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“I always wanted to be able to make the music I wanted to make, and have enough money to buy cool guitars and, that’s pretty much it”

Jason Isbell for Guitar.com

This weeks player tells a story or two and takes our focus onto a real homegrown, organic, roots, heritage musician. A truly respected player that can cross genres at the tip of a hat 🎩 but firmly plants his boots 🥾 in the Country scene.

A true soul of the historic state of Alabama, a place rich in its own history and culture along with the revolutionary rights movement. The man has something to say as a songsmith and the world has its ears 👂 open, but man oh man can this edition's guitarist really make the train 🚂 talk.

Plays the geetar just like he’s ringing bell, man of the moment Jason Isbell! 🎸 ⚡️ .

Photography Credit - Joby Sessions / Future

Heritage Country Chords 🎼 

Reflecting on such a successful guitarist, singer-songwriter is always an intriguing insight, it’s great to discover the humble beginnings and early explosive desire and unparalleled drive to succeed as a musician.

Double Grammy award winning, prolific songwriters with major long-standing top 10 album billboard success don’t come around as often as they should these days; oh, how the world has changed, how life as we know it has shifted, and a new generation with different chapters has begun to pave the way for redevelopment within an ever-changing industry.

But nothing speaks like traditional storyteller-based songwriting driven by 6-string chords and melodies.


Born in Green Hill, Alabama on 1st February 1979 Jason Isbell was the child of young parents, his mother an interior designer an his father a house painter, this immediately puts Jason into the mix of a creative offspring with an honest hardworking ethos.

There wasn’t too much musical influence happening at home from the immediate family but Jason was looked after by his grandparents at their house which had a farm on was near to his local school. He spent a lot of time with his grandparents when his parents were at work gruelling through long shifts.

As it was back then, his grandfather and uncle taught him to play numerous instruments and clearly introduced him to a world of possibilities within his own development.

At the age of six he started out on the mandolin, simply down to a physical choice in the fact that it was smaller and easier to manoeuvre and progress on as a small child. With the influence of his grandfather Jason soon became embedded in the idea of music and instrumentation.


Jason Isbell for Guitar.com

J. Isbell @ Carter Vintage Guitars - Photography Jonathan Roncolato

His development was disciplined and always positive, he would be rewarded by his grandfather if he stayed focused and played with him supporting the right sections of religious, gospel and old time country songs, there would be an interval into blues music, and as a reward and acknowledgment for positive dedication, his grandfather would flip the guitar onto his lap and proceed to play in an open tuning with a pocket knife - I mean if that's not heritage roots hand-me-downs from generation to generation then I don't know what is! 😉

Another key aspect and strong source of inspiration for Isbell was the fact that there were certain laws in Alabama in regards to liquor licences, at that time this meant that bars had to sell more food than alcohol to stay open which technically meant they were bar/restaurant set ups.

This would mean Jason could stop in and continue to witness live music and the players on the scene at that time first hand 🤚!

Jason has always been straight up with his influences and continually states Neil Young as a staple along with the general historical presence of Alabama itself.

“I definitely don't feel like I would be the musician that I am, or the type of songwriter, had I not come from that particular place, the soul music that came out of there, and a lot of the soul-influenced rock and roll and country music that came out of the studios in north Alabama in the 1960s and 1970s had a big influence on me." 

Jason Isbell - wikipedia.com

“Once I learned that people made a living playing the guitar, it was done. It was over. Why would you ever attempt to do anything else if you could make music for a living? But the songwriting thing, that took a while, because I was not really an extrovert and I didn't really feel like I had a lot to say, but I had read enough and practiced enough with different kinds of writing that when I really got serious about songwriting, it went pretty quickly. But the fact that I started out as a guitar player really, I think, helped me be a better songwriter.”

Jason Isbell - Ernie Ball String Theory

Image courtesy of - williamsource.com

Jason was quickly integrated into the music scene and graced a musicians' lifestyle early on, at just 14-years-old he began playing in a country covers band with the now critically acclaimed Grammy award winning Chris Tompkins.

Isbell quickly became less of a murmur and more of a musician that established musicians took under their wing on the local scene and beyond.

Guitar Lifer 🎸 

Once Jason had committed himself to being a musician and guitarist the momentum lead the way. His first real outing as a player came after much perseverance and sitting in with numerous groups, most notably the Drive By Truckers.

