Colin Cripps – Multi-talented Guitarist and Producer

Colin Cripps with '61 SG

Behind every great song there is a great guitar player. One such guitar player is Colin Cripps. He is regarded as one of the most organic, rootsy guitarists on the scene with exceptional versatility on stage and in the studio. His guitar is his voice and you hear it loud and clear in every performance for everyone from Kathleen Edwards to Bryan Adams. In this Spotlight interview Colin talks about some of the artists he has worked with, his gear and his sound, guitar collecting and some of the highlights of his career. Get plugged in to Colin Cripps!

300guitars: Where were you born and raised and when did you first start playing the guitar? What was your inspiration?

Colin Cripps: I was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario. A gritty working class steel town on the shores of Lake Ontario sandwiched between the conservative commerce of Toronto and the cheesy arcade scenery of Niagara Falls. Hamilton has a reputation for turning out oddballs, artists, lost souls and characters most of whom gravitate eventually to one vice or another. Mine happened to be music. Over the course of my teenage years I was consumed like every other kid in a cultural melting-pot with finding my own identity, my own voice, my own cool. It came in the form of an electric guitar. I discovered at 14 that not only could I attract the attention of the cooler guys (misfits, not jocks) but also the girls. Even the preppy ones who normally wouldn’t cast a shadow let alone an eye on you.

I spent those years holed up in my room practicing or in the company of my friends and our first band “Klyde” (whose name is still my production company) working on our world domination strategy, reinventing the musical landscape and generally self indulging our ideas into a morass of musical nonsense. We did have fun though!

In my twenties I worked in various bands of varying styles; Country Swing, Rock, New Wave, Rockabilly, Alt-Country (though it was still called folk-rock) etc. still trying to find that sound; that sense of your own voice. My first real band with a record deal was called “Crash Vegas” and we put out three albums between 1990 and 1996, each time imploding a little more and eventually leaving the band down to two members by the last record in 1995 called “Aurora”. In ’96 I had had enough and wanted to pursue production work more so that’s where I concentrated my time. The first effort I took on was writing, producing and playing on a record for my hometown favorites called “Junkhouse” and the record “Fuzz” in 1997. Since then I have also covered a lot of different landscapes working with many styles of music, personalities, misfits, oddballs, etc. in production, writing, recording and performing. I had finally found my voice.

I have  been both producer and principle guitarist for Kathleen Edwards (since 2002), and Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo) since 1998. I was also the principle guitarist on Bryan Adams record “11” released in 2008.

As it stands I am one of the fortunate ones. An oddball from the steeltown who found a voice and is still using it to play in the big arena and somehow still get away with it too.

300guitars: What was your first electric guitar and amp? 

Colin Cripps: My first electric was a “Taro” Telecaster copy. The first amp was a Pignose.

300guitars: Who were your early influences? Who do you listen to now?

Colin Cripps: When I started it was all the British guitar heroes, especially Pete Townsend. I wanted to write sophisticated lyrical music with a power chord backdrop. I also got into early Country Swing, Rockabilly (Yeah Cliff Gallup!!!), and roots music, so the two tried to co-exist for a long time. Neil Young, The Edge, Johnny Marr and Albert Lee also played a significant role along the way and still inspire me. Some new players I absolutely love are Luke Doucet, Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket), Kenny Vaughn, Johnny Greenwood, Ian Thornley.

300guitars: What are your favorite guitars that you like to use as tools? Your nuts and bolts “go to” guitars.

Colin Cripps: I have been a vintage guitar nut since I started, so I have been spoiled to an extent. I still love vintage Telecasters and have a couple that I use on the road and recording. One of my favorite guitars is a ’64 Gibson SG STD that I have pretty much used full time since I got it about 9 years ago. I own a 1959 Les Paul Sunburst, that is my all time favorite guitar. I use it on recordings but unfortunately can’t take it on the road. I have a 2003 Historic reissue with a brazilian board that sounds great and acts as my road Les Paul. I also love a 1964 Firebird V  I have and use on record, as well as a Custom shop version for the road. I also have a 1955 Martin D18 that was owned by Johnny Cash in the late ‘50’s that is amazing that I still record with all the time. Otherwise I have what I call “all the basic food groups” for different sounds for recording or live. These include a ’67 Rickenbacker 360-12, 1963 ES-330, 1963ES355, 1959 ES335, The first Hammertonemando guitar made, 1956 Fender Strat, 1976 Gibson Limited Edition Explorer, etc.

