Tone Talk with Manda Mosher

Manda Mosher - Photo by Shots by Morrison
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Hi, I’m Manda Mosher. I live in the valley of Los Angeles with my husband and daughter. Music is my life-long obsession that never ends and continually morphs. I’ve been involved in almost every aspect of creating, promoting, and releasing music. I’m currently working on my third solo album at my recently finished recording and rehearsal facility, San Fernando Valley Recording, with my husband, Eric Craig. I run an indie label, Blackbird Record Label, and produce music events. I spent five years making two albums and touring with CALICO the band which was a female-fronted California Country group. Now, I’m back to my solo work fronting my own band and have since found a renewed passion for creating.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?

Tone is a matter of personal taste and a search for the right gear to accomplish what you want to hear. I mostly look to the ’60s and ’70s for inspiration. I’m drawn to vintage or quality re-issue gear that captures it. I don’t think my idea of what great tone is has changed much, but my ability to pinpoint how to accomplish it has evolved. I consider T Bone Burnette, Jeff Tweedy, Daniel Lanois, and Ryan Adams to be current masters of tone. Studying their work is a master class.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?

My main electrics are my 1960 Re-Issue Custom Shop Fender Telecaster, the Gretsch Panther, and the 1959 Re-Issue Gretsch Duo Jet. These are hard to beat classic sounding guitars that achieve what I envision for my electric tone. I pair them with either my 1962 Fender Princeton “Brownie” Brown Face or the 1967 Fender Princeton Reverb. The tremolo circuit on the Brownie is unmatched by any other tremolo I’ve heard.

My father found the Brownie in a dumpster in an alley behind his auto shop when I was a kid. It was spray-painted black, was missing knobs, and had a make-shift waist belt as a handle. That was a practice amp for me growing up, but since then, we’ve had it fully restored to better than original condition. I also have two incredible Rickenbackers. One is a 1964 that I got in partial trade for a car I sold to a guy up in Washington State who happened to be a guitar collector. The other is a 1988 12-string Roger McGuinn signature model my mom purchased from Guitar Guitar, which was a famous instrument store in the valley.

My pedalboard is simple. It’s a little Rockboard with the following pedals: Mad Professor: Silver Spring Reverb, MXR: Carbon Copy Analog Delay, Analogman: Prince of Tone, Xotic: EP Booster, Hermida Audio: Rotary Reverb, BOSS: Chromatic Tuner.

My main acoustics are the 1966 Gibson Hummingbird and the 1968 Gibson B-25, which both have a narrow nut. I use a Gretch Bobtail Resonator as well.

What about strings?

For acoustic strings, I use phosphor bronze Martin or D’Addario light gauge, and for the electrics, I use D’Addario 8.5s.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

Tracking basic tracks live is the way to go for me. Capturing the feel of the band playing together is at the heart of my recording philosophy. I do not believe in quantizing drums. Putting drums to a grid takes the soul out of them for me. I also believe in going with one take with the basic tracks from beginning to end. Once the foundation is there, then overdubbing is fine from there out. I replace original live scratch vocals with final vocals after the fact so I can concentrate on the details. That’s my basic philosophy, but there’s always room to bend and experiment. I have my own recording studio with my husband; San Fernando Valley Recording. It’s our playground.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?

Live is a wild card. You’re at the mercy of the sound system, the room, and the mixing engineer. If it’s an iffy situation, I’ll bring my own PA. I approach each show according to what we’re working with. I know my own gear, travel with my own DI box and use my own Sure Beta 58A mic. I avoid using house amps. If there’s an opportunity to soundcheck, take it!

What does your practice consist of?

I’m disciplined at practicing when I’m preparing for a show or recording. I rehearse on my own and then bring the band in for more rehearsal. Beyond preparing for something specific, I’m not regimented with it and tend to wander into writing, coming up with guitar lines, and working on picking techniques.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?

It’s a life-long dedication, and your path may change course as you age. While working on your proficiency on your instruments and your songwriting, which can all be done by studying and practicing along with records you love or taking lessons, it’s also important to learn the business. Music school and interning at a studio or label is a valuable experience. Get to know the people you admire and collaborate. Trust your instincts if something feels off. There’s an incredible amount of “taking advantage” that occurs, and only you can protect yourself from that. Look for honest people to work with and learn from them. It’s a long path of incremental successes and failures to learn from and can be easily discouraging, but know that everyone doing this hits those patches in some form or another. As Tom Petty once said to me, “If you love it, don’t ever stop.”

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