Gibson.com is pleased to present “The Gibson Classic Interview,” where we open our archives and share with you interviews we’ve done over the years with some of the world’s biggest artists. This week, we revisit Walter Carter’s 2003 interview with legendary Aerosmith axeman Joe Perry.
With Joe Perry's busy schedule - working on a new Aerosmith CD and planning for Aerosmith's co-headlining tour this summer with KISS, not to mention promoting his Rock Your World Boneyard Brew hot sauce and his role as co-owner of a restaurant in the South Beach area of Boston - it's a wonder he found the time to design a new Gibson Custom Shop signature guitar.
Actually, he didn't have to find the time to design the new guitar - at least not in the initial stages. As the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist explained in an interview a few days before the launch party for the Gibson Joe Perry Signature (5/17), his wife Billie was the one who, unbeknownst to Joe, took care of the original design.
"We were down on one of our trips through Nashville and went through the guitar factory," Perry recalled. "My family travels with me on the road. We were going through the Custom Shop, and I noticed Billie was missing. I'm always suspicious when she takes off. She had gone off with the head painter. She had an idea for a way to stain the tops, and they conjured up these tops."
The special top combined AAA tiger-stripe maple with a greenish stain to create the Green Tiger finish. Billie had Gibson Custom build the guitar in secret, and she presented it to Joe as a Christmas present.
Perry wasn't completely surprised that Billie would buy him a guitar. Over the course of their 17 years of marriage, she has bought around a third of the guitars in his collection. "She's bought me everything from the funkiest Supro to the finest old Martin," he said, "so she knows my taste in guitars, and obviously she had seen the Blackburst (an earlier Gibson Joe Perry model), so she knew about AAA tops."
The Green Tiger guitar was special, right from the start. "She handed me this guitar and it was beautiful," Perry said. He immediately added it to his arsenal of instruments in the Boneyard, his basement studio. And with a few more personalized modifications, it became the new Joe Perry Signature from Gibson Custom.
The production model is a continuation of an earlier Gibson Joe Perry model, introduced by Gibson Custom in 1996 and then offered as a regular production model from 1997-2000. The original had a Blackburst AA tiger-stripe top, a mid-boost tone control and a '59 Les Paul neck profile with rolled fingerboard edges. The new model has the Green Tiger AAA top, an optional Bigsby vibrato, a reverse-wired neck pickup, a fatter neck and the Boneyard logo on the headstock. "Boneyard" is not only the nickname for Perry's studio, it's also his new brand of hot sauce.
The optional Bigsby vibrato contributes a unique tonal element that offsets the traditionally accepted drawback of a vibrato tailpiece. "I love that kind of sound you get from that little bit of movement," Perry said. "Obviously there's a big difference between a Strat's moving bridge and a Bigsby, but I love the Bigsby sound. The mass - it makes up for having that kind of bridge. It's got a ton of sustain. Having all that weight at the end adds sustain instead of takes away from it."
The custom wiring gives the new model the classic tone that Perry has always looked for in a guitar. "We wanted to do something that was distinctive," he explained, "and one of those things was to switch the coil magnets to get a little more of that coil-cutter tone when you put it in the middle position. I gravitate toward Les Pauls that have that sound, and once I learned that trick it's amazing how many of them sound that way.
"Every Les Paul is a little different," he added. "Some of them sound a lot different -- especially when you get to older ones. They have a more distinct tone as opposed to an amp sound. I think that's where Les Paul was going with it anyway. I'm surprised it didn't come with that feature right from the start. If you listen to some of the tones he uses and some of the features he puts on his guitar, that's where he was going."
Perry has been a tone aficionado since the 1960s, when he decided to move up from his Guild Starfire IV (a semi-hollowbody designed along the same lines as a Gibson ES-335). "My guitar teacher, this kid that I took three or four lessons from, said, 'I think this would be the guitar for you,' and showed me a picture of the Strat, and I said, 'No, that's okay.' I stuck with Guild. Then I saw Jeff Beck playing a Les Paul at the Tea Party (a Boston rock club), and that's when I made the decision. I was gravitating toward Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jeff Beck - the sound that we all love."
