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Andrew Gabbard: “My love for Firebirds comes from Neil Young because he had a Firebird pickup in his Goldtop and they just cut through”

Andrew Gabbard
(Image credit: Press)

In this month’s Bought & Sold, it is the turn of the Gabbard Brothers and Black Keys touring guitarist Andrew Gabbard to drop by and share some war stories from a life of buying and selling guitar gear.

Gabbard released his debut solo album, Homemade, last October, and it is a doozy – a work of soft-focus alt-country, streaked with languid hooks, all recorded in his basement studio in 2020. 

As you might expect, the guitar tones are something to be savoured. Gabbard has honed his taste in electric guitars over the years, developing a craving for a certain electric guitar pickups in particular; there’s something about the bite of a Firebird pickup that gets him every time. 

Here he unpacks that love for Gibson Firebirds, and for humbucker tones of all kinds, and discusses gear wins and gear regrets, and answers the age-old questions: single coils or humbuckers? high-end electric guitar and cheap amp or cheap guitar and high-end guitar amp?

What was the first serious guitar that you bought with your own money?

“The first guitar I ever bought with my own money was actually a Les Paul Custom, like the Mary Ford SG with three pickups. I got it at this weird shop in Franklin [Ohio] called Fretware. I was in a car accident and I got settlement money, so I just went in to get a guitar and the guy was really nice. 

“I was really young and I was playing a Captain Beefheart song or something, and the guy gave me a great deal on it. It was awesome. I mean, usually when you go anywhere [to try or buy a guitar], especially when you’re younger, it’s like you’re terrified of any interaction with an older person who knows things about guitars. But he was really nice.”

What was the last guitar you bought and why?

“The last guitar I got is a Rickenbacker 325. I think it’s the John Lennon Ed Sullivan [Show] guitar. I’ve always wanted one of those because I love The Beatles. They have a really short scale and so I had never got one before, but this one was made in 1984 with a full-scale neck on it.

“That was why I had to have it – I felt like, finally, it’s one that’ll fit me. I wish and dream that one day Fender will make a full-scale Mustang because little guys look really good with that guitar, but when I hold a Mustang it just makes me look like I’m freaking huge.”

What’s the most incredible find or bargain you’ve had when buying guitars?

“I got a pretty good deal on a Firebird. I’m not the most technical guitar guy, you know; the Firebird with the three pickups? I picked one of those up at a Guitar Center one time, and it was a freakin’ deal and a half. 

“I don’t know if it was a defect or something, but that was a deal. And I don’t know if this counts, but I got to go to the Gibson factory a couple of years ago and got a couple of free guitars. So that was my biggest deal [laughs].”

What’s the worst case of buyer’s remorse you’ve had after buying a piece of gear?

“I have had a lot of guitars over the years, but it’s very far in between when I can afford to buy something. I guess the only thing I can really think of offhand is I had an amp when I was a kid called a Gorilla Tube Cruncher. I bought one on eBay, but when I got it, it wasn’t the same model and I was pretty bummed. I haven’t had much remorse just because I make do with what I got. It really doesn’t take much for me to be able to get the sound that I want.”

Have you ever sold a guitar that you now intensely regret letting go?

“Yes, that Firebird I told you about earlier. I didn’t sell it, I traded it to a friend for a Les Paul Standard – and I have no regrets because that Les Paul is the best guitar I’ve ever had. But I traded the Firebird off and I think about it all the time and I do miss it. I’m glad that I traded it to a friend. I mean, I know where it’s at, so I could go over there and steal it. I know where he lives...”

I really love Fender amps and I honestly think the smaller, the better

What’s your best guitar-buying tip?

“I would say just to play it and if you’re not sure of what you want, then look at what your favourite guitar player plays. I always wanted a Goldtop because Neil Young played one and he’s got that Firebird pickup in it. 

“I have a Goldtop now and I love it, but I think that my love for Firebirds comes from Neil because he had a Firebird pickup in his guitar and they just cut through. I find that when I play something that has a mini-humbucker or a Firebird pickup in it, it always seems to be exactly what I’m looking for.”

If you could only use humbuckers or single coils for the rest of your career, which would you choose and why?

“A lot of my favourite guitarists play Stratocasters, but I’m never happy playing something with single coils. It just never works out for me. So I would definitely choose the humbucker and, in particular, I would use a mini Firebird pickup. It’s the best sound to me. And you know what? I use the neck pickup a lot. A lot of people think that’s funny because I like a big, thick, cutty sound. So I’d choose humbuckers all day, every day.”

I’ve never had a problem finding my sound on whatever amp is there

If forced to make a choice, would you rather buy a really good guitar and a cheap amp or a cheap guitar and a top-notch amp?

“I would go with the cheap amp, all the way. I really love Fender amps and I honestly think the smaller, the better. I’m sure that the more expensive they are, probably they’re better. But if you’ve got a good ol’ guitar, you’re not going to do any wrong – it doesn’t matter what amp it is. 

“I’ve never had a problem finding my sound on whatever amp is there. So I would definitely choose the nice guitar. Plus, it’ll look cooler than a cheap guitar; not everybody’s looking at your amp.”

Andrew’s go-to gear

“I use a 2019 Gibson Firebird and a Fender Deluxe. I also use the EarthQuaker Devices Tone Reaper and I really love my JHS Milkman pedal, which is like a slapback pedal. I use a tuner; it’s important to keep in tune. But it doesn’t take much – I get most of my sound from my amp.”

  • Homemade (opens in new tab) is out now via Karma Chief/Colemine Records.

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Jamie Dickson is Editor-in-Chief of Guitarist magazine, Britain's best-selling and longest-running monthly for guitar players. He started his career at the Daily Telegraph in London, where his first assignment was interviewing blue-eyed soul legend Robert Palmer, going on to become a full-time author on music, writing for benchmark references such as 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and Dorling Kindersley's How To Play Guitar Step By Step. He joined Guitarist in 2011 and since then it has been his privilege to interview everyone from B.B. King to St. Vincent for Guitarist's readers, while sharing insights into scores of historic guitars, from Rory Gallagher's '61 Strat to the first Martin D-28 ever made.