The term “fuzz lord” gets thrown around a lot these days regarding guitarists who, you guessed it—load their ‘board with fuzz pedals. To that end, Rival Sons’ resident “fuzz lord,” Scott Holiday, is no different—he stacks fuzz (and volume and distortion) like there’s no tomorrow, though, he’s earned his title. Want proof. Just listen to any of Rival Sons’ studio records—especially 2023’s Darkfighter and Lightbringer.
This is not by accident—Holiday is a gear hound through and through. Through the madness inherent in the walls of fuzz and gargantuan grandiosity, you’ll find a doorway to the halls of his mind’s eye. Open it, stroll through, and his master plan becomes evident. “Since we’re promoting two new albums,” Holiday says. “I can use these records as examples of a song I’m proud of.”
He continues, “For a song, I’ll go with ‘Darkfighter’ from the album Lightbringer. We started writing this before we recorded Feral Roots. It’s a song that takes you on a journey. The themes indicate the times and promote our ethos to manifest strong, powerful energy.”
“It’s about love and putting light into people’s hearts,” he says. “A lot of this song was captured live after talking through the song and structure idea. Which I think gives it lots of life and an inspired sound. It was a great day when we captured this song.”
Of course, overall songs are one thing, but when it comes to the seething beast that is Holiday’s six-string muse, the riffs showcase the crux of the thing. “For a riff, I’ll go with ‘Darkside’ from the album Darkfighter,” Holidays says. “It’s a simple riff, but riffs are not about complexity; they are about working for a song correctly.”
He explains, “That riff takes this song to an entirely new level when it hits. The song Jay [Buchanan] started with was already very powerful and moving, so I knew my contribution needed to be something that brought that tension in the song to a shattering place.”
Reminding us that Rival Sons‘ songs are loaded with his searing solos, Holiday says, “There are a few solos on the last two records I’m proud of, but the song ‘Darkfighter’ was inspired and eclectic. I cut most of it live with the band—the acoustic stuff—and then crafted in the electric stuff interspersed. I love that these two worlds—improv and craft—dance together on this solo within this song.”
With two full-length records released in 2023 and three released overall since 2019, you’d think Holiday and the rest of Rival Sons would want to catch their breath. But no, the wheel will keep spinning for the foreseeable future. “There’s always new music,” Holiday says. ‘And there’s a couple of big tours planned that we have coming up.”
He concludes, “We have some different stuff we’re working on, like a documentary about the band… possibly. So, along with the new album ideas, there’s some outside-the-box stuff, too.”
What keeps you inspired to pick up the guitar?
As we grow older, changing and evolving as people, so does our music and voice. I’ve played for so long now; the guitar is like an old friend. My closest and most intimate friend. I’m not the kind of player who needs to play eight hours a day every day; I don’t have that kind of discipline with the instrument. I pick up the instrument when I’m inspired; luckily, that is quite often.
I’m just continually interested in seeing what will come out. When I see something, hear something, or experience life, there is a song, riff, or melody waiting for me as a kind of soundtrack or, more appropriately, a passage in my musical journal. My music tells the story of my life. The inspiration lies in making another journal entry and keeping the story going.
You’re known for some heavy and unique riffs. What does that process look like?
I almost always start writing heavier riff ideas on an electric guitar—not plugged in. That way, I assume the movement, notes, rhythm, and energy are there before any big tonal factor affects it. After I like what I’m doing, I’ll almost always hear in my head what needs to be added—the kind of fuzz or gain and texture.
Of course, I spend some time playing with different tones without any present ideas, and often, the riff will be right there waiting. Plugging in a great and new-sounding pedal can make a new special riff appear out of nowhere. Or it can be in different guitars. You’ve maybe heard that expression we use about songs being “in guitars.”
How about solos? What’s your overarching approach?
It’s different all the time. I’ll improvise solos a lot. We’ve cut so many songs off the floor live, playing together. Real, raw ideas come out in those situations, visceral, instinctual playing. And that’s tough to beat. I’ve found these to be very inspired-sounding solos on playback.
Then there’s crafting things together piece by piece—and these can also be wonderful solos. No rules. Whatever works. I like solos where I put a couple, or a few takes together and then have to play that back, connecting ideas I originally didn’t intend or naturally do. It creates an interesting sound and challenge I embrace.
Is there one guitar in your collection that inspires you more than others?
