The Nashville-based power player uses classic-style guitars and amps to create big tones that echo from the past to the future.
Our last Rundown with J.D. Simo was eight years ago. Since then, the songwriter, guitarist, and producer has worked with Jack White, Tommy Emmanuel, Luther Dickinson, Dave Cobb, Blackberry Smoke, and even been a friend in Grateful Dead founder Phil Lesh’s band Phil and Friends. Currently, Simo is promoting his most unique, original, and raw album yet, called Mind Control, where he explores Afrobeat grooves and Mississippi trance blues. Simo invited John Bohlinger and the PG team to his studio to look at some new and old friends with strings, cones, and attitude.
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Hail to the Chief
JD Simo’s No. 1 remains his beloved and battered 1962 Gibson ES-335. It’s had a few changes since his last Rundown. Note JFK on the back of its headstock! Nashville star luthier Joe Glaser modded the neck tone control to knock it out of phase. During quarantine, Simo reinstalled the original Bigsby bridge with nylon saddles. This, and all of Simo’s guitars, use Stringjoy strings (.010 sets, when tuned to standard) and are picked with Jim Dunlop tortoise mediums.
Trifecta of Cool
The backside of the 335's headstock reveals some classic stamps.
Picks of the Litter
Here you see JD's Jim Dunlop tortoise medium pick (for guitar) and a Dave Grisman DAWG pick (for mandolin).
Jazzmaster Just in Name
It began life as a mid-’60s Jazzmaster body. Fellow Nashville-based guitarist George Bradfute added a MusiKraft neck and refinished and rewired this 6-string with a humbucker and S-style pickups from Vintage Inspired Pickups, out of Beverly, Massachusetts. There is a phase switch on the tone control.
A close look at this axe’s headstock logo reveals that … well, this offset has a unique make and model name. The Asscaster stays tuned down to B with .014–.064 strings.
From the Deeps
This Echopark Exner Tavares in a seemingly luminescent finish is made from white pine sinker wood. It features a gold-foil neck pickup, a ’70s Fender Wide Range bridge pickup, and a Chris Swope Guitars bridge. The Exner stays tuned down a whole step, with .011–.049 strings.
Down in the Hollows
Here’s an all-stock 1952 Gibson ES-5 in standard tuning and strung with flatwound .012—.056 strings, for vintage tone. This model debuted in 1949 as an electric version of Gibson’s then-popular acoustic L-5.
This Gibson Custom Shop Murphy Lab ’64 SG Standard features OX4 pickups, hand-wound by Mark Stow in Oxford, England. The finish is the work of Gibson’s famed in-house aging and replication expert, Tom Murphy.
Simo’s going for heavy acoustic vibe with this 1965 Silvertone H165. It stays tuned down to C# and is amplified with a LR Baggs M80 pickup.
This 1966 Kay Airline mandolin is hipper than most, with the company’s cool Kelvinator-style logo on its headstock. It’s all original, including the Jimmy Reed-style pickup and two-tone binding.
J-50 is the Gibson company’s designation for its natural-finish J-45 workhorses—the guitar that helped define modern folk music. This 1961 J-50 features a 1963 DeArmond RHC-B soundhole pickup and stays strung with nickel bronze .012–.056 strings.
Depending on the scenario, Simo currently uses one, or a combination of, these amps: a 1964 Ampeg Gemini I with a Weber ceramic-magnet ferromax speaker, a 1949 Alamo Model 3 (lower right), a 1972 Fender silver-panel Deluxe Reverb converted to black-panel specs (also with a Weber speaker), and a Pre CBS Amps Clifford 18W made by Zack Allen of Nashville’s Carter Guitars. The latter is essentially a 7591-output-tube Princeton Reverb clone and has a Weber speaker. Simo runs with his amps with an AmpRX Brown Box power attenuator.
At the Stomp Post
Simo’s very simple pedalboard includes a 1972 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, a 1973 Vox Cry Baby with a Chase tone pot, a rehoused vintage Kay fuzz, a Strymon El Capistan, and a Fender trem/reverb Switch. XAct Tone Solutions made the board and its battery box. Simo also uses Divine Noise Cables.