Reverb Soundcheck: Johnny Hickman of Cracker

While most of us may remember Cracker from their '90s hit singles, the band is still going strong with their new double album, Berkeley to Bakersfield, released in December 2014. We recently had a chance to catch up with their guitarist, Johnny Hickman, to get a better idea of how he gets his characteristic blend of country twang and alt rock drive. Read on and watch to to get the "low" down on Hickman's rig and find out how they do it in Bakersfield.

His Guitar

Hickman's main axe is a black '77 Les Paul that has been modified and embellished over time. What might look like road wear from a distance - a reasonable expectation from someone who's been touring for nearly 25 years - is actually a series of colored etchings that Hickman did himself with a Dremel tool and acrylic stain. Paired with the etchings are some some mosaic-like add-ons, the most interesting of which is a piece of wood from the shack where Muddy Waters was born. One thing is certain: this is a guitar so original that you couldn't possibly replicate it.

At some point, he attached a locking Kahler trem to it (digging out the body himself) in lieu of a more traditional Bigsby. How does he get that country twang from a Gibson? Use heavier strings and play right down near the bridge where the tension is higher.

His Board

A study in simplicity, Hickman's board is simple tuner - delay/reverb - drive setup. That's it. He runs his guitar into a Boss TU-3, then an EarthQuaker Devices Dispatch Master and ends with a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver. He prefers the BD-2 for the way it preserves his low end, and favors the Dispatch Master for its authentic reverb and smooth blending of delay and reverb. For players who are constantly building their board in the hope to get a great sound, this should be an object lesson. This board costs less than $200 used and he gets a great sound out of it with a range of tones for an entire show.

His Amp

While Hickman uses a Fender Supersonic in the studio and for larger shows, we were glad to have caught him playing in a smaller venue and using a Bugera Vintage 22 combo, an amp that can be had for around $300 but punches above its weight with great low-mids.

As per usual, those expecting some magic piece of gear lurking behind the tone of a professional are left scratching their heads at the rig's normalcy. It's refreshing to see musicians who clearly love what they do rocking out with gear that anyone can use. To hear how much mileage he gets out of this set up, check out Cracker's Berkeley to Bakersfield and give it close listen.


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