Brad Paisley 2005
April 17, 2020
This was my first cover story for Vintage Guitar Magazine, appearing on news stands in April 2006. From 2002-2005, I was his guitar tech. Photos courtesy of Rusty Russell except where noted by the author.
Brad Paisley has made a quantum leap in his career since Vintage Guitar last spoke with him in 2003. Brad has gone from opening act, to headliner status in the ensuing 2 years. Paisley’s latest album, “Time Well Wasted,” made its debut at #1 on Billboard’s Country chart, and #2 on the all-genre Billboard 200. This feat was made possible by moving over 192,000 units in its first week’s sales. And even though he is selling out arenas, Brad has not given the guitar a back seat in his show. Yes, there are giant video screens onstage, but one of them is a 24-foot tall Dr. Z amplifier that blows up at the end of the night. The recent tour has even had guest performers ranging from Bon Jovi guitarist Ritchie Sambora to actor William Shatner. During the last 2 months Paisley has performed on most of the late night shows, Letterman, Conan, and Kimmel, played“Folsom Prison Blues” for a Johnny Cash Tribute show on CBS, and flew to Skywalker Studios to record songs for the new animated Pixar film “Cars.” All this, and Brad still makes pilgrimages down to Austin to play with his guitar hero Redd Volkaert. Vintage Guitar got the chance to visit with Brad both on the road, and at his home in Franklin, TN. Brad discussed with us the new release, and all things guitar.
VG: What was your first guitar?
BP: It was a Silvertone guitar with the amp in the case model.
VG: And what was the first guitar that you saw that you “had” to have?
BP: A Strat. Steve Wariner played a red Glaser Strat that was killer, with a bender in it. So I wanted a Strat. I ended up getting a Hondo strat copy, which is the only guitar I have ever sold. That’s the only one I let go. I let a kid have it. I replaced it with a Tokai strat copy, and eventually a red FenderStrat.
VG: Who was your first guitar hero?
BP: Hank Goddard, from back home in West Virginia. Hank is a gentleman back home who’s style is a cross between, Chet Atkins, Hank Garland and Les Paul. Every bit deserving of the nickname “Hank,” that came from his stylistic similarity to Hank Garland. He was my Grandfathers favorite guitar player, and I grew up thinking he was a national star. Wound up having him as a band member and a teacher from the time I was 9 years old, until I left town at 20. He mentored me in every way.
VG: That must have really helped your musical progress to be playing gigs with your teacher.
BP: Absolutely. He was semi-retired at the time, so he was all about seeing me shine. He was at that stage in his career where if I were in my 50’s, I would probably act similarly at that point in my musical journey. You move into the phase of ‘how can I pass this along?’ And that’s where I think he was.
VG: What made you buy your first Telecaster?
BP: It was50/50 on what I liked, I liked country music, and looking back at 80’s, there was as much Strat stuff going on as there was Telecaster. It wasn’t really until High School-ish time that I really got my first Tele. Which was thanks in part to a great player by the name of Greg Jennings in the band Restless Heart who was playing a Tele-style guitar with 3 pickups and a bender that sounded great. Because of Greg, I wanted a bender, so I had a tele made, sent it off to Joe Glaser, and he installed a bender, and that’s how my relationship with Joe was formed, and it’s been great.
VG: Was it a G, or B-bender?
BP: It was a B-bender.
VG: What made you eventually switch to using G-benders?
BP: Well, GregJennings used a “G,” as much as he used a “B.” He actually had a Glaser double bender. Jimmy Olander also came out with Diamond Rio a little bit later with the same set up. I wanted a G cause it didn’t sound the same. I can hear a B-bender lick a mile away, and it’s a cool thing, and a unique steel guitar sounding instrument, but a G-bender is different sounding. It’s a little deeper and throatier, and I wanted to be unique. And who doesn’t enjoy tuggin’ on a g-string now and then? ( Laughs)
VG: What was your first amp?
BP: A 1970 Fender Deluxe Reverb. It was a gift from my Grandfather.
VG: And your first pedal?
BP: A DOD Phaser that Hank Goddard gave to me. And I still have it. Then I bought a Chorus pedal, I think it was a Boss.