Johnny Cash with D-18      Johnny Cash D-18

300guitars: What about your “go to” amps?

Colin Cripps: My main amp is pretty much a custom 20 watt “Bernie” amp made by a guy in my home town in 1993. I have the first one he made. He only made about 20 of them so I have been searching around trying to find more of them. I have 4 right now. Otherwise it’s vintage VOX AC30’s with stock, original G12 speakers. My main one I have had over 20 years now and it still sounds fantastic and is my “go to” amp for recording.

300guitars: What exactly is a “Bernie” amp?

Colin Cripps: The “Bernie” amp is a 20 watt Class A (2-EL84, 2-12AX7, 1-EZ81 rectifier with Celestion Vintage 10) amp built by a guy named Bernie Raunig in the early-mid 90’s out of a chassis from a Bell & Howell Filmosound projector. Mine is the first one he made of about 20 or so. Some were also 6V6 configured and he even made a stero version which I also have. They are quite sought after these days especially amongst players in this part of the world.

300guitars: What is on your pedalboard?

Colin Cripps: My pedal board is real basic. I use a volume pedal and it goes out to an ‘80’s Roland GP8 processor which I use the delay and Compression on. I also have on the board a loop switch that brings in a BYOC tremolo unit, a vintage  Ibanez TS808, and a Line 6 Delay if I want. Most of the time I only use the volume pedal and a patch on the GP8 that is MIDI assigned by an AXXESS Electronics switching box on the board. I have a Durham Electronics Sex Drive pedal that I use with my AC30’s. Oh, and there is a fork on it to add some special magic in case I need it.

Colin's Board

300guitars: How does your live rig differ from your studio rig?

Colin Cripps: Exactly the same except where I may add something into the chain to try a different sound. I have done some work lately where I used a Blackface Deluxe Reverb, a cord and a Tele. As basic as it gets.

300guitars: Who are your techs or do you do your own tech work?

Colin Cripps: I usually do all my own set ups and maintenance on my gear. If I am in need of any real servicing I use a guy in Toronto named Tim Dudley (tdudley@primus.ca Superfuzz Audio 647-728-4605) for all my amps (THE BEST!!!) a guy named Brian Duguay for all my wiring, pedalboard work and Mike Spicer at the Peghead (905-972-9400) in Hamilton, Ontario for any guitar/restoration work. Live I have had various techs over the years with the most notable being Vegas (now retired) who worked with everybody from Sheryl Crow to Billy Corigan to Prince as well as a guy named “Meep” whom everyone knows for his involuntary sounds.

300guitars: When did you first start writing songs?

Colin Cripps: When I started trying to learn how to play.

300guitars: What is the writing process like for you?

Colin Cripps: Struggle and awe. It usually starts out with a line or two that I can see a story frameworking. Once it becomes ingrained in my head and I think it is worth pursuing I build the chords around them and keep chipping away hoping to find something underneath.

300guitars: What are some of your other interests outside of the music industry and playing guitar?

Colin Cripps: I love working with wood so I really enjoy making things out of it. I also love History, architectural beauty, Arts and Crafts furniture and works. Vintage cars are up there two though I don’t own one any longer.

300guitars: How long have you worked with Kathleen Edwards?

Colin Cripps: 6 years

300guitars: How did you meet her?

Colin Cripps: We met through our managers who happen to share the same office space. I was given a rough copy of what became her first record “Failer” when she first signed on with her manager and didn’t even have a record deal yet. I fell in love with the songs before I had even met her. Then we met and the rest is history.

Colin and Kathleen Edwards

300guitars: Did you help her set up her rig with your extensive knowledge of guitars?

