{transcribed by moi}

Article From GUITAR WORLD, January 1999
HOLE TONES: Secrets Of Celebrity Skin's Smooth Sound


"I think my Venus is better than the Jagstang," Courtney Love declares. Hole's mastermind is justifiably proud of the guitar she designed for Fender's Squier division. "I did not think of calling it Venus," Love adds. "I thought that was a bad name. But it's all right I guess."

The body shape was based in part on Rickenbacker solidbodies and Mercury guitars - an obscure American brand. The Venus models that Love plays have just one pickup - a single-coil mounted on a slant in the neck position. But production models add a bridge humbucker. "I wanted a guitar that sounded really warm and pop, but which required just one box to go dirty," says Love. "And something that could also be your first band guitar. I didn't want it all teched out. I wanted it real simple, with just one pickup switch. Because I think that cultural revolutions are in the hands of the guitar players."

Love's quest for her ideal guitar has been a long one. "I started playing in 1980. My first guitar was made by Hondo, a black-and-white fake Strat that looked like Nancy Wilson's. Then my second guitar was a 1959 [Gibson] Melody Maker. I was really into Rickenbackers when I was starting out, because of the 3/4 neck, but I don't play them as much anymore. And I had a [Fender] Duo Sonic 'cause I saw a picture of Patti Smith playing one. It's a true toy guitar, but I didn't care."

For the Celebrity Skin sessions, Love plugged into a variety of amps, including Fender tube gear, Matchless, Ampeg, Silvertone and a solid-state 1976 Randall Commander that formerly belonged to Love's late husband, Kurt Cobain. "He did like his Randall Commander," she says.

Cobain inspired one of Love's most recent vintage guitar purchases: a lovely old orange sunburst Chet Atkins. "Kurt would always say, 'I'm gonna get a Chet Adkins,'" Love recalls. "But he never did. I don't think he could find a lefthanded one. It wasn't until after his death he died that I went and looked at one, and it was really beautiful."

But there is one very important aspect of the Seattle/Olympia/Portland grunge guitar legacy that Love claims as her own. "I contend that I was the first person to actually have a Super Fuzz Big Muff, before the rest of the boys," says Love. "It was when I was in this purist Sixties garage band called the Venerays, with Kat Bjelland. And just recently, I started using a box called the Mystic Blue. I like a good box and I'll try any one - if it has a good-sounding name. Especially f they made a box with some kind of girly name. If they made one called Cherry Apple Blossom, I'd run with it every night. Maybe I'll get Fender to do that next."

It was Cobain who turned Erlandson on to what has become one of the Hole man's main guitars: an obscure Seventies model called Veleno, fabricated entirely of metal. "Kurt had always heard that [Nirvana producer] Steve Albini played this metal guitar and that's how he got all that sustain high end on the early Big Black records," says Erlandson. "So Kurt told me about this Veleno thing, and I said 'I'm going to look into it.' I found this shop in Tacoma, Washington, that had one. It was when Hole was recording Live Through This. I loved it. Pure sustain. I started looking around for more."

Today, Erlandson owns three Velenos: one chrome-finish model with a Seymour Duncan pickup and two gold-finish ones with Seventies humbuckers. The chrome and one of the golds used to belong to Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe. "I bought them at this shop in the [San Fernando] Valley [an L.A. suburb]," says Eric. "Turns out Mick was dumping them because he had a big divorce."

For Celebrity Skin, Erlandson put his Velenos, his '68 Tele and numerous other guitars through a unique setup he devised with producer Michael Beinhorn. The signal from the the guitar was split. One side was sent to a SansAmp and a chain of vintage analog synthesizers that included a Serge modular system, an Arp 2600 and a Moog Modular system with a Boda frequency shifter. The other side of the signal went into a Watkins Dominator, a small but deadly vintage British combo amp. "The boda thing has octaving, phasing, flanging plus a frequency analyzer and shifter all mixed in," says Erlandson. "So I threw out a lot of plans to use a lot of pedals. Meanwhile, the Watkins provided tons of low end."

The upshot of all this is that much of what sounds like keyboard synth work on Celebrity Skin is actually guitar. And much of what sounds like classic guitar effects were generated by processing guitars through synths. The rich tremolo that kicks in toward the end of "Heaven Tonight," for instance, is the Veleno running through the Moog system.

Eric did much of capoing to achieve different tonal colors on the album. The Byrdsy, "Rick 12-sounding" arpeggios on "Heaven Tonight," for example, were actually achieved by double-tracking a Guild acoustic 12-string - capoed at the first fret for one track and the third fret for another - and processing the result through the Serge. This was blended with an additional track played on Eric's '68 Tele to fill out the sound. The heavy power chording on "Use Once $ Destroy" was also played with a capo at the second fret. "Take the capo off and try to play that song," says Erlandson, "and it sounds completely different."

Eric's good friend Pat Smear [ex-Germs, Nirvana and Foo Fighters] lent him a bunch of axes, including a Hagstrom 12-string (heard on "Hit So Hard") a Burns baritone (capoed high and played on "Use Once & Destroy" and "Boys On The Radio," "Playing Your Song" and "Celebrity Skin"), a Gibson SG and a Gretsch White Falcon.

As for Melissa Auf der Maur's bass rig on the album, "It's not that hard," she says. "A Fender Precision bass and an Ampeg B15. Michael Beinhorn had some crazy subwoofers running in the studio. And we used a super fuzzed-out Acoustic amp for some things. But if you're a bass player doing rock, Fender and Ampeg are the way to go."