BEST KNOWN AS THE GUITARIST WHO REPLACED ROBBIE ROBERTSON
in The Band, Jim Weider is hailed by many Telecaster aficionados as
headmaster in the Roy Buchanan school of snarling blues. In addition
to being The Band’s guitarist for 15 years—a longer run than Robertson’s—
Weider has played and recorded with Bob Dylan, Los Lobos,
Keith Richards, Doctor John, Taj Mahal, Mavis Staples, Paul Butterfield,
rockabilly pioneers Scotty Moore and Paul Burlison, Bob Weir &
RatDog, and Hot Tuna. Weider’s Homespun instructional videos,
including Get That Classic Fender Sound! and Rockabilly Guitar, reveal a
deep knowledge of vintage gear and how early rockers used it.
Those familiar with Weider’s rootsy musical past may be surprised
to hear his new album, Pulse [Moon Haw], which he recorded in three
days with his band, Project Percolator. Featuring slamming drums and
high-octane soloing, Pulse has a driving, psychedelic edge that veers
between progressive rock and jam-band improv.
What led you to the rhythmic energy of Pulse?
This has been an evolutionary process that began a few years ago
with my solo album, Remedy. I was trying to get into a groove area with
that record, but didn’t quite make it. I felt I was writing myself into a
corner, getting trapped by my blues-rock background. So, with the help
of engineer and producer John Holbrook [Fountains of Wayne, Brian
Setzer, B.B. King, Todd Rundgren, Mick Ronson], I went into my home
studio and recorded a bunch of guitar instrumentals to electronic loops.
Then I got some great musicians—including drummer Rodney Holmes,
John Medeski on organ, and Tony Levin on bass—to overdub and fill out
the sound. This became Percolator, my first real groove-oriented album.
To perform that music, I put together a band with Rodney on drums,
Steve Lucas on bass, and Mitch Stein on guitar. We’ve been gigging for
a year or two. During that time we wrote the tunes you hear on Pulse.
Percolator was more of a studio record, layered and built up through overdubs,
whereas Pulse is how we sound live. We went into the studio—Mitch
and I put our pedals on the floor and plugged into our stage amps—and
just played. In three days we copped this record. There are a few overdubs—
like where Mitch and I double the main riff in “No Exit
Strategy”—but all the solos are live. These guys are all monster players,
and it’s a blast to have them as the bubble underneath my Tele.
Playing in The Band, you had two keyboardists—including the amazing Garth
Hudson—providing harmonic color. Did you find it hard to adjust to Project Percolator’s
dual-guitar line up?
Guitar Player readers know how much fun two guitarists can have
in a band. Without keyboards, there’s so much sonic space to explore.
Mitch plays a Strat, and his sound is a little darker and fatter. He also
uses his effects—including a Line 6 DL4 delay and a Moogerfooger
Ring Modulator—to create hip textures. Sometimes I’ll crank up the
repeats on my T-Rex Replica delay and play some swirling slide notes
while Mitch works his Moogerfooger, and we’ll get into an atmospheric
jam that takes me back to my psychedelic days.
In sections of “Green Zone,” your guitar parts sound like sequenced keyboard
Ai-yi-yi—that tune! Mitch played the low part and I played the high part as an overdub. My solo is live, and
you can see me track it in a video we have
on our site [jimweider.com]. I just plugged
in and went for it while they filmed that
take. I was really happy—the solo felt right
and the tone was killin
What was your rig for “Green Zone”?
I played my ’52 Tele through an
AnalogMan King of Tone pedal—an overdrive
I co-designed with Mike Piera—and
an old Vox wah into my signature Fargen
JW-40 head. I ran through a vintage Marshall
basketweave 4x12 cabinet that
belonged to the studio. It sounded perfect.
For years I’ve played through Fender
amps, but recently I discovered how great
a Tele sounds through a Fender-style head
and Marshall 4x12. I have an old Marshall
4x12 with late-’60s Celestion
greenbacks, but I only bring it to big
shows where I have help to lift it. I should
have been playing a 4x12 all those years
I was in The Band and had roadies!
Tell us about your ’52 Tele.
I’ve always played Teles—I bought
them at Manny’s in the ’60s—but once I
heard Roy Buchanan playing a ’50s Tele
with a flat-pole bridge pickup, I wanted
that sound. So I went on a search and
finally found a ’50s Tele in L.A. in 1971.
I’ve been playing it ever since. It’s on every
Band record I’ve played on, as well as every
track on Pulse, except for “Man Cry”—the
slide song in open E minor tuning [E, B,
E, G, B, E, low to high]. For that tune I
used a Tele retrofitted with an old Supro
pickup, like Ry Cooder’s guitar.
