Every single time anyone has ever said “country players can’t shred” to me, I have had a Johnny Hiland video in their face within seconds. When you think of country shredders, who comes to mind?
When thinking of a country shredder the person that comes to my mind instantly is Danny Gatton. Most people do not consider him a “shredder“ – but he could play it all with ease!
I loved Danny’s aggressive approach and confidence when playing and I wanted that same approach for my own playing. I would have to say that Danny is my biggest guitar hero and you will always hear me playing some of his tunes in my show! It is important that we keep Danny Gatton’s legacy alive!
You are the only country player to have been on legendary shred label, Shrapnel records. What was it like being part of that scene?
Shrapnel Records is a label that every guitarist has been aware of, and has probably been a fan of, for years. Truthfully, everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Eric Gales has been on that label.
I was absolutely honored when my buddy Jason Macedo, who I was working with doing The Sound Guitar Magazine, told me that he had talked with Mike Varney and that he was interested in signing me. After working up a contract, Mike flew me out to Cotati California, and I brought forth my best instrumental record to date called “All Fired Up” in 2011.
Being the first country guitarist Mike had ever worked with, he allowed me freedom to be expressive in my own way. Mike truly acted like the more shredding I did, even in a country chicken pickin’ way, the more he loved it! I think he is the biggest guitar fan on the planet as it showed in the way he produced this record with me. I had more fun than I can express seeing all of my songs come to life with some of my favorite musicians playing with me on the album. Stu Hamm on bass, Jeremy Colson on drums, and Jesse Bradman on keys. It was just a true blast and I will never forget that whole experience! You can feel the fun we had on the album, and I will always be grateful to Mike Varney for giving me the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing legacy of Shrapnel Records recording artists! What a dream come true!!!
Your playing has always had a harder edge to it at times. What rock and metal players influenced you as a young player?
I am truly a fan of all styles of guitar. In the rock world, I would say that I have been most influenced by Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani. Of course, I love Vinnie Moore, Steve Vai, Tony MacAlpine, Jason Becker, Frank Gambale, and many other shredders, but I always loved Eddie’s finger tapping and solo construction and the way that Joe Satriani writes his songs.
Have you ever played in a rock or metal outfit in your career or perhaps lent the harder side of your playing to an artist via session work?
Oh yes. I played on a track for the Alien Cowboys where I got to rock out. I have played on several records with Hank 3 where I got to rock out some. Plus, I have played on several newer style country records where rock is a bit more noticeable. I even got to play on a version of “Born To Be Wild” with legendary guitarist Nokie Edwards where I rocked out hard as well!
When it comes to playing live, I have jammed with G3, Sammy Hagar, and George Clinton and P-Funk and many others. They all let me rock out and have fun, that’s for sure!
Let’s talk about your gear! You have had several set ups over the years but what is your set up looking like these days and how do your live and recording rigs differ?
I have definitely changed my rig up a few times over the years. However, they all have been quite similar.
Today, I have the best guitar home I have ever had with Kiesel Guitars. I have seven different Kiesel guitars now including a new signature model called the JH6! All of my guitars are loaded with Elixir Strings in 9-42, Schaller S-Locks, a Longhollow Leather strap, and I also have my signature V-Pick and Dunlop thumb pick onboard! I have my prototype Solo in scarlet red, a whiskey brown JH6, a white wash JH6, a seafoam green SH550 for swing, rockabilly, and jazz, an amazing Aries with humbuckers and a floating Kiesel trem for rockin’ out, a Kiesel Single Cut for my blues and southern rock, and a Bolt Classic S-style for when I just need some SRV love!!! They are all beasts, and I feel they are all the best guitars I have ever owned!!!!
In creating my new signature model, I went back to a T-style axe and I wanted to add that old black face Fender style tone to my rig. So, thanks to Cliff Cultrarie of destroyallguitars.com, I am now playing Fat Jimmy Amps along with my Reeves. I am using the Jefferson 100. It gives me my chicken pickin’ tone, and my Reeves Space Cowboy still rocks out with more of a British voice. Both amps do all styles well, but I have the best of both worlds in the American and British voiced amps now. I currently run those heads through Avatar cabs loaded with Celestion G12-K100’s in them and I run all of my amps through the Amp RX Brown Box for voltage regulation.