It was within this group that Jason learned the trials and tribulations of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, he also found friends and mentors within the group, this experience would eventually help him develop maturity as a musician.

Photography Credit 
Eric Ryan Anderson for The New York Times

As much as his solo career has blossomed and has become a true success and more than he ever dreamed of, it’s his guitar obsession we revert back to and really welcome this intensely enthusiastic overview of his own styles a player.

“I think if I have a style of guitar playing or individual way of approaching the instrument, it probably came out of following the right mistakes. I think I started off imitating, like everybody does, and I was way into Eric Clapton for a long time when I was 10, 11, 12, 13 years old. But then I got obsessed with country players and started listening to Jerry Donahue and Danny Gatt, and I spent a lot of time, obviously, with Duane Allman and [Rock Heuter 00:07:38] and Lowell George and Sonny Landreth and Bonnie Raitt. That sort of thirst for as much knowledge, as much relevant knowledge about guitar playing that I could get, being the kind of person who's naturally curious, probably helped me develop my own style as a player more than anything else. I can't do Eddie van Halen or Chet Atkins justice, but I can find something in between the two. If you play something weird enough for nobody to know where your influences came from, then you have a style all your own.”

Jason Isbell - Ernie Ball String Theory


Jason is a man of great taste and style when it comes to guitars, to me it definitely feels like he has a great enthusiasm and passion for guitars and their legacy within American culture.

His collective passion is conveyed perfectly here on this encounter with the Rig Rundown team, here is a man who knows his Telecasters & of course Gibson’s!


As a player and a collector Jason shows incredible excitement and intensity towards his craft, it's definitely a reflection on his work and the level of work he produces.

With a solo career that has stair-cased success after success we are grateful to witness such a talent in modern society and an oversaturated and manufactured music industry of today.


Of all his guitars within the collection there is one truly special piece that used to belong to the late Ed King of Lynyrd Skynyrd, a 1959 Gibson Les Paul standard “Burst” known as “Red Eye”.

“The first things I learned on electric guitar were those Skynyrd songs that Ed played on, and the early Skynyrd recordings happened in my hometown, so it was very much a special thing for me. Also, the fact that Ed was the outsider in the bunch – he was the hippy amidst all the rednecks – that appeals to me. Because I grew up in Alabama, and I felt like the hippy among the rednecks for most of my life!”

Jason Isbell for guitar.com

Image courtesy of Jonathan Roncolato and Carter Vintage Guitars.

As a guitar player, too, I just need a reason for what you're doing, and I need that to not be self-serving. And that's all. That's all I need for somebody to be a good guitar player. I don't need you to have a lot of technical ability or be in tune. I just want to feel like you're trying to tell me something, rather than you're trying to show me something. You know? I want it to feel like communication rather than display, and I think that's kind of at the core of honesty.”

Jason Isbell - Ernie Ball String Theory

Country Threads & Shreds

Jason is most definitely a complex and technically gifted player with real raw expression and plays with his heart honestly with a lot of emotion. Guitar players of this calibre always have an incredible dynamic approach so string choice is always very well thought through and is a very important factor within the overall chain of how everything works together as a complete picture that synchronises in harmony.

Jason confidently puts all of his faith in strings he has been using from a young age and clearly sees no reason to change as he has experienced nothing but consistency, quality and reliability but first and foremost tone!


“I think the first pack of Ernie Ball slinky tens that I had were on my first electric guitar when my uncle gave it to me. I've got it right over there. It's Electra MPC. I had the built in effects cavities with the little, you know. It had toggle switches so you could turn on the effects, and you could take them out and switch them out with other effects and stuff. That's what I have used on electric guitars ever since. We're looking at 32 years of the same strings. I remember reading the back of the pack and all the names, and I remember a few years ago when I saw my name on the back of the pack for the first time, it was an extremely exciting moment, like a posted picture. My buddies do that on Twitter too. Every few months I'll see some guitar player like, "I'm on the pack of strings, I'm on the pack of strings!" It's really exciting, because it was one of those things that you sort of memorize when you're a little kid. Who's on the back of this pack? Who's playing these?”

Jason Isbell - Ernie Ball String Theory

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