Wilco's Nels Cline rig rundown
January 25, 2012 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Wilco's own Nels Cline gives a 38 minute video rundown of his stage guitars and rig.
posted by Ardiril (51 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nels has had a billion other careers besides just being in Wilco, crediting him that way doesn't seem quite right.
posted by anazgnos at 12:41 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm in this weird position where I recognize that Nels Cline is a great musician and really respect his guitar skills, but still think that Wilco's gone massively downhill since he joined. Really since just before he joined, so I don't blame him.
posted by COBRA! at 12:50 PM on January 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Which reminds me of his excellent and long outdated page Nels Cline Tech Talk. Always liked the Amp du Jour bit about touring without an amp and using whatever the venue provided.
posted by Lorin at 12:51 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, I'll be first - at what point in the interview does he say "But it goes to 11"?
posted by twsf at 12:51 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


agree with COBRA!

but this is still pretty cool.
posted by mannequito at 12:53 PM on January 25, 2012


This just reminds me of the scene in Jonathan Franzen's novel "Freedom" when the musician character, who released an alt-country album that rocketed him to fame and being a household name and on NPR and stuff, is back to working as a roofer and reluctantly fielding the insufferable questions that the teenaged son of his clients is peppering him with. And once the kid starts talking gear and tech and guitars and amps and all that shit, the musician just says something along the lines of "None of that shit matters."
posted by entropone at 12:53 PM on January 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I say this as a fan - Wilco's amps only go to 4.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:54 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


And once the kid starts talking gear and tech and guitars and amps and all that shit, the musician just says something along the lines of "None of that shit matters."

Definitely. Most of Nels Cline's comments on his gear back in the day read like begrudging responses to serious guitar geeks that made up 90% of his audience. In fact he says more or less the same thing on his old page:

In fact, i find equipment talk to be pretty pointless, ultimately. For now, let me make this point: make sure your guitar has the number of strings on it that works for you, that your amp works, and that your gear generally doesn't fail you. After that, you're on your own!
posted by Lorin at 1:00 PM on January 25, 2012


Jay Bennett, for all his flaws, was a key part of the Wilco sound that attracted me to the band in the first place. I haven't listened to them that much since Ghost, but their live shows are pretty awesome.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:00 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


crediting him that way doesn't seem quite right - Considering how "own" is used on MeFi, it seems quite apt.
posted by Ardiril at 1:08 PM on January 25, 2012


Jay Bennett, for all his flaws, was a key part of the Wilco sound that attracted me to the band in the first place.

The Bennett years of Wilco and the Uncle Tupelo catalog prove pretty decisively to me that Jeff Tweedy does his best work when he and another guy in the studio are essentially circling each other with knives.
posted by COBRA! at 1:09 PM on January 25, 2012 [16 favorites]


Considering how "own" is used on MeFi, it seems quite apt.

I would have accepted "The Geraldine Fibbers, BLOC, Quartet Music, Mike Watt and The Black Gang, Scarnella, Banyan, Wilco, and the Nels Cline Singers' own Nels Cline..."
posted by anazgnos at 1:16 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would have accepted "The Geraldine Fibbers, BLOC, Quartet Music, Mike Watt and The Black Gang, Scarnella, Banyan, Wilco, and the Nels Cline Singers' own Nels Cline..."

Kinda like how when somebody inevitably says "MeFi's own Adam Savage" it's because MeFi is pretty much all that guy is attached to, he's never been a part of anything else.
posted by kingbenny at 1:22 PM on January 25, 2012


I like Wilco just fine, in fact Tweedy's kid and mine go to school together. I think Nels Cline adds a neat bit to the mix, yet it's kind of love/hate.

I find it incredibly annoying to the point of wankery, that he seems to think every single note needs a touch of whammy bar on it, and if not that, tends to over-play the hell out of everything, sticking 50 notes where 10 would work better.