VG: After the Deluxe, what amps did you use next?
BP: I needed a bigger amp, one that was louder because we were starting to play out some, and that one, (the Deluxe) wasn’t crankin’. So my next ones were 2 Peavey amps, a Bandit, and a Special 150. Which in the 80’s were the staple country player’s amps. I then moved on to a Fender “The Twin.”
VG: The red knob twin?
BP: Yes, I went back to tube amps. That and myDeluxe Reverb I ran in stereo with an ADA effect rack unit. It was one of the first units that could do 2 effects at one time. It could do delay and chorus. In the 80’s, that was all you needed. Delay, and chorus, you could do anything. Then I went to a rack system ‘cause I wanted to be like Greg Jennings with Restless Heart. I had a Boogie pre-amp with a bunch of rack effects and a power amp with speaker cabinets. It was sometime after that I heard my first AC 30’s on the Desert Rose Band albums. I opened for them live and went, ok, this is the tone I want.
VG: Did you ask to play through John Jorgenson’s amps?
BP: No, the fist time I played through an AC 30 was when I bought two of them and had them shipped from England. Of course I went to plug’em in and I had to change the wall plugs before I could play through them.That felt like the longest twenty minutes of my life.
VG: What vintage were those AC 30’s?
BP: 62’ and 65’. 62’ non-top boost, and a 65 with top boost. I still have the 65’ that I still use at times.
VG: When did you get your Red 62’ Vox AC 30?
BP: I bought it at a guitar show in Dallas in the mid 90’s. It was fantastic, a very special amp.
VG: What about the Fawn 61’ head and cab AC 30?
BP: That was at the same guitar show a few years later.
VG: Did you use that amp on your first record?
BP: I used the red AC 30 on the first record primarily.
VG: What about your 55 Martin D-18?
BP: I bought it at the Texas guitar show, Great guitar. That show in Arlington, TX, I used to go there with Buzz and Frank Rogers, my producer and his dad. That show was always a lot of fun, one of the best. I haven’t been there in years, but I want to go back. We used to take a 3-day weekend and it was like Christmas. We would save up our money all year and buy something that we were just dying to have, and go home with it. It was great.
VG: Tell me about your Z amps?
BP: Well, I heard my first Dr Z amp at Mike E’s Music in Smyrna TN. I was wanting to retire my red ac30. It had played too many fairs, full of dust, beaten up, and fixed 8 times. I began to feel it was very stupid to be carrying around this very special old amp riding in the back of a semi. Anyway, I was looking for something that would sound just as good, and yet have its own signature thing, and when I first heard this Mazerati at Mike E’s, I was floored, and bought it. Over the years I struck up a relationship with Z, and bought a couple more amps. Then, a little over a year ago, Z called me up and indicated he was working on a unique amp with me in mind. He thought it might be something I would be really interested in. I spent a day off at his shop, tweaking it, and soon afterwards I got the prototype for the Extra Strength Prescription head. It’s about 45 watts, which of course starts to differentiate it from the 30-watt amps I had been playing. This however made the amp more suited for the type of gigs I’m doing. Because of the additional wattage, we ended up going with a Weber speaker that is built similar to the Vox Blue, but is rated at 50 watts. I love Ted’s speakers, they’re so musical. Besides, the Prescription and its 45-watt output can destroy the old 15-watt Vox blues. Don’t ask how we know that. This amp is a great all-around amp. If you crank it up, it can get very dirty, yet smooth sounding. If you run it up about half way, you can get the nicest clean with a touch of hair on it. Its punchy and compressed, and just a well-rounded amplifier. I love Z because of his creativity, all his amps are unique, and he doesn’t just make a dead rip-off of someone else’s designs. Z wants all his amps to be unlike anything that has come before. So far he has done that.
VG: So what’s this other Z amp you are using onstage?
BP: Well, I find for what I do, I need at least 2 amps running. For one thing they fill up the stage better, and they both feel a little different. They can compliment each other, and create a more unique sound. On records it’s not necessarily the case, I’ll often use just one amp with a lot of mics on it. In a live setting I like to take up as much sonic space as possible!
