In Search Of Tone: Gunnar & Stephan Of Confusion Master

I had the pleasure of interviewing Gunnar and Stephan, guitarists of the outstanding band Confusion Master. I always find it interesting how the bands approach their music and gear and learning that Stephan was a tone master, I was intrigued by his choices in gear. I love that they support small businesses and DIY projects and I feel it reflects in their music.

Confusion Master
Confusion Master

Their in-depth answers taught me quite a bit, but also inspired me. Gunnar builds his own cabinets and after reading his answer I finally turned my broken Fender Princeton Chorus into a 2×10 Cabinet, by taking it to my neighbors and asking him to do it, but still, thanks Gunnar for the inspiration to finally get it done!

Let’s jump right in with gear and can you tell me a little about the amps each of you use?

Gunnar: I use an Orange OR100 head, the warm rich tone really does it for me. My second amp is a Petersburg P-100, a well-known Russian JCM800 clone, and a real tank of an amp. I have added a Musket Fuzz before it.

I record with a Petersburg P-100, they sound fantastic, especially because of a very well-balanced clean tone that takes dirt pedals so well…

Stephan: Preferably, I record with a Petersburg P-100, they sound fantastic, especially because of a very well-balanced clean tone that takes dirt pedals so well. You could buy them for only 400 German Marks (equivalent to approx €200 nowadays) in the 80s in German shopping malls as standard/stock product. Me being a cold war kid growing up behind the iron curtain, this was still impossible, but I scored one from an elder person, a true rock dad who sold it to me a few years ago. He showed me the original invoice. I don‘t tour with that amp. The fuses break way too often on different power circuits. My second amp for adding in the mix are either a Sovtek MIG100 or a MIG60. So, I’m fully Russian equipped on the power side.

Confusion Master - Amp Rig
Confusion Master – Amp Rig

I’ve wanted to try those simple pedal DIY kits, but I’ve never done anything like that before. I learned that you build cabinets Gunnar. I’d be worried about electrocution haha. Can you tell me how you got started on that, what speakers, wood and any other bits and pieces you use in them?

Gunnar: I’m a trained carpenter and accessible cabs always have been too pricey for me, so I just started building my own. The goal to achieve for Confusion Master was to resemble a combination of an oversized Mesa 4×12 with the cab itself being an 18mm plywood variant of an Engl 4×12 I once heard and liked. Inside I use Celestion V30 speakers, running on 16 ohms. Everything rolls on sturdy heavy-duty blue wheels known from PA cases. The weight is 55 kilos. This one I use for touring.

Additionally, I experimented by building a fridge-sized 6×12, which has no real comparison available on the market. It’s made from 15mm birch plywood, equipped with a mix of Celestion V30 and Greenback speakers, 3 of each, 16 ohms out through Speak-On jacks. Took me a week to build it. This one I use for recording and practice. With a total weight of 88 kilos, we take this one for local gigs occasionally. It’s got 6 handles to carry.Although I don’t have many, I’m always looking at buying and trading pedals. What are currently on your pedalboards, and do you switch up your gear often or have you been using the same stuff for a long time now?

It’s made from 15mm birch plywood, equipped with a mix of Celestion V30 and Greenback speakers…

Although I don’t have many, I’m always looking at buying and trading pedals. What are currently on your pedalboards, and do you switch up your gear often or have you been using the same stuff for a long time now?

Gunnar: My board contains a Silvermachine (German wah-wah), MXR Variphase Phaser, an Idiot Box Flash Stutter, a Custom Delay Amp FX. I don’t switch often, what works well for me I simply keep.

Udo (Bass): Compressor Amp FX + RAT V3 inverted cross audio.

Stephan: Electronic Audio Experiments Model Fet, Megalith Fuzz Box, Silvermachine Wah, Fernweh Delay, TC Electronic Delay, MXR 10 Band EQ, Boss Compression Sustainer.

The goal is to write better songs parallel to the never-ending quest for THE tone. During the years we scaled down and tried to take it easy on the ongoing pedal changes. Gunnar mainly works with the gain on his Orange OR100 head gain. He delivers more bass on the overall sound body, his oversized cabs adding to it. They literally blow everything away. I cut in the mix with more treble and I use only a 3-gain staging: 1st into the Mountainking Electronics Megalith Fuzz and Boss Compressor, further into the Model Fet, which simply is the best Sunn O))) preamp clone I’ve ever heard. And then into a slightly overdriven amp. Udo’s bass tone rather does focus on low mids, than real low ends either.

