T.J. rocking out on his 92 Japanese Fender Jazzmaster.Ris Marek
In Pound For The Sound, Phoenix New Times gets technical with local musicians about what gear they use to create their signature style.
Guitarist T.J. Friga has a back up plan if he needs it, but right now it's all about the music.
His chops and dedication to the craft are paying off with a budding career. Friga currently play guitar and sings in both Playboy Manbaby and Instructions. He fronts the latter.
Friga, pronounced "free-guh," was born here in the Valley. With the push of a couple of musician uncles, he started playing electric bass around the age of 15. Then he made the jump to electric guitar, his true musical love. Once he got a guitar, he never looked back. Friga began taking lessons, and cites Bob Hermes and Stan Sorenson as having huge influences on his style and songwriting.
Not only is Friga a performing guitarist who feels he has found a style and voice on his instrument, he's also a music educator.
He currently spends his time outside of performing teaching at School of Rock, conducting independent private lessons, and helping make music happen for preschoolers in the mornings.
Friga is also constantly creating. Instructions recently released a video for the song "F.K.B." And both his bands are set to release more music and videos in 2018.
Friga and the rest of Playboy Manbaby have a big show on Saturday, December 9, at The Trunk Space that's stacked with an eclectic local lineup. In advance of the show, New Times talked with Friga about his Fender Jazzmaster, his job as a teacher, and his upcoming performance. New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone in Playboy Manbaby? T.J. Friga: It seems like a lot of guitarists I know try to hone in their clean-versus-dirty mode, but it’s just one setting for me. My Fender Deluxe Reverb combo amp is only one clean channel, so I use a MXR Mirco-Amp to push the tubes just a little harder to end up with a really solid crunch. That way, if I need to be cleaner I can just roll my pickups down, or it’s naturally over-driven with the pickups on high.
What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
Definitely my guitar. It’s a 92 Japanese Fender Jazzmaster, but I’ve replaced almost everything on it. I swapped the neck for a Telecaster neck, put a Curtis Novak P90 in the bridge position, and was lucky enough to be given a Mastery Bridge which really increased the reliability of the tuning and intonation. I bought it used from Guitar Gallery in Scottsdale about a decade ago and the owner before me was a tech at the store who had it for about a decade himself before putting it up for sale.
Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
The Mastery bridge on my guitar is one of the cooler things I’ve ever used and the only piece of gear I’ve got so far because somebody at a company liked us. The Mastery folks found a video of us playing “Snake Harmer” on the Premier Guitar magazine site and emailed us saying something along the lines of “looks like you could use an upgrade.” Our original and informal deal was one of their bridges in exchange for some tapes and T-shirts for one of the luthiers and his girlfriend. They’re out of Minneapolis and were super-personable. We got to talking about The Replacements, who are endorsers of theirs, and they supposedly recommended Paul Westerberg to give us a listen. I don’t know if anything ever came of that, but little things like that really gave me the sense they cared about the band and wanted to help us.
Just listened to “Last One Standing.” Loved the track and the video. Your guitar comes flying right out of the gate and is rocking throughout the song. Awesome solo, awesome flair. How did you go about tracking guitars for this track?
I tried to give that one a creepy soul vibe, like a cross between The Cramps and The Temptations. We went with a heavily reverberated tone that is sort of in that surf spectrum, but were simultaneously consciously trying to do tight R&B-style accents with the drums. Part of the unique texture was also having the horns play in unison with the guitar on the head melody. The guitar solo was supposed to be a Rhodes piano solo, but we lost the original track I recorded for it, so we redid it on guitar and it felt more appropriate anyway, a happy accident.
You had mentioned during our conversation that you teach music as part of your living. How do you balance gigs, touring, and teaching?
A lot of my students are really supportive of my endeavors, which gives teaching a sort of cyclical feeling. Students work with you long enough to wanna see your band, they come out, get inspired to do their own thing, and start writing songs and performing themselves. I had a student recently open for Authority Zero — her band is called Not Confined — which is amazing in that full-circle type sense. In that way, teaching has made me a better performer and vice versa.
Playboy Manbaby has a show coming up at The Trunk Space. Any words you wish to share with fans about your upcoming show or any other band news?
We’ve been sitting on some new material for a while, so some of it’s bound to get tested that night. We have more than an album's worth of material ready to go — so there will definitely be several releases next year. As for Instructions, we’ve already begun tracking a full-length that will ideally be ready for release around March or April, with new music videos in the pipeline for both bands. The next Instructions single is already recorded and features a pretty choice guitar cameo by Wayne from Twin Ponies.
Playboy Manbaby are scheduled to perform this Saturday, December 9, at The Trunk Space. The all-ages show starts 6 p.m. Tickets are $8 and available through Playboy Manbaby's website.
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