The Tedeschi Trucks Band features a dozen performers. That’s a lot of music onstage. Derek Trucks’ tone has got to complement not only his wife Susan Tedeschi’s guitar and vocals but also keyboards, flute, trombone, trumpet, saxophone, bass, two drummers and three harmony vocalists.
His playing and gear choices are truly judicious though. Trucks has a signature Gibson SG, but live he typically prefers his Gibson Custom Dickey Betts SG, aged by Tom Murphy. That it was a gift from Duane Allman’s daughter lends it a sentimental value and a sense of familial connection. With his SG and a glass Dunlop slide, he goes straight into his Alessandro custom head and cabs and a Fender Super Reverb. Trucks’ fingerpicking slide style naturally attenuates some of his amp’s gnarly treble, but he’ll constantly work his volume and tone pots in search of the sweet spots. It’s all about feel.
GIBSON CUSTOM DICKEY BETTS SG ARTIST PROOF #4
This guitar is based on a 1961 Gibson SG that belonged to Dickey Betts but was at one point played by Duane Allman. “It was like brother to brother,” Trucks says of the original guitar. “This is Artist Proof number four. Duane’s daughter, Galadrielle, gave this to me when they copied the SG. They relic’d the heck out of it. It’s an extremely light SG. All of them are. I’ve noticed more and more that if you pick up four or five Les Pauls, it’s usually the light one that’s going to sound the best. So if we’re ever looking for a guitar, that’s one of the things we check out.
“We’ve been messing with the pickups on this one quite a bit, and maybe the volume pots were changed too. We had a pair of PAFs in there for a while, and a friend of ours, Thomas Neilson, in Norway, wound these pickups. They’re based on a guitar I played called Spot, a ’59 Les Paul [once owned by Joe Bonamassa]. They are unwaxed, unpotted pickups. We’ve just been messing with this for maybe three shows on these pickups, but I like the way they speak. They’re almost purposely microphonic. We’re still experimenting with it, so we might try a slightly different version, but they are great. They speak in a really cool way.
“This has been my main guitar since I got it. I did those last three or four years in the Allman Brothers with it - all those final shows - so it’s kinda been the only guitar I’ve played since I got it. I’ve got a Gibson signature model that I’ve played on and off, and for a long time that was the backup guitar I’d use. I also use this guitar in the studio. There is something about it - I can’t put it down. It feels better that this is a gift. I’m into that. And the guitar has a little history to it.
“Interestingly, Duane’s original SG went up for auction this week,” Trucks adds [it later sold for $591,000}. “I have a really nice Gold Top that’s one serial number away from Duane’s Gold Top, and it’s a ’57. I thought about the SG and asked myself, “What if I sell that Gold Top, my car and another few things? How close will that get me to buying the SG?” But it’s fine. I’ve got kids, man. I’ve got college to think about! [laughs] I just hope whoever gets it, plays it.”
GIBSON CUSTOM DICKEY BETTS SG ARTIST SERIES
“We wanted a great backup [for the Artist Proof guitar], so we begged Gibson to make another one, and they came around,” Trucks says. “With those guitars, they do a very strict run, and that’s that, so we had to ask them a few times. They even relic’d the guitar the same, with the wear on the neck, but it’s just a little bit of a different finish, and it’s a heavier guitar. I don’t play it as much, that’s for sure. If I break a string [on his Gibson Custom Dickey Betts SG Artist Proof #4], I’ll play this guitar for however long it takes to change a string.” Trucks says the difference between this guitar and the Artist Proof model comes down to feel and tone. “It’s funny,” he notes, “but as similar as they are, they feel and sound entirely different.
“I’m always messing with the volume and tone. If it sounds good, the tone will stay put, unless I’m going for an effect, like rolling all of it off and just getting that ‘woman tone,’ or whatever. But I mess with the volume pot quite a bit, and that’s where a lot of the swells and dynamics come from. The top end just never seems to go fully away, which is nice. It’s funny: So many years into playing an SG and I still have to remind myself: Wait. It’s better at seven-and-a-half or eight than it is diming it. You just think, It’s time to go - floor it! [laughs] Flooring it is eight. Same with the amp. Some nights, the band’s getting loud and you keep turning it up and it’s like, This isn’t helping. It’s better to dial it back. Once you lose that definition and point, you’re just adding to the mud and not getting anything in return. Sometimes when you’re dealing with volume, less is more.”
“This is a fun guitar,” Trucks exclaims. “I capo it at the fifth fret and use it in the studio occasionally. I play it on that tune ‘Down in the Flood’ [from the Derek Trucks Band’s 2009 album, Already Free]. I couldn’t tell you what model it is, but the serial number is X87242. I want to say it’s from the mid ’60s.
“It’s a great-sounding guitar. It’s a slide machine. It’s kind of short scale, but it’s got a great thing going on. I got it maybe 15 years ago - I think I paid about $500 for it. It’s got a huge neck. Playing SGs, I usually like necks that are thin and flat, but there’s something about this guitar. It just makes me want to play ‘porch music.’ [laughs] It feels like a good blues-folk guitar, you know? I love the sound of it, especially quiet. When you crank it up, it’s a pretty gnarly-sounding guitar. It barks. I usually use it on only one or two tunes, but it sounds so good that we carry it on tour just for that.”
FENDER 1965 SUPER REVERB
“I try to keep my sound where it needs to be. For the first 20 or 25 years that I played, all I used were Supers, but I could never use them with the Allman Brothers. There was just too much sound onstage with that band. So I played through a Fender Super 6 for a while, and I used Marshalls for a while. I used a Randall amp that I got tweaked to make it sound like an old Marshall. I used all kinds of sh*t. The Paul Reed Smith custom was probably the closest we got to the sound I was looking for.”
ALESSANDRO CUSTOM AMPS AND CABS
“George Alessandro started making amps for me with the Tedeschi Trucks Band and toward the end of the Allman Brothers. This one is loosely based on a Super Reverb or a Dumble. It’s hard to say what the wattage is because we’re running it off two power tubes, but it’s between 40 and 60 watts. There’s a switch on the back that adjusts the bias. There are a lot of things you can tweak on this amp.
“It has an abNormal channel that has just a little more teeth, a little more hair, a little more volume. I might use it once or twice a night, or maybe not at all. It just depends on the room. If we’re blasting at the end of a set, I switch that channel in, but for the most part I use just one channel the whole night long. There’s a good vibrato on there, as well, and I might turn that on for a song or two. Overall, it’s a pretty simple setup. An old Fender pedal switches the vibrato.
“Alessandro has got an amazing shop in New Jersey. He has the most fantastic vintage Marshall collection I have ever seen. He was working on a lot of my Super Reverbs there toward the end, keeping them singing. We started working with him when I was doing that Clapton tour [in 2006]. I was always telling him what I was trying to get out of my amps. Finally, one day, he said to me, ‘I could just make you what you’re trying to get.’
“That’s how this amp came about, and it’s been great. A Marshall would be too saturated for me; I don’t want any unnecessary low end. I kind of like it nice and tight. This is certainly not a beginner’s amp. Like, if you’re playing some sorry sh*t, it’s gonna hurt! And it does that to me sometimes, too. But when it’s humming, it really is something. You can go full Albert Collins with it.”