THE BLUE STRAT
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.
- 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
This 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
As 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.
With 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.
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.
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.
- 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
.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.
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.