Rig Rundown: Kenny Wayne Shepherd 
A slew of top-notch vintage and custom Strats, a 1960 Les Paul, and a wall of Dumbles keep the blues-rocker rolling.
It’s been 11 years since Kenny Wayne Shepherd filmed his previous Rig Rundown. PG’s John Bohlinger caught up with the blues-rocker before his recent sold-out show at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium to hear some killer playing and see some untouchable—by anyone but Kenny and his tech—gear.
The tour stop was supporting the December 2022 release of Trouble Is … 25, a re-recording of his 1997 breakthrough album, which had four top 10 hits when it was originally issued: “Slow Ride,” “Somehow, Somewhere, Someway,” “Everything is Broken,” and “Blue on Black.” There have been seven other studio recordings since then, and while he’s still mostly a Strat player, some other instruments have joined his armada, too. And Dumbles … he has lots of Dumbles.
Brought to you by D’Addario XS Strings.
This 1961 Fender Stratocaster has been Shepherd’s No. 1 since he bought it right as his career began to take off. Like all of his electrics, it stays strung with Ernie Balls—.011, .014, .018, .038, .048, and .058.—and is played with Dunlop heavy picks.
Fender built Shepherda nearly identical version of his 1961 to save wear and tear on the original. Pretty exacting custom relic work!
Here’s a Fender Jimi Hendrix Monterey Strat. The Fullerton giant made just more than 200 replicas of the guitar that Jimi played and burned onstage at the Monterey Pop Festival, in 1967. When Shepherd got the guitar he immediately had Fender make him a custom neck with jumbo frets and a backwards headstock. Graph Tech saddles were also added to this work of art.
Down to the Crossroads
Inspired by the famed Mississippi Delta intersection where Robert Johnson, by fable, cut his deal with the devil, this Strat with the Highway 61 and Highway 49 signs was created by Shepherd and Fender Custom Shop master builder Todd Krause over two years, and completed in 2015. This distinctive relic’d instrument has an alder body, a rosewood fretboard, Graph Tech saddles, and black knobs and pickup covers.
Sunny ’60 Shop
The only thing that’s been changed on this 1960 sunburst Gibson Les Paul is the jack plate and toggle surround. The rest is all original, including the frets.
Shut the Front Door (Or the Cows Will Get Out)
This limited edition reclaimed pinewood Strat’s body came from a barn built in the 1800s in Lake Odessa, Michigan. It has a rosewood neck with a hand-rubbed oil finish and a comfortable, modern C neck profile. Other features include a 9.5"-radius, 25.5" scale rosewood fretboard with 22 medium jumbo frets, three Fender Custom Shop Fat ’50s single-coil Stratocaster pickups with 5-way switching, an unbuffed single-ply black pickguard, a two-point synchronized tremolo bridge with vintage-style stamped steel saddles, Micro-Tilt neck adjustment, and a laser-etched headstock logo.
Sig to Dig
This new Kenny Wayne Shepherd Signature Stratocaster features a chambered ash body, a translucent faded sonic blue lacquer finish, an early ’60s inspired C-shaped maple neck, and a bound rosewood fretboard with a 7.25" radius and block inlay. The neck is “the ultimate copy of the neck on my ’61 Strat,” Shepherd says.
Here’s Shepherd’s Martin acoustic signature model JC-16KWS. It’s got a maple back and sides, a Sitka spruce top, Martin’s A-frame X scalloped bracing, and a mahogany neck with a low oval profile.
Billy Gibbons Wants This Guitar
The good Rev. Gibbons’ eyes popped out when Shepherd unveiled this one on an earlier Ryman gig, and BFG named it “Copperboy.” It’s another Fender Custom Shop Masterbuilt Stratocaster by Todd Krause, with lipstick pickup covers and a reverse position for the bridge pickup.
Old Tones, New Tools
Except for that genuine Roger Mayer Octavia, KWS gets his blues-rock tones using some contemporary tools. There’s a modded Venus Witch Wah by Steve Monk, a Sir Henry Vibe by Tinsley Audio, a Boss TU-3, an Analog Man King of Tone and Bi-Chorus, a gen II Klon KTR, and a Free The Tone Future Factory and Ambi Space Digital Reverb. All pedals are routed through a Voodoo Labs PX-8 Plus programable switcher. A Radial JD7 routes the signal to his three amps, and two Voodoo Lab Pedal Power X4s supply the juice.
