Digging through some old-old achieves, I found some interesting tid-bits on the 1990’s Zakk Wylde. He talks about his first bulls-eye Gibson, Lee Jackson amplifier and where it took his music back in the 90’s.
Zakk Wylde’s omnipresent bull’s-eye perfectly symbolizes the guitarist’s almost ruthless determination to get things right. The overdriven Zakk searched long and hard to arrive at the ultimate combination of instruments, amps and effects that meet his criterion for a sound both heavy and clear.
Part of that equation includes the hard-hitting humbucker sound of a Les Paul outfitted with EMG pickups.
“The only guitar I’ve used for recording is the black and white bull’s-eye Les Paul. It was custom-painted for me by Max of Max Guitars, which is located just off of Sunset in Hollywood near the Guitar Center. I originally wanted the circles to start very small and get bigger—more like the graphic found on posters promoting Vertigo, the old Alfred Hitchcock movie—but I’m happy with the end result.
“The shattered glass guitar is the oldest of the original five guitars, I bought that before I joined Ozzy’s band. It was originally tobacco sunburst, but I wanted something distinct so I had it custom-painted by some guy in New Jersey.
“I’ll usually bring six or seven Les Pauls with me when I’m on the road. Since each guitar has its own special sonic quality the soundman usually tells me which guitar to use, depending on the sound of the hall. I’ve been using the ’59 sunburst reissue quite a bit because it has a huge sound live—it really projects. The other sunburst is a plain Gibson Standard. Gibson’s Roger Bell gave me both as part of an endorsement deal. But I’m not spoiled, I still buy my own guitars when I hear and see something I like. For example, I bought a ’59 reissue and a black Les Paul with a custom maple neck. I also bought the guitar with the red circles for $800 at Voltage Guitars in Hollywood.”
Another important element in Zakk’s tone is the tight tube sound generated by Lee Jackson’s Metaltronix amps. “I think they sound great—I mean if you need any proof, just listen to “Crazy Babies” [No Rest For The Wicked] on a good car stereo,” says Wylde. “When the power chords kick in, just watch the speakers move. Metaltronix amps move a lot of air. You can turn some digital amps up to 20 and the speakers won’t move—there’s no power. Also, the Metaltraonix’s bottom-end sound is really tight. I’ve played on amps where the bottom end is so muddy that playing on the low E and A string is a lost cause. When you play something like “I Don’t know,” those strings are crucial. Ultimately, it’s really the combination of the Les Paul, the EMG’s and the Metaltronix that keep my sound both heavy and crisp. I’ve played [Fender] Strats through the same system and it just doesn’t work.”
The Wylde man’s use of effects is pretty minimal. His processors include a CryBaby wah-wah, a Boss Octaver, a Yamaha SPX90, a Simmons Octaver, and an Akai rack eq/mixer combination.
“Morley is designing a new pedal for me [which apparently was never completed] that produces this really weird ‘wah’ –type sound,” reports the guitarist. “I think those guys like me because I look like that guy with the huge bell bottoms in the ad they used to run. But one of my favorite stomp boxes is the Boss Super Overdrive—it adds some extra dimension to the Metaltronix. I keep the Tone and Distortion knobs at about two o’clock and the Level up all the way. I use it all the time, except for some of the tighter rhythm parts.”
One factor many guitarists overlook in their search for the classic crunch is strings. Zakk, however, is quick to point out how heavily his technique and sound is connected with GHS T.N.T’s. “The E, B and G strings are what you would find in a pack of .010 gauge strings,” he says, “but the bottom three strings are what you would find in a pack of .011’s. The heavier bottom strings are great for rhythm playing. I play really hard, and with lighter strings my rhythm playing tends to be sloppy because the strings don’t snap back quick enough. Also, “he adds, “after 13 months of touring I’ve yet to break a string.”