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Rig Rundown: Brian Setzer [2023]

Rig Rundown: Brian Setzer [2023]
Rig Rundown: Brian Setzer [2023]

The rockabilly icon struts onstage with a trio of Gretsch 6120s, a pair of early ’60s Fender Bassmans, and a silky Roland 301 Chorus-Echo.

Two-time Grammy Award-winning rockabilly hero Brian Setzer recently played a sold-out show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in support of his new solo album, The Devil Always Collects. Tyler Sweet, who has teched for Setzer for 17 years, took PG’s John Bohlinger through the rig that rocked this town, and just about every other town in the world over Setzer’s 40 years of twanging and sanging.

Brought to you by D'Addario XSRR Strings.

With his recognizable arsenal of plucky semi-hollows, Setzer has probably done more for the Gretsch brand than any other player in the last half-century. On this tour, Setzer brought out some old friends, like this 1959 Gretsch G6120 with gold hardware, rebuilt and restored by TV Jones. Jones treated it to a total overhaul, including a neck reset, a refret with a new radius, new inlays in the upper register, fresh binding side dots on the bass side and lacquer on the neck, a new bridge, reversed toggle switches, and an upgraded Wilkinson Delrin nut—plus, he removed the zero and fret-fill behind the nut. Like all of Setzer’s guitars, this supercharged swing machine stays strung with D’Addario EXL 110s (.010-.046), which Setzer strikes with medium celluloid picks.

In a 2014 interview with Setzer, PG featured had a sidebar with guitar guru TV Jones who detailed what he did to Brian’s guitars and how he created his signature pickup: “TV Jones mastermind Tom Jones—who’s been rehabilitating old pickups and winding new ones for Brian Setzer for 20+ years—explains the process behind the Stray Cat’s new signature pickups.

“It’s my job to ensure that all of Brian’s guitars play and sound the absolute best they can possibly be,” says Jones, who debuted the pickups at the March 2014 Musikmesse gear show in Frankfurt, Germany. “A few years back, I found that a few of Brian’s new Hot Rod signature guitars—which were sent to me by Gretsch to set up for his upcoming tours—sounded slightly brighter acoustically. So I decided to design a new pickup to bring out the best in these guitars—higher fidelity on top, with a slight punch in the bottom end—by using sonically unmatched coils and custom steel-alloy pole screws. The results were beyond my expectations.”

Jones also reworked this 1960 Gretsch G6120, which bears nickel hardware. He scraped a new shape in the neck, then refinished the lacquered neck and face cap. Like his work on the ’59, Jones also removed the zero fret and filled behind the nut (another Wilkoloid Delrin), manipulated the pickups, replaced the fretboard binding and inlays with side dots, fit a new bridge, turned around the toggle switches, and gave it a refret and new conical fretboard radius.

For a more modern accent, Setzer plays his 2004 Gretsch G6120T-HR Brian Setzer Signature Hot Rod in magenta sparkle. This guitar is all stock.

Setzer tours with two blonde Bassmans—one from 1962 and the other from ’63, but both with a 6G6-B circuit. They run into matching Bassman 2x12 cabs, which run 12" Oxford speakers. Setzer usually uses one amp and has the other as a backup, but has been known to run both when it makes sense for the venue.

Setzer has a Boss TR-2 Tremolo in his line for the occasional tremolo, and brings as many as six of the stompboxes on the road with him, just in case. Ditto his Roland 301 Chorus-Echos, which range between 1983 and 1986. The units are old and fragile, so in case one taps out, there’s another to take its place. Setzer wires his set up with Mogami cables, with Amphenol silent ends.