King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have conquered the world, it belongs to them now. These days the seven armed rock band spend their days playing to large crowds across Australia and the United States whilst churning out a seemingly endless supply of full-length albums with ease.
Not bad for a bunch of music obsessed gear nerds from Melbourne, Deniliquin and the Geelong region. A major part of the band’s drive seems to come from an insatiable musical curiosity, resulting in an eclectic sound and reflected in their unusual, and often very DIY, equipment. To understand the complexities of their sound a little better, we decided to examine the equipment used by frontman Stu Mackenzie.
THE FLYING BANANA
Whichever of the 11 released Gizz projects you may choose to peruse, one thing that there is bound to be an abundance of is guitars. Mackenzie has used a variety of guitars over the years, but perhaps the most eye catching of them all is the one from which their latest album, Fying Microtonal Banana, takes its name.
“My guitar of choice is always kind of changing,” told Mackenzie to Tone Deaf. “At the moment, I’ve got this one that this guy called Zack built for me in Melbourne. It’s called the Flying Banana and it’s this yellow, sort of like a bent Flying V shape sort of thing, which he modified with microtonal frets in there. There’s some extra frets in between the frets, which unlocks some secret notes. That’s my guitar at the moment that I’ve been playing everything with, but I haven’t worked it into the live set just yet. I’ve been playing it a little on stage.”
Mackenzie can be seen playing the Flying Banana in the following video.
The below video provides both an insight into Mackenzie’s recording setup as well as an explanation of the special instruments and tunings used by the band to fit the microtonal compositions. Mackenzie can be seen playing the Flying Banana throughout the clip, and he takes some time to explain it at the 1:55 mark.
“We had the idea of adding some secret notes, sort of out of tune, like out of tune half, quarter-tones,” said Mackenzie. “So we’ve kinda been making this record to be quarter tone.”
Mackenzie’s 12-string Hagstrom has featured largely in their live shows over the years. “It’s probably my favourite ever guitar,” he said to ToneDeaf. “But it’s old and it’s got old pickups and I’ve tried to replace the wiring before. It’s kind of perpetually shitting me. It’s a nuisance to restring. It’s got 12 strings, with these weird nuts, which sit really close to the tuning pegs, so it takes quite a lot longer than twice as long to restring.
“It’s a problem creator, for sure, but I still manage to always use it. I use it live more than any guitar now and it’s the guitar I played on the whole of the new record. I just keep coming back to it. I can’t think of any problem solvers.”
Mackenzie can be seen playing the Hagstrom in the following clip.
AMERICAN STANDARD STRATOCASTER
As stated earlier, Mackenzie is something of an equipment fan and it would go beyond the scope of this article to be list all of the guitars that he has used in King Gizzard over the years, though a brief peruse of YouTube easily shows a variety of other models, such as the American Standard Stratocaster in the following clip.
Considering that he mixed the Gizzard album Quarters onto VHS for natural saturation, it is somewhat surprising that Mackenzie’s pedal selection is not full of weird and rare stompboxes.
“My pedal board is mostly pretty standard,” said Mackenzie. “I’ve got a Boss Tuner, an MXR Carbon Copy, a Boss DD-3 Delay, a Cry Baby Wah Pedal, all standard as. The only off ones are a Devi Ever Torn’s Peaker, which is like my fuzz pedal, which I’ve used since forever. It’s the only real drive pedal I’ve ever used. It’s a one-trick pony, I don’t think the knobs even do anything, you just step on it and it squeals. I’m definitely able to try things out more in the studio, but I like the idea of keeping things pretty minimal.”
It is also interesting to learn that Mackenzie often abstains from using effects in the studio if it is unnecessary. “I haven’t added reverb to a Gizz record for a couple of years,” he said to Audio Technology. “If you can record something in a space which has a general room sound, you can saturate it enough so it sounds like it has reverb. I do have one of those big yellow Danelectro Spring King pedals, which can be pretty cool as a studio tool. That’s that sound on Hot Wax that keeps coming in, I was just punching one of those.”
“With Quarters, the only pedal I used was a little vibrato pedal, which I still use,” he said to Tone Deaf. “They’re real cool pedals. With Nonagon Infinity and I’m In Your Mind Fuzz, the pedal rig was exactly the same live as it was in the studio.”
"I’ve always used, from the very start, just a Hot Rod Deluxe amp, which is kind of the most basic, really stock standard, common Fender,” said Mackenzie. And I love them, I love the fact that everyone has them and they’re so easy to get or rent if you need them. They’re very replaceable and everyone knows how to fix them. I used to take two with me and sing into one, but now I just sing into some guitar pedals and different mics and stuff.”
One of the constants in Mackenzie’s setup has been Electro-Voice microphones, including his favourite vocal mix, the EV635a.
“For a pretty long time I’ve used an Electro-voice RE-20,” he said. “It’s the best microphone I own by a pretty long way. The diaphragm is pretty far in it so you don’t really have to use a pop filter. You can get a really in-your-ear, straight-up, true sound. I use one for kick drums too so it’s a good combo mic. It’s got similarities with a Shure SM7, but the SM7s are more bass-heavy, they sound more like modern radio whereas the RE-20 sounds like ’70s radio.”