Perry traded his Guild in for a Gibson Les Paul Jr. "The Starfire squealed so much, " he recalled. "The Les Paul did better at that." Next came a Les Paul goldtop, which he scraped the finish off of. "Other people were doing it," he said. "It was just to customize it a little, to see what was underneath. It had a pretty good top."
Thirty-something years later, Perry can play any guitar he chooses. He owns several of the old Guild Starfires now, including a 12-string. He has Fender Strats and Strat-type guitars, along with a Gretsch White Falcon. And a full array of Gibsons ES and Les Paul models, old and new, including a B.B. King Lucille model customized with his wife's portrait. "I've been really impressed with the f-hole style guitars I've been getting from you guys," he said. "I have a 1960 cherry stereo ES-335 with Bigsby. My wife got it for me for my birthday, a few years ago I was bringing that on the road with me. Then I got the blond one that I got new. I couldn't really tell the difference in a live situation. So I've just been bringing the new ones on the road."
On the road, Perry plays through Gibson Goldtone amps, along with some Marshalls. "It's the same rig as last year, and I'm glad to say Rick Nielsen is extremely happy with his," he said, referring to Cheap Trick's lead guitarist. "He saw me playing them, and he's going to get a wall of them, black-and-white checkered. They really come alive with a humbucker, I used a few other amps on the last album, but that was the main amp. The thing I liked best about it was everything you plugged into it sounded like the guitar."
Perry uses his wide ranging collection of guitars and amps to keep his interest level up. "I need to change the sound for my own ear," he explained. "Just by tweaking it a little bit here and there, just by changing the fuzz tones, you keep it fresh sounding." With all those choices available, these days he finds himself reaching for the Green Tiger. "The prototype for the guitar that we're selling is always two feet away from me down in the studio."
The studio is Perry's basement recording studio, the Boneyard, which got its name from its former use as his gym. When he was working out, his kids would say "Daddy's down in the Boneyard," and the name stuck, even after he replaced the gym equipment with the studio gear. Over the past few months, Aerosmith has been working on a new album in the Boneyard.
"We're working on a kind of blues roots album," he said. "We're doing a lot of blues covers. We'll have some originals on there, but it's mostly some of the old blues tunes that knocked me off of my feet. With some of them, the influences of the English bands will be obvious; some won't. It's a record we've been looking forward to making for a long time.
"It's the first time we've had the whole band in a room making a record for five years. The last couple of records were more hodge-podge, made in pieces. There are a lot of open mikes in the room. We're having fun making it. We've been working almost two months every day."
The new album should be done by September. In the meantime Aerosmith is planning a summer tour co-headlining with KISS. "It's just gonna be a circus," Perry said. "We've always wanted to have fire-breathers and jugglers for an opening act, and now we've got the best in the business.
"It's a co-headline thing," he added. "We've known these guys since 1975. It's funny, you go back and there aren't that many bands from back then that can still claim the stage."
Perry has recently been rocking in a different way, with his Rock Your World Boneyard Brew hot sauce. After years of pouring out three different hot sauces on his plate and mixing them until he found the right taste, he has released his own brand. "Considering that I haven't been on Emeril or QVC, it's doing quite well," he said. "Because it's got my name on it it means something. I use it. I'm always calling them up for another case. Like the guitar, I believe in it."
Perry also believes in and "uses" the Mount Blue restaurant he co-owns in Norwell, in the South Shore area of Boston. "We eat there two or three times a week," he said. "I'm proud to say we have some of the best pizza within 50 miles."
With his busy schedule, Perry has still found the time to plan for the future of Aerosmith. "We have a song coming out in the Rug Rats this summer," he said. "By doing that, there's a whole new batch of kids who are gonna care about Aerosmith."