Chris Poland is perhaps best known among heavy metal fans for his work with Megadeth as the group’s original lead guitarist, applying his tasty riffs to the first two discs and aiding in the development of the group’s distinct sound. However, unlike the majority of his rocker colleagues, Poland never aspired to be a headbanger.
After Megadeth, he embarked on a solo career and indulged in his true musical passion – fusion.
He recently released the debut disc by his group, Ohm, a three-piece that includes bassist Robertino Pagliari and drummer Kofi Baker (son of Ginger Baker; drummer David Eagle also appears on the recording). The material is instrumental, and fans of progressive rock and fusion will be impressed.
VG caught up with Poland prior to the Guitarevolution tour featuring Ohm, with Marty Friedman and his new solo group, and the Alex Skolnick Trio. Poland recently brought us up to speed on Ohm and recalled his introduction to fusion, how his influences have affected his style and technique, and his tone and approach to playing, today.
Vintage Guitar: What inspired you to become a guitar player?
Chris Poland: When I was growing up, my cousin, Eddie Bores, was playing “Paint It Black” and all these Rolling Stones songs. He was into blues, too, and I’d watch him play and think it was really cool. So that was kind of my first experience where I said “That guitar is cool!” Then I heard Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Hendrix… and that was it. I just went from there.
Then I heard Mountain, Robin Trower, and this album, Guitars That Destroyed The World (a compilation released in 1972 which included Mountain, Santana, and Mahavishnu Orchestra) with “Dance Of Maya” from Inner Mounting Flame (John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra, 1971). When I first heard it, I hated it. I was listening to Jeff Beck records and I thought that was the ****.
Well, I kept going back to listening to “Dance Of Maya,” where it was kind like a train wreck and I wanted to see it happen again. Then all of a sudden, one day, I loved it! Then I started listening to McLaughlin, and for years all I listened to was fusion. Now I’m just trying to find my own style and keep my own thing going.
When did you start listening to fusion?
In seventh or eighth grade.
Which players most influenced your style and tone?
Jeff Beck was a big influence. I was into Truth and the Jeff Beck Group album with Bob Tench, Blow By Blow, and Wired. I’m a huge Jan Hammer fan, too. The speed playing I do is me trying to mimic Birds Of Fire (Mahavishnu Orchestra, 1972) and Jan Hammer solos.
I was really into McLaughlin, but I was more into his writing than his tone. My guitar sound came from Led Zeppelin I and II, Beck’s Truth album, Hendrix, Leslie West, and Clapton with Cream – that big, fat, sustaining sound.
But the writing aspect I liked was the Blow By Blow, Wired, and Mahavishnu Orchestra and stuff.
How has your playing evolved since Megadeth?
I’ve tried to stop emulating people. When I start doing stuff that I think sounds like this or that, then I try not to do it. It’s hard because you have all these influences and it’s hard to get rid of them. Mostly, it’s all about tone for me now.
How would you describe your guitar tone now?
I’m getting a little of that Band Of Gypsys thing. When I go to my bridge pickup, I’m getting that kind of British-style Cream sound. What made a difference is that I stopped using power amps and Marshall cabinets. Now I’m using a pair of Yamaha’s new DG100-212A 100-watt 2×12 combos. They’re the digital modeling series. I saw Holdsworth using one and I thought it sounded great. Yamaha gave me one to try, and I really enjoyed it.
One day, I got this bright idea to plug one side of my rack into the return on the effects loop, and it sounded great. I got another amp and hooked up the left and right signals to each of the amps, and that’s when everything changed for me. I should have been using open-backed style guitar amps all along because that’s where my style is. I always had to fight a Marshall cabinet. There’s something about the closed-back and it’s not as “bouncy.” To me, the open-back cab is way more vocal than the Marshall cabinets.
The other thing is that I think power amps don’t sound or feel like amps. They never have and they never will. An amplifier has its own feel. The thing that I like about racks is that I can make a lot of crazy sounds and I can get a lot of stereo imaging. But I don’t like the way they feel.
When I got these amps from Yamaha, all of a sudden, I was playing through an amp again. That happened about two or three months ago and that’s when I started to have fun again.
What amps and effects are you currently using in your live rig?
I use two 100-watt Yamaha DG 2×12 combos and a Bogner Fish preamp. For effects, I use an old Roland SRV2000 and three Yamaha D1500 delays. I have ADA stereo tap delays as my main chorus, and a TC Electronic G-Force effects processor, which sounds really good. Then I have a Lexicon MPX1 effects processor, which I use for specialty pad sounds when I have a volume swell with delays.
What type of mic do you prefer on the cabinets?
When we were making the record I was using 414s because I was still getting that “rack thing” going on and the AKG 414s would take some of that away. If I put a Shure SM57 on it, there was so much top-end, and I couldn’t get rid of it. If you can put a 57 on your amp and it sounds good in the control room, then you have a good guitar sound.
We used a Sennheiser 421 for some stuff, and a Palmer speaker simulator, which goes between the power amp and the cabinet. I’d just go right into that and run it into the board. Sometimes I got a better sound out of that than anything.
Which guitars did you use to record?
Mostly a Yamaha SBG Santana-style guitar with a Floyd tremolo. At the time, it had EMGs, and sounded great. I had my system set up for those pickups. But now I’m using Yamaha pickups, which are basically PAF copies.
On the record, I used an EMG-60 in the bridge and an SAB single-coil in the neck. It sounded really good, but I had to manipulate it a lot. On most of the record, there’s a Fulltone 69 fuzz in the front of any dirty guitar solo. It kind of rounded everything out.
We also used Tascam DA38s, which made it sound like there was tape involved.
How are your guitars set up?
I use Ernie Ball .010 to .046 strings. I like the action set pretty high, otherwise it kind of “flinks” a little bit. I like the pickups set real low. The further I can get them away from the strings, the better off I am.
What type of picks do you prefer?
I use 1mm Clayton picks. They have just a little bit of bend to them and they sound great.
What will the group be doing after this tour?
We definitely want to make a record with Kofi. We’re going to do a lot of new material live and then I want to record it as soon as possible. With Kofi playing, it’s so much more fun and it’s got so much energy.
Photos: Tony Bailey.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.