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Performing at the Filmore at Irving Plaza, NYC, Nov. 10, 2009. Photo by Frank White
What makes a great guitar to you?
It’s the little things—the nut, the bridge, the setup. You know how it is: every guitar is different and some are just special. My Billie guitar rings like a bell when the volume is down. When you turn it up, you can get a great rock ‘n’ roll crunch, and it’s a good heavy metal guitar too. It does everything well. That guitar is really special.
How did the Billie guitar come about? I know several guitarists who speak fondly of it, for obvious reasons.
It started out as a standard B.B. King Lucille model, and I picked it because there were no F holes to get in the way of the artwork. It’s amazing that guitar plays as well as it does. I changed the electronics; it has one volume and one tone now. The inspiration was the nose art you saw on airplanes during World War II. I wanted to put the most beautiful woman I could find on there, so naturally, I chose my wife. I sent it out to an airbrush artist and he did a great job. When I got it back, I opened the case and gave it to Billie, and she hated it. She was so embarrassed she refused to come out of the dressing room at Aerosmith shows when I was using it. She couldn’t stand the sight of seeing herself on a 30- or 40-foot screen at shows. Now, she’s okay with it.
I read that you have about 600 guitars. What are some of the standout pieces from that collection? Which are your favorites and why?
It’s really closer to 500 guitars, and there are so many great ones. To tell you the truth, I want to unload a large portion of the collection. I’ve been working with Perry Margouleff [Author’s Note: Margouleff is a noted record producer and vintage guitar expert] on the best ways to disperse them. I want to sell a lot of them because they’re sitting in storage, I just don’t have time to play them all, and I’d rather get them into the hands of guitarists who will play and enjoy them. Some may go on consignment, others we’ll sell directly to collectors. Others we may donate to charities or give to kids.
Joe, do you have a Supro Dual-Tone you want to sell? That’s a guitar I’ve always wanted. Let’s talk about it when you get ready to sell, okay?
Yeah, I have two of them. Sure, no problem. We can do that.
You have two signature Les Paul models. How much input did you have in their design?
They let me decorate them; it was mostly about cosmetics. They’re pretty much standard Les Pauls. The first one has the black see-through finish. I wanted the flame top with that nice ripple effect you get. When light catches it, the flames come through. I had Gibson make them lightweight, and it has a Tonex pot on the neck pickup, which gives you a static wah sound. That’s a very cool effect for solos. The Boneyard model is custom shop Gibson. My wife is an artist who’s had experience working in multimedia visual arts, and she had an idea for the finish to bring out the tiger stripe effect. We were at the Gibson custom shop and she explained the idea to the guys there. Their response was, “That won’t work.” They tried to talk her out of it. She said, “Can’t you just try it this way?” They did, and it worked. It really brought out the wood grain. The top is sort of a greenish-orange shade, and the flame top is very prominent.
I also saw a recent promo photo of you playing a black Gretsch. How do you use it?
That guitar is a real squealer. It’s a Black Falcon. It feeds back too much live. I used a White Falcon on that cut from the new album, “Somebody’s Gonna’ Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight.” Gretsches are good rockabilly guitars. Fred Gretsch gave me the White Falcon I have.
I read somewhere that you have a lot of cheap, funky electrics like Teiscos, Supros and Danelectros. Is that true?
Yeah, those cheap guitars are so much fun to play and collect. I love the Supro Ozark model. I have two of them. I think the Ozark is the best slide guitar ever made. It’s got a flat fretboard, like the Dan Armstrong see-through, and I think that factor makes them both great slide guitars. I have written songs especially for the Ozark. The pickups on the Ozarks go over and under the strings, and the sustain is amazing. The old Rickenbacker horseshoe pickups were similar but not quite the same. There are so many variations to those old Supro guitars. No two are ever alike.
I have a red Supro Belmont I bought from a kid this past summer for $250. I had it rewired and set up for slide by David Petillo. It’s a killer. Those old Belmonts are cool too. Supros are just the best slide guitars.
What's your onstange amp rig right now?
I’ve always liked something that’s crunchy and something that’s clean, so it’s usually a combination of Marshall and Fender. I use a ’64 50-watt Plexi with an 8x10 Marshall cabinet, a ’69 Marshall Super Bass Plexi head, plus a couple of Dual Showman amps with two 15s. I also have a ’50 Bandmaster Tweed with original Jensens that smooths out and melds the sounds together. There are other amps we use onstage too. In the studio, I’ll use a Fender Champ or an old Epiphone amp with an 8" speaker.
What’s on your pedalboard right now?
I’ve got a Fulltone Echoplex reissue, a Fulltone Ultimate Octave, an Electro- Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb, a blue Line 6 Modeler, a green Line 6 Delay, an Ernie Ball volume pedal, a DigiTech Whammy pedal, an original Klon Centaur, a Jimi Hendrix Signature Cry Baby wah and other stuff. The pedalboard is pretty extensive. One of the coolest things I have on there is an actual siren built into a pedal.
Premier Guitar’s motto is “the relentless pursuit of tone.” How would you define good tone?
Good tone is what works for the song. Your tone forms the basis of each song. Basically, there is no bad tone, just bad uses of tone. What’s good for one song can be bad for others. I use lots of different tones depending on the material.