What do you think about vintage equipment?
Well, a lot of those guitars are great, but not all of them! I don’t know what it is that makes a lot of those guitars stand out… maybe it’s the wood they used back in the golden days of guitar building. Most vintage instruments are unaffordable today and to be honest, even if I were a millionaire, I wouldn’t spend $25,000 for a guitar. There are a lot of great and fairly priced guitars from actual production runs that work more than well for me and my needs. But I really enjoy playing old instruments as well.
Is there a general setup for your instruments: string gauge, action, pickups, etc.?
I like jumbo frets and a medium action, you know that kind of “not too high but also not too low” thing? [laughs] I also like threaded saddles and a pure neck-to-wood connection— no shims, stickers and paint between them, just the plain wood. I use regular D’Addario .009 strings on most of my guitars, but 11s on my Gretsch Chet Atkins axe.
Can you tell us more about your Fender Signature Telecaster?
Photo by Arthi Krishnaswami
I’m really proud that Fender is doing this, and it’s a lot of fun to work with the guys from the Fender Custom Shop. It will be an exact copy of my ‘59 toploader Telecaster, but with some little modifications. The neck is a faithful recreation of the original; the Fender guys even copied the neck wear. The neck is on the smaller side, so it’s easy to play with the thumb over the fretboard, a technique I really like and use a lot. Actually, I have two prototypes at home—they’re sporting the threaded saddles I love so much and special humbucking singlecoil pickups that I like to call “Campy pickups” [laughs]. Toploader Teles in general are more mellow sounding, less bright compared to a standard string-through-body Telecaster. And it’s easier to do bend-behind-the-nut techniques because the tension of the strings is more moderate. As for the electronics, I like it stock! No mods and no hidden gems.
The guitar will be released at the Winter NAMM in January 2010 in Anaheim. It will be available in white-ish blonde with a white pickguard, like my original guitar and in orange as a custom color as well. Both colors will be nitrocellulose finish, applied conservatively. I feel most of the great guitars I’ve played featured very light to nearly nonexistent finishes. I think this allows the true resonant character of the wood to shine through. The neck will be lightly finished for a fast playability.
You’re widely known as a Fender Princeton Reverb player—what is so special about this amp?
These little amps have everything I need. They have a great tone, fantastic reverb and vibrato. Besides this, they’re easy to move and they are always loud enough. The tone is a perfect combination between the wellknown bright, sparkling Fender clean tone and a mellow, woody sounding overdrive when pushing it hard. The overdrive sound of a Princeton Reverb amp is by far the best one I’ve ever experienced. Don’t get fooled by the low wattage of these amps. These little rascals can get really loud [laughs].
Can you tell us about your involvement in testing the Fender Princeton Reverb reissue amp?
I was only involved in testing and fine-tuning this amp, not in development. Fender did a fantastic job; these amps are really great, and I own two of them. G.E. Smith was the one who introduced me to this project, so Fender followed his suggestion, asking me to test and endorse their new amp. I’m really glad and proud to be involved in this project. The reissue amp hits the flavor of the original blackface amps of the mid-‘60s perfectly—it’s a really faithful recreation and affordable as well.
If you had the chance to live wherever you wanted, where would it be?
I really love NYC, and I can’t think of a better place for me. I like to discover my new hometown, and whenever I have the time and the chance I do extended walks through NYC. I really love this city and the people here. For me it’s the most American city of all. I’m proud to live here and to be a New Yorker at heart ... the city is so big and has so many different cultural shades that exploring NYC will be an adventure for the rest of my life. You can ride the train for a short time, and you will find a completely different New York… living here is simply perfect for me.
But cities like Rome, Barcelona or Berlin are great as well. I really like Europe and I always enjoy coming over. If I had the money, I think I would spend my year with three months in San Francisco, two months in Rome, and the rest of the year in NYC ... but that’s just a dream.
If you had to go to a desert island and were only allowed to take one guitar, one amp and one stompbox with you, what would they be?
I knew that question was waiting for me [laughs]. That’s easy to answer: it would be my ‘59 Fender toploader Telecaster, a Fender Blackface Princeton Reverb amp and my Boomerang sampler. Do you know my next question for you?
I bet it’s about where you’re supposed to plug all this stuff in on a desert island, right
What are your plans for the future?
I just finished my eighth instrumental CD, Orange. That will be released in February 2010. I would like to bring my music to more people, especially in Europe. I’m currently looking for a European booking agency to help me with this.
1959 Fender Toploader Telecaster
Fender Custom Shop “Jim Campilongo” Signature Telecaster
1958 Gibson 225 Gretsch Chet Atkins with Bigsby Tremolo
Greenwich Village Telecaster
1962 Fender custom color Stratocaster
1958 Martin 015
1970 Martin D-35
1966 Fender Blackface Princeton Reverb
‘70s Fender Silverface Princeton Reverb
Fender Princeton Reverb reissue
‘70s Fender Silverface Vibrolux Reverb
‘70s Fender Silverface Vibrochamp
Klon Centaur (occasionally)
D’Addario EKXL120 strings (.009–.042)
Gotoh Vintage-Style Tuners
Fulltone Gold Standard cables
Celestion G-10 speakers
‘60s “Gold Back” Jensen C-10N speaker