My ’52 has the original bridge pickup,
but Dominick Ramos rewound the neck
pickup with longer magnets and it’s still
the best sounding one I’ve come across.
I’m playing through that pickup on “Talking
What’s so special about ’50s Telecasters?
The flat-pole magnets in the bridge
pickup allow you to raise it closer to the
strings for a fat, almost compressed sound
that has bite, but also some balls and bottom.
With flat magnets, your G string is
not twice as loud as your B string. The
pickup has a more even string-to-string
response—that’s the sound of the ’50s.
To get more girth in each note I’ve got
my bridge pickup raised as high as it can
go without hitting the strings. Same with the neck pickup. You don’t have that Strat
problem, where the strings are pulled out
of tune when the pickups are too close.
Do you have other vintage Teles?
I also have a ’53 and ’54, both with flatpole
bridge pickups. All three guitars sound
a little different—the fattest is my ’52—so
if you’re hunting for a vintage Tele, you have
to take your time. I like the ’52 and ’53 neck
profile, which is a soft V. My ’52 neck is
smaller than my ’53 and ’54. For some reason,
in ’52 they made the necks a little
thinner, and I got used to that. To get the
most out of a ’50s Tele, you’ve got to set
them up right, which includes installing
bigger frets—a trick I learned from Roy
Buchanan. It makes a Tele play better and
you can bend strings a lot easier.
What kind of fretwire do you use?
For years on my ’52 Tele I’ve been
using Dunlop 6100 fretwire. It measures
.110" wide and .055" high—that’s really
tall. I get my repairman to mill the frets
down to .050", which he grudgingly does.
Because he can just put it in, he prefers
another fretwire sold by Stewart-Mac-
Donald that measures .100" by .050"
[Stew-Mac’s Wide/High fretwire]. I lean
toward the wider size, but I want to start
with at least a .050" height, because by
the time you round off the frets so they
bend like butter, they’re .048" high. I don’t
want to go any lower than that. I’m always
bending two or three strings and I play
really hard, so I have to refret regularly.
I replace my pots a lot too, because
I’m working my tone and volume control
all the time—something else I learned
from Roy. I use RS Guitarworks pots with
solid brass shafts.
Do you play any modern Teles?
Fender sent me a Road Worn Tele,
which James Pennebaker—their Artist
Relations guy in Nashville—picked out
for me. It has big frets and all the lacquer
is rubbed off the back of the neck like on
my old Teles. The Custom Shop installed
a set of ’51 Nocaster pickups, and they
really sound good. The neck profile is right
on, and even though the fretboard has a
tight 7.25" radius, the frets are tall enough
you can bend strings easily. It’s one of the
nicest guitars you can buy that’s playable
off the rack. I’m using it onstage with [The
Band’s iconic drummer] Levon Helm and
also with Project Percolator.
What about strings, picks, and slides?
I’ve been using Dunlop 215 glass slides
for years. I prefer the sweet sound of glass
to chrome or brass. The 215 is light
enough you can get away with low action,
which means it works well for playing
slide on a Tele in standard tuning—my
usual approach. I use Ernie Ball strings,
gauged .010-.048, and a small, extra-heavy,
jazz-style Fender flatpick. I use a hybrid
pick-and-fingers technique with a little
bit of nail combined with the fingertip.
How did Roy Buchanan inspire you?
The moment I heard “Sweet Dreams”
[the opening track on 1972’s Roy
Buchanan], I totally got it. I was knocked
out by the sounds he could get by cranking
the amp and then just manipulating
his Tele’s volume and tone controls. To
this day, his Second Album  has some
of the best Tele tones I’ve ever heard.
The first time I saw Roy was in the
early ’70s, and he was at the top of his
game. He was playing Nancy, his blonde
Tele, through two cranked Fender Vibrolux
combos. It was unbelievably great. How
you touch a Tele has so much to do with
the tones you get out of it, and Roy’s touch
was magical. Jesse Ed Davis was another
Tele player who blew me away with his
touch, string bending, and vibrato. I just
went crazy about those early Taj Mahal
records that featured Jesse Ed [Taj Mahal,
The Natch’l Blues, and Giant Step].
Did you ever play with Buchanan?
The Band played with Roy right before
he went down. We did “Hand Jive”—it
was great. He could take a harmonic and
bend it way up in the middle of a solo and
just blow your mind. I asked him, “Did
you teach Robbie Robertson how to play
pinch harmonics?” He said, “Well, yes,
but I taught him the wrong way.” That
was funny. Roy was really secretive.
All these years, you’ve stuck with a Tele. Why?
You’ve got to work a little harder on a
Telecaster—relying on vibrato to get sustain,
for example—and that defines your
style. Half the time you’re struggling to get
a sound from your instrument and that
makes what you play more interesting