Mikel Lander at the Crescent Ballroom.
Mikel Lander at the Crescent Ballroom.
Bill Goodman

Mikel Lander on His Favorite Vintage Guitars — And the Flying V That Got Away

In Pound For The Sound, Phoenix New Times gets technical with local musicians about what gear they use to create their signature style.

Sugar Thieves guitarist Mikel Lander has had quite the entertaining last couple of years. He and his wife had their first child, his band Sugar Thieves signed with Fervor Records, and they recently released a record as a duo called 2 Cups.

Lander was born in Tucson, and his family moved to Phoenix when he started first grade. His first instrument was the saxophone, and he played it in school band until he was a high school freshman. That's when he picked up acoustic guitar.

The musician has been working with Sugar Thieves for just a hair over a decade now, and there are no signs of slowing down. The full band has an album due for release in the near future, and you never know where they will end up, as they've traveled overseas several times for tours and festivals.

Currently, Lander and the rest of the Thieves are gearing up for a weekend of concerts here in the Valley. The Sugar Thieves are performing at both Shady Park and The Rhythm Room for a double dose.

New Times was able to squeeze some words with Lander in via phone and email about his love for vintage guitars, his views on the Tempe scene, and the upcoming Unity Festival.

New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
Mikel Lander: Well, with my electric rig, I use a 1968 Fender Twin. I equalize it pretty bottom-heavy and try to keep my effects to a minimum. I use a Fulltone Full-drive 2 (that was a gift from PC back in the Chocolate Fountain Days) as a gain boost, an old Big Muff that I don't use much (just when things get nasty and I want to go full-on balls to the wall), and a Boss delay for some solos.

I like it tuned just so you can barely hear it, and it just adds a little punctuation. I’ve leaned toward the hollow bodies these days. I have an Epiphone Dot and a Gretsch Electromatic; those get used the most. I also love my Epiphone Les Paul, the electric I built, and occasionally my Fender Telecaster.

I tend to murder strings, so it's a good idea for me to have several guitars on deck just in case, all strung with 12 gauge.

I guess if there is any secret weapon for me, it's my thumb. I play with a heavy thumb pick and smack the shit out of everything. I've developed a pretty heavy-handed picking style over the years that is kind of my signature and the demise of my strings.

I am an acoustic picker at heart, and play an old 1931 National I love, but she doesn't leave the house very often. I also play a Republic tricone, and I'm currently building another single-cone, National-style resonator.

What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
Probably my National. My wife, Meredith Moore, bought it for me for Father's Day a few years back. It's just dripping with history and tone and rings like a bell.

I love all of my guitars like my children, but I have to give the most credit to my amp, my Fender Twin. It was the first great piece of gear I ever bought, and nothing sounds like it. I've beat the hell out of it over the years, like everything else I own, and she just keeps going and sings so sweet.

Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
Like I said, they are all special, but my first great guitar that I ever had was an '80s Gibson Flying V that was stolen from the Sail Inn years ago. I still miss and dream about that guitar.

It's purple, left-handed, and unlike any other anywhere. It will find its way home someday, I'm sure of it. It was last spotted in Apache Junction. Keep your eyes out people; help bring her home.

Just listened to “Anytown USA” off your recently released Sugar Thieves duo record, 2 Cups. Great song. It almost sounds like two acoustic guitar tracks. How did you go about tracking for this tune to get that full acoustic sound as a duo?
My biggest influences have been the acoustic Delta blues pickers of the 1930s [like] Robert Johnson and Charlie Patton, and some of the great finger-pickers like Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, and many more.

I'm playing my 000 acoustic I built, and just doing it the only way I know how, banging away at it. I really like this tune now. I wasn't quite sure when I wrote it, but it's grown on me.

I wanted to write something showing the connection we all have, anywhere we are from, our stories, our love for home and the people who connect us, without sounding too cheesy. It will be featured on the up-and-coming [full] band album as well due to release soon. [It will be] a little more gussied up with bass, pedal steel, drums, and viola.

Shady Park is one of the few remaining venues giving Tempe some footing with the fans. Being a longtime Tempe-based artist, why is a venue like Shady Park so important to the Tempe scene right now? Well, Fun Bobby, I guess. I cut my teeth at the Hollywood Alley, and love hanging with him again. It's nice to have a good outdoor stage to play and they keep up the tradition of good live Tempe venues that support up-and-coming and longtime local bands. Good folks!

The Sugar Thieves are performing this weekend at the Unity Kickoff Festival being held at Shady Park sponsored by Unity Through Community. Any words you wish to share with fans about the show?
Well, the Unity Through Community group sounds very interesting. I'm looking forward to seeing what ideas they have to connect to the arts community here. This town — Tempe — is full of great artists and people.

It's easy to get lost in the politics and rhetoric of today and lose sight of the great minds we have here in the Valley. Anyone trying to help sounds good to me. I am very proud of the people and the music scene here in the Valley, but we can use all the help we can get. Positivity seems to run in short supply sometimes, but in reality, the arts are made out of it. Otherwise, [why] we would be doing what we are doing?

The Sugar Thieves are performing at The Rhythm Room on Friday, September 22, and at Shady Park on Saturday, September 23.

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