ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE EARLY ’90S, THEN -
Eric Gales was the next “next Jimi Hendrix.”
That complimentary yet unenviable comparison was
probably inevitable for a black lefty rocking the blues on
a righty Fender Stratocaster flipped upside-down. But
in Gales’ case the comparisons have always been drawn
deeper than black or white, left or right. Since he was
a child, Gales has demonstrated a Hendrix-like natural
command of the electric guitar.
Although Gales was born right-handed, he learned
to play left-handed, without reversing the order of the strings, while growing up in
Memphis. “I saw my family
members play that way,” he
recalls. “But what it meant
didn’t register. And no one
placed a guitar in my hands.
I just picked it up, and that’s
what felt comfortable. It was
just in the genes.”
The young guitarist was also
heavily influenced by gospel
music. “Another thing that
reminds people of Hendrix is
just me channeling what I grew
up listening to in church with
my parents and grandparents,”
he says. Old timey gospel and
traditional blues are exactly the same musically.
Only the words are different.”
Gales has always preferred his blues on
the rocks, but he’s never sounded heavier
than with his new supergroup, Pinnick
Gales Pridgen, featuring King’s X bassist
and vocalist dUg Pinnick and former Mars
Volta member Thomas Pridgen on drums.
If you imagine that would sound like a classic
blues-rock power trio pumped up on
progressive metal—you’re right.
Their eponymous debut on Gales’ longtime
recording home Magna Carta is a case
of label and artist working together. Magna
Carta honcho Peter Morticelli and his partner
Mike Varney dreamed up the team, and
Varney’s sonic choices as producer further
fortified the metallic foundation on Pinnick
Gales Pridgen. The band had not yet toured
at press time—Gales performs with Lauryn
Hill and his own band—but were already
beginning work on a follow-up record at
Prairie Sun Studios near San Francisco.
What aspects of a guitar make you feel
I feel most at home on a Strat-style
guitar with slightly hotter than stock single-
coil pickups. I generally prefer the
sweet tone of a rosewood fretboard, but
I’ll go for a maple one when I want something
brighter. I like my action low, and
my tremolo to float, with a half-step pullback
for raising pitch. I don’t want to take
it further than that because sometimes I
rest the heel of my palm way back on the
bridge and I’ll inadvertently raise the pitch
of the entire guitar.
What guitars do you use in the studio
and on the road?
I use the same gear in the studio and
onstage. My main guitars are a St. Blues
Blindsider loaded with standard Seymour
Duncan single-coils, a ’62 Strat with the
same Duncans, and my signature Magneto
Sonnet Raw Dawg, which has three Lollar
Vintage Blackface pickups and a slightly
smoother sound. I also just got a Magneto
Velvet, and although humbuckers are not
usually my thing, the special Dave Stephens
pickups they put in it sound great pushing
my signature Two-Rock amp.
Can you describe what you go for as
your core amp tone?
I like my basic tone to be hotter than
a Fender but not as hot as a Marshall. My
Two-Rock Signature has two channels
and the dirty channel sounds fantastic—
but I predominantly use the clean channel
on the 100-watt version, and I boost
that with pedals.
What boosters do you prefer, and how
do you set the controls?
My main booster is my signature edition
of the E.W.S. Brute Drive, which is
kind of midway between an overdrive and a
fuzz, and sounds edgy without being acidic
or having too much high end. It gives me
great, smooth sustain without breaking up very much. I keep the Brute
on most of the time. I set
the Volume control around
12 o’clock, Gain at about 5
o’clock, and Tone around
10 o’clock. I very rarely use
the extra boost. I adjust
the volume on my guitar to
achieve tonal variations. For
more distorted, Big Muff-style
sounds, I click off the Brute
and click on the Mojo Hand
FX Colossus Fuzz. You can
hear that throughout “Lascivious”
and “Black Jeans.”
What other pedals do you
I use Dunlop’s MC404 CAE Wah a lot.
I like how it can produce a woofy, Morleylike
wah sound, or a great traditional wah
sound in the treble range. I keep a Tech 21
Boost D.L.A. on all the time with the wet
signal loud enough to be heard without
sounding washed out or cloudy. I appreciate
both digital and analog delay sounds,
and the Tech 21 sits nicely between the
two. I use a TC Electronic delay for reverse
sounds like the one at the very start of “Collateral
How did you get the big flange sound
near the end of “Angels and Aliens?”
That’s an MXR EV Flanger. It sounds huge.
Most of your stuff sounds deeper than
standard tuning, and some of the PGP
material sounds extra deep.
I drop my tuning down a half-step below
standard because I like the beefier tone and
because it makes it easier on my vocals.
From there, I drop the low string a wholestep
on a handful of songs including PGP’s
cover of “Sunshine of Your Love.” We experimented
with quite a few lowered tunings
on Pinnick Gales Pridgeon because dUg is a
big fan. On “Hate Crime” my whole guitar
is dropped two steps below standard. I’d
never tried going that low before.
How did the sessions go down?
We did the whole thing in two and a half
weeks. We tracked the basics live, and then
dUg and I fleshed them out with overdubs.
Mike [Varney] ran Pro Tools and just let us
do our thing. I prefer to create songs in the
studio on the fly starting from a groove.
dUg had songs prepared, but that doesn’t
mean we didn’t collaborate on them.
The solo electric guitar instrumental
“For Jasmine” is interesting because you
expound on a familiar Beethoven theme
with an accuracy and arrangement that
bring Eric Johnson to mind.
Eric Johnson is my number one technical
influence. I’ve probably tried to imitate
every aspect of his technique, particularly
his amazing accuracy, which is what really
struck me when I first heard him. I don’t like
the little picks he uses to achieve it, though.
I use the butt end of a regular, medium pick
because a thin pick is too thin, and a heavy
is too heavy. The butt of a medium allows
exactly the control I want. On “For Jasmine,”
Johnson’s influence appears in the pattern
where I play a little bit, put a chord behind
it, and repeat in a free-flowing style.
Your melodic parts sound relatively
“normal,” but your chords can sound
distinctly different. That’s probably
because most players find root notes on
the bottom two strings and incorporate
various suspended voicings by letting
the high-pitched strings ring out. How
does that work in reverse?
The concept is similar. I can hear the
kind of chords you’re talking about from
a right-handed player and find them playing
lefty without a problem—but my flow
is upside-down. The same open strings are
ringing out over the top, but I have to root
my chords differently.
Do you have any favorite melodic and
harmonic elements in general?
My safe havens are melodic and harmonic
minor, which I try to apply to everything.
Did you have any reservations about going
down the power trio road that’s been travelled
so often since Hendrix and Cream?
No. We covered Cream, but we didn’t
really consider it until afterwards. We didn’t
do a Hendrix song because it’s so difficult to
get permission. Well, I mean they wanted a
ridiculous amount of money.
Would you care to share some parting
thoughts on Hendrix?
Hendrix blows my mind. To be mentioned
in the same sentence as him is one of the
highest compliments in the world. But the
reason I get compared to him so heavily is
not because I have a sole fascination with
him. It’s more of a fascination with lots of
players who were influenced by Hendrix—
from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robin Trower
to Frank Marino and Joe Bonamassa.
I’m no Hendrix clone. I draw on my own
experiences, and my church upbringing was
hugely influential. Everything I do has some
kind of gospel-based feel. But I’ve managed
to find a way to work it into blues-rock. The
world gets to hear that one particular thing,
but I like to play all kinds of different styles.
What do you feel is the most original
aspect of your guitar playing?
My spontaneity—what I play off the
top off my head—and that’s especially true
onstage. My live performance incorporates
every aspect of who I’ve come to be today.