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Mötley Crüe The Guitars Behind 'Saints of Los Angeles' –
September 2008: The path to success is never easy for any band, but Guitar Center's On Stage contests provide talented bands with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that even the hardest working upcoming acts aren't always guaranteed. On Stage: Mötley Crüe, Guitar Center's first On Stage event, offers your band the opportunity to perform live on stage as the opening act on Mötley Crüe's 2009 US tour, plus a recording deal with Eleven Seven Records, a management deal with 10th Street Entertainment, $20,000 in brand new Gibson gear, and $25,000 cash. All you need to do to enter is record three original songs, capture your band's best performance on video, and submit them along with a written Q&A that explains why your band should win.

Although Mötley Crüe has become one of the world's biggest bands, still filling large arenas and amphitheaters on tours like this year's Crüefest, they remember what it was like to be a young and hungry band on the Hollywood/Sunset Strip club scene. The Crüe's latest release, Saints of Los Angeles, revisits those lean and mean years on songs like "Down at the Whisky," "Welcome to the Machine," and "Face Down in the Dirt." In fact, the entire album should be required listening for On Stage entrants as it provides the Crüe's unique insight into how they overcame countless challenges in their ambitious drive to reach the top.

"Our goal was to record an honest, raw, guitar-oriented Mötley Crüe album," says Crüe bassist/songwriter Nikki Sixx. "It was all about the songs. The riffs and lyrics had to be great."

Saints of Los Angeles has earned the band overwhelming critical praise, with many reviewers claiming it's the group's best album since their 1989 effort Dr. Feelgood. With most of the lyrics inspired by the band's early days playing at clubs like the Whisky a Go Go and the Troubadour, it's fitting that Mötley Crüe returned to the aggressive gutter punk attitude of their debut album, Too Fast for Love. But the songs are as timeless as ever and the sound is state-of-the-art without relying on trendy production tricks.

Nikki and his signature Gibson Blackbird bass at Guitar Center Hollywood

Although Sixx and guitarist Mick Mars have amassed impressive bass and guitar collections respectively, both rely on one tried-and-true main instrument in the studio and on stage. Sixx plays a Nikki Sixx signature Gibson Blackbird bass, which Gibson introduced in 2000. A budget version of this bass is available from Epiphone.

"I've played Gibson Thunderbirds for my whole career," says Sixx. "The Thunderbird is me. It's become such a part of me that I don't even look right holding another bass anymore. The Blackbird is my version of the Thunderbird. It's like a race car. Both of the pickups are wired together, and there are no tone or volume controls. The only control is a toggle switch that turns the pickups on or off. The word 'finesse' should never come into play when you're talking about rock bass. It's like sex. You've just got to do the job. Playing bass isn't about making love. It's brutal, nasty, dirty, and raw. That's what the Blackbird is. There are other basses for other styles of music with volume and tone controls, but I just want to go. It's not like I'm going to turn the tone control back 25 percent and the volume back 10 percent to play the bridge of 'Home Sweet Home' on stage."

Although Mars used to play a Gibson Les Paul Custom and various Kramer guitars lately his weapon of choice has been a Fender Stratocaster. His main guitar is a highly customized early Sixties Strat.

"I bought that Strat way back when I was a little green about guitar collecting," admits Mars. "The guy who sold it to me told me that it was a '63, but I later found out that it was a '63 body with a '65 neck and '64 pickups, and it was broken. I routed out the body and put high-output humbuckers in it, so it has two humbuckers and a single-coil pickup in the middle. Instead of vintage-style humbuckers with 7.5k ohms DC resistance, mine are 16k ohms. They don't distort. They just put out more power. One of the guys from the Fender Custom Shop saw me playing my Strat on the road, and he made me a couple of replicas of it, so now I have several backups that are exactly the same."

When recording his parts for Saints of Los Angeles, Mars and producer James Michael decided to use Digidesign's new amp simulation plug-in Eleven instead of traditional guitar amps.

