When Montreal-based guitarist Mike Gavrailoff isn’t on stage or in the studio with any of the numerous artists he plays with (or working on his own project, Texas Dirty), he is also a music writer who frequently sits down with his favorite musicians to interview them about the gear they use on stage and in the studio. For today’s Pedalboard Feature, the tables are turned and we got to ask Mike about his pedalboard, instruments, and gear, as well as how he approaches lyrics and music creation.
What kind of pedalboard do you have and what is your signal chain?
I have two boards that I go back and forth with. One is a RockCase that I use for shows and travel. It is durable which is most important. The other is a larger PedalTrain that I have set up at home for the pedals that don’t make the show cut.
My signal chain does change, often. Either I’m buying and selling pedals or depends on the artists songs. It can be anything from a Tuner and a Reverb to 75 percent of my collection. That being said, I do have a “go to” set up that covers all the bases for a live show. I don’t want to take boutique studio stuff out on the road. It can be risky. My common live show set up is as follows…
This is all powered by a Voodoo Labs PedalPower Plus.
-This makes its appearance when I need it for lap steel. Mostly because I rarely use it otherwise and a smaller and quicker stage set up is best for me. Anyone who has played a festival knows that the less gear, the better.
Boss TU-2 Tuner
-This pedal has been with me for as long as I can remember. It is on its last days but I feel I can get a few more years out of it, maybe. Has had many a drink spilled on it. I hope it doesn’t just go mid-show but it probably would.
MXR SuperComp Compressor
-It isn’t the most high-end compressor but I find it works nicely! I use it for boosts and sustain on solos, mostly. I like that it sounds a little ragged when turned on. I like what it does to my tone!
-This pedal was a weird purchase. I was on tour with a Montreal band called Clementine. They had no bassist and I was dreading the drops with well, no drop. So, on a whim, I walked into a shop and bought a Pog without even trying it. I loved it from the minute I put it into my chain. I don’t use it often but its always there just incase the need arises. Great pedal.
Fulltone Full-Drive2 MOSFET
-I have a love/hate relationship with this pedal. I like the options and range it can deliver however it has a smoother tone that I like, but not often. That said, I probably will never take it off my board ’cause when I don’t have it, I will need it…said every hoarder.
Lone Wolf Texas Rat
-This pedal is on its way. It is being built by Joe at Lone Wolf. He does amazing work. It is a custom build containing a Blues Driver type of drive on one side and a Rat type on the other. There is a certain tone that I’m looking for and this is a nice step in that direction. Plus I’m sure it will stack nicely with the Full-Drive.
Boss TR-2 Tremolo
-Another pedal that I will never get rid of. As much as I would love to have a plethora of pedals from all the builders, I do have certain pedals that I get so used to that I can’t imagine looking down and not seeing it. This pedal has always been nice. I tend to like a thick tremolo sound so this does the job just right.
MXR Phase 90 (EVH model)
-A classic. It has such a lush sound. It sits nicely on solos and leads plus it creates a nice, warm phase on clean. Again, another pedal that will never leave the board.
Strymon TimeLine Delay
-I am new to this pedal. I used to have a Line 6 DL-4 that I used for about 8 years. It toured with me a lot. As much as I loved it I knew I had to upgrade to something with more features and more bank space as well. When you session, you find that after a while writing down the settings gets tedious. With the Timeline I can store all the settings as well as the favourites that I have. This way it is so much easier for show flow and on my aging back. A feature I enjoy is how the setting is always set and the light will change back to green when the setting is back on the dial. Fantastic idea. Oh and the feedback control by holding it down. That is a constant with me too. I still have a lot to learn about this pedal which is exciting!
Boss DD-3 Digital Delay
-I borrowed this from a friend about 9 years ago and he never asked for it back. This stays on my board set to slapback for lap steel parts. Or for that country-rockabilly echo if needed.
EHX Nano Holy Grail
-I love love love this pedal! It goes everywhere with me. It has three options for reverb styles. Spring, which is, well, spring reverb. Hall and Flerb which is a modulated style reverb. I keep it on hall all the time. It trails nice and it is easy to use. Before 12 o’ clock your signal sits nicely in front of the reverb. After 12 o’ clock the signal sort of sinks behind the reverb which is great. I have never been a big fan of multiple reverb options. For some, it works, but for me simplicity becomes key with effects like that.
