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The Phil X Factor - Amps, Effects & Yamaha SG

Published: Mon July 15, 2013  News Feed

The Phil X Factor - Amps, Effects & Yamaha SG

By Hugh McKenna

Phil X Yamaha

He's turned his hand to a diverse range of musical styles, playing with everyone from Avril Lavigne to Tommy Lee and recently he's been touring with Bon Jovi. It's easy to see why if you get the man talking about guitars, his enthusiasm is infectious and he's just one of those instantly likeable people. Doubtless that was a useful trait to have when filling in for Richie Sambora at the latest minute, amidst press speculation about relationships in the band. Phil's a pro though and stuck to the important stuff, nailing down dozens of songs with the band in a matter of hours.

"I had to do a lot of homework for that," says Phil, whose full last name is Xenidis. "I had to learn 30 songs really quickly. We rehearsed for about seven hours, and then I was out in front of 50,000 people. Nobody gave me much direction-right out of the gate everyone was saying, 'Hey, you're doing a great job!' So it was pretty cool!"

When it came to doing the solos, if it was a big, iconic number Phil felt it was best to learn what was on the record note for note. If it was more improvised he'd go for his own spin on it however, being a big believer in style and individuality rather than slavish devotion to a single idea. Talking about Youtube guitarists playing note perfect renditions he says:

"All these kids go on and say 'Hey, this is my cover of Iron Maiden, this is my cover of Van Halen.' Everybody's copycatting up the wazoo. It makes me want to say, 'Fine, man, but where are your licks? Where are your tones? Where's your individuality? If you're going to work that hard to learn somebody's solo, why not work even harder and take it to another level? Why not make it your own?"

While Phil did start out (at age 8!) playing covers at Greek family weddings and learned a great deal from emulating his heroes as a teen, once you're ready to play out you should really be doing you're own thing. In this age of X Factor, American Idol & BGT it's all too easy to agree with him.

So personality, individuality and good old fashioned practice are all important to Phil, no surprise then that he's a massive fan of the vintage, boutique and esoteric. Anything that delivers something special doesn't come easy, it's all about the graft and the craft. This has led to Phil being a bit of a Youtube star playing numerous vintage guitars on FrettedAmericana.

But What Geat Does Phil X Use On Stage And In The Studio?

Watching a master axeman wailing on a '58 Les Paul is all well and good but even the biggest acts get a little neurotic about carting a $20,000+ guitar on tour. So you want something with the same quality but without the objet d'art price inflation. That's why Phil worked with Yamaha to create a signature model SG1820 and 1802. He's an avowed fan of having just a single pickup on the bridge, with character, clarity, mid range punch and attack being the most important things for his tone. Here's an explanation in his own inimitable style:

So in summary, removing the neck pickup allows your strings to vibrate more and get a more open, dynamic bridge sound. Also playing with a medium to high action will aid your technique in the long run while also improving your tone.

Want to learn more about setting pickup heights?

While Phil has a unique philosophy for what makes for ideal tone he is also an in demand session musician. That means he also needs a flexible guitar to cover a lot of styles and change sounds on the fly live, a single bridge PUP P90 with no pickup switching can be somewhat limiting when you're switching from a searing solo on a rock song to a quiet, picked part opening a ballad. That's why he's got more than one Yamaha SG with him on stage, not to mention the vast array of gear at home in the studio.

 

That's a whole heap of gear but the really important pieces are pretty clear.

  • A nice crunchy, low watt boutique/vintage combo plus a big, fat Marshall stack for amps.
  • The Yamaha SG as his main axe.
  • Lots of Van Halen guitars for other differing styles.
  • Pro Tools rig with a Neve style mic preamp.

As well as enthusiastically sharing tips on how you can get great tone Phil also happily shares info on his rig so here's a run down on a few of his favourite things. Just remember don't go looking for someone elses tone, be sure to get your own! At the end of the day it's all in the fingers and a vintage Marshall Plexi won't compensate for slack technique.

Phil X Guitar Rig
What's Phil Got? Sounds Like...
Yamaha SG1802 Gold Phil X
Phil X Yamaha SG1802 Gold
The ideal guitar for Phil, one bridge P90, great sustain and plays like a dream. Plus a happy chappy in the neck cavity.
Yamaha SG1820
Yamaha SG1820

Fat buckers and the same sweet neck and feel as the 1802.
Tonemaster Combo
Secret Weapson - The Tonemaster Combo
He loves this amp so much he's gone to great lengths to emulate and recreate it with Evil Robot amps.
This is one of many low(ish) watt amps that Phil loves. He loves them so much that he made a video about them and how best to get great tone at home. See below.

Getting Great Tone At Low Volumes

While Phil's vintage Magnatone Tonemaster and custom Evil Robot amps are mighty impressive most of us will be using more humbler gear. Not to worry as Phil also adores his Yamaha THR10C which crams tons of cranked combo tones into a bedroom friendly amp.

Yamaha THR10C

 
 
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