Canadian Musicians Show Off the Instruments They Can't Live Without

Show & Tell

PUP, Omega Mighty, Born Ruffians, Korea Town Acid and more discuss the gear they rely on


BY Alex HudsonPublished Aug 11, 2022

Like someone who still owns the blanket they came home from the hospital with, many musicians have treasured pieces of equipment that they just can't part with, no matter how janky and broken-down the instruments get.

We reached out to some Canadian artists about the ole reliable pieces of gear they can't live without — and they responded with everything from toy keyboards and rickety guitar adaptors to snazzy synths and custom speaker sets. From the sleek to the extremely humble, here are the instruments that Canadian musicians have come to rely on.

Luke Lalonde of Born Ruffians
Casio CA-100 Tone Bank

Photo courtesy of Luke Lalonde

Luke Lalonde has had this cute Casio CA-100 Tone Bank for his entire life, having been gifted it as a baby. He says that it's "appeared on every record I've made." As well as produced tones heard on 2020–2021's album trilogy JUICE, SQUEEZE and PULP, it's capable of producing all sorts of weird tones: "It has a sound effect of a motorcycle that sounds nothing like a motorcycle," he says. Vroom vroom!

Michael Watson of chemical club
El Degas Precision Bass

Photo courtesy of Michael Watson

Michael Watson's '70s El Degas Precision Bass is a bit like their own person Ship of Theseus: if every part is replaced, is it still the same bass? "Since acquiring it, we've replaced all four tuning pegs and machines, input jack, the guitar shop glued in a new piece of pickguard, and both knobs have been lost. It's on its way to being a Frankenstein guitar and I couldn't be happier," they say.

Watson has toured with it multiple times, and used to record chemical club's upcoming EP for Arts & Crafts. The Ottawa musician adds, "Fun fact: the tone knob didn't work for over two years, then one day on the last tour we were on it decided to kick in! Go off I guess, Degas."

Charlie Kerr of Hotel Mira
Recording King acoustic guitar

Photo courtesy of Charlie Kerr

Of all the artists we asked about their instrument, Hotel Mira singer-guitarist Charlie Kerr is the only one with such a janky instrument that he's literally throwing it in the photo. It's a cheap Recording King guitar purchased at Rufus Guitar Shop in Vancouver during a lockdown, and while it "started off sounding sweet," it has since broken down to the point that the 11th fret produces only a buzzing sound.

"I wrote a lot of great songs on it, and if a song idea can still stand on its merits while being played by me — poorly — on this piece of shit, it's probably an idea worth pursuing," Kerr says. "I love having guitars around like a writer likes having pencils or a painter likes brushes. Of course, having a high-quality tool at your disposal is ideal, if not inspirational, but if one needs to get an idea out, in a pinch, we'll finger paint. And I do my best finger painting on this loser."

Hear the finished result of Kerr's finger painting on recent singles "Fever Pitch" and "Time and Time Again."

Korea Town Acid
Roland JUNO-60

Photo: Paddington Scott

This Roland JUNO-60 wasn't actually Jessica Cho's first choice; she originally wanted a JUNO-106, but she's "always down for a good analogue poly synth." She praises the instruments ADSR envelops, dual chorus function and noise, and adds, "It can be used for versatile productions such as creating a chord progression, melody and bass lines or adding dirty textures." Hear said textures on the album Elephant in the Room, out August 26.

Fender Stratocaster

Photo courtesy of Jessie Munro

Yes, eagle-eyed readers — that is indeed a Winter X Games decal on Leith's Fender Stratocaster. The pop-rock songwriter's uncle won the guitar in a radio station giveaway more than 15 years ago, even though he doesn't play guitar — which is why he gifted it to Leith's dad. "It's been played on all of my songs and will probably be forever," says the Toronto-born, UK-based artist. "The neck gets warped and twists but we just keep fixing it and it's good as new. It's a family member now!" Hear it all over this year's bright and bubbly Birthdays in July EP.

Omega Mighty
Custom speaker system


The Mighty family are quickly becoming an institution in Canadian music. Not only are sisters Haviah and Omega Mighty rising stars, Omega cites her signature piece of music gear as this speaker system created by their father. The family used to have jam sessions using a set of store-bought speakers; "When those speakers eventually failed on us, my father took it upon himself to build us a speaker system by hand," says Omega. "Over the years, he has updated these speakers with various aesthetic upgrades while giving it the personal 'Mighty' flare." We can only imagine how recent singles "Yummy Yummy (Get Yummy)" and "Cherry Carnival" sound blasting through the speakers.

Stef Johnson of Mise en Scene
Simon & Patrick acoustic guitar

Photo courtesy of Stef Johnson

Stef Johnson, singer-guitarist of Manitoba indie rockers Mise en Scene, named her first acoustic guitar Doris Mary after her grandmothers. Her parents gave it to her after she began teaching herself the instrument — and now it's so well-loved that it barely stays in tune. "I would never get rid of this guitar since I've written almost all my songs on it," says Johnson. "Doris Mary will never die!" Doris Mary lives on thanks to the new singles "Nicer" and "You Feel Good."

USB guitar adaptor

Photo courtesy of Maryam Said

No, that's not a computer mouse — it's a guitar interface poolblood's Maryam Said bought when they first began recording, and an early version of the Shamir-produced "twinkie" was demoed with it. "The feedback is pretty bad," admits the Toronto artist, "but I ended up liking it because it was the perfect amount of noise/feedback that I could play around with."

Stefan Babcock of PUP
Gibson Les Paul Special

Photo: Amanda Fotes

PUP's single "Matilda" from this year's The Unraveling of PUPTheBand is named after the iffy Gibson Les Paul Special that frontman Stefan Babcock has been clinging onto. He got it during the band's first US tour, when he broke his guitar and didn't have money for a replacement. "My friend Ryan gifted me this one," says Babcock. "One of the nicest things anyone's ever done for me. Since then, I've played Matilda at hundreds of PUP shows. I love her so much. It's not the greatest guitar, but then again, I'm not the greatest guitar player. Match made in heaven."

Adrian Sutherland
Gibson Hummingbird

Photo: RoseAnna Schick

Songwriter Adrian Sutherland's Gibson Hummingbird looks like it's in pretty good condition — you'd never know that it quite literally broke in half at a music festival. "it was on a guitar stand on stage and accidentally got knocked over," explains the artist from Attawapiskat First Nation on the shores of James Bay. "The headstock snapped right off, and it was just before the show! I had to play a different guitar that night, and left the Hummingbird for repair in the town we were in. It eventually came back fixed, and still sounds great. It's the guitar I'm still using in my live shows." Last year's When the Magic Hits earned Sutherland a JUNO nomination for Contemporary Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year.

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