Player Spotlight | JD Simo
By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
Welcome back to the Strings Direct Blog. We're here kicking off a brand new series of posts where we'll be focusing on the strings played by some of the world's greatest (and sometimes lesser known) players out there. Whilst the guitars, amps and effects used by these players is often discussed in great depth, it's their choice of strings that is often overlooked (biased, we know!). So throughout these posts we'll be taking a slightly different approach by delving into what strings tick their boxes and why.
First up, it's American Guitarist, JD Simo... a firm favourite of Strings Direct's very own PDT ("Phil Da Tone"). Let's get down to it....
The guitar hero as we know it is preinstalled into our cultural history, we have iconic images and confirmative representations of what defines and more so deserves the title of a bona fide "guitar god". Modern lifestyles along with a generation built on technology encapsulated in a whirlwind of social media have reinvented the way we see, hear and most importantly define the guitar hero of today.
JD Simo is one of the modern ages finest examples of how a guitar hero carves a legacy into the minds of today's futuristic masses. JD is a player's player... he can play anything and sit in anywhere, anytime ,any place... the man is guitar!
Cutting his teeth through the unforgiving and highly demanding session world of Nashville in Tennessee, JD established his reputation the good ol’ fashioned way diggin’ licks and chicken pickin’, night after night with the Don Kelly band. It’s here that things really picked up and pretty soon this little known guy became the talk of the town!
This is of course very familiar ground for the aspiring guitar hero, not dissimilar to the vibe Jimi Hendrix carried when he first arrived in London. A player that creates such a stir has to have something really awe inspiring in today's accessible world of limitless content.
As his reputation grew, the interest started to surround JD and his timeless vibes expressed through his true voice of expression.. the guitar! He began to demo guitars for a several of the historic Nashville guitar shops, most notably Carter Vintage Guitars.
It was this seemingly casual step into the world of YouTube that catapulted him to an audience of millions. The accomplished and extremely articulate playing of JD Simo could now be absorbed by the world at the click of a button! YouTube and Instagram is now the world stage where new age guitar gods are born. A world that vaguely started out with generation Phil X has grown into a platform for string slingers to leave their mark and implement a place in modern guitar history.
Strings that Simo
A player with such incredible vibrato, unattainable sustain and endless expression must surely have a big string secret. We look at our icons as a point of reference in terms of technique and of course “Tone”.
So what's Simo’s secret?
Well, JD is synonymous with Rig Rundowns, clinics and interviews referencing his techniques, sounds and of course his very cherished Guitar “Red” which is so iconic it was offered briefly by the Gibson Custom Shop as a limited edition run. However, when asked the burning question; “What strings do you use to get your sound?” the answer has often been very consistent over the years; D’Addario EXL110 10-46... no more and no less.
He has often hinted at switching down a gauge to D'Addario's EXL120 09-42 when faced with a grueling tour schedule and numerous back to back gigs.
JD also mentioned he's been known to use D'Addario EXL120+ 9.5-44 in a brief rig rundown update video, but he swiftly reverted back to his trusty EXL110’s.
So we discover there is no great mystery or secret to JD’s incredible era defining sound. As he simply puts it “straight off the rack D'Addario 10s, I can walk in to any store in any city and they have my strings.”
Simo also has some words of wisdom about making your choice of strings in general; “String gauge is about your technique and touch. You find the gauge that fits how you play. All these people who think you have to play 12s or something to have good tone miss the point. Stevie Ray played huge strings because he attacked the guitar with his left and right hand. He would have sounded awful playing 8's because of the way he played. Billy Gibbons plays 7's or 8's or whatever because he caresses the strings. Are you going to tell me one of those guys has better or worse tone? Those are the two guys we all chase tone wise and they play strings that are almost 2 x difference in size. I’m a pretty normal player when it comes to how hard I fret and pick. A lot of players pick way too hard for the gauge they use. So, they go up a gauge of string and their tone improves because the string is better matched to their attack. If you slam a light gauge string it chokes off, your tone and sustain die even though you’re going at it. A lot of players don’t have the strength in their left hand to control bends and vibrato with the string gauge they use, but they also pick too hard with their right hand for the gauge string they use. That mismatch causes them to always feel like their strings aren’t good enough or that they need a better guitar or whatever. It’s about getting your own hands in unison and then finding the right gauge string for you.”
This may be your first exposure to JD Simo but we hope you've been inspired to check him out and picked up some tips along the way. We found it really interesting how he talks about finding the unison between both hands and without that both hands can appear to be suited to different gauges.
We also really hope you enjoyed our first installment in this latest blog series. If there's anybody you'd like us to discuss in the future, feel free to pop a suggestion in the comments box below and we'll be see what we can do. See you next time!