For a band whose intrepid fusion of growling seven-string guitars, hip hop rhythms and industrial gloom defines hard music's latest wave, Korn achieved their success in a refreshingly old school manner: they toured their asses off- with everyone from House of Pain to Marilyn Manson in support of their Platinum 1995 debut, Korn. Now, to celebrate the mainstream success that their second album, Life is Peachy, and belated MTV acceptance has brought them, the group will be embarking on yet another grueling road trip, this time headlining summer's Lollapalooza tour. "I'm so fucking excited for this summer," says guitarist Brian "Head" Welsh. "It's really a dream come true."
And while a good portion of the media focuses on the rabid rantings of Korn's lead vocalist, Jonathan Davis, much of Korn's success can be attributed to the innovative way in which "Head" and his partner in crime, Brian "Munky" Shaffer, make use of the Ibanez Universe seven-string guitars, originally developed for virtuoso Steve Vai.
"I used to be a huge fan of Steve Vai," Munky reveals. "I wasn't attracted by all the fast, technical stuff he does, but by the emotional and spiritual realm he accessed through his music. As soon as I saw him endorsing one of those seven-string guitars, I knew one could be made to sound super heavy. I wanted to use his guitar to do something of my own- something that was tuned down, aggressive and phat without sounding like Carcass or one of those death metal bands."
The impressive range of thundering, stomp-box altered sounds that propel Korn's two albums indicate that Munky and Head were more than successful in reinventing an instrument originally designed to be the ultimate shred machine. But don't look for too much method behind their inspired madness- this pair thrives on experimentation, not regimentation. "Basically, where Korn is concerned, there's no rules, man," says Munky. "We just fuck with shit and get creative."
GUITAR WORLD (GW): How long did it take you to get used to playing seven strings instead of six?
MUNKY: I bought my first seven-string on layaway. Each week I'd go in the music store and put down as much money as I could on it- $10, $50, $100, whatever. Then they'd pull the thing down and let me play it for about an hour, before they kicked me out- ther was only so much heavy "chung, chung, chung" shit they could take! Since I'd been playing the seven-string an hour a week while I was making the payments on it, it didn't take more than a month to get used to it when I finally brought it home.
HEAD: I used to mess around with Munky's seven-string all the time, but I'd only played it sitting down until they asked me to join the band. It took me about a month to get used to standing up with the guitar, because you have to reach your hand around that huge neck!
GW: You tune each of your seven strings down a whole step from concert pitch (A, D, G, C, F, A, D, low to high, instead of B, E, A, D, G, B, E). When did you start doing this and why?
MUNKY: I always detuned my six-string guitars a whole step because it made them sound way heavier. So as soon as I got my first seven-string it just seemed natural to tune it down.
GW: What string gauges do you use?
MUNKY: The bass string is a 60 (.060) gauge and then the rest of the guitar is strung with a light top, heavy bottom set (low to high: .052, .042, .030, .017, .013, .010).
GW: Now that you're so accustomed to playing on seven strings, does picking up a six-string guitar throw you?
HEAD: It seems so tiny, man! It feels like a little kid's play guitar because the neck's so thin! I'm used to a fat-assed neck and my hand getting pains from some of the chords.
MUNKY: I have an Ibanez Talman six-string at home that I just goof around on. It seems like whenever I pick it up, I start remembering a lot of the fundamentals I used to know but had forgotten. Then, I try to incorporate those things into my seven-string work. So, my six-string is a really useful tool for me because it helps me open up playing doors I'd closed when I moved to the seven-string.
GW: How would you advise someone who wants to emulate the seven-string sound with a six-string?
MUNKY: That's a tough one. Not only do we use the "extra" low string all the time, we use all seven strings a lot, especially on the new record.
HEAD: Yeah, like the intro to "Good God" (Life is Peachy) which bounces between the lowest and highest string. It's a cool riff but it's a bitch to play!
MUNKY: Or the part Head plays in the verse of "K@#ø%!" (Life is Peachy).
HEAD: I'd probably throw a 60 gauge in there, ditch the high E string and then tune the six strings like the lowest six on my seven string (low to high A, D, G, C, F, A). I've never tried it because I've always had a seven-string, but I know you could make it work. You'd probably have to file some shit down on the nut to make the thicker strings fit though. If you want that phat low end, you've gotta have the "seventh" string.
MUNKY: I've met quite a few kids at shows who've done exactly that. They've just increased their string gauges and adjusted the tension of their vibrato bar system springs, and they say it's working out just fine for them.
GW: You employ the tritone (root/flatted fifth) power chord shape you use at the start of "K@#ø%!" (Life is Peachy) quite a lot.
MUNKY: We wanted something that sounded a little dissonant but still had a melodic feel to it. That's what we like to do in all our songs.
HEAD: We call it the "Mr. Bungle chord." That band (featuring Faith No More lead vocalist Mike Patton) was a big, big influence on us and, as we got the chord idea from their first record (Mr. Bungle), we named it after them. If you wanna make it sound bigger, you can double the low note an octave higher.
GW: Although the "Bungle chord" has become one of your sonic trademarks, you don't overdo it.
MUNKY: No, we like to be conservative with stuff like that. If you overdo the chord it goes from sounding cool to being annoying (laughs). That's why we only play the intro riff to "K@#ø%!" for four bars with that voicing before we revert to playing it with regular power chords.
HEAD: We like to chop that chord up, too, and funk it up a little bit. Like on the front of "Divine" (Korn). I love doing that with the "Bungle chord."
MUNKY: Yeah, I do the same kinda thing at the beginning of "Blind" (Korn), an E tritone shape (E, Bb, E) with a low B (the perfect fifth of E) thrown in for added dissonance. Then, after a few repeats, Head comes in with this riff while I keep playing this, and then it develops into this.
GW: You also use the tritone interval to add darkness to certain single-note riffs, like the one in the "knick knack paddy-whack" section of "Shoots and Ladders".
HEAD: We do? (laughs) Yeah, it makes the riff sound really mean- the way a riff should be!