IT’S NOT UNUSUAL TO HEAR GUITARISTS WITH TECHNICAL proficiency these days. It’s also pretty easy to find players with great
tone. It’s less common to come across players who write great tunes, but
we still have lots of examples of that. But guitarists who can unnerve
you with their playing, and startle, scare, or even disturb you—well,
that’s fairly rare indeed. The early blues guys could do it, and there certainly
have been glimpses of it since, but it definitely seems like that
kind of guitar playing just doesn’t happen often enough. Which is what
makes Wilson T King so special. Along with the chops, the tones, and
the tunes, he has the ability to frighten you with his 6-string work. “I
call it the vortex,” says the Brit guitar slinger. “If you’re going to play like that, you’ve got to go someplace genuine
and it’s got to be a little bit dark.”
That dark place is where you’ll find
King’s massive, Strat-into-Marshall tones,
huge bends, righteous vibrato, and furious
explosions of future-blues emotion that will
spin your head around and keep you up at
night. His latest, The Last of the Analogues
[19MilesHighMedia], is a trippy, psychedelic
tour de force that will surely appeal
to fans of Band of Gypsys, Jeff Beck, Radiohead,
and honest, gut-level guitar.
What were you going for on The Last of the
My first record, Follow Your First Mind,
was more of an experiment. For this one I
brought in a lot of the production skills I
learned over the years working with indie
bands. Songwriting became a little more
important on this record. I think it’s darker,
I think it’s more widescreen, and I think it’s
got a bigger message. I found more spaces
for the guitar to breathe in, free of what’s
come before, which I think is really important
for the guitar to survive as a contemporary
art form. That’s why I did it: out of
a love for the guitar. I can’t express that
Are these physical or sonic spaces, or are
they more cerebral?
I’m speaking more of emotional/cerebral
spaces. This is the problem I have with
the clone players. They’re all technically
brilliant and they’ve spent their 10,000
hours of practice, but they’re not creating
new spaces to play over. If you think
of it in terms of a physical space, it’s like a
room filled with monuments to Jimi Hendrix,
Duane Allman, Albert King, Freddie
King, SRV—it’s a very packed space. Why
do I want to try to work in there? Let’s try
to find some new areas.
How did you get that ridiculous sustain
when the electric guitar comes in on “This
Mountain of Fire”?
I was using an old Sovtek Big Muff, the
green one. That was cranked, the Marshall
was cranked. It took a few goes for that solo
to come into place and I just had to let go.
If you’d seen me playing it you’d call the
psych ward people in the white coats. I was
really on edge playing it, trying to tap into
that emotion. But that note you’re asking
about just happened. It was nice to do that take and think, “Wow, I think I nailed it.”
There are actually a few mistakes in that
take that weren’t in others, but I wanted
to keep it because of the emotion.
Is that your old Strat on that cut?
Yeah it’s the same guitar for the whole
album: a ’69 Strat with a DiMarzio Fast
Track in the bridge. My technique is in
my fingers. I can get a lot of tones out of
What was your acoustic and how did you
That’s a Guild from the mid ’90s in stereo.
It was a mistake how I got that sound. I had
a reverb on it and somehow I had bussed
it to another reverb with a slight delay. I
didn’t realize what I had done for a couple
of weeks but I thought it sounded brilliant.
I think the mic was a Rode Classic, six to
12 inches back, aimed at the neck joint,
and I rolled off the low end. I was definitely
thinking Townshend on that, like on Quadrophenia
or Who’s Next where he gets that
widescreen acoustic sound.
Is your amp still the Marshall JCM800?
Yeah. I used an early ’80s 50-watt Marshall
combo as well, the 2104 2x12. Both
of those amps mic up beautifully. It’s not
hard to get a great sound out of them. I
like the Marshalls because the midrange
isn’t sweet, it’s aggressive. I find with a lot
of boutique amps that the midrange isn’t
The guitar on “Born into This” is massive.
How do you get such big tones?
I was referencing the Band of Gypsys tune “The Power of Soul” and I was also
referencing “Super Stupid” by Funkadelic,
a track with an insane solo by Eddie Hazel.
