Toys, Tools, and the Essential Stuff
Hiland began playing Ernie Ball Music Man guitars in 2010, and has recently been using a Silhouette model—the only guitar Hiland used on the lead-guitar tracks for All Fired Up
. “I find it to be the most comfortable-playing guitar I've ever owned. Recently, a gentleman named David Allen created some new Johnny Hiland signature pickups that are similar to Bardens, but have a really unique country-tone. They’re dual-blade pickups, yet they offer a range from Tele-style to Strat-style tones, so my guitar is a bit different than a standard Silhouette. But, it's cool because people can buy Johnny Hiland pickups from David and transform their guitar into exactly the same guitar I'm using.” Highland has also been endorsing Godin Guitars for the last year and a half and played rhythm on the record with an Acousticaster and a Multiac. “The Multiac is the first nylon-string guitar I've ever owned and that guitar has just captured me. I'm in love with the thing,” says Highland.
"Nowadays I'm not concerned with how fast can I play, I'm always concerned with how clean I can play. What am I saying when I play? Are my notes reaching people souls?"
Hiland had far more difficulty finding an amp to match his goals for the album. “The amplifier thing was just stumping me. The boutique world has kind of been the main thing going on and players have been going to very low-wattage amps, but I'm just the opposite. I like a 100-watt amp or higher because the more power you have, the cleaner your tone will stay.” While attending the 2011 NAMM show in January, Hiland ran into a company called XP Audio and tried their new amp line called the Bolt. “They had this 2x12 combo with three channels, and the clean tone was literally the best, chicken-pickin' tone I've ever heard—and I'm talking just guitar going straight in. The amp is just mesmerizing and I actually had two 2x12 Bolt combos at the studio for the album."
For effects, Hiland uses a Johnny Hiland Kilo-Wah, a Boss TU-3 tuner, a Wampler Ego Compressor, and a Brad Jetter Red Shift and Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive Mod for distortion. “My main pedal that I can't live without is the ISP Decimator, 'cuz it takes all your excess noise out from your complete sound. With my ears being so sensitive, I rely on that pedal a lot.” He also has a Boss tremolo and a Hardwire delay from Digitech in his setup, all housed on his Pedaltrain 2 with a Voodoo Lab power-supply. “It's a pretty simple little rig, but it's powerful and will get the job done.”
Everything Comes Together
“I'm 36-years-old now, and I remember being a youngster and hearing people say, 'Wow, I can't wait to hear that guy when he's 40.' And now I look back and understand what people meant by that, because nowadays I'm not concerned with how fast
can I play, I'm always concerned with how clean
I can play. What am I saying when I play? Are my notes reaching people souls? Am I making a melody that's gonna stick with you? I'm trying to write songs that mean more, rather than just songs that are technical.” Hiland's early work with Vai has paid off in unexpected ways. “I have to thank Mr. Steve Vai because he was so hard on me with the first album [released on Vai's label] when it came to writing material. He always kept driving home 'less noodling, more melody!' What Steve really did for me was teaching me how to craft a song. I feel I was more comfortable in my writing and more comfortable with what I really wanted to convey to my audience with this album. I really am proud of this record, and I sincerely hope that people go out and get it. If people have been waiting for the right Johnny Hiland record, to me, this is the best I have to offer.”
Johnny Hiland’s Gearbox
Ernie Ball Music Man Silhouette
D. Allen JohnnyBlades single-coils
D. Allen JohnnyBuckers humbuckers
Wampler Ego Compressor
Brad Jetter Red Shift
Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive Mod
Digitech Hardwire delay
Pedaltrain 2 pedalboard
Voodoo Lab power supply
Gig-fx Johnny Hiland Kilo-Wah