The latest “15 questions” feature is with American guitarist Ryan Riggins. His band, Pocket Full of Rocks (PFOR), has recently been nominated for an award for their third album “More than Noise”. Guitar Jar catches up with Ryan and quizzes him on his guitar equipment and his huge “wall of sound”…
To achieve the big sound, I like to play chords with stacked fifths. Usually eliminating the thirds on a chord can clear up the mud…
- Hi Ryan, before we get into the details of your equipment and technique, can you give Guitar Jar readers an insight to why you first picked up the guitar and how long you’ve been playing? Which guitarist(s) were you initially influenced by?
Honestly, I picked it up mainly to start playing in my church youth group. There wasn’t a band, so a couple of my friends decided to start one. I guess I’ve been playing around 13 years. My first big influence was Eddie Van Halen. I think every young guitarist gets wowed by the big guitar heroics by someone like him. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten most of the licks I learned back then!
- How did you get involved with Pocket Full of Rocks? Were you in many bands prior to playing with them?
I started out as a Pocket Full of Rocks fan. They came and played at our church and at camps a few times. The first time that I played with them was a camp that they were doing and their guitarist couldn’t make the event. It was a great experience for me as a young guitarist. After their guitarist left about a year later, they gave me a call, and I’m still in the band, I guess.
- Can you describe the style of PFOR?
Musically, we all like different styles. We’re not all obsessed with one band, and we all draw from different styles. You see a lot of bands that want to sound like other bands, but I think we all want to have a unique sound. As far as a description, I would say we lean most to modern worship.
- The track “Alive” was co-written with Stu G. Did you have much input on the song writing process on that track and what was it like to work alongside Stu?
Actually, the writing was all done by Michael (our lead singer) and Stu G.
- Do you practice? Can you shed some insight to your practice routine? What do you focus on to improve your technique?
Yes, I do practice. I work through different lessons online, books, videos, etc. Honestly, I try and practice stuff that is inspiring to me. So I have a mixture of working on things like technique and scales to learning other artists songs. Always use a metronome when practicing. I think it is critical to be on time and in the pocket with the rest of the band.
- What guitars do you use live? Do you stick with one particular model or do you like to chop and change throughout the performance?
I mainly use a historic Gibson Les Paul Special. It is white and has p90 pickups. It had a great sound. Kind of like a cross between a really muscled-up telecaster and a regular Les Paul. I’ll also use a Fender Telesonic. It too is a really cool sounding guitar and is great for stuff with a capo. I’ll usually stick with the Gibson, unless we have a song that requires a capo.
- Please can you tell us about your choice of amplifier? Do you prefer combos or do you use the head & cab approach?
Well, I actually have both a combo and a head. I have a 50 watt Marshall Plexi head that is LOUD. I typically run it into a Marshall 4×12 with greenback speakers. My combo is a Bad Cat Hot Cat. Usually for tours, I just take out the Bad Cat because it’s easier. When we are doing our own thing, I run them together. I would have to say that I prefer the head and cabinet separately just for flexibility, as you can stick the cabinet in a back room to keep a good cranked tone even if the venue can’t handle the volume.
- Can you tell us about the effects you use and what influences your use of delay?
I guess I’ll just go through my signal chain, which may take a minute! First a hit a Zvex Super Duper to buffer my sound, to an Analogman compressor, then a few boutique overdrives that I rotate in and out, to a volume pedal, to an Electro-Harmonix Micro Pog, to a Fulltone Deja Vibe and Tremolo, to a Boss DD20 delay, and a Line 6 Delay. I use delay quite a bit. Usually not the typical “The Edge” type stuff, but usually stuff to fill out space.
- Do you enjoy recording? What’s your opinion of software applications applying simulated amps, overdrive and effects?
I do like recording a lot, especially when you get some time to sit down a really work on a track and come up with something really creative. As far as digital, I think it is getting better and better. I hear things like the new Digidesign Eleven, and it proves that things are going in the right direction. Being a purist, I like getting in the room and messing with different microphones and placement, cabinets, etc.
- You have really nice “wall of sound” technique where go can go from clean detailed licks to a full driven backing that complements the rest of the band. What type of chords are you playing to achieve this?
To achieve the big sound, I like to play chords with stacked fifths. Usually eliminating the thirds, etc on a chord can clear up the mud. I don’t do this 100% of the time, but generally, it’s my technique.
- How often do you solo during a live set and is it something you like to do?
I don’t solo much anymore. I should probably work up some for a couple of songs though. I just am all about the band sounding big and tight, so I really haven’t focused too much on it recently.
- Your house is burning down. What is the one guitar item you would save?
I would have to save my Les Paul. I really love that guitar.
- Have you had any nightmare experiences whilst gigging?
Of course there have been nightmares! From my amp blowing up when I’m starting a song to my guitar dropping tuning when I’m starting a song, it’s always an adventure.
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
Hmmm. I really like drummers that lay down a nice pocket and aren’t trying to be too busy. A guy like Chris McHugh would be fun to play a gig with. I also really enjoy playing with our drummer David. He’s very musical in his approach to drumming.
- Lager or Cider?
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