You’re no stranger to touring, but it seems
like this year was especially busy.
These other opportunities keep coming up
in between tours. This was going to be that
year where I didn’t say “no” when I really
wanted to do something—even if it means
getting off one bus and getting into a van
three days later.
Where did you record the album?
It was recorded at [producer] John Keane’s
studio in Athens, Georgia. The guy is bril-
liant. He has a long history with Panic, but
this was the first time I had the opportu-
nity to work with him—even though we
have been friends for a long time. Over
the years we have played together, but
this was the first time we have recorded
together. I can’t imagine ever calling any-
one else to record with.
Your live tone really came across on the
album. What amps did you use?
John Keane has a lot to do with that. I
was really glad, because he loved my
amps. There were only two amps that I
brought in, a ’ 64 Fender Super Reverb
and a Fuchs Tripledrive Supreme. We used
both quite a bit. On “Shut up and Drive,”
we actually used a Budda 80-watt amp.
John is absolutely brilliant with getting
guitar sounds [see the sidebar below for
more on Keane’s recording techniques].
John Keane is the unofficial seventh member of Widespread Panic. Since meeting the
band in the mid ’80s, he has gone on to engineer and produce five of their studio albums,
in addition to joining them on tour to play guitar and pedal steel. He has also worked with
such marquee artists as REM and the Indigo Girls, and with each project his reputation and
sonic touch become more impactful.
Keane describes how knowing a band like Widespread Panic for so long, really helps in
the studio. “I have established a rapport with them—there is a certain amount of trust
there. They are familiar with my methods, and I am familiar with theirs. It makes it a lot
easier to get things rolling quickly in the studio.” And the proof is in the pudding: On
Dirty Side Down, Keane pulled some of the best tones and performances out of the band
since their Space Wrangler debut.
Keane recorded all the guitars through a DI and mic’d the amps. “I use these Demeter
direct boxes that have tubes in them so they don’t load down the guitar pickup. I usually go straight from the guitar into one of those and record that to a track in Pro Tools,”
Keane says. “I record the direct signal, and I usually don’t listen to it—I just want to make
sure it’s clean. Later on in the mixing stage, if I think the amp is too dirty or too clean and
I want to use a different sound, I will take the direct guitar signal and feed it into another
amp and re-record it onto another track.”
While on tour with Panic, Keane let Herring try out his favorite guitar—a Tele that Herring
latched onto and used for most of the Dirty Side Down sessions. “It’s a guitar that I traded
some studio time for about 15 or 20 years ago. It’s an inexpensive Japanese Tele. When
I first got it, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do anything with it. All the electronics in it were terrible.” After a few upgrades, it became a go-to axe. “I went ahead and
pulled all the electronics out of it—all the pots and switches—and replaced them. I put
a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounder in the bridge and another Seymour Duncan pickup
in the neck position. I put a 5-way switch in, which is what is recommended to get all the
tonal possibilities out of the Quarter Pounder. It’s real fat and dark sounding, kinda like a
P- 90. But it also has a tap position that sounds more like a regular Tele pickup. After I did
that to it and got it refretted, it became my favorite guitar.”
Herring digs into his Custom Shop Fender
Stratocaster loaded with Seymour Duncan ‘ 59
humbuckers. Photo by Colin Vereen
But for the most part it was the Super
Reverb and Fuchs.
What guitars did you use on the record?
We used a lot of guitars, but I would say
that close to 70 percent of the album was
actually John’s Fender Telecaster. The guitar
plays like a million bucks. I have never had
so much fun playing a Tele in all my life. A
lot of the stuff without the twang bar is his
Tele, mostly. There are a few songs where
I used a Fender Custom Shop Strat. I used
my main Strat on some songs. The stuff you
hear with a twang bar is my main Strat.
Do you bring those same guitars with you
on the road?
Yeah, I usually bring my favorite Strat, which
I’ve had for about 17 or 18 years. It has
Seymour Duncan humbuckers in it. I probably will bring a Tele and maybe another
Strat with single-coils, just so I can have
How does your rig change when you go
out with your solo band?
It’s smaller. With the solo band, we travel
under different conditions. We don’t have
trucks and semis, and the stages aren’t as
big. I do love a Super Reverb—it is really
hard to beat for a club amp—so I am bringing that on tour. I generally try to use the
reverb through a separate source, like I
do with Panic [for details, see Herring’s
Gearbox on p. 148].