The Current's Guitar Collection: Peter Lalish of Lucius, 1960s Silvertone

lucius peter lalish
Lucius guitarist Peter Lalish (MPR)
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When Lucius were in town to play a show at The Cedar Cultural Center, they also stopped at The Current for a session in The Forum.

Guitarist Peter Lalish took some time to talk to us, sharing a personal reason he was particularly excited about that night's show. "I love Minnesota," he says. "My mom and her three sisters are all from Duluth, and now three of them live here in St. Paul, so it's going to be a pretty wild family reunion after the show."

Lalish's mother left Minnesota for New Hampshire, and that's were Lalish grew up, but he would visit Minnesota in summers and even during a few winters. "When I was little, my favorite baseball team was the Twins," Lalish says. "I got to see Kirby Puckett play and that was my dream come true. So there's a lot of Minnesota in me."

After firmly establishing his Minnesota bona fides, Lalish took some time to tell us about his vintage guitar and amp setup. Here's what he had to say:

You've got the Silvertone guitar; do you happen to know the model?

I don't know it, actually. It was the one that was sold with the amp in the case, where you open up the case and there's a little five-inch speaker in there — there's a plug that you plug in, and the case becomes an amp. And they don't sound great! (laugh) They sound like an old 60s garage-fuzz sound.

But I don't know the model of it. It was always just called the amp-in-case guitar.

Where did you get it?

Danny [Molad] — the drummer and producer in the band — he actually bought that guitar, and I think he bought it in New York on Craigslist. You can find these guitars floating around online every once in a while. And that's one reason why I spend so much time on Craigslist, looking at gear I know I'm not going to buy, but I just like to know, "All right, at least they're out there."

So many people have an old guitar out there somewhere in the back of their garage or their house that they haven't touched, and eventually they just think, "I'm never going to play this." Then there are guys like me out there who are just like vultures on Craigslist, looking for that stuff!

Now, this guitar is just the one that I use. I do session work and it sounds great; it's just a beautiful guitar. You wouldn't think something that was made for the Sears catalogue back in the day would end up getting used like this. [Editor's note: Danelectro manufactured this model of guitar under the Silvertone name specifically for Sears during the years 1962 to 1968.]

And you've got a vintage amp, too?

Yeah! We bought that one in Austin, Texas, in a parking lot from a guy who sold it off Craigslist! I think it's from the early '60s.

Silvertone had a pretty clever way of making their stuff portable — like the way the guitar went in a case that turned into an amp. But the amp that I use on stage, the head for the amp tucks in the back of the speaker, and it all kind of closes in on itself, so it's easy to pack up.

That being said, those amps are not meant to be taken on the road like we do. It's made of pressed particle board, so eventually they crumble and they end up looking like a Nature Valley granola bar on the inside!

And the guitar could go that way any day now too, but both have held up. A new friend of mine in L.A., a great amp maker named Austen Hooks, recently fixed it up for me. He just kind of tightened everything up and made it ready for the road, but it's all original stuff, which is wild to think.

It's a relic for me. It embodies a certain era of music and that sound.

Do you specifically seek '60s vintage guitar help you achieve that sound?

Yeah. I think a lot of bands try to give a nod to a certain style of recording or a certain sound with their instruments. You hear about drummers who want their drums to sound like drums on T-Rex records, those '70s kinds of classic sounds.

I think with the guitar, there's only so much you can do before you just have to go straight to the source. You look at what people were using in a lot of '60s surf bands, garage bands — you look at the Ventures, for example — and they're using a lot of Burns guitars, a lot of Silvertone guitars, Mosrite guitars. And luckily, a lot of those weren't very high-end guitars. They just had a sound that I have come to associate with the garage, so for me, I really just had to find that stuff.

And you've got a lot of pedals, too.

I love textures. A lot of guitar players I grew up listening to, like Nels Cline or Bill Frisell or David Torn — all those guys had tons of pedals, tons of stuff. I always have to tone it back in this band because if you have more pedals, you don't have much time to dance — you have to get back to your board.

But what I love is just being able to really plug in to the amp and just go, you know? The pedals are there for textures and arrangement stuff like creating loops, but a lot of the time in the band, it's just plug it in and go and make some noise, which I love. Even though our music has a sensitivity to it, it's also loud and bombastic, so I kind of always want to remember what it was like when I picked up a guitar in a garage — that feeling!

Did you acquire all that stuff bit by bit?

Yeah. I have a lot of pedals that my friends have made for me. I used to play in a band with Ximena Sariñana; she's a Mexican musician, and so we toured for a long time together and we'd go to Mexico, and American pedals down there were few and far between and very expensive, so there's a lot of great pedal makers who are her friends. One of them is a guy who makes a lot of pedals for Cafe de Cuba and Motel — these great Mexican bands — he has a shop in her rehearsal space, so he made me this fuzz pedal that I use in Lucius.

Another friend of mine, Brian Hamilton, lives in Philly and has this company called Smallsound/Bigsound, and he made me a distortion pedal. So there's a lot of stuff on the pedal board that friends have made for me — I actually have two pedal boards!

Do you feel you're completely outfitted for what you need now?

You know, I'm always looking for something that has an additional sound and something that sounds like it's about to break — I love that! And I admit that's sort of what the guitar and amp are like.

I don't know ... When I go on Craigslist and I find old stuff, it's like, "Yes! I found this vintage piece of gear!" But then I worry I'm going to bring it on the road and I'm probably going to lose it.


Lucius - official site

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2 Photos

  • lucius peter lalish silvertone amps
    Lucius guitarist Peter Lalish's Silvertone guitar, pedals and amps. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
  • peter lalish lucius pov pedal boards
    Lucius guitarist Peter Lalish's pedal boards. (MPR photo/Luke Taylor)

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