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Rig Rundown: Olivia Jean

Rig Rundown - Olivia Jean

The Third Man Records songstress shows off the lovely Fender and Gretsch "girls" that are her go-tos for eerie garage-rock and psych-pop tones.

At first listen (and glance), it might be easy to pigeonhole Olivia Jean and her brand of dark-coated, garage rock as a nostalgic act. But upon a deeper listen, you’ll soon realize her hooks and melodies would pop in any musical format.

Jean’s move from Detroit to Nashville, much like her mentor and Third Man Records’ leader Jack White, opened unseen doors in the music business. She formed and fronted an all-women, goth-pop band The Black Belles (who released their TMR self-titled debut in 2011). After that she joined the Third Man house band playing guitar or bass behind White, rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson, singer-songwriter Karen Elson, and others. That musicianship crash course prepared Jean to write and record all the instruments for her 2014 TMR solo debut (coproduced by White), Bathtub Love Killings. And while she did write all of 2019’s Night Owl, she did recruit some ace musicians to smooth out and expedite the process. She relayed the experience in a late 2019 interview with PG: “I really prefer the live room sound with the whole band in the room. We did ‘Night Owl’ that way, with live sound and bleed in the microphones. That’s my favorite song, production-wise, on the album. Doing things in isolation is necessary, but I prefer doing everything live as much as I can. You don’t have the freedom of saying, ‘Can I do that again?’—just stopping if you make one tiny little mistake. You feel like a jerk, stopping the entire band. You get things done faster, it’s more real sounding, and you can play off each other.”

Just after putting out the split EP Palladium with April March, the longtime Third Man Records artist virtually welcomed PG’s Chris Kies into TMR’s Nashville-based Blue Room.

In this episode, singer-songwriter, guitar-playing frontwoman Olivia Jean details a pair of captivating, 6-string gifts, shows off how her tone is drenched in spring reverb, and explains how a Jack White-gifted “punk” pedal enhanced her feelings on fuzz.

While Olivia Jean used a Fender Player Jaguar for recording most of 2019’s Night Owl, this lovely, pink-sparkle Fender Parallel Universe Volume II Maverick Dorado will do the road work when touring returns. The gifted reissue features a custom paint job—mirroring the Night Owl cover—was done by Fender’s Jay Nelson and the build was overseen by Chip Ellis at the Fender Custom Shop. And she calls this beauty the “Holly Grail.” (The original run of the Fender Electric XII-esque oddball was limited to 1969 and it was then referred as the Fender Custom.)

She plays in standard tuning, uses Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys (.010–.046) on all her guitars, and plucks with Dunlop Nylon 1mm picks.

Talk about weird, here’s the Maverick Dorado headstock that shadows the Electric XII silhouette sporting just six tuners.

“Betty” is a Gretsch G6128T-GH George Harrison Signature Duo Jet Electric that was a gift from Jack White. He gave her and bassist Ruby Rogers (Thunder Jet Bass) matching instruments before the band toured in support of 2011’s The Black Belles. She asserts it has a beefier, bassy sound than the Maverick Dorado.

This Fender Hot Rod DeVille 2x12 has been a staple in her touring rig for years.

Olivia is singing and playing throughout the set, so tap dancing on her pedalboard isn’t an option. However, her simplistic stomp station serves up plenty of flavorings. Her two always-on pedals are the Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail and MXR Sugar Drive. The Third Man Bumble Fuzz (a gift from White) stings for soloing and is accompanied with the Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor for lowing the buzz. The pair of tools she has on the board is the TC Helicon Mic Mechanic (allowing her to control reverb levels on her vocals) and TC Electronic Wiretap (for recording ideas/riffs). Everything is powered by the T-Rex Fuel Tank Classic and her guitars are kept in check with a Korg Pitchblack Chromatic Tuner.

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