Off topic: UFO Death Cult

I don’t just fix guitars – I play  ’em, too. In between bouts of guitar tech-ery, I gig with a bit around town (with John Lisi & Deltafunk, Chapel Blues, P.H. Fred & The Round Pegs, and others), and I also write and record experimental microtonal music on my own as UFO Death Cult. If that wasn’t enough to keep one man busy, I recently completed work on a soundtrack for an upcoming play, Ice Scream Theater, which will be performed at this year’s Fringe Festival November 20, 22, 23, and 24. Somehow I manage all this while still maintaining a pretty quick turnaround in the shop. I guess that old adage is true: if you want something done, give it to a busy person.

On this most recent recording project for Ice Scream Theater, I was given four demo songs to re-work and re-imagine in my own style. I had six weeks to write, arrange, produce, program, perform, mix, and master these four songs, which grew quite a bit in complexity from the initial rough demos. I’ve never produced anybody else’s work before, nor have I ever worked on a deadline like this. It was quite a challenge, and I think it came out pretty well, even if I do say so myself. Here’s a few instrumental samples of the results:

Since this is a guitar blog, I thought I’d share some information on some of the guitars and basses I used on this project. Many of the sounds were actually generated with guitars, even though they sound like synthesizers by the time I’m done processing them. Sure, I could just use a synth, but I find that there’s something wonderfully chaotic about starting with a “real” instrument and manipulating that instead of starting with a static waveform.

First up: my main bass, a 1974 Ovation Magnum. I’ve defretted this, coated the fingerboard with black cyanoacrylate (superglue), gutted the electronics, routed the middle section out and installed 3 additional pickups (two Rio Grande Pitbulls and a Rio Grande P-Zazz), installed lightweight tuners, and made a new nut out of water buffalo horn. It’s tuned CGDA and setup as a fanned scale (C string is 88.9cm (35″), A string is 85cm (33.5″)). I’ve gigged all over with it, and although it practically destroys my shoulder every night, I can’t foresee myself ever parting with it.


I also used an old Ibanez USATK bass, which was made by Bunker Guitars utilizing their tension-free neck system. It’s another Craigslist rescue, which needed a ton of work which I detailed a few months ago here: I have since gutted the electronics, rendering it passive, and I’m starting to fall in love with it’s more aggressive tone.


I used three guitars on Ice Scream Theater, two in standard tempertment, and one non-scalar guitar.

First, my main 6-string, a cheap PRS SE. I think that these are just about the best bang for the buck out there right now. I picked this up for $300, then refretted it with stainless steel fretwire, made a new bone nut, gutted the electronics, and installed two Seymour Duncan Hot Rails and a Seymour Duncan Invader. I usually string this up with 13s and tune it in C standard, but for this project I used Robert Fripp’s New Standard Tuning. Yeah, it’s pretty metal.


I always wanted a 7 string, for a particular tuning I use during writing sessions: C#-E-A-D-F#-B-C#. When I stumbled across this Ibanez AX7221 selling used for $200, I snatched it up. I’ve refretted it with stainless steel fretwire, made a new nut, gutted the electronics, and installed a Seymour Duncan Custom Custom and Seymour Duncan Custom. It’s a really well designed and built guitar, and I’m surprised more people haven’t caught on to what a deal these things are.


Last but not least, and certainly my weirdest guitar, is the instrument that has become known as The Angry Inch. It’s a guitar made by the Steve Clayton company in cahoots with Playboy Magazine, and it’s just… so… perverse. I snagged this off Ebay dirt cheap, installed a Seymour Duncan JB/Jazz set, and refretted it as a non-scalar instrument: every fret is exactly one inch apart. There’s no consistent pitch shifts, nor is there even an octave on any of the strings. It’s just about impossible to figure out, yet somehow I used it as the main songwriting tool on UFO Death Cult’s most recent album, Songs In The Key Of X.


The great thing about being a guitar tech is I can get cheap instruments and turn them into amazing instruments with just a bit of work in my spare time. None of my instruments cost more than $600, and yet they sound and play as good as custom shop instruments costing ten times as much. I do the same thing for a lot of people – turning cheap guitars into custom shop killers is a lot of fun.

Want to hear more? Come down to see Ice Scream Theater performed live during Fringe Festival November 20, 22,23, and/or 24 at The Old Firehouse at 718 Mandeville St., New Orleans, LA 70117. You can also hear more of my weird music at

Coming up next blog post: the most historically significant guitar I’ve ever worked on! Stay tuned!

Permanent link to this article: