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Testament’s Alex Skolnick

Bryan Reesman • March 2020What the Pros Play • March 2, 2020

Fotogolab

Guitarist Alex Skolnick leads a musical double life. He made his name as a skilled shredder in Bay Area thrash metal band Testament, which has been rocking steadily since the early 1980s, and then shorter stints with Savatage and Ozzy Osbourne in the 1990s. But he took some time away from heavy rock in the mid-‘90s through the mid-’00s to explore his jazz and fusion side, including forming the Alex Skolnick Trio which has recorded and performs a mixture of original tunes and multi-genre covers. Skolnick now straddles both realms and has other projects including Metal Allegiance and a world acoustic project called Planetary Coalition that released an album in 2014. The guitarist loves to push his own boundaries. MMR spoke to him about the rigs for his two main musical endeavors.

Obviously you’re working with different gear for the Alex Skolnick Trio and then Testament. First off, what’s your main rig for Testament?

For Testament lately, it’s the Kemper which is a modeling amplifier. I was never a big fan of those types of things before, any kind of digital amp, but these sound really great. They’re very portable and very easy for the front of house person to mix. Each one of us, both guitars and bass, use the Kemper Profiler. Then my cabinets are made by Budda, which is a boutique amp company owned by Peavey. My cables are D’Addario Planet Waves.

I also have a custom Budda amp that I use for non-Testament metal projects like Metal Allegiance, for example. Or just for recording. Usually for tracking, I’ll use the Budda. It’s got three channels, and it sounds like a classic amp but it’s very powerful.

You can make it overdriven enough for modern sounding music without destroying it like an old Marshall. And guitars?

My main electric guitars are ESP. I have a signature Alex Skolnick model ESP also available as an LTD, which is a more budget conscious version of it. It’s still very good. I use that version as well.

I want the tone of a great Les Paul because I loved the Les Paul, and I have a couple Les Pauls that don’t leave the house. Les Pauls can be tough to play, especially for post-Eddie Van Halen playing. Like Van Halen and Randy Rhoads and Yngwie, all the shred lead guitar stuff has mostly been done on either a Stratocaster or a guitar in the style of the Stratocaster. I wanted more of a Les Paul style but that is easier to play. So if you’re more a fan of Strat type of guitars, it’ll work for you. It’s got that feel.

It also has some options to sound like a Stratocaster, what’s called a coil tap. I have a signature pickup made by Seymour Duncan. It’s double, but you can turn it into a single coil. Just by pulling on the tone knob, you can make it sound like a single coil.

And the Trio?

For the Trio, I use that guitar sometimes, but the main sound comes from a hollow body guitar which is made by Godin. The guitar is called the Montreal Premiere. With the Trio, I use a classic 50 watt amp made by Peavey, and then I use a lot of pedals. Some of them are made by a company called JAM Pedals in Greece, and TC Electronics, which is a Danish company but very, very well known. [See sidebar below.]

How many pedals do you use in Testament?

Not many because most of the effects are self-contained in the Kemper. I do use an additional overdrive pedal just to spice up the tone, which is made by JAM Pedals. Picks are made by Jim Dunlop. I have a couple pedals made by Jim Dunlop. I think that’s it.

Is there any pedal sound you’re particularly fond of?

I’d say the Wahcko has a very unique wah sound, and it works especially great for blues and funk sounds.

As far as your playing, thrash is more overtly physical. You need speed and dexterity and precision from both types of music, but there’s much more subtlety in the jazz stuff.

Right.

How do you navigate that?

Oh, it took years to be able to do that, just to not have to play with the same energy that I do with Testament.

How has playing jazz affected your playing in Testament?

It’s a different situation, so I’ve learned to control it. It’s like playing two different sports. If I was playing tackle football, that’s more like playing with Testament, and if I was playing golf or tennis, that’s more like playing the instrumental stuff. It’s just very different going back and forth.

Has your playing in one genre influenced the other?

Sonically, not really. There are moments, sure. Mostly, it’s really different.

Technologically, is it the same or is it pretty separate?

It’s pretty separate. I use a couple of the same pedals that I’ll use with the Trio in Testament. But the set up with Testament, I wouldn’t do my instrumental stuff with that. It’s just a different atmosphere and doesn’t apply. Occasionally, even during soundcheck, I might even try playing a couple of my Trio ideas, and it doesn’t work.

Do you usually play with less distortion for the non-Testament stuff?

Yeah, and you need a different setup for that. The response is very different. And if at a Trio gig during soundtrack, let’s say, I hit all my distortion and play some Testament riffs, it might sound okay, but it’s not going to sound good enough for a Testament concert.

But people are welcome to headbang at Trio shows anyway.

If they want, sure.

 

Jam Pedals

Tubedreamer 88 (distortion)

Wahcko (wah wah)

Tone Concepts

The Distillery (equalization/ compression)

TC Electronic

Flashback (delay)

Crazy Tubes Circuits

Splash (reverb)

Jim Dunlop

MXR Phase 90 (phase)

Volume Pedal

Electro-Harmonix

Micro-Synth (pitch effect, occasional use only)

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