Guitar Gear

THE BLUE STRAT

Blue Strat Pro Reverb 1

This was my main guitar for years since I bought it in 1992, although I’m not really using it these days. If you’ve heard any of my older recorded work, it’s probably this guitar, as it’s the only guitar on These Blues Are Mine, it’s on all but two songs on Axe to Grind, a little more than half of Catch Me, all of Adding Insight To Injury, all of Cryin’ Hey, most of Just Like It Is, most of Sugar Ray and the Bluetones Featuring Monster Mike Welch and My Life My Friends My Music, and all of Evening, as well as the bulk of my guest appearances on other people’s CDs. For the non-technically minded, it’s a Fender Stratocaster, but if you’re interested in the nitty gritty, here goes:

- 1992 Fender Japan reissue body, basswood, routed out under pickguard for resonance and weight reduction. Between the basswood and the additional resonating chamber, the Blue Strat is a much darker, meatier sounding guitar than most off-the-shelf Stratocasters, but it’s got a ton of high end sparkle on top as well.

- Lindy Fralin pickups, measuring 6K (neck), 6.1 K (middle) and 7k (bridge). The bridge pickup has a metal baseplate like that of a Telecaster, also by Lindy Fralin. The baseplate gives the bridge pickup a nice mix of the subtlety and “wiriness” of a Strat pickup with the fat mids and explosive high end of a Tele pickup.

- USA Custom Guitars neck, maple, “boatneck” contour (measuring 1″ deep all the way down), with Dunlop 6000 frets and a 7.25″ to 9″ compound fingerboard radius. The huge neck and tall frets give a lot of support for bending strings and playing for long periods of time.

- Callaham bridge assembly

- Sperzel locking tuners – these are great for quick string changes.

- Electronics: 5 way switch, master volume, master tone, Lindy Fralin blender knob, push-pull phase switch for bridge pickup

THE RED TELECASTER

I’m actually playing this guitar more than I am the blue Strat recently. With its killer Lollar pickups, it’s thicker and more appealing sounding through most amps, and it doesn’t have the sentimental value that keeps me from carrying the Blue Strat onto airplanes.

Red Tele Pro Junior 1

- Fender Muddy Waters Telecaster body, with crudely hand-sanded contours to try to make it hang a little more like a Strat

- USA Custom Guitars boatneck – same specs as the Blue Strat, but a Dark Indian Rosewood fretboard and Jescar stainless frets (same size as Dunlop 6000)

- Jason Lollar pickups (Vintage Tele neck, Blackface Strat middle, and J Street Tele bridge). I cannot say enough good things about every Lollar pickup I’ve tried.

- Sperzel tuners

- Callaham compensated saddles

THE OTHER BLUE STRAT 

1002218_10202343799770593_825618197_nThis is a parts guitar that I put together around Jason Lollar’s insanely great Lollartron pickups because I was playing the Gretsch so much (see below), and I wanted a more portable, familiar solidbody guitar to travel with that had some of the Gretsch vibe. I ended up with a completely unique, twangy, and fat sounding instrument that can be heard on the Mannish Boys’ Wrapped Up and Ready. (photo by Joseph A. Rosen)

- USA Custom basswood Strat body

- USA Custom Tele boatneck, rosewood fretboard, boat shape, 7.25-9.5 compound radius, Dunlop 6000 fretwire

- Jason Lollar Lollartron pickups

GRETSCH G5420T

417103_4491706007241_1926379971_nAs a Beatlemaniac, I’ve always wanted a Gretsch, but the guitars in my price range always had generic, non-Gretsch sounding pickups that didn’t appeal to me at all. Last year, Gretsch revamped their budget Electromatic line with “blacktop” Filtertron pickups that give that great, shimmery, twangy Gretsch tone. I bought this thinking it wouldn’t become a main guitar, but as soon as I got it, I brought it to the studio and used it on four songs on Duke Robillard’s Independently Blue, and I’ve been using it live ever since. Sugar Ray and the Bluetones’ upcoming Living From Tear to Tear features the Gretsch on nine of the twelve songs and the red Tele on the rest. The only changes I’ve made are a brass Compton bridge and a treble bleed cap on the master volume control.

GIBSON ES-333

10387086_888915977792066_7454000355805541632_oWith Lollar Imperial pickups (low wind neck/regular wind bridge).  I pulled this guitar out of mothballs recently and installed the Lollars, and I’m digging it a lot. The 333 is basically a cheaper satin-finished ES-335, and I love the faded cherry on a plain top – it looks and feels way more like an old 335 than a lot of the highly flamed glossy modern production guitars do. The Lollars are great – for fat, round sounding hum buckers, they’re clear enough that I can play anything I play on my other guitars without worrying about mushing out. (Photo by Randy MacDonald)

RECORDING KING ROS-16 – This might be my favorite guitar right now – it’s an import 12-fret Martin 000 copy with a beautiful sound and a nice, old-style V shaped neck.

Epi Rivera Bassman 1EPIPHONE RIVIERA

Here’s another favorite guitar, with beautiful, clear sounding minihumbuckers. I think that might be part of the reason Strat players like Magic Sam and Otis Rush gravitated towards the Riviera; the minihumbuckers give clarity not unlike a Fender to an acoustically warm, Gibson-styled guitar.

AMPLIFIERS

Fender Pro Junior (1996) – heavily modified. The chassis is largely untouched – Pro Juniors are the best amps Fender makes in the under-$2000 price bracket – but everything else is non-stock. The cabinet has been replaced by a larger finger-jointed solid pine cabinet by JD Newell Custom Cabs, and the speaker by a 12″ Eminence Legend. I put a New Old Stock RCA 12AY7 tube in the first position to lower the gain and reduce the breakup, which has the added benefit of making the clean tones deeper and more three-dimensional. This amp is usually partnered with the Barber B-Custom Cool overdrive for extra tone shaping in the low end.

