Breakdown with Ben Wells of Black Stone Cherry, Exclusively on All Axess
In an enlightening feature with All Axess, we recently had the pleasure of conversing with the electrifying guitarist of Black Stone Cherry, Ben Wells. Known for his lively stage presence and powerful guitar tones, Wells took us on an extensive tour of his gear setup, breaking down the elements that sculpt his unique sound in detail.
This exclusive conversation with Wells offered both music enthusiasts and aspiring musicians a detailed look at the arsenal of instruments and equipment he employs to deliver his hard-hitting riffs and mesmerizing solos.
Black Stone Cherry, the hard rock band hailing from the USA, is well-known for its high-energy performances. As the band’s guitarist, Wells plays a crucial role in defining the band’s signature sound—a harmonious blend of relentless hard rock with a smattering of southern charm. In our recent conversation, Wells unveiled the intricacies of his rig, a setup that encompasses a mix of classic gear staples and innovative tech additions, tailored to deliver the powerful punch that Black Stone Cherry’s music demands.
At the very foundation of Wells’ gear setup is his trusted collection of guitars. The instrument that rules his collection is the Gibson Les Paul. Renowned worldwide for their rich, warm tone and remarkable sustain, Les Pauls hold a special place in Wells’ heart. “There’s an undeniable rawness and grit to a Les Paul that just clicks with me. It’s the powerhouse that delivers the muscle I need for our band’s sound,” Wells revealed.
But his guitar arsenal isn’t a one-trick pony; Wells confessed to switching between various Les Paul models, each lending its unique tonal characteristics to different songs in Black Stone Cherry’s diverse repertoire.
When it comes to amplifiers, Wells’ pick is a classic loved by rock guitarists worldwide—the iconic Marshall JCM800. The JCM800 is lauded for its robust output and warm, rich tonality—attributes that perfectly complement Wells’ dynamic playing style. “The JCM800 is the heart and soul of my rig—it’s the driving force that produces the warm, potent punch synonymous with my tone,” Wells shared.
On the floor, Wells’ pedalboard sports a range of effects units, each contributing to shaping the wide spectrum of sounds he weaves into Black Stone Cherry’s sonic tapestry. His key pedals include the Dunlop Cry Baby Wah, the Ibanez Tube Screamer overdrive, and the Boss Digital Delay. “Each of these pedals plays a role in crafting the diverse sonic palette that I tap into during our performances,” Wells said. Yet, he was quick to emphasize his minimalist approach to effects usage, asserting, “I keep it simple with effects—I believe in letting my playing dynamics take the forefront in defining my tone.”
While discussing his gear, Wells also drew attention to elements that might seem less significant to an onlooker—the guitar strings and picks. He is loyal to Ernie Ball strings and Dunlop picks, and he took time to elaborate on how these choices influence his overall sound and playing comfort. “Ernie Ball strings give me the reliable tone and feel I demand, while Dunlop picks strike the perfect balance between comfort and control. They might appear to be minor elements, but trust me, they make a world of difference,” Wells expressed.
Diving deeper into the conversation, Wells revealed that his studio gear sometimes sees additions that help him achieve specific sounds or effects. “In the studio, there’s a broader scope to experiment. I may use different guitars, amps, or effects to bring in a unique flavor to the tracks. But irrespective of these variations, the soul of my sound always resonates from a Les Paul powered through a Marshall,” Wells noted.
This intensive breakdown of Wells’ gear setup paints a vivid picture of the components that contribute to the energetic and dynamic sound of Black Stone Cherry. His choices not only mirror his individual musical taste but also play a pivotal role in molding the band’s sonic identity.
Before wrapping up the conversation, Wells offered some words of wisdom for budding guitarists: “Your gear must always complement your music. Don’t chase after a tone just because it’s trendy. Search for what connects with you, what helps express your music the best. The goal is, and always should be, to create your unique musical voice.”
After understanding the basics of his rig, we delved further into how Wells uses his gear to achieve the broad array of tones heard in Black Stone Cherry’s music. A defining factor of the band’s music is their capacity to navigate between heavy, hard-hitting riffs and tender, melodic interludes, all within a single track. This tonal diversity is a challenge that Wells embraces and conquers with his carefully selected gear.
The Dunlop Cry Baby Wah, for instance, is a crucial element for Wells when he wants to add expressiveness to a lead line or bring in a funk-laden rhythm tone. “The Cry Baby is an expressive tool. It’s like an extension of my voice on the guitar. It lets me add nuance to my solos or make a rhythm part stand out,” Wells explained.
His Ibanez Tube Screamer is his secret weapon for driving his amp harder and pushing his tone over the edge when he needs to deliver a searing, high-gain solo. “The Tube Screamer is a classic for a reason. It adds that extra bite to my tone when I want to cut through the mix. It’s perfect for when I want to take my solos to the next level,” Wells shared.
The Boss Digital Delay, meanwhile, is used sparingly to add depth and dimension to his sound. “Delay is like the icing on the cake. I use it subtly in certain parts where I want to add a little atmosphere or depth to my tone. It can make a simple part sound expansive,” Wells detailed.
Wells’ careful and deliberate approach to gear selection extends beyond his electric rig. He revealed that he also plays acoustic guitar on several Black Stone Cherry tracks. For acoustic parts, he opts for Gibson Hummingbird acoustics. “The Hummingbird has a sweet, warm tone that fits perfectly in our softer songs or acoustic sections. It’s a nice contrast to the heaviness of the electric parts,” Wells noted.
The same level of detail and consideration is given to his recording equipment. Wells uses a combination of Shure SM57 and Royer R-121 microphones to capture his guitar sound in the studio. “The SM57 gives me a clear, focused tone, while the R-121 adds warmth and depth. Together, they give me a well-rounded tone that translates well on the records,” Wells explained.
This All Axess exclusive provides an in-depth look at Wells’ meticulous approach to gear selection and his commitment to tone crafting. It highlights how Wells utilizes a mix of traditional and innovative equipment to achieve his signature sound—one that continues to contribute to the powerful, dynamic character of Black Stone Cherry’s music. Whether you’re a devoted fan of the band or an aspiring musician, Wells’ comprehensive gear breakdown offers a wealth of insight into the creation of compelling, high-energy rock music.
In conclusion, this All Axess exclusive brings to light the intricate world of a professional guitarist’s rig and reiterates how aptly chosen gear, when fine-tuned to a musician’s style, can elevate their performance to new heights. Whether you are an avid follower of Black Stone Cherry’s invigorating performances or a guitar gear enthusiast, this comprehensive breakdown of Ben Wells’ gear setup offers an invaluable peek into the backstage secrets of Wells’ captivating sound.