The country and bluegrass power duo show off a selection of their acoustic and electric guitars, which include gems like an original Frying Pan and a 1927 Montgomery Ward acoustic.
Since their debut, Before the Sun Goes Down, in 2014, Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley have made a name for themselves as some of the hottest country and bluegrass players in the business. As individuals, their credits range from Willie Nelson to Earl Scruggs to Merle Haggard—and as a duo, they’ve toured and recorded with artists including Tommy Emmanuel, Taj Mahal, Jorma Kaukonen & Hot Tuna, Luther Dickinson, and Molly Tuttle. It’s likely their forthcoming full-length release, Living in a Song, will only bolster their already impressive reputation.
Out on February 10th, Living in a Song is a new collection of two covers and 10 originals that were inspired by Ickes and Hensley’s life on the road. They collaborated with long-time producer Brent Maher (Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson) along with some award-winning songwriters to compose a total of 40 songs, which were then trimmed down to the resulting selection. That final cut of material leans into a classic country sound, with some Americana and bluegrass thrown in.
Along with the aforementioned credits, Ickes and Hensley have long been established, separately, as formidable musicians. Ickes has been International Bluegrass Music Association Dobro Player of the Year an incredible 15 times, and Hensley made his debut performance at the Grand Ole Opry at just 11 years old. In other words, the two have been around the block, and especially know their way around dobros and flattop acoustics.
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This dreadnought was built for Trey by the Oregon-based Preston Thompson Guitars in 2018. It’s the company’s D-MA model, with sinker mahogany back and sides and an Adirondack spruce top. But what truly makes the guitar special is its StringBender B-bender, which was built into the model by former Byrd and StringBender founder, Gene Parsons, himself. It’s also equipped with an LR Baggs Lyric. As for accessories, Trey uses D’Addario Nickel Bronze .013-.056 strings on all of his guitars, Blue Chip TAD60 picks, a Dunlop Blues Bottle slide, and a D’Addario Rich Robinson slide.
Here's a tight shot of the inner mechanisms that engage the B-Bender.
Trey’s favorite guitar is his 1954 Martin D-28. “I’ve had this one for about 20 years now,” he says, “I think I’m the third owner of it.” The first owner wore the neck down so that “it’s real skinny and gets super fat right at the fifth fret.” He brings his D-28 to most of his recording sessions, and while it also has an LR Baggs Lyric, “This guitar does not want to be plugged in at all,” he says, “It just fights back.” It has Brazilian rosewood back and sides; as for the top wood, “Anybody’s guess is as good as mine.”
Found at Fanny’s House of Music in Nashville, this 1965 Harmony Sovereign Deluxe H1265 makes a bit of a statement with its prominent pickguard and mustache bridge. Or, as Trey puts it, “It’s possibly the ugliest guitar I’ve ever seen.” He calls the jumbo-bodied model his “Taj Mahal guitar,” as the bluesman requested it when Trey and Rob joined him for a few performances late last year. “I really like it,” Trey says, smiling, “It’s the guitar that shouldn’t be.”
“This is probably one of my other favorites,” Trey says of his 2015 Wayne Henderson dreadnought—the guitar maker’s 610th build. Its specced to a Martin D-18, with mahogany back and sides. The Virginia builder famously built a few models for Eric Clapton, and notoriously has a very, very long wait list—which is why Trey was so afraid to put a pickup in it and take it out on the road after he got it. And then…. “The first night I took it out, it wasn’t on the strap button good, and it fell and hit the concrete floor. This piece here was split,” he says, gesturing to an area on the top plate. Thankfully, he was able to get it repaired. “It sounded really good before I dropped it, but it sounded about a million times better after I dropped it,” he says, “So, the moral of the story is: Drop your guitar.”
Before the War
Another D-18 copy, this 2017 Pre-War Guitars Co. model has mahogany back and sides, and is outfitted with an LR Baggs Anthem SL. It bears Taj Mahal’s signature on the front, and Trey’s on the back. The latter choice was Trey’s way of imitating Earl Scruggs, since he saw Scruggs had done the same to a couple of his instruments when he performed with him as a kid.
Next, a 2022 Gibson Elvis Dove, is “probably the only oddball acoustic I have,” says Trey. “I wasn’t planning on flatpicking on this thing, but I’ve already used it for some sessions.” Its maple back and sides make it the perfect choice to emulate the J-200 he borrowed from his producer for a country record he and Rob just finished recording.
Tried and True
Last in the acoustic queue is Trey’s 2021 Martin D-41. “This one’s been my main guitar for about a year now,” he says. It’s equipped with an LR Baggs Anthem SL, and has a bit of a lower setup compared to his other guitars—but with medium gauge strings, he says, it doesn’t buzz.
