The Gibson Interview: Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher on His ‘Golden Axe’ Explorer
Bill Kelliher delivers a powerful, riff-heavy guitar sound that demands an equally powerful axe to lead the way. While the longstanding Mastodon guitarist has always made Gibson his guitar of choice, earlier this year, Kelliher scored his own signature Gibson model, the Bill Kelliher “Golden Axe” Explorer .
The “Golden Axe” offers a hard-charging array of features, including trapezoid fingerboard inlays, gold-plated hardware, a hot-stamped Golden Axe truss-rod cover, cream pickguard with hot-stamped Mastodon logo and Kelliher’s pick of Go-Gold Burst finish in high-gloss nitrocellulose lacquer complete this stunning package.
I had the opportunity to chat with Kelliher during Mastodon’s run on the 2013 Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, where he talked about how he first discovered Gibsons and what’s next for the band.
For more on Mastodon, head to the band’s official website.
Bill, thanks so much for taking the time to chat at Mayhem.
My pleasure. Anything for Gibson!
Speaking of Gibson, let’s talk about your new signature model, the Bill Kelliher “Golden Axe” Explorer. What initially drew you to Explorers?
I was mostly a fan of Les Pauls until I saw (Metallica’s) James Hetfield playing an Explorer back in the early ‘80s. That’s when I said, “That dude looks cool playing that. I want to play that!” So, when I saw James Hetfield playing one, and the Edge plays one, too. I was also a big fan of U2. Two totally different styles of music and bands, but I’ve always been a fan. Ever since I picked one up and put one on, just the way it sits and feels and the profile of it and everything I love. It’s a man’s guitar.
Why the name, “Golden Axe?”
The guitar is colored gold, and it is an axe, as some people refer to their guitars as “axes.” And there’s a video game I used to play as a kid by Sega called “Golden Axe” back in the ‘80s, a long time ago. I used to go to the arcade and play video games and put in a quarter, and there was a game called “Golden Axe,” and it was Medieval dudes with axes and this little knife dude scrolling through different scenarios and killing the bad guys and rescuing the princess. So, I thought, “‘Golden Axe’ would be a perfect name.”
What makes Gibsons right for your sound?
Gibson has always been a very solid guitar-making company. I personally like really heavy guitars that are solid wood with lots of sustain. They stick out to me more than any other guitar. Maybe because I’m biased, because I’ve always looked up to dudes that played Gibsons. Jimmy Page, when I saw him playing a Gibson, I was like, “Whatever kind of guitar that is—oh, it’s a Les Paul Gibson. I want one of those someday.” They’re just solid. They sound great. The quality of them is great. They’re a great quality product.
What advice would you have for guitarists who want to get your massive Mastodon tone?
Buy a “Golden Axe!” (Laughs) I hate to say that, but get a “Golden Axe.” To me, that guitar is the epitome of everything that I’ve worked so hard at for the past 25 years of playing guitar to achieve, and now I have my own with my name on it, so it’s great.
What’s next for Mastodon?
Mastodon is currently writing a new record. Our last record came out about two years ago, and we’ve done some touring past couple of months, and it’s time to get home and finish writing and recording a new record by end of the year and get a new record out by the beginning of next year.
Photos by Anne Erickson