The Smithereens: Guitars, Amps, That’s It

July 12, 2011 | By | Reply More


My buddies convinced me to go see The Smithereens Sunday night, a free outdoor show at “Maplewoodstock” in Maplewood, NJ. I’ve never been a Smithereens fan, and never not been a Smithereens fan, if you know what I mean. Knew a couple songs from the radio back in the day when rock was on and radio was important, but that was it.

Bottom line: Very glad I went to the show…and now I am a fan…because the Smithereens are a rock band. Not a hard rock band – although I guess somewhat close to that – and not a pop band. If I had to characterize their music it’d be something like Cheap Trick meets Elvis Costello.

All the guys can play, they play raw and they can all sing too. Hey – real musicians! Remember those days?!

If you ever get a chance to see the band, I highly recommend going. (Here’s a list of upcoming shows.)

Anyhow, before the show I walk down to the front of the stage, and take a peek past lead guit-slinger Jimmy Babjak’s monitors, fully expecting – in this day and age – to see several pedals chained together. But the only thing there is a tuner.

Jim's woody rig....

Jim's woody rig....

I’m psyched! I’m even more psyched because the only things Jimmy has onstage besides that tuner are a Telecaster and a Marshall JCM800 half stack. Obviously I’m psyched because:

> This is a guy who likes woody tone.

> He can obviously play because he doesn’t need a bunch of pedals to help him – and I say that bearing in mind that many good players (Beck, EVH, etc.) obviously use pedals. You know what I mean….

> It’s an indication that this is a real rock band (bear in mind I hadn’t seen the show yet).

There’s just something great about seeing a guitar, an amp and that’s it – and that’s what lead singer and rhythm slinger Pat DiNizio had too. In his case a Strat with a replacement bridge pickup (presumably a stacked humbucker but not sure) through a 1×12 (I think) Fender combo – couldn’t tell what it was but it looked like a Hot Rod.

Babjak’s Rig

Naturally, because Jimmy’s not a supastah, he hasn’t been interviewed much (at all?) by the guitar mags. But I did find this about his gear, from a short interview with Jim on

[A Telecaster is] my guitar of choice for live shows since 1994. Because it’s a workhorse, it’s the perfect guitar. I can take it on the road and beat the crap out of it.  And really play the damn thing and it won’t go out of tune if I stretch the strings. I love that guitar. It’s a ’52 reissue and I can get some good sounds out it. I can just turn it down a bit and get a nicer tone. Or I can crank it up.

In the early days I was using a Rickenbacker. I borrowed a Les Paul for Behind the Wall of Sleep for the recording. I didn’t own one at the time and I wanted it to sound tougher.  But I had a tough sound out of the Rickenbacker too, with the Marshall combination.

I don’t use any effects. I use the 800 series Marshall 100 watt – that’s what I’ve always had. I tried using effects around 1988. Our roadies made me do it – I hated it. It didn’t sound like me.

To get a true sound, without effects, I figured that was good enough for me. All those effects were great for Hendrix, but I never had a desire to use them. Maybe it’s just more stuff that can go wrong, and when you travel you want to minimize that.

Also, deep down, I always felt when I saw bands that used use a lot of effects I thought it was to cover up their lack of ability.


> I loved this, you might too, from a good interview with Pat. And btw, in the context of the full interview it doesn’t come across as bitter, just honestly perplexed.

I always try to find something interesting to try to make a statement in a market that is absolutely glutted or overpopulated by people who are releasing records – some of which are great, and others which have no business every getting out of the gate. Just because Pro Tools enables you to make a record for the cost of two corned beef sandwiches, doesn’t mean that you should put it out.

You’ve got things like auto tuning, which can turn someone who absolutely cannot sing into a pitch-perfect vocalist. It’s absolutely ludicrous. Everything has been dumbed down to the point of insanity.

In my day, American Idol was called Star Search – and if you won Star Search, your career was dead. It was dead in the water. People would laugh at you because they knew what was good and what was bad. People of my generation and people of my father’s generation were not nearly as easily fooled as apparently people today are. I don’t know why.

> To get the band’s latest album direct from them, and put some green in their pockets, click here.

Here’s the show I was at. Good stuff!

Category: Fender, Marshall, Strat, Telecaster, The Smithereens

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