Loud and Clear
Trey’s go-to electric is his Gibson Custom Shop 1958 Les Paul Reissue VOS, which he got in 2008. He keeps this guitar and his other electrics strung with D’Addario NYXL .010-.046 strings, which can be a bit jarring to his fretting hand when switching over from the .013s on his acoustics. “It takes a minute to not rip the neck off,” he says.
This 2017 Parsons StringBender T-style was one of Gene Parsons’ early prototypes when he started building guitars.
Headshot For the Headstock
Here's Gene Parsons riding proudly on his 2017 T-style build for Trey Hensley.
To the T
The newest addition to Trey’s electric arsenal is this Berly Guitars Telecaster, built with Rocketfire ’60s-style pickups and “frets basically as big as my Les Paul.”
Trey Hensley’s Pedalboards (Acoustic)
Trey’s acoustic pedalboard is set up with a D’Addario tuner, an EHX Nano Q-Tron Envelope Filter, a Boss CE-2W Waza Craft Chorus, a Boss HM-2W Waza Craft Heavy Metal, a DigiTech Whammy Ricochet, an EarthQuaker Devices Ghost Echo Reverb, a Grace Design Alix preamp, and an LR Baggs Voiceprint. Power comes from a Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2. It might be a bit unconventional for him to have two DIs, but he says he uses the Alix “for some EQ and mainly a boost; I’m bypassing it as a DI.” And, referring to the Voiceprint, he says, “If I can only take one pedal, it’s going to be that.”
Trey Hensley’s Pedalboards (Electric)
“I’ll preface it by saying, I don’t know what I’m doing,” admits Trey. On his electric pedalboard, he goes into his Dunlop Zakk Wylde Wah, then his D’Addario tuner—“You want that, after the wah,”—then into an EHX Micro Q-Tron, a Keeley Super Phat Mod, a Keeley Sweet Spot Johnny Hiland Super Drive, a JHS PackRat, an EHX J Mascis Ram’s Head Big Muff Pi, a Keeley Dark Side, and an MXR EVH Phase 90.
Trey has several amps for acoustic and electric. Today he was using a Fender ’68 Custom Princeton Reverb Reissue for his electric.
Bold and Byrly
“When you play a really good dobro, it’s in your face super fast,” says Rob Ickes, describing his main axe, a Byrl Guitars Rob Ickes Signature Series resonator—an instrument distinguished by its half-and-half ebony and curly maple fretboard. It’s equipped with a Fishman Nashville Reso Series pickup, which Ickes says is probably the first pickup that he’s used that’s nearly 100 percent faithful to the dobro sound. He uses D’Addario Nickel Bronze strings, Blue Chip thumb picks, and Bob Perry gold-plated fingerpicks, as well as a Scheerhorn bar slide.
This resonator guitar, made by Tim Scheerhorn, has Indian rosewood back and sides and a spruce top. According to Ickes, Scheerhorn “was kind of the Stradivarius of the dobro.” He was the first to start using solid woods—as opposed to the earlier use of plywood—and put sound posts inside the body, like those in a violin. “He also does a little baffle that helps force the sound out of the sound holes,” explains Ickes.
The second Byrl resonator Ickes shared with us is made from flame maple, giving it that distinctive look, and is actually the first guitar he got from Byrl. He tunes it to an open G chord, which he recently discovered is the original Hawaiian tuning. It has a Beard Legend spun cone made of an aluminum alloy and named after Mike Auldridge.
One Man’s Trash
Ickes found this 1930s dobro at a music store owned by a friend outside of Franklin, Tennessee. It’s made with a stamped cone. “It’s a little bit garbage can, in a good way,” he says, “I’ll use it on sessions if I want a trashier sound.” He normally keeps it in a lower tuning, such as open D.
This 1927 Montgomery Ward guitar has a story as intriguing as its sound. It belonged to Ickes’ grandfather, who was a fiddle player: He discovered it one day in the attic of his family home. “This one spoke to me right out of the box,” he shares,” It had that funk—times 10.” It sports signatures from Taj Mahal and Merle Haggard, the latter of whom Ickes recorded a bluegrass album with back in 2006. “I take this to a lot of sessions, in case they need that funky kind of dirt-road sound,” he explains.
“This next one is a more modern version of that,” Ickes says of another model, a Wayne Henderson guitar which he says is the first slide guitar Henderson built. “I just said, ‘Do what you do, but raise the action a bit here at the nut.’” It has a Fishman Nashville Series Reso pickup which Ickes has go into a Fishman Aura Spectrum DI.
