Jonny Lang arose as a guitar hero at the tender age of 15, with the platinum-selling Lie To Me. Influences like Albert Collins, B. B. King, and Buddy Guy were close to the surface, but the teenager nevertheless evidenced that rarest of things—a personal style. His sound has been honed over a remarkable two-decade career into an immediately recognizable one, with its go-for-broke-attitude and twisty take on standard blues licks.
Though Lang never abandoned guitar solos on his records, recent releases have focused more on his spectacular singing and modern R&B/gospel songs. Signs [Say Rai Music], however, heralds a return to guitar-centricity, and, for this outing, he delved deep into early guitar influences such as Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf.
“I have been appreciating how raw and unrefined that stuff is,” he says. “So I tried to leave in some rough edges during the sessions, like on ‘Bring Me Back Home.’ That solo was done in one take with a 1957 Esquire I’ve had for years through a Fender Champ or Princeton.” Many of the guitar sounds on the record sound like they originate with a vintage fuzz of some sort. In fact, no pedals were used in the making of Signs.
“What might sound like fuzz is the amp with the volume all the way up on the guitar,” says Lang, who, in addition to the Esquire, used a ’59 Les Paul reissue and a Fender Custom Shop Tele with three Bill Lawrence pickups on the album. “Our engineer, Matt Hyde, has this museum-quality collection of amps. There was this tiny, ’60s-era 5-watt National 1210 amp with an 8" speaker. I thought, ‘Let’s try this funky thing.’ It ended up being my favorite-sounding amp I have ever played, and 90 percent of the rhythm and lead stuff on the record is that amp.”
With a big tour coming up to promote Signs, Lang is faced with reproducing the amazing tones produced by that single vintage amp live. “I’ve been thinking about that for months,” he says. “I bought a National, and, of course, it sounds nothing like the one on the record. I know some guys who can probably get it to sound close. I might get a couple of Nationals, isolate them in a box, and put a mic in there. That way, they’ll never have to leave the case, which should minimize the jostling. We will see how long they last. Those old amps are basically made out of paper [laughs].”