Nashville is home to many of the best musicians in the country, and, arguably, the whole world. That’s a pretty bold statement, but considering that “Music City” has grown exponentially over the past five years, it rings true that only the very best of the best move here to make their musical mark. Nashville offers many great opportunities for the career musician—from playing locally in the downtown and Lower Broadway honky tonks, to touring with artists on the road and working with them in the studio. Also known as Guitar Town, Nashville hosts a wide variety of talented players with musical styles not limited to chicken-picking’, but also rock, jazz, Americana, blues, and more. Although there are many outstanding guitarists in town, the following five are some of Nashville’s top talents, and their stylistic diversity defines the current Nashville music scene.
After receiving his Bachelors Degree in 2007 from Berklee College of Music, Justin Butler moved to Nashville, and currently plays guitar for Randy Houser. Butler has accomplished the Nashville sideman’s dream—playing guitar for and touring with a contemporary artist while doing sessions and filling in the blanks playing locally.
“I play around town with some buddies in a group we call MIPS,” says Butler. “We learn about 25 new songs at a time based on a theme, ranging from a Stones or Kinks night to a general theme of ‘Power Pop’ or ‘Soul.’ The time involved is more about recognizing the nuances on all these great records. For me, that’s about tone hunting, which means that I try adopt the specific player’s feel, touch, and style—along with the geek-ery of mixing and matching gear to make sounds that are inspiring.”
Not only is Butler an accomplished player, he is also an electronics enthusiast who has put his talents to work on the never-ending quest for tone. His company, Thru-Tone, offers pedal modifications that have become must-haves for Nashville guitarists. In particular, his Ernie Ball volume pedal mod has become a mainstay on many studio and touring pedalboards.
Tim Galloway moved to Nashville from North Carolina in 2006, and almost immediately joined Jason Michael Carroll’s touring band. After three years with Carroll, Galloway left to become lead guitarist and bandleader for Josh Turner, and, in 2011, he joined Jake Owen’s band, and opened for Keith Urban’s Get Closer world tour. The next year, he took another sideman gig with Gary Allan, but, in 2014, he made the decision to stay in town and pursue session work. But he had quite a ride as a sideman, performing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with David Letterman, The Jimmy Kimmel Show, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Grand Ole Opry Live. Now, as one of the new breed of session players in Nashville, Galloway works with various producers and songwriters, and he scored a Top 5 Billboard hit as a cowriter of Jason Michael Carroll’s “Livin’ Our Love Song.”
More of a traditionalist, Galloway prefers to tote around his vintage gear for live and studio gigs.
“My favorite guitars are Fenders, Gibsons, Rickenbackers, and Silvertones,” he explains, “and my go-to amp is a ’65 Fender Princeton or a ’65 Deluxe Reverb. I’ll often bring a Matchless HC-30 or a ’72 Marshall Super Lead, as well, and I’ll also carry a 1x12 or 2x12 cab loaded with different WGS or Eminence speakers.”
Currently, Galloway is the musical director for American Supergroup, where he and fellow bandmates—including guitarist Jason Slim Gambill (Lady Antebellum) and drummer Rich Redmond (Jason Aldean)—back up contestants selected by industry professionals who will form bands and compete for the American Supergroup title.
Trey Hill, lead guitarist and bandleader for country duo Big & Rich, has come a long way from his days growing up in Shelby, North Carolina. Since moving to Nashville in 2001, Hill has played with national acts such as Jessica Simpson, Kellie Pickler, and Jason Michael Carroll. Playing an average of 80 shows a year with Big & Rich, Hill recently traded in his elaborate road rig for a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II.
“I’ve gradually scaled back what I take on the road each year,” says Hill. “I think a lot of it depends on how demanding the material is—or the artist. Before I went with the Axe-Fx rig with Big & Rich, I had a traditional pedalboard with five or six stompboxes plugged into a stereo amp setup. My digital signal chain now is exactly the same as my analog one—except that it’s ‘virtually’ expandable. In my opinion, with the great modelers out there today, you don’t have to risk damage to a vintage piece. I can keep all of my tube toys and fun stompboxes at home.”
When not touring, Hill is busy playing clubs in downtown Nashville, as well as doing a fair number of sessions. Most recently, he played on Big & Rich’s latest recordings, making him one of the few Nashville hired guns who also plays on the artist’s records.
“I’m a musical schizophrenic,” says Jimma Matejek. “My main influences are Lenny Breau, Roy Nichols, Django Reinhardt, Jimi Hendrix, Ron Jarzombek, Bill Doggett, and Clifford Brown.”
Matejek grew up in Katy, Texas, and started playing guitar when he was eight years old. Moving to Nashville in 2000, he immediately landed a gig with country duo Montgomery Gentry, and plays between 85 and 100 shows per year with them. When not on the road, he performs on Lower Broadway in Nashville. Matejek’s virtuosic playing evokes old-school country/jazz guitar with syncopated motifs, intelligent chord substitution, and jazzy runs that wow local players, as well as tourists fortunate enough to catch his shows.
“I was born without a pinky on my left hand, so early on I had to find alternate ways to get a lot of things,” says Matejek, “but I believe that has helped me in the long run. I do work constantly on a variety of techniques, but only because I want to let a musical idea flow, and not get hung up on how to achieve it. I pretty much live by the saying: ‘Technique is a wonderful servant, but a horrible master.’”
Matejek favors Gibson Les Pauls, Fender Telecasters, and Takamine acoustics. His amp of choice is a 1969 Fender Twin Reverb, which perfectly complements his clean, twangy throwback style.
Hailing from Cleveland Ohio, Paul Sidoti landed in Nashville in 2000. A multi-instrumentalist, Sidoti has toured with Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Eric Carmen, Bryan White, and the Raspberries, playing either bass, guitar, or keyboards. Since 2007, Sidoti has been playing lead guitar for Taylor Swift, and he cites Neal Schon, Ace Frehley, Neil Giraldo, Brad Gillis, Chris Hayes, Steve Lukather, Angus and Malcolm Young, Joe Walsh, Don Felder, and Edward Van Halen as his main influences.
“I’ve always approached soloing as more of an extension of the melody of a song so that it ties into a theme,” says Sidoti. “For inspiration, I lean on melody, lyrics, and simple motifs.”
Sidoti’s travels with Swift have taken him to England, France, Scotland, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, Spain, Holland, Brazil, Singapore, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. He has also played on numerous television shows, including the Grammy Awards. In addition to touring, Sidoti played on Swift’s album Speak Now, as well as several DVD concert videos.
On the latest Swift tour, Sidoti used a Fractal Axe-Fx XL II+ to tone match and replicate the guitar sounds from her records. He presets all levels and solo boosts within each song, and drops them into a Pro Tools timeline so that all sound switching is triggered via MIDI. For guitars, Sidoti favors EVH Striped Series and EVH Wolfgang Customs.