- Guitars: Erlewine Lazer, Gibson Firebird for slide work.
- Amplifier: 2 x Music Man, 200 watts, 4x10". The Music Man amps Johnny uses are designated "one-thirty". ( that is the model name and the power rating ) They employ 4 EL34 power tubes and 1 12AX7 as a splitter/driver. The preamp stage is solid state. In addtion to the 2 amps that have 4 10' speakers (one is a stand-by, "on" but not used unless problems occur) there is usually a 2 12' "one-thirty" on stage in case it sounds better in the venue.
- Effects: MXR phase 90s , Boss C-E2 chorus (setttings), Tube Screamer - only used during slide work on the Firebird.
- Strings: Dean Markley strings, .009, with an unwound G, also D'Addario .010, .013, .017, .026, .036 and .046.
- Guitar strap: PR gimmick from No.1 Guitars in Hamburg, Germany (best shop in Europe, I swear), a little flexible number that you can pull down right to your knees.
- Cables: ??
- Thumbpicks / picks: Gibson Thumbpicks
An extensive interview with Johnny Winter and his guitars can be found in the 1974 Magazines section.
Johnny doesn't use a flatpick. Instead he prefers to attack the strings with a thumbpick and his fingers. Sometimes he'll grasp the thumbpick like a regular flatpick. "I'll do that if I'm doing backstrokes (upstrokes) to keep the thing from falling off my thumb."
Johnny keeps his right hand wrist fairly straight and his fingers barely move when he strums chords.
When playing slide however, he rotates his forearm slightly and mutes the idle strings with his right-hand palm and finger tips.
Winter's left-hand posture also varies. When bending strings, Johnny generally hooks his thumb over the top of the neck for anchorage and uses his 2nd and 3rd fingers to push the string.
When playing anything that requires a wide finger stretch, Winter rotates his thumb behind the neck.
When playing slide, he mutes the strings behind the slide with his first three fingers. If he uses fingers for fretting, he keeps the slide a fair distance from the neck to avoid accidentally coming in contact with the strings.
Before I learned how to bend strings, I heard people do that on records, but I didn't know how they were doing it" he said. "I was just using heavy Gibson Sonomatic strings, which were almost impossible to move. In those days they weren't making lighter gauge strings. I found out later that a lot of blues guitarists were switching strings around. Some would replace the G string with a second B string. Others would substitute a high G banjo string or a high A pedal steel string for the high E and then move everything else down, putting the high E where the B normally is and the B where the G normally is, and so forth.
"After everyone figured out what was going on, the lighter gauges cam out. At first, I tried to pull on those big, fat Gibson strings with a Bigsby tremolo because that's how I thought they were doing those bends." Nowadays Johnny uses slightly heavier gauge strings and tunes each string down a whole step (Lowest to highest: D, G, C, F, A and D).
Johnny's first real guitar was a Gibson ES-125, without a cutaway and with a single pickup. Afterwards he used a Strat for a while, followed by a Les Paul Custom and a Gibson SG.
Johnny Winter and his Guitars
The photo gallery below shows Johnny Winter and the guitars he has played in the past
|Johnny Winter playing a Gibson SG at Woodstock 69 Summer Pop Festivals (a photo review) by Joseph J. Sia 1970|
|Johnny playing an Epiphone
. Used in the early 70's on the Beatclub TV Show (Germany) and Royal Albert Hall concert
The Epiphone Wilshire can be distinguished from the Epiphone Crestwood by: The Wilshire has dot fingerboard inlays - the Crestwood has oval blocks. And the Wilshire has the stopbar tailpiece while the Crestwood has stock vibrato.
|After the Fender Mustang used on the Johnny Winter CBS album, Johnny used a gold-top Gibson Les Paul which he gave later on to Tommy Shannon|
Fender XII (twelve string model), with 6 six strings, body sort of like a Mustang, and 2 sets of split pickups like a Precision bass ; used during Woodstock and Fillmore concerts and the European tour in the early seventies.
1969 Royal Albert Hall Concert in England; he's playing an Epiphone Crestwood. It has a double cutaway body, Fender type headstock, and dual Gibson-type humbuckers.
The back of the album cover for Saints and Sinners has a distorted/"fisheye lens" picture of Johnny holding a Gibson double-neck SG with two 6-string necks.
In the end of 70īs Johnny used also a metallic (but with hollow body so very light) electric guitar made by James Trussaurt from France.
Around 1992 also considered using an ESP Mirage, but returned playing his Lazer.
For slide Johnny uses his old '63 Gibson Firebird.
On some of the tracks of the album "Hey where's your brother", Johnny plays an: It's an old Super 400 Gibson! The truss rod cover being on backwards is supposed to be funny. It's harder to indentify because of the pickguard missing.
The Super 400 was the top of the line rich man's guitar and is 18" wide. You can always tell a 400 from the lower models because of the split block inlays. Up until they came out with the Le Grand, no other Gibson had those except for a special model of the Les Paul that you almost never see. Even in the rough shape that this one appears to be in, they are still worth a large amount of money.
