John 5 Shows Off His Telecaster Collection and Discusses New Album, 'Careful with That Axe'

by Alan di Perna
Posted Aug 15, 2014 at 12:21pm

This is an excerpt from the October 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of this story, plus features on Stevie Ray Vaughan (a 60th-birthday bash!), Yes, the 60th anniversary of the Fender Strat, columns, tabs and reviews of new gear from TC Electronic, PureSalem Guitars, Martin, Seymour Duncan, Prestige Guitars and more, check out the October 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

“It all starts when you get your first guitar for Christmas or your birthday,” John 5 explains. “You never know what that guitar is going to bring you. Is it going to bring you happiness or sadness, fortune or poverty?”

In John’s case, that first guitar, acquired at the tender age of seven, has led to a stellar career as one of recent rock’s most admired and sought-after guitarslingers. He’s enjoyed high-profile stints with everyone from Marilyn Manson to David Lee Roth to k.d. lang to Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Since 2005, he’s been guitarist-in-chief for Rob Zombie and is currently working on the score for Zombie’s newest horror flick, 31. In the past decade, the man born John William Lowery has also emerged as a solo artist and all-around virtuoso guitar hero in his own right. He pioneered the now-popular, if unlikely, hybrid of shred guitar and wild country pickin’, and serves it up with his own twisted sense of campy goth panache.

John’s newest solo album, his eighth to date, is called Careful with That Axe and features bassist Matt Bissonette (Joe Satriani, David Lee Roth, Elton John) and drummer Rodger Carter (Lita Ford, Gene Simmons, Glen Campbell). The album is packed with all the speed-demon riffology and feats of fretboard acrobatics that his fans have come to expect. “I wanted to make this record so intense,” he says. “You know, it’s a guitar record. It’s not like anything else. So I just wanted to make it absolutely insane. Really crazy playing.”

The album’s title is a nod to Pink Floyd’s 1968 tour de force psychedelic jam “Careful with that Axe, Eugene.” But given the macabre side of John’s persona, he feels that the name has a special resonance in his case. “An axe is a guitar, obviously,” he says. “But the phrase ‘careful with that axe’ could also be about ax murders, and some of the song titles revolve around ax murders.”

While his over-the-top playing style is always reckless and daring, John has indeed been careful with his ax, steering it from triumph to triumph amid the meltdown vicissitudes of the music business. And he’s especially careful with the axes in his legendary collection of mint-condition vintage Telecasters.

“I’m a Telecaster connoisseur, and I love my Teles,” he says. “I have one from almost every year since the very beginning, in 1950. I’m so obsessed with them. I just really enjoy the history of Fender—the story of Fender and how it all came about. I have a collector’s soul.”

For Careful with That Axe, John mainly stuck with his favorite contemporary Fender, a gold John 5 signature model Tele. “I’ve had that guitar for about six years now, and it’s just worn in beautifully,” he says. “I play it all the time. I didn’t use a lot of other guitars on the album just because we were playing everything live in the studio and just this one guitar gave me pretty much everything I needed.

"I only used one Marshall JVM combo amp with a Boss Super Overdrive, Boss Noise Supressor and Boss Chorus. That’s pretty much what I use live too, when I’m playing with Zombie, and I wanted to have that vibe in the studio. I didn’t use a lot of gear this time because I just wanted to do everything with my hands. I went into this kind of like a boxer. I trained and trained, and I rehearsed quite a bit with Rodger and Matt. I think they both did a phenomenal job with this, just sounding out of control at times, but then pulling back on the songs that called for that.”

The album reflects on John’s formative years as a guitar monster in training, starting with the opening track, “We Need to Have a Talk About John.” A chaotic collage of wild sounds and spoken-voice snippets, it sets the mood for what’s to come. “When my parents gave me that first guitar, I became totally obsessed,” John says.

Photo: Sean Murphy

This is an excerpt from the October 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of this story, plus features on Stevie Ray Vaughan (a 60th-birthday bash!), Yes, the 60th anniversary of the Fender Strat, columns, tabs and reviews of new gear from TC Electronic, PureSalem Guitars, Martin, Seymour Duncan, Prestige Guitars and more, check out the October 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

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