Tom Bukovac Interview 2005
April 17, 2020
Note from Zac: This was the very first interview I had ever conducted. Buk was kind enough to do this, and I am grateful for his willingness to do it. Below is the un-edited interview, and the shots that I took. I hope you enjoy. This originally appeared in the September 2005 issue of Vintage Guitar Magazine
Tom Bukovac is one of the top young session guitarists in Nashville. From his humble beginnings in the clubs of Cleveland Ohio, he has gone on to play on sessions for everyone from Keith Urban and Sheryl Crow, to Faith Hill and Chicago. Tom is one of the few players in Nashville who relies solely on classic vintage guitars. When Tom plays on a track, he is likely to use anything from a 1958 Gibson 335 to a ‘61 Fender Telecaster Custom. Probably the highest praise for Tom comes from the fact that one of his main clients is acclaimed studio guitarist turned producer, Dann Huff. Bukovac also played on one of the biggest country songs of 2004, Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman.”
Tom grew up in a neighborhood bar in Cleveland Ohio. His widowed mother owned and operated the bar that would support her five children and give Tom the inspiration to pick up the guitar. By the age of14, Tom was known as the “Boy Wonder” of the local music scene. He played in a succession of local bands till he grew tired of the bar scene. “I decided to move to Nashville, because everyone I knew who moved there had been able to find work.” He soon found himself playing in the road bands of a number of country artists, including Lionel Cartwright and Tanya Tucker. In 1995, Tom auditioned and got the job with Wynonna Judd. While working with Wynonna, Tom began picking up studio work on his days off the road. In 1999 he made the difficult decision to leave Wynnona, and concentrate on a career as a session guitarist. “I stayed up all night making a list of pros and cons and made the decision to turn in my notice.” Tom’s only touring after this point was a summer of 2000 European tour with John Fogerty. Things progressed rapidly after here received a call from producer, Dann Huff, to play on Keith Urban’s “Golden Road” album. “After playing on a record that went number one, things really opened up for me.” Tom soon found himself playing on sessions for artists Faith Hill, Sheryl Crow, Leann Rimes, Kenny Rogers, GretchenWilson, Amy Grant, Sara Evans, Lee Ann Womack, Montgomery Gentry, Chicago,Rascal Flatts, and The Van Zandt Brothers.
To say Tom has a nice arsenal of guitars is an understatement. The top of the heap includes a 1952 Gibson Les Paul gold top with the trapeze tail piece removed. This guitar was formerly owned by guitar great, John Jorgenson. Tom covers the Tele base with a 1961 Fender Telecaster Custom formerly owned by two Nashville guitar legends, Billy Sanford and Leon Rhodes. To cover the more aggressive sounds, he uses a 1961 Gibson Les Paul/SG with PAF’s. “This is the guitar I take out to play live.” Another favorite is a 1958 Gibson 335 with an added Bigsby vibrato.“This is one of the first 335’s to have binding on the neck.” A 1959 Rickenbacker 335 and a 1967 Gretsch Nashville round out his main axes. Tom is also the proud owner of an absolutely stock 1955 LesPaul gold top. “ Its possibly one of the lightest Les Pauls on the planet.” If you can’t tell, Tom is a Gibson man. “One of the things that differentiates me from many of the other players in town is my reliance upon Gibson instruments. As much as it sounds clichéd,Nashville is still very much a Tele-town.”
Amp wise, Tom uses a variety of new and old amps. In his amp rack you’ll find along with a 1967 Fender Dual Showman and red tolex 50-watt Marshall, an early 90’s Matchless Chieftain and a Bogner Ecstasy. “My favorite amp though is the Bogner. It changed my life, its good for everything. It’s the dream amp for me.” Tom has also started using the VH4 Diezel amplifiers. Speaker wise he uses Celestion reissue greenbacks in closed back cabinets.
Bukovac uses a variety of effects, but the following are his favorites: An MXR script logo dyna comp for compression duties. “I have it barely turned on, it frames the sound of your playing.” A Boss SD-2 overdrive is next in line. “For that just breaking up sound.” A Nobels ODR1 overdrive is used for a heavier sound than the Boss. His echo of choice is the Roland 501 Space Echo. “Nothing sounds like tape echo, and the Roland is extremely quiet.” Tom gives further praise of tape echo by saying, ”It makes your guitar sound important.”
Tom talked about a few of his favorite guitarists. Of Steve Howe he said, “I was a big fan of Yes, his approach was very influential.” He admits, “I stole a lot from Ry Cooder.” Of George Harrison he commented,” I can still play every Beatles song on both piano and guitar in the original keys.” And regarding former Pretenders/Paul McCartney guitarist, Robbie McIntosh, he had this to say, “If I could play like anyone it would be Robbie. Whatever instrument he picks up, he plays that style. Be it a Strat, or a Rick, he becomes that style of player.”
Tom has the following advice for the aspiring studio guitarist: “Never forget that you are in the service industry. Its not about you, its about the track.” Tom exemplifies these qualities with his playing on Keith Urban’s last two records. On them, Keith plays all of the solos, and Tom plays a supportive role. “You have to be a team player, and you have to be willing to try whatever the producer might come up with.”