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Sounding Good: Key Men
Rolling Stone #321 — July 10, 1980
Some of the best keyboard players in the business talk about the instruments they use
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboard player Benmont Tench credits two sources with helping him get the right sound from his keyboards. “For organ, I go to Booker T.,” Tench says, “and for piano, I go to the Rolling Stones — Beggar’s Banquet, all that stuff. Nicky Hopkins — he’s the best. And Billy Preston, if you take the synthesizers away from him, is a hell of a keyboard player.
Both onstage and in the studio, Tench uses four basic keyboards: a Hammond C-3 organ, a Wurlitzer electric piano, a Steinway grand piano and an ARP String Ensemble. He uses the latter instrument because “I can’t stand synthesizers; they’re too cold. Also, the sting ensemble is basically just an organ with string sound, and if you fuck with it right, you can make it sound like an old pump organ.”
Tench cites Ian McLagan’s playing with the Faces as having had a big influence on his electric piano technique. “If you want a piano sound — not an organ sound, but something with attack on it, and you want it to distort — then you go for the electric piano,” he says. “Or, if you want a different kind of sustain than you get from the grand — a little thinner sound — then you go for the electric piano. But if you want a full-bodied thing, then you go for the grand. I’ve got a Baldwin electric upright at the house. That’s what I practice on, and it sounds good through a Leslie. But like all electric pianos — the ones that try to sound like grands — it sounds too thin to me. So I carry a grand. It doesn’t make the roadies happy, but it makes me happy.”