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Smith is a relative latecomer to Tele-style guitars. “I realized I’d been a Tele guy in denial my whole life,” he says.
Tele visions. Like hybrid picking, the Tele-style Chapin T-Bird Smith now plays almost exclusively was an epiphany. A Strat player for most of his life, he was getting calls to do rhythm sessions à la Tele masters Steve Cropper and Cornell Dupree. This prompted a call to Bill Chapin, who had made Smith’s custom Stratahoula Strat-style guitar.
“He put together my black maple-neck Tele,” says Smith. “When I got it, every other guitar was put aside. I realized I had been a Tele guy in denial my whole life. It’s the only guitar you can play every gig on. No other guitar is as expressive. That’s the way it is with all my gear, whether amps, pedals, or guitar. I want as much expression as possible. I use little or no compression—I want to do it all with my fingers. I want every nuance of picking to come through, and no guitar does that like a Telecaster.”
Smith feels this way about Teles in general, but he insists that his T-Bird is special. “It has a great bridge pickup, wound by Bill,” he explains. “It’s slightly hotter than stock, with flat pole pieces. He wound it to be fatter than normal, but still twang. I could play an entire night on my bridge pickup—I can make it sound like I’m on the neck pickup just by varying my attack. On other guitars, I switch pickups constantly.”
You could have Chapin build you a T-Bird with that pickup and buy a Lovepedal Tchula overdrive pedal and be part way to “the Josh Smith sound.” Harder to mimic might be the heavy strings—they’re gauged .013–.056 and tuned to standard pitch. “I’ve been using really heavy strings since I was 13 or 14,” says Smith. “I’m so used to it, I can’t play other guitars. I break my friends’ strings all the time.”
Besides the aforementioned Tchula, Smith uses many other Lovepedal effects. His main travel board also includes a Believe Octave pedal they built for him, as well as Trombetta Mini-Bone, Arion Chorus, and Eventide Time Factor pedals. “All my boards are wired by Mason Marangella at Vertex Effects,” says Smith. They have an interface box with a breakout loop so I can insert another pedal, usually my wah.” The breakout box is positioned between distortion pedals so Smith can filter distortions placed before the wah or drive ones placed after it.
Also on the guitarist’s board is a J. Rockett Josh Smith Tremolo. “I needed a trem pedal for a gigging musician,” explains Smith. “But every trem pedal I checked out was either too simple or had a million options. I just needed the ability to switch between fast and slow tremolo.” The signature pedal features two Fender blackface-style trems, each with its own speed and depth control. It also has a volume knob with enough boost to counteract the perceived volume drop created by many trems. “It had to sound and feel like it’s in your amp, not a pedal,” Smith insists.
He also has a signature Morgan Amp: the GOAT. “I said, ‘If I’m going to have a signature amp, it has to be the greatest amp of all time,’ so Joe Morgan named it the GOAT—‘Greatest Of All Time,’” laughs Smith. “It’s a Fender Super Reverb-style amp. It even has a 2 ? speaker out so you can run a 4x10 cabinet and sound like a Super. The built- in reverb tank has three knobs, like on an external tank, but the signal runs in parallel.” Smith uses his signature amp in tandem with an AC40, Morgan’s Vox AC 30-style head.
Josh Smith obviously loves gear, but in the end, his instruments are tools to help him make the music in his head. His demo videos are a way to help out the manufacturers who help him realize his vision. They also garner new fans. “Guys are looking for a certain sound, and they stumble across me demoing a pedal,” says Smith. “After hearing me play, they might order a CD.”