What amp should I buy? What guitar is right for me? There is no right or wrong, but sometimes it helps to have some inspiration as you decide what works for your style of playing. Today, Jordan Holt gives us a rundown of what he likes to use in the studio and on the road with Kari Jobe as well as some helpful tips on deciding on your own gear purchases.
Amps – General Thoughts
A good amp is one of the better investments. You can have an ideal pedalboard and a $5000 guitar, but if you are not personally connecting with how the amp is sounding, it is really hard to be inspired. However, one thing that is key, as I have mentioned in previous blog posts, money does not necessarily equal amazing tone.
I love my JC-60 I believe I bought for less than $400. I love Divided by 13 amps and they cost thousands. I record direct all the time because I have found settings I love and it works for me. Kempers can be great in the right situation. No right or wrong. Try different amps and find what inspires you!
Here is some general logic for figuring out what you may like.
There are really only 3 main styles of amps – Vox, Fender, Marshall. Sure there are others that people may argue are different (maybe Dumble?), but I think it helps to mainly think in these three categories.
Most amps from other brands are just variations/clones of the models coming from these three companies.
Each of these styles have characteristics that are specific to them and it helps to get to know what those sound like. Just like overdrive pedals, amps are really just different combinations of frequency response (EQ), compression and gain amount. As you play different types of amps, try to keep those basics in mind as you decide what you do and do not like.
Here are the amps I have been using lately:
Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb
I have two of these and love them.
I prefer running identical amps in stereo because both sides of the room get the same tone from me when they are hard panned in front of house. This makes FOH’s job easier. (Fun fact: most people are not hearing your stereo effects in the room) I can set them to the same general settings, and I can backline them easily.
When backlining them on the road, they can sound different than what I have because of different tubes and biasing settings, but I know the amp well and can dial in how I want it to sound fairly quickly.
I like where the midrange is focused on these amps, how clean they are and how tight the low end is. I played Vox style amps for years but when I tried these out my guitar seemed to sit in the mix better.
Many people like to run their amps “on the edge of breakup,” but I prefer to run my amps completely clean and get all of my drive from my pedals. My reverbs and delays just sound better to me that way.
I find throwing a big reverb into a pushed amp makes things a little narrow and muddy sounding. These amps have a lot of headroom, so I can set them louder to make it full and warm sounding without getting muddy.
I run into the high input of the Vibrato channel with the effects turned off because the high end is a little different than the Normal channel. I have not really experimented with much else even though I probably should. I liked it this way and stuck with it.
Matchless Clubman 35 Reverb
From what I understand, this is a unique circuit that is kind of a cross between a Vox and a Marshall. It is a lot of fun and I have used it for years.
When I have my Deluxe’s on the road in the trailer I will use this at home. It breaks up pretty early so I put a 12AT7 tube in the phase inverter position to clean it up a little. This amp comes as a head, but I had a custom 1×12 combo cab made for it because I like the flexibility and convenience.
I do not envy people who have to carry around heavy AC30’s, heads and cabs, and other 2×12 amps. If I am micing one speaker, I don’t see the need for the other. I took the reverb out to make things a little lighter.
No tubes, but an incredible amp. Everyone talks about the cleans being amazing but I also love the unique tones of running drives into it.
It is just a different vibe. Jazz Chorus’s do not get a lot of love these days but they are an 80’s classic. I always wanted a 120 but when I saw the 1×12 60 I knew I had to get one. I seemed to miraculously find this on Craigslist on the road and thank God for it.
Sometimes I run this with the Matchless and others times I will run mono with it. I love running stereo because it makes your in ear mix sound inspiring and if one amp goes down you always have a second (this happens), but it definitely is not necessary.
No tubes on this guy means less points of failure. An amp tech told me once that roughly 90% of amp problems are tubes. All my problems have been.
Guitars – General Thoughts
Expensive guitars are great, but a cheaper guitar with decent pickups can take you a long way. I think it’s a little like owning a car. Having a used Civic that is well maintained will get you to your destination and do it comfortably, but a nice BMW will just make things a bit more fun, and look nice when you pick up your date. In no way is the BMW necessary.
When I was a kid I built a guitar. I am so glad I did because it taught me how to solder, setup guitars and figure out the specs I liked in a guitar.
Being able to swap out pickups and make guitar play better has allowed me to enjoy having more affordable guitars at times and still sound decent.
If you do not have a lot of money to throw around, go get a Mexican Fender, swap the pickups, set it up and you will love it.
Guitars come in many different flavors. Each one is unique and can produce tones that the next cannot. However, for the most part I can get through any set playing the same guitar the whole time. For most fly dates, I am only bringing one guitar. I like having options in my studio and have chosen the guitars below based on having the broadest flexibility in sounds I can have in those situations.
Here is what I am currently using:
2017 Fender American Professional Stratocaster
This is the guitar I have probably been playing the most. The neck feels amazing and the guitar overall resonates well.
