This month we chose Scott Appleton, as our Unstrung Hero. Scott is currently the guitar tech for Phil Collen of Def Leppard. Last summer, he was teching for Alex Lifeson of Rush.
We started the Unstrung Hero award because we think a lot of the guitar techs and rig builders don’t get the attention they deserve despite how often they save the day. These hero’s contribute so much to today’s music! RJM Music Tech: Scott, we wanted to interview you for the Unstrung Hero because we think a lot of the guitar techs and rig builders don’t really get noticed but I think a lot of times you end up saving the day and doing a lot more than people realize.
Scott Appleton: Oh sometimes that’s a case, yeah, I agree.
RJM Music Tech: Well, tell us, how long have you been teching?
Scott Appleton: Gosh, ah, I’ve been teching on and off for about 15 to 20 years now.
RJM Music Tech: How did you get your first tech job?
Scott Appleton: I had a buddy of mine that was working with Frampton at the time and he was the drummer in my band, and he was looking for a guitar tech and he kind of sheepishly asked me if I’d be willing to do something like that.
RJM Music Tech: Wow, so you kind of went straight to a big?
Scott Appleton: Yea, I was fortunate, but didn’t take care of Peter himself, I took care Bob Mayo when he was still alive and John Regan the bass player.
RJM Music Tech: Who were some of the other people you’ve teched for?
Scott Appleton: I also teched with Alex Lifeson with Rush, Neal Schon with Journey, as well as I worked with B-52s, Styxs, Peter Franzen, lot of people you never heard of…
RJM Music Tech: And then besides being a tech I know you build pedals, right?
Scott Appleton: Yeah, I do build guitar pedals as well, yeah.
RJM Music Tech: What’s the name of your pedal line?
Scott Appleton: It’s called ‘Phi’ – P-H-I Electronics.
RJM Music Tech: What makes your pedals different or special?
Scott Appleton: I am also a player as well so I just kind of build stuff that I like. If there’s something out there that I can’t find, that I want, okay I’ll build it myself and then I usually wanted to build that for friends and you know this is kind of the way it took off.
RJM Music Tech: So do you have a website where you sell them online as well?
Scott Appleton: I don’t. I am actually in process to getting that going so I do sell them through my buddy’s store in Centerfield, California.
RJM Music Tech: What’s your typical day, week, month like for you as a tech?
Scott Appleton: Oh gees. This week, well let’s see, we have gone from South Dakota to St. Louis Missouri in one day. Typically we may be doing like anywhere from four to five shows a week, different locations all over the world. Show days we typically load in about noon and go till right up the shows down. Noon to midnight type scenario.
RJM Music Tech: So that means you being busy that whole 12 hours setting up gear, breaking down gear and…
Scott Appleton: Pretty much, yeah. We get in, start restringing in the morning right away, we’ll load our gear and start restringing guitars, get the rig setup, do a line check with the sound guys, then do a sound check with the band. Grab dinner. I am usually on stage well about an hour before the show starts getting guitars tuned up and making sure things are working right. Using Rush as an example, again it’s a three-hour show so you go until 11 o’clock and then you load everything out and before you know it’s midnight. And Def Leppard we have a little bit of break and then in the afternoon those guys don’t go on until 9:30 and they play until 11:00. But I am still out there usually an hour before the show making sure batteries are changed and fresh and the guitars [couldn’t make out] packs and tuning everything up and making sure everything is ready to go before the show starts.
RJM Music Tech: How do you get your next job, like when Def Leppard finishes the tour, what happens then?
Scott Appleton: 90% of it is word-of-mouth. It’s who you know in this business and your reputation that precedes you so you kind of earn and guard your reputation with…heavily out here because that’s what you live off of. A lot of times somebody like you finish up the one tour and they’ll go like, “Hey listen, we need somebody for this next tour, are you interested?” It’s all word-of-mouth; it’s all networking.
RJM Music Tech: How many days are you on the road a week or above typically a year?
Scott Appleton: I average probably anywhere from 6 to 9 months out of the year being on the road.
RJM Music Tech: Do you have any advice for a building rig, for those who don’t do it as often as you do?
Scott Appleton: Number one is good cable. It sounds like a simple thing but good cable is always a key to a good rig, especially if you had something larger because you can lose so much signal going through that cable, and obviously pick good quality products, you know, I am going to plug the RJM Music products, because they sound great …they work right. But choose a product that you need wisely and efficiently and try to figure out what…like in my scenario, working with different artists things change from every artist. I mean I have to kind of be a bit of a psychologist as well to try to figure out the way the artist approaches their tone and to build a rig that actually suits their needs. So I got to be a bit chameleon-like in your tone choices and things like that in my position but as far as building your own rig I would say yeah, number one, good cable, good amplifier obviously, then go from there.
RJM Music Tech: Cool, so, if someone out there wants to be a tech, is there anything you’d recommend? Cause I’m sure there’s some people out there with the intestinal fortitude to do it.
Scott Appleton: I always tell guys who are seeking to be guitar tech, you have to have three specific skill sets – you have to number one, be a part luthier. You need to understand guitars in the way they operate and how to get them to do what you need them to do. Number two, you also have to have a little electrical engineering in. You have to be able to fix things on the fly if need be because sometimes you are at a location where you can’t just run down and grab another backup amp or something like that. And then number three, I always tell guys you have to be part abnormal psychologist because you are working around a lot of unique individuals out here.
RJM Music Tech: What is the hardest and best part of being a tech?
Scott Appleton: Hardest – I don’t know. I enjoy this stuff. There’s nothing really so hard about it. Sometimes you have to kind of be a bit of psychic in order to figure out what an artist is looking for. I guess that could be a bit difficult sometimes. The best is when you walk away from a great show or just say ”God that was a fantastic show!” It’s a lot of fun, you know, and you make great friends out here and I get to play with rock star’s toys all day. So that’s the best part of the job.