VG: So this other “TOP SECRET” Z amp, with black tape on the face plate, what is it?
BP: This is something I had in my head, all of the little characteristic things that make my favorite amps my favorite amps. I thought, there’s a niche to be filled. My old red Vox is a very special amp, with Woden transformers. But it’s not perfect for everything. So I wanted to know if something new could be made that would have some of that character, and rawness, and expand on it. On a few of the tracks on the new record, I used the Prescription and the red AC 30 together. So, I really wanted some way of replicating that sound live. But instead of just copying my red ac30 amp, Z based it more upon a 4 input ac30 with an EF86 preamp tube. I found out that Vox had created the top boost circuit when players complained about the EF-86 circuit being removed in later amps. The amp then has the Mazerati style of tone knob, and a cut control. The amp is to be called the Stingray, and hopefully will be coming out next year.
VG: And What about the red 24-foot tall Z amp on stage with you?
BP: That’s the Maxi-Z (laughs). It has 2-12 foot speakers, 44 EL-84’s, and more 12ax7’s than you can shake a stick at. I don’t think the good Doctor is going to release this amp any time soon.
VG: What strings are you using?
BP: I have used Ernie Ball 10’s my entire career. Best strings for a Tele.
VG: You have been appearing a lot lately with what looks like a 50’s Telecaster.
BP: That’s a 52 body with a 57’ neck with Alan Hamel pickups. I had been looking for a 50’s Tele for a long time. I had always wanted one, and finally found one I really liked. Nothing sounds like a 50-year old piece of wood.
VG: Does it have a bender?
VG: What about the pick guard?
BP: It’s apiece of paisley fabric I found. I put it underneath a clear guard.
VG: Tell me about the Crook Guitars.
BP: Bill Crook is a phenomenal guitar builder that puts his heart and soul into his stuff. Bill will do anything you want. I have always been a fan of that kind of creativity. I love vintage guitars, but sometimes you want to be able to order up a guitar just the way you want it. You know, use your imagination. I’ve known him since I was 8-years old, and he’s a wonderful guy.And he has a great system down with Charlie McVay who makes the benders I play in my Crook guitars. They’re top notch. Every detail is perfectly tweaked on an instrument when those guys have built it.
VG: Let’s talk about some of the tracks on the new album; tell me about “The World.”
BP: We really tried to do something different on the new record. In using different sounds. We tried to weave in and out a lot of guitar sounds. The song starts out with a very lo-fi, envelope filter sound through the Mini-Z amplifier. Which is such a great amp of Dr. Z’s. It's only 6-watts, and its got a really nice almost lap steel amp kind of sound. The rest of the song has parts that fill voids, whether that be a dirty muted rhythm part, or a baritone electric part, and the lead lines. We tried to make the song sound larger than life. We tried to create a symphony of guitars.
VG: What about “Alcohol?”
BP: That’s the 50’s Tele through an Aqua Puss delay into the Prescription and the old red Vox.
VG: What about the more “blown up” sound at the end of the song?
BP: Same setup, but with a Zen Drive, and a bunch of echo going through a cranked up Mini-Z.
VG: “Waitin’ OnA Woman”
BP: That’s a Maxon AD 900 delay, which was the only one with a long enough analog delay to get the syncopated delay in the intro. The amp was the Prescription cranked up with the AC 30.
VG: What about the guitar?
BP: That was Salsa, my red paisley Crook guitar with a rosewood board.
VG: The solo and fills on “She’s Everything” have an almost Jeff Beck meets Clapton feel.
BP: That’s a 61’ Strat cranked through the Prescription amp. On this album I felt the freedom to really experiment with more guitar tones, seek new territory.
VG: What’s the effect on the intro of “You Need A Man Around Here.”
BP: That’s the Line 6 filter modeler pedal. We used it a lot on the new record. Good times with envelope filters.
VG: “Rainin’ You,”
BP: That’s my McPherson acoustic, and a Crook baritone through a memory man into a 64’ DeluxeReverb.
VG: That’s a different kind of song for you. Were you influenced by your performance with John Mayer on the CMT Crossroads special?
