Wes Borland on how he ended up playing guitar like a trombone, why he loves four-string electrics, his “out-of-control” gear habit – and what's next for Limp Bizkit
Gear Acquisition Syndrome – better known to us guitarists as G.A.S. – is something almost all of us suffer from, at least at some point in our lives. For many, it’s an ongoing battle, taking up every iota of inner-strength to resist the urge to try out everything in our local guitar shop or trawl secondhand websites like Reverb and eBay while the rest of the world sleeps, all in the hope of finding new tools to create with. In more extreme cases, it’s an addiction that needs to be constantly fed which can overtake all rationality and common sense. Make no mistake, G.A.S. can be dangerous.
It’s something Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland is no stranger to, and following last week’s announcement of a huge gear sale through auction site Analogr.com, calling from Munich just a few hours before his band hit the stage for the first night of their European tour, he touches on the huge sense of relief in waving goodbye to a lot of his unnecessary equipment…
“My habit for buying gear had gotten out of control,” he tells Guitar World, almost as if it’s the start of a rehab meeting or recovery clinic. “Yeah, it’s nice to have a bunch of different things, but how else do you stop a bad habit? I’d been accumulating for so many years that my collection had gotten ridiculous. There were five storage spaces full of stuff that I just wasn’t using. And I’m only getting rid of 60 percent of what I have in storage, like the 27 guitars I just don’t play anymore…
“My collection was so extensive that it kinda became a burden. It was almost like [reality television show] My 600-lb Life or something! I didn’t know how to lose the weight. It felt like so much work to get rid of all this stuff, which is where Analogr came along. They said, ‘We’ll take anything you don’t want and do all the work for you!’ And I was like, ‘Yes! I have a lot of stuff that I don’t need and want to clear out!’”
Parting with gear is never easy, but once he had the right kind of help onboard, Borland was able to easily deduce which items would be listed for sale. And he’s not done with buying gear, either – so, to some extent, he’s making space for future purchases…
“Arriving at the decision to sell this stuff wasn’t too hard,” he continues. “I simply had too much. It was a bit like if I wanted new things I’d have to get rid of other things, whatever it might be that I haven’t used or played in a year or two.
“There are loads of microphones I got when I was younger that were just sitting there. After all these years of recording and engineering, there’s been a huge learning experience about what works best for me. A lot of stuff I’d gotten when I was younger and more naïve so I wasn’t really using it, for example there was this all-encompassing Telefunken drum mic set that I didn’t like as much as other sets I own. But there were still a few things I felt connected to…”
Like the Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier used on Three Dollar Bill, Y’all – which you christened in pen as ‘The Pickled Paprika Lord Leviticus Amen’?
“Yeah! But that amp hadn’t been played in so long. I love that head but I mainly use Diezels and EVHs. I was keeping it purely for sentimental reasons, and it got to the point where it was just taking up space. Every time I moved I’d be like, ‘Ugh, I’ve got to collect it and move it from A to B!’ I was ready to lose the weight.
“I used to have eight Mesa/Boogie heads and still own a few of the cabs. Don’t get me wrong, I probably still have 15 or 16 cabinets in total, around nine EVH heads and two Diezels, plus a load of boutique amps. I’ve decided to only keep the stuff I really like. I’m also selling five Orange heads in this sale because there’s just too much stuff. And it’s nice for the people who want it to have it, rather than it just gathering dust.”
That Selmer Zodiac Twin Thirty, recommended to you by Rick Rubin, must have been one of the harder decisions in the sale, surely?
The Selmer was the clean amp for the Chocolate Starfish album, like the tones you hear on the breakdown in My Way where it gets really trebly
“Yeah, Rick persuaded me to get that one. And you’re right, that was actually one of the things I had a hard time deciding whether to part with. But I had to think, ‘What do I use this for?’ It was the clean amp for the Chocolate Starfish album, like the tones you hear on the breakdown in My Way where it gets really trebly, it’s the high treble button on that amp.
“I really like that Selmer but later on I got a vintage 1965 Magnatone that was the same model Buddy Holly used and I ended up liking the sound of that more. I had to ask myself, ‘Why do I need both?’ If I want a Selmer again, I’ll buy one again, but right now I need to slim down my life.
“Another thing I’ve done over the years is think more about what I’m buying. I’ve always wanted a Wal bass like Geddy Lee and Justin [Chancellor] from Tool. My friend Danny Lohner has one too. But they’re too expensive. I can’t justify spending $10,000 on a bass, so what I’ll do is buy something cheaper and similar. That way it won’t sting as much! But I end up accumulating a lot of things that aren’t the thing. This sale is about getting rid of all that stuff. Things that are cool but I end up never playing.”
