Tone Talk with Lisa Bianco

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I’m Lisa Bianco and I am a touring/session guitarist and songwriter. I have been on several national and international tours and festivals such as Warped Tour, FireFly, and SXSW.  I have toured with such acts as Hunter Valentine, Lily & Madeleine, It Was Romance (with Lane Moore), Jamie O’Neal, and Bird Streets to name a few.  I am currently writing and in pre-production with Hunter Valentine’s Kiyomi McCloskey for a yet to be titled music project.  I actually didn’t pick up the guitar until my senior year of high school.  Piano was my first instrument which I started playing in first grade.  Then I also picked up the flute in third grade and played in concert band and marching band through high school.  So there was a lot of Mozart, Beethoven, and even Gershwin before I committed to Rock ‘n’ Roll. Public school is where I primarily got my music education along with private teachers for the piano and flute.  All that gave me the foundation to pick up the guitar and just go!  I was into alternative, post-punk, and indie rock which gave me my sense of aesthetics and approach to playing the guitar.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
To me, tone is a combination of “textures” that make you feel something when you hear it.  Happy, angry, sad, caustic, and maybe even annoyed. My tone has definitely changed over the years.  When I first started playing guitar I was all about Marshall JCM 800 stacks and being as loud as I could.  Everything loud and overdriven. But as I explored different artists and bands, I began to refine what I liked and didn’t like.

It’s always good to shred
where it makes sense but I
love coming up with tasty melodic sonic parts.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
I switch off between two amps depending on the situation.  Mostly for touring I use a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe (USA production).  It’s such a workhorse and loud as hell.  It’s got a clean and dirty channel, which I like a lot.  It has this very chiming sound that suits my playing style.  I rarely play super clean and Fender has that drive channel to dirty things up a little within the amp.   I also have a VOX AC 10 which I use at home or local gigs where I need to pick and up go easy.  It’s got that good gnarly classic British sound. It has a closed back which gives it a real punchy defined sound.  I find that some smaller amps with open backs can sound thin.  I have several guitars but my big three staples are my Fender Telecaster (50th-anniversary edition MIJ) where I swapped out the pickups for Lollars.  I have a ’97 Gibson Les Paul which I left as is, and an Epiphone Supernova semi-hollow body that I swapped out the pick-ups with Fralins.  They all have very distinct sounds and are a great template to work with.  You can get your Crayola 64 colors variety out of those three alone. My current pedal chain is an old Ibanez TS-9, MXR Carbon Copy Delay, BOSS DD-5 Digital Delay, BOSS WAZA Chorus, Empress Tremolo, and Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Nano.  These are my building blocks and I’m really into blending and mixing sounds.  It’s always good to shred where it makes sense but I love coming up with tasty melodic sonic parts.  I use two delays because sometimes I’ll want a more ethereal spacey sound from the MXR. Other times I need a more controlled punchy timed delay with the DD-5. My tremolo is a go-to for something more trippy rather than country vibes.  The WAZA Chorus is modeled after the vintage CE-1 and CE-2 chorus along with new modern additions.  You can dial in subtle to obnoxious with that. My reverb is pretty much on all the time.  Gotta have big sound feels.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
Well even though it’s very easy to edit parts with Pro Tools and such these days I still really strive to get full clean takes as much as possible.  I hate to rely on “Oh, we’ll just edit that out.”  Lol.  I usually know what guitar(s) I want to use on a song or part.  I go with my first instincts.  Sometimes that proves wrong and an hour later, a few amp changes, you realize you need to try something else. That’s the nature of the beast.  That may not be so much of a technique but that is my process. You never know how something sounds and fits until you actually place it in the musical landscape of the song.  I also like to chunk parts when I record.  I prefer to do all the verses at one time, all the choruses of a song at one time, etc.  It allows me to sink in and dedicate myself to that particular musical moment.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
Ah, that can be a challenge. You do your soundcheck in an empty room and once the crowd comes in and fills the room up, the perception of sound and tone changes.  I basically stick to what typically works in terms of settings and just know in the back of my mind certain adjustments I may have to make once the gig gets going.   Also, the golden rule: Make sure that stage monitor mix of yours is on point.

What does your practice consist of?
For one, it always almost involves a metronome with either just some basic scale stuff to get my fingers going or jamming over chord progression.  A metronome is like a personal trainer.  It keeps you in shape and helps build your internal meter. I also do this thing where I go on YouTube and search a band or a song, of varied genres, and play/solo along to that. I feel it keeps me creative and challenges me to keep things fresh.

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What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
You will have one thousand “no’s” before every one “yes” in your career.  Remember that and it will keep things in perspective and keep you from losing your mind.  The music business is a long-term game and investment.

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