It’s difficult to believe that The Shacks’ “Strange Boy” (streaming below) was the first song that Shannon Wise ever recorded, but that’s how the story goes. The New York based duo (made up of Wise and Max Shrager) formed almost by accident, which only amplifies their chemistry. When Shrager’s whimsical arrangements are combined with Wise’s saccharine soprano, a sound akin to magic is created. The Shacks’ debut, self-titled EP is a spooky and sweet bedroom pop masterpiece (it was The Deli’s NYC Record of the Month earlier in 2017), and it leaves the listener wanting more. We asked Max a few questions about his guitar tone. – Lilly Milman

Tell us about your first time with… a guitar pedal. How old were you and what did you stomp on?

My first pedal was a Boss OD-1. I got it shortly after I started playing guitar, I was probably 13. At one point I knew how to play every Led Zeppelin song on guitar, and that Boss pedal was always kind of frustrating because it didn’t sound quite right! Eventually, I got a [Fulltone] Fulldrive pedal and a Big Muff, both of which I found to be useless. So I gave up on pedals for a while.

Was there a specific pedal (or two) that kind of changed your life?


1970’s Mica Fuzz-Wah

These days I only use one pedal when I play live. It’s a 1970’s Mica Fuzz-Wah pedal [we can’t find a video for it!].

I used to tour a lot, playing guitar for the great (recently deceased] Charles Bradley. His producer and studio guitarist, Tom Brenneck, is one of my main influences as a guitar player, and also a great guy. He was one of the first people I started hanging with, in the Daptone Records scene, when I was 14 or 15, and he was always super cool and encouraging. When I was in 9th grade, my friends and I saw The Budos Band and Charles Bradley on a double bill in Philadelphia, and Tommy’s guitar playing left a major impression on me.

Anyway, I think the only stompbox effects he uses on Charles’ records are fuzz and a little bit of wah-wah. Live, he uses an Ibanez Fuzz-Wau pedal, which happens to have a reverse wah-wah.

So when I started playing with Charles Bradley, I picked up a really similar piece. Ibanez products came under a bunch of different names back in the day, and my Mica Fuzz-Wah is essentially the same as Tommy’s, except the Wah is not in reverse.

So that’s the only pedal I use live. It’s got two fuzz settings, one regular and one extra thin. And it has two controls, Fuzz Depth and Balance, which I set during sound check to the desired balance with my clean signal.

The wah-wah function on the pedal is awesome. It’s kind of murky and doesn’t have the sharpness of a regular wah, but it gives you a slight level boost and a bit of saturation. It’s a lot of fun.

Is that really the only pedal you use, period?
phase tone

Ibanez Phase Tone II

I recently picked up an Ibanez Phase Tone II, for studio use.  Its a phaser from the ’80s, with two controls, speed and feedback. I really like it because the two controls interact and resonate in unpredictable ways. 

I combined the phaser with my Mica fuzz pedal for a guitar solo overdub on a new Shacks song we just recorded, and it really rips.
What else do you do to your guitar tone when you record?
In the studio, I usually spend some time messing with EQ and compression on the input signal when I’m getting a guitar tone for an overdub. 
When we’re cutting a rhythm track and all playing together at the same time, I tend to focus more on the sound coming out of the amp. I have a crazy old “Sound” brand amp from the early sixties that I picked up years ago at Russo Music in Hamilton, NJ. I usually record with that or my trusty old Ampeg Gemini II, which I also use live. 

Ampeg Gemini II [picture from Vintage Guitar Magazine:]

Sometimes l’ll go DI and pull out a lot of lows and mids and boost a high frequency to get a thin, almost acoustic sound. The Tascam 388 EQs are great for that.
But when it comes down to it, it’s all in the hands. It’s pretty easy to get a good guitar sound when the band is playing well together, because of the organic interaction between the musicians. If the dynamics are there, and if the right feeling is there, then all the sounds tend to fall into place. That’s what we’re always working toward as a band.