Milwaukee, WI: home of beer, the Brewers, beer, insane weather, beer, and most recently, Greg Koch. If you haven’t heard of him, Greg is something of a guitar hero (and not the kind with a fake plastic controller, either). Greg is a hero from days of old, when bluesmen wielded their axes in glorious battle with evil dragons, rescuing damsels in distress from scheming warlocks.
Something like that, anyway. Point is, the dude can play guitar. And I mean REALLY play. His guitar work is as twisted as it is beautiful, much like his tragically misunderstood hometown. Recently, we got to chat with Greg about his playing style, recent recording work, and other guitar-related endeavors.
1. Let’s get straight to business. When I watched the YouTube samples of your work that you have on your website, my face literally melted off. Is this a common reaction to your playing?
I have made arrangements with plastic surgeons the world over to rectify this malady caused by a close encounter of the Gristle Kind. The kick backs have added substantially to my thousandaire status…actually no…but thanks!
2. I think the wide range of influences in your playing is part of the reason why my face is currently in a puddle on the floor. There’s a lot of rootsy blues in there, but also plenty of psych-rock, country, and even some jazz. Where do you get your influences? Are they sent to you from a parallel dimension?
Perhaps there is a me in a parallel dimension that has kept more of his hair and has a few more zeros in his bank balance! The basic foundation of my fretboard antics consist of Hendrix, Clapton, BB King, Albert King, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Albert Lee, Roy Buchanan, Larry Carlton and Mike Stern…all the Chet stuff, Danny Gatton morsels and other smidgeons were added on later but if you heard me play at 19 years old it would have been a similar stew as you hear now, just not ready yet for suitable consumption. Now I just make stuff up and hope it sounds good!
3. Word on the street is you’ve been conducting clinics for Fender. This will likely singe our readers with the fiery burn of jealousy. Is the life of a Fender clinician as magical as it seems?
I have been doing clinics for Fender since 1995. I never leave the house complaining that I have to go and do clinics. It is the perfect blend that lets me play what I want to play, be a total wise ass and as long as gear keeps selling in my wake, all is good! It has taken me all over the world…pretty wicked.
4. From the Attic, your latest album as The Greg Koch Trio (with Tom Good and Del Bennett), offers some great variety from straight-ahead blues and rock to funk and R&B. There’s even some good ol’-fashioned chicken pickin’! Is this record somewhat of a departure, or was it business as usual for you?
It is pretty much business as usual but hopefully people notice that the tunes, playing and singing get better every outing! My last project before this had Malford Milligan involved on vocals. We were all very stoked about this collaboration but it didn’t work out for the long term. I had to rush to put something together for a subsequent tour of Europe and “From the Attic” was it. I’m proud of it. We assembled tunes and performances I liked along with my producer-friend Chris Hanson and the results made my nostrils flare with delight.
5. Let’s talk gear. Is it safe to say that you’re mainly a Telecaster guy?
Well, it certainly seems that way! Strats and teles but mostly teles as of the last 5-6 years. They just work for me. They stay in tune when I treat them like farm animals, their tone is pure and you can go from twang central to rock pigdom in a millisecond. My main teles are my Gristlebender B-Bender Custom Shop beast, an American Deluxe Ash with Ray Gerold pickups on it, a ’68 Tele Thinline Thinskin reissue from Wildwood Guitars and a custom made Tele from a local builder (Landric) which is a slightly larger bodied tele made of ash, with two, underwound, Lollar Imperial humbuckers that I can tap….YUMMY
6. What else do you like to use, both live and in the studio?
I’ve always recorded with Les Pauls and ES-335’s as well. The Yang to the Ying…
Amp wise I have used everything from Tweed Deluxes, Blackface Vibrolux’s, Super Reverbs, Orange Tiny Terrors, Marshall Super Lead 100watters, Doctor Z’s, Princeton Reverbs etc…
7. You recently worked closely with Fender’s custom shop to release two VERY limited guitars: the Gristlecaster Tele and GSK Stratocaster. Rumor has it that these instruments can summon the very gods themselves to rock out alongside you. Are all twenty of these guitars sold out, and if so, is there another Koch-Fender collaboration on the horizon?
Well, let’s be clear. Fender made these guitars at a dealer’s behest. Cream City Music in Milwaukee had the idea and they sold all but one relic B-Bender Tele that they haven’t really advertised that they still have. Several people bought both the strat and the tele. One such individual has recently returned them because of personal financial issues. If you go to creamcitymusic.com you can FEAST on these axes…they are awesome but because they are Master Built at the Custom Shop, they are not cheap. I may do another collaboration with Wildwood Guitars in Louisville, Colorado in the not too distant future that will be different from these specimens…Cream City would probably be involved in this as well…
8. I noticed there’s also an effects pedal for sale on your website: The Gristle King Mark III. What should we know about this stompbox, aside from its hilarious name?
This weapon by my buddy Tim Jauernig has been available for some time. The new one has been tweaked to a frothy perfection. It is an overdrive of doom on one side and a delightful clean boost on the other. T-Rex manufactured these for a time for us but the new one reigns supreme. There is another version that will be available on my site that has the toggle switches removed and set to where I like them. Tim has recently perfected his fuzz which I suggested the F-Bomb name. It slaps cheek and leaves a mark. It will also be available on my site in the near future.
9. You’ve also released many instructional books and DVDs, such as Greg Koch Guitar Gristle, which gives some insight into your technique. What sort of tricks do you teach in this DVD? Can we, too, become guitar wizards?
Chicken Pickin, B-Bender antics, Whammy bar skullduggary and behind the nut rustling…GOOD TIMES! The wizarding part is up to you.
10. What’s next for you? Any exciting upcoming projects? Studio sessions? World domination plans?
I am currently working on categorical rereleases of my back catalog. The first one, “Bluesy Gristle” will be out before Christmas. Check the website for details. A ton of clinics on the horizon both in Europe and in the States. Returning to Australia in 2012 and another band tour of Europe in the spring of 2012 as well.
Check out this video of Greg – and be amazed:
More info on Greg