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 lines.
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 with You.”
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