From stealing her brother’s ‘90s Stratocaster to her 1978 Fender Mustang, Betsy Wright takes us through her favorite gear.
Betsy Wright exudes pure energy. Her conquering guitar solos and tenacious vocals in Bat Fangs emanate the classic rock she grew up with and continues listening to. “Oh yeah, it was all the big guys,” say says. “Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix… It’s such a male-dominated genre, but it’s the music that I love. I want to take all that stuff and make it my own, from my perspective.”
Wright started playing music at six years old, learning the piano but eventually switching to the guitar. She began borrowing her dad’s acoustic at the age of nine, and eventually got her own guitar—a Takamine Taka-mini acoustic—when she was 12, and taught herself how to play by learning Ani DiFranco songs. As a teen, Wright stole her brother’s ‘90s Stratocaster when he left for college, teaching herself songs by The Beatles—“The Beatles are my music foundation of anything”—and listening to a lot of guitar-driven ‘70s and ‘80s rock. “I love the Stratocaster, it’s just so easy to play… but with Bat Fangs, it’s just not a Fender sound,” she says about eventually switching to a Gibson. “The twang isn’t where it’s at for this type of music.”
In college, it made more sense to Wright to study classical piano over the guitar. “When you are playing piano, you are playing the bass line and the chords and the melody sometimes,” she says. “So it’s like having an entire band in one instrument. You have to think of all the different parts.” She studied jazz piano at Bard College, but dropped out in her third year and transferred to the music program at George Mason University. And while she still teaches piano at a school in DC, she admits, “I don’t feel creative on piano when I write because I’ve studied it a lot. Guitar has always been more fun and creative. ”
In the past, Wright has played Wurlitzer in The Childballads with the late Stewart Lupton, as well as guitar in the experimental, Sonic Youth-esque The Fire Tapes. These days, she’s singing and playing guitar in Bat Fangs with Laura King (Flesh Wounds) on drums, as well as playing bass in Ex Hex with Mary Timony (Helium) on guitar and Laura Harris (The Aquarium) on drums. With Ex Hex, Timony writes the songs, and for a while Wright just wrote along with the guitar but has started adding her own embellishments. As Bat Fangs started in 2016 while Ex Hex caught their breath after an extensive tour cycle, Wright has returned to the guitar and is the primary songwriter. “The guitar part will come first, or a beat on my drum machine, and then I layer on vocals for a melody,” she says of her songwriting process. “Once I have a good start, I can jam on it with Laura, and we arrange the songs together.”
With their self-titled debut album, released this past February on Don Giovanni Records and recorded by Mike Montgomery (R. Ring, Ampline), Wright wrote the 9-song album with her classic rock inspirations in mind. “Okay, what kind of music do I really love? What would I put on?” she asks herself. “Big Star or something. That’s fucking rock ‘n’ roll. That’s just what I want to play. I just want to have fun. I don’t want to cry; I’m too old.”
We spoke with Wright about some of her favorite gear before Bat Fangs’ set at Sled Island this past June.
With Ex Hex:
“I used a Orange Terror Bass Head 500 with an 1×15 cab, but I just got a 2018 Orange OB1-300 head, which is even better than the Bass Terror! I’ll be using that from now on.”
“I was playing the SG bass, but I just recently started playing a 1978 Fender Mustang, and I like the way it sounds better. It’s clear and has more of a mid-trebley thing that I like—it sounds more guitar-ish. I didn’t even own a bass until I started playing in Ex Hex.”
With Bat Fangs:
For their live sets, Wright plays a 2017 Gibson SG Standard electric guitar with humbuckers, an Orange Rockerverb 50 MKIII with a 2018 2×12 Marshall cab, a Fulltone GT 500 F.E.T. Distortion and Booster overdrive, an Electro-Harmonix Stereo Pulsar tremolo, an MXR Carbon Copy analog delay, and a BOSS TU-3 Chromatic Tuner.
“I set my Rockerverb on the dirty channel and give myself enough headroom where it’s not super blown out distortion, but where it sounds good for rhythm.”
“The Fulltone pedal has the distortion side and the boost side, so it’s basically two pedals in one, but I mostly I use the boost side. The cool thing about that pedal is it has EQ, which allows it to cut through instead of getting fuzzed out. When it’s too fuzzy, the sound disappears. It’s not as expressive, it’s just so compressed.”
“With the MXR I set it at a super short delay, super short regenerations. The mix is pretty low.”
For recording Bat Fangs: “I did a lot of double tracking, and used a Les Paul from the ‘90s and a 1965 SG Special with P-90s. I played them through an ‘80s Marshall combo JCM800 with a 1×15 speaker. I used the MXR Carbon Copy Analogue Delay, and I just used the distortion from the amp. I prefer to use the amp itself as my distortion pedal. The only problem with that is, in a live setting, if you want to boost your signal for a solo, it just hits the front end of the amp harder, which causes more distortion and not necessarily a lift in volume. I have spent the last two years really honing that, and figuring out a way around that.”