Tone Talk with Mandy Rowden

Photo by Mark Maryanovich Photography
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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Summer 2020 Issue

I’m an Austin, TX-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, teacher, and founder of Girl Guitar Austin, a comprehensive rock and roll school for women. To date, I’ve released three albums of original music and am working on the fourth as we speak! My influences range from rockers like Tom Petty, Neil Young, and The Rolling Stones to singer-songwriters like Lisa Loeb, Lucinda Williams, and Neil Young (again) to the heroes of my classical youth like Vivaldi and Chopin. Besides writing and touring my original music, I teach nonstop for Girl Guitar, am a regular guest clinician for Own Your Own Universe, the camp musician for Lucky Star Art Camp, and a songwriter for Songs for the Soul—all things I genuinely love and am deeply proud to be part of!

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
I’m a fan of the big fat acoustic fingerpicking tone of Steve Earle and have tried to copy it several times in recent years. I get a decent copycat sound out of my Fishman Platinum Pro playing on my Gibson J-45. I used to play through an LR Baggs Venue that I really loved, but as my playing and tastes evolved, I’ve found myself more comfy on stage with the extra flexibility I get out of the Platinum.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
When I play acoustic, I swap between my Gibson J-200 and my J-45, and I run them both through my Fishman Platinum Pro. For electric, I play my Les Paul Custom through a Supro Black Magick Reverb amp that sounds like heaven—loud, thundering, beautiful heaven. My pedalboard includes several pedals from Austin-based Durham Electronics like the Sex Drive (boost), the Zia Drive (overdrive), and the Reddverb (reverb). Durham’s pedals give me the vintage color I want, and they take me back to the kind of ‘70s feel I dig in electric tone.

What about strings?
Elixir all the way, baby. 80/20 Bronze NANOWEB for acoustic and POLYWEB for my electrics.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
On the album I’m currently working on with producer Matt Smith (6 String Ranch, Austin, TX), I’m playing all the guitars and lap steels on the record. I’m really enjoying getting deep into the songs and layering instruments with the no-pressure atmosphere provided there.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
Like all working musicians, I run circles to keep my gear in top shape with frequent setups, new strings, fresh batteries, etc. It’s hard to always stay consistent in different rooms, but keeping it dialed in is important to me. Learning to communicate with sound people has been key.

What does your practice consist of?
I love woodshedding, so aside from writing and working on new songs, I constantly go back to my “bibles”—Sal Salvador’s Single String Studies for Guitar and Matt Smith’s Chop Shop.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
Get smart, and take it seriously. Gone are the days of women as tokens and getting by on feminine charm. Women are stepping up more and more all the time to fill the really substantial roles in the industry, so go ahead and learn the gear, carry your own stuff, and be prepared to work really hard. Then just have a great time and enjoy the ride!

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