Dissecting the rig of one of Australia's finest guitarists on the day of his first solo album release
“You know what, it doesn’t fucking make any difference what you plug into and run through, you get up there and you put on a ripper show – it all comes out of your fingers at the end of the day,” The Living End’s Chris Cheney laughingly and matter-of-factly explains.
Cheney has carved out a reputation as one of Australia’s best guitarists as The Living End’s charismatic frontman and axeman, but has ventured on his own path to release a solo album years in the making, The Storm Before The Calm.
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Featuring tracks from earlier Nashville recordings, musings of his time in Los Angeles, and reflections of his childhood after his recent relocation back to Melbourne, the record reflects different parts of his life.
“If I’d released the Nashville record as it was, it would have been a dark, moody sort of listen,” Cheney says. “Part of me didn’t want it to be just that so I kind of stalled and kept writing more songs.
“I’m so happy now that it wasn’t released then, what I’ve got now is a much better balanced album.
“I felt like I was capable of having all these different textures on there, without it being confusing I definitely wanted variety and thought it would be nice to show a different side to what people have seen of me before.”
Synonymous with Cheney’s on-stage presence is no doubt his assortment of Gretsch guitars which he’d always had a penchant for, before he even owned one.
“There were just all those cool old photos and footage of those rockabilly guitar players which was one thing, and the playing was just next level which was what drew me to them,” he says.
With The Storm Before The Calm releasing today, we thought we’d discuss his Gretsch affinity at length, as well as the rest of his “complicated” live setup.
Gretsch White Falcon
“The Falcon’s just got this kind of extra mojo that I haven’t really found, even when I’ve played other White Falcons, that guitar just has something. I feel really lucky that I’ve got that because I feel like it’s kind of my signature guitar, you know in a way that Rory Gallagher had his Strat and Stevie Ray had his Strat – they had their number one. That will always be my number one guitar because I’ve had it for so long and it’s played on every single show. It just has that thing that I was looking for I suppose, that fine, good balance between the Gretsch kind of twang, that deep growl, and that bitchin’ AC/DC toughness with the string attack. Not only was it the best looking guitar, it had the sound as well.”
When asked about the one piece of equipment he couldn’t live without, he had to circle back to the Falcon. “For me, the image of rock and roll was always such a big factor. So, when I saw pictures of people with White Falcons and stuff I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the coolest looking guitar.’
“When I got mine, I actually bought a green Gretsch from a Guitar Center in L.A back in ‘98 or ‘99. Gretsch guitars weren’t that expensive at that point because they were bringing out all those new lines and I brought it back to the hotel and I was like, ‘What the fuck did I just buy this green guitar for?’ So I put it back in the case, went back to Guitar Center and said, ‘I just bought this guitar, I’m not really feeling it,’ and they said, ‘Oh no worries, choose another one.’ I saw the White Falcon and thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to get.’ Now it just seems to be synonymous with me and I can’t imagine playing any other guitar as my main guitar than that big, fat, white Gretsch. I’m sitting here looking at it now thinking, ‘That’s a cool looking guitar.’ It’s all kind of beat up, the white’s gone yellow now, I’ve done a lot of mods to it over the years – that’s the one I couldn’t do without.”
“The 6120 and the Falcon are the main two I take on the road, they’re the main workhorses. The main reason I use them is really just the sound.
“My dream guitar really, the one that I always wanted to get since I was a kid was a late ‘50s 6120 Chet Atkins, and I did get one a few years ago from Nashville. That’s sitting here as well now, it’s probably my favourite guitar, that’s the holy grail right there. I’m pretty lucky.
“I’ve got a really good collection of guitars, but most of them just sit in my studio kind of gathering dust. There are only so many guitars you can play during one show.
“I don’t take any of my vintage ones on the road anymore because I don’t want them to get broken, and they don’t seem to stay in tune as well as the newer ones. They don’t seem to respond as well to the bashing that I give them!”
Gretsch G6126TCC Chris Cheney Signature Model
On Gretsch’s 125th anniversary year, the vintage guitar manufacturer honoured Cheney’s prodigious talent and allegiance to the brand with his own signature model.
The guitar features Cheney’s personal favourite TV Jones pickups, with a single cutaway body reminiscent of the 6120 model, and finished with Cheney’s go-to aged white body finish.
Vox AC30 & Wizard Modern Classic
“It’s a lot more complicated than probably what people would expect. I have backwards cabs that are all plugged in, isolated, and all miked up. I have one front-facing cab, and then there’s like three dummy cabs just because I think it looks stupid being on stage without amps behind you. My main two cabs are an AC30, a new one, just a Hand Wired Master Volume, and a Wizard 2×12 cab facing backwards, which has one of my 100-watt Modern Classics running into it. They are ridiculously loud, you don’t want to stand at the back of the stage when The Living End are playing – it hurts. For years and years I tried with the gain channels, but it just never sounds as good when it’s cranked. The forward-facing cab I just have for some feedback and a little bit of monitoring because I like to be able to feel the sound. Because we’re running the in-ear monitors, if you have everything running backwards, you can’t feel it the same. You gotta have that thunk hitting your legs, and to hit a note and get a little bit of feedback and that squeal when you need to.”
Voodoo Lab Ground Control Pro
“Pedal-wise, I have a Ground Control switcher, so I have that in front of me to make adjustments if I need to. Basically I’m just running an Eventide TimeFactor, so all my delays are pre-set for different songs on the Ground Control, I have a trusty old Klon, and an Ibanez Tube Screamer that I’ve had since I was about 17 which never leaves the board. It has a mod on it that replicates when the 9V battery is about to go flat which is the primo sound – but I don’t know if I want to believe that! You can go crazy talking about that shit, at the end of the day, it comes out of those things called fingers.
Cheney is also known to not only enjoy drinking the Very Best on stage, but to inventively use it as a slide!
“A lot of people cringe at a few of the things I do to my guitars, but it’s all about putting on a show really – the multiple uses of a VB bottle! It cleans up alright though, it probably gets into the wiring over the course of 20 years or something but you just wipe them down.”