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When designing his signature Gretsch 6120 model, Jim “Rev” Heath opted for locking tuning keys for faster string changes when working with a Bigsby tremolo.
To set the record straight, how would you classify your music?
When I have to explain it, like when I’m standing next to some guy at the bank or at the grocery store, I tell them that we’re a rock ’n’ roll band influenced by mid-century American music, especially rockabilly.
Is your signature Gretsch your main guitar?
I use my signature Gretsch 6120 RHH 99.9 percent of the time. However, on the new album I used my 1954 Gibson ES-175D on a track called “My Hat.” On “Schizoid,” I used the 6120 RHH and my 1963 Fender Jazzmaster on an additional rhythm track and the solo. I also used the ’63 Jazzmaster on the rhythm guitar track for “Zombie Dumb.”
When you designed your signature model, what personal tweaks did you ask for?
I wanted locking tuning keys because it makes for a way faster string change. If you break a string on something that doesn’t have a Bigsby vibrato arm, you can change strings really fast. The Bigsby is a little slower. You’ve got to bend the string, wrap it around the bottom, and as you feed it through the tuning peg, you have to hold it so it doesn’t pop out of the Bigsby mechanism. You kind of wish you had three hands.
Do you have any special tricks to keep your hollowbody guitars from feeding back?
I don’t do anything. Probably the reason I don’t have a problem is because I don’t use any distortion or boost pedals. I just go straight into the amp and crank it to 10.
Do you keep your guitar at 10 at all times?
The guitar is on 10. The amp is on 10, except on those Gretsch Executives, where I have to back the treble off a bit. The mids, bass, and volume are on 10. If I need to play a little cleaner I can back down with my volume pedal. It works really well. When I back it off just a little bit, it gets a lot cleaner.
If you’re cranking it to 10, it must be really loud.
It’s really loud. It’s valve/tube distortion. Unfortunately, I think that’s lost on a lot of rock ’n’ roll guitar players. I see so many guitar players getting their sound from a stompbox, but it’s so much better to get it from the amp. There’s no way a stompbox will ever get close to valve/tube distortion. You can have stompboxes with tubes, but it’s just not the same as having that amp itself pumping.
Opening with a potent arpeggiated figure that could be straight out of the Stravinsky playbook, Reverend Horton Heat’s “Galaxie 500” is a scorcher. Prepared to be blown away by the pyrotechnics beginning at 1:44.