Photo by Meghan Aileen Schirmer
My acoustic is my Gibson signature model. They made it especially for me—the size, twelve frets, and small body really work. In addition to the Gibson, I have a really cool Goodall twelve-fret parlor model with a spruce top that I had custom made. I have a Beltona steel guitar, made by Steve Evans in New Zealand. It’s a small resonator with the body of a Les Paul. And recently I got this really cool, small-bodied resonator from a company called Republic.
During the flood, I lost a great mandolin that was made by Will Hirsch, a fourth grade school teacher who makes guitars and mandolins. However, I still have this one guitar he made for me that survived the flood. I just cleaned it up and started playing it again the next day.
What pickups do you use for the acoustics?
I use several different pickups—Highlander, Fishman, LR Baggs, and B-Band. All those pickups are comparable to each other, but you’ve got to have the proper installation. With acoustic guitar pickups, the most important thing is the actual guitar, and then the proper installation of the pickup. I think Highlander or LR Baggs are at the top of the pickup game, but I generally get the same or close results with others if they’re installed correctly.
What about amps?
I’ve been into using Egnater amps and like the Rebel-30 with the Rebel-112x cabinet and no mods. Live, I use a reissue Fender Deluxe. I don’t really buy vintage gear—I just find stuff that really dials in my sound. If I have a nice guitar and the amp is sounding right, it’s all in the fingers to me. But I’m working the Egnater into the shows now.
How about pedals?
I keep going back to the Ibanez Tube Screamer for my dirt, but I also use the Fat Boost by Fulltone. I love the Fat Boost because it’s got a Tone control. With a lot of boosters, you boost and they boost the high end too. With the Fat Boost, you can go in and add ever so much dirt, but you can pull back on the tone. My pedalboard has a Duesenberg delay, a G LAB Dual Reverb, a Boss tuner, an MXR M109 6-band EQ, and sometimes a volume pedal. My favorite pieces on the board are the Fat Boost and MXR EQ, which I use to cut frequencies. It’s great because I can use it to get to those tones that you can’t get to on the guitar with a cut below 100. It’s a very nice piece and it’s not expensive at all. I try to turn people on to it, but most guitarists like a big, fat, greasy sound. I like a sound that fits in the band. I pull a little 800 out—800 is a very nasty frequency—and I’ll pull a little 2K and a little bit at 100, all depending on how much low end is on the amp. So when you’re playing with a piano or a Fender Rhodes and a bass, your guitar fits right in the hole—you can hear every note.
I don’t like amp reverb because you can’t shape it, but I know a lot of the vintage guys like the spring reverb. Sometimes I’ll put on the tiniest bit, because it’s nice in a big room. If I didn’t have it on my pedalboard, I’d probably put the amp reverb on two or something like that—just ever so slightly. It kind of glues it into the mix but not so you hear the reverb. With digital reverb, you can really cut the time and level, however much you want.
How about slides, strings, straps, cables, and picks?
I use a Mudslide and for strings, I use D’Addarios—.012s for electric slide and .10s on my regular electric. Straps and cables are whatever, and I use heavy picks from Fender.
Do you think people focus too much on gear?
People do focus a little too much on it. It’s okay that people collect guitars like works of art and that they have become like currency, but I have to use my gear. If you’re dropping twenty or thirty grand on a guitar, then you don’t play the damn thing.
You lost your Epiphone Sheraton in the flood.
Yeah, I miss my Sheraton and I’m probably going to go the store to buy one today. I played it on stage right next to Larry Carlton with his ES-335. He played much better than me, but our guitars didn’t sound that much different [laughs].
So you’re not looking to “upgrade” to a Gibson 335?
I like the Epiphone because I like cheap stuff [laughs]. Although I have a couple expensive guitars around here, I’m a workingman and I got my workingman tools. When I find something that’s great at a good price, I like it.
But seeing as you have a Gibson signature model, couldn’t you just get Gibson to hook you up with a nice 335?
I don’t do that. I get free stuff, but that’s not my first move. They like me playing their guitars because it’s a good advertisement for them, but I give the profits from my Gibson signature guitar sales to the Colorado Wildlife Preserve. I try not to be greedy and my first move is to pay for a guitar.
I remember my first guitar. It was like fifty bucks and it probably spent three months in the pawn shop. I put it on layaway in the shop and I worked hard for it. I didn’t take it lightly. Then one day you get famous, and all of a sudden, people start giving you guitars. It’s like, “Whoa.” I’m always careful that if I take a guitar, it’s got to be something I like—a guitar I’m going to play and use and talk about. I want to support companies if they’re making good stuff.
Keb’ Mo’s Gear Box
Hamer Monaco III
“That Red Guitar” (Frankensteined Strat-style)
Gibson Les Paul Junior
Gibson Keb’ Mo’ Signature Bluesmaster
Beltona Electro Resonator
Ibanez Tube Screamer
G LAB Dual Reverb
Fulltone Fat Boost
MXR M109 EQ
Egnater Rebel-30 and Rebel-112x cabinet