Steve Turner

The March To Fuzz
Steve Turner
Photo courtesy of Steve Turner.

Thirty-five years after Steve Turner and Mudhoney became forever linked with two legendary pedals by coining their debut EP Superfuzz Big Muff, Turner has authored an autobiography, Mud Ride, and Mudhoney is touring its 11th studio LP, Plastic Eternity. He stopped for a bit to talk.

You and Mudhoney’s Mark Arm were dismissive of the “grunge” label, but in your book, you seem to be saying, “I was there, too. We were very influential in what happened in the late ’80s and early ’90s.”
As far as grunge goes, in 1995 I was like, “If we’re not grunge, no one is.” Mark and I always used “grungey” to describe our guitar sounds. I think we get plenty of credit. In the early days, I always said we were just gonna be a footnote to the whole thing, but I think we’re more than that (laughs).

You were one of the first of many notable players in the late ’80s and early ’90s to embrace offset Fender guitars. Was it because they were abundant and cheap?
That was a big part of it. My first good guitar was the Mustang. They just looked so cool. Tom Price, who was in [Seattle band] the U-Men at the time, played a red one. One of the coolest bands in town. I paid $200 for my baby blue one in ’84.

Are you’re playing a Gold Foil Jazzmaster?
On the new record, there’s a couple songs where I needed a vibrato. I was lik e, “Man, that looks like the coolest guitar ever.” It looks like a ’60s Silvertone – a really nice version of a cheap ’60s guitar.

How did you land on the Guild Starfire IV?
Starfires have been my main guitars since ’01, ’02. Jeff Ament from Pearl Jam had a 330 and I just loved it, and semi-hollow Guilds were half the price (laughs). I bought one thinking it wasn’t gonna be used with Mudhoney, but I took it to practice almost as a joke. I thought it would feedback too much with the Big Muff. But I figured out how to control the feedback, so I bought a second one because I break strings often live.

You had a chance to “inherit” one of Kurt Cobain’s prototype Jag-Stangs from Courtney Love, and you passed.
Yeah, that was a mistake (laughs). Instead, I grabbed a weird, sparkly Hagstrom that was kind of in a state of disrepair. I told Courtney, “These are too valuable. You’re gonna want these.” But, yeah, some ’60s Hagstroms seemed fine (laughs).

You’ll forever be associated with the Big Muff. Was that a happy accident, or something you were looking for?
I found it in probably ’84, when I was figuring out what was what. I already had a Super Fuzz, and in ’84 you could buy old pedals for five bucks. One of my earliest was a [Coron] Memphis Distortion, an MXR knockoff.

I’d heard something about the Big Muff. I went into this not great guitar shop in Seattle, and they had a stack of new Big Muffs for $25 each, so I bought one – just one – and loved it. What’s left of it is in the Museum of Pop Culture, in Seattle. It had literally been run over by our van.

Your pedalboard has grown a bit.
Yeah, right now, coming from the amp, it goes [MXR] Micro Amp, Vox wah, and a Little Big Muff. It’s the cheapest Big Muff they make, and I think the best. And that includes so many clones that people give me. They’re all chasing after the original Big Muff, but not necessarily beating it.

I borrowed a Strymon Flint and I had to go buy one because I used that a lot on the recording. I love the depth of the reverb. Modern Fender amps don’t have as much reverb as the old ones. I’ve got the Phase 90 I used on a couple songs, and I used the DOD Overdrive a lot. Then I’ve got the Ibanez Tube Screamer. Stone [Gossard] gave me that pedal; I was like, “This is the best pedal ever. Why have I never had one?” It’s a totally different tone than I’ve ever used, but I used that a lot on the last record.

Do you use the same amps for recording as on the road?
My main live amp is a Fender Hot Rod Deville. I’ve got one with four 10″ speakers, but normally on tour I use one that has two 12s because that’s kind of the standard. They’re fairly predictable. I really like recording with Deluxe Reverbs, as well. I’ve got all the Fender ’65 reissues… or have had them. I still have my original ’65 Super Reverb, as well, but that’s been mothballed for the last decade.

This article originally appeared in VG’s September 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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