Why Bush Guitarist Chris Traynor Spent All His Rent Money on His First Les Paul
by Anne Erickson for Gibson.com
Chris Traynor of Bush sums up his love for guitar simply and definitely: “It’s a fun instrument. It’ll never let you down. You’ll never be able to master the guitar. All of the guitar masters are masters of one style. It offers you a lifetime of opportunities to learn more. That’s what’s amazing about the instrument.”
On top of playing lead guitar in Bush, Traynor holds playing credits in Helmet, Institute and other projects, plus plenty of session work, including recordings with Katy Perry and Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac.
Right now, Bush is his focus. The Gavin Rossdale-fronted rockers are on tour all summer in support of their latest full-length, The Sea of Memories, including headlining dates and gigs with Nickelback and Seether.
Traynor chatted with Gibson.com about his early influences (from Slash to Jimmy Page), how he uses multiple amps to get the perfect tone and why skipping out on paying his rent to buy a Les Paul was his best move ever. Check out the interview below:
You’ve played guitar in so many bands, from Bush to Institute to Helmet. How do you change up your guitar style to fit each band’s sound?
Well, I used my knowledge of sonics and equipment and guitars to try to build a sound that worked for each different band. In all the bands, I have this one Les Paul that I’ve always used, but I’ve switched amps. For Helmet, I used THD amps, and with Bush, I used the more traditional Mesa and Marshall.
So, I usually switch the sound. I have trouble switching guitars, because I’ve been playing Les Pauls for most of my life, so I’m really comfortable with them. So, I used different amps and effects switch sounds. Also, I’ve practiced a lot to be able to play in different situations, and I also play on people’s records on my downtime. Helmet was a super tight, mass rock band, whereas Bush is a looser, English, groove-based feel.
Let’s talk about Bush’s latest album, The Sea of Memories. What would you say is the strongest aspect of the album?
It’s hard for me to have perspective on music that I’m so close to and have been performing for so long. I know what I personally like, and I’m not always sure that people agree with my opinion on it, but I think moments like “All My Life” and “The Sound of Winter” and “I Believe in You” and the kind of tracks that were the last of the tracks we added are great. What’s interesting about record is that we had a little bit of time to revisit it. When Robin [Goodridge, drummer] was cutting the drums on the last songs – “The Sound of Winter,” “Baby, Come Home,” “All My Life,” “I Believe in You,” those four – I actually re-cut the solos and the single note guitar parts live with Robin while he was tracking the drums, because I wanted to give the solos a more organic and kind of older feel to them. Like, an older classic rock feel. I think he changed his playing in those sections a little bit and added more vibe. So, for me, those are big moments. “The Sound of Winter,” most people would agree, was a big hit for us. It was kind of our comeback song. So, that and the solos in “All My Life” and “I Believe in You” and “Baby Come Home,” those kinds of things inspire me.
Tell me about Bush’s new single, “The Afterlife.”
As far as guitar playing, it’s fun, because one of the main guitar parts that I put in there, I was kind of inspired more by a keyboard part, so I played it a little bit differently than a guitar player would play it, as far as the spacing. The notes are more like a keyboard part. In fact, the guy that was filming some promotional live stuff for the song was like, “Who plays that keyboard part?” And I was like, “It’s not a keyboard part. It’s my guitar part.” But, I took that as a compliment, because I was meaning to make it sound like a keyboard part.
You already mentioned you’re a big Les Paul fan. What Gibsons are in your arsenal right now?
I have my 1971 Les Paul Custom, which I bought with my rent money when I was 18-years-old, to my girlfriend of the time’s dismay. I had $650 to pay my rent, and as I was walking to deposit the money, I walked past a guitar store, and the guy had a Les Paul. I had always a Les Paul, because I was a huge Jimmy Page fan, and I still am.
So, the guitar was exactly was what my rent was at the time, which was $650. That’s all I had. So, I went in and decided I would just buy the guitar. So, I’ve had that guitar me on the road for over 20 years. I’ve had that guitar forever. That’s my main guitar. I also have a refinished 1970, white, three-pickup Les Paul Custom, which I had refinished by Dave Johnson. I have a historic Les Paul Standard and a refinished Explorer. Right now on tour, I have three Les Pauls and an Explorer, and then Gibson just sent me a black American Explorer that I’ve been playing at the Staples Center in Vegas, which I really love. I grew up playing Gibson and fell in love with the shape, and that’s what feels most natural to me and looks the best and sounds the best.
What is it about Gibsons that make them a good fit for your playing style?
Gibsons are solid guitars. They had a deeper sound and a more connected sound. The image of a Gibson to me is iconic. All the guitar players that I’ve gravitated to – Slash when I was in high school, Jimmy Page when I was growing up, Peter Green – most of the people I looked up to played Gibsons. To me, it’s the guitar that looks right. It’s the guitar that looks like rock and roll. Without it, it just doesn’t feel right… Other guitars seem to be half a guitar compared to Gibson.
How do you get that rich, full Bush guitar tone?
I use multiple amps. I use the guitar that I’ve always been using, my early ’70s custom, and I use multiple amps for different gain stages. Right now, I run three units at one time, and I use a Fractal effects processor for a lot of my switching of effects.
I’ve been lucky, because I’ve worked with some great producers. Working with Bob Rock on the past two records that Gavin and I have made, we use these multiple amps. The trick with multiple amps is that every amp has a different gain structure and different sounds, so where I normally wouldn’t use the Mesa Boogie amp by itself because I think it lacks middle and I normally wouldn’t use the Marshall by itself because I think it has too much middle and maybe not much low end, but those amps together sound amazing, so I use the blend of the amps. I don’t play with a lot of gain, though. I want to let the sound of the guitar come through.
Thanks for chatting, Chris! What final advice would you have for someone who is starting to play guitar?
I think it’s super important to have two kinds of practice. I think one is strictly technical. It’s a non-musical practice where you work on your fingering and the clarity of your notes and tone. And I think you should do something like that every day. I still do chromatic exercises, which can seem mind-numbing, but it’s important. I think the difference between good bands and great bands, as far as guitar players, is that the great guitar player generally has a strong technique, and it’s clear and they’ve worked hard on their craft. So, you need to have both: that technical ability and musical ability. The second part of the practice would be something that’s purely musical. Don’t pick up a guitar until you have a melody or idea in your head. Also, just find the time to enjoy yourself with the instrument.
Photos: Joseph Llanes