Herring digs into his Custom Shop Fender Stratocaster loaded with Seymour Duncan ‘59 humbuckers. Photo by Colin Vereen
Among guitarists familiar with his diverse array of projects, Jimmy Herring is a guitar hero who defies clear-cut categorization. Combining the three Ts—technique, tone, and taste—he seems to be able to whip up a tantalizing ear feast for any situation he’s thrown into. Just this past year, he has played everything from post-bop fusion with Return to Forever drummer Lenny White to Southern rock jams with Widespread Panic. With each new project, Herring’s musicality seems to grow by leaps and bounds. Any given night you could catch him juxtaposing blazing pentatonic lines with angular phrases that sound like something out of John McLaughlin’s catalog.

In 2008, Herring releasedLifeboat, his first solo album on the jazz/fusion label Abstract Logix. And there not only did his playing finally take center stage—something that hasn’t always been the case in his various projects—but it also allowed Herring to stretch his compositional wings.

Since joining seminal jam band Widespread Panic in 2006, Herring has seen his star continue to rise to become one of the most respected and influential axe-slingers on the jam scene. And on their most recent album,Dirty Side Down, he once again infuses their tunes with everything from ripping leads to delicate acoustic fingerpicking. From the opening, feedback-drenched notes of “North” to the swampy de-tuned riffs on “Shut up and Drive,” it’s clear Herring has settled in and found his place within the band.

PGwanted the inside scoop on what makes Herring tick in all these different projects, so we caught up with him during one of Widespread Panic’s seemingly never-ending tours to discuss his gear, life on the road, and playing with some of his heroes.

You’re no stranger to touring, but it seems like this year was especially busy.

These other opportunities keep coming up in between tours. This was going to be that year where I didn’t say “no” when I really wanted to do something—even if it means getting off one bus and getting into a van three days later.

Where did you record the album?

It was recorded at [producer] John Keane’s studio in Athens, Georgia. The guy is brilliant. He has a long history with Panic, but this was the first time I had the opportunity to work with him—even though we have been friends for a long time. Over the years we have played together, but this was the first time we have recorded together. I can’t imagine ever calling anyone else to record with.

Your live tone really came across on the album. What amps did you use?

John Keane has a lot to do with that. I was really glad, because he loved my amps. There were only two amps that I brought in, a ’64 Fender Super Reverb and a Fuchs Tripledrive Supreme. We used both quite a bit. On “Shut up and Drive,” we actually used a Budda 80-watt amp. John is absolutely brilliant with getting guitar sounds. But for the most part it was the Super Reverb and Fuchs.

What guitars did you use on the record?

We used a lot of guitars, but I would say that close to 70 percent of the album was actually John’s Fender Telecaster. The guitar plays like a million bucks. I have never had so much fun playing a Tele in all my life. A lot of the stuff without the twang bar is his Tele, mostly. There are a few songs where I used a Fender Custom Shop Strat. I used my main Strat on some songs. The stuff you hear with a twang bar is my main Strat.

For variety, Herring brings out a Gene Baker B3 (left) with Lollar Imperial pickups, in addition to a Jerry Jones Baritone (right) that he uses on “Shut Up and Drive.” Photo by Jason Shadrick
Do you bring those same guitars with you on the road?

Yeah, I usually bring my favorite Strat, which I’ve had for about 17 or 18 years. It has Seymour Duncan humbuckers in it. I probably will bring a Tele and maybe another Strat with single-coils, just so I can have another sound.

How does your rig change when you go out with your solo band?

It’s smaller. With the solo band, we travel under different conditions. We don’t have trucks and semis, and the stages aren’t as big. I do love a Super Reverb—it is really hard to beat for a club amp—so I am bringing that on tour. I generally try to use the reverb through a separate source, like I do with Panic.

Is the Super Reverb stock?

It has an external speaker out, but I never use it. So I had my amp guy convert it to a line level out—which is something like an effects send. There is no return on the Super Reverb. I could have one put in, but I don’t want to do anything to a vintage Super Reverb that can’t be undone. Converting the external speaker out to a send is no big deal—they can put that back pretty easily.

What do you use the line level out for?

I send the signal to a volume pedal and then to a digital reverb of some type. Then I return it to the power amp of another amp and set the mix on the reverb unit to 100 percent wet. That way I have the dry sound coming out of the Super Reverb and you can bring the reverb in from another source with the volume pedal. If I need more reverb, I just step down. Basically, all I use is a couple of volume pedals—one for the main amp and another for the reverb—along with a Hughes & Kettner Tube Factor.