One of my very first guitar heroes was J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. I first heard the Dinosaur and You’re Living All Over Me albums as a teenager when they were released back in the ’80s. The third album, Bug, sealed the deal for me. Mascis was doing epic guitar solos when everyone else was steering well away from such indulgence, so for me, he was and always will be a genuine guitar god.
Associated eternally with the Fender Jazzmaster, J has been a long time devotee of these guitars, buying his first one from Slimy Bob’s Guitar Emporium (or ‘rip off store’ as J calls it). He spent a summer painting neighbours’ houses and fences to pay for his first one, which had a sunburst finish. That original guitar had a Gibson Tune-O-Matic bridge installed by a previous owner instead of the traditional Fender Jazzmaster bridge. He also tends to re-fret his vintage guitars with jumbo frets which help facilitate all his string bends as well. This is important as he has also adopted this on his signature models. He does a lot of huge string bends and that solid, non-moving bridge is part of how he achieves them.
You ideally want a similar guitar and as high a string action as possible. Mascis has an action that most players would baulk at and always comments that whenever his guitar is seen by luthiers and guitar techs that they off to ‘fix’ that for him. He then has to explain that that’s the way he likes it!
In the studio J actually plays Telecasters and Gibson P90-loaded guitars such as Juniors. It is really only live that he uses Jazzmasters. He did for a while also play a Fender Custom Shop Rory Gallagher Strat until it was stolen from the band’s van along with a load of his other favourite Jazzmasters from outside a gig they were playing in New York.
So to recap, you want single coils or P90s, ideally a solid bridge and as high a guitar action as you can handle.
Whatever’s Cool With Me
Mascis uses volume (and lots of it!) to produce his singing sustain, huge dynamics and general wall-of-sound-style tone. Ideally, you’ll want a Marshall Plexi-style amp and get it as loud as possible (you often see J wearing ear plugs in front of a wall of vintage Marshalls at gigs). Like all guitarists, he experiments around and I have seen him playing gigs with old vintage Fenders and even HiWatts mixed in with his Marshall amps. But his core tone is really a cranked vintage Marshall, so aim for that and you’ll be in the right ballpark.
In the studio, I know he also uses a lot of smaller vintage Fender amps and generally cranks them to attain the sustain and feedback he is famous for. On You’re Living All Over Me he used a Mesa Boogie that was available at the Fort Apache recording studio. Whatever amp he uses, he always sounds like himself; it is more about how loud he plays them and his use of single coil pickups in achieving his signature sound.
When I first saw him on tour with Dinosaur Jr he carried his effects pedals around in a brown suitcase. Over the years his pedal board has become far more complex, but his core sounds are really still the same as in the beginning.
J is known primarily as a Big Muff fan, in fact, he is famous for it. He probably owns every variation of the Electro Harmonix fuzz pedal ever made. There are videos and photos all over the web with him using them.
However, he also uses a drive pedal for much of his core sound to get even more boost on his amps. Ideally, you might use something along the lines of an Analogman KOT v4 or similar to get his main riff sound. Then use a Big Muff to add the sustain for solos when required. You can often see him using a TubeWorks Real Overdrive as well, so if you want some variety you may want to consider a tube-based drive as well.
Of course, you could buy the ZVex Double Rock which is his (sort of) ‘signature’ drive pedal and will get you close to his sound, though I don’t always see him using it…
Rams Head to ICBM
I’d stick to vintage early ’70s style Big Muffs if you want to stay authentic. I use a Euthymia ICBM, which is based on the Integrated Circuit (IC Bug Muff), a later version of the fuzz box. I know Mascis has experimented a lot with fuzz pedals and can be seen using different ones live over the years, so depending on which era of Dinosaur Jr you are aiming for you may want to experiment a little with these. I’ve seen him using Boss Tones, Super Fuzzes and variations on those tones.
There is a Fuzz Munchkin pedal that you can buy which is based upon one of J’s fuzzes. Again I have never actually seen him using it. Make of that what you will…
From his early days (I once saw him playing in Camden in a pub) he always used an Electro Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress flanger, so you may want to try one out. I have one myself for those moments when he kicks in into what I call ‘aeroplane mode’. Think along the lines of that famous bit during “Freak Scene” where it undulates after the main intro riff.
I’ve also found the Ibanez AF2 Aeroplane Flanger and the Mr Black Tunnel Worm flanger are both great for getting near his flange sound. I’ve got a huge collection of flanger and muff pedals, all because of listening to Dinosaur Jr. I blame him for my effects pedal obsession!
Yeah We Know
You’re going to need a wah pedal, but don’t get hung up on which one. I’d suggest starting with a regular Jim Dunlop wah. If you stick to more vintage-voiced models you’ll be fine. Personally, I use an old purple Budda Wah and a Roger Mayer 8080A one that Roger himself made me back in the ’90s.
I’d also suggest getting a delay pedal, something like an MXR Carbon Copy or a Hungry Robot Moby Dick. Basically, you want a nice warm analogue delay, something that blends nicely with your guitar’s tone and isn’t too clinical. He also uses a reverb pedal and I’d suggest the Boss RV5 pedal or similar.
To summarise you’ll need the following;
- Single coil pickups – P90s, Jazzmaster or similar
- Solid bridge and ideally a higher string action
- A cranked vintage Plexi style amp
- A decent overdrive pedal, ideally something with two preset gains
- Big Muff fuzz of the ’70s variety for boost
- Flanger for “whooooosh”
- Delay, reverb and wah to taste
Links on J’s effects