Ash’s Tim Wheeler on the guitars and music that have inspired a 25-year career

The Ash frontman and guitarist talks Flying Vs, bleeding his way through gigs and being a very mediocre slide guitar player.

The moment it all started…

“I was like must have been 10 or 11 when I was really getting into Iron Maiden, Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi and all that kind of stuff – it was the late 80s! Me and Mark [Hamilton, bass], we became friends when we were about that age, and we decided to both get guitars for Christmas. So yeah, we’ve really got Santa to blame for this whole thing! It was a Gibson Explorer copy, and I think it was made by a company called Artist.

I couldn’t live without my…

“It’s the guitar that I pretty much record everything with, my 1960s Les Paul Custom Black Beauty, with three PAFs. It’s become my main workhorse guitar – it’s too posh to bring on tour, but when I’m in the studio it’s my main one. I don’t know what I’d do if something disastrous happened to it… actually, I’d probably just go and buy a Custom Shop reissue! I’ve already got a nice Goldtop ’57 Reissue as a backup – I just love Les Pauls, and the sound of humbuckers.”

The one that got away…

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“I had a really nice 1976 Fender Mustang, blue with the racing stripe, but it got lost in a studio to move in the 90s. I bought it in New Orleans on tour, and I think I used it in the Life Less Ordinary video. I wish it was still around, but I’ve never bought another Mustang! In terms of purchases I wish I’d made, there was a late-50s ES-335 that was in Angel Music, and apparently, it had belonged to Peter Green, and some people were saying it was the guitar he had used to record Albatross. If it had just been a couple of grand cheaper, I probably would have got it… now I sort of wish I’d spent that extra couple of grand!

My signature guitar would be…

“I think I would do a Flying V… it’s a bit boring, but I’d probably just replicate my main live guitar, which is a 1981 or 82 Korina V. Although it’s not that easy to get Korina wood any more, so that might be tricky! My touring guitar also has a 1957 zebra-coil PAF in the bridge position so I guess I would start with that… but other than that, there’s not much else I can really improve!”

The first thing I play when I pick up a guitar…

“I normally hit an E chord – I think it was probably the first-ever chord I played, and it’s kind of my go-to place. If I’m trying a guitar out then I’ll maybe noodle around a bit above the 12th fret and see how the bridge pickup sounds. But I start off with that ringing E chord!”

My Spinal Tap moment…

“I guess there have been a lot of stage mishaps over the years – fire alarms going off in the middle of gigs and having to clear the place out… I’ve fallen over on stage many times, but there was this one time where I actually slipped backwards and smashed the headstock of my guitar my forehead, so I was just bleeding down into my eyes for the rest of the show!”

My guilty pleasure…

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“The things that would be considered guilty pleasures I don’t really feel guilty about, because we were always listening to ABBA alongside Nirvana, y’know? And we were quite open about that – we covered ABBA quite a few times over the years. But I do like some really good cheesy pop music.”

I’m in the band…

Thin Lizzy in the beginning. I’d love to be Scott Gorham, because I would just love to have been in a band with Brian Robertson and hear him play every night. And because they had such great dual-guitar parts, it would mean that the pressure isn’t totally on you as well, so you can just have a bit of fun.”

I wish I was there…

“Talking Heads when they were filming, Stop Making Sense. The way the set develops almost from nothing and just grows and grows – I think it’s genius. And it just it’s a theatrical but it also really serves the music really well, and they really seem to be at the peak of the powers. I’ve seen the concert film of it, but to actually be there would have been something else.”

The most important thing on my rider…

“It’s mainly just functional stuff and general snacks. That said, we do go through phases – like, we’ll go through the Negroni phase or a margarita phase, but then sometimes that evolves to us just trying to step it up and think the most special or obscure liqueur or something – it becomes a bit of a quest!”

If I could just play one thing

“Complex fingerpicking stuff – I’ve never really dived into that. And also, George Harrison‘s slide playing – that beautiful vibrato he gets… I don’t really know anyone else who sounds him with a slide, and it’s a beautiful thing. I’d love to be able to play like that, but I rarely pick up the slide really, I’m very mediocre with it!”

Teenage Wildlife: 25 Years Of Ash is out on 14 February 2020 via BMG.

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