Fender Pro Reverb (1966, blackface)- This was my main amp for years. It’s one of my favorite sounds ever. It is a little loud sometimes, so I use a Weber MASS attenuator to bring the volume down when needed, and I believe the MASS actually smooths the sound out in a way I like, regardless of volume.

Fender 59 LTD Bassman reissue (2010) – I replaced the first preamp tube with a 12AY7 to bring the gain down, but everything else is stock.

Victoria Victoriette (2005) – A great little amp. 20 watts of 6V6 power, mismatched speakers (12″ and 10″, one each), great reverb and trem.

Fender Princeton Reverb (1970s?) – When I bought it, someone had put this in a reissue cabinet with a 12″ speaker. I changed the speaker to a Celestion Alnico Blue.

EFFECTS

Barber Custom Cool- Barber B-Custom Cool overdrive. It’s a huge change for me to even have pedals in line, but David Barber (www.barberelectronics.com) and Ronni Santmyer are unbelievable geniuses. I needed an overdrive pedal for some of the overseas gigs, because unfamiliar rental amps are just about always too loud for any room (even a festival). I tried a couple of great Barber pedals, which were close to what I wanted, but I contacted David to see if he could tweak a pedal to my tastes. He and Ronni not only rose to the occasion, but went above and beyond in creating the best overdrive pedal I’ve heard for what I do. (Emphasis on “for what I do” – there are other great overdrive pedals out there!). I’m even keeping this thing in line at local gigs with my own amps, using it to fine tune the bass response and breakup of my Pro Junior, to the point where I consider it a part of that amp. I used that set up on Duke Robillard’s Independently Blue and the upcoming Sugar Ray and the Bluetones record.

I asked him for the openness and clarity of his LTD SR pedal, but I liked the “dynamics” control on his Small Fry, which allows you to add compression like an amp does when it’s turned up. They came up with something better than either, frankly.

The controls of the Custom Cool are volume, tone, dynamics, and gain, left to right. There’s also a mini-toggle for clipping symmetry that I keep in the center for the clearest sound, and internal trimpots controlling Bass (I keep it halfway), Mids (I scoop ‘em out altogether – there’s enough midrange in my touch), Note Shape (a pre-OD bass control that I keep halfway up, and presence (all the way off – again, my touch and gear don’t need added treble!)

- Strymon Flint reverb/tremolo

- Strymon El Capistan digital tape echo pedal

- Sonic Research Turbo Tuner

STRINGS

.011, .013, .017, .026, .036, .046 sets for electric and .012-.054 for acoustic, but I’ll use whatever feels comfortable under my fingers that day. On electric, I do like having the high E string one gauge heavier than what comes with the set – it sounds more balanced to me.

OTHER

Fender standard shaped heavy picks, Planet Waves NS Pro Capo, mostly George L’s cable, and double cut real bottlenecks by Delta Slider and Big Heart.

11 Responses to Guitar Gear

  1. Matt says:

    Mike, when are you coming over to the UK?, I need to see you live!. Otis Grand very kindly guested at a gig of mine a few years ago (he is another hero to me) and I am always blown away by his playing. You are much the same in approach in my mind, very classic, very tasty and when you need to, you can destroy everyone on stage with your intensity.

    Please make arrangements to get over to London sometime, be great to see you live 9easier said than done I know, but just trying to ‘will it’ to happen:)

    Best

    Matt Bullard

    • The UK is tough; there’s been interest but not a lot of offers of enough money to justify a tour. Thanks for the incredibly nice words, and if the UK situation changes, I’ll post it here as soon as it happens!

      • Kjetil Reithaug says:

        I wouldn’t mind if you dropped by in Norway, when (if) you first cross the pond….?

  2. cinstan says:

    Always great tone, Mike, really enjoy your playing.

  3. scott Springfield says:

    Mike; I’fe been a fan since the first record. You have such great tone and feel. I really love yurt playing. Hope 2 catch you in Oklahoma this summer on the festival time.

    Thanx
    Scott springfield

  4. Rick Moore says:

    Hi Mike,im currently living in vermont but im from boston,i’ve seen you dozens of times including many times at Ed Burkes so i go way back,most recently i saw you at johnny d’s last yr on a visit to boston.I had a gear question for you,i have a victoria ivy league,an ep booster and a nice strat,im looking for an overdrive pedal to compliment this set up,would your b custom cool pedal work well with my setup,im trying to get a blues band together up here,thanks for any help you could give. Rick

  5. christophe says:

    i mike my name is christophe i’m french i’m living in lyon. I’like your music and your feeling for me your are the best with my other heroes (Otis rush, Magic sam, Buddy guy,BB,Albert,freddy king,Peter green,Ronnie earl,luther allison ) best wishes and admiration a french’s fan. Sorry for my english. bye

  6. Paul says:

    Hi Mike, I talked to you about your red Tele at Simi Valley. Now I find this page, and it is almost spooky how much stuff you are doing that I was wondering about. My high E string always sounds too thin, too. I have been thinking about trying a Strymon Flint. It’s really cool that you will share your tone secrets, because nobody wants to hear a bad sounding guitar. Thanks for your help. The festival was crawling with world-class players, and you stood out. Thanks for giving your time to some guy out of the crowd (me), and thanks for fabulous, fabulous music.

  7. Sergei says:

    I like your sound Mike! But I think your sound in your hands and all guitars will sound great when you’re play.

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