A Flash in the Pan
One of the most interesting guitars in Ickes’ collection is his 1932 Rickenbacker Frying Pan, an electric lap steel that was one of the first ever of its kind to be created. “It just cracks me up how they nailed it right out of the box,” he comments. Its single knob is a combination of tone and volume—“As you move to the right, it gets brighter and louder. As you move to the left it gets quieter.”
As you can tell, several of the guitars that Ickes brought on this Rig Rundown are from the 1930s, including this Rickenbacker lap steel, nicknamed the “Silver Surfer.” Its mirror-like fretboard made it difficult for Ickes to see the frets when playing live, so he had them covered in red tape, which make them stand out much better.
Black and White
The last of Ickes’ guitars is another 1930s Rickenbacker lap steel, which he fondly refers to as the “Panda,” due to its black-and-white decor. He loves how it sounds, but admits, “This is great if you don’t leave the house [with it],” as it’s very heavy and doesn’t really stay in tune.
Dulcet Dairy Tones
Another amp in Ickes’ collection is his ’50s Fender Champ.
Small Yet Mighty
A third amp that Ickes shared with us is a vintage 1930s Rickenbacker.
Rob Ickes’ Pedalboards (Dobro)
Ickes has two separate pedal boards for his dobro and for his lap steel. Both boards are powered with separate Truetone 1 Spots. He keeps things simple on his dobro board, which includes a Fishman Aura Spectrum DI, an MXR Eddie Van Halen Phase 90, a Walrus Audio Mako Series R1 Reverb, and a ’80s era Boss DM-2 Delay.
Rob Ickes' Lap Steel Pedalboard
The simple setup trend continues with his lap steel pedalboard, which is made up of another four pedals: an EXH Micro Q-Tron, a Keeley Super Phat Mod, an MXR Phase 90, and a Keeley Omni Reverb.
Thirty-one years after Gish, the Smashing Pumpkins are still exploring the architecture of sound in their often explosive and unpredictable songs. For their current Spirits on Fire Tour, Billy Corgan leads with his Reverend signatures and a few other carefully culled guitars, and Jeff Schroeder lends support with his fleet of Yamahas.
The Smashing PumpkinsSmashing Pumpkins' first two albums, Gish and Siamese Dream, were a huge part of the soundtrack for the early ’90s alternative rock revolution. Still sounding revolutionary all these years later, the band’s leader, Billy Corgan, recently brought the Smashing Pumpkins to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for the Spirits on Fire tour, on the heels of their 11th studio album, Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts.
The concept album is a sequel to the Smashing Pumpkins’ definitive three-LP masterwork Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, from 1995—which also brought them crushing into the mainstream. Acts two and three of Atum are scheduled for January and April 2023. But meanwhile, there are live shows … and all the gear it takes to recreate more than three decades years of the band’s signature sounds. PS: Special thanks to super-tech Trace Davis for his help with the fine points.
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Billy Corgan’s main guitar, tuned in standard, is his Reverend signature Z-One in midnight black, loaded with Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One neck and bridge pickups. This model is the third collaboration between Corgan and Reverend’s Joe Naylor, and Mr. C’s axe takes Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys, gauged .010–.046.
For a back-up, Billy has his Reverend BC1 signature in satin purpleburst, loaded—again—with Z-One neck and bridge pickups, which blend the bite of P-90s with humbucker heaviness.
Those Pickup Covers!
Stare long enough at those pickup covers, and perhaps you’ll see the universe, putting a new spin on the old Zen koan. When Corgan wants things just a bit looser, in Eb standard tuning, he’ll reach for this Z-One sig in silver freeze. Oh! The strings? Ernie Ball Power Slinkys, .011–.048.
For a classic P-90 voice, Corgan lets the strings on this 1994 Gibson Les Paul Special sing. He keeps it tuned to C# standard and the switch has been modified (it's a secret), as has the sticker. Ernie Ball Not Even Slinkys (.012–.056) adorn this axe.
ES for Eb Standard
Another low-tuned Gibson, Corgan’s 1972 ES-335 with block inlays and a trapeze tailpiece, lives in Eb standard land and gets called out to play on the song “1979.”
The Silver Surfboard
For some mini-hum sting, Billy plays this Gibson Firebird with a Bigsby in silver finish. There are several switches in the headstock, which Corgan’s tech Davis says control the “secret sauce and voodoo magic.”
Corgan tours with two of his signature Yamaha LJ16BC acoustics—one in E and one in Eb standard. They’re medium-jumbos and all-stock, which means a spruce top, rosewood back and sides, a 5-ply mahogany and rosewood neck, and the company’s comfort traditional neck style.
