Photo by Meghan Aileen Schirmer
Early in your career, you were a staff writer for A&M records. How was that experience different than writing for yourself? Is there more pressure when it’s your own project?

There’s not more pressure either way you go. If you’re writing for someone else, no one wants a shlock song—I don’t want one and they don’t want one. It’s the same thing. The only thing different is that there’s a little more guesswork when you’re writing for other people, since you’re kind of shooting in the dark. Maybe they’ll like it, and maybe they won’t. When you’re writing for yourself, you know what you like or don’t like right away. But the process is kind of the same.

You’ve won the Grammy a few times. Is it still a thrill?

It’s a thrill when you win it. Winning an award is like a tip or like a great pat on the back. But it’s over the next day and you’ve got to move on. What’s the greatest thing about winning a Grammy? It’s like the cherry on top. You’ve done some work and you get awarded for it. The biggest thrill is when you do win, you reflect on all the work you did to get there. That’s what’s fun—all the work getting there. I’ve also lost plenty of times [laughs].

But because you’ve also won so many times, how much does it matter?

The only reason it matters is because you’re nominated and you’re in the room. They call off all the names—it’s usually five names—and you know four of you aren’t going to get nothing [laughs]. You got an 80/20 chance. You’re all dressed up, you’ve got your wife there and she bought a new dress [laughs], they call somebody else’s name, and you stand up and clap for them. It’s the weirdest feeling in the world because realize you’ve still got a little bit of ego and it tests it. You want to boo him, but you have to suck it up and move on. And you know three other guys had to do the same thing.

Then there are the categories where you know you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. I was nominated for Country Song of the Year for the Dixie Chicks song “I Hope.” I’m not really country and the Dixie Chicks were on the skids from country music, so you sit there and you just know.

What’s your current gear setup?

My main guitar is a Hamer Monaco III with Gibson P-100s and a factory Bigsby, although the Duesenberg [Bigsby-style] Tremola is much better. I lost a Duesenberg in the flood but I took off the hardware and kept all the parts, including the Tremola.

I use a Suhr Strat-style that has three single-coils and an ebony fretboard. For electric slide work, I’m using a Gibson Les Paul Junior with a P-90 in the back position.

How does the Suhr compare to your red Strat-style, the one you’re famous for?

My red one is my favorite and best sounding Strat-style ever. It’s an old Schecter body with a Fender neck and Tom Anderson pickups—two stacks and the humbucker.

And it looks like you have coil-tapping options.

Yeah, there are three on/off switches. One you can put in the stacked position, the single coil position, or off—that way I can do any combination. There’s one switch on there that just switches on the back pickup only. On a Strat you can only do the front two or back two.

Is it hard to switch one pickup on while switching another one off?

It’s kind of intricate. That’s why I stopped using it live so much. When I want a Strat-style sound, I use the Suhr or the Monaco. The Monaco sounds closer to my red Strat-style guitar—it’s a little thicker with the Gibson P-100s in it.