Milton McDonald toured with Take That in the nineties until their split, then played for a variety of British, European and Japanese artists before rejoining Take That for their sell-out Ultimate Tour in 2006. In 2009 he appeared on Ray Davies’ album The Kinks Choral Collection and featured in the house-band for Children In Need Rocks the Royal Albert Hall, playing guitar for Shirley Bassey, Dizzee Rascal, Annie Lennox, Paolo Nutini, Take That, Leona Lewis and Robbie Williams. He talks with DV Magazine about his guitars, effects and playing live.
Can you give us a run down of your current live rig and what you will be taking out on tour with Take That?
Guitar players seem to fall into two camps, those who are forever seeking the Holy Grail of tones, forever chopping and changing their set-up or switching between two or three different amps to get the optimum sound, and the others who find something that covers most of the bases and work with that. I’m firmly in the latter camp. I used a Mesa Boogie MK III combo from 1989 when I did an album and a world tour with Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe until a year later when Peavey invited me to try out their ‘Classic’ series. I fell in love with the 4×10 combo and have used it ever since.
My pedal board was built by Mike Hill around 2002 and essentially incorporated the pedals I was already using. It’s mostly stock effects in there – Ernie Ball Volume, Cry-Baby Wah, Boss Blues Driver, channel switch for the Peavey, Sans Amp GT2 for emergencies and a Boss Delay/Pitch shifter which I use instead of a regular chorus as I always find typical chorus effects a little thick and messy. I’ve recently been trying out the Guyatone Mighty Micro series and I really like the compressor they do, so I have put that in the board and intend to try some more Guyatone stuff during Take That rehearsals next year.
The only unusual thing in there is a Peavey Max 100 multi-effects. To to be honest, I originally stuck it in there to replace the foot-controller for the Korg A3 I used on the ABWH tour. The A3 was my only venture into rack-mount effects and was in fact really good except for the programming! In fact the Max 100 is great, I use it for programmed delays and modulation effects like a Leslie, but what I really like about it is the EQ controls, they’re easily accessed on top of the unit and give everything added warmth. It wasn’t a popular unit, too pricey I think, and not as many options as Zoom or Boss multi-effects but it really works for me. I found a spare one in the States a few years ago so I feel that my sound doesn’t rely on any one irreplaceable component.
Are you playing electric and acoustic guitar on the tour? Which guitars are you using live?
My main electric was custom-made by Chris McIntyre at McIntyre Guitars. It’s more or less a Strat-shape but in terms of scale, pick-ups and electrics was modelled on my old Steinberger although it’s obviously not headless! The McIntyre guitar is named Amber after my daughter and has a piece of amber set into the headstock. It has EMG pickups with a Steinberger active EQ system and a Wilkinson tremolo. It’s now 13 years old and I use it on everything. I also have a lovely JV Strat and a couple of nice Peavey electrics for when I need something more Gibson-like.
Do you use amps onstage or is everything off-stage and the sound fed to you by an in-ear system?
My amps are side-stage in ‘the bunker’ (the lair of my legendary guitar tech and dear friend ‘Deptford’ John Armitage). To be honest, I prefer to have my amp with me onstage but because of the kind of production that Take That have, it’s simply not practical. I do however use wedges as I really don’t enjoy using in-ear monitors. I did use them for many years but you can’t beat a bit of real air movement!
You’re using the Tanglewood MasterDesign TSR-3. How did you discover the Tanglewood?
As you say, I’ve recently been using a Tanglewood TSR-3. My Lowden has had a tough life on the road and needs to retire to the studio! I was browsing in a music shop and picked up a pretty little parlour guitar with no name on it, just a ‘T’ on the headstock. It sounded wonderful and to be honest, I think I thought it must be a Taylor so was really surprised to discover it was a Tanglewood. I checked out the website and discovered that my mate Nathan King (Level 42) was an endorsee and he kindly put me in touch with Steve Gamble at the company. I guess the TSR-3 is their flagship model, it’s a big-bodied, rich-sounding piece of gorgeousness, and LOUD!
Do you encounter problems using electro-acoustics on arena stages?
No real problems using electro-acoustics live, I’ll maybe have to put a hum-buster (is that what they’re called?) in the sound-hole.
Have you played the Sanden acoustics with the True Temperament fingerboards?
I haven’t tried any other Michael Sanden guitars but the True Temperament fingerboard sounds intriguing.
Are you a guitar collector? Do you own any vintage pieces?
Sadly I’m not a guitar collector. The instruments I own are tools first and foremost and although I probably have a dozen or so, I tend to stick to a small group of favourites.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of guitar on Take That’s new album. How do you fit guitar parts into their new material?
The Take That show will be a mixture of old and new songs, including some of Rob’s stuff I would imagine. Actually, Gary Nuttall from his band is joining us for the tour and I’m really looking forward to playing the Rob stuff with him. I quite like the fact that there aren’t so many guitars on the new album as it will give us the chance to be inventive.
What has been your most musically challenging gig?
Unquestionably Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe! We played Close To The Edge, Heart Of the Sunrise and Starship Trooper. Some 1989 footage of rehearsals in Lititz PA recently turned up on YouTube. I can’t play half of the guitar parts anymore but curiously I can remember all the words I used to sing (Chris Squire wasn’t on the tour).
“A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace, and re-arrange your liver to a solid mental grace.”
They don’t write ’em like that anymore!
You’ve played with so many major artists, is there anyone out there you’d still like to work with?
Yes, Stevie Wonder, McCartney, Glenn Hughes, Jon Anderson (again) Todd Rundgren, Mark King (again), the list is a long one.