In this episode of Fender Play Live, J Mascis talks guitars, learning to play, and shares some classic and new Dinosaur Jr. riffs
By Ben Nemeroff
J Mascis likes to do things his way. Whether it’s adding gold hardware to a vintage Stratocaster or putting a sparkly purple finish on a Telecaster, J sticks to his own style. In this episode of Fender Play Live, guitarist Nick Reinhart (Tera Melos, Disheveled Cuss) sits down with the legendary Dinosaur Jr. frontman and talks about how he's developed that unique style over the years. And if there’s a guitar that’s helped him define that style and is forever tethered to J Mascis, it’s the Jazzmaster. And J will be the first to admit that his own style has been molded by that iconic model.
In this article, we'll cover:
-- The Guitars & Amps: Including his first Jazzmaster from which his signature model is based
-- The Setup: High action & .10 gauge strings
-- The Riffs and Techniques: Learn "Feel The Pain", "Raisans" a new Dinosaur Jr. riff
-- The Advice: Play through the buzz & Never stop learning
-- Upcoming Unreleased Dinosaur Jr Music (Premier)
J gives us an intimate rundown of some of his personal favorite guitars he has at home. Spanning various eras and models, J’s collection is not just Jazzmasters, but features some vintage Fender gear that of course sports some subtle to not-so-subtle mods.
You won’t be surprised to learn that J Mascis’s first guitar, the one he learned to play on, was a Jazzmaster. However, you might be surprised to learn that his original 1958 Jazzmaster, from which his signature model is based, was purchased in a “trailer park in Vermont” (how J got to the trailer park nobody quite knows!). More importantly than where this guitar is from, is where it has been.
This guitar has been a staple in the Mascis collection for years, and if you want to try one for yourself, check out the J Mascis signature model listed above for a pretty close option!.
His relationship with the Jazzmaster started many years before the release of the 90s rock anthem “Feel the Pain,” perhaps his most popular song. Most Dinosaur Jr. fans associate J Mascis with the Fender Jazzmaster, and the model has stuck with him his entire career resulting in his own Squier signature series Jazzmaster. This guitar is a nod to his first 1958 Jazzmaster with its gold hardware, vintage white finish, and pickups specified by Mascis himself so you can get as close as possible to his unique sound. If you are seeking the Mascis tone, this guitar can handle the attack and all the fuzz necessary to create your own underground indie masterpieces.
This stunningly eye-catching guitar is Mascis's favorite in his personal collection, and it's easy to see why. The sparkle blue finish and mirror pickguard will catch the attention of even casual fans - and potentially blind them too! What is perhaps most notable about this guitar though is that it's the one he turns to when recording most of the lead lines on his albums. In fact, the bright catchy riff that opens up his famous song “Start Choppin'” was recorded with this very guitar.
Want to learn to play “Start Choppin’”? Learn it right here on Fender Play.
As Mascis himself explains in the episode, “I always wanted an original Stratocaster with the maple neck." He ended up with the Jazzmaster since it was the cheaper model at the time, but he eventually got the Stratocaster he always wanted. With its maple neck and single-coil pickups the guitar offers a bright and biting tone, and of course since it belongs to J Mascis, it now sports some gold hardware.
While J can be perceived as soft-spoken, his guitars speak loudly with their overdriven tones and bright colors. This bright and sparkly purple Thinline Telecaster is no exception and has become J’s main live instrument. “There's a hole in it” retorted J Mascis in response to host Nick Reinhart commenting on this guitar's potential for feedback on stage. Listen to J premier a new song with this guitar below!
While J has undoubtedly used numerous amps over the years, like any player he likes to play at home. And when asked what amp he prefers to practice with, J says that his “only noodling amp” is the Fender Super Champ. This classic amp offers a wide range of tones and versatility, and gives players the tube amp experience in a small and compact package. Check out the latest edition of this amp, which features voicing control with 16 different amp types and 15 built-in effects!
Guitarists are notoriously particular about their setup. And rightfully so - your guitar should feel the way you want it to feel! In this Fender Play Live episode, J breaks down some of his guitar setup preferences.
