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Modus Operandi: Adrian Vandenberg (Vandenberg’s Moonkings)

Door: Ramon

We doen deze maand bij wijze van uitzondering even een Modus Operandi extra large. Om Adje van den Berg, Adrian Vandenberg of dezelfde man op welke schrijfwijze dan ook, de grootste hardrockgitarist van Nederland aller tijden te noemen, zal weinig debat opleveren. De van oorsprong Haagse gitarist, die een achtergrond heeft als kunstschilder, scoorde met de band die als zijn eponiem diende, Vandenberg, een regelrechte wereldhit met ‘Burning Heart’, waarna de verwachtingen rondom zijn band onredelijk hoog werden. Na enige tijd de boot afgehouden te hebben ging hij in op het aanbod van David Coverdale, die in hem de ideale combinatie van looks en talent zag voor in Whitesnake. Hij kende enkele bijzonder succesvolle jaren, waarin hij onder meer naast Steve Vai speelde en met de grootsten der aarde het podium deelde. Hij heeft echter altijd gelooft dat als je dingen om de verkeerde redenen doet, bijvoorbeeld geld verkiezen boven muzikale integriteit, dat het je nooit zal brengen waar je het gelukkigst bent. Na enkele jaren uit de muziek geweest te zijn en vanuit Twente voornamelijk met kunst bezig te zijn geweest, pakte hij de draad weer op, mede geïnspireerd door Jerry Langelaar, die hem als gezicht wilde hebben voor de lancering van het gitaarmerk Aristides Instruments. Sinds de oprichting van Vandenberg’s Moonkings speelt hij weer op de podia van de mooiere clubs in Nederland en ver daarbuiten, en is hij een graag geziene gast op festivals. Zijn gear arsenaal is werkelijk veel te groot om hieronder samen te vatten, wat trouwens ook voor het gesprek van ruim een uur geldt. Lees mee waar zijn gear uit bestaat. En de reden is uiteraard het nieuwe album ‘MK II’.

Modus Operandi

- Almost only Gibsons, mainly Les Pauls, eight of them I think.
- One Aristides 010.
- My Gibson Les Paul Standard 1980 is my main guitar and that defines the Moonking’s Sound.

Bass Guitars:
- Framus.

- All half a tone dropped. Because Hendrix did. It sounds heavy, but still fresh. If you go down further, I think it loses its spark, for instance in an open D-chord, A G-chord, it all become crestfallen. Metal is all very low-tuned, heavier than heavy. I love the sound of Five Finger Death Punch.

- The standard pickups. I tried Seymour Duncan JBs on my Gibsons for a while and a couple of others. But back in Moonkings I started using the originals again. The Heritage, which were made by Tim Shaw, with the assignment to reproduce the Flame Top 59 sound. While he was doing it, Gibson came another hands and all of the sudden budget became an issue. But he did a great job and later on, they became collector’s items. Nobody though that at the time, as it was not the original, but they are in fact brilliant. So I put them back on. But I messed around with pickups a lot.

Amps & Cabinets:
- Marshall, 2 plexi 100 watts, 1 plexi 50 watt (live) and a Jubliee 50 watt. Usually I have two, sometimes three amps plugged in at the same time. In the studio, don’t laugh, I used nine amps at the same time. Full throttle. All mic’ed. All minimal 100 watt, so it was spectacular. Modelling is not my style, hahaha.

- Usually directly into the amp. But Peter van Weelden does all my amps, and I also use his Royal Overdrive. Carl Martin, a delay, a chorus, a fuzz, but I never have it active. In clubs I do, to get a punch at low volume. Oh and the Carl Martin Octaswitch, to bypass the effects you don’t use. So sometimes I need it, but I am not a fan of pedals. But the Royal Overdrive and Carl Martin Delay are on almost all of the time.

- Ernie Ball, for decades, since Whitesnake.

- It depends, usually 0.10 or 0.11, it depends on the tuning.

- Yes, but I usually use a midi machine to get sounds in. And on the record I even used an iPad. I tried to recreate them in the studio, but it worked better with the program I used on the iPad, so I used that, for the first time. Guy Ellefson (Doobie Brothers) has done the other keys I didn’t do on the record.

