On The Up
Darkness and dynamics from a new light in British blues
“It’s more about touching the string than hitting it.... letting the string do the work”
The guitar is a fine tool for exorcising anxiety, but sometimes it’s worth reminding yourself of its capacity for nuance. UK bluesman John J Presley started off in a flurry of Black Keys-ian fuzz riffs, but after a stint as Duke Garwood’s guitarist he has learned to admire subtlety, too.
“I think the first thing is space and drone or sustain,” he tells TG of his technique. “You know if you’ve got a really fuzzed-up sound and you absolutely hammer it? You almost hear the percussion of it? I think I’ve lost that and it’s more about touching the string than hitting it. Stroking the strings rather than strumming. That’s what I do now: quite high gain fuzz and pushing the pre amps and the power valve, but then just touching it gently and letting the string do the work.”
That’s not to say Presley isn’t capable of a punching blues line, it’s just there’s room for both ends of the dynamic spectrum in his playing. Recent single True Lovewaits resonates with thundering hum, before the clouds burst into a rather scorching – but tastefully brief – solo section.
“I used my Telecaster on that,” recalls John. “It’s a actually a really weird Telecaster. It’s got a hollowfeeling body and it’s incredibly resonant. It’s got a Monty’s PAF in the neck so it’s pretty honking! It’s quite a high gain setting – going to a WEM with the boost on and just glancing the strings.”
The first taste from an album due early next year, Truelovewaits was recorded as it was written – another example of Presley’s innate desire to push his playing and writing.
“I didn’t feel any pressure at that point to do anything,” John contemplates. “I wish I felt like that all of the time. I wasn’t trying to sound like anything. It was just very natural and true.”
For fans of Duke Garwood, Black Keys
GEAR Hofner President, WEM Dominator, Selmer Zodiac