The Current's Guitar Collection: Max Kakacek of Smith Westerns

max kakacek, smith westerns, jazzmaster, studio
Max Kakacek of Smith Westerns warms up on his Fender Jazzmaster before playing an in-studio session at The Current. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
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When Smith Westerns visited us in the studios of 89.3 The Current, we asked lead guitarist Max Kakacek about his guitar. Here's what he had to say:

What kind of guitar is it?

It's a Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster HS.

Do you remember how you got it?

I usually play a Gibson SG that I've had ever since I was a kid; it's modified with a Bigsby vibrato. But we were playing a show and someone knocked it over and the headstock just completely broke off — on tour, the day before Lollapalooza.

So I actually picked this up at a Guitar Center; it's just a standard Jazzmaster because I had to get something, but I love it. I'd never really messed around with Jazzmasters except for in the studio, never really played with them live.

So how long have you had it?

Literally like three weeks, but I already feel like I know how it works really well.

I kept my same SG for the longest time because you grow familiar with a guitar, you get used to it; you just know its ins and outs.

This one I've only had for three weeks, and it already feels like I don't need to learn anything else on it. I feel like I know its dynamics. I don't have to look where I'm playing, because that's like a big thing — when you have a guitar you've had for a long time, you don't have to look at your hand; it's a feel thing. I already have that with this guitar, which is awesome. It's lucky!

And you bought this the day before Lollapalooza?

The same day — we were playing Lollapalooza at 2:30, so I went in to Guitar Center when it opened and it took them so long to sell it to me — with all the hullabaloo you have to go through to buy a guitar nowadays, they have to do all this inventory crap — but the thing is, I didn't want to tell the guy at Guitar Center, 'Hey, I'm playing Lollapalooza. Can you hurry up?' I just said, 'I've got somewhere to go.'

And it's funny: They didn't have a case for it, so I ended up having to get on the train holding this guitar. I was on the train to Lollapalooza with the Lolla crowd. So there were hundreds of people on the train and I was just sitting there holding this Jazzmaster thinking, 'Ugh — I hope nothing happens to this!' Everyone on the train was like, 'Are you playing today?' and I was like, 'Yeah, I guess,' holding my guitar on the train to Lollapalooza. Then I walked into the festival with it. It was pretty silly.

But that was the first time I played it, at Lollapalooza. I had played it for, like, a second at Guitar Center, then just got on stage and played it and thought, 'This is awesome.' I just plugged into my amp and tweaked the treble a little bit because it's a bit brighter than my SG but that's it. I got really lucky.

What more can you say about its sound?

Today, I played out of that Fender Twin amp that you guys have here, and it just sounded super silky smooth, the reverb is just great. No pedals, just direct in. I love it.

For our live show, I use mainly the bridge pickup. They're single-coil pickups, but you get really warm sound from them. I usually use the bridge pickup for our band, and this guitar actually has a lot of sustain, but today I used the neck pickup the whole time and actually turned the tone pretty much all the way down, maybe 5 or 6 on the knob, and just got a really pretty, dreamy, warm tone. If I needed to, I could make it pop if I played near the bridge.

It's really easy to control the dynamics on this guitar; that's what I like about it. It really picks up on how hard you pluck the string and where you're plucking the string and all that, which is really nice compared to my SG, which has such high output all the time, it's hard to really get it to react so much to how you're playing it.

I'll certainly get my SG fixed, but honestly, I'll probably use this from now on. I love it. And it was only like $800 or something, but it's beautiful, I love how it sounds.

Anything else to say about it?

I guess the lesson learned is, just go with your gut instinct when buying a guitar. That's what I did. I knew Jazzmasters, I'd played them before, never used them live, but just on a whim, I was like, 'I don't want to buy another SG, I'm going to get this Jazzmaster.' Turned out being one of my favorite guitars I've played in a long time. So, go with the gut.

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  • max kakacek, smith westerns, jazzmaster
    Max Kakacek's guitar, a Fender Jazzmaster. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)