By John Ussery
These are the instruments and pedals, cables and strings I use. I find that they are all important to me either for recording, writing or live performances. I like things that work and work on demand -- thru and with the help of several people we have got it down.
First, let me give you my take on guitars and pickups -- The Les Paul, Stratocaster, Tele, 335 or any of those guitars of that era -- weren't broken and didn't need to be fixed or changed. Not being able to afford or own and play those relics, I went in search of a suitable replacement. I was fortunate enough to meet a guy named Jay Wolfe of Wolfe Guitars. Jay was and is the biggest dealer of Heritage Guitars. For those of you that are not familiar with Heritage, they were the guys that used to build Gibsons. When Gibson moved from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Nashville, Tennessee, these guys decided they didn't want to uproot their families and move, so they bought the old Gibson factory and decided to keep making by hand the guitars they knew and loved. When I was asked to sign as an artist with them and am now the only blues artist they have signed, I was honored.
I am still playing the first H150 they built me. I have Seymour Duncan Antiquities with an ABR bridge. Tony Nobles, writer for Vintage Guitar, and guitar-builder extraordinaire, potted these pickups and cut me a bone nut. It is important to me to have cold pickups. If I want a clean bell-like sound, I can get that. If I want to drive it and brown it out, all I have to do is crank it up and lean into my amp. If you use hot pickups, you can never get a clean sound or control everything in between. I use big frets, bone nuts and pure Kendrick nickel strings.
I have all my pickups potted -- it takes the 'phonics out and gets rid of that harsh cheap sound -- you go from harsh cheap to warm lush. I also use a '54 custom shop Stratocaster. They sound and feel just like the old ones. They are the real deal!! I had the frets replaced with big ones. For my acoustic work, I use a Martin 000-16SP. For the money, I can't beat Martin phosphor bronze strings, but I must say there is a world of difference in nickel electric strings, and I'll say, "You can't beat Kendricks."
As for amps, this is where I have had the most problems. I love the old Fenders and Marshalls and have had them. Here's the good news: last year I played in the Heritage Booth at the summer NAMM show in Austin, TX. Not only have they made some fine improvements to their guitars -- necks, bodies and a new pickup that is killer-- they have come out with a line of amplifiers that will do whatever one wants and tone to die for. These amps are hand built by great players who know! I am using a 50 watt Liberty and the 25 watt Victory. With today's PA systems, that's all you need. You have to go back 50 years to get an amp this good that sounds as great as these. When I played at the NAMM show and after 3 days I told Lane Zastro I was going home and sell every amp I owned and play nothing but Heritage and that is what I did.
I'm not real big on pedals although I use a few. I've included a photo of what I use. They all have earned their place in my rig for one reason or another. A friend and up-and-coming singer, guitar and harp player from Houston, TX, Hamilton Loomis turned me on to AKAI Pro Head Rush E2, and the Pedal Train pedal board. I don't ever use the Dynacomp except in church. It does come in handy there sometimes. The TC Electronics Chorus is great for a Leslie sound and feel. I also use and only use George L's to connect everything with. They don't put any sag in your sound.
I put my amp volume on about 8 and use my guitar for fine adjustment. I can't tell anyone where to set their tone knobs, but for me I like a good bit of all of them. I leave all the treble on my Heritage H150-CM, but I roll most of the highs off my Stratocaster unless I'm using it for a special rhythm part.
God Bless you all and may your music stand the test of time. If you have any questions, send us an email.