I use a very special Gibson J-200 with a
Fishman system, the one that combines a
piezo with a little microphone inside the
guitar. It won’t go loud—it feeds back—but
it gives me the closest sound to real acoustic
that I’ve ever had onstage. We just played
the Super Bowl halftime and I started with
“Pinball Wizard” on one of those J-200s.
Away from the concert stage, can you tell
me what instruments you prefer these days
for recording or playing at home?
I have about 40 guitars in my studio, but I still
tend to use a small number at any given time.
My latest rave is an old J-200 with a Tune-o-matic bridge. It doesn’t sound as good acoustically as the models with the wooden bridge,
but it is very easy to record. This is the model I
used on Tommy, Who’s Next, Rough Mix, and
Empty Glass. It’s also the model Keith Richards
used on the Stones’ acoustic tracks like “Wild
Horses.” Glyn Johns knew how to make it
sound perfect with a Neumann mic at least
two feet away from the soundhole.
For electric, I use one of my stage Strats, or an
old Tele or SG. Around the house, I have quite
a few Collings models. They are all absolutely
wonderful. I’m a big fan. I’ve got some nice
old things as well, and some old amplifiers.
Alan Rogan will often lead me to really nice
instruments. I play a lot of mandolin around
the house. I still have my ’ 71 Gibson, and a
recent Collings. They are both exquisite. I
like composing on the mandolin, because it’s
tuned like the fiddle so it helps me understand
classical and country fiddle fingerings.
Although you’re not really known as a guitar collector, what are some of your favorite pieces in the collection?
A Dobro lap steel I bought at my local music
shop. It must be about 1928. It looks like a frying pan. I’ve got a perfect Bacon and Day tenor
banjo with a built-in mute I bought in New
York a few years ago. There’s a 1956 Epiphone
Emperor that sounds like John Lee Hooker
has traded souls with Carl Perkins and come
back from the dead. I’ve got an Esquire string
bender by Parsons-White, the real deal. I’ve still
got the orange Chet Atkins Joe Walsh gave
me back in the early ‘70s. My favorite guitar of
all happens to be English. It’s one of the first
small-body Ariels by Fylde. I have three now, all
superb, set up in different tunings.
Was there ever a time over the years when
you said to yourself, “I wish I hadn’t smashed
that (fill in the brand name and model) guitar?
Once. Just once. It was probably around
1968. We were around Detroit about to play
at the Grande Ballroom. I had no guitar. I
went to the local pawnshops and bought two
Strats. One was recent, the other was much
older, probably from the first year of manu-
facture. They were not expensive. The dealer
had no idea what he had. On stage, I started
with the older of the two guitars. It was
almost certainly a guitar that belonged to
Buddy Holly. I sounded like Buddy Holly. I felt
like Buddy Holly. The sound was superb, off
the map, bell-like, silky, just sublime. When
the time came to smash the guitar, I switched
it for the newer one, and a boy at the front
of the stage protested. “No,” he shouted.
“Smash the good one, not some fake.” So
I switched back, and to my shame smashed
the guitar over his hands. I still wait for him
to sue me. He would have a perfect right,
but I was pretty angry with him. However,
this entire guitar-smashing thing is my fault,
my thing, my idea, my artistic statement,
my absurdity. I have no doubt that guitar is
sitting in someone’s home now, and prob-
ably plays okay. I hope the same can be said
for that poor guy’s hands. So my regret and
shame on this occasion is doubled.
Your amp of choice lately has been the
Fender Vibro-King, after years using
Marshalls, Hiwatts and others. With so
many choices out there today, why Fender?
Listen, let him sue me, but I know that the
first Marshall amp was almost a dead copy
of the Fender Bassman head, with some
minor changes to boost the level—minor
changes that I insisted be major. The Vibro-King sounds more like an early Marshall amp
than a new Marshall amp. They are great
amps, but they require quite a bit of maintenance, tube biasing, etc. I mix 10" and 12"
speakers in two cabs. Fender is very good
to me: they are great with charity requests
and give me good deals on my equipment.