Fender did a great job with this model and upgraded some features from the original Standard series that I like (such as the thicker neck and a bone nut). I swapped in black Lace Sensors recently, honestly because I was bored and wanted a change.
The stock ones still sound great. The Lace Sensors lowered the noise level and made the string to string clarity a bit better because they do not have staggered pole pieces.
The bridge pickup is a bit smoother than the stock as well. I did not go for a hotter bridge pickup because I really wanted to maintain the charm of the 2nd pickup position. That position is one of the reasons I love playing a Strat because it makes it unique. The neck pickup position is solid as well.
When they first sent me the guitar, I added extra springs to lock down the bridge because I honestly did not want to deal with setting it up and felt it would sustain better if I did so. I recently put the trem arm back in, set it up, and have been digging it so far.
I am used to using tremolos on most of my guitars, so this helps my style. It is a much different feel than a Bigsby and you have to be more delicate when using it.
Gibson ES-355 Custom Shop VOS
This is a special guitar to me. I invested a good amount into it and have played it a bunch over the years. I could play this guitar for the rest of my life and be happy.
It is basically a 335 but with some cosmetic differences and an ebony fretboard, which makes it a tad bit brighter than most 335’s. The frets are higher than other 335’s I have played, which I have found impacts the playing a good amount for me.
The VOS is a nice touch as it is mildly relic’d, which makes me a little more relaxed if it gets scratched. Some relic’s can look a little cheesy to me as it is hard to make it look authentic, but Gibson did a nice subtle job by making things a little less glossy.
The biggest downside to this guitar is its ability to stay in tune. I am constantly retuning it. I may take it to a tech soon to check out the nut and see if we can do anything about it. It is also a bit on the heavier side because of the larger body and Bigsby, which can get a little exhausting on longer days.
Regardless, I have never wanted to stop playing it. This guitar feels so right.
2016 Special Edition Fender Jazzmaster with Bigsby
I had always loved the Fano JM6 and saw Fender made a similar style when I was looking for a new guitar for The Garden Tour. I think it was 1 of 200-250 made and the last one in Fender’s warehouse, so I had to pull the trigger.
Bigsby’s just make everything better to me. I swapped black standard Lollar Jazzmaster pickups in it, which was a big upgrade. The stock pickups were a little harsh on the highest frequencies and a little woofy in the low end.
The Lollars made everything a little more balanced. The middle pickup position is what really sets Jazzmasters apart in my opinion, and I use it all the time. It has a unique sound that makes things special. I use it a good amount on The Belonging single “Isn’t He”.
Fender Telecaster 50’s Reissue with Bigsby
I think I saw a random photo of this once, fell in love with the translucent white finish and decided I had to hunt one down on eBay. I think it is a little hard to find as it is a Japanese model.
Everything about it feels different than most guitars as it has a slightly V shaped neck, smaller frets, 7.25” radius, a narrower nut and a gloss neck. I put some Bill Lawrence Keystone pickups in it a long time ago and have always loved them.
Every pickup position is solid to me. The bridge is a little smoother and much less twangy than most Tele’s I have played, which to me a good thing. The neck pickup is so smooth and perfect for pop music. If I am going to pick it up in the studio it is probably for the neck or middle sound.
Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI
This is a fun one. I got it for crazy cheap and after a couple modifications such as a larger low E string and solidifying the bridge piece it played great. A Bass VI is traditionally tuned an octave lower than a standard guitar (E to e), just like a bass, but you can chord it and play it somewhat like a standard guitar. A normal baritone is tuned a bit higher.
I have used this in the studio as a normal bass on the neck pickup and have also used it frequently to double lead guitar lines on the bridge pickup with the strangle switch on to cut the low end. It really is an awesome tool for making unique sounds and creating nice layers. I will play lots of ambient parts with it in the studio as long as I EQ it properly.
Fender PM-1 Sunburst Dreadnought
This is a really solid acoustic for the price range.
It is made out of quality wood and has proper bracing. Acoustics rely heavily on the acoustic sound of the instrument (who would have thought?), so wood materials can make or break a good one.
A lot of more affordable acoustics, even from top brands, use odd materials, so I appreciate that Fender did not skimp here.
If you do not have thousands to go drop on an acoustic, I recommend checking this out. I write on this guitar a lot an use it in the studio as well from time to time.
This guitar was breakthrough for me shortly after a thief decided to break through my window and steal my old Gibson Southern Jumbo out of my house. Let’s just say I have an incredibly generous friend who hears the voice of God clearly, and God sure is a redeemer.
This guitar is so easy to play and sounds incredible. It has an LR Baggs Anthem pickup installed in it. It’s a win, even when recording direct.
If you guys have any questions or comments about amps and guitars, please feel free to reach out in the comments below!
You may also be interested in these posts as well:
- Why Practical Guitar: 7 Lessons I Wish I Knew Sooner
- 3 Big Myths About Worship Guitar Tone
- Guitar Rig Rundown – Pedals
- Video 1: How Exactly Did He Make That Sound?!