The Current's Guitar Collection: Bully's Alicia Bognanno, Squier '51 'Frankenstein'

Bully portraits at The Current
Bully's Alicia Bognanno poses with her guitar following the band's session in The Current studio. (Evan Frost | MPR)
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When Bully visited The Current studio, frontperson Alicia Bognanno took some time to talk about what she calls her "Frankenstein' guitar." It's a hard-working instrument, and Bognanno loves it — she plays most of Bully's shows using it, and she has written the band's two albums on it. Here's more of what Bognanno had to say.

What kind of guitar is this?

This is a Frankenstein guitar, and by that I mean it's just a bunch of different parts put together. So this was the first guitar that was ever given to me. It was given to me — I'm 27 now, I was probably 22? — by my boyfriend, Stewart Copeland, not the drummer of the Police! It was a gift, so it's funny because I've gotten about eight other guitars since then and I still stick with this one. I think it just has a lot of sentimental value.

But it's a Squier '51 body and then a Bluesman neck. I don't know if Bluesman made the neck or if it was a Fender neck and they redid some stuff. It is [from Springfield Guitar Company] — I've never been there before, it's based outside of Nashville, about 45 minutes, in Springfield, Tennessee — and I'm always on this pickup, which is the humbucker. I don't remember off the top of my head exactly what the brand of pickup it is. But then there's two knobs; there's the volume knob, and then this is your pickup switch — you can either go all the way to the humbucker or all the way to single-coil or to the middle and get a little bit of both.

So for those of you who are unfamiliar with guitar-tone stuff, humbuckers are usually a thicker, beefier, darker tone, and single coils are a thinner, brighter, more nasally tone. I just like a bigger, beefy tones. I also play the Fender 61 Bassman head, and it has a lot of natural grit and will break up easily; usually around 2 or 3 it breaks up.

This guitar is seafoam green. My input jack is stripped right now, so there's some paint over it. But yeah, if I'm not playing this, all my other guitars are Fenders. I have a couple Jazzmasters, I have an offset Fender and a Tele as well, and a baritone.

But yeah, I play this and I have three or four different tunings. Usually you should have a different guitar for each one, but I'll get my other guitar set up for drop-C and then tell myself I'm going to commit to only using that and have a thicker-gauge string on that and have it all ready and then when I get down to it, I just tune this guitar down and always play it, because it just has a tone to me that I really love. And as you can see, I carved my nickname right here, which is "Weewee," so it's mine forever.

If anything happened to this guitar, I would be really sad. It's been through a lot. And this was the first guitar I played while starting Bully.

So when Bully played the Turf Club in January 2015, you probably were playing this one?

Probably. That one, or I fluctuated for a little bit with a Fender Jazzmaster. It was really light for what a Jazzmaster typically is, the neck is a little bit thicker, it's a rosewood neck, and it's baby blue. So if there are any other pictures, it was probably that one. But this one has been with me from the start.

When Bully visited The Current in 2016, Bognanno played that Jazzmaster, as seen in this video of "Trying":

When you're writing songs, do you write on this guitar, or do you write on an acoustic guitar?

I write on this guitar. Sometimes I write on acoustic guitar, but lots of times I feel like I can't really get through the emotion or feeling or work out what I'm thinking in my head. It's really crazy what a distortion pedal can do to the writing process! I think it just brings you closer to what the final product is going to be, so it can be really helpful.

But I usually always write on this guitar. Sometimes I'll write on acoustic guitar, but more than likely this one.

So it's fair to say both Bully albums were probably written on this guitar?

For sure, yeah.

You when to college at Middle Tennessee State University. Did you study guitar at college?

My music theory knowledge is very … it's not there; I don't really have a lot of it. I know basic chords and stuff, but I usually just play what sounds good and what sounds best to me. I think that's why my writing really picked up when I switched from acoustic to electric and could mess around with pedals and just felt like I had a little bit more freedom on it.

But I was playing music [in college]. The first time I started playing electric guitar, I was just playing my roommate's guitar that was left out in our music room. Then I was told there was this old, white Gibson SG that was broken and the owner of it said, "You can have it if you can fix it." And it was really just a really quick solder point inside a pickup that needed to be fixed, and then the input jack needed to be tuned up a little bit, and then that was really it. So I fixed that, and then I just kept that SG for a while.

I was really into Land of Talk, and Elizabeth Powell from Land of Talk plays an SG, and a bunch of other women that I looked up to were playing an SG. So I started on that and switched to this.

I started playing guitar with other people [in college], but I wasn't really learning any sort of music theory for guitar. That stuff was more on keyboard, and then I would just translate it to guitar whenever I could.

As you talked about with Mac Wilson, you lived in Rosemount, Minn., during high school. Rosemount is known for its band program; were you involved in that?

No, I couldn't do band; I had to pick between band and choir and I did choir because I really wanted to sing. But I didn't play any music — I didn't even know anybody in bands, except for one band, and they were seniors when I was a freshman.

They do have a good school band program, but I didn't play tuba or anything. That would have been cool.

You mentioned Land of Talk. Do you have any other favorite influences you'd like to mention?

I love her. I really love Kim Deal from the Breeders. I like the Replacements a lot, Hüsker Dü. Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth. The B-52s.

Anything else to share?

About this guitar? No, I just love it so much.

Resources


Bully - official website

Springfield Guitar Company, Springfield, Tenn.

Middle Tennessee State University

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