Lyrics can seem like a insurmountable task for some. Does lyric writing come easy to you? How do you approach your lyric writing?
Lyrics are my friend and enemy. I grew up listening to lyrical artists such as Leonard Cohen, Gord Downie and Bruce Springsteen, so stories is where i start. Every song I feel is a way to tell something. A way to put your listener in the place you are. I take them very seriously which puts me in a position where I feel my lyrics are, at times, never in depth or thorough to convey the image in my head. Plus, when it comes to music, I see weird physical colour a lot. There is a scientific name for it, which escapes me. It is a bizarre way to see music and it can get frustrating when writing. Gets in the way for some reason.
I’m a huge fan of the lap steel. What tips do you have for a guitarist looking to master a lap steel?
I also have always been a fan of lap steel! It is such a somber and brooding sound or a fun-loving part in a classic country song. There is something about it that has always captured me, so when I decided to work as a freelancer I thought “why don’t I provide that for others!”. Tips? Hmmm. I still haven’t mastered it myself so I would also love to hear tips! I would say to just try it. It is a hard instrument to learn, however, it is amazing when you get it. Sure it sounds like you’re killing a cat with four other cats but in time you will find the right sound and love playing it.
Is there a particular instrument in your collection that brings you the most inspiration? (Multiple instruments ok!)
I tend to keep a small collection of instruments. Rather than keep guitars, I tend to buy and sell. I used to have a Gretsch Electromatic, the thin one. I loved it but it was a one-tone style guitar. I couldn’t keep one like that in my rig at the time. I was playing with a hardcore band at the time and I needed something more durable and so that’s when I decided to move to the Fender Telecaster. An old bandmate from years ago used to play them and I always found them great. I had a Squier with a Seymour Duncan Hot Rail in it mostly so I could beat the shit out of it and not feel bad about it. I wouldn’t throw a White Falcon around a punk crowd. I wanted a second one so I found one on Kijiji in Manitoba and bought it for 300 bucks. It was built in Mexico I believe and had a Seymour Duncan Hot Rail in it already when I bought it so it worked out nice for the band! When I moved to Montreal I found another Tele and bought it for parts to upgrade this one. I took it to Montreal Guitar and they put the Bigsby on it and a Little ’59 in the bridge. The neck pickup is stock I think. I also put a three-way switch in lieu of the five-way. This allows me quick access to twang on the bridge and full body on the middle setting. I love this guitar. I also use the Frankencaster at times, but it’s rare. My lap steel is a modified SX I got in Montreal. Does the job and is very compact which is great! I keep an Epiphone EB-3 bass on hand too.
Is there an amp that you are in love with? Do you use separate amps for guitar and lap steel? If so, what do you like about each?
Amps are just speakers to me. It is a weird statement to most but that’s all they are to me. So long as it has a beautiful clean tone that can match my Tele that’s all I need. I use a Fender Super 60 head right now. It weighs a fucking ton but I just love the tone. A little while ago at a festival, the stage hands dropped it while switching and broke the volume knob off for the clean channel. I was angry, however, I also understand their jobs so I tend to let shit like that slide. Now I use the gain channel but cleaned up nicely and it turns out it’s becoming more and more enjoyable actually. As for separating the amps for lap steel, I do not do it. I just a/b the inputs for faster changeover during the set. Plus I try to build my tone out of my guitar and pedals so I have constant control over changes. Also, like I stated before, I prefer a small stage rig for quick set up and tear down.
Is that a resonator guitar you’re playing slide on for “I’ll Be Fine?” It sounds wonderful.
Thank you! Actually, it is just a Simon and Patrick acoustic I had sitting in my house at the time and a small half slide that I use. I recorded that song into my laptop in my house. Nothing fancy, just how I like my music.
Please tell us about your current project.
Well right now I session quite a bit so it is a lot of projects from tours to one off shows. Between that I work on Texas Dirty. I started that project in 2007 to get all the music out that my projects couldn’t. It sat dormant for a long time up until recently when I decided to make use of the recording opportunity I had in Montreal at my studio space. I re-recorded a couple songs in Montreal and the others were done in Winnipeg in 2008. We remixed the volumes here at Domaine Le Frolic and made it sound nice and level. I hope to do more with Texas Dirty once I relocate to Toronto early next year!