The vintage guitar in Jack Pearson’s hands is a Harmony Soverign, which he’s playing at Nashville acoustic instrument institution Cotten Music. The model was Harmony’s acoustic flagship during its 1958 to 1971 production run. Photo by Kim Sherman
On “Pretty Pickpocket,” it sounds like there’s an octave device.
Yeah, Truetone makes it. They call it the Angry Fuzz, but it doesn’t sound angry to me. It’s touch sensitive. It’ll go an octave higher or an octave lower depending on how hard or soft you hit the string, or the amount of volume going into the pedal. If you hit two notes at once, sometimes it will add a fifth or an octave below. I’m not using it as a fuzz. It’s just to trigger those effects. I’m also using an MXR Phase 90 phase shifter, an MXR Custom Badass Modified O.D. overdrive, and an Ibanez Tube Screamer.
On “Don’t Give Up,” it sounds like you’re snapping the low-E string.
That’s the Epiphone Flying V that Joe Bonamassa gave me. It was just sitting there when we were recording Reese Wynans’ record. I picked it up and it was lively. I always liked Albert King. On YouTube, I saw his band playing in G, while he started playing out of the "Bb" position. That’s when I realized he tuned way down and that’s how he can bend those strings like that. I tuned the Epiphone down and the guitar just woke up—it likes that. “Don’t Give Up” is in A, but I’m playing in the "C" position.
What strings do you put on the V?
I ended up putting flatwounds on the low strings. The bottom one is a .050. Flatwounds stay in tune better and they don’t flop around as much. I put a set of .010s on and thought, “This is still a little tight for what he’s doing. I’ll try a .009 on the E.” All of the sudden, I could do the same bends and it had the same snap. Later, I read an article about the gauges Albert used, which was .009 through .050. It’s really loose, but it stays in tune. I use .009, .013, .017, and maybe .026, .036, .050, or something like that. I just experimented with different gauges until it felt balanced. What a rich sound. That guitar’s on “Don’t Give Up,” “I Can Fix It,” the Albert King slow blues “As the Years Go Passing By,” and “Besame Mucho.”
You’re playing that on “Besame Mucho”?
Yeah, see how jazzy it sounds? And it’s on “Do What’s Right,” where the band is in D and I’m playing in F. Whatever key the band is in, with this tuning you just move up three frets and play out of that position.
What made you decide to do a double live record?
Well, if you have 12- and 17-minute songs on there, one CD would’ve held only a couple of songs.
What gear did you use on the live recording?
My VVT signature amp and those pedals I mentioned. I played my red Squier Strat and my SG—I think it’s an ’88. I bought it used, so I don’t know. I’ve had it for a little while. My first Gibson was an SG and this is the third SG I’ve owned. I’ve played Gibsons and Epiphones most of my life. I’ve played Les Pauls, too, but I can’t anymore because of my back—they’re too heavy. I played a 335 for a long time.
Until recently, I’ve mostly seen you with Squier Strats.
Yeah, they’re lively. I’ll go to the store and play a bunch. One of them will jump out at me and I’ll get it. They’re thinner than normal and if you find a good one, it vibrates, but it’s like that with any brand. All of the ones I’ve had were made in Indonesia. Maybe it’s something about that plant.
Are you using the stock pickups?
Yeah. I’ve had to replace some of the pots, though, because they’re not very high quality.
Do you replace the tuners?
No. They’re working. I’ve got one of these new Squier Bullet Mustangs with humbuckers. That’s what I played on “The Worlds Gone Crazy.” I’ve also been using it on “Foxy Lady,” because it’s tuned down a half step, like Jimi Hendrix.
What gauge strings do you use for that?
It could be D’Addario flatwound .009s or .010s. I don’t know.
Do you use a wound third?
No. They don’t make a set with the gauges I like. I have to get individual strings. I use .009, .012, and .016 on the top. For the B string, I find a .012 is more balanced than an .011. The low strings gauges depend on whether it’s standard tuning or not. On my SG, which is in standard tuning, I use .010 to .046. I’ve got an Epiphone Casino and Gibson 330 from the Gibson Memphis factory. It is the best 330 I’ve ever played. I’ve got .010s on those, but the bottom three strings are flats.
What kind of gear do you use for recording at home?
I use whatever. I still use one of the very first SansAmps. The pots are frozen on it now, because I have always kept it at the same setting. I found a sound that works. I’ve got those old Line 6 PODs. Sometimes, I use an old Fender amp. I’ve got a Silvertone amp I love, and my VVT amp.
Some tracks on the album feature amps and others modeling devices?
You can’t tell the difference, but you have to know how to twist the knobs until it sounds right.
What guitars did you use on the studio record?
The G&L and probably that old Strat with the Tele neck. One of the Squier Strats is on there. Back when I recorded the older tracks, I had a ’66 Gibson ES-335 I used to like. I had to sell it about 10 years ago. I have an ES-125T that’s on “It’s All About Love.” I used Collings and Martin acoustics. There’s a couple of Fender Teles on there. I had a G&L Tele with a humbucker I put in the neck position and a regular Tele pickup in the bridge. I have another G&L Tele that has two humbuckers. That’s a sweet guitar.
Do you use effects in the studio?
That depends on the song. I might use a Tube Screamer or the Modified Overdrive into the SansAmp, or into an amp. Sometimes, I’ll add a little delay when I’m mixing.
Do you ever have the urge to go into the studio with other musicians, even if it’s just to get live drums?
I’ve never had a budget to do it. I’ve never had a record deal. I used to try to get record deals, but it was always, “You’re talented, but not what we’re looking for.” I had a bunch of rejection letters, but I threw them all away years ago.
In this business climate, what do you plan to do with the albums other than selling them at shows?
Hopefully, they’ll be selling through websites, like jackpearson.com, CD Baby, etc.
You’re also teaching online through your Guitar Academy. How does that work?
It’s a subscription service. Once you sign up you get access to everything.
Why do you choose to do the online teaching through your own site rather than someplace like TrueFire or ArtistWorks?
It’s an easier way for me to share everything I do. Other companies want you to do just one thing, which is fine, but I have 50 categories on mine: blues, jazz, rock, slide, rhythm, pick technique, hand exercises, and more.
Your previous album, Do What’s Right, came out over a decade ago. Is it going to be that long until the next one?I’ve got another one almost ready to put out. I have about six records in the can. I’ve been recording all this time, just not releasing anything.
Fronting his Nashville trio, Jack Pearson explores the Allman Brothers’ classic “Blue Sky” on the 2017 Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea cruise. At 4:15, he enters the zone for an eight-minute improv that pays homage to Duane and Dickey, Roy Buchanan, and jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, while displaying the effortless fretwork and distinctive phrasing that makes him a living legend in Music City.
Watch Pearson play killer slide in “Statesboro Blues” onstage with the Allman Brothers.