Also, as a player myself, I think there is a tipping point some guitarists tend to hit, when they start needing a different guitar for every song, and some ridiculously long chain of effects and boutique amps.

It's nice, and interesting to collect - hell I think I have about 20 or so, but Zappa had a point with his "Shuttup and Play Yer Guitar" notion.
posted by timsteil at 1:25 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"None of that shit matters."

Maybe. But whatever Cline might have written on his webpage, here'a 38-minute video of him talking about gear and he seems pretty into it. I've known musicians to shrug-off gear talk exactly that way ("None of that shit matters") more as posturing than because it accurately reflects their behavior. I don't really listen to Wilco and I don't know much about Cline personally, but if he's able to chat for 38 minutes about his gear—specs, reasoning, stories behind, etc.—then I feel safe drawing a conclusion from that. I watched the video and he knows his stuff.

Besides, you could watch this video on mute and still notice that Cline plays a Klon Centaur. (The gold pedal with three knobs. He talks about it beginning at 29:10.) We could devote an entire FPP to the Klon but suffice to say, nobody plays a Klon who thinks that gear is just a bunch of stuff that "doesn't matter." That pedal sells on eBay for between $900 and $1,500.
posted by cribcage at 1:27 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I generally take that attitude to mean more "I'd like to think I bring a lot more to this game than just the gear I'm playing" and I've been more than guilty of it myself.
posted by kingbenny at 1:32 PM on January 25, 2012


I can totally understand all this guy's gear wankery. I found it interesting even though I cant play a anything.As a programmer I could make due with whatever computer you give me but I still have my 64 and my Amigas and will pull them out and talk for 38 minutes about computers at the drop of a hat. It isn't just my profession, it is my hobby and my main interest in life.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:37 PM on January 25, 2012


I've known musicians to shrug-off gear talk exactly that way...more as posturing than because it accurately reflects their behavior.

That is really true. I recall Ira Kaplan demurring when somebody asked him about pedals at one of the Q&A shows Yo La Tengo was doing a few years ago, and I was a little miffed, because he has a totally fascinating and complicated rig that I would love to have heard more about.

I get it though, there's the pride of not wanting to grant your gear prominence over your own talent, there's the proprietary sense that a given rig is sort of your own, personal secret and you don't want anybody else copping your licks, and then there's the awareness that if you're actually way too into the topic, it's going to rapidly become way too nerdish for general audiences.
posted by anazgnos at 1:40 PM on January 25, 2012


Nel's album Sad was always a favorite of mine, though I first listened to it after smoking my first j.
posted by rosswald at 1:50 PM on January 25, 2012


COBRA!: "I'm in this weird position where I recognize that Nels Cline is a great musician and really respect his guitar skills, but still think that Wilco's gone massively downhill since he joined. Really since just before he joined, so I don't blame him."

Actually, I think he re-invigorated the band in a really great way and is largely responsible for pulling it out of the alt-country ghetto into a full-fledged modern rock band. Tweedy's clearly comfortable letting him rock out with his bad self as much as he wants, I think because Cline's not interesting in songwriting (which Tweedy always seemed to regard as his turf) the way Jay Bennett was.

As awesome as the whole band is live, it's particularly impressive to see Nels Cline command the stage like some kind of Nordic guitar god.
posted by mkultra at 1:51 PM on January 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I suppose on some level this is all just everyone imposing their own interpretation on records, but I actually give Bennett the "pulling it out of the alt-country ghetto into a full-fledged modern rock band" credit. I mean, The Bennett-era shift from Being There to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is enormous. They go from being kind of a sad Uncle Tupelo cover band to purveyors of raaaad shit. Then Bennett leaves and the creative growth stops for a while.