There’s also one of your Yamaha CV820WB signatures, which were partly inspired by the Starcasters famously used by the likes of Jonny Greenwood and Martin Gore…
“I had several of those Yamahas. This is the second one they made me, but I’m keeping the first. I really like that one, and there’s a white version that I ended up smashing to bits at a show in St. Petersburg, but I glued the body back together and poured resin in it because it’s a semi-hollow, just to strengthen it. I also ended up putting some circuit-bent stuff in there, so that’s a special guitar to me. It looked cooler pieced back together than it did before. So I’m keeping two of them, but losing the one I play the least.”
And there’s a real Starcaster in there too, which looks heavily modded…
My band Black Light Burns were making a video and we ended up hanging that Billy Sheehan bass from a tree and spray-painted it completely white for no reason
“Yeah, I’ve fucked around with that one. It’s one of the Chinese reissue Starcasters. There’s a Lollar pickup in the bridge. I put a Mastery bridge and tremolo system in there, and fitted a Jaguar pickup behind the bridge which has its own volume. I really fucked around with that guitar. It’s a really fun one to play live, I used it quite a bit.”
Perhaps one of the most surprising things you have for sale is a Yamaha Billy Sheehan bass! We had no idea you were a fan…
“I can’t say I’m a huge Billy Sheehan fan. But of course I think he’s an amazing player. The reason I have that bass is that in 2006 I was out of Limp Bizkit for a few years. Ross Robinson, who produced Three Dollar Bill, Y’all, was working on From First To Last’s second record – which is the band Sonny Moore, now known as Skrillex, used to front. I was a Yamaha artist at the time and they asked me to play bass on the record and go on tour for a year. Yamaha gave me a few basses to take with me - one of which being this customized Billy Sheehan signature.
“It didn’t end up being the one that stuck. I ended up getting a Fender Jazz that sounded killer and worked best for that band. But the Billy Sheehan was cool and I did use it on some stuff. My band Black Light Burns were making a video to promote a tour and we ended up hanging that bass from a tree and spray-painted it completely white for no reason. We were just doing a bunch of dumb stuff, which is why it’s that color. We painted it for a gag and it’s been like that ever since, and I just didn’t know what to do with it.”
There’s a few 12-strings, including 1976 Guild acoustic used for the Wish You Were Here cover performed at the America: A Tribute to Heroes 9/11 benefit concert…
“Yeah there’s that Guild, plus a WEM model that sounds really cool and was still in tune when I last pulled out the case, which made me wonder about selling it, and also the Framus. It has this little volume thing that you can turn on for volume swells with your pinky, which is really neat. I actually have two of them – this 12 and a six-string, which I’m keeping.
“And there’s other stuff like the Vigier fretless that got used a bunch on the second Big Dumb Face record for some weird-sounding riffs. I didn’t do much with it after that and haven’t picked up in, say, three years so it was probably not worth keeping. When I first started in the music industry and began buying equipment I’d always tell myself, ‘I’m never selling this guitar or amp!’ I would be very attached to my gear. And I’m trying to break that spell because I’m carrying way too much stuff on my back.”
You like to put your guitars through their paces – for example, the whammy bar work on classic tracks like Hot Dog and, more recently, Out Of Style is pretty extreme!
“Yeah! I’ve got a great tech and I’m very finicky about how I like the bars, how close they are to the body, the angle of everything. We switch out all the standard Floyd Rose parts that screw on for gaskets that you tighten with an Allen wrench, just to make sure the bar stays at the right tightness. I don’t like it loose; I can’t play with the bar swinging around loose, or if it’s too tight. I’m very specific. It’s like a racecar clutch… it has to be exactly right.”
What do you think made you end up using techniques like that in your songwriting?
I couldn’t afford effects pedals when I first started playing. All I had was this Washburn with a licensed Floyd Rose on it and I just started messing around with it… As I got further into my career, I realized nobody else was doing this
“The reason I write riffs like that is because I couldn’t afford effects pedals when I first started playing. All I had was this Washburn with a licensed Floyd Rose on it and I just started messing around with it more and more.
“As I got further into my career, I realized nobody else was doing this. I couldn’t find any other guitarists using the whammy bar almost like a trombone, bringing notes up and down to create a kind of suction that could work with the drums, coming up to a snare or diving down to a kick. It’s like this push-and-pull conversation, using the bar.”
