Artist Spotlight: Brian "Head" Welch (Korn)

Photo: Sebastien Paquet

As a member of Korn beginning in 1993, Brian “Head” Welch has been an integral part of one of the world’s most successful metal bands. He joined the ESP artist family in 2016, and his LTD Signature Series guitar, the SH-7 EverTune, was introduced in January 2017. When we spoke, it turned out that we’d worked for the same company in the early ‘90s, where Brian built electronics at an assembly facility. “That job was hard, man. Working an assembly line was so easy that it drove you crazy.”

Do you recall your first awareness of ESP?
Yeah, I was a teenager. George Lynch was my favorite guitar player. His playing style and his vibrato sounded like his soul passed through his fingers to the strings. But I didn’t get to play an ESP for a long time. I lived in Bakersfield, and the stores there at the time were pushing other brands of guitars. I got a Charvel, but then I tiger-striped it to look like Lynch’s ESP.

And now you have your own ESP Signature Series guitar, the LTD SH-7 EverTune. On a general basis, tell us some of your favorite things about that guitar?
Oh man. I love the neck. The neck feels like it plays itself. It’s so smooth and comfortable for me. Another thing I love, love, love is the body. It’s beautiful, and it has that color, the deep, rich purple. It’s so amazing to stare at for an hour and a half each night while we’re on tour!

I really love the toggle switch being where it’s at, down and away from my hands. Korn gets pretty crazy onstage, and that helps so I’m not hitting it too much when I’m going crazy. I also love the EverTune.

Yeah, let’s talk about that a bit. A lot of people had misconceptions about the EverTune early on, not really getting how beneficial it is for all kinds of different players.
In Korn, we’ve always had tuning issues because we’re tuned so low. With this guitar, I don’t have any tuning problems anymore, at all. Honestly, I don’t know how to work the EverTune yet for setup, but my techs do. I’ve heard it’s not complicated.

In the studio, it’s frikkin’ brilliant. And live, it’s so good. I have producers that mixed records and produced us who were against it at first, but once they got it, they are all about it. For most of the rhythm parts, it’s really good to use every time.

Photo: Sebastien Paquet

What kinds of tones are you going for with the Fishman Fluence pickups in your signature model?
The tones are great. My dirty channel is very growly, so to speak, and I want it to just have that growl… the good kind of distortion that’s not too much. Do you remember the distortion in the ‘70s, where it’s almost distortion but more like clean that’s turned up all the way, breaking up the speaker?

Yeah, of course.
That’s what I’m getting with the combination of that pickup with the Mesa Boogies. We also brought in Orange amps for a clean channel with a different flavor. My sound now, I’m very satisfied with it. It’s the combination of those things, and some of the pedals I’ve classically used like the Boss Chorus Ensemble, things like that give us that unique sound that Korn has.

Let’s rewind the clock for a bit. What made you want to be a guitar player in the first place?
AC/DC Back In Black.

My parents got me the album. I had a record player in my room. We were a middle class family. We moved to Bakersfield, California from Torrance. Bakersfield was dirt cheap. For the cost of the house they sold in Torrance, my parents got a 5-bedroom house. So I got my own room, and I put up posters of Ozzy, AC/DC, and Judas Priest. And in 1980, I got Back In Black, and played it in my room on my record player, and that was my introduction into metal.

I actually wanted to play drums first, but my dad talked me out of it. It turned out to be a good thing because I really don’t have good rhythm, but I’m very good with melody, so it was meant to be.

Photo: Sebastien Paquet

Beyond Angus and Malcolm Young in AC/DC, who were some early inspirations for you as a player?
Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing. The Iron Maiden guys. Eddie Van Halen. When I first heard “Eruption”, I was like, “What is it?” I couldn’t even comprehend what he was doing. George Lynch was a favorite for sure.

Awhile later, it was guys like Tony MacAlpine, and some of the other speed players. I got into Yngwie a lot, but I realized it wasn’t attainable for me, so I gave up after a couple of years. But also Satriani a little bit, and Steve Vai a little bit. Munky’s favorite was definitely Vai. My favorite players were more like the harder-edged and more minor sounding guys.

Seven-string guitar wasn’t widespread at all when you started playing one with Korn. What led to you original choice to use seven-string models?
Well, you gotta go back to Munky on that. Steve Vai had the seven-string model, and Munky found out about it. He heard about it, and saw it, and fell in love with it. So every paycheck, he’d put down $40 on it, and after months, he finally got it. At first, they were messing around with the seven-string, not really knowing what to do with it. Then I got a seven-string, Fieldy got a five-string bass, and that defined the Korn sound. But it was originally Munky’s idea as a Steve Vai fan.

Photo: Sebastien Paquet

You’ve been through a lot in life, and most people know about your original time in Korn, your departure, your trials and tribulations, and your return to the band. From your perspective today, right now, what inspires you to want to pick up the guitar and create new music?
Hmm. It’s the love of music, man. That’s it. It’s so powerful. It’s letting your emotions out. It’s like a calling. Musicians have something in us that needs to get out. Sometimes I’ve noticed that hard times help us lean into that. Music is healing and therapy to us. It heals us, and it touches people. You hear it all the time from people who listen to all genres. "Your music saved my life. “You got me through a hard time.”

Even if it’s hip hop and aggressive and whatever… any music makes you feel something. I feel connected with God through music. I can feel the melodies flowing through me. It’s part of life. It’s me.

Most people who pick up a guitar never become famous, never become wealthy, and yet they keep playing and striving to get better. What advice do you have for some kid who’s jamming away in their bedroom or garage to take their music to the next level?
I’d say sell your guitar and buy a computer. Just joking.

I would say do it for the love of it. If it’s meant to be, things will fall in place. But above all else, the desire has to be there. Trying to be a professional musician is not for the faint of heart. It’s a labor of love. If you love it that much and are willing to walk through fire and go up against seemingly impossible odds at times, then go for it! Those who achieve great results are the ones who don’t quit.

Photo: Sebastien Paquet

One final question. Do you, in your role as a well-known musician and public figure, think there’s any kind of responsibility to advocate certain views or support for causes?
I think anybody that has been given a large public platform should step back and look at what they've been given, and how many other people would die to be where they're at, and think long and hard about what they’d like to share with the world. To me it's actually a very big responsibility. I don't think anyone would want to arrive at the end of their life and realize that they used their gift as a public figure for nothing positive. What a complete waste that would be.

Keep up with the latest Korn news at their web site.

Mike K.

Love your music! Congrats on your amazing career!