Tesla’s Frank Hannon

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • What the Pros Play
• Created: August 29, 2013

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As founding guitarist of veteran rock act Tesla, Frank Hannon’s playing style has been a defining element behind numerous classic radio staples, including two massive top-10 hits in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Be it the acoustic stomp of “Signs,” the aggressive almost-metal of “Edison’s Medicine,” or the arena-rock grandiosity of “Love Song,” Hannon’s distinctive approach to the instrument – drawing upon obvious influences, while putting his own signature spin on everything – has impacted many and made an indelible mark on popular music.

Currently touring behind his band’s summer 2013 single, “Taste My Pain” (their first new studio recording since the 2008 LP, Forever More), Hannon recently took a break to speak with MMR about the gear he uses to achieve that unmistakable Tesla groove…

MMR: Let’s dive right in: What guitars are you playing these days?

Frank Hannon: In general, I mostly favor Gibson SGs. The mahogany body resonates a little bit more than a Les Paul. I’m playing the Gibson Custom Robbie Krieger model SG that’s designed like the original SG I had that got stolen years ago. It’s essentially a ’68 SG reissue with the ABR-1 Bridge and Maestro tailpiece tremolo system – the whole bit. On this tour, I’m using my 1987 cherry red double-neck SG [Gibson EDS-1275] a lot, as well. That’s the oldest guitar I still have. It’s the only original of mine left from “back in the day” at this point.


MMR: But you’re not a 100 percent “Gibson guy.” I know I’ve seen footage of you playing other guitars.

FH: True! In the past I’ve used Telecasters. As far as Fenders go, my favorite is a Telecaster. They’re real solid and have the feel like a Gibson, but with that distinctive Tele twang.

Branching out from the traditional stuff, I’ve recently discovered C.R. Alsip Guitars. I have four of theirs on the road with me: A Flying V, a hollow-body, and a couple of their Vintage series models. They’re handmade guitars – just beautiful – and they sound really chunky and thick. A C.R. Alsip is like a Gibson on steroids.


MMR: Tesla’s obviously had a lot of success with some of your acoustic arrangements. What acoustic guitars are you into?

FH: I think Gibsons are the warmest sounding acoustic guitars. I don’t like really bright acoustics – I personally like the warm sound, with lots of low-end. So I go for the Gibson J45 and the J50 Rosewood and the Hummingbird.

MMR: Am I right in thinking you’re a Marshall guy when it comes to amps?

FH: Yes and no. My Marshall JCM900 I have for onstage, but just recently we got turned on to the Krank model nineteen80. Krank is known more for their metal tones, but these are more the classic rock tone. The amp I’m going to be getting next is an EVH head from the factory, because it’s real simple. It’s a simple two or three channel amp and it’s got great tone.

My favorite amp of all time is the Vox AC30. It just has a barking, signature voice of its own that growls. My second all-time favorite is a Fender Hot Rod DeVille. I loaned mine to Rick Derringer a while back and he wound up wanting to take it on the road, but I wouldn’t let him. [laughs]

I personally prefer a cleaner sound. I’m a bit of a purist – I like getting the tone from the guitar and the way I bend the strings and just a couple pedals. When you have too much distortion, too much gain, it’s too fuzzy and you don’t really hear any character. Then to make it worse, guys take all the midrange out of their sound, making it really sound like garbage. I set all my knobs to 5, straight up. Pull your gain back from 10 to 6 and if you open your master volume to 5 or 6 and everything else to 5 across the board, it should sound great.


MMR: How about effects?

FH: I go directly into a BOSS TU-2 pedal tuner, and from there into a Voodoo Labs Micro Vibe. I also have a Fulltone DejaVibe. From that into a Fulltone OCD. I really, really like that pedal. I used to have go through a TubeScreamer, but I love the OCD.

Let’s see… Oh, also a Dunlop Cry Baby. Oh, and I go from a DLS RotoSIM into the MXR Phase 90. That gives me the swirling Leslie sound with the phase, like what Peter Frampton was famous for. If you listen to the recording of “Love Song” I’m using a Leslie, but now I use the RotoSIM. There’s also the DLS Echo TAP delay pedal. They’re absolutely phenomenal pedals. The construction the tone, very warm sounds – I love those DLS pedals.


MMR: How about picks?

FH: I play Dunlop yellow Tortex picks and also In Tune guitar picks. In Tune picks are made out of that celluloid material and when you do pick scrapes and noises with the pick, it just sounds better.


MMR: We’re nearing the home stretch. Cables? Strings?

FH: We just got a deal with Pro Co cables and they’re freakin’ awesome. Strings? D’Addario XL110s. Best strings out there.


MMR: Have we left anything out?

FH: Hmm… Oh, I’m working with Re-Axe Axe-handler and we’re going to be making a signature acoustic guitar stand. I also play a theremin. There are a lot of different guys who make theremins, but the kind that I’ve found that I like is called The Zep made by Burns Theremins. It just sounds like Led Zeppelin: killer and aggressive tone. It’s dependable and small. Love it!


MMR: Very cool. Thank you for your time, Frank. Have a good time out on the road!

FH: Thanks, man – this has been fun!


Frank Hannon: Go-to Gear


Guitars: Gibson SGs, Gibson EDS-1275, Fender Telecaster, C.R. Alsip (multiple models), Gibson J-45, Gibson J-50, Gibson Hummingbird.

Amps: Marshall JCM900, Krank 1980, EVH, Vox AC30, Fender Hot Rod DeVille.

Effects: BOSS TU-2, Voodoo Labs Micro Vibe, Fulltone DejaVibe, Fulltone ICD, Dunlop Cry Baby, DLS RotoSIM, DLS Echo TAP, MXR Phase 90.

Accessories: Pro Co cables, D’Addario XL100, Dunlop Tortex picks (yellow), In Tune picks, Signature Acoustic Re-Axe Axe-handler.

Theremin: Burns Theremin Zep.


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