I do think you're right that Cline reinvigorated the band when he showed up (I think they'd be pretty sad if he hadn't, or maybe a reunited Uncle Tupelo would be touring, grimly playing the old albums while standing as far apart as possible on the stage-- they could open for the Pixies!). And I can't deny the Nordic guitar godness in live shows.
posted by COBRA! at 2:00 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The most recent Wilco album is mind bending and awesome. Cline is a large part of why.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:10 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


but their live shows are pretty awesome

You're damn right they are.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:12 PM on January 25, 2012


Cline plays a Klon Centaur - That struck me, too. Along with the Z-Vex, I get the impression that he gives some serious thought to what goes down on the floor. He doesn't have to play through Boss pedals if he doesn't like them.
posted by Ardiril at 2:15 PM on January 25, 2012


WilcoFilter

I love all sorts of guitars, but this video, jeez, I got bored and skipped ahead and suddenly I'm at the part where he's going into extreme detail about his custom guitar strap and the strap locks he uses. Then he starts discussing how it's a limited edition he designed and where you can buy it. Wilco Blue.

Now I myself have written at length about obscure guitar crap like strap locks, but only as a context to write a story that had almost nothing to do with strap locks.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:07 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


or maybe a reunited Uncle Tupelo would be touring

That's never gonna happen.
posted by sleepy pete at 3:39 PM on January 25, 2012


Well, charlie don't surf, just for you, here's Yngwie!
posted by Ardiril at 3:39 PM on January 25, 2012


Actually, Nels' advice to forget about gear strikes me as really honest. Musicians always talk about how tone is in the fingers, and in Nels' case that is really apparent- give him an acoustic guitar or an electric plugged straight into an amp and it will immediately sound like Nels. Same thing with John Scofield, another guitar player known for playing with fx. Apparently Sco did a gig at CalArts with someone who insisted he not use his pedalboard, and through his touch and choice of dissonance sounded just as slightly dirty as he always does.

Think about this - Nels obviously cares a lot about sound, and has spent the better part of 30 years acquiring gear that works for him. How many times in that video does he talk about people suggesting pedals to him, or giving him things (like the straps that the strap builder made into a signature item completely on their own volition.) Half of the gear he showed in that video he has owned for a really long time; since he is in wilco his gear has changed 10x more often than pre-wilco. Nels' also talks repeatedly about trusting other people's judgement regarding gear, stating that they are the experts.

I think the reason why it annoys people like Nels (and myself as well) when people scoff at how much gear he uses is the conflict of property vs. inspiration. Nels doesn't collect pedals so he can say that he owns them. He owns pedals so he can turn them on and make really cool sounds that inspires him to make cool music. That's why he doesn't care whether it's a crappy boss pedal, or a cheap Korg Kaoss pad, or whether all that gear 'degrades' his tone, or even whether it is a Klon. They're all just tools. In a way, that Klon is priceless- in that it gives him a sound he can't make any other way, and also in that if he didn't have it he'd find a way to make an equally cool, but different, sound.

I thought it was funny that somebody posted this over here - for a different perspective, here is a thread on thegearpage, a guitar gear forum, about the same video. Obviously someone who isn't into guitar FX won't be as interested in watching this video. For myself, I thought it was interesting, not mind-blowing as I already knew a lot about his gear and don't care that much about all of those different guitars. But Nels is an interesting guy, and has an approach that is more 'look at how weird and cool this is' than 'I find titanium coated strings give me a more subtle bloom around 500hz)'.
posted by ianhattwick at 3:49 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Musicians always talk about how tone is in the fingers, and in Nels' case

...it's in his freakishly long fingers. Also note the Fender Squire!
posted by Lorin at 3:56 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm in this weird position where I recognize that Nels Cline is a great musician and really respect his guitar skills, but still think that Wilco's gone massively downhill since he joined. Really since just before he joined, so I don't blame him.

I've heard it argued that the real force behind Wilco's decline is Jim O'Rourke. (This argument further alleges he had the same impact on Sonic Youth.) O'Rourke was a helpfully disruptive force mixing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - so the argument goes - but the overall musicianship crashed as he took over production (the uneven but still enticing A Ghost Is Born) and all-purpose arranging/multi-instrumentation (the uninspired, meandering Sky Blue Sky). Wilco (The Album) was a shaggy old dog shaking off its O'Rourke fleas, and now they've returned to Summerteeth-era form on The Whole Love.

