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The Current's Guitar Collection: Steve Harris of Gary Numan's band, Gibson Les Paul

Guitarist Steve Harris of Gary Numan's band
Guitarist Steve Harris of Gary Numan's bandMPR photo/Nate Ryan
  Play Now [4:33]

by Luke Taylor

April 09, 2014

Gary Numan's band visited The Current the day after playing a gig at Mill City Nights in Minneapolis. Even though the band had to hurriedly get packed for the trip to Milwaukee when their in-studio session wrapped, guitarist Steve Harris happily took some time to talk to us about his guitar, how he found it, and the effects he uses when playing with Gary Numan.

It looks like you're playing a Gibson Les Paul.

Yes. I think I've had it for about 10 years. It's a VOS — Vintage Original Specification. It's one of these, when you open the case, it smells of linseed oil. So it's really nice. It's pretty much been my stock guitar.

I was a Tele player — still am, really, deep down — but the Gibson is nice and ugly and does everything.

Do you remember where you got it?

Yeah — it was in south London; it was just around the time that Gibson took command of their distribution from, I think it was Rosetti before, over the UK. There was a lot of stuff going on, discounting prices. I think Fender and Marshall had the same sort of problem.

So Gibson took back their distribution, and there was only a few places that were getting Gibsons in at the time, especially these. It just so happened one such shop was quite close to where I lived. I went in there, made the mistake of picking it up and playing it — and then suddenly had to sell one of the children and all my other guitars to get it! (laugh)

It was love at first play?

Well, yeah. I just knew that I had to have it. It's one of those things, as you grow as a guitar player, you realize you've just got to have some serious gear to work with. This is great. It does everything I need, really.

Was it a tone thing, the feel of the neck, a combination …?

No, personally for me, the way I grew up learning guitar, my peers and people that I used to admire, they were all into jazz fusion and things like that, and I sort of went through a stage of that Stratocaster or Ibanez 550 kind of thing and a rack system. And then I just realized that wasn't the way ahead. That just wasn't doing it for me; it wasn't floating my boat.

So that's when I went onto Telecasters, and then as soon as I could get a really nice, plummy tone out of a Telecaster, I thought, "I've got to move on from this."

I actually liked the Gibson because it's ugly. When you play clean, it's really difficult to get a nice sound out of the treble pickup on the Gibson. It's right in your face, and that appeals to me. It makes you play differently.

Tell me about the effects you're using.

For this setup [with Gary Numan], I'm using Fractal Audio Systems' Axe-Fx, and it's purely because the sounds on the album are not amp sounds. They're bit-crushed, distorted sounds. You know, I could have done this whole tour with a Dual Rectifier, but it never does matter how rock 'n' roll the amp is, it's still got that juicy, valve tone. And the same thing with the Gibson: I don't want any juice; I don't want anything nice.

So what I've got is a Fender Bassman clean amp with a Fender Blender fuzz pedal on the top, and there's a bit-crush option down the menu, so you could probably plug any guitar into it and you'd get exactly the same sound because it's just right in your face and awful. But with the whole track mode it sits in, it doesn't sound like lovely, mature guitar sound, and that's exactly what I want — strangely enough, you know?! All avenues lead to awful sound! (laugh)

So I've just got a few patches set up — wet ones, dry ones, clean, that kind of thing. It's a great unit, the Fractal.

What challenges are there arranging, recording and rehearsing the album with you living in south London and Gary Numan in L.A.?

The way it's worked up until now, because Ade Fenton produced the album, he'd be liaising with Gary, and then I'd go up and record with Ade. That's as far as the album went.

And when it comes to touring, I mean, if they're in Europe, we can rehearse in the UK or the day before the gig, but we've got quite an understanding, because I've been playing on and off with Gary since 1997. There's an understanding and we can rehearse it out pretty quick, as long as I know what they're going to do, I can learn what I need to know, I can consult with Ade and then go into the studio and just beat it out in maybe one or two days and then off you go.

What other acts do you play with?

I've played with a band called Archive that I was with for a long time, and I played with Spear of Destiny, which is quite a cult band in the UK. And I did a thing with Joe Strummer's old band, the Mescaleros, I did a little tour with them as Los Mondo Bongo.

So yeah, I've done bits and pieces. I've got to keep myself busy!


Gary Numan - official site