Rumbles with Dumbles
For this tour, Shepherd uses a trio of white Fender amps and cabs hot-rodded by the late Alexander “Howard” Dumble—just a few of the 11 Dumbles in his collection. These are a Pro Reverb (called the Ultra/Rockphonix), a Bassman (called the Slidewinder), and a Band Master (called the AC763).
Dialing in Dumbles
Here are close-ups of the settings Shepherd applies to his three Dumble-built amps.
Micki Free’s Mountain of Marshall Tone
The veteran blues-rocker uses low-wattage amps to creative a massive, high-intensity sound that nods to heroes like Hendrix, Trower, and early Clapton.
Micki Free is not a less-is-more kind of player—at least when it comes to amps. His setup is all reissue Marshalls: two JMP 2061X heads perched on 4x12 stacks, a pair of 1974X combos, and double SV20C 1x10 combos. They look great together and, of course, sound even better.
“I’m a Marshall purist,” Free explains, “but not the modern high-gain models that sound more harsh and brash. Lower wattage heads overdrive quicker and better than 50- or 100-watt heads. They get you to the sweet spot right away. I like the old sound, like the Bluesbreakers—amps that break up right where you want them to and are very controllable, with a lot of midrange in the sound and some bass, but not too much.”
Free fell for Marshalls even before he played guitar—the night his sister took him to see Jimi Hendrix when he was just 9. “From that moment on, I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” he says. In short order, he was experienced, ingesting the music of Cream, Robin Trower, Jeff Beck, and other giants of late-’60s rock guitar. Over the decades, Free has made his own bones as a songwriter and player.
“Lower wattage heads overdrive quicker and better than 50- or 100-watt heads. They get you to the sweet spot right away.”
He’s been a protégé and guitar-slinging pal of Gene Simmons, Prince, Billy Gibbons, Carlos Santana, and Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen. He’s also been immortalized in a popular Chappelle’s Show episode of “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories,” as part of Prince’s team in a now-legendary basketball game. And as a key member of R&B hitmakers Shalamar, he scored a top 20 hit with “Dancin’ in the Sheets” and won a Grammy for “Don’t Get Stopped in Beverly Hills” from the Beverly Hills Copsoundtrack. “But through it all,” he says, “I’ve really been a blues-rock player. That music runs through my veins.”
And pours out through his sound. Free began building his full-blooded six-amp wall in 2009, when he was provided a pair of 1974Xs during rehearsals for his gig at the Hard Rock Cafe Calling Festival in London’s Hyde Park. It was love at first note. “They sounded like the Bluesbreakers amps”—Marshall’s legendary JTM45-inspired combos, the 4x10 1961 and 2x12 1962—“but louder,” he notes. So, he a bought a pair.
The 1x12 1974X is an 18-watt beast, with two channels: a tremolo channel with speed, intensity, tone, and volume dials, and one with just tone and volume. They have three ECC83 tubes (one working as a phase splitter), two EL84 power tubes, and an EZ81 rectifier tube, and sport Celestion Heritage G12M-20s. The next addition was his JMP 2061X heads—20-watt brutes originally produced for guitar and bass from 1967 to 1973. They have two channels with two controls each, for tone and volume. And, yes, there are two EL84s in the power amp and two ECC83s in the preamp. The heads pump 100JH 4x12s with 25-watt Celestion Greenbacks. All that was missing, to Free’s ears, was a little high end, so he acquired his two SV20C 1x10s. These 20/5-watt switchable treble makers have a unique control set: with normal and high treble channels with dual input, 3-band EQ, and presence. Essentially, it’s a take on the plexi Super Lead, featuring Celestion VT juniors.
Micki Free - Heavy Mercy
To get an earful of exactly what Mt. Marshall sounds like cranked, check out the online version of this story, where you’ll find Free’s song “Heavy Mercy,” from his new album Turquoise Blue. The tone is pure Jimi, and righteously so. Of course, the guitar’s a Strat. He has two of these Fenders and favors a 1959 reissue in sea foam green. He also has a fleet of Teye guitars with a signature model on the way. And his effects chain also slants toward the classic palette: a Pedal Pawn Gypsy Vibe, an Eventide H9 he uses for delay, a Vox wah, an Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress, an MXR Carbon Copy, a Fulltone Octafuzz, a Pedal Pawn Fuzz, and a DigiTech Bad Monkey that was a gift from the Rev. Gibbons.
Free explains that his amplification amalgamation is all in service of a higher goal—whether in the studio or onstage, where his flamboyant performances mirror the power of his sound. “It helps me get to the core of what I do in a way that I hope people connect with, because making music is about a connection so strong that it transcends language.”
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