Behind a Clark Kent-facade lurks Noodles, one of punk/rock's new breed of top-flight guitar players. With a penchant for a stripped-down approach, he maintains a monster tone for his sonic deliveries. Noodles and his band The Offspring have sold tens of millions of records worldwide, mostly on an independent label, but have still managed to remain out of the glare of the spotlight that burns up so many others. Recently, he sat down with Guitar Center to discuss the ins and outs of playing with the Offspring.
GC: Tell me about your guitars. What do you use and why?
Noodles: I use mostly my Ibanez Talman guitars. They have a cool, old-school vibe to them, but they also play easily and sound great. They are almost completely stock with the exception of the DiMarzio Tone Zone pickups that I use on almost everything. One of my Talmans is equipped with a [DiMarzio] Super Distortion pickup, which I only use when I need a little more crunch, usually during our live show when Dexter [Holland] goes off guitar. Dexter prefers the Super Distortions in his Ibanez RGs, but I like the more stringy, vintage sounding TZs. We both agree that the difference in our sounds help give our music both the beef and definition that we are always striving for. I also use an Ibanez Artstar on a couple of songs. I like this guitar even better than the Talman, but because of the hollow body it feeds back too much to use on most of our stuff. Any time I can lower the gain on my amp, I'm busting out the Artstar.
GC: Do you use any pedals or effects? Or do you just use the sound you get from the amp?
Noodles: We almost always rely solely on our amps for any given sound, but we'll occasionally add some chorus or delay to highlight a certain part or passage of a song. Usually this is done during a clean breakdown that is arpeggiated or strummed. Overwhelmingly, I believe that simpler is better and if your guitar and amp sound good then you shouldn't mess with that.
GC: What do you think of the amp rig you have now? What do you use and why?
Noodles: About a year ago, Dexter and I were turned on to VHT amplifiers by our tech, Steve Masi. VHTs are made by a guy named Steve Friette, who used to play guitar in The Dickies. His amps are awesome and add so much to our sound, but we found that we missed a lot of what our Mesa Boogie Mark IVs had to offer, so we run both amps in unison. The sounds we are getting now are huge and still well defined.
GC: What's the coolest recent addition to your set-up?
Noodles: One of the Artstars I was talking about. Ibanez recently made me one with a duct tape finish. It looks awesome and plays even better. I love the way this guitar sounds but because of the feedback I'm limited in which songs I can play it on. I'm still trying to work that out by bringing down the volume and gain settings on my amp, which is difficult for almost any guitarist. I'd love to be able to play this guitar on everything.
GC: What's on your wish list?
Noodles: I started collecting guitars and amps about three years ago and I have about 30 guitars that run from re-issue Danelectros to my 1956 Gretsch Sparkle Jet. When I go gear shopping I'm usually just looking for something that inspires me, something that feels or sounds so different that it inspires my playing to different directions, whether it's a new guitar, amp or some kind of stomp box. If I had to pick something that seems missing from my collection, I'd have to say something strange like a Vigier fretless guitar, though I have no idea what I'd do with one of those things.
GC: Say I'm an intermediate player, I already have the basic setup and I want to expand. What's the next thing I should get to improve my sound?
Noodles: When it comes to electric guitar, really, there are only two sounds; clean and dirty. This requires a good tube-driven amp with two channels. It's possible to get a good clean sound from a solid-state amp, but you'll never get a good distorted sound from one. You have to love the way your guitar sounds coming straight through your amp. That may mean having two guitars, one with single-coil pickups and one with humbuckers. It all depends on what kind of tone suits your ears. If you can only afford one, start with [a guitar with] humbuckers. They sound good both clean and distorted and make less noise in between notes. Once you love the straight sound of your guitar and amp, then you can mess around with effects. I love stomp boxes because they are usually pretty simple. I'll just plug them in one at a time and mess around with them until I like what I'm hearing. Once I get a couple of them dialed in, then I'll start chaining them together. I'm no expert when it comes to any of this, but for my tastes, there's no substitute for a great sounding guitar and amp. Effects are fun, they can add flavor and color to your sound, but your sound shouldn't depend on them.
GC: Do you have a home studio? If so, what's in it and what do you think about the equipment you have?
Noodles: I have a lot of crap, most of which I can barely make any sense out of. It's all spread throughout my house, mostly piling up in my den. Besides guitars and amps, I have a couple of BOSS drum machines, a Line 6 Pod, a Tascam Portastudio and a Roland BR-8 digital 8-track. I also have a stripped-down version of Pro Tools on my computer, which came with the Pod. All this stuff is really fun and I've been learning a lot about home recording and about getting different sounds, but I'm still basically a technical idiot.
GC: Do you practice a lot?
Noodles: For the last couple of years I've begun to practice a lot. I've started reading all the guitar magazines, trying to glean every little gem of wisdom I can absorb. I've been studying some music books and playing along to CDs. I'll usually start with a warm-up for a few minutes, then practice scales, chords or rhythms. Sometimes I'll try to learn a song from tablature, reading the notes for timing or I'll just put on a CD and try to learn the song by ear. If I'm really "feeling it," I'll just noodle for hours. But, when my playing seems stagnant, I'll just run scales and exercises. I'll play along to a metronome, starting off slowly, then increasing speed, until I can play a phrase at tempo without screwing up.
GC: How do you write? Do you have a songwriting "routine?" Does everyone in the band contribute to the writing process?
Noodles: Dexter writes almost everything for The Offspring, but we have plenty of arguments about which songs or parts of songs, are working and not working. Dexter is pretty good about listening to the rest of us and allowing room for suggestions and so there is definitely some democracy involved. If one of our songs requires a solo, Dexter and I will both usually come up with something, and then argue over whose is better. Dexter will come to us with a couple of songs either finished or mostly there, then we'll learn them, start jamming on them and then argue about them. Some songs don't change much from the way Dexter conceives them. Other songs may be unrecognizable by the time they make it on a CD.
GC: Do you warm-up before a performance?
Noodles: I don't really think of it as warming up, but I do play guitar backstage. I try to always start with a warm-up of finger exercises, but then I just start noodling. If we are adding a new song into the set list that night, I'll try to refresh my memory of it. But most of the time I'm just annoying the rest of my band with renditions of "Stairway to Heaven" or "Sweet Child O' Mine."
GC: What advice would you have for a young player who might want to model their career after yours?
Noodles: Really, I think you have to focus on enjoying the music you make. Find a group of people who enjoy the same music and with whom you love playing. If you can achieve this then it's just a matter of getting out there and doing it. We played for ten years before we ever made a penny from playing music and even then our success came as a complete surprise. We just loved playing together and still do. If you enjoy doing anything creative, just keep doing it while keeping your eyes open to opportunities that may arise. Don't let all the shitty day jobs keep you from doing what you love.
GC: Do you shop at Guitar Center at all? What do you think of it?
Noodles: I head into the Guitar Center in Fountain Valley about once a month just to see if there is something there that I need. Since I keep going back, you must be doing something right.