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Jason Isbell on Why His Gear Collection Makes Other Gearheads “Lose Their Minds”

"You have to go with historical significance. You go with what the nerd in you wants to hear"

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jason isbell gear the 400 unit weathervanes
Jason Isbell, photo by Danny Clinch

    Jason Isbell has plenty to say about his new album, Weathervanes, his band The 400 Unit, his wife Amanda Shires, and the state of the world. But nothing makes him quite as bubbly as his musical gear.

    Speaking with me for the June Consequence cover story, Isbell tells me how his collection has impressed other gearheads, such as Blackbird Studio manager Rolff Zwiep. Isbell and The 400 Unit recorded Weathervanes at the Nashville institution, which in the past has hosted Taylor Swift, Neil Young, The White Stripes, Tim McGraw, and many other icons.

    “I don’t know if there’s any other studio on Earth that has the kind of gear that they have, because they’ve been collecting for a long, long time,” Isbell explains. “But when I brought in all [my] amps, the studio manager came in and looked at my amps and said, ‘Well, I guess you guys won’t need to borrow any amps for this project.’ I was really, really flattered by that.”

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    Isbell shows off his “disgusting” amplifiers over Zoom. He starts with “probably the most prominent amp on the record,” one of the original Marshall Bluesbreaker Combos which had been hand-crafted in 1964 by the legendary Jim Marshall.

    “The Fender Bassman was the industry standard,” Isbell tells me. “And in England, because of trade restrictions, it was extremely expensive to get a Fender Bassman. So, Jim Marshall decided that he could replicate the Fender Bassman circuit and build an amplifier for his friends. His friends were Eric Clapton and Peter Green and Pete Townsend, people like that.

    “The first thing he built,” he continues, “was the JTM45, and it was apparently too big for those guys to fit in the trunk — what they called the boot of their car. So he started making the Combos and this was the first of those.”

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