The last of his quartet of Gibsons with f-holes is a classic ES-335. For Fleming, it’s the missing link, and completes his palette of Gibson tones with a healthy portion of grunt.
‘I think I was done buying more 330s! So I wanted to get a good 335. This one is a fairly recent addition that I bought off another friend of mine; it’s a 1963. I had a 345 a few years ago which was a ’62, but it was really heavy and just somehow didn’t gel for me, but this one’s really great. It was the last one I was really looking for to complete the sound; a nice 335 with that humbucker thing going on that’s obviously missing in the others.’
Fleming, as we can see, is somewhat of a vintage guitar lover, but his collection isn’t exclusively so. The next two out of their cases seem rather out of character. Firstly, we weren’t prepared for an ice blue Yamaha Pacifica to make an appearance…
‘To be honest I don’t play that very much now, but that’s Ty Tabor’s from a great prog rock band called King’s X,’ explains Fleming. ‘I became transatlantic friends with him a few years back. I met him over the internet because I like his music and his guitar playing. We just corresponded and I ended up buying that off him.’
The prog-rock Pacifica is swiftly followed by a sleek, beautifully bound black SVL replica. ‘That’s an interesting one,’ he explains. ‘It’s made by a guy called Simon Law, who’s guitar tech for Matt [Schofield], so I met him through that connection. He’s doing quite well with those guitars now, apparently. I don’t know how many he makes a year – it can’t be too many – but there’s a lot of demand. It plays beautifully and it isn’t your typical Tele sound; it’s got a fuller tone. I use it as a back-up guitar live. I just bring it out now and then.’
Would Robert consider expanding his collection of solidbodies? ‘Actually I think I might get an old Tele for that classic twangy sound ’cos I don’t really have that with the SVL. And of course I don’t have a Les Paul anymore. I think I should revisit them again sometime but I still don’t know if I’d get on with them! We’re not really a Joe Bonamassa kind of thing. Not that I wouldn’t mind being able to play like him, but blues rock isn’t really what I want to do. The other guitar I’d like to get hold of is a Dobro.’
Would he ever consider some more modern fare? ‘I would be up for trying some out,’ he considers. ‘I’m not collecting these for the vintage as much as because I really love the sound and the feel of them. It’s a bit of a cliché, I have to say, but the modern ones I’ve tried don’t really cut it compared to the vintage ones that I have. There are some nice handmade guitars, though, like a Collings guitar; I’d consider one of them.’
Fleming’s main acoustic is a splendid and rather cute little Gibson LG-0. ‘I write probably the lion’s share of the songs and then collaborate on some of the nuances with the other guys. I write mostly with that acoustic. I prefer writing on acoustics, they’re easier just to pick up and play… and then that sunburst 330 is the other one that I play around with a lot at home too. A lot of the album was written on that Gibson, though.’
Of the two basses in his collection, a Fender Sting Signature Precision catches our eye, signed by the man himself. ‘I met him backstage at one of his concerts,’ Fleming explains. ‘Somebody I know was organising the event and they invited me along. They had some of those signature basses as a giveaway for guests at the event and I managed to get one, which was lucky, and then he signed it – nice guy.’ Is Robert inclined towards the odd pop and slap of an evening?
‘No, not really!’ he chuckles. ‘I only play rudimentary bass at home, so I shouldn’t really have it at all! Our bassist plays a Fender Precision, though, and he just ordered a Sadowski bass that he’s very proud of. They’re from New York and they’re meant to be the ultimate handmade basses, or so he tells me.’
When it comes to amps, Fleming is as particular as he is with his guitars. One that’s especially close to our hearts here at G&B is his Top Hat Club Royale. ‘I was just looking for a nice combo that I could take and do club gigs with; nothing too heavy, just a nice kind of Class A amp. At the time I wanted more of a Vox AC30 kind of sound, and the Top Hat was reviewed in your magazine in the early 2000’s and got a rave review. A week later I was down in Denmark Street and I saw it in the window and they said that was the actual amp that was reviewed in the magazine, so I bought it!’
The Top Hat still goes on the road from time to time, but for now Fleming’s main noiseboxes are his Carr Rambler and another amp picked up from a famous friend.
‘I primarily use the Carr. I only came across it about two years ago. A friend of mine in San Francisco recommended it; he’s an absolute amp geek and he basically said if you’re looking for that cleaner Fender Twin kind of sound but with a bit more depth and not as heavy, then that’s the one to get. I went for it and it seems to be a really great choice. That’s my favourite… but my Two Rock Custom Signature is sometimes wheeled out for the bigger gigs. That one was bought from Matt Schofield, he recorded the Sifting Through Ashes album on it and I recorded most of our last album with it.’
Also sitting pretty in his armoury are two Fender amps, although Fleming seems to have been somewhat unfortunate with them. ‘I have this Pro Junior and Blues Junior,’ he explains. ‘That’s the third Blues Junior I’ve had! I don’t know whether I’m just unlucky with damage or something, but they just constantly blow up!’
We all like to dabble in the wizardy world of effects and Fleming is a self-proclaimed pedal fiend. One that constantly appears at the feet of many a blues star is the simple, yet masterful clean boost; something Fleming is a major fan of.
‘I’ve got too many pedals! It’s an endless search for the right one. What I’m really looking for is a kind of clean boost, not heavy distortion. At a club gig you’ve got to have the volume at a fairly decent level to get a bit more response out of the amp, but a clean boost gives it a nice kind of gain, like cranking the amp but without that overdriven fuzz.’
Has he found his choice stompbox for this purpose? ‘I’ve tried a few… probably too many!’ he laughs. ‘I’ve got this Xotic EP Booster now which I really like, it’s a little tiny thing. That’s got a really nice, warm sound to me, so I’m kind of settling on that. Then I use a Menatone Red Snapper, which is also a boost, but it’s got a little bit more bite and gain to it for more of an overdriven sound. I have two of them!’
The other pedal that Fleming won’t leave home without is the humble wah, of which he has four. ‘I’m a bit of a wah-wah nut, to be honest. I’ve been through pretty much all of them over the years! That’s the reason why I’ve got quite a few, ’cos I keep going through them trying to find the perfect one. I think I’ve found “the one” now, it’s the Vox reissue. I’ve also had fun with the RMC wah; that’s the sparkly blue one that a lot of people really rave about. It’s nice, but I find that both the RMC and the other Fulltone are just a little bit too trebly whereas the Vox is a lot warmer. I’m going for more of a ’70s kind of sound.’
Fleming intends to return to the States with his band and tour Europe, but for now he’s content with a collection of guitars and gear that serve his needs nicely, a stellar new album and fantastic reviews across the board.
‘Probably the biggest thing for us right now is the recording of this last album. We were trying to evolve the band and do a bit more funk stuff, so we’re really pleased how it turned out. We’re happy with that more ’70s kind of feel and we’ve been really chuffed with the reception it’s had.’
3. Private Collection: London Chording