“I feel like if you have an expensive amp, you can make any guitar sound good”: Robert Jon & The Wreck’s Henry James Schneekluth on his modded Epiphone workhorse, his best gear buys – and a Dragon Tele that lacks fire

Henry James Schneekluth
(Image credit: Laurence Harvey)

Henry James Schneekluth is best known as the guitarist for Orange County rockers Robert Jon & The Wreck. Like many players, he’s torn between a love of vintage electric guitars and a need for road-worthy touring gear. 

We sat down to talk through the highs and lows of his journey as a guitar buyer, discussing his love for Firebirds and a sorry experience with a Jimmy Page Telecaster, in the process…

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

The most recent guitar I bought was my Epiphone Firebird. I changed the pickups out to Seymour Duncans and changed the bridge and the tailpiece, and it’s my main touring guitar now

“Let’s see… probably my SG. I have a 2004 ’61 reissue that I bought a couple of years ago. A couple of years before that I actually built my own Strat. So it would be one of those two – probably the Strat because that one was more of a labor-intensive thing. 

“I bought the parts individually and a local luthier helped me put it together. It had a left-handed neck and a sunburst body that I got on the internet, and then I got a custom pickguard from Warmoth. 

“Originally, it had two Firebird pickups and then eventually I took those pickups out to put them in an actual Firebird. And now the guitar has a standard three-pickup setup with the reverse bridge pickup. So it’s kind of a little Jimi Hendrix-ish tribute. Something about the reverse stuff balances out the sound a little better for me.”

What was the last guitar you bought and why did you decide to buy it?

“The most recent guitar I bought was my Epiphone Firebird. I bought it in 2021. I changed the pickups out to Seymour Duncans and changed the bridge and the tailpiece, and it’s my main touring guitar now. 

“I am a big Lynyrd Skynyrd fan and I especially like Allen Collins. There was just a curiosity; I thought it was a really cool‑looking guitar and the sound of it was attractive to me, so I thought I would try it out. It turned out that the first one I ever bought stood up to the test of the road. And so I continue to use it.”

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

“The guitar I mentioned earlier, the SG. Knowing in the last couple of years how much the prices have gone up on used Gibsons and stuff like that, I got it for much cheaper than they’re going for nowadays. 

“I use it as my onstage slide guitar. I play open E tuning slide and it’s my main guitar for that. They can have a tendency to neck-dive, and the one I have does neck-dive, but it’s never been a huge problem for me as long as I have a strap that grips. I think if you have some source of friction in the right spot, it tends to negate it a little bit.”

Fender Artist Series Jimmy Page Dragon Telecaster

Fender Artist Series Jimmy Page Dragon Telecaster (Image credit: Fender)

What’s the strongest case of buyer’s remorse you’ve experienced? 

I just don’t have an affinity for my Dragon Tele... I kind of bought it on an impulse and it just never clicked with me

“I bought a Telecaster a couple of years ago – one of the Jimmy Page Dragon Telecasters – and I am currently in the process of trying to sell it. It just wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. 

“I’ve used it on recordings occasionally. But I barely play it; I just don’t have an affinity for that guitar. I haven’t found a Telecaster that I’ve really found an affinity for. I know I will eventually, but that one, I kind of bought it on an impulse and it just never clicked with me.”

Have you ever sold a guitar that you instantly regretted letting go?

“No, I don’t think so. I haven’t really sold that many guitars – maybe one or two – and I don’t think about them any more. They’re all stuff that I’m glad to be free of and I’m happy I have what I have. Yeah, I can’t say I have any seller’s remorse.”

What’s your best guitar-buying tip? 

“Play it acoustically first and give yourself the time or the space to hear how it resonates. I can’t speak on behalf of everyone else, but for me I usually have a sense of what guitar is going to feel good in my hands and what guitar I’m going to enjoy the most. So generally I can tell by feel what’s going to be a winner for me. And if I don’t get that buzz from it, then I just don’t go for it.”

Henry James Schneekluth

(Image credit: Mark Powell)

When was the last time you stopped and looked in a guitar shop window (or browsed online) and what were you looking at?

I’m in possession of a 1962 ebony block SG – I didn’t buy it, I’m just borrowing it – but it has this quality to it that seems to cover all the bases

“I’m always looking at Reverb for different stuff, different deals. I’ve recently been looking into Explorer-type guitars. I’ve been playing one recently that I’ve borrowed – that’s been really great. But on my phone I’m always looking at a new pedal or Fender Tweed [amps] or different Firebird-style guitars, things like that.”

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?

“Ah, that’s a really good question. I would probably have to go with the latter because I feel like if you have an expensive amp, you can make any guitar sound good. And you can always upgrade a cheap guitar, as well.

“Case in point, I’ve got an Epiphone Firebird and it’s constructed really well – neck-through [body], you know, like they did in the 60s. It’s vintage-correct for all intents and purposes, but I upgraded it.

“So, yeah, I would rather probably get a cheaper guitar and a more expensive amp.”

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

“Probably humbuckers. I just tend to find that with a good set of PAFs, lower output humbuckers, I don’t really find myself missing too much out of them. A good set of humbuckers really can cover all my bases. 

“I’m in possession of a 1962 ebony block SG – I didn’t buy it, I’m just borrowing it – but it has this quality to it that seems to cover all the bases: the pickups, and the pots and all that stuff have this quality. 

“When you roll the volume down, the pickups almost get this clarity, like a single coil. And that sound I just find is more relevant to the type of music I play.”

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David Mead

With over 30 years’ experience writing for guitar magazines, including at one time occupying the role of editor for Guitarist and Guitar Techniques, David is also the best-selling author of a number of guitar books for Sanctuary Publishing, Music Sales, Mel Bay and Hal Leonard. As a player he has performed with blues sax legend Dick Heckstall-Smith, played rock ’n’ roll in Marty Wilde’s band, duetted with Martin Taylor and taken part in charity gigs backing Gary Moore, Bernie Marsden and Robbie McIntosh, among others. An avid composer of acoustic guitar instrumentals, he has released two acclaimed albums, Nocturnal and Arboretum.