As far as my effects go, I have 2 main pedalboards that I run now. The pedalboards are all PedalTrain boards with Voodoo Lab Power Supplies. I run the Pedal Power 2 Plus on my PT-2, and the Mondo on my PT-Pro. All of my connector cables are Mogami 2524’s, and my main cables are 20ft. Tsunami Cables.
On the PT-2 board my guitar goes into the GoGo Horizon tuner, and the chain goes like this: A Keeley Compressor Plus, Boss Blues Driver Waza Craft, Analog Alien Bucket Seat Overdrive, Metal Pedals Johnny Hiland Grumble Box Distortion, ISP Decimator II Noise Reducer, the TC Electronic Flashback X4 delay unit, and a Keeley Omni Reverb pedal. Then, out to my amp.
The PT-Pro is about the same thing. I just added a Loop Master 6 Pedal Switcher. Then, I use a Digitech Ricochet Whammy after the tuner, a J. Rocket Archer Clean for a boost after the compressor, and I use a J. Rocket Boing Spring Reverb on this board going out to the amp. When I feel the need, I also may add the Orange Amps Fur Coat Octave Fuzz in there too!
I now feel that I truly have the best rig I could have ever dreamed of. It has taken me a lot of years to really find my tone, but I now have it!! I am a very blessed man and I give massive thanks to all of my amazing endorsers!!
With your background and influences in harder genres with your obvious love for gear, do you have a higher gain set up around for when you feel like tearing the roof off?
Hahaha, well, no, not really. My amps are 100w heads, and I do have 2 Avatar 4×12 cabs for rocking out! My Kiesel Aries is the bomb for rock, and so is my signature JH6!!! My effects give me all I need. However, I do have a number of different distortion pedals! Plus, I do have an Eleven Rack, if necessary.
Many of today’s most popular players are switching to digital units like the Kemper Profiling amp and Fractal AxeFx for convenience and travel factors, have you ever been tempted to switch to an all digital rig?
Not really. Being a chicken picker, my tone is really coming from a good ole tube amp. That is a “must have” in my world. I can certainly understand why other players do it, but I haven’t found anything to top what I’m using right now!
You have had your name on some truly incredible gear over the years and not long ago, you found your way to the very popular Kiesel Guitars. How did your signature Kiesel Johnny Hiland JH6 come together?
Well, it was a simple conversation with Jeff Kiesel. I explained to him that I had started with Fender, tried PRS with my own model, then Music Man, and I just couldn’t find a guitar “home” that truly fit for me.
I wanted to create a guitar that had the traditional T-style feel, but offered some cool modern touches. It did not take us long to design my model after I checked out the Kiesel Solo! It is an incredible guitar! I simply added my own signature pickups, the Johnny Hiland Six Shooter Singles by Electric City Pickups, and changed the knob and switch layout. The only other thing I did to make my guitar different was to tighten the string spacing in the nut, and then choose what colors I would like with Jeff Kiesel. That was truly it. Jeff Kiesel, and all of his amazing folks in the factory, made it a complete blast while seeing another dream come true for me!! The Kiesel family is amazing and I am very honored to be a part of it!
In addition to signature gear, you have put a lot of time and hard work into several instructional videos for really all skill sets. Do you find it difficult to break down and explain your style?
I have been teaching guitar for well over 25 years now. love it! It is difficult to teach chicken pickin.’ However, like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get at it. In teaching my style, I have tried to do my best to make it easier for folks to grab hold of what I’m doing. I try to emphasize melody and chromaticisms and teach less on theory.
I only hope that my instructional materials through Hot Licks, Mel Bay, Truefire, and Jam Track Central all bring fun to everybody as they learn. I think that that is what any teacher would want. Yes, country guitar is hard to learn but as long as you keep it fun, you will keep after it! In the same way, I, as a teacher, have to remember that it is fun to teach and very rewarding when you get to see folks play what you taught them. Plus, I feel that the only way you can be blessed is if you bless others. It is truly amazing!
