You have a powerful tone, what guitarists have influenced your guitar sound over the years?
The search for tone is an ongoing process for me, it never ends. I’ve always loved Billy Gibbons’ tone. also – Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughan.
A lot of your stuff is done as a 3-piece, can you share some of the things you might do in live and recording sessions to create the weight and depth that you do?
A huge part of my sound starts with my Gibson 335. I have 3 of them and they all sound different. I only ever use tube amps. Usually live I use my Fender Blues DeVille 2×12 with a Fender Blues Deluxe 1×12 as a backup ( for larger outdoor festivals I use both of them together). I tour with plexi baffles so I can turn the amps up to get the tubes working. In the studio I wind the amps out to really get them singing. I’ve also had great success using smaller amps in the studio that are turned all the way up. The Egnater Tweaker 15 watt amp was used a lot on my last record.
Could you give us a walkthrough for your main rig? From pickups to the mic you prefer on your cabinet, what’s in the setup?
My main Gibson ES 335 is a stock Dot neck re-issue (w/ D’Addario EXL 140’s Light top heavy bottom strings .10 – .52)
I have 3 touring pedal boards that I swap pedals to and from. My main drive pedals are the Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive, a vintage Ibanez TS9, and a Boss Super Overdrive that has been modified. I also use the Tech 21 Rotochoir for a Leslie effect and a Boss DD7 for delays. I run the LINE6 G20 wireless system also.
My main amps are the Fender Blues DeVille (NON hot-rodded model) with 2 x 12’s, I don’t prefer the 4x 10 versions as they don’t have the low end I’m looking for.
I’m not picky about mics for Live, any Shure 57 will do!
You have a brand new album coming out May of this year called “7”. When you record, do you go through a lot of different gear or is it roughly the same setup on the whole album? Tell us about some of the gear used on “7”.
We are in pre-production right now, so I haven’t decided what amps will be used for tracking. The studio we are recording in has several choices for amps, so I will be like a kid in a candy store. On my last record, my producer Rob Szabo and I spent a lot of time on guitar tones, we used a VHT Special 6 and the Egnater mixed together. This new record is going have more of a “Live” feel to it so I will likely stick with my main rig for most of the recording.
You have a mix of modern and traditional blues throughout your discography. In your opinion, for either use, what are some of the pound for pound best amps and cabs ever made?
Basically as long as it has tubes in it, I think I can get a tone I would be happy with. I love the classic tones – you can’t beat a Fender for the more traditional stuff. I use a Marshall JCM 50 head and 4×12 cabinet for some of the more modern blues sounds. The EL34’s have a very specific break up point that I really like for some drive sounds….kind of like a Clapton Blues Breaker tone.
With so much power and groove in your playing, it feels like there might be some love for hard rock or heavier playing involved, what sort of stuff drives the harder end of your playing?
Thanks, I do love rock! I came across Blues via bands like Led Zeppelin, Clapton, Johnny Winter, so the rock influence has always been there. I hear blues in everything, especially the classic rock bands.
With a lot of popular players switching over to digital gear as well as the huge increase in the quality of tones inside said units, have you looked into any of the digital and more compact gear options on the market?
I haven’t, I’m more of a traditional kind of player. I still like the idea of using pedals. That being said, I am hearing great things about the digital gear, I just don’t see making any major changes in my immediate future, though never say never.
If someone was to ask you on the spot, no time to think “what’s the best guitar tone ever recorded?” What would your immediate answer be?
My immediate answer would probably be anything from Hendrix, though I’ve always loved the guitar tone on Bowie’s Rebel, Rebel tune…but that’s my immediate response…so much to choose from if I had to think about it. …The Black Crowes have had some monster guitar tones on their records too.
I really enjoy when a band or artist is able to capture their live sound on an album. This is something that is very consistent across your discography. What sort of advice can you give to musicians looking to do the same?
Thanks! I agree, and that is something that is very important to me. I really believe that tone is in your hands. Every guitarist sounds different, even through the same gear. Also, I have to give credit to my producers (Rob Szabo, Dave King) and engineers (Tim Abraham, Wayne Cochrane) in the studio…they were a huge part of my sound on recordings. These guys all love tone as much as I do!
So as far as advice I’d have to say surround yourself with people that share the same vision you do for your music. Also, do your homework! We always had lots of reference material to compare sounds.
Apart from the album release, what else is happening in 2019 for you?
It’s been an incredible start to 2019 – last month I was in Memphis TN, for the International Blues Challenge, and I won Best Guitarist for the Solo/duo category. I’m heading to Nashville in a few weeks to record, then returning back to Hamilton to finish tracking and mixing…then on to touring. Summer festival dates are coming in, so it looks like it’s going to be a very busy exciting year.
Steve Strongman is one of the most talented blues players out there today and one of my personal favorites for some time. If blues and blues rock are your thing, you really have to familiarize yourself with as much of Steve’s work as possible.