The action of a guitar is the gap in space between the strings and the guitar neck. Most guitarists aim for an action of around 1/16“, allowing for an easy time pressing down the strings. However, J enjoys a much higher action when playing live, probably much higher than any player would be comfortable with. This allows him to really attack the note and, as he puts it, be ”at war“ with the guitar. Along with this intensity can also come finger pain. But for J, who has literally made a career out of “feeling the pain,” this is simply a part of the job. This fundamental part of J’s setup is a reminder to us all that there is no “proper” way to set up your instrument, it's about your personal preferences.
String gauges are another point of interest for guitar players and can often be a subject for debate. You’ll hear about how some players such as Randy Rhoads got his thin and bendy tone from using .9s, while Stevie Ray Vaughan used bafflingly thick .13s for a fat and full tone. For J Mascis though, he’s not sweating the strings too much. He uses .10s, and when asked if he’s experimented with other sizes, he responds with “for like a second, but not really”. So for you learners out there, go with what feels best!
For a wide array of strings Fender.com
You don’t become the “godfather of alternative rock” without creating some seriously cool riffs. One of J Mascis’s most famous compositions is “Feel the Pain”, which features an ultra-catchy riff throughout the verse and then ramps up with yet another ear-worm riff during the pre-chorus. Though typically played with a capo, watch as J demonstrates that you don’t need a capo to still make it sound good!
It’s rare for an artist to talk about their favorite songs they’ve written, especially somebody like J Mascis who has decades of iconic and influential albums under his belt. In this episode J discusses how he recently decided what Dinosaur Jr.‘s best song was: “Raisans”, off their 1987 album “You’re Living All Over Me”. Though when asked if showing this song to a random person in the grocery store would turn them into a Dinosaur Jr. fan, J responds with, “I doubt it”. Watch J play & discuss “Raisans” here:
After not releasing an album for four years, the world is ready for another chapter in the Dinosaur Jr. story and on Fender Play LIVE we got a taste of what’s to come. Check out J playing the guitar part from a brand new song:
After almost 40 years of playing guitar, J certainly has some valuable insight into playing, and he shared some with Nick.
First up - the feedback. It’s common for buzzing & feedback to occur when playing guitar at loud volumes with high gain. Some players find this distracting or annoying. J’s advice to players: just keep playing. Playing through the buzz from the fuzz encapsulates Fender’s own mission of encouraging everyone, everywhere to pick up an instrument and play through whatever is happening around you. Play through. Play on.
Want to learn how to saturate your tone with gain? Check out this lesson here on Fender Play.
J Mascis has been a part of numerous groups and sold millions of albums over a 35+ year career. However when asked to rate his understanding of music theory on a scale from 1 to 5, he answered…1. While knowing music theory can be a vital part of learning to play guitar and can provide a ton of help (especially for beginners), J’s answer shows us that the beautiful thing about the guitar is that there are many ways to learn. Some prefer learning by listening to and playing along with songs, while others prefer learning the foundations of scales & chords. The only correct way is the way that works best for you!
It’s important to remember that no matter how much or little you have played, there are always new things to learn, and it’s never too late to learn a new skill! This holds true even for a legendary guitarist like J Mascis, who described how he just learned how to palm mute recently decades after Dinosaur Jr.‘s 1985 debut album, “Dinosaur”. The journey of learning is what makes guitar a lifelong passion!
Learn Palm Muting on Fender Play.
We are honored to have Mascis serve as an ambassador for one of our most lasting models. His passion for playing and loyalty to his favorite instruments are what make him one of our most celebrated signature artists. J Mascis’ most memorable riffs are found in 1994’s “Feel The pain.” Within that title is the recurring theme of playing through the music, no matter how loud the buzz or how intense the finger pain. It's time to take J’s advice. Pick up your favorite instrument and feel the pain for yourself with this easy lesson teaching Mascis most iconic riff.
Click here for the full episode.
Nick Reinhart is an artist known for his work with Tera Melos, Portugal the Man, Death Grips, and his latest project Disheveled Cuss.