Session ace Carl Verheyen is one of LA’s elite “First Call” studio crew. Stuart Bull met Carl in Los Angeles for a revealing interview.
In a list of demanding jobs, being an LA session guitarist might not rank alongside test pilot or deep sea diver in terms of physical risk – but it’s absolutely no less demanding. And Carl Verheyen is a master of that craft.
Besides being a member of Anglo-American soft-rock legends Supertramp since 1985, Verheyen is one of a select band of elite studio musicians that are on every producer’s A’ list. He is also a highly respected guitar teacher and has been hailed by some of Americas most important guitar writers as one of the finest players in the country – no small accolade in the spiritual home of the best beginner guitar!
Whether the job is a Country music style jingle, an acoustic part for a movie soundtrack, or a searing intervallic Rock workout that might end up being used on a TV ad for bathroom cleaner, Verheyen’s versatility has seen him contribute to thousands of recording dates during the past 25 years. He has filled the first guitar chair for a formidable run of blockbuster movies and popular TV shows: Gladiator, Lost, Prison Break, Star Trek (2009), King of the Hill, Scrubs… the full list is way too big to include here but its sheer variety demonstrates not only an above average command of the instrument but also an ability to be able to nail specific guitar tones at a moments notice.
Most pro session players tend to be gear- heads but Verheyen could be fairly described as an obsessive’s obsessive! His huge arsenal of equipment features a mouth watering collection of vintage amplifiers – late ‘60s Fender Princetons and Marshalls being particular favourites – alongside a collection of contemporary rack gear that Verheyen rates as one of his most versatile setups for the majority of his studio dates.
“I am big fan of vintage instruments but I’m al ways worried about taking them on the road.”
In common with most busy session guitarists Verheyen’s guitar collection reflects the diversity of his typical working day; nylon and steel strung acoustic guitars, electric and acoustic 12-string guitars, baritone, banjo, Dobro, mandolin…even the guitarino (a tiny lute/guitar hybrid that dates back to the 16th century). Pride of place is reserved for two prized pre-CBS era Fender Stratocasters, a sunburst ’58 and a rare ash-bodied ’61 in surf green. The ’61 Strat forms the basis of the signature instrument that Carl Verheyen developed with small independent American guitar manufacturer LsL that became available to the general public in 2011.
“It’s hard to pin down what I really like,” Verheyen is quoted when pressed about his particular preferences, guitar-wise. “I am big fan of vintage instruments but I’m always worried about taking them on the road.” With this in mind the LsL CV Special is basically a highly refined interpretation of Verheyen’s favourite ’61. The guitar is designed along vintage specs and features a hand-shaped ‘medium C’ profile neck with a vintage style 7.25-inch radius rosewood fingerboard topped off with Verheyen’s favourite 6105 fretwire.
Verheyen’s highly expressive whammy bar technique sees his LsL sporting a vintage style Gotoh floating vibrato bridge that is set up so that the whammy bar will raise the pitch of the top E string by a half step, the B string a whole step and the G string a minor third. To help him achieve this finely balanced set up Verheyen also uses a unique custom signature string gauge that the guitarist has developed with US string brand Dean Markely. The Carl Verheyen ‘Balanced Bridge’ Helix HD strings are (from top to bottom) .009, .012, .016, .026, .037, .046. and Verheyen insists that it plays a major role in helping him achieve his distinctive singing glissando lines.
Highly accessible though Verheyen’s playing always is, his highly original approach to improvising can nevertheless catch the listener unawares. His preference for using wide intervals adds a disarming twist to otherwise familiar bluesy phrases but this is exactly why his playing so sounds modern and refreshing. Regardless of whether Carl is playing Rock, Blues, Jazz or Country, his total command of the guitar is truly humbling.
Players of the caliber of Steve Morse, Robben Ford, Steve Lukather, Joe Bonamassa and Scott Henderson are unstinting in their praise and admiration for the unassuming Verheyen, whose stunning album Trading 8s (2009) features barnstorming duets with Bonamassa, Ford, Morse and Albert Lee, amidst a stellar lineup of guitarists spanning a wide range of musical genres. And as Stuart Bull finds out in our interview, the man isn’t just a great guitar player – he’s a great communicator, too.