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In your head you can almost see a monkey running around collecting change….
Yeah, it fit perfectly what I was trying to do. It gave it that saloon vibe, like an episode of Gunsmoke where the gunfight breaks out.
On “What’s Her Name,” there’s a swampy vibrato sound on the guitar. Is that from a Magnatone amp?
That is a Magnatone amp. I wanted vibrato, and I had this old Magnatone sitting there—like a late-’50s, Buddy Holly Magnatone. I don’t use effects, except for the Roland Space Echo for the slap, so I wanted a good vibrato. I didn’t bother with pedals. It just sounded so good. I set it up in the corner and plugged into that thing. That’s the only change in amps I used—just the Magnatone for that one song.
Do you remember which model?
I have it right here, let’s see … it’s a beauty, I’ll tell you that. It says Custom 280, high fidelity. So a Magnatone 280? I don’t know much about them, except that I bought it years ago, and it’s just been sitting here. I ought to use the damn thing.
While we’re on the subject, you’ve always been quite adventurous with genres, but with gear you’ve pretty much been faithful to your Gretsch hollowbodies, your Bassman, and your Space Echo. Do you experiment much on the side with other gear just for the hell of it? So many guitarists are pedal junkies—are you at all interested in that stuff?
Here’s the thing: I’ve tried all the pedals and stuff, but to me, for my playing—I’m not knocking people who use pedals, that’s fine—but it turns into bells and whistles. “Hey listen—my guitar sounds like a machine gun!” It gets very old, very quickly for me. I understand the use for different styles of music. It just doesn’t fit my style. It becomes very kitschy. Plus, it’s just in the friggin’ way. A pedalboard would just be a pain in the neck to have in front of me. I’ve tried different things. I had a couple of pedals once, and I can tell you one thing—you can take a Gretsch with any crappy overdrive pedal and make it sound like a Les Paul through a Marshall. But you can’t get a Gibson to sound like that Gretsch. It doesn’t. I’ve got a ’59 Les Paul—and I’m keeping it to trade in so that my girls can go to college—but I can’t get any music out of that. I understand that other people can. But I can make the Gretsch sound like that Les Paul. Not the other way around.
On the other end of the guitar spectrum, you seem to be able to get as much twang and snap and presence out of your Gretsch as a lot of players get out of a Tele. What’s the secret?
Teles are a whole different animal. The Gretsch, to me, is halfway between a Gibson and a Fender. You can get both, but it has its own unique tone with those Filter’Tron pickups. I haven’t been able to beat it. I think the 6120 is the best guitar ever made. It’s got to be that hollowbody box. I can get any sound out of a hollowbody guitar. I don’t know why. Even the new ones. I mean, they just play so well. If you can get a ’59 6120 that actually works and plays in tune—you’ll have to do a lot of work on it—that is the ultimate beast for me. It’s not beatable. Like I said, I’ve got some old shit laying around. I’ve got a ’56 Strat and a ’59 Les Paul, and they do not touch a 6120.
Tom Jones working on one of Setzer's 6120s.
Tom Jones on Setzer’s Signature TV Jones Pickups
TV Jones mastermind Tom Jones—who’s been rehabilitating old pickups and winding new ones for Brian Setzer for 20+ years—explains the process behind the Stray Cat’s new signature pickups.
“It’s my job to ensure that all of Brian’s guitars play and sound the absolute best they can possibly be,” says Jones, who debuted the pickups at the March 2014 Musikmesse gear show in Frankfurt, Germany. “A few years back, I found that a few of Brian’s new Hot Rod signature guitars—which were sent to me by Gretsch to set up for his upcoming tours—sounded slightly brighter acoustically. So I decided to design a new pickup to bring out the best in these guitars—higher fidelity on top, with a slight punch in the bottom end—by using sonically unmatched coils and custom steel-alloy pole screws. The results were beyond my expectations.”
Speaking of Filter’Tron-style pickups, you’ve kind of been the poster child for TV Jones Classics for a long time. Can you talk about your new signature pickups?
Tom [Jones] is really the guy responsible for it. I don’t know what I’m looking at when I pull those things out! I might as well be looking at a part that goes into a tractor. Unbeknownst to me, Tom was swapping out pickups in my guitars—especially with the [Gretsch Brian Setzer signature] Hot Rod models. It’s kind of hard to tell in the heat of the moment—each stage sounds different—but I picked up the guitar and thought it sounded different. I could hear the fingerpicking a little better. I’d go, “Has Tom been doing something to my guitars recently? These pickups sound fantastic on any stage.” Tom said that he’d been swapping them in and out without telling me [see sidebar]. Don’t ask me what he does, because he’s kind of like a mad scientist, but I said, “Whatever you’re doing, these are the ones we have to keep.” I seem to be able to get more distinct when I fingerpick, and I’m getting more bottom end. The top is not as shrilly. It’s not as muddy, yet they’re still ballsy. Gosh—I sound like a wine connoisseur [laughs].That’s the best way I can describe them. They’re a little different. The Classics still rock, though—they’re still a great pickup.
Did you use any other unusual gear for the album?
I came off the road from the Christmas tour, and the ’63 Bassman was perfect. The Space Echo didn’t break. The Gretsch was broken in—just playing like nobody’s business. I was like, “Don’t fix it! I don’t want the frets polished or the tubes changed. I just want to set it up and play.” I find that, as much as I want to experiment and change—like using an old tape echo or a single-coil guitar—I always go back to that same setup. It’s just my sound. When it’s all working right, it’s magic.