Anyway, both of those tunes have a lot of
room mics, and I used room mics quite
heavily to get that sound. It’s the main
Marshall with two mics down the middle—
a Shure SM58 and an AKG 421—and
a Rode Classic and a Rode NT2-A on either
side and various panning. There’s not too
much gain, and the amp was frickin’ loud.
Your tone is huge even if you’re just playing
one note, even if it’s recorded on an
iPhone. [Ed. Note: Check out “WTK Improv
via iPhone” on YouTube for proof.] What can
you say about that?
That’s technique. Over the years I’ve
been very tough about the techniques that
I use, my vibrato, and getting my fingers
to develop tone. I’ve worked really hard to
ensure that my left hand can develop tone
on its own before I ever bring my right
hand in. I went through a phase where I
really worked on that. Four or five years
ago I went from using a pick to just playing
with my fingers and I developed this
technique that’s sort of like John Entwistle.
I use my second finger in a really aggressive
manner to get that sound.
You really put a lot of emotion and angst
into your bends and it’s riveting. Talk about
what you go through physically and viscerally
when you lean into a bend.
I think there are three elements to the
bends, three influences for me: Jimi Hendrix,
Albert King, and David Gilmour. When
I play, as you see from my videos, most of
the notes have got something on them, in
terms of a push or a pull. I also tend to play
out of position. For example, if I’m in E and
I’m playing on the 15th fret, I won’t pull
off to the 12th fret. I’ll pull off to the 11th
and quickly push it up a half-step with a
massive vibrato on it, so I can sort of get
a slide guitar attack to it. So there are a
lot of intricacies to the bending—it’s not
just the standard pentatonic bending patterns
that are happening. I’ve copped stuff
from Beck, but instead of using the bar, I’m
using my fingers to get those microtonal
approaches to notes. Bending is huge to
what I do. It’s massive. And I think I’ve
got my own sound with it.
You seem to embrace pickup noise and
hum. What part does that play in your music?
It goes back to having an amp on edge—I
like it when the amp is right on the verge of
going crazy. Listen to Clapton doing “Stormy
Monday” with the Bluesbreakers. It’s ridiculous.
His amp is all over the shop but it
sounds so exciting. I’ve always liked the sound
of hissing, of wahs rocking backwards and
forwards. In the studio I always say, “Don’t
worry about those little clicks or scrapes.
That’s part of the personality of the performance.”
If you take all those things out, it
can sound very conservative. And that’s not
what the freaking guitar’s about, is it? It’s
an instrument that can knock down walls
and change society.
You don’t want to play blues clichés, but
you still play pentatonic scales and bend up
to the 5, etc. How does one play pentatonics
and not play clichés?
It would be easy for me to say I don’t
do this, I don’t do that, but I’ve done it
all. I’ve learned all the Clapton songs, I’ve
learned all the Stevie Ray Vaughan songs,
all the Hendrix—I think you’ve got to put
the time in. Part of making it sound different
is what you play over. If you’ve got
something inventive, a new space to play
in, you can make those pentatonics sound
fresh. That’s what Jimi did, and that’s what
Santana, Peter Green, and the Allmans did.
They played pentatonics, but it didn’t sound
like they did. But it’s hard not to play clichés.
These guys set things in cement and
they’re all amazing, so it’s hard not to hit on
what they did. But I think if you’re playing
over creative stuff with cool lyrics, it makes
everything sound better. The cliché bits in
your own playing are reduced hugely in that scenario. I see young players who are technically
amazing but for all the work they’ve
put into being great guitarists, they need to
spend time working on songs, context, and
ideas. That’s what Hendrix did.
What advice would you give guitarists who
want to move away from standard licks, move
away from their influences, and play more
from their gut?
You can’t be afraid of failure or ridicule.
You’ve just got to do it. Part of what helps
me is that I’ve written hundreds and hundreds
of tunes, and I’ve written a lot of horrible
ones. I’ve made some really average
records. I think songwriters are willing to
take far more risks than musicians. So, take
risks. That’s where the excitement is. Guitar
has been cutting edge and it still can be. We
don’t need to hear the same stuff anymore,
because it’s already been done by geniuses.
No one is going to make a Jimi Hendrix
record better than Jimi Hendrix. So find your
own space, be brave, and just go for it.