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Each week That Metal Show interviews your favorite hard rock and heavy metal musicians and and likewise each week That Metal Gear interviews your favorite TMS guests to find out how they got started on their instruments, who their influences are and what gear they use to get the sounds we all know and love. This week we catch up with one of the most enigmatic guitar heroes of the Sunset Strip, Mötley Crüe’s Mick Mars.
With roots and influences that go back to the ‘60s, Mick is one of the more underrated guitarists in the metal universe but his signature guitar licks are some of the genre’s most unforgettable riffs. Let’s hear what Mick has to say about how he got started on a Mouseketeers guitar, his love of one-time Bob Dylan guitarist Mike Bloomfield and why he uses a multitude of amps to get his tone.
VH1: What was your first guitar and where did you get it?
Mick Mars: I got a very, very old 1950-something. Remember The Mouseketeers? It was a mouse guitar with a little wind up arm. I had to tune it my own way because I didn’t know how to tune it when I was a little kid and I picked out tunes on it. Then I got a Stella (acoustic) when I was about 12 or maybe 11. It was $12 at a second-hand store. That’s the first real guitar.
Who was the first guitarist that made you want to play guitar?
I had lots of influences. When I was three I saw a country and western guy, when it was really country and western music, not just country, like it is today. His name was Skeeter Blonde(sp?) and I saw him at a 4H fair. I didn’t learn anything from him or sit down and learn his music or anything, but I saw him play up there in this bright orange suit with all the studs on and stuff and a big white Stetson hat and I went, “Yeah, that’s what I’m going to be.”
What was the first good piece of musical equipment you owned?
I had two really good pieces. It was either a 1955 or 1956 Gibson Les Paul Jr. and, I think, a ’62—whatever year the white tolex came out – Fender Bandmaster. I found the Jr. at a music store for $98 and I remember because I thought I got a deal on it. And then I found the Bandmaster for $30. That was the good old days.
What was the first song or guitar solo that you really mastered?
That’s a hard one, but right off the top of my head, one of the more complicated ones would be a song called “Wine” off the first Electric Flag album (A Long Time Comin’) with Mike Bloomfield. That’s probably the first very intricate kind of solo, you know moving in different spots, that I learned.
Your rhythm guitar style is very distinctive in that you use a lot of uncommon two-note chords as opposed to straight bar chords. Where did that come from?
A lot of it came from just playing around. Like when I play in the second position, I put a bottom octave on instead of just the two-string kind of a thing. I learned that from Jimi Hendrix.
What gear are you using now when you go out on the road with Motley Crue?
Lord, we’d be here for an hour if I told you all the stuff (laughter). I can tell you I use Marshall cabinets and I use 7 different kinds of heads all hooked together in one. Everything from Marshall, Crest to Soldanos to VHTs, a lot of different amps.
For guitars you mostly use modified Stratocaster style guitars these days.What are the common features in them?
I really like the old Gibson T pickups (also known as “T-Tops”), the ones right after the patent was done, not the PAFs, but the one’s right after. I usually find them blown up and have them re-wound to 14 or 16 K.
That’s really loud for a pickup.
It’s just powerful. And instead of overdriving like the (DiMarzio) Super Distortion pickups, I use my own technique, which is to put more power into the front end of the amp to distort the pre-amp instead of doing all the other whatever it is. Instead of trying to use the distortion that comes from the guitar, the distortion comes from the amplifier, not the speakers. There’s nothing worse than having a speaker pushed against the front speaker board of your amp and it’s just stuck there. It’s the worst sound ever.
I know you have a pretty vast guitar collection. Do you have one favorite guitar?
They’re all pretty even to me and a little bit unique from each other. It would be tough for me to decide on just one.
What’s your favorite song to play live and why?
“Primal Scream.” It just has different things that I really like in it. I really enjoy playing the solo and the slide-downs, that stuff is very reminiscent to me of old Led Zeppelin and things like that. I have fun playing that song. And I play around and experiment, try different things within stuff, but always stay constant with the song. I have a lot of fun with it.
What is the one guitar, or piece of equipment you wish you owned?
You know, there’s a couple. If I could have Michael Bloomfield’s ’60 Les Paul. I’d like to have Hendrix’s ’68 that he used at Woodstock. That’d be killer. Leslie West’s first Jr. that he had on Mountain, “Mississippi Queen.” That’d be a good one too.
Who was the last guitar player that blew you away?
That’s still tough because I love Eddie Van Halen, but John 5 is probably the latest guitar player that I really respect a lot and admire. It’s kind of a tossup between those two guys. I’ve known Ed for, good Lord, probably 35 years or more. We played many times with them at Gazzarri’s. That was right when they just got David and they changed their name from Mammoth to Van Halen. That’s how far back I go with them as far as playing with them and knowing them. You know, not knowing who’s going to play and then finding out that Van Halen was playing, the drummer and I in the band would go “Yeah!” So I have respect for Ed, but John 5 I have a lot of respect for too. And of course we all do for Hendrix.