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When did you start playing guitar/bass/keys/drums?
If you ask me mother, she will tell you I was playing on a cigar box with rubber bands at the age of six. When I was twelve or thirteen, I was living in Rotterdam, I started with guitar a little.

I thought you were from the Hague?
I was, but we moved to Rotterdam when I was six, then to Enschede when I was fourteen and I have been living in Arnhem for a while too, during my study. When I was fourteen I became more serious with guitar. I started with a Telecaster. It was the only thing I could afford after I sold my moped, which I had restored and made a little profit from. I did this a couple of times, to the point I could get that guitar. The dream was of course a Stratocaster, because that was what Jimi Hendrix played. Then I found out it was not the sound I was looking for. But he had magic, he could drive so much power from even hardly undistorted solos. Little did I know it was him, not his guitar. So I sold the Strat, restored some more mopeds and bought a Gibson. An SG, which Angus Young plays of course.

On which piece of gear do you keep your most beautiful memories and why?
I think that would be my Gibson Les Paul Standard from 1980. A classic now, but I bought it brand new, with my saved money. It travelled around the world for I don’t know how many times with me. It still is my main guitar today. It was the first series based on the 1959 holy grails of Les Paul. It keeps getting better. You see so-called Relic guitars nowadays, that are being dragged behind a car to make them look road worn nowadays . With mine, I know where it got every scar. And they are all fond memories. I have had a lot of guitars, but that one is my Doutzen Kroes.

How many guitars do you currently own
I sold the serious majority of it. I think I have about twenty pieces now. By the end of my stint with Whitesnake, I think I had about 40, which I all played. I played an ESP for a very short while, which was sort of forced on me. Peavey at some point offered me to design a guitar for them, which I really was crazy about. It was a my signature Peavey Vandenberg, a hybrid between a Stratocaster and a Les Paul to get the best of both world unified in one guitar. I never conceived it would become a collector’s item, ridiculous amounts are being paid for them. If I knew that back then, I would have kept some more. I moved back to the Netherland and when you take something like that through the border, you have to pay huge amounts of taxes over it, as it seen as import. So all my American stage gear, including amps and guitars, I had my guitar roadie sell over there. In the last couple of years my collection has grown up a bit. I have serious GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome when it comes to Les Paul’s. Ever since I was a kid. My dad could easily afford my guitars, but he let me work for them. Really hard.

You have also been affiliated with Aristides Instruments for a while..
Yes, Jerry Langelaar called me and I hadn’t played for about ten years, as I was so occupied with painting. So basically, I said him not to waste each other’s time. But he persisted and just wanted my opinion, we met and I helped them get a little more established, through my face. We became friends now and he is a great guy. I saw him getting his son Pascal ready to take the factory over, I know all the people involved there. I felt a connection, because he went right against all odds with his concept and he was determined to make it work. He believed in it, while at the same time he knew almost nothing about it. But the first prototype was astonishingly good. So I kept it and helped them in the US and Japan, I did all kinds of tradeshows and signing sessions. They really fought like a David against Goliath. My Les Paul’s belong to the sound of Moonkings, Aristides is very metal, but I did like to play them, they are very good. They look like it’s Batman’s guitar.

Do you have an endorsement deal or a signature model? If so, could you tell us a little bit more about it?
I might pick up my deal with Peavey again. Their PR agent recently contacted me to revive that project. Then again, my Les Paul sound really belongs to this band. I do get supported by Ernie Ball and Carl Martin.

Do you also have any bass guitars, by chance?
Yes, I have one bass guitar. I got it by accident, really. I saw the band Mother’s Finest together with a famous Dutch DJ called Alfred Lagarde, who gave Van Halen their first hit in the Netherlands. So he took me along and when we were backstage, I chatted with the bass player, who played a brand I didn’t know back then. It appeared that he had a Framus bass. It looked terrible, but it had great hardware and a great sound. I played in Teaser and our seventeen year old bass player, a really talented guy, he slapped on his bass and the strings broke, without having spare strings. So I asked if anybody from the volunteers in the venue had a bass guitar. Somebody’s brother had one, I just needed a G-string, but he live close by, picked up the entire bass from home. And that was a Framus too. So I asked if his brother would sell it. He went back home again, it was fine, for 75 Guilders. I don’t even know what the series is called.

