Throughout his storied career, beginning with his decade-long association with David Bowie and now as a member of The Cure, Reeves Gabrels has distinguished himself as one of the most versatile, adventurous and exciting guitarists of the modern age. There’s always been something of an elusive quality to his playing: you can never quite pinpoint his references, and his style and sound seem to bear little, if any, relation to the past.
“That’s pretty much my philosophy,” he says. “Some guitarists you can figure out in a second, and you know exactly which records they’ve listened to. I try to be a little more elusive, I guess. But it’s a hard one. I try to avoid the past, but the present is already the past.”
Gabrels’ principles also extend to his choice of guitars and gear. “I try to find tools that don’t have much history,” he says. “Instruments have a way of playing ascribed to them. If you pick up a Strat, people expect Hendrix or Beck – or John Mayer even. If you play a Les Paul, they think Jimmy Page or Slash, and so on. That’s why I was attracted to Parker and Steinberger guitars when they came out. They were new models and nobody associated them with other players. The only way people could pigeonhole me was by saying, ‘Oh, he’s probably going to sound progressive’, which I could deal with.”
He admits that he’s not much of a collector – or, at least, he tries to avoid holding on to gear that’s long since served its purpose. “Collecting is a tricky thing because at a certain point you become a hoarder,” he says. “In the early 2000s, I cut everything down to 10 instruments. Now I’m back up to a ridiculous number of guitars and pedals. Some of it’s because of covid – I found myself buying stuff because that’s what one does. That said, if I find something I like, I keep it, and then I try to buy multiple versions of it because you never know when something will be discontinued.”
Below, Gabrels runs down the five pieces of gear he can’t live without.
Reverend Reeves Gabrels signature models
“This is more than one item but I’ll include them all here. I have three primary models. There’s the RG-1, which is the first guitar I did with Reverend. It’s got two humbuckers and a trem. The RG-SUS is the sub-group of that model – it has a Sustainer in it, which is something I can’t live without. Or put it another way: when I want it, I have to have it.
“There’s also the Reeves Gabrels Spacehawk, which I designed with Joe Naylor after I joined The Cure. I needed something with more subtlety – or should I say, it encouraged me to be more subtle [laughs]. It’s got a lot of great features that allow me to explore many different tone areas, and it’s semi-hollow but without f-holes. If I had to name a desert-island guitar, I would grab this one.
“The third Reverend is the Dirtbike, which has just the essentials you need in a guitar. It’s like when you show up at a gig with just a guitar and an amp – you’re ‘dirtbiking’ it. The colour is based on the dirtbike I had as a kid. It has a sub-group, which is the Dirtbike Royale. That one has two Mojotone pickups, so it’s great for all your Leslie West/P-90 needs.”
“It’s a large square box that has an 12AX7 tube and its own transformer. You can wind it up with a Fender Bassman, Hiwatt amp or a Kitchen Audio amp, and you’ll get all the front-end gain you could want and more. They stopped making them a while ago but they’re out there if you can find them. At first, nobody was interested in them but after a few guitar players, including myself, talked about them too much, they went up in price. I have six of them. It’s become the centre core of my tone.”
Source Audio Soundblox Pro Multiwave Distortion
“It lets you sculpt overdrive, fuzz and distortion any way you want – all frequencies and bandwidths. It has a variable noise gate, a clean boost and a multi-band octave. It also lets you store your settings, which is great. Beyond that, the reason it’s indispensable to me is that it lets me get stuff that I can’t get from any other pedal. You can imitate with it – you can do your Fuzz Face, tube overdrive and what not – but you can also create totally unique sounds because it has separate sustain and gain knobs. I can start with the basic octave fuzz setting, and when I turn the gain down and the sustain up, that gets me a ring modulator effect. It’s great.
“What I also like about it is how it lets me sound like Jan Hammer, who’s one of my favorite guitarists [laughs]. Years ago, I listened to Jeff Beck’s Wired and I thought, ‘My God, some of these spreads on the fretboard are ridiculous. How does Beck do it?’ I didn’t know that I was listening to keyboard parts, but I learnt them on the guitar anyway.”
Korg KP2 Kaoss Pad
“This is a DJ effect. The first version came out in 1999, and I remember reading a review that said it was a great effect to run your guitar, bass, keyboards or vocals through after the fact in the studio, but it had absolutely no applications live. Knowing that, I ran right out and got one [laughs]. I did a gig with it that night and thought it was brilliant. The second version came out later, and it’s even better.
“It’s supremely interactive because it’s got a touchscreen that works on an X and Y axis. It does crossfades between two effects – one can be delay and the other can be pitch bend, for example. There’s so many shadings you can work with. There’s nothing else like it.”
Audio Kitchen Amplifiers
“These are the amps I’ve been using with The Cure for the last 10 years. They’re all handmade by an amp-builder named Steve Crow, and they’re wonderful. He makes an amp called the Little Chopper – it’s seven watts with one EL84 in it. You can get everything from the Neil Young Deluxe sound to the screaming Champ sound, and you can even make it sound like a Princeton.
“On probably 80 per cent of the new Cure record, I used one that Steve calls ‘Lil’ Chopper,’ and I just call it ‘the little thing’. It’s a combination of the production model’s power amp and the Baxandall preamp section from my larger Audio Kitchen 50-watt stage amps. I pair the Lil’ Chopper with different Audio Kitchen cabs because they’re really, really well made.”
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