JD Simo on the best (and worst) guitars he's bought over the years

Guitarist JD Simo
(Image credit: Press)

What was the last guitar you bought and why? 

“The last guitar I bought – I don’t know the year of it – was a Silvertone 1446. It’s a hollowbody that Silvertone made in the 60s and sold through Sears & Roebuck, a mail-order store in America back then, and it’s got a Bigsby on it and two mini-humbuckers.

“The reason why I got it was that I was wanting something like it, like an old Harmony, and I’d actually gone to Carter Vintage here in Nashville just wanting something different. They’re closed to the public because of the pandemic and so I arranged to borrow this other guitar to check it out to see if I wanted it. They made a mistake and it wasn’t there; it had either been sold or sent back to the consigner or something like that.

“So off-handedly I said, ‘Is there anything else there that’s cool?’ And the guy said, ‘Well, there’s this Silvertone that’s sort of similar to what I think you’re into,’ and I said, ‘Cool, I’ll check it out,’ and got it home and I loved the damn thing. That’s pretty much the only guitar I’ve been playing lately.” 

What’s your best guitar buying tip? 

“Never buy a guitar that you haven’t played. I just don’t think it works that well, I think you’ve got to put your hands on it. All of the important instruments that have found their way to me that made the biggest impact were ones that I just happened to run into but wasn’t necessarily seeking out. I’d pick it up and I just knew; I feel that you just seem to know when you pick something up whether it’s for you or not.” 

What was the most incredible guitar find or bargain you’ve ever had? 

“To be honest, it’s my old 335 that I play all the time and it’s been with me all over the world – we’ve been through everything together. I paid a significant amount of money for it – more than I’ve paid for any other piece of equipment before or since – but the guy who I did the deal with did me a solid, y’know? It was significantly lower than what it was really worth, but it was still more money than I’d ever spent on anything. He knew I was going to use it and I’ve more than got my money out of that instrument.” 

What are your go-to guitars right at the moment?

“My main 335 is a ’62. I put the Bigsby back on it and the nylon saddles back in the bridge, so it’s back to stock, pretty much. The other guitars I use are a 1952 ES-5 and the Silvertone, which is an alternative to my 335. I use them both for the same stuff, even though they’re wildly different.

“Then I have an early – I think it’s a ’62 – Custom Kraft Red Fury. Custom Kraft was a rebranding of a Kay and it’s really rare. It’s funky and cheap and out of phase in the middle.

“The last guitar I use is a sort of a partscaster Jazzmaster that a buddy of mine put together from old parts. It’s Sherwood Green – he refinished it with spray paint from the hardware store – and it’s got a humbucker in the bridge and a Strat pickup in the neck and it’s wired out of phase. I put 0.016 gauge strings on it and tune 
it down to B.” 

Guitarist JD Simo

JD Simo surrounded by his extensive and eclectic collection of guitars (Image credit: Press)

What’s the strongest case of buyer’s remorse you’ve ever had after buying a guitar?

“It’s happened multiple times [laughs]. Basically, any time I’ve ever sought out a particular instrument because I was like, ‘I gotta have this,’ I’ve had buyer’s remorse. I get it, I’m into it for a second and then I just kinda revert back to my 335 because it really is my instrument. I’ve had two '50s Strats that were fantastic and I was like, ‘I’m totally going to use this...’ and then I end up not using it. Then I had a '60s Telecaster – same thing. I mean, I could go on and on.”

There’s a lot of cheap guitars that are awesome; there aren’t a lot of cheap amps that are awesome

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

“I had a Telecaster that I used for the entire time that I was in a band here in Nashville called the Don Kelley Band, a fairly notable club band that featured my predecessors Brent Mason, Johnny Hiland, Guthrie Trapp and a million other guitar players who are way better than me.

“I did thousands of gigs on the Telecaster and also used it on the bulk of the sessions I was doing every day, playing on people’s records and stuff. When I transitioned into doing my own thing I wasn’t using it that much so I made the decision to let it go – very reasonably – to a fan in Switzerland. I became a man on that instrument, y’know?”

Are there any common design features on electric guitars that are an instant turn-off for you?

“Floyd Rose tremolos and stuff like that immediately turn me off. I’ve learned over time that the shape of a neck, the scale length, where the controls are, how the pickups are mounted, what kind of bridge is on it, all these different things... if a guitar feels right to me, it just doesn’t matter. The five main instruments that I play all the time could not be more different from each other.”

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?

“You know what? I would probably opt for the better amp and the cheaper guitar. There’s a lot of cheap guitars that are awesome; there aren’t a lot of cheap amps that are awesome. Case in point, I’m really into these old pawnshop guitars from the 50s and 60s – Silvertones, Kays and Teiscos and stuff like that – and even at the most expensive [end of the spectrum] we’re talking under $1,000 and some are $500, $400, you know? There aren’t many amplifiers, new or old, that are gonna fall into that category that I think are really good.”

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

“I would use humbuckers because they happen to be in my favourite guitar and I know that I could play it for the rest of my life and have no problem. But if my favourite guitar was a Telecaster then the answer would be different. It just happens to be that my favourite instrument happens to have humbuckers in it, and that’s about it.”

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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.