Legendary guitarist Johnny Marr of The Smiths who also played with The Pretenders, The The and more has released a book that covers his guitar collection. The book entitled “Marr’s Guitars” is not just for guitar aficionados. The book treats the instruments as pieces of art, and they were photographed in that way. You can listen to our conversation with Johnny about the book.
After our initial greeting and some joking about our names, we got down to business talking about “Marr’s Guitars.” As a player myself I was really looking forward to discussing the book. In the book’s introduction Johnny shares “One question I’m always asked is: ‘How many guitars do you have?’ The answer is something like 132. That is because 132 was the number the last time I counted.” With that obvious question out of the way, we got the conversation underway with me asking Johnny what he looks for in a guitar. He responded by saying that “All guitar players, when you first start out, everybody really wants to play the guitar that their hero is playing.” Johnny spoke about how 15 years or so ago, by chance, he picked up a Fender Jaguar. He said it made him play “The way I was supposed to play.” From there Johnny spoke about designing his signature Fender Jaguar and how much he uses it.
Also, in the introduction Johnny said “When I started this book, I thought it would be about all the guitars I own. In the making of it, I discovered it was also a story of my life. Recounting why I got a particular model put me right back into the past, and into certain moments. Each day, when I got home after photographing the guitars, I would tell my wife Angie about how amazing it was to reconnect with those emotions, and I would recount how I felt when those particular instruments first became mine.” Recognizing how many fans could relate certain parts of their lives to the music made with these guitars I asked Johnny if he also recognized that connection. He replied, “I have to be honest; I think I am aware of that, yeah because I’m a fan myself.” He mentioned being lucky enough to have fans say the most amazing things to him and to ask about the guitars over the last 40 years.
Johnny mentioned certain guitars use on specific songs with different bands. That made me wonder if there was any consideration to the idea of releasing an album with songs that correlate with guitars featured in the book. He said that early on he was expecting the publisher to bring up the idea, but “It never quite materialized.” Johnny spoke about being busy for more than 18 months working on the book, the photographs the text and so much more. Organizing the music would have just been one more thing he had to do. In short, the answer was no. He said it was a great idea he wished someone else had taken care of.
Although the obvious focus of the book is guitars, many amps are shown as well. There are amps from Roland, Vox and overwhelmingly Fender. I inquired with Johnny if Fender was his go to amp. He quickly responded, “Oh yeah, has been for years.” He discussed getting lucky in the early 80′s to not only get to buy some good old guitars but the same went for amps. He chose his amps for the distinctive sounds. He spoke about how with the technology these days you can just plug into a box and get the sound of a good old amp. Johnny said he is old fashioned. If he wants the sound of a specific amp, he wants to plug into that amp.
We also took some time to talk the book’s centerfold and what Johnny calls “Guitarchestra.” He describes in the book as “Over the years I’ve developed a style of recording using multilayered guitar parts. It’s a technique I started in my bedroom at my parents’ house where I would record a part onto a TEAC cassette machine and then build up a backing track with a lot of overdubs that all worked together. Back then I only had the one guitar so it wasn’t easy to make all the layers sound very distinct. During the 1980s, as I made more albums and acquired different guitars, I was able to refine this approach. It’s the thing I love to do and I named the process ‘the Guitarchestra’. Johnny spoke in there about coming up with the phrase in about 1986. He said it had a lot to do with the way they made records with The Smiths, which he went into in some detail. Johnny also spoke about having the concept for the centerfold and asking if it could be done. Then he discussed how the book evolved from the initial idea for it.
The book is beautiful. As Johnny referred to it in our conversation, a coffee table book. It includes electric and acoustic guitars, also 6 and 12 string guitars. Whether you play guitar or not, the book is a stunning look at the pieces of art that the instruments are. If you appreciate visual art, I would certainly say, pick up the book. I am quite glad to count it among the books I own.
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