The classic '50's and '60's Telecasters conjure up images of early Rock & Roll and Country music. The '50's Tele has an ash body, vintage '50's pickups and optional gold hardware, The '60's Telecaster Custom has a alder body, bound top and back, Texas Tele pickups, plus gold hardware and custom color options. These models will honk and talk with the best of them.
Judging from the covers of his albums he played a National tricone model on The Progressive Blues Experiment and Nothin' But The Blues and a National (Duolian?) single cone model on Third Degree.
Some comments by guests of this site:
As a former pro who loves to play National guitars, I'd like to comment on the references to Johhny's Nationals in the biol. On Progressive Blues Experiment, despite the beautiful cover picture of the Style 1 Tricone, he's probably playing a single-cone Duolian (or maybe a very well-set-up Style O), and likely plays it on most of his acoustic slide recordings. The single-cone guitar has a less complex, more direct sound, than the Tricone, and is better for Blues slide. In addition, other National players I know have had the same impression from hearing his acoustic slide work. An interesting aside to this is that he may be using a blend of a pickup and a microphone when recording with his National - it's hard to believe that just a microphone could get the present, "in-your-face" sound he gets with that guitar. Almost lastly, I believe that there is a poster circulating out there with either the Duolian or Style O Johnny plays on his records - I seem to recall seeing it somewhere, sometime over the last 10 years. I think it was part of a promotion for one of his later albums.
Ricone Roundneck and Squareneck Metalbody guitars, 1927-1942. German silver body (solid nickel alloy with nickel plating), three or "tri" resonator cones with two cones on the bass side, one cone on the treble side, T-shaped bridge cover and handrest, grid pattern soundholes on upper body, Hawaiian squareneck or Spanish roundneck styles, 12 frets clear of the body, flat fingerboard radius, mahogany neck on Spanish model, metal neck with mahagony headstock on Hawaiian model, bound single layer ebony fingerboard, slotted peghead.
Some very nice pictures of the "National 938 Model 97 Tricone Squareneck" can be found at MANDOLIN BROTHERS
Gibson Firebird - In the 1980's Johnny is using this guitar.
Gibson has more "classic" designs than any other manufacturer and the Firebird V is another great example. Nothing else looks like a Firebird V. Nothing else sounds like a Firebird V. Nothing else feels like a Firebird V.
George Gruhn was written an interesting article on the Gibson Firebird. Explaining the history and the various models
Erlewine Lazer Used by Johnny in the 1990's.
Actually Johnny's first Lazer was not made by Mark Erlewine. It was a korean made Lazer by IMC/Hondo. He used this guitar at least in Guitar Slinger and Serious Business (in the cover). He made a couple modifications though. At least pickups were changed and propably the bridge too.
Johnny describes his main axe, the Lazer: "it's really the closest thing I've found to sounding like a Strat and feeling like a Gibson. I like the sound of a strat, but just can't play one. It just doesn't feel right to me. If I pull the strings, I don't get as much out of it as I put into it. I can put the same effort into a Gibson and get back twice as much. With the Lazer I get both.
Lots of strange creatures call Texas their home-the armadillo, Ross Perot, Billy Gibbons, Dimebag...But the Erlewine Lazer may be the strangest of them all. Lacking a headstock and possessing a tiny, asymmetrical body, the Lazer looks like a weapon that Davy Crockett might have whipped together at the Alamo to fend off the Mexican Army. Its homeliness may explain why it's become the axe of choice for everyone's favorite tattooed Texas bluesman, Johnny Winter.
Weighing in under six pounds and only 31 inches long, the Lazer features a full-sized, 25.5-inch scale, 24-fret neck, a humbucker and a single-coil pickup, master volume and master tone controls and 3-position pickup selector switch. The secret to the Lazer's compact size is an ingenious string-clamp at the end of the neck and the multi-purpose Wineomatic bridge and tuning system, both adorned with heavy-duty, industrial-strength chrome plating. Unlike other headless beasts that require double ball-end strings (just try finding a set of those in Amarillo on a Sunday), the clamp lets you use ordinary guitar strings. The Wineomatic bridge features six large knurled knobs fanned out at the rear of the guitar that make it easy to tune the Lazer precisely.
According to Erlewine's brochure, Winter chose the Lazer because "it sounds like a Strat, but feels like a Gibson." While the 25.5-inch scale feels nothing like a Gibson's 24-3/4-inch scale, the two custom-wound pickups produce satisfying, twangy tones more similar to Dick Dale than SRV. Plugged into a Deluxe Reverb with the reverb cranked, the Lazer's sounds are pure surf city. By pulling up on the tone control, the bridge humbucker is split to a single coil, but even with both coils engaged it's quite bright. The Strat comparison is only partially accurate since the Lazer can't duplicate a Strat's distinctive "in between" sounds. However, the guitar is surprisingly lively and resonant, particularly since it has such a small body. The sound of the bass strings is especially punchy, tight and ominous, almost like a 6-string baritone guitar.
The Lazer features neck-through-body construction with the neck and body crafted from Honduras mahogany, a rosewood fingerboard with four-point star inlays and high, wide profile frets. Options include either a red, white or black finish, different pickup configurations and choice of fret material.
