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.
The story of 1960 Gibson Les Paul 0 8145—a ’burst with a nameplate and, now, a reputation.
These days it’s difficult to imagine any vintage Gibson Les Paul being a tough sell, but there was a time when 1960 ’bursts were considered less desirable than the ’58s and ’59s of legend—even though Clapton played a ’60 cherry sunburst in his Bluesbreakers days. Such was the case in the mid 1990s, when the family of a local musician who was the original owner of one of these guitars walked into Rumble Seat Music’s original Ithaca, New York, store with this column’s featured instrument.
Les Paul 0 8145 is a typical 1960 ’burst in most ways. A vibrant cherry color is prominent in the finish—which is a result of a change in dyes Gibson made when owners complained of their new ’58 and ’59 model guitars fading in ultraviolet light—and the neck is thinner than the late-’50s models, similar to what you’d find on the SG-body-style guitars that debuted not long after this 6-string left Kalamazoo.
This close-up of the guitar’s body shows it in excellent condition, and the sound generated by its humbuckers is terrific.
The maple top is hardly the most figured, yet neither is it plain. But one thing certainly jumps out on this guitar: The original owner applied a name plate on the top for all the world to know it belonged to “Johnny B”! Perhaps for this reason, or perhaps because Rumble Seat was never short on amazing guitars on display to compete for attention, the guitar we named Johnny B. hung on the wall for close to eight months.
Eliot Michael, Rumble Seat’s owner, insisted that what Johnny B. lacked in flame was made up for in spades via its monstrous sound. The two original PAF humbuckers are incredible. It’s now common knowledge that many of the best sounding ’bursts do come from the later run in 1960, but it took some convincing for one of my friends and good customers to finally plug Johnny B. in to hear it for himself. Upon doing so, he immediately declared it “the best sounding guitar I’ve ever heard.” And Johnny B. left the shop for a new home.
The back of the guitar also shows TLC—as well as its classic mahogany wood grain.
As tends to happen, the guitar eventually found its way back to Rumble Seat Music, after we moved the store to Nashville, Tennessee. Another friend and customer agreed with that assessment of its sound. His name is Joe Bonamassa. Johnny B. went to live with Joe B., where it took on a new chapter of life on the road and in the studio for several years.
Joe wielded this truly exceptional-sounding guitar in many shows across the U.S. You may have seen it onstage. While some Les Pauls are known for their sweet sound, Johnny B. wants to rock. This is one of the most aggressive, raunchy, and downright rude-sounding Les Paul Standards out there, which seems appropriate for an instrument sharing a name with a Chuck Berry song. It doesn’t get much more rock ’n’ roll than that!
As I mentioned earlier, guitars we sell have a habit of finding their way back to our store, and so it goes with Johnny B.–now returned to our walls after some serious adventures. Typically, good condition 1960 Les Pauls carry tags in six figures, and this one is no exception at $278,000. That’s within the same current range for ’58s and ’59s, since players and collectors have gotten hip to the virtues of 1960 models. And although it was initially overlooked, Johnny B. has earned its place as one of the most recognizable ’bursts around.
Checking in with one of the first families of country-rock.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is an American music legend—a Grammy-winning outfit that’s also been inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. In this group’s case, what becomes a legend most is still working as hard as when Jeff Hanna co-founded the NGBD in 1966.
So, when PG’s John Bohlinger recently checked in with Hanna and his guitar-playing son, Jaime Hanna, they were rehearsing at Nashville’s SIR for an ambitious spring and summer Nitty Gritty Dirt Band tour supporting a new album, Dirt Does Dylan, to be released May 20. The Hannas took us through their touring gear and gave us a close-up look at some guitars that Jeff has played since the beginning.
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This 1960 Les Paul, owned and long played by Jeff Hanna, was the inspiration for the Gibson Custom Shop’s Collector’s Choice #33 Jeff Hanna 1960 Les Paul Standard reissue, which lists for a mere $10,299. (Yikes!) It’s strung with D’Addario EXL-125s (.009–.046). Hanna has a great story about how he got this guitar, but for that you’ll have to watch the Rig Rundown!