I have no idea how much truth there is to this argument, but in any case their nadir coincides with the point of O'Rourke's maximum influence. Of course, Tweedy's decent into and recovery from painkiller addiction might have a lot to do with it all as well.
posted by gompa at 4:11 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Great post, awesome video. Thanks, Ardiril.

I don't get nearly enough guitar geekery in my life. And Nels Cline is great.
posted by The World Famous at 4:17 PM on January 25, 2012


I've heard it argued that the real force behind Wilco's decline is Jim O'Rourke. (This argument further alleges he had the same impact on Sonic Youth.)

No way...Sonic Youth got 10x more interesting and exciting when O'Rourke joined full-time, and went straight to blandsville when he left.

Also, I too find the post-YHF Wilco bland as hell, but I love the second Loose Fur record, split evenly between Tweedy & O'Rourke songs.

The problem in all cases seems to be too little O'Rourke, never too much.
posted by anazgnos at 4:26 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


make that "more interesting than they had been in a several years"...
posted by anazgnos at 4:26 PM on January 25, 2012


Why "own"?
posted by limeonaire at 4:39 PM on January 25, 2012


Why "own"?

It implies that we are all Wilco. And if that's the case, I'm a little annoyed that they didn't interview me about my guitar rig, too.
posted by The World Famous at 4:44 PM on January 25, 2012


That's never gonna happen.
posted by sleepy pete


I was just thinking of what might have happened in Philip K. Dickian universes where Cline didn't join Wilco and Tweedy was left to stew; I don't see it ever happening here, either. That said, I never saw the Pixies getting back together, and even Grant Hart and Bob Mould managed to tolerate getting back onstage together once.
posted by COBRA! at 4:55 PM on January 25, 2012


I'm in this weird position where I recognize that Nels Cline is a great musician and really respect his guitar skills, but still think that Wilco's gone massively downhill since he joined. Really since just before he joined, so I don't blame him.

Sky Blue Sky is a masterpiece - to say they went 'downhill' is just plain wrong. I think Nels added a certain 'I dunno what' to their sound.
posted by weezy at 4:55 PM on January 25, 2012


I don't even like Wilco, and this was totally fun to check out.

Just for giggles, here's a post on the old Swami forum where John Reis breaks down what he played in hot snakes:

http://swamirecords.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=21638#21638
posted by lumpenprole at 4:59 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was just thinking of what might have happened in Philip K. Dickian universes where Cline didn't join Wilco and Tweedy was left to stew

My favorite Wilco period was right after Bennett was sacked but before Cline joined, Tweedy was (mostly) the only guitarist, and was going deep into weird wiggy lead guitar territory. So I thought it was really weird and counter-intuitive that he hired Cline, since why would you hire a hotshot, technically fleet-fingered lead guy if it seemed like you were only just then growing into being a lead player yourself? And it only looked weirder when Sky Blue Sky came out, because why would you hire an a guy with such solid avant-garde/noise-friendly credentials only to make him be Pat Metheny on a toothless, bland soft-rock pastiche record? Long story short Cline has never made much sense to me in Wilco. He seems happy enough for the solid gig, at least.
posted by anazgnos at 5:08 PM on January 25, 2012


He seems happy enough for the solid gig, at least.

I have a few friends who know nels, and I can't tell you how happy they were for him. The story I heard is that it's not too long ago that he was working at a record store to pay the bills.

Of course there is also the story about how nels was hired for a gig, the booker told him to wear a tux and nels showed up in a pink 70's frilly tux with all of his pedals in a powderpuff girls backpack. One of those stories that even if it isn't true, it should be.
posted by ianhattwick at 5:32 PM on January 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Of course gear doesn't matter, but then again, in a way, it does. If you have nothing to "say" as a guitar player, no ideas, no style, no point of view, then gear will not do much for you. But if you do have something to start with, then gear can help you explore it and define it.

