Updated: Nov 7, 2022
Let's not kid ourselves, in today's world guitar players are ten a penny, but hidden amongst the flock, if you squint hard enough, you can find some real crazies with some pretty wild approaches to what they do, and San Diego living legend John Reis is no exception.
For those not already in the know, John Reis (aka Speedo, aka The Swami) is best known as the singer and guitarist in Rocket From The Crypt, but his offerings stretch way further than that, playing in countless other bands like Drive Like Jehu, Sultans, The Night Marchers and most related to this article, Hot Snakes. While for most people Reis's defining factor is his booming baritone voice heard all over all the RFTC records, as a guitar player he has a ferociously left field approach not only to punk rock guitar playing, but to the instrument in general.
Last December we got a chance to witness this wizard's magic first hand when we went to see Hot Snakes play at The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. It was very loud and very awesome, and we had the best seats in the house, right in front of John's amplifiers. Being the absolute guitar nerds that we are, we proceeded to check out his gear. Two Gibson Les Paul's, one in a wicked silver sparkle finish adorned with a few stickers that was used throughout the whole gig, and one in a black finish with the pickups changed to a P90 in the bridge and lipstick in the neck which wasn't used and is presumably his backup guitar. The guitar ran into two apparently rented amplifiers (Marshall JCM800 heads each with a Marshall 4x12 cab) via no more than a single pedal, a tuner, that he later told me is "The only pedal you need". I'm a really big pedal guy, but after hearing what I heard coming of the stage that night, I think he might be right.
The most noteworthy thing we noticed about his setup was that the guitar had 2 outputs, each one seemingly into a separate amplifier. We spoke to John about his gear after the gig had finished, he told us that the guitars are rewired so that each of the two pickups has it's own output jack socket, and he runs each output to a separate amplifier. So rather than setting the amp's sound for the overall sound of the guitar, he can tweak each amplifier with drastically differing tones to compliment the sound of each individual pickup perfectly.
I'm sure a lot of people would find this to be persnickety, but we love that kind of thing, and there was no arguing that the tone wasn't any less than amazing. It was total rock power while simultaneously having the sort of chime and sparkle that would make Sonic Youth jealous.
In a world chock full of cookie cutter guitar players, all aspiring to the same textbook blues and Instagram ready riffs, we need the John Reis's of the world to come and knock us sideways out of our rut and remind us that there are so many more ways to skin the proverbial cat.
No-one ever changed anything by following the rules, and after all, laughing in the face of convention is what rock and roll is all about.
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