Leaning in toward his ’67 Bassman and Marshall 4x10 cab,
Ness conjures some juicy feedback.
Which guitars did you use most for
the new album?
My absolute favorite guitar right now
is a ’76 Deluxe goldtop with a mahogany
body, a maple neck, and custom Seymour
Duncan P-90s—and I usually capo it at
the second fret. The other one I used a
lot is my number-one early ’70s Deluxe
sunburst, which has a mahogany body and
neck. That has P-90s, too. Those Deluxes
are like the perfect combination you’d see
on an old hot-rod dragster—once you find
a winning setup, you don’t want to deviate
from it at all.
Man, I wish I could find more
spots for my Tele, because I love that guitar
and how it sounds. But for the majority of
the tracks I used my ’57 Les Paul Juniors.
One is a tobacco burst that is a bit darker
sounding and the TV yellow one has a hotter
pickup, like in the 8 kHz range—but it’s
not so hot that it’s too
bright. It’s a nice contrast
with the darker, tobacco burst because
it has a little bit more top-end and clarity.
For the solo on “California (Hustle and
Flow),” I used a friend’s ’54 Les Paul goldtop
with original PAFs. It gives that track’s
guitar parts a little more focus and precision
with this cool, honky hollowness that adds
another layer to the song.
You play your vintage guitars under the hot
lights where they get sweat and beer all over
them. Why not keep them at home in their
cases and use reissues for the road?
Well, mine are still pretty affordable
because they’re older, but they’re not Holy
Grail vintage. That’s what I like about my
’70s Deluxes—whether it’s the all-mahogany
ones or the ones with maple necks [Ed.:
Gibson changed the neck construction from
mahogany to maple in 1975]—I can get
a great vintage tone without playing a
$25,000 guitar onstage.
I’m only going to do this thing
once, so why not play the shit—that’s why Leo
and the guys at Gibson built them, right? [Laughs
Jonny, you also use VOS Gibsons. What do
you think of those?
They’re great guitars that are
well built and a solid option if you can’t get
an original, but I put different pickups in
them because the standard VOS pickups have
a thin, pointy tone that’s not very versatile.
I generally put Luther Lee P-90s in them,
because they tend to be thicker, more responsive,
and have a woodier, more natural tone.
Speaking of P-90s, Mike you’re a big fan
of P-90s, too.
I’ve always loved the creamy, smooth
tone that Neil Young had during the Ragged
tour, so I asked his tech Larry Cragg
about Neil’s setup. The biggest thing he said
that gave him that tone was the P-90s in
his Les Pauls. I was used to playing humbuckers,
but after putting a pair of custom
Seymour Duncan P-90s into one of my
’70s Deluxes, the resulting tone was a bit
brighter, a little warmer, and more transparent
than the humbuckers. But what I really
liked about them was their solid midrange,
distorted creaminess, and their ability to still
hold definition when put through an overdriven
tube amp. I’ll put up with the hum
to have my current tone.
What amps have you been using?
My first amp was a Bassman with a
2x12 extension cab. I didn’t even know how
to play yet, but I knew the amp had to be up
to 10 to sound good. It would carry all the
way through the neighborhood, and the cops
would come over and say, “If you’re going to
play that loud, why don’t you learn to play
‘Smoke on the Water’ right?” [Laughs
I got the combination of a Bassman head,
Marshall 4x10 with 30-watt Celestions, and
a Les Paul Deluxe with a P-90 in the bridge
position [Ed.: Ness tapes all his pickup selectors
down so he doesn’t accidentally switch out of
], I knew I wouldn’t be changing
anything. And that was over 15 years ago. That
’67 Bassman is like a small-block Chevy—it
always starts and gets me where I’m going. For
this record, I primarily used my ’67 Bassman,
but there were a few overdubs and layered
parts where I used Jonny’s Satellite FM36
[Ed.: The FM36 is now known as the Atom 36
which has a class-A, Supro- or Valco-kind of
vibe that really complements the Bassman.
I used my ’60s Vox AC30 Top
Boost and my Satellite FM36 head. Both were
going through my two Marshall 1960TV
4x12s, and we blended the tones for my tracks.
Jonny, how did you get turned on to
I was doing a show in San
Diego and my buddy said I had to check out
these amps that were built in town. So they
both came down before the show and Adam
[Grimm, of Satellite Amps] brought one of his
first heads, and we plugged it into my Marshall
TV 4x12s. I remember I was playing my ’59
Junior and all I could think was, “Man, this
.” At the time, I was using a ’69
plexi and a ’72 metal-faced Marshall—amps
that make people look at me like I’m crazy to
have them onstage—but the Satellite was just
bringing it as well as those old Marshalls. And
for what we do—onstage and recording—
Adam’s 36-watt head is perfect. I mean, I was
spoiled for years with those two Marshalls, but
the Satellite heads I’ve been using are exceptional.
Everyone tends to hang tightly to those
sought-after guitars and amps—including yours
truly—but the great thing about gear is trying
new stuff and being happily surprised.