Isbell’s No. 1 on the road is a stock Duesenberg Starplayer TV, as heard on the “Children of Children” solo.
Photo by Brian Glass

I heard that you use Outkast’s music to break in your acoustics.
Yeah, I do that when I get a new acoustic. Sometimes I set them on a kitchen table and balance an EBow over the soundhole and let it ring out until the battery dies. You know, just to open them up a bit.

Why does Outkast’s music works best? Is it a Southern thing, or did you go through Wu-Tang, N.W.A, and Mobb Deep first?

I just love Outkast. It’s nicer for me to come home and have Outkast playing than just about anything else. But I did need music with a lot of bass. Nowadays, it’s funny how the 808 [Roland drum machine] is used. On a lot of these Rick Ross singles, the rumble goes on for eight bars. I guess they’re trying to get a solid trunk rattle from ten seconds of music. I can’t stand that. I really like when the 808 is used like a kick drum rather than a Moog Phatty or something. It bothers me physically—it makes me dizzy. Outkast is probably the last hip-hop group that used low end in the right way.

The guitar needs to dance a bit.
Yeah. You just want to shake it around and get everything that’s going to fall into the cracks in there as soon as possible.

I saw your post on Instagram of your new pedalboard.
My tech just finished up a big switching-style rig that I just started using this week, and it’s changed my life. It’s made everything so much easier. Being able to hit one button and control three or four pedals at once just saves me so much anxiety.

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Isbell and the 400 Unit take on “24 Frames” with excellent 12-string slide work by Sadler Vaden.

What are some of your recent pedal discoveries?
I’ve had this Analog Man Sun Lion that Marc Ford gave me a decade ago. Recently, I had some repairs done and discovered that it’s No. 3. The Beano boost on that pedal is incredible. It reacts really well to an already hot tube amp. I like the J. Rockett Blue Note—that’s a good drive. I did a comparison with the Archer and the KTR Klon, and the Blue Note won out, to my ears. Actually, my wife is picking me up an original Klon Centaur today. They got one in at Carter Vintage in Nashville, my local shop. That’s going to be exciting.

You brought back Dave Cobb to produce. What made you want to work with him again?
He’s got a Dumble—that’s the only reason! [Laughs.] No, but it doesn’t hurt. He comes up with good ideas that help the arrangements, and he does that without being domineering. In my experience, if a producer is really talented, it can be hell trying to be in the studio with them for two or three weeks. They’re set in their ways, and you end up with records that have that “signature” sound. I think that’s a problem, honestly. If you hear something and can automatically say which producer made that record, that’s too much of a footprint. What you’re listening to should sound like the best example of the artist. I love Nigel Godrich—he does great work. I like T Bone Burnett’s work sometimes, though it’s a little infuriating to me when I’m listening to what sounds like a T Bone Burnett record when that’s not what I bought at the record store. Dave’s really good about bringing out the best in individual artists without making it sound like a Dave Cobb record, and he can do it without driving everyone crazy. That was a no-brainer this time around.

So is Dave letting you take the Dumble out on the road?
He would if I asked him, but my road rig is pretty much set. His Dumble is low wattage and build into a Fender blackface Deluxe enclosure. Alexander [Dumble] just took the guts out and put his stuff in there. It wouldn’t really work for me in a live setting. And you know, what would Dave use in the studio? He has a lot of amps, but he uses that sucker a lot. He might lose work. [Laughs.]