The Erlewine web-site can be found at : www.erlewineguitars.com
4402 Burnet Road
Austin Texas 78756
Mark Erlewine during an interview with Tom Guerra on Johnny Winter: "I first became aware of Johnny Winter when I was in high school in Wheaton, MD. I got ahold of a copy of the Progressive Blues Experiment album, and not too long after that, I saw him at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1970. My family used to run the bar backstage at the festival, and I was lucky enough to witness an amazing set that featured both Johnny and Luther Allison trading licks.
In 1974, I moved my guitar shop to Austin, Texas, and began building guitars, including the Chiquita, the mini-travel guitar. Years before I had apprenticed in my cousin Dan Erlewine's shop, and learned a lot from him. In the late seventies I went to a Johnny Winter show, and I brought him a Chiquita backstage... Johnny loved it and he bought it on the spot. A few years after this, I designed a headless guitar called the Lazer, which was built to my specs in Korea by IMC. Well, I took a black Lazer with me to a Johnny Winter show, and brought it back to him...and he bought that as well. I think he was tired of the weight of the Gibson (Firebird) he was playing on stage. He then bought a red Lazer before approaching me about a building a custom white Lazer. Around that same time, the contract with IMC was up and I began building the Lazers on a custom basis.
For his custom Lazer, Johnny wanted a two pickup model, with a single coil in the neck and a humbucker in the lead position, that could be split with a toggle switch. This became the Johnny Winter model, and featured a decal of one of his tattoos in between the pickups. Over the years I also built him custom gold metalflake Lazer, which I've never seen him play!!! (laughs).
I've sporadically kept in touch with Johnny over the years, which is difficult because he is rather reclusive. One time he wanted me to repair his main Lazer, the white one, and I had to drive down to San Antonio, pick up the guitar and take it to the shop, then return it, all in the same night. Another time, his management setup a meeting at 2:00 in the morning at my shop. One thing I can tell you about Johnny is that the few times we've been together, he's been real nice, really friendly and very complimentary. His skin is so pure and white, and wrinkle free...it must be because he stays out of the sun!
These days, I usually get calls from his guitar techs when they need special parts for his Lazers. His main guitar is still the white Lazer, which has barely anything left on the frets because he plays so hard. This must be his prized guitar, because he refuses to let me put new frets into it...kind of like Willie Nelson and his prized "Trigger" guitar...he won't let me touch the frets on that either!
I can usually tell when and where Johnny is out touring, because I start getting calls from his guitar playing fans telling me they've just seen him and asking me about the Lazer and how they can get one..."
Steve Foster on the Lazer
Lazers... Trippy guitars. I have several and will be the first to say that my Firebirds smoke them. I'd be delighted to see Johnny start playing 'Birds again.
A distinction between his earlier red and black IMC Lazers and his later Erlewine Lazer have to be made. The IMCs have a single DiMarzio Super 2 pickup. (The 2 is a Super Distortion with a boost in the highs). It also employs a pull-pot to split the pickup to single coil. These are high output ceramic magnet units, and in single coil mode especially, can sound very hard and bright. The majority of Johnnys' Alligator work is this very sound. Later, on "Winter of 88" a new sound is heard. The new white Erlewine Lazer was now sporting a Seymour Duncan "Vintage Staggered Strat" in the neck position. Much warmer, rounder sounding. Also changing the sound was his switching from the MXR phase 90 the the Boss CE2 chorus pedal.
Johnny first bought a Lazer to play on the bus. The one he bought was strung with 10s. He was going to put 9s on it later, like his 'Birds. Instead he wound up trying it at practice with the 10s detuned one step, and he liked the way it sounded. The last time Johnny was in California, he played my Lazer for a while, and I don't mind telling you, I was tickled to death to have Johnny play my guitar. Next morning, I realized that I had the thumbpick he used in my pocket. I save it as a memory. Anyway, if you detune your Strat one whole step, DGCFAD, play the neck pickup thru a chorus pedal, and play "Sen Sa Shun", or the opening lines to "Johnny Guitar" (or anything off "Live in NYC") you'll have a sound very similar to our favorite guitarist. Take Care, Steve "I still prefer Firebirds" Foster
Steve Foster on Tunings
Spanish tuning is: V-I-V-I-III-V, which equates to D-G-D-G-B-D in the key of G, or: E-A-E-A-C#-E in the key of A. Simply put, when you strum the guitar without fretting, it's playing a chord. Another Johnny favorite is the Vestapol tuning, which is: I-V-I-III-V-I, which equates to D-A-D-F#-A-D in the key of D, or: E-B-E-G#-B-E in the key of E. Some fine examples of these tunings in action can be heard on "Dallas" (open G), "Mean Town Blues" (open A), "Highway 61" from "Second Winter, "Mojo Boogie", "Stranger Blues" (open D), or the red hot version of "Highway 61" from "Captured Live", or "Let It Bleed" (open E). These are a lot of fun, and I encourage all guitar players to give them a try.