Tone Talk with Laura Stevenson

Photo by Bon Jane

My name is Laura Stevenson and I’ve been playing guitar for a little over 20 years now. When I first started, I was super into Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, and Townes Van Zandt kind of folky fingerpicking, which I still use a lot of today. But I started experimenting with electric guitars when I started playing regularly with a band. Then I was listening to bands like Television and just really paying attention to the subtle ways you can manipulate the strings of an electric guitar, and I just fell in love with it.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
I guess I would say tone is the way you play through whatever setup you have. It’s less about the hardware and more about the person playing. I’ve played a Telecaster as long as I’ve played electric, and I rarely, if ever, use pedals. I used to use a Fender Rock Pro amp, which was admittedly terrible sounding, but it was broken, so I thought it sounded really cool. Plus, it was my bandmate’s, so I didn’t need to buy my own, and I could practice at his apartment, so I didn’t have to lug it across Brooklyn. I graduated to a Fender Hot Rod DeVille like ten years ago and have been using that ever since. It was great for DIY shows because it really doesn’t need to be mic’d; it’s super powerful and loud, even on 2 or 3, honestly, and it is really dynamic. I can fingerpick gently and then strum loudly, and the way it breaks up is just gorgeous.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
For the last couple of years, I’ve retired my ‘72 American Telecaster (tuning issues when playing with other guitars). I’ve been mostly playing a Mexican Tele from the ‘90s that is super awesome and warm and really just the best guitar. I’m playing that through my DeVille; sometimes, I’ll use a Hall Of Fame reverb. I just received a Timmy Overdrive from a friend, and I’ve been messing around with it a little bit.

What about strings?
I use D’Addario nickel-wound 10 gauge strings pretty much exclusively. I tried the heavy bottom/light top and the flat-wound. I’m constantly trying things out, but the regular 10s are my favorite.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
The producer of my most recent record, John Agnello, is brilliant and so I just kind of let him choose the amps I played out of, and it all sounded great. He also did some cool stuff with a hollow body guitar that kind of created a specific drone for each song that I think adds a beautiful layer. That was very cool.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
I mark all of my levels with a sharpie! Then if someone borrows my amp, I can easily reset it before I have to play.

What does your practice consist of?
I do a lot of acoustic when I practice. It keeps my hands strong and agile. I’d say I play 80% acoustic when I’m practicing alone, and then I play electric when I’m with the band for the most part.

Favorite guitar riff or lick that inspired you to pick up the guitar and play?
Definitely the lead riff in the Roky Erickson song “I Think of Demons.” That song made me want to go out and buy an electric guitar.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
Go and do it! If it’s what you love and it makes you happy and you think that what you make can bring happiness to others — do it!

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