The Manics return in May with a new album and a tour. So let's have a look at what gear they've been using over the years...
Last week, one of Britain's biggest bands, The Manic Street Preachers, announced a string of live dates to support the release of a new album, "Journal For Plague Lovers", out on 18th May. Let's have a look then, at the gear used by this influential Welsh band.
Guns'N'Roses were a major influence on the Manics first album, Generation Terrorists, and Slash is, still, one of James Dean Bradfield's all-time guitar heroes. His other main influence being Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, it's no wonder that Bradfield's main guitar is a Gibson Les Paul - he's used many over the years, but his trademark is the Alpine White Gibson Les Paul Custom...a nod to Steve Jones, surely (Gear tip - if you can't afford a Gibson - or Epiphone - Les Paul Custom, there's the new Vintage V100 Arctic White, made in the same factory as the Epiphones!)
In 2008, he was spotted playing the newly-released Gibson Les Paul Slash Signature.
After the release of This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours, his Gibson Les Paul Custom was fitted with a micro acoustic piezo pickup. The reason was the necessity of playing live their #1 single "If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next". Bradfield needed an acoustic guitar sound for the majority of the song, and turn electric for the guitar solo at the end. But since Bradfield wasn't keen on acoustic simulator fx pedals (such as the Boss AC-3 or Behringer AM100) and didn't want to use two guitars, the micro acoustic piezo pickup was his solution.
James Dean Bradfield is without a doubt one of the greatest (though not always as appreciated as he deserves) British guitar heroes of the past 20 years. But, unlike any other great lead guitar player, he's also a great lead singer...which makes his job doubly difficult! Quite often, Bradfield plays complex lead parts while singing - something that most guitarists who also sing, from Eric Clapton to Noel Gallagher, usually don't.
That's the reason why, for a good part of his career, James Dean Bradfield didn't want to trouble himself dealing with FX pedals, even though he used a few! For a few years, Bradfield would have a guitar tech on the side of the stage, switching his FX pedals for him. According to Bradfield, someone from another group once told him he should be ashamed of this: "a man must deal with his own pedals". To which, James Dean Bradfield retorted that he already has to deal with enough things: he plays two guitar parts, sings everything and jump around, besides being the front person of the band!
With the addition of a new, second guitarist, this situation has changed and James Dean Bradfield has a pedalboard in front of him, again. However, photographs and info about his gear have been very difficult to gather and remain quite elusive.
In the early days, James Dean Bradfield's main tone was a Marshall JCM900 stack, Ibanez TS-808 Tubescreamer and the Boss FZ-2, using, besides the Les Paul Custom, a Gibson Les Paul Junior with P-90.
For a more recent insight into his gear, his guitar tech told this for an article, a few years ago:
"He's got three Shure wireless systems into an ABC box then into an AB box, which runs an acoustic pickup in his Les Paul which I had made for him in America. The boxes switch between acoustic and electric and clean and dirty. There is a Trace Elliot Speed Twin and a Fender Twin for the clean sound. A Marshall head, an Orange head, and a Vox AC-30 for the dirty sound. There are a load of pedals in line; the Boss FZ-2 (discontinued, FZ-5 is now available instead) for a bit of sustain more than anything, the Boss CE-5, Boss Flanger and Boss DD-5 (discontinued, now Boss DD-7), and some other stuff that I don't like!"
A/B Switch Box (A/B for acoustic/elettric pickups):
1st output. DI into PA System for acoustic bridge
2nd output. Boss FZ-2 Hyper Fuzz (used as clean booster for some solos)
Boss BF-2 Flanger
Boss CH-1 Super Chorus (or Boss CE-5 )
Boss TR-2 Tremolo
Boss DD-5 Digital Delay
A/B Switch Box (clean/dirty sound)
A (clean): 2 Trace Elliot Speed Twin C50 Combos into Marshall 1960 cabs (one stage left, one stage right) - sometimes, Fender Twin Reverbs are used instead
B (dirty): Switcher Rack - to amps: Vox AC-30 / Marshall JCM900 SLX Heads into Marshall 1960 Vintage Cab (one backup) / Orange AD30 Combo / Orange OTR Heads intro Orange 4x12
Amongst other FX pedals James Dean Bradfield is said to have used: Boss TR-2, Boss GE-7. He has also used a wah wah pedal in the past (circa 1994) possibly a Crybaby. Please note: sources mention the Boss CH-1 Super Chorus instead of the CE-5.
