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Sharing the Stage with Mark Gillespie

Rich Eckhard talks with top Nashville picker Mark Gillespe of Trace Adkins'' band.

Trace Adkins and Mark Gillespe

I’m in the midst of another touring season, and once again I have the distinct pleasure of sharing the stage with two of Nashville’s best pickers, Brian Wooten and Mark Gillespie of Trace Adkins. I talked to them about their gear, their influences and how they got where they are, and I’ll cover each of these amazing guitarists in separate columns. This month, we’ll focus on Mark Gillespie. I’ll share my chat with Brian Wooten in next month’s column.

Mark, you and I have been friends for almost 15 years, and we’ve played together with a respectable number of artists. But this is the first time we’ve gotten to travel together on a major tour. I’ve seen you play several different axes over the years. What guitars are you playing with Trace?

Right now, I have three electrics, one acoustic and one mandolin out on the road with me. For my main single-coil guitar, I’m using my ‘89 Strat with Lace Sensor Gold pickups—it has that great Strat sound that I love. For the songs that I need Humbuckers on, I’m using my PRS Modern Eagle. That guitar is a beast! I also have a Taylor electric model with three single-coil pickups. My acoustic is a Taylor GS7 with their Expression pickup system. It’s the most natural-sounding pickup system I’ve used. It is a great instrument. My Mandolin is a Gibson F5-L that’s about 10 years old with a Fishman pickup. I feel lucky to have a Charlie Derrington-signed model.

What pedals do you use?

I’ve been using a lot of Jim Dunlop pedals lately. I just added an MXR Carbon Copy delay, which I just leave on a slap-back setting. I also added a MXR Dyna Comp and overdrive. My other pedals are a Boss Blues Driver, Crybaby wah, Boss DD-5 delay and an Ernie Ball volume pedal. I tend to try different distortion pedals often—I just always seem to be looking.

What amps are you running all that through?

The main amp I’ve been using for the past several years is a ‘65 Fender Pro Reverb. It has been a great workhorse … very reliable. I love those old amps with hand wiring and no circuit boards. They’re easy to fix and just keep on going. The Pro Reverb has two 12" Weber speakers. I put those in about four years ago, and they made a huge difference. Ted Weber just passed away in August. He was a great guy and a friend to a lot of us musicians, and I’ll miss him for sure.

How do you and Brian decide who will play which part live?

That’s really easy to do; we just kind of split it up between us. I usually play the main acoustic parts, if there are any. Trace digs the two electric thing, which is really fun and a big sound.

You and I have always worked well together when we play in the same band because we approach the instrument so differently. Who are your influences?

Well, I’ve been playing since I was about 13, so I’ve had quite a few influences over the years. My main ones would be Willie Nelson, James Burton, Steve Lukather, Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tony Rice and Sam Bush.

What other bands have you played with?

Before I moved to Nashville, I lived in Destin, FL, and I worked in some house bands where I really learned a lot. I still have great friends there. I moved to Nashville in 1995 and I’ve worked with several steady bands, like Steve Azar, Noel Haggard, Keith Urban, Claudia Church, Paul Brandt, Chalee Tennison, whom I married, and Kellie Coffey.

That’s a lot of gig time! How long have you been playing with Trace?

I began working with Trace on Mar. 3, 2004. It’s been a good gig with some good guys in the band.

What was the first song you can remember learning on the guitar, and how old were you when you first started playing?

“Wildwood Flower” on acoustic and “Johnny B. Goode” on electric. I was in the eighth grade, so I was 13 years old.

Do you play any other instruments?

I play the Mandolin, and a little bit of Dobro.

Do you own any rare or vintage guitars?

I have a mid-30s Dobro and a mid-70s ES-335. Are ‘70s model guitars vintage yet? I also have an early Fender Custom Shop Tele. It’s the Buckaroo model.

Well Mark, it sounds like you’re keeping busy. I’m so glad to have you out with us on tour this year.

Thanks Rich!

Next month, we’ll hear from Brian Wooten, the stage-right side of this axe-slinging team. Till then, keep jammin’.
Rich Eckhardt
Rich Eckhardt is one of the most sought-after guitarists in Nashville. His ability to cover multiple styles has put him on stage with singers ranging from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith to Shania Twain. Rich is currently playing lead guitar with Toby Keith. His latest CD, Cottage City Firehouse is available online at or at