Our choice of pedals follows our ideas as we like to support small businesses and DIY brands. It’s an attitude. If you want to change something you need to start with yourself and your own way of how to consume things.

Confusion Master - Guitar & Amp Rig
Confusion Master – Guitar & Amp Rig

I play as a hobby guitarist and have some cool tones, but they sound terrible when adding in other instruments. I was told that Stephan, you’re the tone master. How do you go about creating tones that mesh well within the band?

Stephan: It’s like painting a picture. I intend to follow what gets me into some kind of trance. While seeking for that goal, nothing beats the physical power of a loud amp playing alone in your shelter through a 4×12 stack. I love trying to balance this sheer power in a mix somehow, while simultaneously having my mind run free. It’s one of the few situations nowadays where there is no boundaries or restrictions. I also have a strong ambient/noise/power electronic background – so doom is a perfect transition for me. I’m constantly learning and broaden my horizon on the electric/psycho-acoustic side of things. While there might be a few rules, it still gives a lot of space to individual concepts and approaches. It remains very inspiring to me to meet along this way with the people in this band and their ideas about it.

Last but not least, guitars! Do you both have 1 or 2 go to guitars or a wide variety to choose from? Do you keep guitars in different tunings?

Gunnar: ESP LTD EC1000 Deluxe for massive low end and sustain, Maple for highs and Seymour Duncan’s. I have two of the same guitars, although the other has a thicker body and more low-end. Next challenge is to build my own guitar from scratch – it will be similar to a Les Paul, although with a longer fretboard, all in a Mahogany and Maple mix.

Stephan: I’m left-handed so it makes finding a good guitar a bit of a challenge. For gigs I use a Gibson Les Paul Studio. For recording it’s an ESP LTD with active pick-ups and a slightly more metallic sound signature. We get along well with our guitars and actually change tunings just once during our regular set. It’s part of the concept: lowering down during the set – from B standard to drop A. All our songs are written in one of these tunings. it took me a while to adjust my voice to this as well. We spend significant time in keeping our guitars in shape, especially to hold these very low tunings over a longer period. This is the real struggle ha!

ESP LTD EC1000 Deluxe for massive low end and sustain, Maple for highs and Seymour Duncan’s…

With your sophomore album Haunted due for release 19th November, I read that this album was recorded in a few live sessions. What prompted you guys to record this way and is this how you recorded your first album as well?

Stephan: We built our own rehearsal space which basically is our studio as well. We like to record in the most cozy and calm setup available to the band: in the exact way we are rehearsing. All instruments live. 2nd amps running parallel in a separate room. The music needs to be felt and includes flaws and mistakes here and there. Moderate failure is part of the concept. Some leads and vocals get dubbed later, and the mix is as much stereo as it can be, a bit like Kyuss did it: strong panning left/right, but no guitar stacking that will distract from the song. We use different sessions to get it all done until we’re happy. Part of the concept is a bit of a special approach: the title track of each of our records remains unwritten and is a jam, recorded spontaneously.

The recordings for Haunted had been postponed three times during Covid lockdowns, either to be safe with families or due to governmental restrictions. It was very stressful keeping a certain mood for the recording days as everything felt so insecure and ever-changing. But in the end, we made it through frost-ridden, cold days in Oct/Nov/Dec 2020 and finalized it.

Confusion Master - Amp Rig
Confusion Master – Amp Rig

I also noticed it was recorded in multiple rooms and practice spaces. Was this to get specific sounds on the songs?

Stephan: Yes, we switched spaces between the release of Awaken and the recording of Haunted. Currently, we use two rooms: one is the actual rehearsal room, and the second room works for stacked guitar and bass cabs/heads with an extra dirt pedal section. That’s working great for blending both of each guitar signals in the final mix.

We would have loved to have a wood-covered room for the drums, though. We had this for recording with other bands before, but there was nothing available unfortunately, also due to the several attempts for recording and the ongoing stop/motion planning for it.

Currently, we use two rooms: one is the actual rehearsal room, and the second room works for stacked guitar and bass cabs/head…

I’m really enjoying the album as a whole but Jaw On A Hook is phenomenal. From the opening fuzz tones to the droning feedback outro, it just grabs your attention and holds it the entire time. Is there a song or part of a song either of you are proud of?

