What follows is an interview with the gracious Michael Britt after the acquisition of his third Anderson and first Crowdster Acoustic.
TAGW: Hi Michael, thanks for being an Anderson Guitar Player! Lonestar is a major force on the Country Music scene and it seems like your touring schedule has been quite busy. What has it been like? How many dates will you play this year?
Michael: Actually, quite busy was when we first started out, playing bars and casinos. We averaged about 250 shows a year for the first couple of years, so with travel days we were only home about a month a year. Now that we all have families, we try to have more of a balance between home and work. We’re currently playing about 90 shows a year and we’re also gone for promotional tours and things like that, but it’s still a whole lot better than in the early days. Plus, the conditions are better—nice bus, separate hotel rooms (a must), toy trailer (scooters and cycles), and a new basketball goal on the trailer. We’re really spoiled now.
TAGW: You also have a new album out, your first studio album in three years, “Let’s Be Us Again.” What have the preceding albums been like and how does this one differ?
Michael: I think our music has changed somewhat over the years due to influences ranging from our families to different producers to just plain getting a little older. I hesitate to say, “growing up.” When we started, we were younger, still playing in bars and our producers, Don Cook and Wally Wilson, saw us as a younger extension of Brooks & Dunn so our music was a little more honky-tonk.
After a couple of CDs like that, we really felt like we needed more of our own identity so we recruited monster guitarist/producer Dann Huff to produce our records. At the same time we were coming into our own as artists, not being quite as new to the business, and we wanted to showcase our talents so we picked songs that highlighted Richie’s abilities as a vocalist and stretched us musically as well. This change turned out to be a hit and we had five number one songs in a row on the “Lonely Grill” CD, and Dann’s been our producer ever since.
Our new CD, “Let’s Be Us Again” is a little different in that we co-wrote almost all of the songs along with some great writers in Nashville, and for me it’s different because it’s got a boatload of guitar on it. I usually play about three guitar solos per album but I think I have like 9 on this CD, so hopefully people like guitar solos. The music is a little lighter for the most part and I think a little more accessible. There are some fun up-tempo songs and a couple of sweet family songs and a couple of strong ballads as well. And there’s more guitar, did I mention that?
TAGW: You’ve also been on a lot of TV Shows lately. In fact we saw you letting Dianne Sawyer play your Hollow T Classic on the closing moments of Good Morning America. Is that how you are getting all these TV dates, promising the hosts a chance to play your Anderson on camera?
Michael: Well, that’s usually the deal-breaker. I know how prized Anderson guitars are so when our publicist is pitching Lonestar they always mention, “There’s a chance you may get to play an Anderson guitar…” and it’s amazing how many TV appearances we’ve gotten since they started including that. You have to be careful though because Dianne didn’t really want to give it back. It got pretty ugly seeing her wrestle with my guitar tech.
TAGW: You guys even preformed on The View last Thursday. What songs did you do and who did you let jam on which one of your guitars? Now we are beginning to understand why you need so many Andersons.
Michael: We performed our latest single, “Mr. Mom,” and unfortunately Barbara Walters wasn’t there that day because I’ve heard she can whip out a mean “Smoke on the Wawa” riff. Ok, maybe not.
TAGW: And speaking of Anderson Guitars, which models do you own and play?
Michael: I now have three Andersons. My main guitar is a Hollow T Classic with a Swamp Ash top, Desert Sunset finish (I believe), and a contoured body. I also have a Honey Burst, Drop Top Classic with a Quilted Maple top and a Pearl White pickguard setup with three VA pickups. And my newest Anderson is a Crowdster acoustic with a beautiful Tiger Eye, Maple top.
TAGW: Do you have certain Andersons for certain applications?
Michael: Usually, when I want a really good guitar tone, I’ll pick up an Anderson. No, really, my Hollow T Classic covers all of your basic “Tele”-tones with just a bit more oomph and the Drop Top covers my “Strat”-sounding stuff. I change guitars a lot onstage to get different sounds for different songs and for alternate tunings or using a capo. I play the Hollow T Classic about 60% of the time and the Drop Top about 20% and I have a couple of other guitars for drop tunings or specialty sounds (i.e. Gretsch).
