Next year will mark Richard Fortus' twentieth as the other guy in Guns N' Roses.
Richard has persevered in the band beside Axl Rose for nearly two decades — through Buckethead, Bumblefoot, Chinese Democracy and the 'Not in This Lifetime' reunion with Slash and Duff McKagan in 2016.
The reunion vaulted Guns N' Roses back to the top of the live rock pecking order, and the release of two new singles this year — "ABSURD" and "Hard Skool" — codified its current lineup for a new era.
Richard is celebrating by bringing his career full-circle with the launch of his Gretsch Richard Fortus Signature Falcon Center-Block guitars.
Speaking to Q104.3 New York's QN'A ahead of the announcement, Richard explained his history with Gretsch, the lengths to which they went to create his ideal Guns N' Roses instrument and how his Falcons provide a simple solution to his greatest Guns N' Roses problem: how to complement Slash and Duff while retaining his own voice.
Read Richard's QN'A below!
Did joining Guns N’ Roses have anything to do with you playing Gretsch?
Yes, that’s exactly what led me to [do a signature model with] Gretsch.
But I’ve been playing Gretsch since I bought a 1956 Tennessean when I was about 15 or 16. That was one of my first vintage pieces of gear in general. I’ve always been attracted to the tone of Gretsch. I think it’s a very overlooked, integral part of rock and roll history and tone, going back to the Beatles and, you know, AC/DC.
For me, Falcons were always very attractive — also because of Billy Duffy. I was a big Cult fan when I was a kid. Also, the New York Dolls. Both those guys [Duffy and Sylvain Sylvain] used Falcons at different times.
His collection is staggering. Yeah, I was a big Guess Who fan when I was a kid. I was really into classic rock.
When I was 12, 13, 14, I didn’t really like the music that was current. It wasn’t till I heard The Clash that things really changed for me.
Really, I think the prototype for heavy rock and Gretsch was AC/DC and the way Angus and Malcolm [Young’s] guitars fit together like a jigsaw. That really informed my decision when Slash came back in the band.
I was experimenting with different guitars. I’m a big P-90 fan, you know, with vintage P-90s. But that really wasn’t working with Slash’s tone. It was just too much information in that spectrum of the mid-range.
I tried Teles, which seemed a big harsh and lacking the low-end. When I eventually landed on a Gretsch — ‘cause I’d been playing Gretsch for years, along with other guitars — really with Slash’s tone, to support his tone the best, it really seemed to work well with the hollow-body Falcons.
What were some of the things you wanted in your signature model that Gretsch wasn’t offering before?
I was talking to the Gretsch guys at a NAMM show. I had said, ‘Why don’t you guys make a double-cut with a center block that’s the full Falcon-sized body?'
They were like, ‘Well, that sounds interesting.’ So I started talking about what I wanted and they went, ‘That sounds like a signature model.’
I said, ‘Okay, let’s do it!’ I wanted a Gretsch that I could play all night, basically. For when I would do more lead stuff, I would switch to something that was double-cutaway. Also, for higher-gain stuff, I needed the center block. That’s what led us to this.
Gretsch was fantastic with being really patient with me and putting up with all my nitpickiness.
I love how a component of the design of this guitar was knowing that its sound had to fit in with Slash.
To me, that’s why Gretsches work so well.
Obviously, in rockabilly and in country they’ve always been a dominant force, but for rock ‘n’ roll, to me, they’re one of the heaviest sounding guitars. You just have to compensate for the lower-output pickups. But when you do that from the amp side, you retain the low end and top end.
That’s the thing — when you listen to Malcolm, his tone is so integral to AC/DC’s sound and the balance of the two guitars. It’s not that overdriven but it just sounds huge.
Fine-tuning the pickups must not have been easy.
John Gedesi from Gretsch came to [Guns N’ Roses] rehearsals with his [pickup] winder (laughs). We had four guitars in rotation — prototypes — and we started winding pickups. We would go back and forth between the different ones and my older, fully-hollow Falcons.
What we ended up with is actually something that’s never been done before and is very unique to this guitar. It’s very much a hybrid pickup, between a vintage PAF and a vintage Filtertron, in construction, as well as theory.
I’m always curious when someone has multiple signature guitars around, if they have a favorite? Do you reach for one more than the other?
No, I think I divide up the night between the two of them pretty evenly.
If I’m not doing a lot of [string] bending and fast lines, I would opt for the white one. Because of the [longer] scale I’ll have better intonation. It’s a little snappier sounding too. And the Bigsby [tremolo] is a big part of what I do, as well.
If I’m playing more lead lines, to me, the black one is sort of the [Gibson] 335 killer. I think it’s a better-sounding guitar, but that’s what the feel reminds me of.
I can’t think of a GNR song that would employ a Bigsby. When do you use it?
I use it all the time for just subtle modulation. It’s just the subtleties, and that’s why the B-6 [tremolo] was so important to me.
Tell me about what this last Guns N’ Roses tour was like. It’s crazy that with everything going on this summer, you played every show without a postponement.
It was a very different way of touring. We didn’t have any backstage guests, so I wasn’t able to see my friends. I wasn’t even able to go to dinner with my friends for the most part unless we sat outside. I didn’t even go to restaurants where I sat inside.
I’m much more lax now that the tour’s over and I’m home. I got my booster and everything.
Being on the road, it was a very different way of touring.
Whenever you go through a hotel — and if you’re in Florida or Texas it’s like COVID doesn’t exist — but you have to be diligent when you’re traveling in a group of people because if one of us gets sick that takes the whole bus down.
Really, it was very different. Like getting to your room in an elevator — if people get on without masks in a very small space, I’d get off the elevator and wait until another one came and hope that people were wearing masks. Eating in your room or sitting outside at a restaurant, that’s generally what I did.
The time before a show can be tedious. What did you do during offtime?
At this point in my life, all I do is run. I’m a runner. In the mornings I go for a run, and I plot out my runs. That was the main focus of the tour for me [laughs] and then I go to the gym for an hour or two, and practicing. That was my day on the road.
You’ve been in Guns N’ Roses for like 20 years now. What did it feel like to put out new music again?
I played on recordings [of ‘ABSURD’ and ‘Hard Skool’], but then we redid everything.
Did it feel like those songs came full circle this year?
Yeah, when Slash and Duff got on ‘em, it felt like a GNR track, you know? I recut my guitars as well.
You performed “ABSURD” for the first time at Fenway Park in Boston. Did people even know what was happening?
No! [Laughs] People were pretty taken aback by that. But with “Hard Skool,” it was more what people were expecting or wanted.
It must be fun to shock people a bit.
Yes, and I love playing ‘ABSURD’ live. It’s fun to play live.
With no GNR dates this fall and winter, what are you going to be working on?
I’m going to New York to do an album with a couple of guys that were in David Bowie’s band and the producer, who did the last couple of records.
Also I’m producing my daughter’s band, actually. And I’m still working with The Psychedelic Furs, who just put out an album that I produced. I wrote some of the songs on there.That was very much a labor of love with me, and I’ve been working on some other stuff with Richard [Butler], the singer.