The Current's Guitar Collection: Black Joe Lewis, Telecasters

Using the guitar described in this article, Black Joe Lewis performs "PTP" off "Backlash" live in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears - PTP (Live on The Current)
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Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears visited The Current this week for a session hosted by Mary Lucia. When Lewis last visited The Current back in 2013, he was playing a custom-made, red Squier Telecaster model. This time around, Lewis was using something else during his in-studio session, so we caught up with him about the guitars he's been using lately. Here's what he had to say.

When you were here before, you were playing a bright-red, custom Squier, made for you by Tom Oately of Oately's Guitar Garage in Austin, Texas. What happened to that one?

I quit using it because I feel like the intonation started getting — it just got beat up. It just needs some work.

What are you playing here?

This one, the brown one, is a Mexican Tele Deluxe. I had a custom-made guitar, it was made by Campbell Davis of Born Guitars out of Colorado. But I was flying somewhere and the airlines smashed it and broke the headstock off. I talked to Tom Oately — Tom's still my guy — and he told me he couldn't fix it because the wood was too thin on the back side of the neck.

So we pretty much just took all the parts out of the Born and put them inside of this one. So it's got a P-90 pickup and a single-coil pickup that are made by Campbell at Born. It has one volume knob and the switch for two pickups.

And the neck on this, I took the original neck off, and his is just a relic from, a Tele-style neck. So that's what's going on.

So you and Tom basically put this together with all the best parts you could find?

Yes — it's the same design as the red one, too, except it has the volume knob. And the red one had just one pickup, and the switch was just a kill switch. So this one's got two pickups, so it just goes between.

The single-coil I I use for the cleaner stuff, and the P-90 I use for the dirtier, fuzzier stuff.

Did you write songs for Backlash on this, or did all that stuff happen after the album was made?

A little bit at the end. Most of it happened with the Born one that got broken, and with the red one, probably.

How long have you been using this one, then?

It's been less than a year, because this used to be my backup. This is my original Tele. Then I got the red one made, so I was using this one and the red one on the road. Then I quit using this one because the neck sucked, and then I got the custom one from Born and used that until that one got broken.

To be honest, I like the Tele-style body better than the body I had on the custom one by Born, but they build really nice guitars. It sounded really nice.

But I like this. It's definitely got awesome pickups. I like the Born pickups a lot.

Is this the only one you play on the road?

The other one I'm playing is just the Fender American Standard Telecaster. It's got some kind of control where you can put it in the middle and give it a dirtier tone, but I never use it. I just keep it back here, although every now and then I'll put it up front if it's smooth stuff on the neck.

I like the American Standard a lot. Depending on the room, this one's a little bit brighter than the other one. I try to mix it up, it just depends on the room.

Do you have a guitar tech on the road?

I can't afford anybody yet. One day, maybe. When I go home, I hit up Tom and he'll fix some of my crap for me before I hit the road again.


Black Joe Lewis - official site

Born Guitars

Fender Guitars

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3 Photos

  • Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears perform at The Current
    Black Joe Lewis playing his custom-built Telecaster-style guitar. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears perform at The Current
    Black Joe Lewis's Telecaster-style guitar. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Black Joe Lewis
    A photo from Black Joe Lewis's 2013 visit to The Current, when he played his bright-red Squier Telecaster. (MPR / Nate Ryan)

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