OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS, the face of straightforward rock and roll has
been painted on Nickelback like Maybelline on Kiss. Guitar wise, this
isn’t brain surgery or 20-minute solos. What Nickelback brings to the
table are solid, memorable riffs, and the band doesn’t apologize for
writing hit songs. It’s what they do, and they’re really, really good at
it. Since 2001’s Silver Side Up, Nickelback has sold more than 17
million records. Vocalist/guitarist Chad Kroeger and co-guitarist Ryan
Peake are especially proud of their latest disc, All The Right Reasons
[Roadrunner]—the song “Photograph” was a top five iTunes download for
several weeks—but they’re even more jacked about the guitar sounds
they’ve weaved throughout the opus.
How did the band approach All The Right Reasons?
Peake: We’re contributing more as a band. Chad is a prolific writer, and he brought in finished songs for the last few albums. But, this time, we wrote a lot of the songs in the studio. Many times, Chad will say something like, “‘Rockstar’ is done, but we need a bridge.” So I’ll go in and write a bridge. We all had Pro Tools setups, which was really handy, because it’s hard to work out ideas or interpret them when everyone is working intensely on something else. With Pro Tools, I could get my ideas recorded before I forgot them, and then add them to a rough mix for everyone to hear—when the band was ready to listen. The process was very fluid that way. Chad’s riffs are usually the guts of the songs, and I like to kind of paint in some melodies on top.
Kroeger: This is the most time we’ve ever put into a record—seven months. One of the main things we started doing was using three or four different tunings within the context of one song, because we wanted to get as many open strings ringing as possible. The less flesh on the fretboard, the better the sound. We wanted big chords with tons of sustain. What took the most time was getting the guitars perfectly in tune. Even if a guitar is perfectly intonated, it will be slightly out of tune in places as you move around the fretboard. We were going through this, and things just weren’t singing on tape. We weren’t getting this orchestral texture, so that’s why we stared experimenting with different tunings. Of course, you can hear out-of-tune guitars on monster records that have charted 20 million sales, so there you go. It bothered us, though.
How did you craft your guitar sounds?
Peake: I have four or five Gibson Les Pauls, and I recently started getting into Flying Vs and Explorers. I play through a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier for distortion sounds—that amp is incredibly thick—and I use a Fender Twin Reverb for clean tones. Live, I’ll also mix in one of the Vox Valvetronix amps at times, and I count on the guy out front to mix the different sounds.
Kroeger: I have six PRS Singlecuts with stock PRS 7 pickups in various tunings. I also have a PRS Hollowbody II, a PRS Archtop, and two Yamaha CJX32 acoustics. For my dirty tones, I use two Mesa/Boogie “Triple Rectum Fryers” [Triple Rectifiers]. One head is plugged into a Mesa/Boogie 4x12 cabinet, and the other is plugged into a Marshall 1960 4x12. For clean tones, it’s a Fender Twin Reverb modified by M.I.N.E. in Tsawwassen, British Columbia, to function as a head only. The [external] speaker cabinet is a Tone Tubby 2x12. I also use a Vox AC30 into a Vox 2x12 cabinet. Both the Vox and the Fender are running simultaneously. Effects are pretty minimal. I typically use a Boss Boss NS-2 Noise Supressor, a Boss TR-2 Tremolo, a Boss CH-1 Super Chorus, a Boss BF-3 Flanger, a Heil Sound Talkbox, and a CryBaby wah. My wireless is a Shure system with four receivers, and I use a Tour Supply switcher to change guitars on the fly. There’s also a Furman IT1230 Balanced Isolation Transformer, and I use a Mesa/Boogie High Gain Amp Switcher to select the clean or dirty amps.
How has your guitar playing evolved from Nickelback’s first album in 1996?
Kroeger: It has deteriorated. Do you hear anything challenging on our records? Truth be told, you can play 4,000 notes and not impress anyone—especially jaded guitar players. You know what they say: “I could have done it faster. I could have done it better.” Whatever. My philosophy is to lay down something that’s going to stick in somebody’s head. That’s when you’re laying down a lead that’s worth laying down. Instead of taking a “look at me” stance, I want to play solos that people can sing along with. Listen to Angus Young—you can sing every one of his solos. I can tap four strings simultaneously, but why I sat in my bedroom for years and learned how to do that is beyond me. You know, if I could pay the bills writing metal, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But there aren’t enough people out there who want to hear Metallica riffs coming out of me.
How did Billy Gibbons end up on “Follow You Home”? I wouldn’t necessarily put Nickelback and him in the same room.
Kroeger: I think you would. Nickelback and ZZ Top are two rock bands. Billy told us he was a big fan, and that was the biggest ego boost in the world. I mean, the dude was Jimi Hendrix’s favorite guitar player. He was unbelievably cool. He walked into the studio with this guitar and said, “I’m holding in my hand a Gretsch guitar. There are only two of them on the planet, both of which were made for Bo Diddley [Editor’s note: This is the 1959 Jupiter Thunderbird. See the September ’05 GP for the whole story]. He gave one of these to me in the ’70s, so I thought I should lay down this solo with it.” Then he slammed the guitar on the mixing console—it didn’t even have a strap on it—strummed it a few times to make sure it was in tune, and said, “Let’s go.” I thought, “Will somebody please hit Record for this man!”
“Side of a Bullet” includes a solo by Dimebag Darrell. How did that come about?
Kroeger: Dime and I worked together on the “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” cover with Kid Rock for the Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle soundtrack. We also threw up together several times. I called Vinnie [Paul, Dimebag’s brother] to play him a riff that was inspired by Dime, and he said, “Chad, I want you to write a song about my brother.” I told him that was why I was calling, and I wanted his blessing. Then I asked if we could have some excerpts of stuff Dime laid down on Far Beyond Driven and Vulgar Display Of Power. He sent us boatloads of his playing, and we got to pick and choose the stuff we liked to assemble this great guitar solo. When I muted everything but his solos, and heard nothing but his fingers and pick hitting the strings, the chill that went down my spine was out of this world. It was intense. We were elated when Vinnie gave us his stamp of approval.