Thursday, May 30, 2013

Intergalactic Guitar Mechanic


Tommy Thayer’s guitar tech Michael Berger strives to make the Spaceman’s sound soar.

For a band from which you want the best and you get the best, you have to have the best road crew to back you up. For each and every tour, KISS puts together a technical dream team, making sure they are in tune and sound good and that everything runs on time. One of the most important jobs for the ax-wielding band on stage is the guitar tech; Michael Berger has been Tommy Thayer’s for just over two years now, and gives us some insight into working with the Spaceman…

KISS MAGAZINE: Can you give us a bit of your history in the music business?

MICHAEL BERGER: Growing up in Germany, I was lucky enough that my parents listened to cool music such as Led Zeppelin, Boston, Bad Company, etc. At the age of 10, a friend gave me a cassette tape of KISS’ Double Platinum album, and in 1980 I saw KISS and Iron Maiden live, and from that moment I knew I needed to be working in this industry. In 1987, I started working with a local band called Destruction, who became well known on the international metal scene. When I was 17, they made me their personal roadie, so to speak. We toured throughout Europe with bands like Motörhead, King Diamond and Slayer’s first European tour. From then on, I pretty much stayed busy as a guitar tech, stage manager, tour manager, crew chief working for international acts such as Deep Purple, Dio, Dream Theater, Thin Lizzy, Sheryl Crow, Dave Stewart, Sarah McLachlan, Buckcherry, Doro, Wishbone Ash and many more.

KISS: How does one become the guitar tech for one of the biggest bands in the world?

BERGER: I have to say it was a dream came true. I always wanted to work for KISS or AC/DC when I was younger. You have to be experienced and good at what you do, of course. The KISS crew contains the finest topnotch techs one can find. Paul Stanley’s guitar tech, Francis Stueber, called me one day and offered me the open position to work for Tommy Thayer. I was, of course, honored that I got the gig, since there was quite a line of people who wanted the job.

KISS: Can you give us some insight on what it’s like to work with Thayer, and how he is as a guitar player?

BERGER: I really enjoy working for Tommy. He is super-nice and very professional. Fantastic player, and he delivers on stage every night. Very solid and consistent.

KISS: Being that there is no band quite like KISS, Gene Simmons’ tech has to deal with blood on the basses, while Paul Stanley smashes his guitar every night. What challenges does Thayer’s setup confront you with?

BERGER: The pyro techs load the rocket guitar, and I make sure to hand Tommy the guitar plugged in and tuned up. He is pretty much on his own triggering the rockets with a three-way trigger system that he operates while on stage. During his solo, I make sure to engage an octave effect as well. On the last run, we also used the fly guitar before the rocket solo. I also boost all of his solos for each song on the amp side. Other than that, I keep the guitars in perfect tune and set up to his satisfaction. I make sure he has stage drinks and that there are plenty of guitar picks on his microphone stands.

It can be a little tricky with the wireless guitar system at times. You can get small dropouts. Our monitor tech scans the local venue frequencies on a daily basis to make sure we get the cleanest signal.

KISS: Walk us through Thayer’s onstage gear: How many guitars does he take on tour, and how many does he use during a KISS show?

BERGER: We currently have seven Gibson Les Paul guitars with us, including a Gibson Les Paul Silver Sparkle 2006, normally used as the fly guitar, a Gibson Les Paul black Classic 2008 as the rocket guitar and a Gibson Explorer Silver Sparkle 2009 mostly used for the encore songs. We have one Gibson Les Paul Honeyburst 1958 [2000 reissue] used for warm-up in the dressing room. We currently use a Gibson Les Paul 1959 [2012 reissue] as his main guitar. If there is a tuning issue, we switch to another. The Tommy Thayer signature-model Les Paul will be available in about two months.

We use two Hughes & Kettner Tommy Thayer signature 100-watt Duotone amps. There are two 4/12 cabinets equipped with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers included in the set. The H&K amps are great, reliable models. I’ve never had any issues with them, and they’re very straightforward rock amps. We use a four-channel Shure UHF UR4D Wireless Systems, a Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster for boosting the solo, a DigiTech Whammy for his rocket-guitar solo and a Boss DD-7 Digital Delay for his fly-guitar solo. I use a Whirlwind Multiselector to switch between wireless channels.

KISS: What challenges have you found working with a large co-headlining setup like The Tour with Mötley Crüe?

BERGER: There are some challenges, for sure. On the KISS/Mötley run, we’ve had to deal with fast set changeovers. There is so much equipment—pyro, set, lights, rollercoaster drum risers, etc., but everybody on the crew is eager to get their job done as quickly as possible. Often this is not easy, due to the stage sizes changing on a daily basis. We all have to work hand-in-hand to make this show happen for both bands. It’s a team, and both crews work together, or else the bands go on late and we have strict curfews in most venues. If you go overtime, it will cost KISS money.
On a normal KISS tour, we move everything in place and have time to fine-tune our gear and make sure everything works for the show, and the band does a sound check almost every day. There is no sound check for KISS on The Tour. KISS expects the best, and we deliver.