I have a bunch of guitars and related stuff. Logically, there's no need for all of that, but I did not acquire these things just to "have" them. I have them because it turns out that different guitars have different songs in them. Same thing can go for effects. I pick up something different, and suddenly new ideas materialize; it still sounds like me, but it's something I would not have come up with if I didn't change something up. And it doesn't have to be expensive or boutique stuff; a Squier Hello Kitty strat (bought on a lark for like $80) has turned out to be one of my most productive instruments.

And when you learn what each guitar and each piece of gear in your rig can do, that whole beast becomes your instrument; you're playing your rig, not just the guitar. But, yeah, in the end, it's still the player, not the gear.
posted by fikri at 5:56 PM on January 25, 2012


40+ comments and nobody linked to Wilco's latest video, with special guest Popeye?

Also, wilw has tweeted that he's watching Wilco play at the Wiltern Theater.

That gives me the willies.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:23 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


And when you learn what each guitar and each piece of gear in your rig can do, that whole beast becomes your instrument; you're playing your rig, not just the guitar. But, yeah, in the end, it's still the player, not the gear.

Agreed 100%. You're still the same musician even if all of the gear changes or goes away. IME musicians who are sensitive about their sound will find gear that works for them. If Nels lost all his gear, he'd be able to replace it all because the sound is in his fingers.

I always tell the story that for a long time I used a cheap digital multifx unit into a solid-state amp, and used the #2 pickup position on a strat (a kind of weird position). One day I was on a gig with another musician and he came over and asked what gear I was using because I was getting a really classic bluesy sound. He couldn't believe my rig. I transitioned soon after that to a tube amp, pedals, and generally more traditional setup using the neck pickup and got a very similar sound to my earlier rig (although quantitatively better). The point being that I got a really similar sound from both rigs because that is the sound I was looking for.
posted by ianhattwick at 7:03 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man, tough crowd.

The Whole Love is an amazing record, and I love seeing Nels tear it up live. Pitty he doesn't show off his pedal steel rig.
posted by bardic at 7:39 PM on January 25, 2012


Oh wait, he does!
posted by bardic at 7:41 PM on January 25, 2012


Also, wilw has tweeted that he's watching Wilco play at the Wiltern Theater.

That gives me the willies.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:23 PM


I would very much appreciate it if pb would sneak in and change osf's username to oneswilfoop, just for the next 24hrs or so.
posted by mannequito at 7:43 PM on January 25, 2012


@cribcage,
i know, we're both right - this shit is still really cool.

i'm a guitarist and a bike racer and i know that anybody with skill with either can pick up any old piece of shit and blow your ears or legs off.

doesn't make the cool shit any less rad.

it's just maintaining both perspectives.
posted by entropone at 7:47 PM on January 25, 2012


Similar to that, entropone, is my claim that anyone can make a Strat sound like a good electric guitar, but it takes a lot of work to make a Strat sound like a classic Strat. I have been playing a clean Strat for a couple years now after I changed up my picking attack and discovered a new world of tones. Except for the occasional slapback echo and some compression (my hands are getting arthritic), I get most of my different tones now by changing the angle of my pick or picking closer to the bridge or the neck.
posted by Ardiril at 8:57 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


That was really cool. Glad to hear him talk so much about Mike Watt and Banyan. I love his work on Contemplating the Engine Room, my first entry into Nels' guitar work.
posted by princelyfox at 9:07 PM on January 25, 2012


Oh my god, Nels Cline is in Wilco? How long have I been asleep?
posted by unknowncommand at 10:18 PM on January 25, 2012


Nels Cline with The Flaming Lips doing I Want You (She's So Heavy)
posted by octothorpe at 7:21 AM on January 28, 2012


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