RJM Music Tech: Now, the most important question is what was your biggest Super Hero moment when you saved the day for a band? Was there ever a time where there was something major that happened with equipment or something and you were able to use your skills like a super hero and fix it in time before it affected the show?
Scott Appleton: Oh gosh, I don’t know if I’d call it Super Hero, that’s a bit much. I don’t know. There’s those moments where you identify a problem very quickly and fix it very quickly like one moment comes to mind last year, in the middle of a Rush show all of a sudden the amp sort of sounded like it was just farting out and I had to change tubes in the amplifier in the preamp section of an amp between songs.
RJM Music Tech: Yeah, now that is Super Hero.
Scott Appleton: You get a good set of gloves so you don’t burn your fingers. But stuff like that or if a guitar breaks in the middle of the show you pull out your soldering iron while the artists are using a different guitar and hand if off to them two songs later or something like that but that…
RJM Music Tech: When the solder is still cooling…
Scott Appleton: Yes, exactly. Sometimes the solder isn’t even cold.
This next part of the interview is a transcript from the video done back stage with Scott Appleton a few months earlier when Scott was teching for Alex Lifeson of Rush. If you go to the RJM Music channel on youtube.com you can see this video in full.
It was really loud in the background so we did our best at transcribing it but you may want to watch it on youtube.com
RJM Music Tech: Cool, well, how about you run us the rig real quick, if that’s alright.
Scott Appleton: Basically, our rig starts with the IS-8s [Input Selector – 8 Loops)] from RJM Music. All of our wireless comes in through the IS-8 and distributed out to the rest of our gear. I’ve got two IS-8s in the rig: one operates for the electric guitars, and the other operates for the acoustic guitars. The acoustic guitar rig just goes through a Piezo pick-ups off the Les Pauls, runs through the (Aggasi, 3:20) and then runs through a (fishbourne/Morrison stores,) and then it goes out to the front of the house in the monitors. (Whatelse, 3:24) runs from the R-tech portals, through the IS-8, but then it gets distributed through the crybaby rack mount unit here, we actually run our volume pedal off that as well.
Then it goes to our in fire switchers, and basically the amplify switchers sends out the information to all the other amplifier heads around. From there it goes into a couple… access electronics, GRX-4 switchers which sends the signals to the gates and all the effects that you see in front of you. We’ve got a GC-1210, dual chorus unit, we’ve got 4 G-Forces. Intermixed, we set it up so that the top two are different delays. Alex likes to use two different delay times simultaneously at some point, so we’ve got two that exclusively do different delays. The third one’s kind of the catch-all, mainly it does reverb, but does some midshifting as well. The forth one is strictly a flanger program, so you can just kick it on or off whenever you just want that one particular (inaudible, 4:29). Now all those effects are actually run through just one head. All of our effects are one head on and two to the rig. So it runs through our top, here’s our governor head (points to top head). And the second one, the lower one, is dry, no effects on it at all. So it just runs in tandem, does all the switching as well. And then the third is a Ketner (4-way, 4:48), which he kind of just throws in as icing on the cake type amplifier. So like on the long tail out on the end of the solo on limelight where it’s a long delay, he’ll just kick it in on that and let it delay real loud. Or we may use it on a heavier kind of a new song, like BU2B, where he’s actually trying to get some heavier, more flangey type stuff in conjunction with some resonance. It’s just kind of that “extra man” on stage amplifier. It kind of gives that extra sound that the rest of the band doesn’t have. Then everything comes back to the (conger, 5:22) speaker simulator down here, and then on to the speaker cabinets on stage. We’ve also got a back-up head over here that can be run directly off of one of the IS-8 outfits. And if I ever need a back-up head, I got it right there and I just need to plug it in. We’ve got some wireless software on top, if you notice my computer here, it’s installed all my wireless channels, so I can have some visual representation of what’s going on… and that’s about it.
RJM Music Tech: Very cool, I like it, and I’ve actually got to pan over to this little bit of famousness here.
Scott Appleton: A considerable rack of toys, including Alex’s original 350 (???, 6:03)
RJM Music Tech: So that’s the original one, eh?
Scott Appleton: That’s the original. He’s loves this guitar. Arguably is his best sounding instrument.
RJM Music Tech: Yea, that is definite a famous ax right there. Scott Appleton: Yea everybody wants to know what his most famous guitar is, and I go here you go, right here.
RJM Music Tech: Oh yea, absolutely, no question, I could have guessed that one, but I’m surprised he’s still brining that one out there.
Scott Appleton: Well, it’s still his favorite guitar and it’s different than the rest of them. It has an exceptionally small neck compared to the rest of his guitars, particularly like his Les Paul, Floyd. It’s got a huge neck on it. It’s like an old 59 Les Paul. And this one’s got like a Rickenbacker size neck on it, it’s just tiny. And actually, Alex has got some huge hands, so I’m surprised he feels comfortable on the instrument, but he loves it, it’s his favorite.
RJM Music Tech: For a lot of years he never played it though.
Scott Appleton: No, for a lot of years he didn’t have it out, I understand. But now, getting older, he doesn’t want to bring the double neck out, so you bring that one out instead.
RJM Music Tech: Right on, I imagine that’s got to be murder. So, let’s see, Les Paul, Les Paul, PRS, Les Paul, PRS, Telly, and a couple more Les Pauls. So he’s definitely back in the Gibson camp these days… firmly.
Scott Appleton: Whole Heatedly.
RJM Music Tech: Well Scott, thanks for letting us come back here. Scott Appleton: My pleasure, and thanks for comin’ to hang out.