Tim McGraw''s guitarist talks to Rich about his career and his gear.
I consider myself fortunate to be among a
select group of guitarists who make a living following
their passion of creating music. Less than
two percent of all the players in the Nashville
Musicians Union make 100 percent of their
living playing music. When you remove the
drummers, bassists, keyboardists, fiddlers, and
members of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra
from that two percent, you’re left with a very
small group of guitarists. We’re not household
names like Eddie Van Halen, Les Paul, or Eric
Clapton, but we’ve dedicated our lives to the
craft of playing the guitar just the same.
Guitarist Darren Smith lays it down onstage with Tim McGraw.
After performing together for McGraw’s Nashville Rising flood relief concert, I sat down with Darren and talked to him about his years on the road with country superstar Tim McGraw as well as the early days of his career.
Darren, we’ve been friends for over 20 years. Early on we were both playing the clubs around Nashville. How did you go from there to a gig with Tim McGraw?
I was playing a regular gig at Skull’s Rainbow Room in Printer’s Alley and Tim used to come down and sit in and sing. This was prerecord deal. He asked me if I wanted to go to Delaware and do a honky tonk for a of couple weeks and I said sure. We hit it off and had a great time. He told me he was on the verge of getting a deal with Curb Records and that when he did, he wanted me to put a band together for him. Having heard this story a lot in Nashville I was not too convinced. But a couple of months later he called and said put something together, we are going on tour with Joe Diffie. So I did and I’ve been there ever since.
How long ago was this?
That was 21 years ago, come September.
What other bands did you play with before Tim?
David Frizzell, Shelly West, Helen Cornelius, and endless club bands.
So you played with a lot of the traditional country stars. Who were your early influences on guitar?
Early on my influences were Johnny Cash, the Allman Brothers, the Eagles, Wynn Stewart, Buddy Holly, and Elvis.
What’s the first song you remember learning?
I was 7 or 8, and it was “Milk Cow Blues” by Jimmie Rodgers. I learned it on an old Sears nylon-string my mother got me.
What gear were you using when you first started with McGraw?
I had an old Fender Strat I used to call “Blackie” and a Peavey Stereo Chorus 2x12 amp. That was it. No pedals except for a tuner.
Back in the day I always saw you with a hollowbody Tele with f-holes. What are you playing now?
Now I have numerous G&L, Gibson, PRS, and Gretsch guitars. I guess my favorite is a green G&L Legacy Special. It was the first one I got from G&L and it can do almost anything I need. I play it the most. As far as amps, live I use two Peavey Classic 50s in isolation boxes. On Tim’s records, my amps include a ’65 Fender Deluxe Reverb and an old 50-watt Marshall.
I’ve used the same pedalboard for years. It includes a Line 6 delay and chorus, an old green Ibanez Tube Screamer, a Fulltone Fulldrive 2, a Boss Blues Driver, a ProCo Rat, an MXR DynaComp, a Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Crybaby wah, and an Ernie Ball volume pedal. My guitar tech, John Prestia, and I experiment all the time with new stuff, though.
Do you find time to do any projects outside of McGraw?
Not so much nowadays. I’ve done some projects for Lofton Creek Records and I’m still co-producing Tim’s records. Touring keeps me pretty busy.
What are you listening to these days? Who do you draw inspiration from now?
Call me old-fashioned I guess, but I still listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Danny Gatton, Eddie Van Halen, and ZZ Top. Although I do like cranking up a good Kid Rock song every now and then.
Do you have any advice to anyone who wants to jump in and try to do what you do for a living?
Yeah, just a little advice for the newbies to Nashville: Stick with it, play wherever you can, to whoever you can, whenever you can.
Rich is a highly sought-after Nashville guitarist who has performed with singers ranging from Steven Tyler to Shania Twain. He currently plays lead guitar for Toby Keith, and also works as a spokesperson for the Soles4Souls charity (soles4souls.org). His new album, Cottage City Firehouse, is available at richeckhardt.com and CDBaby.com.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.