One of James Dean Bradfield's most important pedals is the Boss CS-3 compressor/sustainer, which Bradfield says makes his sound more "crystalline". He also uses a Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synthesizer for some solos and an E-Bow in songs such as Empty Souls and I Live To Fall Asleep from Lifeblood.
The amplifier and effects setup that James use has always been relatively simple. On Lifeblood, for instance, the principal amplifiers were the Fender Hot Rod DeVille 4 X 10, Conrnford Hurricane, and his old man Marshall JCM900 connected to an Orange cab. “I would have put it at the dustbin a long time ago, because it has this horrible metal sound of the 1980's, but I realized that the clean Channel sounded good, especially if you put a Boss distortion pedal in front of it. And I used a Line 6 Amp Farm, too. Because I played differently, sometimes it was quite simply simpler to use Amp Farm. It was a little a heresy for me, but with a good guitar sound, it is good. I tended to connect my ES-335 and that had a very good high output and that made all the difference”.
Besides's the Les Paul guitars, James Dean Bradfield has used quite a few different models in recent years: a Fender Thinline Telecaster that used to belong to Richey Edwards (used for Kevin Carter and played in open-G tune, DGDGBD).
He also uses a red Telecaster equipped with a humbucker and Hipshot Trilogy TMB-2, a Fender Jazzmaster sunburst (for My Little Empire, tuned EAEFAE) and a Gretsch G6120 - Chet Atkins Hollow Body - Orange Stain, used for Enola/Alone and Everything Must Go.
In studio - but not into live - he plays much on his Gibson ES-335 and white ES-330 with his favourite Gibson, the J45, for practically all the acoustic parts.
Other guitars less seen now, but also used include a Gibson Flying V white (for the solos of The Love Off Richard Nixon and Empty Souls), a jazz guitar manufactured by the violin maker John Voi, of Lincolnshire (on Emily), Gretsch White Falcon (idem), Guild Black Star of the 1960's and one new Fender Strat (both on Glasnost), Jerry Donahue Telecaster (on To Repel Ghosts) and a Burns 12-string (on the strident opening of the Lifeblood album, 1985): “Nick bought it to me right before the recording then it became a kind of talisman”.
He has also used a Rickenbacker 330 live.
The Holy Bible remains not only the Manics greatest moment, but James Dean Bradfield's finest moment as a guitarist and composer, having to match the complex lyrics by Richey Edwards with suitable music, pushing Bradfield's talents to extremes:
“The Holy Bible was the only other time where I had to re-conceive what I make. But at the time, one really needed it. Because if you hear a song like Yes or Faster, I felt a little voyeuristic …Obviously, Richey was on a misty line of thought on some of these songs. Sometimes I thought: 'There are too many bloody words there, how does this degenerate want me to write a song or guitar part to it? It was the only time where I considered my songwriting as a technical challenge in itself, to make that the music agrees to the words. In no case I could follow a method, like a method actor. To say that it resembled an academic exercise makes it cold, but I liked to do that. This album gave me such an amount of confidence. Once I did it, I could - in terms of pure musical quality - write a song on any words that one gave me - I wasn’t afraid of anything anymore.”
Nicky Wire - Bassist
Nicky Wire has played a variety of bass guitars in the past: Rickenbacker 4003 during Generation Terrorists, Gibson Thunderbird and Fender Jazz bass, but his favourite instrument these days is the Italia Maranello bass guitar. His favourite bass amps have always been by Ampeg (currently he stacks two SVT 810 cabs on top of each other)
Of course, the missing Manic Street Preachers lyricist Richey Edwards has never been known for playing his guitar too well (or at all) and he didn't care! But if you want to know, he used to play (or pose) onstage with a Gibson Les Paul standard, Fender Telecaster and, his trademark guitar if there was any - the Fender Thinline Telecaster.