Chris Stapleton on Creating New Signature Fender Amp, Singing for Dolly Parton
By his own admission, Chris Stapleton may not be the most technical of guitar players, but the Grammy-winning musician has cultivated a sound that is all his own. Stapleton credits his unmistakable tone in part to a potent combo: his guitar of choice, a Fender Jazzmaster, and a vintage 1962 Fender amplifier that he gingerly hauls from show to show, perpetually hoping it won’t burn out.
This week, Stapleton ensured he’d never lose that warm sound when he and the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation debuted his own line of signature amps: the Fender ‘62 Princeton Chris Stapleton Edition. The singer-songwriter introduced the amp — the company’s first signature amplifier with a country-music artist — during an intimate Nashville mix-and-mingle at RCA Studio A, where Stapleton cut all three of his solo albums with producer Dave Cobb.
Despite lending his name to the project, Stapleton isn’t looking to cash in — he’s donating all of his royalties to his charity with wife Morgane, the Outlaw State of Kind Fund. As he told Rolling Stone and reiterated during a panel discussion with Cobb and Fender reps Ben Blanc-Dumont and Shane Nicholas, he teamed up with the company simply because he wanted another ’62 Princeton. “I wanted to coerce them into building something they hadn’t built in 60 years. Very quickly it turned from, ‘We can build that’ to ‘Can we build them and sell them?’ I said, ‘Of course you can — as long as I get some,'” says Stapleton, who teased that he may also collaborate with the company on a signature guitar.
As he gears up for another summer of his All-American Road Show Tour, we talked to Stapleton about his amp, the possibility of new music and how he found himself singing “9 to 5” for Dolly Parton.
This partnership started when you reached out to Fender to get a replacement amp?
Yeah. They have a custom shop and these early Sixties brown-faced Princetons have become my thing that I use. Previous to this, I’ve had to scour the earth and find ones that were functioning enough to make them usable. They’re pretty sturdy instruments, but you know, there’s always a transformer that’s going to go out. It’s kind of a crapshoot.
There’s some trepidation there that you may be left without your rig.
Up until halfway through this year, when [Fender] brought me the final version of this [new] amp, that’s what I was floating around playing, hoping that none of them went down … I was always buying old ones and hoping they held up. When I got this one, I sat there at the [Los Angeles] Forum and [compared] them at soundcheck, and said, “We’re using the new one tonight.” And that’s what I used the whole rest of the year. I’m so happy to have it. It’s remarkable. The new one is better than 95 percent of the old ones I’ve gotten ahold of.
What is it about this amp that defines your sound?
It’s a really great amp for any size room and it works in a stadium just as well as it works in a club. It’s dummy proof — just a volume and a tone. A hundred knobs doesn’t do you any good if none of it sounds good. You can find something you like just by turning a couple of knobs.
You primarily play a Fender Jazzmaster. Why that guitar?
The first one I bought was in the mid-2000s, a reissue of a ’62 oddly enough. I made a rock record with that guitar [with the Jompson Brothers]. I like the scale of it. The one I bought was ocean turquoise. It wasn’t a color I looked at and was going, “Oh man, I need that surf guitar!” But I played it and, like with a car, you can meld with things: This is my guitar. That’s how that happened. … There is a great comfort in knowing what your rig is and then you don’t have to fool with it anymore.
It’s the attention to detail that sets apart your amp line. Like the canvas cover made by outdoor-gear company Filson.
That’s something I dreamed up and I think everybody thought I was maybe a little kooky to ask for it. Back in the day, when they made amps, they had luggage companies make covers for them. The Victoria luggage company. When I was growing up, my dad was a bird hunter and he used Filson things. I adopted a taste for those because they last a long time. Things that work is what I’m looking for on the road. I used to be in charge of packing the truck and you want to conserve space, and putting everything in a big road case is not always an option.
“Marcus King is a monster player and singer. He’s one of my new favorite talents.”
When you write, do you pick up an acoustic or electric?
Primarily acoustic. But I’ll write on electric. Or a kazoo if the spirit leads. I’m not prejudiced against what to write on.
Have you been writing?
A little bit here and there. Not a whole lot. Some with other people for other projects and doing some guest spots on things. You’ll hear me and see me pop up here and there this year. A lot of that is dependent on other people’s timelines.
Are you working on a new album of your own?
We did some experimentation, but we haven’t dove into one yet. And probably won’t this year. Everybody might be sick of me — I might be sick of me. So we’ll give it a break for a minute.
The All-American Road Show gets back in full swing this summer with some interesting guests, like Marcus King Band.
I didn’t know Dave made his last record [Carolina Confessions]. Dave kept saying you should take him on the road. He’s a monster player and singer. He’s one of my new favorite talents.
What else are you listening to these days?
We’ve got 10-month-old twins and another one on the way, and one of my twins likes salsa music and the other likes the Cox Family, easygoing bluegrass. Who knew? That’s the great thing about being 10-months-old, you don’t know what you should like or not, you just like it.
So how did you end up singing “9 to 5” at the MusiCares tribute to Dolly Parton during Grammy Week?
We had asked to do a different song, and they said they weren’t doing that one and by the time that got back to me, I asked, “What’s left?” By some anomaly, no one picked “9 to 5.” It’s a really cool funky song. I’ve never heard a man sing it and Dolly hadn’t either. It was such a huge commercial success that sometimes we can discount huge commercial successes as not poetic or something? That’s a shame. It’s so engrained in your head that it’s always been there, but it’s a great piece of work too.