And here’s that Gibson Custom Shop reproduction—a made-in-2017 #33 Jeff Hanna Les Paul with Ron Ellis PAF pickups. Like its inspiration, the guitar wears a set of D’Addario EXL-125s.
Light, in White
Jeff does a little less lifting onstage with his 1962 reissue Fender Stratocaster in Olympic white. It sports the neck from an earlier ’62 reissue he owned, which was made in 1989, and has samarium-cobalt-magnet pickups. The Hipshot Key Xtender is set up to take his low E string to D. And it’s wearing D’Addario EXL-125s.
No country-rock band is complete without a Gibson Jumbo. This long-serving 1955 J185 is just a little smaller than a SL-200, and has a Sitka spruce top and maple back and sides. Jeff has it strung with D’Addario EJ-16s (.012–.053).
Open D for Dan-o
This 1990s Danelectro U2 reissue—based on the model that debuted in 1956—stays tuned to open D and strung with D’Addario EXL-125s. With its lipstick pickups and hardboard/plywood body, this thing’s a midrange machine.
It’s Got the Bump
After years of using his beloved 1965 Fender Deluxe Reverb, Jeff has moved to a SoHo 65 Amp with a matching 2x12 cab, although Jeff usually only runs one speaker. This amp has a secret weapon: a “bump” function that allows a switch from American to British classic tone.
Board To Run
Jeff runs his acoustic through a Fishman Aura Spectrum DI and a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner. The electric side of his board includes another Boss TU-3, a Paul Cochrane Tim overdrive, a Keeley Katana Clean Boost, a J. Rockett GTO, a Keeley-modded Boss TR-2 Tremolo, and a Keeley Mag Echo.
Jaime’s No. 1 acoustic is his 1964 Martin D-28 with Brazilian rosewood sides and back. It’s been aesthetically modified, with a bound headstock and delicate inlay work on the neck. This D-28 appeared on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s eponymous debut in 1967. Although this guitar was at the rehearsal, it no longer hits the road.
The Tour Flattop
While on tour with Gary Allan in Canada, some bad weather and a faulty stage ruined several of Jaime’s guitars. So now he leaves the 1964 D-28 at home and brings his new Martin 2021 D-18 Standard with an LR Baggs Anthem SL soundhole mike on tour.
Wide Range Twang
This 1973 Fender Telecaster Custom offers all the twang of an older vintage Tele in the bridge pickup but opens up big with a Seth Lover Wide Range neck humbucker. It stays strung with D’Addario EXL140s (.010–.052).
This 2009 Gretsch G6128T-1957 Duo Jet with Alamo neck inlays has TV Jones Classic humbuckers and a Bigsby, and stays tight with D’Addario EXL140s. That’s Jaime’s brother Chris’ decal on the body.
Here’s the prototype for the Jeff Hanna Gibson Collectors Choice #33 1960 Les Paul Standard. These reissues come with Custom Buckers, but Jaime put PAFs in this guitar to get closer to vintage tone.
Jaime uses a reissue 1968 Fender Custom Deluxe Reverb amp modified with a Celestion Cream alnico 12". His summary: “It sings!”
Pedals Du Jour
Like his dad, Jaime combines his acoustic and electric pedals on one board. The acoustic side features a Fishman Aura Spectrum DI, Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner, and a Radial JDI direct box as a back-up. For electric, there’s an Ernie ball volume pedal that feeds a TC Electronic tuner. The main out hits a Mesa/Boogie Stowaway Class A Input Buffer, a Keeley Compressor, a Paul Cochrane Tim, a J. Rockett Archer boost/overdrive pedal, an MXR Super Badass Distortion, a Boss GE-7 equalizer modded by XTS, and a Line 6 M-9 multi-effects pedal. A Truetone 1 SPOT PRO CS12 provides the juice.