Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher had to DIY his own distortion rig because his dad “didn’t believe in distortion”

“I had an old Sony receiver that was from the late ‘70s, I had two Advent speakers, a turntable, I had this little MXR EQ…”

Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher’s latest story about how he DIY-ed a distortion setup as a kid is a shining example of the phrase ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’.

In an interview with Guitar World, he reveals what it was like growing up with a hi-fi aficionado father who apparently did not share his love for distortion.

“I was like, ‘Dad, I need distortion,’” Kelliher recalls. “And my dad being in the hi-fi business told me, ‘Well, Billy, us in the hi-fi business are trying to rid the world of distortion. We want a crisp, clear sound coming out of our speakers and our hi-fi gear. He didn’t believe in distortion.”

“I had to figure out how to get distortion,” he adds. “I had an old Sony receiver that was from the late ‘70s, I had two Advent speakers, a turntable, I had this little MXR EQ…Like a dual-band EQ stereo thing…”

“And I figured out how to plug my guitar into the EQ, into my tape deck, hold down the Record and Play button — so it was in Record mode, so it would pass the signal, but there wasn’t even a tape in there — press the Pause button and run signal through that.”

“I got this crazy distorted sound that wasn’t unlike Greg Ginn of Black Flag, and that was my dude that I was looking up to at the time,” Kelliher continues.

“I don’t know how I figured out these things but when you’re a kid and you want something, and you have ambition to get it, you make it happen.”

Elsewhere in the chat, the guitarist also shares some of his worst gear mishaps, saying “I’ve had guys hand me guitars where I start the song, I’m out there in front of 50,000 people and it’s not plugged in or whatever, my wireless is not turned on or it’s not in tune and that’s just embarrassing honestly.”

“I’m not the kind of boss that ever screams and yells at people but I wanted to that day. The terror of being on stage and trying to find a problem right that second when you’re either about to go on and there’s 50,000 people out there or you’re on stage already and your stuff stopped working and no one knows what it is… my brain just frizzle fries and I can’t think straight.”
That said, Kelliher admits that such problems “don’t quite happen as much as they used to back in the day” given that the band now has “a crew of very qualified people” taking care of their gear at all times.

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