Nils Lofgren is something of a chameleon in rock history. While most widely recognized for his lengthy tenure as a member of the E Street Band — where he's been a fixture of their three-hour long shows over the past three decades — Nils' life in music goes much much deeper.
As a child, Nils got his start playing accordion before joining up with Crazy Horse and Neil Young on records like After the Gold Rush and Tonight's the Night. He has co-written songs with Lou Reed and has performed with Ringo Starr, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many others on top of his many excellent releases as a solo artist and with his own band, Grin.
It's an impressive resume and one that's required an ever-evolving collection of gear. Now, entering his 49th year on the road, this back–flipping son of Montgomery County, Maryland is teaming up with Reverb to pass his collection onto a new batch of musicians.
"It's not like I want to start a museum," Nils recently told us. "I just want to get some of this equipment into the hands of musicians that may want to use them and enjoy them."
By no means a collector, Nils's upcoming Reverb shop showcases a selection of gear that's spent hours in the studio and years on tour. It’s gear that has only been relegated to the closet when something new showed up to replace it in the rig.
As Nils explains of the pieces he's selling, "I've just got a different set now. It’s not like they’re random pieces that someone sent me, and I don’t know what they sound like. I’ve used them all live and in the studio over the decades."
We recently caught up with Nils to talk about the gear he's used over the years and what's set to hit the sales block starting on March 14th.Nils Lofgren Official Reverb Shop
You've been touring and recording for a lot of years. How has your gear evolved? Do you still seek out new things to try, or is it just more about what you have on hand?
I'm not a great R&D guy, but between friends, musicians, producers and engineers I'm always being turned onto new pedals or this or that. I'm always open to anything that gives more power and freedom to my sound.
When I started in the '60s, you would go to a music store like Chuck Levin's Washington Music, which is still in Wheaton, Maryland. There would be like 20 pedals in existence, and 18 of them were horrible, so you only had to evaluate two of them. But over the years, it's just gotten so crazy and high tech with a lot of good gear, and I'm not a high tech guy. But I do love any sounds that allow me to feel like I can convey the music with more color and dynamic.
Of course, I joined E Street Band almost 33 years ago, and that's a whole other job where I wound up acquiring an enormous amount of instruments and amps that maybe I wouldn't have for my solo work or with my old band Grin.
I still play the accordion, and I realized that I was the obvious guy to become the swing man of the band when Steve came back in '99. I went and got some crash courses in pedal steel, dobro, lap steel, bottleneck, six string banjo… I became a good beginner of these other sounds just to put in Bruce's toolbox because he writes so authentically whether it's folk, country, rock, R&B or blues.
I’ve got over 50 guitars and instruments on the road now. And over 30 of them are out and tuned for every show.
I think it was on the Tunnel of Love tour that I had all of these foot pedals with chorus and delays running together, and they got so noisy! So I challenged myself to learn how to use a rack-mounted thing. That's how I acquired those [Roland] GP-8s, which are programmed for the E Street Band and my solo work.
One thing I'm always curious about with people who have worked a lot of different gigs — when getting read for a tour, do you have a standard setup or does it vary? What's your tour selection process like?
It's very different depending on the job. For many years now, my solo work has been a two-man acoustic show with my Takamines that I love. I take an amp, but I'm playing little theaters and little clubs so [for that] I still love a Blues Junior for my strat.
With E Street, I've gone through so many different configurations. Way back in the old days, it was my [Fender] 4X10 Super Reverb blackface, and then I got to using two Music Mans – kind of an imitation of that run together.
And then with all the effects and octave dividers, I was using the POGs – the low end was blowing up the 10s. Even though I like the saturation and warmth of them, there just wasn't enough clarity. So I went into this phase of using these 12s, like the Twin Reverbs.
The guitars, too. There are so many different guitars that I've used, but my main guitar is a Fender Strat, of course – it’s my most comfortable guitar. In the studio, though, I like having an arsenal of different sounds to try and not being fixed on any one thing, all the while knowing that I can always defer to the Strat to get the job done.
The Strat makes sense to me, given the sort of versatility your career's required. Is there anything else about the Stratocaster in particular that speaks to you?
I use some slightly heavier strings, and I get kind of aggressive in a live setting. The Strat can take the most resistance and fight you back a little bit.
Live, there is so much adrenaline going through me that having an instrument that I would have to treat delicately is too much. At some point, I'm just leaning into it too hard or pushing too far, and it takes too much concentration to pull back.
It seems to me that the Strat is something that is a nice balance where I can push it hard, it pushes back a little bit but resists enough so it keeps me kind of grounded emotionally and physically playing it.
But I love playing a lot of different ones. And, of course, with E Street Band at this point I've got Takamine acoustics, 12 strings, six strings, gut strings, Fender baritones, strats, Gretsches, PRSs, and a lot of Jazzmasters, which I like. I just put a Jazzmaster with really heavy strings in between Bruce and Steve's Tele and Strat.
Any other stories or particular associations some of the gear you're selling?
We go to Telluride every year, and at a nice little guitar shop there, I got that Art & Lutherie acoustic. I’ve actually done a fair amount of writing through the years on different albums with that guitar.
And all of the amps I've used on the tours, between my tours and E Street tours – I have associations with those. I had a friend who did some modifications on the [Mesa Boogie] Mark III I sent you that made it a warmer amp. I'm not technical or an electrician, and I don't know what he did, but he just got a really sweet, more warm sound than the normal Mark IIIs to my ears.
A local artist did a wonderful painting of me doing a backflip in my flip days on this one Strat. He did this flipside with a Mt. Rushmore of guitar players and put me on there. It's a cool piece of art – very loud and colorful.
I just realized that because I have so many Strats, it's just not one I've been using much. I thought that because of the personalized artwork on it that refers to me, it might mean something to a fan.
All of these foot pedals are important to me, too. The little orange distortion pedal I used to use way back in the ‘70s is another example.
All of the gear reflects all of the times I’ve gone through in my career. Some are newer, some are older, but all are pieces that I've used both live and in the studio.Nils Lofgren Official Reverb Shop