An Interview with Thomas Nordegg

On meeting Thomas Nordegg

Early April I visited Thomas at his house in LA. There he talked enthusiastically about his work, his history and his view on life. Before the interview started, he showcased his own guitar rig, an extensive system that enables him to instantly play all parts with only one guitar. That guitar happens to be the Super Strat, known from the Ultrazone tour where Steve used it to play "Little Alligator", and it features all sorts of built in systems like a sustainer, Midi pickup, touch-wah pad, lights, several outputs and an impressive collection of autographs - amongst many more things. His rig features a whopping 4 channel system with all sorts of remote controlled effects. To top it of, there are quite a few prototype modules in his rack, including two Roland guitar synths in custom rackspace format. A brilliant array of gear to make any gear junkie drool. But what else would you expect from the hands of the man who is known for so long as the man to call when it comes to guitar technics and pedal board construction? Absolutely impressive was the moment when he turned his interior lights off and on - from his guitar!
Thomas also explained the secrets behind Steve's guitar rig and setup - which you will find on the Thomas Explains! page.

A little introduction:

"I'm from Vienna, Austria. When the Beatles came along - first there was Presley, Harry Belafonte was another, but when the Beatles came it changed everything in music, you know. So I wanted to play guitar of course.
Then I heard of this Gypsy guitar player in Vienna that played in this band called "The Slaves". He supposedly couldn't read or write but he totally could play any style of music. So when I saw him I thought I don't need to play. But I decided to become his manager. I was studying architecture at that time. So I got that going.
Another one was Peter Wolf, a keyboard player from Vienna who was a Mozart like prodigy. With Peter and his guitar player Charlie we had a sort of contract. We went to the states with a five year management contract. But Peter backed out when we arrived in 72 because he had a family with a kid already. So it was two or three years with Charlie in the States. He did gigs and got a record deal. After a while we got back to Vienna and he decided to stay. I stayed there for a year or so where I hooked up with Peter Wolf again - we had a band. And we decided to go to Los Angeles.
I got an apartment. There was only one Guitar Center on the opposite side of the existing one where we'd hang out all day. Peter would play and meet folks, exchange telephone numbers. I did audition at the Magic House because I was a /slide of hand/ fanatic in Austria, and they offered me a job. But the next day Frank Zappa called for Peter to go do an audition, so he went there and got the gig. And the rest is history. I've been with Frank for almost seven years.
Besides Frank I worked with Warren Cuccurullo, Terry Bozzio, Missing Persons (from day one until ground zero) and then fifteen years with Warren. And meanwhile a lot of other gigs. I worked with Jimmy Page once, With Toto I did a world tour, The Pretenders. Tears For Fears, Social Distortion I did quite a lot. Ynwie Malmsteen, Mike Keneally. But for the last few years I worked with Steve."

On Europe:

"I have an apartment down town Vienna still, which has been in the family for a long time. I went there after the last tour with Steve and in May 2007 I want to take it over again. The rent is only 20 Euro's. So I want to go there and spend some time there. I'm going to keep this place obviously. I want to finish my work here on my rig but it's a matter of time, you know? Money too obviously, but time even more."

His Roll With Frank Zappa:

"I was Peter Wolfs manager and the keyboard tech for him and Tommy Mars in the band with Terry Bozzio and Patrick O'hara, Chad Wackerman Vinnie Colaiuta. Most unbelievable band. I did at least six to eight tours videotaping the shows with the feed from the camera going directly to the recording truck so they printed it directly with the audio feed. A lot of that stuff Frank used, like the Video from Hell which was all my footage."

What he does outside of touring:

"I'm going to be late for my own funeral. Because there is not enough time in the day for me. I'm trying to get my life together, meaning that I found out at 61 that the lesser you have, the unbelievably richer you are. And free, you know. I have to have this scooter, which I got thanks to Steve Vai (thank you forever!) which is my key to freedom. I'm the fastest guy in LA without speeding. It will soon start again keyless from my PDA with blue tooth (disarm & start, stop and arm). The PDA will also do the keyless lock here on my apartment and the garage door at my shop. My lifestyle is my job. I'm trying to get to the point where everything works and it's totally easy to use. And that's when I check out. What I used to do was I build pedal boards for musicians, guitar players mostly."

Other roles during tour:

"Everybody shares and helps you know. We all work together with setting up and packing up. Making sure everything gets in the truck. And basically making sure that everything works. The first commandment for a player is 'You must not think'."

Being a guitartech

"You have to have the right tools, be organized. You have to focus on issues and be flexible. It always has to work, one way or the other. You have to deal with a small stage on one day, a big stage on the other. You have to have a good attitude and work well with other crew. And the love for music helps obviously. Read the tuner right and stretch the strings..always stretch the strings! That's the main thing for a guy like Steve!"