Steve Bargonetti on Hair Then and Now

October 1, 2009

WHEN THE “AMERICAN TRIBAL LOVE-ROCK MUSICAL” HAIR first appeared on Broadway in 1968, it resounded with guitar tones decidedly more ’50s than ’60s—consisting largely of clean rhythm “chucks.” For the recent revival, director Diane Paulus wanted to shift the sound into a more appropriate decade. “She said, ‘We need to bring a little more of the Hendrix element into this show. How would you feel about being the Jimi Hendrix archetype?’,” relates Steve Bargonetti, the show’s lead guitarist. “I told her, ‘That’s my middle name,’ because Hendrix was one of my inspirations.”

In the on-stage band, rhythm guitarist Andrew Schwartz holds down the original parts, while Bargonetti adds riffs reflecting Hendrix’s blues and R&B roots, as well as something that was not in the original show—a Jimi-esque version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” His guitar reflects the spirit, if not the letter, of Hendrix lore. “I use a Telecaster that Fender customized for me. I had them put in a Strat whammy bar and reverse the headstock.” A Seymour Duncan mini-humbucker in the neck gets the jazz and R&B tones, while a Noiseless Tele pickup in the bridge deals with the theater lights.

To get all the tones required—at Broadway-approved volume—Bargonetti uses an anachronistic Korg Pandora multieffects unit. “I programmed the patches so you can get any sound available with pedals,” he asserts. “I have it Velcroed to a monitor, close enough to my right hand to switch through the programs in consecutive order.” Bargonetti has used the same Pandora playing shows from The Full Monty to The Color Purple. The one that runs into his ’65 Fender Twin Reissue is not the PX5D, but rather the previous PX4D. “That’s the one to get if you want the warmer sound,” insists Bargonetti.

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