Being a session player takes a very special skill set both personally and professionally. What advice can you give to any aspiring session player looking to make it a career?
I think the best advice I can offer is that every song you get to record lives beyond you. Remember that becoming a session player is very hard in a place like Nashville. Especially, when you want to play on big records. However, our industry is changing and everybody has a home studio now. Play on every song you can possibly play on and make sure you always play your best! Yet, remember to always play what is best for the song. It is not necessarily about showing off, it is about what is best for the song. You never know who’s going to hear what you have played on. Therefore, it is always important to play well on everything even if you do not dig the tracks, or you just don’t feel well. I can recall times when I had to play on stuff that didn’t always make me smile. However, I had to pay my phone bill and keep my lights on, so I needed the work. No matter what the case may be, always put your best into every song you play on. Again, you never know who is going to hear it, or what opportunities may come from it.
In 2018 you released your most recent album “Standing Strong”, what does 2019 have in store for Johnny Hiland fans?
Well, this year, my wife and I are starting a new chapter in our lives by living in Chatham, Virginia. We moved in December of 2018. Nashville has simply outgrown us. Country music is not what it used to be and we just needed a change of pace in our lives. I know people think that because I have moved that my career is over, but that is simply not true. 2019 is bringing a lot of cool things to look forward to.
Currently, I am about to release a new record in April. It is a gospel record that I have always wanted to do where I asked some of my dear guitar picking heroes/friends to join in on the fun. I picked all of my favorite old gospel tunes, revamped them to suit guitar, and had a blast with guests like John Jorgenson, Brent Mason, Greg Martin, Thom Bresh, Phil Keaggy, Jack Pearson, and legendary country piano great, Hargus “Pig” Robbins. I can’t wait for y’all to hear this! It is truly my way to give thanks to God for the gift of music! I hope y’all enjoy it!
I have been spending a lot of time trying to finish up my autobiography with my dear friend Eric Dahl. I have been teaching via Skype, FaceTime, and in person at my home. If you are interested in grabbing a lesson with me, all you have to do is log on to johnnyhilandlessons.com. I would love to teach all of you! I am also preparing a new Truefire course. Plus, I will continue doing shows with my band and traveling doing my clinic tour. I actually started that this year by going to the Fort Lee Army Base in Virginia and spending time with US Army band. What fun we had!
My social media has picked up quite a bit and every Sunday, at 1:00pm CST, you can come on Facebook to my official page, Johnnyhilandofficial, and have fun with me during my weekly Q&A with my sweet Kimmie girl running the camera and asking me your questions! It is a true blast, and I hope you join us!
In closing, I am excited about what is yet to come in my career. Every day is a new day even though our music business is changing rapidly! I am also currently revamping my studio so I can continue to play on tracks for folks. Session work is still in my blood, and I just have to do it! Plus, I am looking forward to preparing my next album after the current gospel release. And we have some new opportunities in the works, like my new video podcast show, “Guitar Talk with Johnny Hiland,” that we will be start to tape in May for a hopeful rollout during Summer NAMM in Nashville. Plus, there are a few other opportunities that I’m not even open to talk about yet. I have the best fans in the entire world, so keep watch on my FB official page, Johnnyhilandofficial, and on my website, http://www.johnnyhiland.net, for all future dates and things coming up! I am truly the happiest guitar artist on the planet today and I thank all of my fans for their continued support! I truly love you all, and I could not be the artist I am today without you! God Bless!!!
Being able to interview one of my favorite guitarists of all time was really a lot of fun. I will admit, I went more with things I wanted to to know personally in this interview and I tried to find out a few things that maybe he doesn’t get to discuss all that often. It was big pressure putting the questions together because it’s not every day you get to ask Johnny Hiland about gear and such. Johnny is an incredibly humble guy whom I have talked with in the past for advice on gear and he readily takes time to talk to his fans and supporters. You can find Johnny Hiland all over social media
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