Who says you need a ton of gear to sound great?! Well, I need a ton of gear just to sound mediocre but that’s partially because: I’m not Jonny Lang.You probably know that Lang got signed to a major label at the ripe old age of 15. You probably know that his debut album, Lie to Me, sold in the 7-figure range. You also probably know he is playing better than ever and just released a scorching new album, Fight For My Soul, that is full of his trademark take on the blues—soulful and gritty. Lang’s raspy voice is stronger than ever and his leads?! Well. You probably know that they’re still blisteringly awesome if you get too close.
Tone Report recently had the chance to catch up with Charlie Milton, Lang’s guitar tech, who gave us the lowdown on Lang’s minimal-but-perfect stage rig.
Lang uses what we can only guess is a one-of-a-kind Telecaster from the Fender Custom Shop. This thinline Tele has a maple top on a spruce body, making it an extremely lightweight instrument. A birdseye maple neck finishes the instrument off. Lang uses Bill Lawrence pickups in the neck and bridge (a 500L and 500XL, respectively); a Seymour Duncan P-90 occupies the middle pickup position, but Lang never uses it—he has dropped this pickup down flush with the body so it doesn’t interfere with his picking. This instrument is also features a push/pull pot to select between series and parallel wiring – meaning Lang can coax a million tones out of this one instrument.
For a few songs in the set, Lang switches to a Les Paul. The secret about this instrument? It’s a recent reissue of a ’58 Les Paul and it’s COMPLETELY stock. Milton says zero modifications have been made to the guitar and Lang rocks it exactly as it is. Okay, maybe there’s one cool mod that has been done to the guitar (custom truss rod cover? CHECK). Lang uses this guitar for two songs in the set, “Turnaround” and “Don’t Stop.”
Lang also plays a custom built signature Martin acoustic for several songs in the show.
A stock MIM Fender Telecaster serves as a warm-up guitar in the dressing room and backstage areas.
Lang uses big, thick 1.5mm Dunlop Gator Grips picks and uses a 10 ½- 48 string set. “He’s not gentle,” says Milton in regard to Lang’s playing style. “I stretch with gloves, leather gloves, and it doesn’t matter—he still knocks it out of tune!”
He has his DRs rewired to be closer to 60s era specs and removes the reverb circuit entirely (see marking settings all at zero!). The volume knob is modded with a push-pull pot to provide a mid-boost to get Lang the squawk he loves. Stock speakers are swapped out for Celestion Greenbacks, the cones of which Lang has been known to collapse and crease to get the exact tone he is looking for.
Lang has a fairly simple pedalboard in play on tour these days. All pedals are controlled via a 6-channel true-bypass strip. Lang also has a switcher that allows him to select either or both of his DR amps to really hone in on how he wants to sound in any given moment.
Lang is running a Dunlop Joe Bonamassa Wah, Visual Sound Route 808 overdrive, Whirlwind “The Bomb” Boost, Boss AW-3 Auto Wah, Fulltone Ultimate Overdrive, Tubeworks Tubedreamer Plus, and a trusty Boss TU-2 tuner.
As you can see, the board is built with the end goal of Lang having control over his tone at any second and at any of a number of gain stages. Watching Lang play is a joy in and of itself, but watching him command his rig to get the right tone in the right moment is where it’s at.
He might even have inspired me to pull all the ridiculous junk off my board and get back to basics—because why settle for being mediocre when I could maybe, just maybe, possibly—inch just a little closer to being ‘good’?!!