Colin Cripps: Yes, I can honestly take credit for getting her together on the electric side. She already had her 1957 Gibson SJ acoustic which is still her #1 guitar and it is fantastic. Her electric set up was really lacking so the first thing I did was buy her a 1957 Gibson Les Paul Jr. for a Christmas present. Afterwards I said she should play through a Vox AC10, (thinking an AC30 would be too loud for her) and got one from a friend. It is now her main setup and really helps define her electric playing.

300guitars: What was the experience like working with Bryan Adams?

Colin Cripps: Fantastic! A somewhat different environment for me musically but Bryan embraced my thing full hearted and we have a great time together. I really think he is a fantastic artist and that voice!!!

300guitars: What was your rig like for his album “11”?

Colin Cripps: I used my “Bernie”, my ’67 Vox AC30, ’64 SG STD, 1959 Fender Strat, Ricky 360-12, and the regular pedal board.

300guitars: How much of your time is spent on the road vs the studio vs being home?

Colin Cripps: I would say that since 2002, the road work has been more and more regular, a cycle where you make the record, tour, comehome, tour, come home, make another record, tour…………

300guitars: How do you keep healthy and stay cool on the road?

Colin Cripps: Moderation except on stage, and air conditioning.

300guitars: What are your favorite mics for recording amps?

Colin Cripps: Sennheiser 409’s, 421’s and Neumann KM54 or fet47.

300guitars: What are your favorite acoustic guitars and mics to record them?

Colin Cripps: Vintage Martin D18’s, 1964 Epiphone Texan, 1931 Gibson LOO and either a Neumann SM69, or a KM54, and AKG 414 (with a C12 capsule).

300guitars: Do you enjoy producing as much as playing?

Colin Cripps: Absolutely, even more so in some circumstances.

300guitars: What was your rig like during the Blue Rodeo and Crash Vegas days?

Colin Cripps: A pair of VOX AC30 amps including My ’67 and a tan ’61, a ’55 Gibson Les Paul Special, ’54 Gibson Les Paul Gold top, the ’67 Rickenbacker 360-12, ’58 Fender Strat and a ’55 Tele.

300guitars: Do you prefer old or new gear?

Colin Cripps: Mostly old but once in a while I am impressed by new pieces. I think there are some great new guitars, and amplifiers being produced.

300guitars: When did you start collecting guitars and what are your favorites in your collection?

Colin Cripps: 1977. My 1959 Les Paul Sunburst is my favorite guitar hands down. Next would be the “64 SG STD, then the ’55 Martin D18.

1959 Burst   

300guitars: What are some of the most memorable highlights of your career?

Colin Cripps: Playing the Sarstock festival with Kathleen in 2004 in front of 500,000.  Playing with James Burton, Keith Richards and a great cast of musicians at a Gram Parsons tribute concert. Playing a swingers club (initially unknowingly) at 18 yrs. old where fornication became the norm right in front of the band. Drinking beer and sharing a night of stories with Leonard Cohen. Playing Willie Nelson’s guitar “Trigger” for an hour on his bus. Hanging with Joni Mitchell at her house in California and having her play songs to me and ask my opinion!! Playing Austin City Limits and feeling like we nailed it. Working with Geoff Emerick, Richard Lush, Bryan, and Jim Vallance on the original Redd51 console and Studer j37 tapedecks  used by the Beatles to do a tribute song for the 40th Anniversary of “Sgt. Peppers Lonely…” Getting up close and personal with Edge’s guitar rig 10 minutes before a U2 show.

Colin and

300guitars: What are your future plans?

Colin Cripps: To be there when the lightning strikes, to thank my lucky stars I get to do this, to work my ass off, to play for all I’m worth, to appreciate the gift………

300guitars: Great, thank you very much Colin for taking the time for this Spotlight feature. Good luck and I wish you much success in the future!

Colin Cripps: Likewise Billy, it’s been a pleasure. I always welcome the chance to talk about guitars and music. Unfortunately I get in the way sometimes!!!

Click here to see a video of Colin in action with Kathleen Edwards on Austin City Limits. Scroll down from Alison Krauss.

Click here for Colin Cripps MySpace page.

Essential Listening: Kathleen Edwards-Asking For Flowers, Kathleen Edwards-Back to Me, Bryan Adams 11.

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