The Biters guitarist reveals the background behind his signature single-pickup LP – and the star influences that led to its creation…
“This is my custom Cara Les Paul-esque signature model. It’s modelled after my ’72 Les Paul Custom that was my main guitar before I got this. It has the same thin neck, the same mellow frets and almost the same weight. It’s chambered, so it’s a little lighter. It’s got my name on the headstock, and I don’t know what machineheads are on there, but they hold a tune like crazy.”
“Jim Cara is an East Coast boy like myself – he’s from Delaware and he’s been making guitars for years. He primarily makes basses for Gene Simmons, and he found us because he’s into all that early glam rock ’n’ roll stuff, he digs the band and reached out.
“He said he’d love to make me and Tuk [Smith, vocals and guitar] some guitars. I’m like, ‘Cool, cool, what do you have in mind?’ He was in the middle of making this Mick Ronson Les Paul and offered to make it mine if I wanted. He sent me photos and it was pretty minimal at the time.
“But before he stained it I asked for a Johnny Thunders TV Yellow, not like the raw wood like Mick Ronson. And I asked him if he could – I’d always wanted my name on a guitar, so could he put it on the headstock? He said, ‘Sure, it’s your guitar, whatever you want.’ He asked me what kind of pickups I wanted and that was it. It’s a great guitar, too – which helps!”
“Initially, this was supposed to be a Mick Ronson kind of model with the gloss back and sides, plus the sanded wood grain top… but then I Malcom Young-ed it when I ripped the pickup out. It’s been played, it’s a little beat-up but we like it that way.
Pickups ‘n’ pots
“This pickup is from an old Gibson I had, a 498T. And it used to have a neck pickup when I got it – I’m sure Mr Jim Cara isn’t happy that I’ve modified it since he bought it for me, but the colour kind of inspired me to Malcolm Young it out. It reminded me of his guitar, and also I don’t use that pickup. I ripped it out and moved two of the pots up so they were a little closer to my hand. Because I do use those actively onstage.
“I moved the pots up because I don’t like being confined to my pedalboard; I like to move around sometimes and I’m not always by my amp or a pedal that will boost me up or make me quieter. So I’ve got my knobs. Older guys tell me that that’s some ’70s shit – that’s what all the guys in the ’70s used to do. You want it louder? Crank it up. Want it quieter? Roll it down. It’s just the way I’ve always played.
“I fought pedals for years; I used to hate the idea of pedals. I wanted to hardwire my guitar straight into the amp. But now with the new songs, the album has a lot more layers, so I need pedals live and I’ve embraced that. But I’m not giving up on the old knob-working!”
“My old Les Paul is at home. I do take it out, but to save money and have one less headache, one less thing to be mindful of on tour, I left it at home. Ernie Ball hooks us up with strings, so I have no excuse; I just restring this every show. And I don’t break strings hardly ever [Matt says this while touching the wood of his guitar].
“I do bring my Les Paul out in the States; it’s a little bit easier because I don’t have to fly around. But for the UK tour I just brought this out – it’s newer and has a bit more life than the ’72. It can take a beating, but it still needs some breaking in so I just brought this out.”
Biters’ new album The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be is out on 19 May via Earache Records.