If you happened to be on the Duncan site recently you may have seen the YouTube video of a young shredder peeling off Yngwie and GnR licks on an SRV – inspired Strat equipped with YJM Fury pickups. After you stopped smiling, you probably wondered “Who is this Sarah Michelle?” Wonder no more!
Sarah Michelle was born in Dublin, Ireland and started playing classical guitar at age fourteen. Soon she became fascinated with rock music, and quickly decided to switch to electric guitar. Her mind would change, however, the first time she heard Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child of Mine”. It was her “that’s what I want to do” moment – she knew she wanted to be a professional rock guitarist. Her influences in addition to Slash have grown to include Jimmy Page, Rory Gallagher, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. She’s currently studying guitar at the music college BIMM Dublin, and working on new music, with both instrumental as well as vocal tracks. I had a chance to chat with Sarah via email recently, to see what she’s up to, and how Seymour Duncan pickups are helping her find her tone!
You mentioned you started on classical and then developed an interest in rock. What was it that attracted you to it over classical?
“My love for rock music grew when I was pretty young and the feeling that it provoke in me is what got me hooked. I feel that there is a lot more freedom of expression in rock music in comparison to classical. The approach to learning in classical is very rigid, and my heart is in Rock n Roll. It’s an extremely powerful genre of music and when you get a taste of it it leaves you wanting to hear more. Hearing the unique sounds from different guitarists and their individual style of playing in rock music is what attracted me to want to pick up a guitar and play.”
What was it about Guns n’ Roses that drew you in more than any other music you were listening to at the time?
“Guns N’ Roses were, and still are, the biggest influence on me musically. They were so distinctive, and had an outstanding amount of passion and a unique raw edge that I’ve yet to hear from any other band. I remember the excitement of listening to Appetite for Destruction for the first time. I felt I was listening to something very special. Their music is timeless and I know it will continue to inspire many aspiring musicians.”
What do you like about your current favorite guitarists? What is it about the individual styles of Slash, Page, SRV and Rory Gallagher that fascinates you?
“What I love most about these guitarists is that you can instantly tell who’s playing and that’s something that I personally would love to achieve with my own playing. Another major aspect I love about each of them is that they aren’t afraid to pour their heart, soul and personality into their playing.”
What elements of their styles do you incorporate into your own?
“With Slash, I’ve always loved his ballsy bluesy-rock feel and the incredibly unique bends he adds into his solos. What I love about Stevie Ray Vaughan is that he completely ripped into his guitar every time he played and his in your face feel has always mesmerized me, you can feel every single note he plays. Jimmy Page’s fearless approach to experimenting with his playing and amazing stage presence is something I’ll always look up to. I’ve always admired Rory Gallagher’s pure freedom of expression that shined through his playing, as well as his unforgettable approach to playing the blues.”
What’s the curriculum like at BIMM Dublin? Describe your class load and typical day?
“The main goal of this course is to master your instrument. A huge part of the curriculum is performance. Learning how to present yourself on stage and play with complete confidence is very important to becoming a successful musician and we get to learn all this in a very positive, encouraging environment. The tutors are very accomplished musicians with a lot of experience and knowledge. I’m very lucky to have professional musicians like Jimmy Smyth and Simon McBride as tutors. Another part of the course is theory, and sight reading, which is a big must-have when your goal is to become a professional musician. The course helps you become the best musician and performer you can be.”
Tell us a little bit about your gear. What are your main guitars, amps and effects currently?
“My Ibanez RG770 and Strat are my two main guitars. They’re both very different, but very useful. I’ve always loved the pure Strat tone, it’s a pretty versatile guitar. I love the wizard neck on my Ibanez. I also play PRS guitars which combines the classic with the modern. I use Marshall’s JCM series as my main amplifiers as they’ve got a real pure rock tone and are very capable of giving a great sound to any style. I use a Fender Blues Junior for my cleans. I also love MESA’s Rectifier for a heavier sound. I use a YJM boost pedal for solos. I like to keep things as simple as possible by using the settings on the amp with classic effects like Dunlop’s Crybaby pedal. I also love using a BB preamp for getting a dirty blues sound.”
What is it that lead you to try YJM Fury pickups in your SRV Strat? What is it you like about them, and how do they add to your playing?
“My Strat is made from parts so it’s not a signature SRV model. I decided to dedicate it to SRV as I’ve always admired the look of his Number One. I originally had Fender Custom Shop Texas Specials in this guitar, which gave an amazing Strat twang, but for me I wanted a set of pickups that could do hard rock as well as the blues. I really love the high-gain output of the YJM Fury pickups and the way it can help a Strat have as much sustain as a Les Paul.”
What other Duncan models if any are you using, or are you planing to try any others in the near future?
“I’m using some Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates and a ’59/Custom Hybrid in a 20th Anniversary Standard 24 PRS. The ’59 Custom Hybrid pickup is a great high gain pickup and really suits the PRS. I love rolling off the volume to get a really cool vintage tone. The Pearly Gates pickup is a pretty bright, but bluesy pickup. It’s really versatile and can handle hard rock to pure blues. I’m really looking forward to trying out the Alnico II Pro Slash pickups. I’ve always been a huge fan of Slash’s signature tone and I’ve been hearing great reviews for these pickups.”
How would you describe the new music you’re working on?
“My new music is sounding pretty groovy and pretty heavy. I’m used to writing instrumental music, but the new music currently working on focuses on vocals as well as guitar. I’ve always wanted to make a badass, bluesy-rock EP that encompasses everything I love about Rock n’ Roll and I’m very happy with how it’s turning out so far. I wish I had it ready to share with you now!”
What are your future plans?
“I plan on finishing my EP and will continue to write more music. I want to get out playing more and gain as much experience as I can. I’d also like to collaborate with other musicians. I find working with other musicians always helps to make you a better musician. I’m looking forward to learning more about guitar and as much as I can from other genres that interest me like jazz and bluegrass and incorporating them into my music. I’ll always be a rock player no matter how commercially un-viable it is in the industry right now.”
And there you have it, some insight into the guitar whirlwind that is Sarah Michelle. No doubt we’ll be hearing more from her!