You have debilitating arthritis in your picking hand wrist, which has compromised your technique. How is it at the moment?
SM: It’s letting me know that I need to use less wrist action! I’m on an inflammatory reducing diet and practice almost exclusively with my wrist not moving. Since I’ve strengthened the muscles and tendons from doing that, I’m not needing the brace in order to practice, but will use a glove for gigs. The glove will hold in place a large amount of topical pain killer. Everybody’s got something they workaround.
What artists or bands do you like listening to these days and why?
SM: Big variety. Just yesterday, a friend told me about a band he heard that had bagpipes and guitar, which reminded me that I should listen to that amazing hit single by Big Country. Then, earlier I was listening to Monteverdi played by the incredible W Carlos on synthesizer. I don’t ever like music to be droning without my complete attention, so it’s not often heard. But when I listen, I go deep into it. Best of all, just two days ago, I heard a song my son, Kevin, co-wrote that I just loved, with such a melodic, uplifting chorus. So, I like to really connect to good music, and not have it ever be in the background.
You’ve spoken about Enya and Celtic music in the past (your High Tension Wires album has many lovely reflections of Celtic music). What is it that you like about her music; chord changes, the arrangements, her vocal harmony stacking, softer timbres?
SM: Well, part of it is the complete control, how she can hold a note for a long time, then put in the subtle, precise mordent, or short grace note at the last instant before changing notes. The production is perfect, as well as the sounds. Other than that, the music is great, too!
You’ve used your MM signature guitar for many years, with one noticeable change (the Y2D that celebrates your 20 years with Ernie Ball). What keeps you keen on this instrument?
SM: It just plays great, balances perfectly, is lightweight, versatile, stays in tune, fits in almost any airline overhead baggage bin, looks cool without being too trendy...
What do you like using the Y2D guitar for?
SM: It has a laminated maple top, three pickups, and the five main combinations that I use on my other guitar on one single five-way (four-pole) switch. One of the combinations is unexpectedly arranged so that a typical five-way switch wouldn’t be able to make that wiring, that’s why it’s a more intense four-pole switch. One volume (in the right location), one tone (that actually makes a difference). I use it for much of the Deep Purple set, and also it makes the best platform for using the tremolo in the Purple tunes.
Of all the amps you’ve used over the years, what does your signature Engl provide best?
SM: Clarity and high end that doesn’t make you want to leave the room. It’s also got a clean channel that can be set clean enough to play classical guitar through (which I did on the Dregs tour). The second channel is the bread and butter channel; you set everything to ‘6’ on the dials, and if it doesn’t sound incredible, your guitar cord isn’t working. The third channel gives me more control over the midrange, which is where the soul of the guitar lives. It has four midrange controls and gets the most out of a tube amp without having an artificial active EQ stuck in there. It’s beautifully well made, with lots of ports, jacks, two master volumes, two sends, and I think it’s great. Other people that come up and try my rig love it, too.
What do you look for when setting up lead guitar tones, especially as you change between neck and bridge pickups often.
SM: I turn the controls of the amp (if it’s new to me) or the board (if I am the engineer) all way from 0 to 10 to see which part of the sound they are influencing. Then I set up a variety of mics without remembering which is on which input, and listen in the control room to see which one fits the track best. Then I listen back to a take. If there are any annoying frequencies, I try to do something about it. So I have a lot less high end on my sounds than most people. Bob Ezrin (Deep Purple producer) hates my typical sound because it doesn’t have enough high end for him, whereas I think that too many guitar sounds can be piercing with stereo listening setups.
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