It’s not just one. I have a bunch of great instruments. With each album, a new guitar comes forward. In these last two new albums we released [Darkfighter and Lightbringer], I had three main guitars that come to mind: a custom Gretsch Stern-built Falcon, a Banker Korina V, and my ’66 Gibson ES-330. They are all very different from one another and sound very specific.
Most importantly, they are exceptional instruments. Stern is one of my all-time favorite luthiers, and I can’t say enough great things about Matt Hughes of Banker Custom Guitars. I’m using several of his guitars now—really special instruments. I just picked up a new model from Doug Kauer, one of my closest collaborators and favorite luthiers.
We’ve done a ton of guitars together that have held the primary spots on a few of our records. He’s golden. The new Gripen he built me is the guitar of the moment right now. It’s like the cubist stepchild of the [Gibson] Explorer and [Gibson] Firebird.
What sorts of guitars tend to catch your eye?
I like so many different types of guitars. I’m not a one-guitar type of dude. I like ’em all. My large collection and array of instruments used on stage say this quite clearly. It’s a mini guitar show every time we play [laughs]!
Do you prefer vintage or new?
Honestly, I prefer vintage, except for the builders I’m working with and the guitars I commission from them. They’re so particular and custom to me. They are built for very specific needs. Good is good, ultimately. It certainly does not need to be old to be good.
I love the guitars from Kauer, Banker, the Gretsch custom shop, etc. These guys make instruments as good as the old ones, and the ones they built for me will be with me forever… until I pull a [Eric] Clapton and only play Strats on everything [laughs]! I think [Pete] Townsend has done this as well! There must be something to it!
How about amps and pedals?
The studio is one thing; we use all sorts of stuff. It’s a real mixed bag. I mostly lean on old small amps and new but small Supro amps. I’ll plug into my live rig, and as far as effects go, often, that creates a familiarity in the sound and tones and the way I use those effects.
But we’ll also go rogue and pull all sorts of stuff out. We’re always experimenting. Dave Cobb, our producer, is great like this. He has tons of great stuff, and we use a lot of it. You can trip and fall onto the greatest tone ever between what I bring to a session and what Dave has [laughs].
What are three pedals you can’t live without?
One: A good fuzz. I would say the Roger Mayer Octavia has become the signature sound I’ve come to depend on.
Two: A volume pedal. Boring, I know. But because I use all sorts of wonky-shaped guitars, many have volume controls in inconvenient spots. So, I find myself using my volume pedal all night during shows. I’m not super fond of distortion pedals, either. I opt to use the sound of an amp driven hard, and then I’ll use my volume control—via volume pedal—to back off for clean sounds. It’s an important pedal.
Three: A great delay. Despite all the wonderful analog/tape/plate/rack delays out there, I would take the old Line 6 DL4. I had Keeley mod mine to essentially eliminate any extraneous noise. It’s quiet, and the sound it makes is incredible. It does so much, and it does it well. And the stuff it does with an expression pedal is like no other delay.
If you could give one piece of advice regarding gear to a new player, what would it be?
Only use a few essential tools and effects when starting. Your effects palette and guitars will grow as you continue. It’s the nature of the beast. You don’t want to start with too many options. No need. Don’t look at a rig like mine and think that’s a starting point.
I have a massive rig, but it reflects nine albums. I started with like four essential effects I used, but as we recorded and built tracks, things were added here and there. Use less initially, focus on your hands, and song craft.
What’s the secret to your pedalboard and tone?
It’s like the old saying goes: It’s the fool, not the tool. There’s no secret. I’ve built five different live rigs, each with different pedals and amps and ways I use to get to the tones needed to pull off all the Rival Sons songs.
The rig I recently came up with is based on the Helix. Yes… the dark side, I know. But I’ve never gotten more compliments on my tone. I still use tube power amps and live speakers, but I’m using Helix preamps and a Bradshaw switching system, all controlled by the Helix.
Anyway, I could rebuild it again with different stuff and make all these songs happen. If you like how a particular guitarist sounds, they are basically “the secret.”
Are there any guitars you’ve let go of that you wish you didn’t?
No, not to a terrible degree. I sold a couple of cool guitars a few years back to raise money for a particular instrument. This is an instrument I ended up not getting in the end, too! Someone got it before I could!
In particular, I had this very custom Fano Alt DeFacto that I shoulda hung onto. The guy who bought it from the dealer I sold it to reached out to me, so I know where it is! Maybe he’ll sell it back to me one day!