The Seattle guitar hero is a self-professed vintage amp fanatic, and anyone who went to a Pearl Jam gig could bask in the glory of his massive stacks.
“I’m all about ‘not digital’; I love tube stuff”, McCready tells Guitar World in a recent interview, even though last year’s string of shows saw the guitarist make some radical changes in his rig.
Namely, he has exchanged his Fender tube amplifiers for the company’s new Tone Master products – specifically, the Deluxe Reverb and Blonde Twin Reverb. Looking back on the switch and the rigorous testing process which informed the decision, Mike said:
“My inclination is to always go tube amps, but these Fender digital amps, back to back against tube amps, sound exactly like tube amps. They’re phenomenal. They’re some of the best amps I’ve ever played. And they’re consistent in that, and maybe that’s the digital part of it.
“Again, I’m all about ‘not digital’; I love tube stuff. But our crew and myself, we’d A/B’d them back and forth with regular Fenders and Twins and things like that, and they were identical. So it made sense to play the newer ones, just in terms of going on the road and making sure they don’t fall apart or whatever.”
It has been noted that the guitarist still uses some tube amps in the form of Rola’s Lead Custom which runs into a Marshall 4×12. However, he seems very impressed by the digital addition, praising in particular their response to his other gear, especially his busy pedalboard:
“They break up really well. I can get a great punk sound out of them if I need to or I can get a good clean sound. It seems to be able to handle whatever I throw it in terms of wah pedal or a delay or whatever I use in there – octaver or something, they work cool. And Phase 90s work cool through them, so I love ’em. I’m sold.”
Mike McCready, the renowned guitarist of Pearl Jam, has gained a reputation for his tendency to switch between numerous guitars during their live performances. This practice allows him to select the ideal guitar that complements the song or aligns with his mood at that precise moment. McCready himself has acknowledged the importance of this practice, stating:
“It’s the immediacy of how I’m feeling. I’ll talk with my tech about a half-hour before the show, and we’ll go through the list and go, ‘Okay, Strat here, Les Paul here, Strat here, tuned-down Les Paul here.’ There’s a lot of intricacies that go on with Pearl Jam now, because we have so many songs, and we tune some of them down, and they’re in weird tunings.
“I just have to say I’m feeling more of a Les Paul moment, or I’m feeling more of a Strat moment. I’ll make a quick decision. I’ll change what I wrote the hour before. Usually I’ll stick to what we do, but sometimes I feel like, ‘Ah, I wanna just try something different.’ Just to throw myself a curve a little bit.”
McCready also discussed learning Van Halen’s “Eruption” in a YouTube video.
“You know, I’m just starting to play ‘Smoke on the Water’ [at that time]. And I’m very young – I’d just started playing in bands when I was 12. So, when Eddie came out, he blew everybody’s mind. I always thought that this was something that was completely out of reach, that I would never be able to do ‘Eruption’.
“And thank God for YouTube, because there’s guys that have picked out every single note. Other people figured it out for me, so I didn’t have to try to figure it out. And I just made myself [go]: ‘Okay, I’m gonna do this.’ This is my test to myself to see if I can actually do it.”
“And I’m almost there. I’m still struggling with a few parts of it. You know, I’ll never truly get it. But it’s a masterpiece to try to do, so I want to do it the best I can.
“Oh man, I love him. I saw him four times live with David Lee Roth back in the day and it was unreal, seeing him live.”