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The Current's Guitar Collection: Field Report - Epiphone guitars; Fender Telecaster

Tom Wincek shows the modifications on his Telecaster (L); at right, Chris Porterfield's Epiphone guitars.
Tom Wincek shows the modifications on his Telecaster (L); at right, Chris Porterfield's Epiphone guitars.MPR photo/Leah Garaas
  Play Now [3:48]

by Luke Taylor

October 15, 2014

After playing a set in The Current's studio, Field Report's Chris Porterfield and Tom Wincek took some time to talk about their guitars, including the interesting modifications each makes to his instruments.

Chris Porterfield

So you have a pair of Epiphones today?

Yes — come this way! Come this way! We've got a couple of newer Epiphones here. They started putting out this line, called their Pro line, which is pretty affordable but are good-sounding, easy-to-play instruments. So this is their EL-00 Pro. You can get these for like three- or four-hundred dollars. But it plays really nice; I like the neck. It's sort of like a parlor, blues-box sort combo. It's got a Fishman pickup. One of the reasons I like these is that they have the same pickups guitar to guitar, and because I use a lot of different tunings when I write, I can just switch guitars and it's the same level into all my stuff, which is one thing that I really like about them.

So I've got the EL-00 Pro, which is a really, really great — like if you're looking for a guitar and don't want to spent thousands of dollars, or you need multiple guitars and you don't want to be super precious about them on the road, this is a super great option. It's also just a really good-sounding home guitar, too.

And the other?

This is the Epiphone Dove Pro; it's a traditional — I think it's the AJ body shape: slightly squared shoulders, a little bit larger, not quite a jumbo. It's got maple back and sides, which you can totally hear. There's sort of this dryness and treble response that's inherent in maple back and sides.

And — I put this little vampire sticker head over the dove head because my niece gave it to me last Halloween, so it's a little reminder of home, and also the idea of vampire-birds is interesting.

Do you write on these at home?

Yeah! And it's nice, too, because they all stay in a different tuning. The Dove, you can see, is labeled EADEAE, and that particular tuning sounds nice with the maple and the airiness of it. So I keep that one tuned to this. The EL-00 is kind of my standard-tuning guitar.

And I've got a couple more Epiphones in the van, actually, that I didn't bring in based on the songs we were doing. I've got a really lovely Casino re-issue that I keep in open tuning, and one of those John Lennon models that I alternate tunings on.

So yeah, that's part of my writing process, so for shows, I have to have a lot of guitars around in order to facilitate the different tunings without breaking a bunch of strings and screwing around onstage and killing the vibe at shows.

Did you get these from the manufacturer or in a shop?

I got them directly from the manufacturer.

The EL-00 looks a bit older …

Yeah, sometimes the lacquer finish that they put on new guitars can be, like, really sort of sticky, almost, and has kind of a plasticky sound to it. So I will take some fine-grade steel wool and just take that lacquer off the top of the guitar and off the back of the neck. I generally leave the back and sides; that doesn't bother me too much. But the guitar sound tends to be a little woodier and it breathes a little more when the top is clean from lacquer. And then the back of the neck just feels a little better.

Do you use anything but steel wool and elbow grease?

Just steel wool and a little Murphy's Oil at the end.

And that explains why it looks vintage.

Yeah — that's, like, a one-year-old guitar! (laughs)

Tom Wincek

What do you have with you today?

This is just an SG bass that I play. Chris gets stuff from Epiphone, but they sent us a Gibson [editor's note: Gibson is the parent company of Epiphone], which is great. This bass plays great, it smells great — it smells like a humidor for some reason.

I'm not really a bass player, so I really like the fact that the neck is kind of a shorter deal, and I can get my fingers around it a lot easier and stuff — I'm mostly a piano player.

And you've got them plugged into your laptop.

Everything runs into the computer. Bass doesn't really get processed into the computer, but this is the guitar that I play on a couple of songs.

A Fender Telecaster?

This is actually a Mexican Tele with two humbuckers, but I replaced this humbucker and put in a sustainer from an old Fernandez guitar, and I had to rout out all the old wood to put the electronics in and had to remount the switches to the front. Ben Derickson at Cream City Music in Milwaukee helped me with that. He's a super knowledgeable dude; he also helped me get the guitar, too. We go to him with any sort of repairs or setups.

But what the sustainer does is, you can turn it on, strum and it just keeps going.

Chris did a lot of stuff on this record, Marigolden, with pedal steel, and we don't have a pedal steel player anymore, so I try to replicate some of that with the sustainer. It's great, I love it, and I'm doing a lot of processing with this and the computer, like running a lot of different granular effects which go up octave by octave, adding this shimmery kind of thing.

This is the guitar that I play in other bands, like my main band, All Tiny Creatures, and also in Volcano Choir, in which I just play keyboards and do computer stuff.

Are these the two you use on the road?

The one that's missing — I wish you'd seen it — it's a Washburn Bantam headless bass from the '80s. The reason I brought that on tour is because it's my recording bass, but one song is in D-sharp or whatever, so I keep it tuned down a half-step so I can just play that one.

It seems you guys use a lot of alternate tunings.

Yeah, Chris writes that way. It's funny, I'm in two bands that do that — Chris Rosenau in Volcano Choir kind of writes the same way, so I'm super used to working with guys who use wacky tunings. Sometimes it gets boring doing DADGAD [another alternate tuning] all the time.

As a piano player, alternate tunings probably aren't a big deal for you.

Yeah, I can just transpose. I like it. I don't think about the guitar in the way I think most guitar players think about it, so it's easy.


Field Report - official site

Cream City Music, Brookfield, Wis.

Volcano Choir

All Tiny Creatures