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ZZ Top Gear Gallery

Guitarist Billy Gibbons’ and bassist Dusty Hill’s toys can be summed up by three Bs: bold, Bolin-made, and because they said so.

Dusty's Main P Bass

Dusty Hill’s main bass has a chambered slab body with a Seymour Duncan stacked P-bass pickup. “The cornerstone of Dusty's sound is his original Fender Precision bass that he bought in a pawnshop in Dallas,” says Hill’s tech, TJ Gordon. It’s Gordon’s duty to EQ all the basses to match. Hill has used many different pickups, but the one constant has always been the stacked P-bass design. “Dusty plays with his fingers—he uses all four, and he will also pop with his thumb, then brush/strum with his fingers. This pickup just works with his style. It helps create that constant ‘Texas Blues’ tone, but also adds a little nastiness.” The reverse headstock is a Dusty Hill signature, adds Gordon. “Why, you ask? ’Cause he's Dusty Hill, and why not?”

ZZ Top approaches gear like they approach facial hair: Go big or go home. Billy Gibbons’ tech Elwood Francis and Dusty Hill’s tech Ken “TJ” Gordon give us the behind-the-scenes rundown of the current touring setup.

Billy Gibbons’ Gear
Here’s a glimpse at what Billy’s been using live, but let it be known that it’s already changed. “We started the tour using the Les Pauls for the encores, but that gave way to whatever guitars we happened to pick up along the way,” said Billy Gibbons’ tech Elwood Francis from the road in mid-November. “Things change at the drop of a hat. In the past week, we've acquired four guitars and six fuzz boxes—and the tour only has three more gigs.” 

Dusty Hill’s Gear
Tech Ken “TJ” Gordon describes Dusty Hill’s bass tone as, “Texas blues with a little nastiness and a lot whoooo!” Here he guides us through Hill’s gear, including a collection of basses that were custom-made to match the guitars of bandmate Billy Gibbons.

The trio bandleader and Jason Mraz backer breaks down her journey through guitar academia, how to play with other musicians, and whether theory still matters.

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Amazon Prime Day is here (July 16-17). Whether you're a veteran player or just picking up your first guitar, these are some bargains you don't want to miss. Check out more deals here! https://amzn.to/3LskPRV

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A technicolor swirl of distortion, drive, boost, and ferocious fuzz.

Summons a wealth of engaging, and often unique, boost, drive, distortion, and fuzz tones that deviate from common templates. Interactive controls.

Finding just-right tones, while rewarding, might demand patience from less assured and experienced drive-pedal users. Tone control could be more nuanced.

$199

Danelectro Nichols 1966
danelectro.com

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The Danelectro Nichols 1966, in spite of its simplicity, feels and sounds like a stompbox people will use in about a million different ways. Its creator, Steve Ridinger, who built the first version as an industrious Angeleno teen in 1966, modestly calls the China-made Nichols 1966 a cross between a fuzz and a distortion. And, at many settings, it is most certainly that.

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The author standing next to a Richardson gunstock lathe purchased from Gibson’s Kalamazoo factory. It was used to make six necks at a time at Gibson in the 1950s and 1960s.

Keep your head down and put in the work if you want to succeed in the gear-building business.

The accelerated commodification of musical instruments during the late 20th century conjures up visions of massive factories churning out violins, pianos, and, of course, fretted instruments. Even the venerable builders of the so-called “golden age” were not exactly the boutique luthier shops of our imagination.

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