Austin is a hotbed of musical talent. Its denizens have a voracious appetite for live music, and the city’s numerous establishments have storied reputations in the music world. The Continental Club. Antone’s. ACL Live at the Moody Theater. It’s these institutions that have earned the city the title of “Live Music Capital of the World.”
Of course, live-performance venues, the counterpoint to controlled studio environments, present a unique set of challenges. Performers need instruments that are functional, durable and sonically true. For most, finding the perfect setup is a never-ending pursuit. But seasoned musicians have honed their live rigs to a stable balance of road-tested gear. Every piece of gear has a purpose, and after years of concerts, every piece of gear has a story. We asked four local legends to share the stories behind theirs. This week: Redd Volkaert.
Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Redd Volkaert’s path to country guitar legend took pit stops in Edmonton and Los Angeles. He then played with Don Kelley in Nashville for a number of years until 1997, when he joined Merle Haggard’s band. After half a decade on the road with Haggard, and a few more years of studio work, Volkaert relocated to Austin. Today, he lives just outside of the city, where he has enough land to keep horses and a vintage Studebaker and is a regular fixture on the Austin music scene.
1958 Fender Esquire with Charlie Christian Neck Pickup
“I used it for twenty-five years steady — only one I had, all I could afford at the time. I got it when I was thirteen. My dad won it in a pool game. It was an Esquire. It had just one pickup in the bridge, and I put a Charlie Christian in the neck. I did that when I was about fifteen. I cleaned it up a bit since then, but when I first did it, being a genius at fifteen, I had a screwdriver and a hammer, so I cut the hole in the body for the pickup.”
1955 Fender Telecaster
“I reshaped [the neck profile]. It had that really cheap, square-y kinda feel to it, and the paint was worn off already, so I thought, ‘Ah, what the hell, I’m never going to sell it.’ So I just took me a scraper and made a soft V out of it. I might as well make it a little more playable for me. And, I mean, it wasn’t in pristine shape anyway, so it wasn’t like taking a mint one out of the closet and ruining it.”
“I’m just unreal about [John Grammatico’s] amps. I just think that they’re the best there are. We took about three years of jacking with the amps. I’d go to the house and spend ten to twelve hours at a time. For me, I’m proud that I was his guinea pig to get his line going.”
Durham Electronics Reddverb
“About a year ago, because these Grammaticos don’t have any reverb, I was using the old Fender reverb pedal. Alan [Durham] said, ‘I’m thinking about making a reverb pedal, you want to be my guinea pig?’ So now I have a reverb with the [Durham Electronics] Sex Drive built in it.”
Arion SCH-1 Stereo Chorus
“I was looking for a Leslie pedal. I tried a DigiTech and a bunch of different kinds, and this kid turned me on to this. He said, ‘Get one of these cheap ol’ shitty Arion chorus pedals, turn it up all the way. It sounds horrible, but in a band, when the band’s loud and playing, it sounds like you’ve got a Leslie on.’ So I got one of those at a pawn shop for forty bucks. Lid was busted and gone, so I duct-taped over it.”