That’s not the only way you get extra mileage out of your guitars. Songs like My Generation and Full Nelson utilize natural harmonics that create bell-like chimes to extend the fretboard…
“Yeah, it’s the same kind of thing. I like a lot of contrast in my riffs, so it’s not all in one area of the fretboard or octave. I like my ideas to jump around a lot. That’s where the idea for my four-string came about, because they’re tuned AADG with low A from a bass or F#F#BE depending on the project. Having a low bass string and then another A from a guitar allows me to do very quick single-note back and forth melodies and riffs, jumping between those strings. I don’t know why I started doing all this stuff. I just love the contrast.”
Speaking of your four-string collaboration with PRS, given that you’re well-known for being a Jackson artist, how exactly did that come about?
“I played PRS through the Chocolate Starfish era and I’ve started working with them again, as well as Jackson. I’m not exclusive to either one. I just finished playing in Danny Elfman’s band last year – not finished because I’m still in that band – but we completed a tour and PRS really equipped me with amazing stuff for that. They sent me some great Custom 24s with Floyds that sound fantastic.
“I don’t really play guitars that don’t have locking tremolo systems, unless they’re like Jaguar-style models. I really like Bilt guitars too, I have three of those, plus some Jazzmasters with humbuckers dropped into the bridge position. I love those Jazzmaster-style tremolos that Mastery make.”
Given your knack for ambient and atmospheric sounds, you’re definitely well-suited to that Danny Elfman gig, even more so when coupled with Nili Brosh, who is more of an Ibanez-wielding shredder-type guitarist…
Playing with Danny Elfman is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, for sure, trying to keep up on stage with someone that advanced as a musician
“The two of us fit really well together because we can cover really different things. I’m really riff-heavy and am into making noise, while she’s just shredding all over the place. It was really easy to divvy up the parts! My favorite parts of the set are definitely the Big Mess stuff, which is his latest record. The first song, Sorry, is such a crazy ride. All of that material is insanely difficult.
“It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, for sure, trying to keep up on stage with someone that advanced as a musician. I try to sponge and soak up everything I can from Danny. And I also get to play with Josh Freese who has been a good friend of mine for a long time – he’s such a comedian and so much fun to be around. I got to know Stu Brooks and Nili… we got so tight as a unit and I can’t wait to do it again. There are rumors of more stuff coming up. Everybody wants to, that’s for sure!”
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So let’s have a quick look through your rig on this European tour. What amps are you running?
“I brought a Diezel VH4S over, which is stereo. We’re basically blending that with the EVH heads. I have this crazy VHT 6x12 cabinet plus one Mesa and one EVH 4x12. The Diezel is running one of the Mesas and the entire VHT cabinet, and the EVH is coming through its own matching cab. We’re using a blend of that, plus using a box to take the DI from the EVH straight to the PA.
“It’s a really cool sound – I think my tone is tougher and more aggressive distortion-wise than it ever has done. I could not help but smile when I first plugged it all in. And then for cleans I have two JC-120s!”
And what about the pedalboard – you don’t tend to travel light…
“I love my Boss delays. Mine are all glued in place so they don’t move and are set for specific songs. I also love the Strymon stuff: I’ve got a BigSky for two different reverbs and a TimeLine for a delay that’s preset for the song Boiler, and another one for Out of Style that’s slower because the song has more of a half-time bounce during those clean verses. I’ve got a Q-Tron Envelope Filter – that’s the sound for Full Nelson and Hot Dog verses.
“I’ve got a wah pedal that I use on songs like Pollution. I don’t really use it as a wah; it’s more to turn on for the EQ. I do run an overdrive for the JC-120s – right now it’s a Fulltone OCD. I also have that old Ibanez [CF7] Flanger Chorus, which has the Wack’d setting that sounds like a ring modulator. I use that for the verses of My Way. They don’t make them anymore, so I always try to buy them on eBay or whatever so we have a back stock.”
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And, given your outlandish stage outfits, we’re dying to know – what’s your look for this run?
“I’ve had this custom-made armor mask along with matching shoulder pads. It looks really medieval but it’s also mirror-polished, so it’s going to look crazy on stage on top of my black suit. You will only see a medieval robot in this weird armor.”
There was a decade gap between 2011’s Gold Cobra and 2021’s Still Sucks. Are there any plans yet for new material?
“Yeah, we’re talking about writing during all the soundchecks this year because we’re doing so much touring. We want to get recording – we’re talking about a travel destination to make an album together next year. We’re looking at places, so new music… yessir!
“This thing has been going for so long. I thought it would last for a few years and I’d end up in art school saying ‘I was in a band once!’ But 27 years later, we’re still going, which is wild. I’ve been in Limp Bizkit for more than half my life. We get along better than ever now. No one is taking anything for granted. We’re all just happy to be here and having a lot of fun.”
Head to Analogr for more information on the Wes Borland Collection.