WAY N E K R A N T Z I S A G U I TA R I S T ’ S
guitarist’s guitarist. He is a true innovator in
nearly every aspect of guitar playing—melody,
harmony, rhythm, tone, composition, improvisation,
and groove—yet his rather deep music
is immediately fun and accessible. And while
Krantz has worked with a long string of fusion
celebrities since his solo debut Signals was
released in 1990, his music cannot simply be
categorized as fusion, and his name is not widely
known. That’s largely because rather than trying
to produce music that fits easily into market
niches, he has thoughtfully and methodically
sought out new solutions to the hard questions
that music continually asks him.
Krantz’s sonic originality and mastery of
groove were rewarded in 1996, when he was
offered a gig touring the world in the reactivated
Steely Dan. From 1995 through 2007,
he established a residency at New York’s 55
Bar in Greenwich Village, which served as a
laboratory for the development of his trio sound
as he collaborated with various bassists and
drummers. His An Improviser’s OS, a guitar
method setting forth a simple and unique
approach to breaking free of the patterns that
guitarists tend to be confined by due to unconscious
habits, was published in 2005.
For the past 15 years Krantz’s uncompromising
music has mostly been available only as
CDs and downloads of live recordings sold on
his Web site (waynekrantz.com), but in 2009
he returned to the studio with longtime collaborators
drummer Keith Carlock and bassist Tim
Lefebvre to record Krantz Carlock Lefebvre
[Abstract Logix], a groundbreaking record which
surprises and rewards listeners at every turn.
Krantz’s main guitars are a slightly modified
Tyler Studio Elite, a ’67 Fender Telecaster, and
a Tacoma DM14C steel-string acoustic. He plays
through a Marshall 2553 head with a Matt Wells
2x12 cab, and a ’64 Fender Deluxe with a Bogner
2x12 cab. His pedalboard sports a Moogerfooger
MF-102 ring modulator, a Dunlop Crybaby Classic
wah, a Sobbat Drive Breaker Four, a Loooper
bypass box, a Radial Switchbone, and an Alesis
Microverb, along with Boss DD-3 delay, OC-2
octave, BD-2 overdrive (with Analog Man mods),
RV-5 reverb, and TU-2 pedals. Krantz uses both
Fender medium picks and his fingers to pluck
D’Addario EXL 110 strings.
Share some thoughts about rhythm, time, meter,
and groove on guitar, and how you apply them within
Placement is power. Also, placement is not
a mysterious “feel” thing. It’s knowing where
the center of the beat is and placing the note
accordingly. Good placement is intentional.
Bad placement is gestural. Rhythmic imagination
and melodic imagination are either the
same thing or almost the same thing. As for
groove, even if the guitar isn’t invited to the
bass and drum club, it can still crash the party.
Interaction means giving up your own agenda
to some degree. The more preconceived stuff
you bring to the table, the less interacting you’ll
do. Interaction means sort of “giving it up for
the band,” as in any relationship, maybe. To me, the results are worth it in terms of keeping
everything as fresh as possible.
You are both a champion and a master of sounding
like yourself, something dealt with elegantly
in your book. In that most readers will likely never
see your book, share something that might inspire
them to sound more like themselves.
I’m still hoping they’ll see my book. Imagine
if everyone reading this bought a copy
from my Web site—I’d be able to make my
own studio records for the next ten years. Or
live in Tokyo or London for five. Or buy a Les
Paul. I’m not sure it’s important that everybody
sound more like themselves. I’d like to
think what I do can inspire someone to try
to be more creative in whatever it is they do,
which in turn could lead to a more personal
expression of that thing. But many musicians
work in contexts that demand a re-creation
of something that’s already happened. Their
gig depends on playing convincingly in a certain
style and anything outside that will
probably be perceived as wrong. Most gigs
in the world are like that, and if all musicians
suddenly became idiosyncratic, all music
would grind to a halt as everybody struggled
to reassess what the hell they were doing.
