Bill Kelliher and his band Mastodon are huge -- huge in sound, huge in scope, and hugely popular. If you've been lucky enough to have your face melted by their powerful and uncompromising brand of heavy metal, then you've heard the heart of Mastodon's gargantuan sound: guitarist Bill Kelliher's relentless riffs and searing tone. Gibson's Bill Kelliher Explorer "Golden Axe" electric guitar is a tonal tribute to this ferocious master of shred. A single-bound mahogany body is loaded with LACE Nitro-Hemi humbucking pickups for devastating, high-gain tone, full of chiming highs and punchy midrange to keep your sound focused when you're thrashing your hardest.
Watch our zZounds exclusive interview with Kelliher for an up-close look at his signature "Golden Axe" Explorer -- plus get the inside scoop on Bill's favorite tones and gear, his thoughts on working in the studio or on the stage, and the heroes that inspired him and Mastodon to conquer the world.
A look at the Gibson Bill Kelliher "Golden Axe" Explorer:
- Mahogany body with stunning Gold Burst finish
- Set-in mahogany neck featuring Bill Kelliher's slim, fast profile
- Rosewood fretboard with figured acrylic trapezoid inlays
- LACE Nitro-Hemi humbuckers with coil-tapping
- LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge
- Mini Grover kidney tuners with 14:1 ratio
Bill Kelliher on the look and feel of his signature Gibson Explorer:
First of all...it's just a beautiful-looking finish. You know, I've always been a fan of Explorers...they almost look like you're wielding an axe. But this is like the "blingy" axe: the gold...the binding; all the aesthetics. It just feels good; it's got a nice thin neck, it's not too thin or bulky, it's not too heavy but not too light either -- it's just a perfect weight.
On the sound of the Gibson Bill Kelliher "Golden Axe" Explorer:
I'm a recent endorsee of LACE [pickups], and once I tried them out, they really spoke to me; they really sang, they sounded great. I'm a fan of the stock Gibson '57 Classic pickups...I've never been a big fan of EMG...on certain things they sound really good, but these kind of have a sound in between there, without the active battery that goes with EMGs. They still have that bite; they have a real good bite to them. Push-pull splits the coil from two to a single-coil. I put the volume here, because on your traditional Explorer there's three knobs and the volume's always in the middle, which always threw me. I like to have it close to my finger so I can roll it off.
On choosing the name "Golden Axe" for his signature guitar:
I was trying to be witty and think of something cool, and Golden Axe is a video game I used to play at the arcades when I was younger, and it just kind of came to me: I was like, "Golden Axe...some people call their guitars axes, it looks like you're wielding a big axe...it's a Golden Axe."
On the perfect guitar tone:
For me, the perfect sound is Angus Young -- just a little bit more distortion. For me. I really like to be able to clearly hear the notes you're playing when you're playing more than one, as in a chord, where you can hear them clearly but you hear that grit of distortion. All of our stuff is analog; I don't really use any digital effects...I'm pretty simple. Tube amps from the mid-'80s? Right now I'm playing a Dave Friedman, which is kind of like a copy of an old JMP Marshall head. Celestion speakers; Gibson guitar -- it's a pretty simple formula, but it works for us.
On learning to play, and finding inspiration:
I listened to all the great rock gods, you know: Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Hendrix -- but I could never really play like those guys. And that was okay with me. When I finally discovered Greg Ginn from Black Flag and East Bay Ray -- punk rock bands -- those guys were just going out and doing it. They didn't care that they couldn't play million-mile-per-hour guitar leads, they were just making music -- and that really inspired me to come out of my bedroom of practicing all the time and just be like, "You know what? I'm starting my own band." So, as soon as I got a guitar at 15, I started a band in high school. At first we just started doing cover songs, but that's when I knew I wanted to be a musician, when I started listening to punk rock. The Ramones -- Johnny Ramone -- he played three chords, and it was awesome, it was cool; people loved it. The energy was there; you didn't have to go to school and learn theory. All that stuff helps...but I was nowhere with patience...I just knew I wanted to be on a stage playing guitar, so I did it.
On the differences between working in the studio and life on the road:
There's things about being the studio that I love, and then there's things about being on the road that I love -- I wouldn't choose one or the other, that's for sure. 'Cause when you're in the studio and you're writing, that's great, and you're creating a record -- but it means you're closed up in a little box. Studios usually don't have any windows, and you're just listening back to your music over and over. So for me, when we write a record, we hear it about ten thousand times -- 'cause you're mixing, you're listening to it, you're playing along to it, writing the riffs. And you've heard it so many times that once it's done, I kind of put it on a shelf and I don't listen to it any more -- I really don't. I don't listen to my own band, ever, 'cause you get so jaded by the recording process -- so it's good and bad. Being on the road, it's fun to play the songs every night. But you know, there's a time and a place where I need a break; I need a rest.
Advice for playing guitar and being in a band:
Practice, practice, practice. Take lessons if you can. When I was a kid, I never took any lessons, period. I played with my friends, and that was my lessons, I guess; just listening to records of my favorite bands and playing along. Just practice as much as you can. And, you know, you've got to take it in stride; there's lots of people that want success overnight with whatever they do -- and being in a band is not right for you if that's what you want. Being in a band and being successful takes a lot of time, and there's a lot of luck involved too. It's definitely being persistent...it's like an art form, but you can't take it too seriously...when you're working with other people in your band, your feelings are going to get hurt if someone doesn't like your song or your riffs...so just write another one.