Stephan: We had this idea that the tunings should be different on each side of the record. It’s a bit of a subliminal thing that still yields a big difference and helps keep attention and focus on these lengthy compositions. I’m a bit proud of the B-side – the tracks Casket Down and Jaw On A Hook basically derive from the same tree of riff variations and could have been one track. The two tracks became interesting by a quite unusual approach: adding a shoegaze/dreamscape like part on Jaw On A Hook, which did quite the trick. Glad you seem to dig this especially. Mission accomplished.

I have many off days as a guitar player, what do you guys do if you’re having an off day and how do you get inspired to play again?

Stephan: Quite fundamentally I do think your sound is in your fingers no matter how many pedals and amps you hide behind. I draw a lot of inspiration from other genres that have little to nothing in common with doom and hardcore. Especially totally different styles seem to challenge me a lot for becoming better in playing and improving my technique. And that’s what I do almost constantly.

Confusion Master 'Haunted'
Confusion Master ‘Haunted’ Artwork

Haunted is being released by Exile On Mainstream, can you tell us how you hooked up with Andreas and what it’s been like working with him?

Stephan: Everyone who knows Andreas might agree that he’s a ‘content-over-style’ guy and pretty open-minded. Apparently, our music is not mainstream and so we met around ten years ago by him booking tours and me promoting these rad bands locally. The show by Enablers we did together years ago remains one of my most favourite evenings ever.

Everyone who knows Andreas might agree that he’s a ‘content-over-style’ guy and pretty open-minded…

When Confusion Master started taking shape as a band and our plans for a record became substantial, we asked him to be part of it with Exile On Mainstream and the rest is history as they say. EOM is so much more than ‘just’ a label as it involves a very strong community and common sense between very different musical styles and people. Andreas helps to gain a recognition, getting the word out. This is what matters to us. We are no business doom, ha!

Now that gigs are back on, are you planning to tour in support of the album’s release?

Stephan: Oh yes. We do have five release shows coming up, all in Germany in fall 2021. We’re all working and have families, so we can make it to 10-20 shows a year at best if things go well. We will play more shows in 2022, all set up and booked by our us, true DIY. The focus will be a full two-weeks tour in Canada with our friends from Hoopsnake. We are very much looking forward to this.

Confusion Master
Confusion Master

What are you both listening to for enjoyment these days?

Gunnar: Seventies rock/blues, anytime and always: Muddy Waters, the obvious – Sabbath and Led Zep, Motörhead. 90s doom/stoner like Kyuss/Sleep and many underground bands: Toner Low, Cop On Fire, Guevnna, The Devil & The Almighty Blues.

Stephan: The Builders And The Butchers, Ulver, Trialogos, and a lot of re-edits of German Kraut music from the 70s (look out for the Dark & Lovely 12-inch series), the Twin Peaks O.S.T. (always!) and Soundgarden.

Thank you both again for shedding a little light on the creating of this fantastic album. I look forward to learning from you guys. Thanks again and please use this space for any final words…

Stephan: Dear Josh it has been our pleasure! We are always happy and looking forward to meeting new people and their beliefs and sharing spirits. Glad you enjoy our noises and got in touch about all of the above! If you need more insight, don’t hesitate to write back. Meanwhile, let’s praise the call of Cthulhu this November 21st!

Haunted, the new album from Confusion Master featuring six colossal tracks of stoner doom releases this Friday, 19th November via Exile On Mainstream. Pre-orders are available now over on the labels webstore and below are the bands up and coming record release live dates…

Confusion Master Haunted Release Live Dates:
12/11/2021 – Tiefgrund – Berlin, DE w/ Treedeon, Ursular
18/11/2021 – MS Stubnitz – Hamburg, DE w/ Bad Luck Rides On Wheels
19/11/2021 – Bunker – Rostock, DE w/ Bad Luck Rides On Wheels
20/11/2021 – Klex – Greifswald, DE w/ Bad Luck Rides On Wheels
27/11/2021 – Huenermanhattan – Halle/Saale, DE w/ Bad Luck Rides On Wheels, Wheel

Label: Exile On Mainstream Records
Band Links: Facebook

Interviewed by: Josh Schneider