"I look at a guitar, and I'm just in awe of it."

That's a quote from Carmen Mark DiGiacomo, but he answers to “Squiggy,” and he’s Loudwire's newly announced Gear Editor.  The country’s foremost gear aficionado will be reviewing musical instruments, amps and other tools of the trade for us in our upcoming feature, Gear Factor.

Squiggy is best known in this industry as the founder/CEO of The Music Experience, a traveling musical instrument store that sets up shop at America's top rock festivals. "We focus on inspiring new players through story telling and providing an immersive experience," he explains. 

What is heavy metal without Flying V guitars, Marshall amps and double bass drums? Squiggy will take you on a deep dive into the tools of the trade and how they contribute to the sound of metal. He’ll also review the latest instruments and gadgets that are being rolled out.

“Our videos will focus on real musicians reviewing gear that they are playing for the first time,” he explains. You’ll see and hear how the gear works in the context of a band.

Squiggy -- who got his nickname as a kid, due to his resemblance to the Laverne and Shirley sidekick --  discusses the beginnings of his obsession with instruments: "It was '80s metal. Motley Crue is like my Beatles. Shout at the Devil is the record that changed my life. But I was always wondering, 'What's Mick Mars playing?' 'What's Nikki Sixx playing?'"

He continues, "If my friends and I were listening to Jimi Hendrix, they'd be freaking out about Hendrix, but my mind always went to: 'He's playing a Stratocaster through a Marshall amp!' I was always interested in why they chose the gear that they chose. He could have played any guitar he wanted to; why did he choose that one?"

But the first gear he bought in his youth wasn't an axe; rather, he was shelling out for turntables and samplers. "I was this guy who was breakdancing while wearing a Motley Crue hat. I wanted to be a DJ. At the time, I liked mixing metal with hip-hop. I wasn't good at guitar, so I got into DJ-ing, but I would always sample Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. I started acquiring drum machines and samplers, and then I got a job at a music store and I got exposed to the wider world of instruments." Indeed, he notes that one of his favorite pieces of gear is his Ensoniq ASR10 sampler (which cost a cool four grand).

If money wasn't an issue, he says that the one piece of gear he'd buy would be a 1959 Gibson Les Paul gold top; they generally cost well into the six figures.

Fans and musicians love the sight of a classic Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster or a Les Paul. "The reality is that people hear with their eyes. People think they can tell the difference between the sounds of new and vintage instruments, but the truth is that most people can't."

And as much as he loves vintage gear, he's always got his eyes and ears on the latest stuff: "I like technology, there were great samplers back in the day, but there's a lot of great instruments being made now too. The guitar industry is making better instruments now than they ever have."

He adds that the same is true of recording gear as well, and he disagrees with those who feel that analog technology is superior to digital. "I know that a lot of guys think that there's nothing better than recording to tape. A few years ago that may have been true. But software's gotten really good."

That statement might raise eyebrows, ditto for his stance that instrument creators like Leo Fender and Les Paul are of near-equal importance to the artists who play their instruments (at one point he mentions, "Eric Clapton is a character in Leo Fender's story," noting Clapton's preference for Fender Strats). He says that one of the unsung heroes of instrument innovation is Seth E. Lover, the inventor of the humbucking pickup. "Guitars used to have single coil pickups, and they gave a clean tone. Without the humbucking pickup, you wouldn’t have been able to play rock and roll with distorted tones."

"He didn't get as famous as Leo Fender or Les Paul because he didn't name it after himself; that's because he was working for Gibson at the time."

Most gearheads have tragic war stories about expensive equipment accidentally destroyed. Squiggy says thought he'd heard them all - people leaving guitars on the hoods of cars and driving away, or accidentally running over instruments. But a few years back, he heard a story that tops them all.

During the filming of Quentin Tarantino's most recent film, 2015's The Hateful Eight, co-star Kurt Russell unwittingly destroyed a 145 year old Martin guitar. That's not a typo: the instrument was built in the 1870s, and was lent to the production by the Martin Guitar Museum. Russell was supposed to smash a replica guitar, but somehow that message got lost in translation and he destroyed the antique. "Nothing beats that story," he shudders.

As much as Squiggy loves instruments, he's even more passionate about encouraging young people to learn to play them. That's where the booths at rock festivals, including Rocklahoma, Rock on the Rage and Carolina Rebellion, come into play.

"The guys from Danny Wimmer Productions (the company that promotes the aforementioned festivals) believe in the bigger vision, which is, if you don’t have new guitar players, you won’t have new bands to book in ten years. We call the young kids going to the shows the 'Inspire-ables.' And festivals are the biggest congregations of inspire-ables." And sometimes, those inspire-ables come face to face with the artists who inspire them; Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge, John 5 from Rob Zombie's band, Rob Caggiano of Volbeat, Frank Bello of Anthrax, and Gary Holt from Exodus and Slayer, among other big names, have shown up at the Experience Music tent. 

And it's not just about meeting guitarists and seeing guitars. It's about getting fans started on their own journey as musicians. "Fender has a thing called 'Fender Play,' they have songs that you can learn within a few minutes, so it satisfies the need for instant gratification. If you can get kids to put on a guitar in real life, that’s the life changing moment. You put on a guitar, you feel like a god!"

Look for Squiggy's advice on what guitars (and basses and other instruments) are the best ones to give you that god-like feel.


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