BP: Working with John brought out a side of me that, maybe before, I was scared to admit was there. I had never done anything like sung “Why Georgia,”which has such a high falsetto chorus. So, it wasn’t until I had done that, that I realized I could do that. Then it was like, maybe I should.
VG: “Love Is Never Ending”
BP: The acoustic is a 1944 Martin D-28 I borrowed from Buzz Rogers. Electric-wise it’s the 52 Tele switching in-between the neck and bridge pickups.
VG: What were some of the other acoustics you used on the record?
BP: Buzz’s 57’ Gibson J-185, a mid 60’s J-45, and a number of Everett acoustics. I also used a McPherson with Koa back and sides on a number of tracks on the new album. They are fantastic instruments, they mic up unbelievably
BP: That’s mostly Gary Hooker. I only played the harmony parts. We were both playing through cranked Mini-Z amps. I played a Tele, and he played a Les Paul on it. Gary played all the leads, I just played the harmony parts. That’s a fun song to play live. Like it says in the song, I really feel that it’s a real privilege to get to do this for a living.
VG: “Time Warp”
BP: Well, we like instrumentals and we put them on almost every record. In this case we wanted to write something that would have something to do with time signatures, being that the title of the album is “Time Well Wasted,” and let’s make it ridiculously fast. My Drummer is a great drummer, and he (Ben Sesar) made the mistake of showing me that he could play a train beat that fast. So, that’s where that was born. So let's do really fast Jazz, let’s do really fast bluegrass and chicken pickn’, and then let's do a blues in 6/8 time.
VG: You seem to start out on a Telecaster, but it sounds like a Les Paul toward the end.
BP: Yeah, that was a Les Paul through a Zen Drive.
VG: Tell me about using James Burton on “Cornography?”
BP: One of the perks of being a successful record artist is to do things just like that. And as a big fan, and he’s a big influence on me, I’m just really glad to have that opportunity, and just to get the chance to spend time with him. When he comes into the studio, he tells stories, he just one of those guys that’s one of the handful of guitarists, that’s responsible for the whole thing, the whole craze, everything. When you think of a Fender Telecaster, it all goes back to him in many ways.
VG: You also performed at James’ Guitar Festival.
BP: I had a great time. I got to finally jam with Eric Johnson on a tune, which was one of the many highlights of the night for me. I got to meet one of my new favorites, which is Johnny A, who is a tremendous player. I loved hearing him. Getting to see Seymour Duncan play, and Steve Cropper, the list goes on and on.
VG: Is it true that you got to play through Eric Johnson’s amp rig?
BP: Yeah, I got to play through Eric’s rig, the dream of every one of us tone geeks. Loved it. Loved the tone, loved the feel of it, you plug in and you sound a little bit more like Eric Johnson than you would without. That dark Marshall, lead tone, and extremely bright Fender rhythm tone, it was a really unique experience. Those are some of the perks that you never, ever think you’d get to do. Those are the moments I’ll remember forever.
Questions not included in the original printing:
VG: You were recently seen sitting in with Redd Volkaert inAustin, TX.
BP: Yeah, you can’t beat Redd Volkaert. I got the education of a lifetime in just one night. Just watching him play, and playing with him. He always makes me feel self-conscious, like I ought to have to give back everything that I’ve earned. Every night we have these fans that show up to see me play, but I’m thinking if y’all only knew, you’d fly to Austin instead of being here tonight. See that guy, that’s what you want to watch.
VG: When going in a new stylistic direction, do you mostly trust your own judgment, or do you rely on the feedback from certain other people?
BP: Both. It has to feel right to me first though. Then, I have my producer and band guys. These people are not afraid to tell me if they don’t like something.
VG: These days, you must get pitched tons of songs. Are you reliant on a core group of songwriters? Are there any songs on "Time Well Wasted” that are first-time writing collaborations?
BP: I do have a core group of writers. You end up writing with people you are comfortable with. Guys that have been with me from the beginning like, Chris Dubois, Frank Rogers, Kelly Lovelace, Robert Arthur, Tim Owens, and Bill Anderson. I started writing with many of these guys while I was still in college. A first time co-writer was Lee Thomas Butler. .