I have Anderson pickups in a couple of other Teles as well. I used to covet Dann Huff’s Anderson, Hollow T Classic in the studio so I caved in to peer pressure a couple of years ago and got mine. He picked it up last time we were recording and said, “This new one is nicer than my guitar!”…And there was much rejoicing.
TAGW: Earlier this year you guys were out on an Acoustic Tour. I believe you called us needing the abilities of the Crowdster. What was going on?
Michael: Well, we were in the middle of our acoustic tour and I was having a lot of problems with my acoustic sound. I tried about 6 different acoustic guitars with different preamps and I was finding dead spots on the fretboards and having some feedback issues. I was about 6 to 8 feet from the P.A. stacks onstage in the theatres we were playing and there were a lot of low frequencies building up around me. Our volume onstage was pretty full and I needed a guitar that was very resistant to feedback but didn’t have dead or quiet spots up and down the neck.
TAGW: We loaned you a Test-Unit Crowdster to try. How did it work out?
Michael: Tom sent me the Crowdster test guitar and I think I ordered one the week I tried it out. It is the best sounding acoustic for live applications I’ve ever heard and it plays like a dream—like all Andersons.
TAGW: Well, by now you must have received your new Tiger Eye, Crowdster. Have you had a chance to play it yet?
Michael: I haven’t got a chance to use it onstage yet because we’re not doing the acoustic songs on a regular basis in our live show right now. But it’s awesome for carrying on the bus and into the hotel rooms because it’s smaller than a full-size acoustic.
TAGW: How do you run the Crowdster? Is it plugged into the house and what type of monitor system does the band prefer?
Michael: During our acoustic tour, I actually put together a small pedalboard with some stomp boxes to create some definitely non-acoustic sounds. Since we were playing acoustically for about two hours, I wanted to break it up a bit so I popped in a little Dimension C chorus on a few parts. I had a MXR Micro Amp for a small solo boost, which added a little bit of gain and a smidgen of mid. I even used a Vox wah-wah pedal on a bluegrass rendition of “Play That Funky Music” in our encore. I also had a volume pedal and a tuner.
Currently, we’re on our full electric tour, so I’m just running the Crowdster through an ART tube preamp DI (“valve” preset) and into the P.A. from there. We have a pretty extensive Clair Bros. Audio P.A. with Paragon consoles so I could run into any DI and it would sound good, but we just happened to have the ART tube DIs lying around, so I’m using one. It’s nice and warm and clean and the preamp in the Crowdster is great. You can’t make it sound bad. I used to use in-ear monitors but now I’m just using a Clair 12AM floor monitor. I think everyone else uses ear monitors or a combination of ear monitors, side fills and stage monitors.
TAGW: For your Anderson Electrics, what amps do you use live—and in the studio for recording?
Michael: Currently, I’m using the same amps on tour as I’ve been using in the studio. I overhauled my studio amp rack this year for use on the road so I have a pretty large guitar rig this summer. It’s a four-amp-head switching system that has some pedals and rack effects in loops before the heads and all of the amps go into one cabinet onstage. I use a combination of Ground Control GCX, Axess Electronics and Bradshaw switching systems to control everything.
The amps I’m using right now are a ’62 Fender Bandmaster, a Diaz CD-30 Club Classic, a ’93 Matchless HC-30, and a Marshall MKII 50 watt.
My effects include a Maxon compressor, Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive, an original TS-9 Tube Screamer, Boss Harmonist, Line 6 Mod Pro and Delay Pro and a Boss reverb pedal.
In the studio, I recorded most of the rhythm parts and a couple of solos with my Matchless and most of the other solos are the ’62 Bandmaster cranked up to 8. I have a couple of Marshalls that I’ve used on a couple of songs and I’m really looking forward to using my new Diaz on future recordings.