It’s not necessary that everyone try to reinvent
the wheel, just that some people
continue to. I guess we could always use a
few more of those, but everyone has their
place in this thing. I will say this: In any context,
no matter how rigid, even a couple of
notes can go a long way towards making a
player feel free, and, in turn, making a listener
feel free. Maybe just a modest moment
of inspiration, or maybe a more significant
event in somebody’s experience or direction—
there’s no telling what the impact could
be. I think it’s worth trying to maximize the
chances of something like that happening in
whatever way I can. Why not?
you bring to the
table, the less
Rather than presenting a limited amount of
prescribed material to learn, your book outlines
an open-ended practice regime that seems to be
more about discovery—but discovery of what?
Discovery of what you really have to say,
once you stop basing everything you play on
what you and your hands know. The book
is open-ended because anything comprehensive
would have to be. That’s the true nature
of music and of improvising. It’s not something
to be learned, it’s an endeavor.
There are myriad guitar sounds on the album.
I sense that these are not a bunch of pre-determined
timbres, and that you are discovering the
sounds in flight, both as you improvise and as you
approach each composition.
Preparing guitar sounds at home never
worked for me. The pedals sound different to
me every time I step on them. It used to bother
me, now I embrace it. The guitar sound has so much to do with the drum sound, the bass
sound, the room, the audience—and ignoring
all that would isolate me from what I’m
trying to interact with. It’s not the most commercial
attitude, but there’s some artistic
precedent for it. And it makes for a wider array
of sonics on a disc like this, recorded over the
course of a week. All my favorite records are
like that. It can sound unnatural to me if the
guitar sound is uniform.
Regarding expression through tone, how
do you arrive at a particular kind and amount of
distortion—hands, pedal, amp, speaker, or ... ?
I mostly use the amp. The Marshall is
almost always set on rhythm crunch and if
I need more I either up the gain or add a
pedal. For this record I also wanted a cleaner
clean sound so I turned the Deluxe down to
about half, but it’s often on 10 with lots of gain
going into it. None of this is very smart or efficient
but it gets the job done. I twist knobs
and stomp on boxes until the distortion sounds
the way it needs to in the moment. If I can’t
get it immediately I give up and either go
with it anyway or back off the idea. A lot of
it is luck or something like it. Hand-wise,
I’m playing more melodically now so it’s easier
to dig in the right way for distortion. I
used to have a jazzier touch that I picked up
in college when I was playing more linear
stuff. It was hard to get that to sound right
with the fuzz. Wait, what am I saying? Everything’s
How does the wah pedal fit into your sound?
Is it a vocally expressive thing?
It’s probably my favorite pedal. It’s a corny
sound, but so funky and wide, frequencywise.
I connected with it early on. I don’t
relate it to a vocal thing. I use it to underline
rhythmic and melodic ideas, and as a
tone control. It’s also an instant funk button
in a way, if there can be such a thing.
Some people simply hear it as that old sound
they’re familiar with and don’t listen any
deeper, but others get in there with what I’m
actually doing with it. As with all pedals,
there will be a day when I put it away for
good. But I’ll miss it particularly.
The ring modulator is an area where most guitarists—
especially those with lots of technique and
ideas—usually fear to tread. For quite a few years
now you have been using it a lot. What’s your
approach and what are your thoughts on this effect?
Matt Wells turned me on to it years ago.
I found a few zones on it that were useful
and more or less stuck with them. I can get
bored with the sound of the guitar, so it’s
good to have at least one non-guitar sound
to go to—though that can get boring too. I
like the tonal randomness of it, but also the
tonal choices you can make with it. It’s
organic and funky sounding like the wah—
and also funny like the wah.
Do you feel more like a drummer when you are
in ring mod territory?
Either that or I try to deal with it melodically.
As with the delay I never really know
what’s going to come out of the box when I
hit it. Whatever it is, I try to make it music or
tweak it if there’s time, which there usually
isn’t. The chance element is significant and
some nights are just doomed to “wrongness.”
It has an energy cycle, like everything seems
to, but somehow the uncertainty of it feels
right, even though it sounds bad sometimes.
It’s like playing—you try to get better at making
all the surprises good ones. It was a lot of
trial and error for a long time down in that little
club, but we came out of there with some
pretty strong solutions to the age-old question,
“What the hell do we do now?”