JD McPherson has a thing for Fender Telecasters, particularly Partscasters. “For about 10 years the only guitar I played was a butterscotch Tele body that had a C-shaped ’50s-style neck and even a Squier neck on it for a while when the other neck broke. I put a Bigsby on it, and a Vintage Vibe Charlie Christian pickup in the neck, as well as their blade pickup in the bridge. I turned the switch plate around and put a fast tone pot in it, so I could do tone bends, especially for
more country-influenced playing.” Photo by Mick Orlosky.
Who are some other guitarists in your pantheon?
Mickey Baker was one of the coolest guitar players ever. I really love listening to Bo Diddley. It’s almost like his thing is not about the guitar. He invented a new instrument and was so innovative in his approach, thinking about music on a multiplanar level: rhythmic and percussive as much as it is melodic, and the tremolo adds a whole other aspect. I’m a big fan of Johnny Marr from the Smiths; Reeves Gabrels, a very interesting guitarist who played with David Bowie for a while; and Grady Martin, who was probably the most important session player ever. And yesterday I stayed up just about all night watching every video online I could find of Nels Cline—amazing stuff.
I really love drummers and bassists, too, and I listen to them as much as guitar players. I love Keith Richards and Mick Taylor, but when I listen to the Rolling Stones, I really hone in on what Charlie Watts is doing. [Motown session bassist] James Jamerson is a huge influence as well.
The album has a feel that’s at once retro and modern.
In some ways it lives in the analog domain—we recorded a lot of the parts to tape—but there’s definitely no reason to not take advantage of any musical tool available to you. I’m pretty pragmatic: If it sounds good and it helps your music, then why not throw in some overdubs after you’ve done the main recording session?
What was it like to record with Mark Neill?
We recorded at his Soil of the South Studio, in Valdosta, Georgia. It’s like taking a trip back in time. The studio looks like someone found an abandoned building and opened it up to find a studio from the early ’60s. It doesn’t look at all hip, with its wood paneling and linoleum floors, but it’s definitely the coolest place I’ve ever recorded. Mark has so much great stuff in there—one of the congas that Louis Prima played on his Capitol recordings, every Neumann and RCA mic you can imagine, two big German plate reverbs … essentially any tool you need to make a new record sound as if it were made in 1965 or earlier. Plus Mark has the huge knowledge base needed to do the job. He studied with geniuses like Owen Bradley [one of the biggest producers in Nashville during the 1950s and ’60s]. So recording with Mark is, in a way, like making a record with Owen Bradley.
How’d you get such great guitar sounds?
I played everything through a 1950s Magnatone, and mainly used a Fender Strat and a Rickenbacker. We also used a 1950s Gretsch drum kit—the same one heard on the Black Keys album Brothers. All are such good and versatile instruments, which offered me so many fresh tones.
Which specific Strat and Rickenbacker?
It’s a really special Ric, a beautiful bird’s-eye maple 381 with a tremolo tailpiece—Mark’s main guitar that he uses all the time on records. The Strat was a repro of Eric Clapton’s Blackie—something Mark acquired for me just for the record. He bought it because it sounded amazing unplugged. I ended up using it for half the record because I loved it so much.
What are your personal guitars?
I’ve always been a big fan of Fender Telecasters, particularly Partscasters. For about 10 years the only guitar I played was a butterscotch Tele body that had a C-shaped ’50s-style neck and even a Squier neck on it for a while when the other neck broke. I put a Bigsby on it, and a Vintage Vibe Charlie Christian pickup in the neck, as well as their blade pickup in the bridge. I turned the switch plate around and put a fast tone pot in it, so I could do tone bends, especially for more country-influenced playing.
Recently Fender built me a ’50s-style Strat. I had Curtis Novak make me a custom pickguard with some drool-worthy pickups for it. They’re so hot and really sound incredible. And my No. 1 right now is a ’50s-style Tele. I had TK Smith, who’s a genius, make me pickups and a nice pickguard for the guitar. He’s out in the desert, in Joshua Tree, California, and he also makes his own instruments based on Paul Bigsby guitars of the 1950s—super artisanal electric guitars.
What about amps?
I run through my Texotica Presidio 15 made by Billy Horton, who’s got this great studio called Fort Horton, near Austin. A while back, Billy started making amps based on ’50s Tweeds. Mine’s like a Fender Pro, with a 15" speaker. I really love it. I’ve used it for four years, and it’s been like a tank.
I recently fell in love with this company up in Canada called Dr. Scientist. When we recorded the record with Mark Neill, we used so much plate reverb, and I asked Mark if he knew of any pedal I could use live for emulating the plate. He flipped out and said that Dr. Scientist’s Reverberator is the best reverb pedal in the world, and I love it—it’s a fantastic-sounding pedal and so well built.
I have a couple of others. I can’t live without tremolo and delay. I use a Fulltone Supa-Trem and a Danelectro Reel Echo, which they don’t make anymore. And I’m interested in checking out Strymon’s El Capistan echo pedal, it looks really nice. At some point I got a Nocturne DynoBrain Preamp, and it just sat in my suitcase for a while. But after I finally plugged it in to see what it’s all about, I started using it all the time to add a little clean grit to my sound. It pairs so well with echo and reverb.