Bildnachweis: Graham Milne
This article series is about the tools of popular guitarists. What are their favorite guitars and how is it related to them? This time with Ash Wilson.
Over the year’s I have played quite a lot of different guitars but mainly the usual Strats, Tele’s, Les Pauls and of course 335’s. Here are the guitars I’ve been using for the majority of the last twelve months.
Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster 1955 Reissue Limited Edition.
Many have come and gone but the one guitar that I’ve kept going back to is a 2015 Fender Stratocaster 1955 Custom Shop Reissue. It’s one of those excalibur guitars that you pick up and immediately feel inspired. Being a fifties inspired spec Strat it has a maple neck, but interestingly rather than the usual soft V neck this guitar has a more telecaster spec U shape neck. It’s very big, which is one the reasons I like this guitar so much. It has very little finish on the back of the neck, (the only benefit to the relic finish which I am not a big fan of to be honest), so it’s very easy to move around the neck on this guitar. Also, with the body being made of Ash the guitar is on the lighter side which I think really helps the guitar resonate. I’ve often found heavy guitars sound duller than lighter examples of the same instrument and have the added benefit of not resulting in a sore back! The other difference is the five way pickup selector switch in place of a three. The pickups are what’s known as 55 hand wired pickups and were tock with the guitar. They are relatively low output and really suit the fuzz tones that I favour. I had a problem with the original machine head’s so that have been changed but I just replaced them with direct replacement heads. The only other change to this guitar is to the near most to the jack socket tone control. I have added a Kingtone Tone Switch which is a direct CTS replacement pot that dramatically alters the tone of the pickups. This passive unit is true by pass so, when not engaged won’t effect the tone of the guitar at all. However, when engaged in one of it’s three positions the switch acts like a very long cable, taking off a few of the low and high frequencies which results in the guitar having a perceived fatter tone. You can go from Clapton to SRV to Albert King with a mere switch of this device. I highly recommend it! That leaves a master tone control and a master volume. I cannot say enough good things about this guitar, it’s got great sustain and really sings even when unplugged. All the pickups compliment each other well, even the often overlooked middle pickup, and with the addition of the tone switch the guitar is very versatile. The only thing I’ve never been struck with is the heavy relic finish, I’ve always preferred a guitar that has honest wear rather then the prefabricated relic finishes that are so popular these days. However, other than that I love this guitar and it has been my main instrument in the studio and live for the last five years on my solo shows.
Paul Reed Smith Silver Sky John Mayer
To be honest when these came out I was a skeptic. Having owned a very high spec PRS Custom 22 Artist for a while which I fell in and out of love with I felt that PRS guitars were very much a company that built guitars more suited to music of a heavier orientation than that I play. The Custom 22 I owned was a particularly hot and loud guitar that sent all but the most highest powered amps immediately into overdrive. I eventually moved that guitar on but I had never played another mass produced guitar that quite had the build quality of the PRS, I mean the thing never went out of tune and I don’t think I had to intonate it more than once in ten years. But I wasn’t in love with the sound, it was a good sound but just not for me as I’m generally a Strat guy… Then John Mayer announces his departure from Fender and is seen playing what looks like a Strat body with a PRS head stock! I was very cynical about the Silver Sky but of course being a gear hound I could not help myself upon encountering one in Germany at Music Store one day on a day off touring with Sari Schorr. As soon as I picked it up I felt inspired to play some John Mayer riffs as I imagine most fans of his do! But once I got over that I realised that this guitar had a lot of other really usable tones, it was really light and had an amazing feeling neck. So every time I’d we went to a guitar store that had one in stock I’d try and and every time I had the same experience. The consistency of these guitars is outstanding. So I acquired one and I’ve been incredibly happy with it. Most of the time for my own music my guitars are tuned down half a step, but I’ve kept this on in standard and it’s the guitar I almost exclusively for the home sessions I’ve done for other artists. I love the idea of a vintage voiced instrument but with modern design. It’s very stable, in fact I flew out to Svalbard with it in 2019 from the UK which involved getting on four planes and took 26 hours. The guitar spent the entire time tuned down a tone in a Mono bag and was put in the cargo hold of all four planes. When we arrived it was around -20 degrees C and when I get to the hotel room the guitar was still perfectly in tune down one whole tone. Outrageous! It’s a very comfortable guitar and is a joy to play and in my opinion deserves a place as one of the best designed ‘non Fender’ Strat style guitars such as Suhr and Xotic. I find it very comforting to know that if anything were to happen to this guitar that I’d be able to replace it easily, which sadly is not the case with the ’55 reissue Strat.
Duesenberg Starplayer TV Phonic
Photo Credit: Graham Hutton
From the moment I first saw a Deusenberg guitar I was captivated by them. I think they make the most beautiful guitars on sale with their mixture of classic guitar design mixed with art deco appointments. Upon being appointed the guitarist for US based artist Sari Schorr I knew I wanted a guitar that had a different voice to what I was used to played. Her music is very rock based but is also very dynamic so I wanted to have a combination of single coil clean tones but I definitely wanted a guitar with a humbucker in the bridge. I figured this would be the perfect and it really is for this gig. The sounds this guitar creates are peerless and it hold it’s tuning well for a vibrato equipped guitar. They make great sounding pickups and fantastic trem systems of their own and I think they are very good sounding and very reliable guitars. The neck pickup is a P90 style and the bridge is a PAF style humbucker. They are very evenly matched and there is no noticeable value drop or increase between pickups in any of the pickup selections. One of the most appealing aspects of the ‘Phonic’ model over their standard Starplayer TV guitar is the 4 way switch. Although I think the both pickup sound of the picks is very unique, (it has an out of phase nasal quality), I don’t find this sound as usable as say the two pick up sound of a Telecaster for example. That’s where the 4 way switch comes in, you get both the out of phase sound of both pickups plus a more traditional two pick up tone akin to a Telecaster. There really is a myriad of tones you can achieve with this guitar, from stratty neck tones to very open sounding 335 bridge tones and telecaster in-between sounds. It’s incredibly light owing to it being a semi hollow design so it’s great to use for a full gig.
I feel very lucky to have all the instruments I’ve listed here. I’ve a few more but these are the one’s that I’ve used the most over the last couple of years. I’ve recently acquired a PRS McCarty 594 single cut that I think I’ll be bringing out with Sari, I really want to use something that has a stop tail and I’ve been so impressed with the Silversky that I wanted to try more of what they have to offer. It’s been a great guitar at home but due to corona virus I’ve not had chance to play it in anger yet! I hope to right that wrong this year!!!
Photo Credit: Frank Nielsen
Photo Credit: Haydn Hart
Photo Credit: Nineke Loedeman
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