guitar every gig for the next couple of years. Along the way, some company or other in America tried to sell me their guitars, and I told them they looked crap, but I liked the active electrics... so I took my Zemaitis along to a factory somewhere in England and had those electrics fitted. Reflex Reds.
I still have this guitar, but don't tour it anymore. Nowadays I play a 2008 Zemaitis from the family-sanctioned company in Japan, made from the late Tony Z's original blueprints. They have been kind enough to treat me as a "Zemaitis player" and sort me out with a top-notch MF501 - which works very well.
I've never been a collector as such, but I have had a lot of guitars. I sold most of them when I emigrated to the States. Gibsons, Fenders, a couple of Vox teardrops, a Rickenbacker... all of which I wish I still had but can live without. The one that got away was a 1969 Zemaitis 12 string acoustic which I foolishly let go for £300.
Bring the noise - what's your choice for amplification and given the chance what would be your ideal rig for live shows or playing at home. Do you need a specific type (valve/solid state) or can you make anything work for you?
In an ideal world I'd have a bunch of different amps and a ridiculous switching system for someone else to manage. Not practical. In the studio I've used all sorts of things to get a suitable tone, but for live I've used Roland JC120's since the start of The Mission. I've run 2x JC120's driving Marshall 4x12 cabs for arenas and festivals. The thing is with those amps, they're completely clean and louder than you could ever need. They have the stereo chorus which works between the two speakers. When you have this behind your head on stage it sounds spacey and great. I've never used amp gain for my stage sound in this band. Sometimes, when touring far afield such as South America, you get given random hired gear, and I've played through Marshalls, Fenders, Vox AC30's - all sorts. I just try to get it loud and clean and let the pedalboard do the sound.
Effects and pedals - there is a lot of sonic variety in The Mission's music, what are you currently using and has it changed much from the early days? Are there any effects that have survived on your board over the years?
Over the years, I've tried loads of pedals. I started with a few Boss stomp boxes including the DS-1 distortion. I went on to the Roland GP8 multi rack fx, which I used for a long time - still keeping the DS-1. At first I programmed lots of different sounds for different sections of each song, but I hated being rooted to the spot, tap dancing, so I stripped it right back to my one main sound, which I vary by riding the guitar volume, playing harder or softer, and kicking-in a booster pedal or two. When we put the band back together in 2011 I came straight back to the Boss DS-1. It has a sizzle that some front of house sound guys moan about, but I love, and audiences respond to. If it isn’t broke, don't fix it. Other than that, I have a chorus which I rarely turn off and a delay (pretty much anything will do for this job.) For lead parts I use the Boss compressor CS-3 and have a Boss harmonizer for the high octave occasionally.
Bits and pieces - when on tour or playing local is there anything specific you can't do without? From picks to strings, cables and capos - the little things can mean a lot. Any pro tricks you've pick up along the way you'd like to share with us?
There are a few things I have to have. I'd be screwed without my pedalboard, spare ebow, Dunlop Nylon .73's Rotosound 10's ...and of course my hat and scarf - it's a totem thing.
And finally, which guitarist Has caught your ear recently. What inspires you to keep playing and who was your first guitar hero?
I don't care about technically skilled guitar playing. I actually dislike it 99% of the time. There are thousands of those people, barking up the wrong tree in my opinion. All the gear, nay idea. The electric guitar is an instrument tailor made for anyone with a passion to express themselves. There have been many of them. I do tend to think, if it wasn't for Jimi Hendrix we might not have been so aware of that fact. All my favourite guitarists have that self-taught, individual feel. If I hear something on the radio where someone's doing an original different thing they found, I listen. As soon as someone starts showing off how fast they can play up and down a scale I stop listening - or turn it off.