Corgan tours with two identical amp rigs, with four different heads used separately for different tones, and all switched with an Ampete 444. This allows him to drive all four heads into one Laney Black Country Customs LA412 4x12 speaker cab loaded with Celestion G12H-75s. It lives in an iso box under the stage. The amps? There’s a Laney Supermod, an Orange Rockerverb 100 MKIII, a Carstens Grace, and an Ebo Customs Del Rio.
Billy Corgan’s Pedalboard
Here’s what underfoot: an RJM Mastermind GT/16 MIDI controller, an MXR CAE Power System, Analog Man Beano Boost treble booster with Mullard-style transistors, a Lehle III switching and looping tool, a Tone Bender-inspired Minotaur Sonic Terrors Evil Eye MkIII fuzz, a Strymon Brigadier delay, a Behringer Octave Divider, and a Dunlop Volume (X), used as an expression pedal for the Strymon.
Jeff Schroeder plays Yamaha guitars. And he’s got four Revstars on tour. This one has an especially elegant finish. They came stocked with P-90s, but now one has Black Cat Vintage Repro Minis, another features Lollar Low Wind Imperial Humbuckers, and the one he keeps in drop D is totally stock. Schroeder goes with Ernie Ball Paradigm .009 sets for standard, .010s for Eb standard, .009s with a heavier .046 on the bottom for drop D, and .011s for C# standard.
Cutaway to the Pacifica
This Yamaha Pacifica has a scalloped fretboard and Seymour Duncan Hunter humbucking pickups in the bridge and neck, and an SSL-5 single-coil in the middle. It also features a Floyd Rose whammy upgraded with titanium parts.
For a semi-hollow, Jeff goes with his Yamaha SA2200 guitars, with Lollar Low Wind Imperial Humbuckers.
As with all his axes, his plectrum choice is Dunlop Tortex 1.14 mms, including the the just-for-fun Dunlop YJMP03YL Yngwie Malmsteen picks (yellow), but the Dunlop YJMP02RD Yngwie Malmsteen picks (red) are beefier at 2 mm.
Schroeder tours with two Revv Generator 120 MKII tube heads—big, beefy, and versatile.
Don’t Call a Cab
No big boxes for Schroeder … at least onstage. He uses a pair of Two Notes Torpedo Captor X simulators, emulating a 4x12 mic’d with a Shure SM57 and Sennheiser MD421 on Celestion V30s. As a back-up, there is a Marshall 4x12 in an isolation cabinet—with a Shure SM57—under the stage. And Jeff’s “icing on the cake”—a suggested addition from tech Trace Davis (of Voodoo Amps)—is a Retrospec Juice Box. This inconspicuous box is a transformer-less, all-tube DI that has upped his live tones to a studio quality.
His effects array has two Line 6 Helix Rack units that live in his rolling rock case.
At his feet he has a Line 6 Helix Control Foot Controller that works with an Analog Man Beano Boost, like Billy’s. These are fired up for solos. Also, Schroeder has a pair of Dunlop DVP3 Volume (X) pedals (one for volume and another for pitch-shifting effect from the Helix) and a Dunlop JB95 Joe Bonamassa Signature Cry Baby wah.
Here’s PG’s stats on Strats—the top 10 Rig Rundowns featuring Fender Stratocasters and other Strat-style guitars. We’re not giving away who’s number one, but you’re welcome to guess—or simply watch the compelling show-and-tells in this video. You’ll see a slew of signature models close up, with guided tours from Robin Trower and Eric Johnson (who also show off vintage Marshalls), and by Eric Clapton and the Edge’s stalwart techs. Meet the 1958 Fender Strat that John Oates played on virtually all of Hall & Oates’ smash hits. (Can you go for that?) Plus, get the lowdown on Doyle Bramhall II’s hard-played 1964 Stratocaster and the left-of-center pickup configuration employed by Khruangbin’s Mark Speer.
Still want more? How about the super strat rocked by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, or a demonstration by Tom Morello of his famed scratching technique—with a slide. (Hint: It’s not a kill switch, and he’s an inventive badass.) And Joe Bonamassa tells you why he bought a guitar that was presented to him as the “best Stratocaster” ever, and makes a compelling case for exactly why it’s that, by a good 5 percent. Spoiler alert: There’s a lot more great gear details you’ll pick up along the way. F’rinstance, does Clapton really never change his strings unless they break? How funky do flatwounds needs to get until they’re perfect? How many Flying V’s does the Edge use during a concert? What pickup settings yielded the sounds you’re heard on classic recordings? How many marmots does it take to fill a VW bug? (Just seeing if you’re playing attention.) Sure, the Stratocaster and its variants have been around since 1954, and we’ve heard them played on countless recordings, but you won’t leave this Top 10 Rig Rundown without learning something new about Leo Fender’s greatest hit!