Enjoy this excerpt from the new January/February 2013 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine:
Marshall Law: Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford is equally fond of classic Gibsons and Fenders—but only those that sound good through a cranked British stack.
By Ted Drozdowski | Photos by Roderick Trestrail II
Electric guitars have always proved both fascinating and inspiring to Brad Whitford. “My father had some intuition about my playing music,” the Aerosmith guitarist recalls, sitting on the back porch of his gorgeous hillside horse farm, nestled in the hills just outside of Nashville. “At first he brought home an acoustic guitar and set it by the piano we owned, but I didn’t touch it. Then he bought a $25 Japanese-made Winston electric, and I couldn’t put it down. Within a year I’d surpassed what my teacher could show me, and then I was off on my own.”
Whitford started playing gigs at 14, armed with a now long-gone Fender Jaguar and a Fender Bandmaster amplifier. Inspired by Cream, Jimi Hendrix, local Boston-area outfits like the J. Geils Band, and eventually Jimmy Page, he attended Boston’s Berklee College of Music (he stayed for a mere two semesters) and developed his chops and sound. By the time he joined Aerosmith in 1971, he was plugging a 1968 Les Paul “Gold Top” with P-90 pickups into a Marshall stack and letting it fly.
Over the ensuing four decades, Whitford bought and sold more than a few instruments, and today his collection numbers around 60 or 70 pieces. “I know what I like, and that’s a Les Paul or a Stratocaster plugged into a 100-watt Marshall or into a newer amp inspired by a Marshall.” That would include models made by 3 Monkeys, the amp company in which Whitford is a partner. “That kind of setup has been my preference ever since I saw Jimmy Page with Led Zeppelin in 1968 at Frank Connelly’s Carousel Theater in Framingham, Massachusetts. So the majority of my guitars are Les Pauls and Strats.”
These days, Whitford prefers to keep his vintage instruments safely stored in closets at home or at Aerosmith’s Pandora’s Box studio, in Massachusetts. “Years ago, after one of our overseas tours, we decided to ship everything back on a freighter, and it went down at sea with all our gear aboard, including some nice guitars,” he recalls.
Lately, Whitford hasn’t had much time to commune with the guitars that he keeps at his bucolic homestead. He’s been touring hard with Aerosmith and ensconced in the studio making their long-awaited new album, Music from Another Dimension! It’s the group’s first disc since 2004’s blues-roots tribute Honkin’ on Bobo, and it’s their first album of originals since 2001’s Just Push Play.
“There were times when I had doubts that we’d make another album,” Whitford says, acknowledging the series of false starts and conflicts that kept the group from tracking a new disc over the years. “There were writing sessions that didn’t work and trips into the studio where we just couldn’t get our vibe. But about a year and a half ago, we decided we wanted to work with Jack Douglas again. Jack’s so alive, and he gets so into it. He loves music so much, it’s like it’s coming through him. He knows how we work best, and the ideas started flying right from the start.”
The reunion with überproducer Douglas, who helmed the classic Seventies Aerosmith discs Get Your Wings, Toys in the Attic, Rocks, and Draw the Line, was part of the group’s campaign to get back to its career-defining sound. The album’s first single, “Legendary Child,” blows in on the kind of sirocco riff that originally put the band on the map. Tracks like “Oh Yeah” and “Lover Alot” keep kicking up dust and tap into the vein of down-and-dirty rock and roll that all five members share as their first and deepest bond.
Not surprisingly, at this point in his career, Whitford needs to feel a similarly deep connection with an instrument in order to deem it worth keeping. “A guitar has to be fun to play,” he says. “Otherwise it’s just firewood. I’ve got a bunch of firewood I’ve been selling off lately on eBay. People say, ‘You’re selling guitars on eBay?’ But that’s where you sell guitars these days.”
For the rest of this story, plus photos of eight of Whitford's classic guitars — including Les Pauls, Strats, Teles, Les Paul Juniors and more — check out the new January/February 2013 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine, which is available now at the Guitar World Online Store. It's the one with Eric Clapton on the cover.