Keith Richards Interview Guitar Player 1983

GP: In the last few years there’s been a new aspect of your tone—more distinct, with a slight click, almost like a slap bass in rockabilly. “Hang Fire” and “She’s So Cold” are examples, and especially the last section of “Little T&A.”

Keith: It’s our equivalent of that rockabilly thing. I think you’ll find that comes from using a lot of analog delay on Ron’s guitar or my guitar or both of them, and I dampen it. That’ll give you that ticka-tacka-ticka. I always use that green MXR analog delay. I’m told it’s quite out of date now and old fashioned, but I got it free and I forgot that time marches on and they make better ones, or so they say. I don’t know. I’ve worked very well with those MXR things, and they’ve been very reliable.

Can you judge the sound of an electric guitar before you plug it in?

Maybe to a certain extent. If the neck and the action feel right, you’re more than halfway home, even before hearing the electronics. Things like weight and the density of the wood indicate certain things, but you simply need to play it to really tell. And it doesn’t take long.

On record you’ve used several very different types of guitars—Gibson Les Pauls and ES-335s, Fender Telecasters, and others. And yet a listener can tell right away that it’s you, from stylistic clues, but also from the sound alone.

I use a whole load of different guitars, that’s true, but they’re not all that dissimilar in type. I mean, 90 percent are probably Telecasters, old ones, but more than that, you can’t really separate style and sound, you see. People do separate them when they’re talking about music, but all of that often misses the whole point.

You’re suggesting that the style is the sound?

Yes, part of it, more than any particular tone setting or pickup or anything like that. I’ll just adjust to the sound of the track as we go—the sound of the bass drum and especially Ronnie’s guitar. The style is adjusting along with the sound. There’s never a conscious effort to get that “Honky Tonk Woman” tone or a thing like that. You may get it or you may not. But that’s not what you’re thinking about. You’re thinking about the track.

Some people were amazed to read in your first Guitar Player cover story that on “Street Fighting Man” there are no electric guitars.

Two acoustics, one of them put through the first Philips cassette player they made. It was overloaded, recorded on that, and then hooked up through a little extension speaker, and then onto the studio tape through a microphone.

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