Some guitar players have made a career out of utilizing the Fender Telecaster’s legendary twang. Others have made history by exploring the sonic territory that lies beyond.
Jim Weider may be best known to some as the guy who held down the guitar slot in the Band after Robbie Robertson's departure. A member of Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble Band for the last few years of the legendary drummer’s life, Weider has helped to keep the Band’s family torch lit with various musical projects since Helm’s passing (most recently with the Weight).
But there’s also a side of Weider’s playing that embraces the aforementioned beyond-Twangville territory: Project Percolator. A cool cross-pollination of genres that knows no fences or limits, Project Percolator has earned a reputation for burrowing into a groove or melody line, turning the thing inside out and using it as a launch pad for wild improvisational explorations.
For decades, Weider’s go-to axe has been his ’52 Telecaster, blessed with its own one-of-a-kind voice. Most magicians are reluctant to share their secrets, but not Weider. His Big-T pickups are designed to ... well … I’ll let him tell the story.
GUITAR WORLD: Jim, you’ve been busy lately with various musical projects, along with the release of another Big-T pickup model, a bridge model this time to go with the rhythm pickup you introduced a couple of years ago.
That’s right: it’s another one I developed with Lindy Fralin. He really makes great pickups. Mike Piera does the marketing for me through his Analog Man website.
I’d been waiting for the bridge version to try in my single-pickup Esquire.
Did you keep the three-way switch?
Yes. I huddled with my guys up here at K2 Music, and we set it up so that all the way back is full-range volume and bypasses the tone control.
That should be really fat and have some body to it.
Absolutely. And then the middle position is full-range volume and tone, which gives you all kinds of room to maneuver. And then they set the forward position up for the “Arlo Cocked Wah” tone — a 3.3k ohms resistor and a 0.01uF capacitor wired in series with the pickup, with the tone bypassed again.
That sounds pretty cool.
There’s a surprisingly large range of sound, and it’s very responsive to the pick … as pure or as fierce as you need it to be. You were actually trying to capture the tone of your go-to Telecaster with the Big Ts, correct?
Yeah, I was trying to emulate the tone of my ‘52 Tele pickup; get that same body of sound but make it just a little bit louder. I experimented with little bit longer magnets than what the ’52 used, but not too long or it will pull the strings out of tune. I tried going right through the bottom plate with the magnets, but that was insane; it became a very expensive thing.
In the end, I ended up using a slightly longer magnet, an Alnico 3. That gave us the tone and fatness we were looking for with no icepick. From there we tried a bunch of different windings … Lindy really had the patience of a saint. [laughter] I’d A/B it with my guitar each time to compare the tone, finally getting the right magnet and winding combination. It cuts nicely, but it’s still a fat tone … and a little bit louder than the original.
And throughout the process, it was your ear making the judgment call.
You did a recent video comparing a stock Road Worn Telecaster fitted with Big Ts with your ’52. It’s a good comparison, as you simply unplug one and grab the other.
Yeah, that really shows the lead tone with just a Princeton amp.
I wanted a pickup you could throw in your guitar and feel confident about. I used a regular Tele as a test guitar, nothing special. I wanted it to sound nice and meaty in a regular off-the-wall, under-a-grand guitar. I knew if it sounded great in that, it was going to sound great in anything else.
Well, I know I can look anybody in the world in the eye and tell them it does the job. I’ve had people ask me after gigs what the pickup is I’m running.
That’s great to hear, Brian. Now … what you should do is get a regular Tele pickguard and throw a Big-T rhythm pickup in.
Jim, you’re one of my heroes, but … no. [laughter] I’m just a single-pickup Esquire kind of guy.
Hey, Esquires are cool, man, they're cool. [laughter]
Any plans down the road for more Jim Weider hardware?
I wanted to develop a special bridge. I designed it, but I haven't found anyone to build it. It’s a big Tele bridge … a really cool design, but it would fit on anybody’s Tele.
Cool; I’ll keep an eye out for it. In the meantime, we have a new live Project Percolator CD to talk about. You have the same rhythm core of Rodney Holmes on drums and Steve Lucas on bass?
That’s right. We recorded it last summer at the Mystic Blues Festival with Clifford Carter along with us on keys. Plus, this album features Hook Herrera on vocals and harp. We open and close with two Percolator instrumentals, our last song is a 25-minute version of “Man Cry,” but everything in the middle is straight-ahead blues, from Willie Dixon to Muddy Waters with some of Hook’s originals, too. I think it’s one of the best blues albums I’ve ever done.
Well, that’s a statement in itself, as you’ve played your share of blues over the years. Speaking of such, these “Masters of the Telecaster” shows you’ve been doing with G.E. Smith and Danny Kortchmar tackle the blues, along with a whole lot more.
Those are fun shows. It started as a tribute to Roy Buchanan and ended up being a real rock and roll show.
Has anyone been officially rolling tape?
We just recorded a show at Levon’s Barn in 24 track … I don't know what we’re going to do with it, but we have it in the can.
Well, when the times comes for a review...
I know how to get a hold of you. [laughs]
A former offshore lobsterman, Brian Robbins had to wait a good four decades or so to write about the stuff he wanted to when he was 15. Today he’s a freelance scribe, cartoonist, photographer and musician. His home on the worldwide inner tube is at brian-robbins.com (And there’s that Facebook thing too.)