Sonic Youth guitar hero Lee Ranaldo is great to shoot the shit with, mostly because he's ultra-articulate and interesting. If you couldn't get enough of Ranaldo from my feature story running in the freshly printed ish of the OC Weekly, here's the rest of the interview. Sonic Youth performs tonight at Fox Theater, Pomona.
OC Weekly (Lilledeshan Bose): I was looking at the Jazzmaster Guitars from Fender. They're really beautiful–how did that deal happen?
Lee Ranaldo: Well, it actually came from Fender. They had been doing artists' models the last couple of years, they did a J Mascis model the year before us. Fender has been kind of supportive over the years, but never fully supportive. I guess they recognized how much we've used those guitars, especially the Jazzmaster, which has been a traditionally underused guitar in their line. All these people in indie rock and punk rock were using them–J Mascis, Tom Verlaine, Elvis Costello–and they'd thought they tried to reinvigorate the line, so they asked us to do it.
It's been said that no one in their right mind plays jazz with a Jazzmaster….
Well, it's obviously someone's opinion, but not ours. That's pretty much all we play.
You're a pretty established writer yourself, and I heard you made the fanzine that comes with the guitar. What's in the zine?
We just wanted to make it funkier than the usual Fender presentation. Initially we thought we'd send our guitars out covered in stickers the way a lot of our guitars really are. The Fender people backed off at that, because they said people want to personalize their own guitars, so we created a sticker sheet with some stickers we copied off old guitars of ours–vintage stickers, you might say–and we also invited artist friends to create new stickers. Then we created a little fanzine which included an information sheet that explained how to set these guitars up to do Sonic Youth stuff–like our weird tunings and string gauges, mod sets that you could do that is not what comes out of the box from Fender. It evolved from an informational sheet to an idea of a fanzine, and our studio tech guy/sound guy and talked to four primary members of the Sonic Youth crew who had worked for us in the last 15-20 years about the evolution of our guitars through the years. If you're a guitar player, it's kind of a cool thing. It could be seen as just geeking out otherwise.
Everyone wants to know insider secrets, though.
Well, if you bought one and you wanted to play it exactly the way we play ours you could figure it out from this zine. Except our own guitars have evolved even further since we finished this project!