Jon Durant has enjoyed a multifaceted career that has included a stint at Berklee, a gig as marketing manager
for Lexicon in the early ’90s (where he also served as “demo
guy” for the Vortex morphing processor and the JamMan looping
delay), founder of Alchemy Records in 1996, session guitarist
on various projects, and recording artist with seven notable
solo albums under his belt.
Durant’s playing is rooted in the more textural and exotic
end of progressive rock—David Torn and Robert Fripp spring to
mind—and his deft use of effects is a hallmark of his sound, particularly
when creating what he calls “cloud guitars.” “When I
talk about cloud guitars, I mean that all of the sounds hang in
the air like clouds, with no discernable beginning or ending,” he
says. “I use a volume pedal and different combinations of reverb,
delay, and sometimes harmonizer to create atmospheric sounds
that evolve over time.”
The guitarist’s latest release, Burnt Belief [Alchemy], is an
instrumental collaboration with bassist Colin Edwin of Porcupine
Tree fame. The ambient-tinged prog-rock outing is infused with
rhythmic and melodic colorings from around the globe—particularly
the Middle East—and features a panoply of intriguing guitar
tones and textures, in addition to Edwin’s creative bass and electronic
programming, and contributions from hand percussionist
Jerry Leake and flautist Geoff Leigh.
Was collaborating with Colin Edwin on this album an outgrowth of working
with him on the last one?
Yes. We had such a great experience recording my album Dance
of the Shadow Planets that when I asked him if he’d like to collaborate
on a project he said, “Start writing.” My original ideas were
too close to the previous record, but he began playing around with
them to see if he could take them into a different zone.
How did he do that?
It varied, from adding rhythm programming and bass lines to
pieces that began with only ethnic percussion, to using a Boss
SL-20 Slicer pedal to generate rhythmic bits by chopping up my
cloud guitar parts, which he’d then use to construct rhythm tracks.
Conversely, he would send ideas to me to develop. We were both
working in Apple Logic, so we sent parts back and forth between
here and the U.K., developing and finessing them until we had
enough pieces that we were both happy with. The other musicians
recorded their parts at the end of the process.
What guitars did you play on the record and why?
I’ve got four PRS electrics that are quite similar on the surface,
but sound remarkably different. The one I used the most is a 20th
Anniversary Custom 22 that is set up for dropped-D tuning, and
has a Roland GK1 Hexaphonic pickup affixed to it. It has a really
big sound and lots of sustain. I’ve always been a 24-fret guy, but
a few years ago I wanted something a little chunkier, and I found
that one. The other guitar I used was a Limited Edition Custom
22 Semi-Hollow. You can hear it on “Arching Toward Morning,”
where I get a jazzy sound that bounces off my Takamine acoustic
12-string really nicely. The other two are a 2010 Experience
24, which has a solid rosewood neck, and a standard Custom 24, which I didn’t use on the record.
Why did you put the hex pickup on the guitar
you keep in dropped-D tuning?
I experimented with several guitars and it
worked the best with that one. When I had
the pickup installed, however, the tech didn’t
want to drill holes in such a nice guitar, so he
built a custom pickup surround that houses
it along with the bridge pickup.
Do you play in any other non-standard tunings?
No. And the main reason I keep that
one set up for dropped-D is that I use that
tuning a lot, and with a floating trem it takes
too long to switch between it and standard
tuning because of the difference in tension.
Also, my trems are all set up to pull up a
whole step on the first string, and I have a
few bars that sit higher and extend longer
What guitar synths did you use?
I’ve got a Roland GI-10 MIDI converter
that I use with the EXS24 sampler in Logic,
though a lot of the samples, including Turkish
Ney, are from my old Akai sampler. I also
used Arturia’s MiniV Minimoog emulation
in a few spots.
Did you play through an amp to get the nonsynth
Yes, my Mesa Boogie Mark V. I put an
MXL ribbon mic on it up close, and also had
a Shure SM57 up high about four feet away
You put the SM57 away from the amp and the
other mic up close? That’s the reverse of the typical
The primary focus was the ribbon. All
the 57 did was capture the ambience with
that strange character it gives you. Another
thing I do that some people find weird is
to print the effects rather than a dry guitar
track, because the effects are an essential
part of my sound.
What were some of those effects?
I use the Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone
compressor to get maximum sustain and
feedback. It is extremely clean and produces
lots of sustain without your even noticing
it is on. Another exceedingly cool pedal is
the Dwarfcraft Devices Bit Mangler fuzzbox,
which I used on a few tracks. For example, at
the end of the solo on “The Weight of Gravity”
it went into self-oscillation and I used its
onboard joystick to manipulate the pitch of
that. I also used a Godlyke G-Wah on that song.
Is that how you got that early-’70s Fripp sound?
Yes, that’s the Bit Mangler going through the
wah. Most people put the wah before the fuzz,
but Fripp was one person who didn’t, and you
can get some incredibly cool sounds that way.
You’re also using a ring modulator on some
That’s the Moogerfooger MF-102 Ring
Modulator, and I used it quite a bit, though
mostly for cloud guitar parts. I avoid using
it for other things because, let’s face it—
Wayne Krantz already won that race [laughs].
What about rack effects?
I have an old Lexicon MPX 1. The reverbs
are incredibly lush, and the pitch-shifter
can handle more than one note without freaking out. For example, when I set it for
a fourth down and play chords they sound
glorious. I have an expression pedal connected
to the MPX 1 so I can swell effects
such as reverb and delay in and out and
really make them significant parts of the
I also have an original JamMan, which
to me is still the simplest looping device—
although more often than not I use it in
Echo mode, which is a long delay. I set it so
that parts slowly fade out as new ones are
being added, so the sound is always evolving.
That’s how I create most of the clouds, rather
than recording loops, which are static. That
said—I just got a Pigtronix Infinity Looper,
which I’m really excited about.
What sort of strings and picks do you prefer?
I string my electrics with Dean Markley
Blue Steels gauged .010 to .046, and I use
stone picks made by Picks and Stones. I have
several sizes and shapes, but generally I prefer
smaller ones with rounded ends. I like stone
because it doesn’t make that clacking sound
that plastic makes.
Do you play the acoustic 12-string with a
Yes, but a much larger one called a Min’d
Pick that was made in the ’70s.
Do you ever play without a pick?
Sometimes I’ll use my fingers in addition
to the pick. I mostly do that while playing
chords, though I’ll occasionally do it while
soloing just to vary the attack on certain notes.
I also play with an EBow, and sometimes I’ll
do strange things like banging it against the
strings to get rhythmic effects, or bobbing it
up and down over whichever pickup is active,
which produces some really messy noises.
Were there any happy accidents along the way
while recording the album?
During the solo on “Impossible Senses”
you’ll hear an artificial harmonic that was the
result of my shirtsleeve accidentally hitting
the string in just the right spot at just the
right time. I’ll never be able to do that again.
Was there an underlying theme when you began
working on Burnt Belief, and if so, did the completed
album embody it?
Yes and no. The name embodies a theme
that recurred in many discussions that Colin
and I had, but the music wasn’t composed
programmatically or anything like that. We
just became fascinated by different belief
systems that people get wrapped up in,
which are, quite frankly, insane. For example,
end-of-the-world scenarios such as the
whole Mayan calendar thing. They happen
over and over again, but you know what?
We’re still here.