"I usually like to record with real guitar amps, but Eleven changed my mind," says Mars. "James knows my tone really well, and he knows how to stack different amps with different mics to get the sound that I need. Eleven comes really close to what real amps and mics sound like- you actually get the amp buzz and noise and everything else that you get with a real amp. It also gets rid of the hassle of working in a really big room, setting up the amps and placing mics. With the timeframe that we had it was the most expedient way to get things done."

Sixx recorded his bass lines direct to Pro Tools, plugging his Blackbird into a Vintech X73i mic preamp/equalizer and a Universal Audio LA-2A compressor/limiter. Sometimes Michael had Sixx replace the Vintech with an API mic preamp when he wanted the bass to complement certain drum sounds.

Mick Mars turns it up loud.

Mars and Sixx left the computers and plug-ins at home when the band hit the road with Crüefest this summer, preferring to plug into a high-powered backline of traditional guitar and bass amps. Sixx's backline consists of Ampeg SVT amps powering Basson 810B 8x10 cabinets.

"I've played though SVT amps forever," says Sixx. "I turn them up as loud as they can go without blowing up the speakers, which basically is all the way since my Basson cabinets are rated for 2000 watts each. They've got this incredible bite to them, especially combined with an SVT. I tried to get into bass pedals and effects a long time ago, but I found that they just make my bass sound smaller."

The "stacked amp" approach that Mars used in the studio has followed him to the stage as well. His backline consists of Soldano SLO-100 Super Lead Overdrive, Rivera Bonehead and Marshall JCM-800 amp heads, VHT Classic and Crest 7001 power amps, and a variety of speaker cabinets. "The Soldano heads go into VHT Classic power amps that run my main sound in stereo," explains Mars. "I use four Marshall 4x12 cabinets with that. Normally I use stacks but on this tour we're going more low profile because of the video screen that we have on stage with us. I have one amp running clean in the middle that's used for the monitors because the other guys don't want to hear any effects on the guitar. The Rivera amp is run into a Crest power amp and two subwoofer cabinets. My Marshall JCM800 50-watt head goes to a tall Hendrix-style 1982BJH Marshall cabinet. The Marshall head was heavily modified because it used to sound like crap. I mainly use that on our encore song, which is 'Home Sweet Home.' I'd rather use a lot of different amps instead of different effects."

Mars does have a few effects in his rig as well, including an Eventide H3000 Harmonizer for octave dividing, delay, and special effects and an Alesis Quadraverb that "creates this amazing, swirling, Hendrix-style sound that's like mic'ing only one side of a Leslie." His regular guitar tone always includes a slight amount of fast slap-back delay to thicken up his sound. He also has a Custom Audio Electronics 3+ preamp that he uses only to create the "puke tone" on "MF of the Year." "It's just a special effect," says Mars. "That preamp actually sounds great. I just roll off all of the bass and mids and turn up the treble for that one sound."

Although Mars often adds fills and various layers to his guitar tracks in the studio, he always keeps in mind how the song is going to sound when he plays it live. "On this album I had the main guitar part worked out in advance so I could play the song live and you wouldn't miss all the other parts," he says. "Whenever I play live little parts are always missing but they're mostly filler parts, like a squeak or pop or wah. Even before I joined Mötley Crüe I was the only guitar player in the band, so I know how to fill in the spaces. On this record I did whatever I wanted to, but I always knew what I was going to play live."

Like many other guitar players from his generation, Mars is glad that the guitar solo and technical guitar playing is becoming popular once again. "It seems like the younger generation is rediscovering that again," he says. "Kids are finding mom and dad's old records and bringing it back. Whenever I play a guitar solo I always try to have some sort of melodic element to it so you can actually sing the solo, and I do the same thing with my riffs."

"Ultimately it's all about the songs," says Sixx. "It's about making the music as honest as possible and getting a great performance. The song is the horse that pulls the cart, and when you have a great riff and great lyrics that dictates the vibe and makes our jobs a lot easier."

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