Rigged: Testament Guitarist Alex Skolnick
Testament’s new album Dark Roots of Earth is out now on Nuclear Blast Records (order). The band is on the road melting faces right now! Get dates here. Meanwhile, here’s legendary guitarist Alex Skolnick breaking down his live rig piece by piece:
My instruments are built by Heritage Guitars, handcrafted in the original Gibson plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan. This company was founded by several Gibson builders who, unhappy with the company’s move to assembly-line mass production in Nashville, defected back to Michigan, rescued the old factory from demolition and fought off a subsequent lawsuit by Gibson. These guitars are on par with the best vintage Les Pauls and are built by the same builders in the same plant using the same materials. It’s an honor to have my own signature model built to my specs.
Although I own more, I find that just three guitars is sufficient for the Testament tours. The main guitar is “silverburst” colored- it’s tuned to Eb which is the tuning for most of the songs. A “tobacco-burst” colored guitar is used for the songs in C#. The rest of the guys switch to instruments that are tuned entirely to C# but I prefer the action and tone of Eb, so simply drop the low string to C# and figure out the songs accordingly. The third guitar is a back-up, it’s there just in case something goes wrong with one of the others (rare- but it can happen) and also used for practice, warming up etc…
Close up of signature headstock, Heritage Skolnick Signature Model. I should point out that my guitars come equipped with Seymour Duncan pick-ups, a 59 and JB, although I’m in the process of developing a signature pick-up with the folks at Seymour Duncan.
This is my new signature amp, the Budda AS Preceptor, photo taken on the first day I played it at NAMM, 2013. Since then, it’s been with me for the Testament/Overkill tour and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve worked with the team at Budda on this for a few years over the course of many meetings and visits to the factory. Although I’m clueless when it comes to electrical engineering, these guys were able to tweak the tone based on what I would describe in layman’s terms, running through my favorite guitar parts, from jazz to thrash and everything in between including a lot of vintage Ozzy, Van Halen and Metallica (some of my favorite tone moments). The amp has been getting raves from those who hear it- not just guitarists but many front of house engineers and other audio professionals. Music stores all over the world have been ordering it and it’s a thrill to share it with other musicians.
Here is the amp in action. The top head is the “A Rig,” the second, the “B Rig” is a back-up which fortunately hasn’t been needed (knock on wood). For this tour, it’s placed on the side of the stage, as there is a lot of staging (see next pic) with my tech Kyle, who also operates the pedals
Speaking of which, here’s what you see, from left to right: a Boss DD-20 Digital Delay, a Jam Pedals Tube Dreamer (a modern, handcrafted variation of the Ibanez Tube Screamer), a Dunlop MXR Phase 90 (Van Halen style), a Boss tuner and a Boss noise suppressor. All pedals are run straight through except for the digital delay which runs through the amp’s effects loop. By the way, the AS Preceptor has the option of three separate effects loops-one for each channel- or a single global one. The amp also has an ‘overboost’ knob which is built in distortion. It sounds good on its own, but I find a blend of the overboost and the Jam Pedals Tube Dreamer is ideal for my current tone with Testament
On top of the amp, is a Shure wireless unit. I used to be opposed to wireless, but find the Shure units don’t get in the way of the tone; the freedom from being ‘on a wire’ helps the performance considerably.
Budda speaker cabinet. For this tour, it remains hidden behind the staging. Although I hear it when I stand in front, I don’t in other areas of the stage. Most of the sound I hear comes from a combination of in-ear monitors and a monitor wedge in the front of the stage that I also use for feedback.
These are my in-ear monitors, manufacture by Ultimate Ears and built off ear molds done by an ear, nose throat specialist (standard practice for in-ears). They’re the same type used by Steven Tyler and others and are customized with my initials. This particular style has an “ambience” feature, meaning that you hear a combination of the room and the monitors- unlike other models, these won’t block out all other sound. With a band like Testament, described by audio pros as one of the loudest in the biz, these come in incredibly handy and sound a heck of a lot better than wearing earplugs.
Close up of AS Preceptor logo.
This is the foot controller for the amp. It’s currently labelled with the sounds for each channel. With Testament, I mostly play on channel 3, although I use channel 1 for clean parts. Channel 2 is great for 70s style classic hard rock tone.
There is also a lead boost for solos and fills. At this point, I can’t imagine not having that button. This comes in especially handy not just for my own mix but that of the audience. After all, if the front of house soundman forgets to turn up your solo, especially in a two guitar band, you won’t be heard (it happens, trust me).