VG: Tell us about collaborating with Alan Jackson on "Parking Lot."
BP: Big (writers) Guy Clark and Darrell Scott fan. I felt the song really lent itself to being a duet. It feels like a more realistic atmosphere with two guys singing it. I really like to do duets with people who are heroes. Alan is the one modern guy that I try to emulate in both career path and philosophy. It’s a real honor. I have been a fan of his since I was in high school and his first album came out.
VG: And what about Dolly Parton on "When I Get Where I'm Going."
BP: My Aunt loved Dolly, and that song was a tribute to her. She died of cancer in 2004. We needed that beautiful woman’s voice. For an angelic vibe, you need a woman. It’s the same reason I used Alison Krauss on “Whiskey Lullaby.” She has that angelic quality that is mentioned in the lyrics.
Info on Brad's circa 2005 Live Rig:
Brad’s main amps are Dr. Z Stingray, and Prescription ES amplifiers. Paisley also carries, Z-28, Delta 88, Mazerati, and Maz 38 Dr. Z amplifiers out on the road with him. The amps are plugged into 2 Dr. Z and one Vox 2-12 open back cabs with a combination of Weber silver and blue 50-watt alnico speakers. 2 Digital Music GCX units control effect and amp switching. The following units are contained in his rack: Shure ULX wireless, Line 6 Echo Pro and Modeler Pro, two Aqua Puss analog delays, Zen Drive, AC and RC Boosters, Boss DD-2 delay, Keeley TS-9, Axess BS-2 Buffer, Keeley Compressor, EH Holier Grail reverb, Line 6 Filter Modeler, Durham Sex Drive, and a Boss RV-5 reverb.
Guitars include: 1968 Paisley Telecaster, 52/57 Telecaster,Music Man Albert Lee, and 3 Crook Custom Tele-Style guitars. All of the Tele-style guitars feature Glaser or McVay G-benders. AMcPherson and a Larrivee D-10 are his acoustics of choice.
Here is the original sidebar on Paisley's guitarist, Gary Hooker
Gary Hooker has been Brad Paisley’s guitarist for the past 5-years. It’s a job that he describes as, “a great utility guitar player position.” Besides singing harmony, Hooker switches between acoustic, electric, and baritone instruments during the course of the fast paced show. Brad had the following to say about Gary: “He’s an incredible guitar player and band member. When you play for a guy like me, who is a lead player, it’s a different gig than when you are playing for someone who is primarily a vocalist. He is a consummate professional capable of playing anything. I’m very lucky to have him”
Gary was born in the small town of Clewiston Florida. He began taking guitar lessons in his early teens, and quickly came under the spell of rock n’ roll. By High School, Gary was playing in bands and wearing a short wig to cover his non-regulation long hair. Hooker adds, “There was a group us who played in rock bands. We would wear the wigs all week, and then take them off to play our gigs on the weekend.” Gary’s professional career began in 1978, playing with Dave Loggins, of “Please come to Boston,” fame. In 1982, he made the move to Nashville, and played with country artist Gary Morris for the next 10 years. Hooker spent the 90’s playing with artists such as Steve Kolander, The Cactus Choir, and Sara Evans. Gary first met Paisley in 1999, as part of an opening slot with Alan Jackson. Hooker elaborates, “I was part of a staff band that backed up a number of new acts, including Brad.” Less than a year later, he was invited to join Paisley’s band. Besides his live duties, Gary has played on Brad’s last 3 records, and that’s him playing the fills and solos on the track “Easy Money,” off “Time Well Wasted.”
Here are a few of Gary’s live instruments. Acoustics are: Bourgeois Slope-D, Alvarez-Yari dreadnaught, and an Epiphone Masterbilt. Electrics are the following: Crook Baritone with McVay D-Bender, ‘95 Gibson Custom ES-335, and a Crook Tele-style with TV Jones Filtertrons. Amps include Dr. Z KT-45, and Z-28 heads powering 2-12 cabinets. Hooker’s favorite vintage pieces include a ‘’61 SG Special with factory Bigsby, mid 60’s Vox tube Cambridge and Berkley amps, and a 70’s Kustom amp with built in tremolo, vibrato, and fuzz.