Ask any serious guitarist who has been badly bitten by the vintage bug: you don’t want to even play one of the great ones unless you’re prepared to move heaven and earth to make it your own. Such was the experience of Jason Isbell when a legendary 1959 Les Paul crossed his path—and, unable to un-ring that bell, he chose to just keep swinging the clapper. Now that legendary ’Burst provides inspiration for the Nashville-based guitarist, singer-songwriter, and four-time Grammy winner on a daily basis, alongside a host of other great golden-age guitars.
Given the strength of his songwriting and the trenchant, heartfelt depths of his vocal performances, it would be easy for fans of much of his work to overlook the fact that Jason Isbell is a stage-strutting, riff-slinging guitar man to his core. Even if he had no other strings to his bow, Isbell would still cut a big figure in Music City as an in-demand guitar player, and spends a lot of time doing just that when he’s not recording and touring as a solo artist, or with his band the 400 Unit.
Much of Isbell’s music is defined by gorgeous acoustic-guitar work, as heard on tracks like the haunting ‘Cover Me Up’ or ‘Live Oak’ from his acclaimed 2013 solo breakout Southeastern, or the plaintive, evocative ‘Only Children’ and ‘Dreamsicle’ from his latest with the 400 Unit, 2020’s Reunions. But there are gritty, gnarly electric workouts aplenty, too.