Gear Nerd: Justin Beck (Glassjaw)

Photo: Benedetto Manzella

I fucking love Glassjaw. I love their music, I love the guys in the band and their road crew. I met guitarist Justin Beck and vocalist Daryl Palumbo probably around 1994/1995, when they were a new-ish band on Long Island and quickly gaining momentum around these parts. Fast forward a quarter-century and they’ve come a long fucking way from the floor of the Huntington YMCA. 

Last summer I had the opportunity to spend some time with them when they toured with Quicksand. In my short time helping them out on that run, I became fascinated with Justin’s guitar/amp/pedal setup. It was like some space age shit to me. Justin’s gear was actually the spark that made me want to start doing this series of interviews. 

So, it’s about time he and I had a quick chat about it. Here it is. Here is Beck. Enjoy!

[Justin also played guitar in Long Island hardcore band, Sons of Abraham—Carlos Ramirez, No Echo]

So when we first met, I guess in '94/'95 or so, you were playing drums. When did you first pick up an instrument? Did guitar come after drums or did you just start mastering every instrument all at once? 

I first picked up an instrument at around 4 or 5 years of age. My sister would take piano lessons and while waiting at this school for her the old man who owned the place, SY Laskin, who would showcase all his old accordions which looked cool as fuck. That coupled with Weird Al entering your young mind it seemed like the obvious choice as a first instrument. Then post that, piano, trombone, and then around sixth grade convinced my parents to allow me to rent a guitar from Michael’s Music in Freeport (Long Island) which was right next to the Right Track Inn. I took lessons for 3 months and that was about it.

I always wanted to fuck with drums but never could convince my parents because of the noise. Then around 9th /10th grade 1992 and with enough convincing I purchased a real piece of shit drum kit from Michael’s Music for $270, so our new band (that never played a show or even had more than one song) Minority Overall featuring Ben Van Dyke (Silent Majority) on drums could attempt to practice. Once that was in the house I’d tinker around with that just as much as the guitar. I wouldn’t say master, I’d say tinker.

Justin playing guitar in Sons of Abraham at the Huntington YMCA, circa 1996. (Photo: Rich Gaccione)

I’d like to talk about your main rack set up. Can you explain what lives in that orange case on stage right?

The Orange case you speak of was more of an accumulation of a band rig more so than a guitar rig. Within it was a patchbay, a mixing board, wireless systems, and then my guitar rig. So, it’s not like an old-school rig of 48 spaces of guitar mayhem with compressors, effects, and processors, since the guitar guts are actually pretty limited. I recently converted over to Kemper where I have the rack mount version with the built in power amp. That’s pretty much my entire rig at this point.

Photo: Mike De Lorenzo

Can you get a little bit into how your main processor is programmed and how it works to a click?

So, the Kemper has huge capacity to recreate any amp you have and or any combination of amp vs cabinet you could think of. Me, I’m limited in time and mental capacity and I simply appropriated some other tones and tweaked from there. So I would never claim to be a tone master or master of this unit. I’m using it on a beginner’s level for sure. This thing can do a grip of things, I’m using about 2% of its capacity. Regarding the way the amp works in conjunction with the click, I can explain from a macro but can’t take credit for it as I’m a total tech moron. My good buddy Eric Mitchell at Eric Mitchell Audio in Boston set it up and would recommend him to anyone who needs a computer built for recording or a rig tweak.

Once on a click (being run through Ableton) and affixed to a map of your songs, you can lock down points where your amp changes, effects turn on and off and or even have your effects (like wah) fluctuate to wave forms that you can write in with a mouse or an actual expression pedal. This is all being communicated from the computer to the Kemper via MIDI. We even have it running the bass as well at this point. For me it’s a pleasure (when it’s working) as it eliminates years of tap dancing on a pedal board and being married to a wah pedal. I still sit there like a log on stage but at least I can tap my foot to the beat more so then being a slave to pedals that I tend to break. It’s also a great tool for a new bass player (which happens a lot) who doesn’t know when and or when not to turn on or off a tone. One less variable to fuck someone up.

In case of catastrophe, what’s the backup plan?

Pull the MIDI cord coming from the computer and plug in the foot controller is the plan. Just had to do it in Portugal this weekend and minus the extremely long reboot time on the Kemper, I was back up and running in a fair window.

Photo: Mike De Lorenzo

How about cabinets? Sometimes you use them live and sometimes you don’t. What’s the determining factor and what cabinets do you bring out for live shows?

Since 2006, we’ve played with and or without, and it really depends on the gig, how we are traveling, what we want the stage to feel and breath like, etc. Unfortunately, all the clubs don’t have the best monitoring systems or front fills for first row patrons, so the classic cabinet tends to fill those voids. Showing up to a venue and there aren’t any side fills is a bummer when you need that bass guitar loud as hell. So, the excessive need for cabinets help out in those events. For us, it’s not like it’s 1995 and the cabinet is 50% of the tone, I’m fairly agnostic to the cabinets now as the tone really is derived from the Kemper and the cabinets simply are respected as monitors.

Photo: Mike De Lorenzo

What do you normally bring with you for away gigs when you don’t have your tour setup with you?

The new travel rig is a 4-space rack with guitar, bass, wireless and an audio interface. The shit has a patch panel on the back for easy set up at venues and I can wear it like a 22Kilo backpack. Pretty sick.

Photo: Mike De Lorenzo

What’s in “the coffin” (guitar road case) these days?

Music Man Stingray and a Fender Strat HSS.

Photo: Karissa Durler 

How about when it comes to recording? Do you try to mimic your live setup or do you get more experimental and try to mimic that live?

We don’t record that often/ever but I’d probably do a combo as it’s too easy nowadays.

What kind of gear (musical equipment and recording) do you have in your home studio?

I run logic on some Mac that was top line 4 years ago but is probably less powerful than a modern day phone.  I have the Antelope Orion which is a 32 in / 32 out single space interface which has been good to me and then a grip of API’s and other dope mic pre’s.  

Justin's recording studio

Do you have any favorite pieces of gear?

Hard to tell, but I will say my current favorite is a $90 Squire Bullet. Looks dope as fuck, dark sunburst with black hardware and it plays really sick. Flat neck and pickups shred.

Any pieces of gear that you'll only use at home? Anything you really enjoy but doesn't get used very often?

I’m trying to retire a lot of my gear as you get older you start to appreciate it more and realize how much cash you dropped on it and realize that it aint worth it to have it get lost by and airline. I have a great Gibson 135 hollow body and an amazing Vox hollow body (by my bed) that are my go-to guitars when I’m home pretending to be a jazz player. Great instruments, and I believe you helped me out with that Vox. Shit bangs.

Members of Quicksand, Battles, Primitive Weapons w/ Justin Beck and Mike De Lorenzo

Any cool history behind any piece(s) of gear that you own?

I have a Mesa 2-90 that I purchased from a friend that was originally built for Peter Frampton. The guy who built it was 4 months behind on delivery for my friend and said “Peter will just have to wait, here take his” and then when my friend had to move back to Indonesia he ended up selling me the unit and I use it to this day.  

Thanks for doing this, man! Any closing words?

Read the manuals.

Glassjaw and Quicksand (plus their road crews) in 2018.


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Tagged: gear nerd, glassjaw