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I think nowadays the guitars are made by Framus and the basses by Warwick, in the same factory, but I am not quite sure.
This could be true, I never put too much study in it either. It is ugly, but I love the sound of it.

What was your worst purchase ever and why?
Oh sure have some of those. It’s been a while ago though. Let me think. When I was about eighteen, I saw an incredibly looking copy of a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar. It was a Japanese copy, and it looked so sensational, I went “JESUS CHRIST, I can’t afford the real ones, but this one I can!”. It had the worst sound you can think of. I played it two times. I was not that much trained as a listener, but even I, with my limited experience, I could tell it was garbage. ‘Burning Heart’ was recorded with an acoustic guitar of 250 Guilders (€ 210,-). And I still have it, A Yashimoto. But that thing was terrible. The strings were too tiny too. Little did I know.

Who are your influences (musicians)?
I would have to say Jimi Hendrix. The strangest thing that ever happened to me though was the other way around. Nuno Bettencourt, the phenomenal guitarist from Extreme, he came to me and asked if it was okay if we shot a picture together and he told me I had influenced him. Of course it was ok with me, but I couldn’t believe he was serious.

Wasn’t he way to handsome to stand alongside to, for a picture?
Hahaha, it was humiliating yes, but I have a bass player now who draws a lot more female attention than I do, so I get used to it. Luckily I am not competitive. If I was, I could never have played with the much better Steve Vai for a year and a half. We are still friends. We always have been. I like to have that in the interview, because a lot of press created a beef between us, but it was never there at all. Those were all assumptions. Another hero of mine is Brian May. When we played in LA, he stood on stage the entire show looking at me. I could not believe that, he came to see me play in particular, as my style is closer to his heart than the very technical side. We met a couple of times and I handed him a Cena award in the Netherlands two years ago. Lukather, Van Halen and Slash were also among the winners in the last couple of years. All these guys never realized I wasn’t American.

There really is a book inside of you, Adrian!
Maybe I should write one before I walk under a bus. In today’s landscape, I can still feel like a sixteen year old fan, so many people can inspire me. When I hear Jeff Beck play I want to bury my guitar, Stevie Ray Vaughn really inspires me, ‘Killer Queen’ by Queen STILL gives me goosebumps. Clapton in Cream. Of nowadays it is more difficult, it has become somewhat more generic. You can tell that most guys grew up with instructional videos from Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, guys like that. They all play incredibly fast, but with very little personality. In my eyes that is, but I am from a different school and generations.

What was your first guitar/bass/keys/drums?
Some crap guitar, the first one I bought myself was a Fender Telecaster.

What is on your wish list?
A Les Paul 1959 with a great top. Sometimes you finally see on with a boring top. But, the last one I saw being sold was for $ 800,000. I don’t have that kind of money and if I had, I would buy a house from it. And a guitar like that, you put in a vault. And that is not really my idea of having a guitar. A couple of years ago I bought a Les Paul from the Gold Book series. It has potted pickups, which means the wires are waxed to keep the ring out of the resonating wires. I played it on stage a couple of times, there were only 250 made of them. And now, the thing sounds amazing, but I don’t know if I should play it or keep it save somewhere, because it is so special. I am not selling it for a long time, I know, but I don’t want to mess it up too much either. But another part of me wants to keep using it.

Dude, you are SUCH a gear freak and you know SO much about it. Thanks for your time. What is your ultimate goal as a musician?
I want to make music that I myself would buy. And that is what I am doing now. Even if ‘MK II’ will sell only 100 copies, I still think this genuinely is the best record I have ever made. I thought so with the first album, but this one even tops it. People who know me know that I am not the guy to call for sales pitches, I truly mean that. But every time I start writing again, I feel a kid again. I wish I could go around the business side of Moonkings and I want to make these incredibly good musicians shine, like they deserve. Thanks for the interview.

Vandenberg’s Moonkings Homepage
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