For cabinets in the studio, I use my Matchless 2x10 cabinet mostly. Live, I run through a Bogner 1x12 Cube that is miked with both a Sennheiser 409 and an A/T 4050 and the house engineer blends the two mics together.
In the studio, we usually mic with a Shure SM57 and a Royer R-122 ribbon mic. I’m sure some people assume that Dann plays the solos on our records, but I’ve played every solo on every Lonestar record that he’s produced. We’ll often track rhythm parts together depending on what the song needs, but I’ll usually go in and overdub solos after the songs are tracked.
TAGW: Any thoughts of trying the new Mesa/Boogie Lonestar amp? Perhaps they should do a model with your picture on the grill cloth…it’s just a thought.
Michael: You know, I saw an ad for those and I’ve been meaning to try one out for the obvious tie-in but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Plus, I just got the Diaz and I’m cutting myself off from buying gear at this time. But then, I haven’t heard it yet… It’s an addiction, I guess. As far as the picture on the grill cloth…hum…Who in the world would want to see that?
TAGW: Do you have any special effects or cables or other equipment secrets you’d like to share?
Michael: No real secrets. I use the Maxon compressor a lot of the time but I have the sustain backed off to about 9 o’clock so it’s really not compressing much at all. It sweetens the sound similar to the big tube compressors they run my guitar rig through in the studio. My tones lately are pretty basic guitar into the amp tones, so the secret there is getting good amps.
I also program-delay times so I have presets for each song and the delays are in tempo with every song. You can use more and longer delays but you don’t really hear them because they don’t stomp on what you’re playing. I also use a triplet delay setting on our live intro for, “What About Now” that people think is sampled or tracked. It’s just a 333 ms delay with the level even with my original signal and a couple of repeats. A simple version of the old U2 delay thing.
My only other “secret” is that I use George L. cable everywhere I possibly can. There is virtually no signal loss, which is great for loop switching systems because of all the jumpers and also for pedalboard looms to and from my rack.
TAGW: String gauge and brand is an interesting subject often overlooked. What is your preferred pack?
Michael: My preferred strings are D’Addario XL 110 (.010 -.046). I use them on most of my guitars. I have started using 11’s on my Drop Top Classic since our acoustic tour. I think my forearms got used to the extra tension of the acoustics so it just feels a little better at the moment. On acoustics I use D’Addario EXP strings (.012-.056). They’re the coated strings, similar to Elixirs, which are my second choice.
TAGW: Picks can also change the overall sound of the instrument. What is your plectrum of choice?
Michael: I’ve been using the equivalent of a Fender Medium pick for so long I can’t remember anything else. I use D’Addario Mediums now with our cute little Lonestar logo on them. I’ve tried different materials, but the tortoise shell ones are my favorites. I have a habit of playing the pick at an angle so it wears out on the edge pretty quickly and I go through quite a few picks.
TAGW: If you were stranded on a tropical island, with only your Anderson Guitars of course, what 5 songs would you want to have to listen to until you were rescued by the rest of the band?
Michael: Hmmm… I know I’m going to leave out some great song, but here goes: “Love and Pride” by Alana Davis, “Get To Me” by Train, “Senorita” by Los Lonely Boys, “Beast of Burden” by The Rolling Stones, and “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” by Cake.
TAGW: What do you hope is the gift that Lonestar brings to this world?
Michael: It sounds like some sort of Oprah episode or Dr. Phil therapy, but we’ve been fortunate enough to have some songs that people really relate to and use to cope with or include in certain aspects of their lives. I think we’ve maybe put in words what a lot of people are feeling at different moments and they’ve given us a great career by taking our songs and making them a part of their lives. People are probably going to forget who Michael Britt is or even who Lonestar is but they might remember how they fell in love with, “Amazed” as their soundtrack or how much, “I’m Already There” meant to them when they were away from their loved ones. I think that’s a gift, both to the world and to us.