Roger Fisher’s Heart Gear

December 3, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More

Plus Roger’s First Impression of EVH

Roger with his mic'd cab and a few fans! ( photo)

Roger with his mic'd cab and a few fans! ( photo)

Here’s the second part of my 3-part interview with founding Heart member Roger Fisher – who unfortunately for all of us hasn’t gotten his due over the years.

Although there’s no doubt, you can tell he’s a guitarist merely by the fact that he can recall his gear details from three decades ago!

WoodyTone: How about your tone – were you happy with it at the time or were you still going through gear trying to get it to match what you heard in your head?

Roger: That’s such a tough thing for guitarists. I think we’re pretty much all alike. Most of us are always chasing after that – better tone. I invested lot of money into rack systems, different amps, guitars, effects until at some point back in the ’90s I just decided use off-the-shelf Strats and just basic effects – so I can concentrate on being a producer, engineer, guitarist, singer, head of the art department and head of marketing (laughs).

In this business it’s so difficult…because it’s necessary at times to wear a lot of hats. It does squash the art thing a little bit, which brings to mind something else important to me: I’m not interest in being a virtuoso as a guitar player or singer, but I do want to be a virtuoso as a human being. And then let that greatness come through in my guitar-playing and singing without feeling any need to prove that I’m some great player.

Greatness isn’t in the number of notes per second. The greatness is what you have cultivated your presence in life to be. If your evolution has brought you to the point where you’re an alcoholic with a drug problem who will be as dishonest as necessary to continue your indulgence, then I wouldn’t think your music has much magnetism. But then there certainly are exceptions to every situation. A great player is a great player, doesn’t matter what they’re doing.

To me personally, if I meet a guitarist held in high esteem and see just a wreck, the music doesn’t have quite the shine it had before I met him. Whereas if you meet Jeff Beck and he’s just a regular guy like he is, then his music – he’s probably my favorite electric guitarist. Every time I’ve spent time with him, it’s been like he’s an old buddy.

What was your favorite gear when you played in Heart?

A Les Paul – I think it was a ’65 Gold Top with the standard humbuckers it came with. My favorite rig was a Hiwatt – I think 100 watts. I don’t remember what the speakers were. Maybe Fanes [Fanes were the speakers in older Hiwatt cabs].

For strings, I went back and forth between different sets, sets starting with 9s and sets starting with 10s. Brand didn’t really matter, but I think I used Ernie Balls most of the time

I was a real proponent of cleanliness in a guitar sound because the dirtier you get, the more clipped that waveform is and the less substance it has. A clean guitar sound when you hear it hits you like a piece of steel. It’s solid. A real distorted guitar sound kind of hits you like a puff of smoke. It’s pleasing in a way, but it doesn’t have solidity. So to have a guitar sound that has real solidity with just a little bit of smoke, that’s what I like about the Hiwatt.

I think about gear and tone all the time, still. I’ve been thinking of getting a small Hiwatt rig, probably an AC30 [Vox] and probably a small Marshall and using those amps together to come up with my perfect sound.

All those older Heart tunes still hold up, and one of my favorites is Barracuda – one of the greatest rock tunes ever, in my opinion. Do you recall who came up with the riff and chord structure of that tune?

I think I came up with most of it. I definitely came up with [sings opening riff]. That came into being at soundcheck. Me and Mike [Derosier, drummer] would go down to soundchecks early so we could jam, warm up and horse around with different ideas, I was playing that lick, and my brother said, ‘That’s a good one. You should make a song out of it.’ So I kept adding to it from there.

Anytime we were working up a song, each member of the band would make a valuable addition. And some of the most quirky and valuable additions were made by Howard Leese. I think he was responsible for the really odd time signature. I can’t remember it very well. I think 19/4 is what the time works out to. You can look at it different ways.

Mike was a great drummer, which is an often-overlooked ingredient in all classic bands. Was it inspiring to work with him?

Absolutely. We searched long and hard for the musicians for Heart, and when we auditioned [Mike] in his bedroom in Edmunds, north of Seattle, he played for about a minute and I knew he was the guy.


He sounded like John Bonham and we loved John Bonham!

Heart, ‘Kick It Out,’ Live, 1978, Largo, MD
> Roger is using a white Les Paul Custom in this tune.

Notable: Gear Notes

Random info from Roger’s website:

> Live he used an MXR digital delay, the Phoenix Systems flanger and a volume pedal.

> For the solo on “Sing Child” he used a Les Paul through a Fender Twin (turned way up) with a Univibe.

> The setup for Dreamboat Annie [album, 1976] was pretty simple: Les Paul through a Fender Twin Reverb, LOUD. I used a Univibe at the time as well. I think I used a distortion pedal, but I need to talk to Howard and a few others to determine which one it was as I don’t remember.”

Roger now.

Roger now.

> More on his current gear: “I decided to buy three new Jeff Beck Strats, simple Marshall and THD amps, a TC Electronics G System pedal board and call it good. I’m also using Taylor and McPherson acoustic guitars, and an ASR electric mandolin that was handmade for me in the ’70s. So my gear isn’t terribly exciting, but, having skipped in and out of more sit-ins and jam sessions than I can count, and having to play on as many different guitars and amps, I’ve found the most important aspect of musical expression, in my opinion, is the attitude, spirit and fingers of the player. Gear means almost nothing. Granted, if I’m playing through a system that rocks, I play better, and that is the most desirable scenario.”

Notable: Roger’s Impression of EVH

“We were introduced to Van Halen by my brother, who I think bought a cassette of their first album. He put it on in the tour bus and we were all blown away.

“The first time we met them was at the stadium in Dallas. We were playing there and Van Halen were in town. They’d just played some club or something, just after they’d released their first album. We met them and invited them to come up onstage and watch our set. We were about to go on – our road manager said at the time to go on, and we said, ‘Okay, let this band be onstage and watch us. He didn’t know who they were and said, No way.’ We said, ‘Okay, then we’re not going to play.’ Then of course he let the band come up and watch our set.”

Roger also recounted a couple of anecdotes about Ed: one was Eddie asking him how to play a fast part in an acoustic tune (also see him recount it starting at 8:14 in this YouTube video), and one was driving around with Ed in Seattle trying to find what hospital David Lee Roth was taken to after Dave had passed out on stage. They never found Dave but “had fun hanging out anyway,” he said.

– End of part 2 (of 3) –

Category: Edward Van Halen, Ernie Ball/Music Man, Fane speakers, Hiwatt, Les Paul, Marshall, Roger Fisher, TC Electronic, Twin

Comments (1)

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  1. Robert Butler says:

    Roger Fisher has been one of the most influential guitarists for me. His playing hit a “chord” with me, no pun intended, and prompted me to try to improve my guitar playing for the last 30 years! Roger is a really genuine human being. When I was just starting out on guitar, a friend mailed him a letter asking for any advice he could offer to me. I never really expected and answer. I thought being with Heart and all, at best maybe I’d get some publicity stuff from the management company or record label. To my surprise, I got in the mail a HAND WRITTEN LETTER from Roger with tips for me and some Heart picks that I treasure to this day. Roger is really special in my heart for doing this. Roger, Thank You for everything!!

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