Ben Carey says his leap from Australian pub gigs to the sold-out sheds and stadiums he now plays with Savage Garden has taught him at least one thing about guitar tone: "What sounds great in your bedroom or a guitar shop might not work at all in a rehearsal room or an arena. The tone you get with just you in front of your amp is one thing, but I have to find a way to make my sound work with a million tracks of keyboards, drums, percussion and bass, not to mention 20,000 screaming kids."
The challenge has grown as the band tours behind their second album, Affirmation, a densely produced disc on which many of the tracks feature four or five guitar parts. Since the group's other guitarist, Daniel Jones, must focus on sharing frontman duties with vocalist Darren Hayes, Carey shoulders most of the fretboard burden.
"It was a little daunting at first," he admits. "But once we found a formula that worked, it wasn't too bad." The usual strategy is for Jones to take the simpler lines and chords while Carey covers everything else-which means lots of lightning-fast tone changes for Ben. Part of his solution was to abandon his beloved tube amps for programmable digital amp simulators and effects. Another part of the Equation is his Yamaha AES1500.
"I've used others for years," says Carey. "But when we went out to play the first album live, I found that a lot of the songs required single-coil pickups, that were just too quiet, and I got sick of not being heard in the mix. On the AES1500, I can split the coils on each pickup for a great single-coil sound and since the guitar is hollow, it has an airy character solid body guitars lack. At the same time, the Yamaha has a bright sparkle I've never gotten from standard solid bodies. It hits that sweet spot in-between."
One of Carey's favorite pickup recipes: bridge pickup in single-coil mode, neck pickup in humbucker. "That's especially useful for a strong, single-note line that has to be fat yet well defined," he says. "On the other hand, if you want pure gnarly bite, the back pickup alone in single-coil mode is great. It sounds a little bigger and more breathy than the same setting on a three pickup solid body."
Carey also uses the guitar with his other band, Supanatural, who are currently shopping their first album. "I don't want to be the same as every other guitar player and I like the idea of not playing the same thing as everyone else," he says. "The AES1500 has helped give me a signature sound."