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Rig Rundown: Eric Johnson [2018]

To reproduce Ah Via Musicom live, EJ pairs new signature semi-hollow Strats with much of his 1990 rig—and a clever new way to make his Echoplexes roadworthy.

Premier Guitar’s Ted Drozdowski met with guru of tone Eric Johnson before his show at Nashville’s City Winery. Johnson revealed his absolute commitment to recreating his trademark sounds with his carefully selected array of guitars, a four-amp setup, and his resurrection of his original Ah Via Musicom pedalboards.

Although he carries two of his new signature Fender Stratocaster Thinline guitars, Johnson mostly plays this vintage-white model. The only mod is the bridge pickup, which he replaced with a DiMarzio HS-2 to better dial in the tones from Ah Via Musicom.

The other axe Johnson relies on heavily is a 1954 Fender Stratocaster. Note the more severe angle of the stock whammy bar. It’s a trait of ’54s that he applies to his signature models. This axe also includes the bridge pickup from the guitar he used on the original recording of “Cliffs of Dover.”

Johnson custom-ordered this Rosewood Vintage Reissue Telecaster from Fender with a maple neck. Otherwise, it’s stock, and it’s used on just one tune: “Steve’s Boogie.”

Switchable between 100 and 50 watts, this Two-Rock Traditional Clean head drives Johnson’s crunch rhythm sound. It’s the only boutique amp in his setup, and runs into a Marshall 4x12 with 30-watt Celestions.

Clean rhythm tone with plenty of headroom? A pair of 1966 Fender Twins cut down to heads gives Johnson that sound. They go into a stereo Marshall cab with four EVLs—two for each twin—that’s also miked in stereo.

Johnson’s primary lead tone comes from either this 1969 50-watt Marshall plexi head or a 100-watter from the same year, which served as a dormant backup during the Nashville show.

Among Johnson’s secret tone weapons are a pair of Echoplexes modded by Bill Webb of Austin Vintage Guitars. Webb has removed the tape loop and bypassed it to allow Johnson to use other effects, including a Catalinbread Belle Epoch Tape Delay and MXR Digital Time Delays, in place of tape and still get the sweetening the devices’ preamps deliver.

Johnson’s also revisiting his Ah Via Musicom-era pedalboards for this tour. Most of what’s on this board are custom-made switchers for his four amps. There’s also a loop box for the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man, which Johnson regularly taps in and out of his clean rhythm.

Johnson's second board has a split personality. The Dunlop Cry Baby goes into his Marshall lead rig, via an Echoplex and a B.K. Butler Tube Driver. A ’60s Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face, a vintage TS-808 Ibanez Tube Screamer, and, just to its right and off the board, an MXR Flanger/Doubler feed into the Two-Rock head. Back on shelves with the amps, he’s also using two MXR Digital Time Delays, a Catalinbread Belle Epoch Tape Delay, and a TC Electronic Stereo Chorus+ Pitch Modulator & Flanger.

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