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After that, I wanted to take it to the next level and just knock it out of the park with the old three humbucker [J5 Triple Tele Deluxe]. It looks like an old, mean Harley with all that chrome. I’ve always loved triple humbucker guitars and I don’t think the Tele had ever done it before. The headstock goes to a seventies Fender Tele Deluxe; I also liked adding the Deluxe pickguard.
I also noticed that your guitars come with Fender’s Enforcer humbuckers. What do you like about those?
I like that I can get a heavy enough sound to play with Rob Zombie, but it’s clean enough to play with Chet Atkins. That’s what I said to Alex [Perez, Fender Artist Relations Manager] and that was the first humbucker that he mentioned, and it works perfectly.
I understand you have a pretty healthy Tele collection.
Well, I have a very collective personality, so I was trying to get one from every year, starting with the first year. But let’s be honest; it’s not an easy task. It wasn’t something I set out to do in a few years or even ten, but something I can enjoy doing for the rest of my life. Anybody can find these guitars, but the key is to find them in original and excellent condition. I don’t want any issues, refinishes, re-dressings, overspray, or even knobs or wires changed. I want them all to be original, which is the hard part. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt.
Here are the other guitars that I own right now: a beautiful blonde 1952 Esquire in perfect condition; a 1953 Telecaster; a 1954 Esquire; a 1958 Tele; a 1963 Esquire; a 1964 Custom Tele; a 1966 Esquire; a 1967 Custom Tele with a maple neck; a 1968 Thinline – the first year of that model; a 1969 Thinline with a rosewood neck – the first year that was an option; a 1971 blonde Tele; a 1972 Fender Deluxe; a 1973 Custom Tele with the single-coil pickup and the humbucker in the neck; and Teles from ’75, ’76 and ‘77. In 1978 I started getting them in the international colors that they introduced, like [Capri] Orange, [Maui] Blue and Arctic White. I plan on stopping at 1980, at least for now. Once I get the missing years, maybe I’ll go on from there.
Do you play these guitars or are they just hidden away in some vault?
I play them sometimes, but most of them are just for my visual enjoyment.
I noticed you also use Marshall’s Mode Four heads.
Yes, I do use Marshall Mode Fours, but I’m changing it up a little bit and just started trying these new Marshall JVMs. They are the Vintage Modern Series and are very cool.
What do you like about Marshall?
I think they are just very familiar to me – I’ve always used them and loved them. They are well made amps and I like their quality. Just like Mercedes and BMW, they are always well done, and I love quality.
I think it gives you a really unique, identifiable sound. You really don’t see the Tele-Marshall combination all that much.
No, you rarely see it, but that’s why I like that setup. It’s a great guitar and a great amp, so why not put them together?
When I record an album I love using old effects. One of my favorites for the rhythm parts is the pedal by Electro-Harmonix called the Bass MicroSynthensizer. It’s such a cool sound and it makes the rhythm parts sound so nasty. I’ll also use some old Fender phasers and fuzz-wahs and things like that, but when I’m live, I don’t use them because some guy once said, “Oh, John 5 is all effects,” and I was like, “Oh my God, no I’m not!” So, I never use effects live – I just play the distortion parts and the lead parts with them.
Do you throw an overdrive in your signal chain or are you relying on the Marshall to give you most of that?
Oh no, I use a [Boss] Super Overdrive, a Noise Suppressor and a tuner. I usually have about three little pedals in my rig, but sometimes I use those Boss analog delays to make it feedback when you twist the knobs and things like that.
We’ve touched on your beginnings a little bit, but I’m wondering about your progression as a musician. What did you do after that inspirational Hee Haw moment?
Well, I grew up in Gross Pointe, Michigan. My first real gig was with this band called Dirty Tricks. I was in sixth grade and we just played a bunch of Van Halen tunes. In seventh grade, we did this battle of the bands thing – the lead singer and I were the most popular kids in town because we were in a band. We did that show and felt like the Beatles – all of the girls were screaming. I think that just gave me the bug to play live music.
Eventually, I started to play with bands in the Detroit area and worked on my craft as a live performer. I was in a band called Vampirella with all these dudes with long hair and we played in smoky bars. Another band I was in was called Pepperland, because of the Beatles. After that I moved to Los Angeles and started as a session musician, and things just took off.
You had the opportunity to work with Diamond Dave on his DLR Band album. What was that like for you?
It was incredible. All I ever wanted to be was Eddie Van Halen. Back in the day I kept saying to myself, “All I want to do is play with David Lee Roth.”
How did it come about?
I was sitting at home, looking at the bookshelf, and saw Dave’s book, Crazy From the Heat. I called his manager and asked if they needed any songs. Of course they had no clue who I was, but they told me to send them some stuff. I recorded some songs that sounded like old Van Halen and Dave liked them, so I finally got to meet Dave. He said that we should make a record. And so we did this record in something like two weeks because Dave is old school. We just got into a room, played live and tried to create the best record we could. It was an incredible experience and I’m happy to say that I’m still very close with Dave. It’s not only a highlight of my career, but a highlight of my life.