Blackheart to Heart
Joan Jett turns the landing lights on her guitar collection | Joan Jett
Speaks from the heart.
"The one I rely on most is a '63 white Gibson Melody Maker. It's got two pickups, somebody must have put another one in. Apparently I got it from Eric Carmen. I bought it when I was in The Runaways in Cleveland. They said Carmen had used it on 'Go All The Way' and other hits that The Raspberries had and there was Raspberries stencilled on the side of the case. I loved the guitar, though the sound wasn't quite right so I changed the pickups.
"The pickup I use on all my guitars is something called the Red Velvet Hummer made by an LA shop, Red Rhodes. They've stopped doing them now, not enough people bought them I suppose. They're louder AND clearer AND they give more distortion. You can still keep the clarity, the only thing you have to worry about is feedback. I only use my treble settings on all my guitars. I never use rhythm.
"I don't mind wide necks at all. One of my favourite guitars is a Les Paul Deluxe. Its got a fairly wide neck and I can play it and swap to the thin-necked Melody Maker without any trouble. If you play your guitars a lot you can swap easily, you stay in touch with the way they feet.
"I've got an Epiphone that sounds tremendous, even louder than my white guitar, but the body is so light, if I'm running on stage and jump in the air, I'm back on the ground while the guitar is still up there.
"I used Les Paul's all the way through The Runaways. I've got a blonde Les Paul. I must stress it's blonde not a gold top. It's natural blonde wood, get that right, I'm OFFENDED when people say 'oh, I love your Gold Top'. It's so beautiful, I took it off the road.
"The Epiphone is a double cutaway. I also have a couple of other Melody Makers. They're not really that popular, maybe that's another reason why I like them.
"We use radio transmitters on stage, I dunno how you pronounce it, Nady, is that right? We haven't had any problems. We've played in crappy weather and there's no trouble, though they usually need new batteries for every gig.
"I use Fender Super Bullet strings with .10 strings on the top. I think the lightest you can get is a .08, but I don't bother. You never know when you might want to throw in some Chuck Berry licks or something so you want them fairly light, but not so light they spoil the rhythm sound.
"I use Musicman amplifiers, a 2 x 12 for most of my sound, then to give it a little boost in the bottom on stage I go out of a 4 x 10 bass cab. The Musicman is not turned up nearly as loud as it could go, but because I know I've got my 2x12 set just the way I want it, those controls stay the same for every gig. Instead if there's too much bass or something, I go to the bass cab and turn it down.
"No, I don't bother with effects pedals, for my needs I don't find them necessary at all. I used to have an MXR distortion booster, but really, since I've found these pickups I've been getting everything I want.
"Anyway, those guitar breaks should sound clean because they're rock 'n 'roll guitar breaks. When you think about what echo, or whatever, does to your sound — it just confuses it. Whatever you're trying to play gets obscured. I don't remember Pete Townshend or Chuck Berry or The Stones using anything heavy on their guitar solos. It wasn't necessary to put all that stuff on it. People wanted to hear what they were playing. Probably a lot of people who can't play are getting away with it by putting loads of effects on.
"I admire Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters... but if I had to pick a guitarist I'd probably have to encapsulate it in a song, like on 'Get Yer Ya Yas Out' — Midnight Rambler — that's such a great rhythm guitar sound, it's as if you're on stage. People say 'progressive' is a Model T, but I don't care. If I could play that way... it's real, it's not perfect... it's real life, real people playing.
"I saw Chuck Berry about a year ago... he was rocking. He hit a lot of wrong notes but it didn't make any difference to him. See, rhythm guitars don't get that much publicity.
"It's like the bass and drums, a driving thing that's constant and people don't notice it. Everybody thinks it comes from the lead guitar.
"There was one point early in the year when Ricky got whacked on stage by Gary's bass and broke some ribs so we were playing a few gigs without him. The road crew were saying 'Hey Joan, I didn't know you learned Ricky's notes.' I said what are we talking about...? I only play these things every night..."
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