Joe Perry's approach to equipment is simple: a great amp, a good cable, and of course a Les Paul guitar.
Perry typically records and performs with a variety of late '50s and early
'60s Les Pauls. He also records with several Pauls from Gibson Custom
Division's Historic Collection. For Nine Lives he added one
more ax to his arsenal--the new Gibson Joe Perry Les Paul model.
Perry used his personal '59 and '60 Les Pauls as a starting point for the
design of his signature model. "I think a Les Paul is just about as close
to perfect as you can get anyway," he said. "Gibson already designed the
great guitar. Over the years, there have been so many little variations,
that you end up searching out the one that has the right little nuances. I
don't think there is much I can change about a 1960 or a 1959. If you get a
good one, I wouldn't change it.
"Basically, what I did is I picked the best of all those guitars that I've
played over the years, and kind of put it in there," he continued.
"Frankly, the '59 reissues that are coming out of Gibson are so good, that
I've got a couple and that's all I play. They have the fat necks, they're
light, they sound good, the neck joint is just right. The angle of the neck
going into the body is the way it should be."
Joe especially appreciates the attention to details. "[I like the] little
things like finishing the frets and putting that one more step into
production," he said. "It means so much to a guitar player, those little
So when it came to creating his variation on the perfect guitar, Perry
decided to leave well enough alone, for the most part. "I didn't do a lot
to change whats already a great guitar," he said. "Obviously, the cosmetic
changes [including no binding and a Translucent BlackBurst finish] are the
most radical. It's a combination of a '59 and a '60. I've got a '59 style
finish on it, but the way the neck feels suggests that it was made in
January of 1960. [My personal guitar] was a body that was left over from
'59, because the finish on it is the kind that fades. It's not when they
switched over to the non-fading finish."
The biggest modification to the sound on the J.P. model is some fancy
electronics. "I knew a guy who did work on my guitars here in Boston,"
Perry said. "He'd take the guts out of a wah-wah pedal and put it in the
bass pickup tone pot," Perry said. "When the pot is pushed in, you have a
standard Les Paul. When you pop it out, everything the way the guitar is
set up goes through that pot, and gives you that wah-wah sound in your
guitar, so you can set the tone any way you want, and leave it. Or you can
do little hammer-ons with your left hand and get wah-wah with your right
hand on the tone pot."
Perry says that people sometimes get too caught up in the vintage thing,
and that a new guitar can have a lot to offer in terms of high fidelity
sound. "As much as I love my '60 Les Paul, I also like the Joe Perry
model," he said. "It plays really well and it's together. Also, there's a
little more top on it. That mellowing process that everybody knows and
loves that happens to the older guitars is a great thing, but to my ears, I
sometimes like to use the newer guitars because they're tighter and a
The ultimate test came when cutting tracks for Aerosmith's new album. Fresh
out of the plant, Joe's new guitar saw as much or more action than any of
his others including his beloved 1960 Les Paul.
"I really worked on this guitar to come up with something that could sound
good with anybody who picked it up," he said. "Gibson sent me one of the
first production guitars. I got it in the studio right when the sessions
started and that was one of the main guitars for the rest of the record. In
fact, the first song on the first side of Nine Lives
[Aerosmith's upcoming release], that's the guitar. Right there out of the
The Joe Perry Les Paul model was not the only new factor in Perry's guitar
sound on Nine Lives, In the interest of getting a beefier
sound, Perry says he "suffered" for a few weeks to work up his finger
strength. "I also switched to .10 gauge strings," he said "There's so much
Perry took the simplest, most direct approach to getting a raw,
unadulterated guitar sound, starting with a short cord. "I'm always trying
to get the shortest distance with the best wire between my guitar and the
speakers," he said.
The short distance between guitar and amp helped Perry get better feedback.
"We got into the habit of recording in the control room," he said. "Even
trough it;s easier to play that way, I think you lose tone that way, plus
you don't get any of that good feedback. Not just like the long sustain
feedback, there's an interaction between the speakers and the guitar that
you give up. This time, we did all of our guitar track within three feet of