Few guitarists working the blues circuit today can boast a signature sound as unique as Jimmy Thackery’s. As far from an SRV clone as one can be while still playing a Stratocaster, Thackery combines elements of Nashville twang, swing, surf, hard rock, and frequent excursions into the world of jazz and still comes up with a sound that is still distinctly the blues .
During Thackery’s 14-year tenure with the Washington D.C. band The Nighthawks, he acquired a vintage Stratocaster. While he continued to use his Gibson Flying V, the Stratocaster came into more frequent use in Thackery’s subsequent band, The Assassins. After Thackery formed The Drivers in 1992, the Strat was rarely out of his hands. This instrument, which Thackery calls “Mergatroid,” looks a good deal like it just may have been sunburst some time in the distant past, has been played to the point that all but a few isolated flecks of finish remain.
Since leaving the Nighthawks, Thackery has released nine solo CDs, and recently did two with Louisiana Telecaster torturer Tab Benoit, Whiskey Store and Whiskey Store Live . In addition, he has done albums with John Mooney and David Raitt, and his songs are heard on 13 blues compilation CDs.
Vintage Guitar: When did you get Mergatroid?
Jimmy Thackery: I bought it off a guy in the very early 1980s. He walked into a dressing room in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and said, “I’ve got a Strat I bet you would want.” He opened the case, and it was a ’64 L-series in damn near perfect condition. He wanted 700 bucks for it, and I paid him on the spot.
Were you still with the Nighthawks then?
Yeah, but I hardly ever played it with the Nighthawks. I stayed on the V until I left the Nighthawks, and used the Strat as a spare. But I had terrible trouble keeping it in tune, and my V was so damn loud that if I changed to the Strat, I would have to adjust my amps. When I started playing with the Assassins, I played it a lot more.
When did you start making the modifications?
I started hotrodding it when I was with the Assassins. I put Joe Barden pickups in it and a Floyd Rose tailpiece on it. I know guitar nerds cringe, but you know what? Mine works, and stays in tune! And it doesn’t hum. So screw those guys (laughs)!
Did you make the changes all at once?
No, I did it bit by bit. The Floyd came first, then the Barden pickups. I put the Floyd on just to keep it in tune. I got tired of the fact that every time you touched the (stock) vibrato, it would go out of tune. I didn’t know then what I know now about how to set up a stock vibrato. Now I could do it. But I thought, “Let’s get one of these lock-down jobs.” The thing about them is they have a lot more mass than a standard Strat bridge, so it increases the sustain.
How about the Bardens?
They were prototypes, I believe. Joe and I were buddies, and he started making pickups for (Danny) Gatton. He was making Tele replacements because that’s all Danny played at that point. I thought, “Man, I’d really like pickups like those for my Flying V,” so Joe made some prototype humbuckers. Those things kicked butt! Then he started making the Strat replacements, and I got some of his earliest work.
What year was that?
I don’t know (laughs)! It was in the ’80s, which was sort of a fuzzy decade for me.
And you put the pickups in after the Floyd Rose?
Yeah. I put in on, but I didn’t route the body. I felt bad because it just sat on the body and would only go forward. So it wasn’t really a tremolo, it was just a dive-bomb machine. I started to think it would sound really nice if I was using it the was it was supposed to be used, so I had John Warden, my guitar guy, route it. I think I played it for a week and the body cracked. John took a piece of material they make bowling balls out of, and cut a big hole in the body and inserted this bowling ball material, and mounted the Floyd to that. That changed the whole sound of the thing; it gave it even more sustain. Between the bowling ball and the Floyd Rose bridge and my tweaking it out with the Bardens, it’s an absolute sustain monster. It’ll sustain for as long as you want.
You go for the crisp, clean sound of the bridge pickup a lot more than many other Strat players who play the blues.
Because of what I’ve done to it, it’s a little darker sounding, so I can use that pickup a lot more without sounding like a sharp stick in the ear.
Did you rewire it so the bottom tone knob controls just the bridge pickup?
No, but I’m thinking of having Joe Barden rewire it so the bottom tone knob controls not only the bridge pickup, but the middle pickup, as well. I’m definitely going to have that done.
How many times has it been refretted?
I think it’s had three fret jobs.
Would you ever think of replacing it?
Oh God, no! It [was stolen] from me once, and I got it back. I figure I’m destined to keep it. I’ve still got my old V, too, but it’s got the signatures of every blues hero I ever met etched into so, so I’m really afraid to take it out on the road. If that one goes… it’s one of a kind. It’s got Muddy and B.B. and Willie and Buddy Guy and Otis Rush and John Lee, John Hammond, Johnny Winter, Stevie, Jimmie, Jimmy McCracklin, Carl Perkins. Every inch of that guitar has one of these guy’s signatures on it. The first guy I got was Carl. I had been playing with Carl a fair amount and I finally just got it in my head that I wanted him to sign that thing. He took out a Buck knife and put his name in real big, and I was like, “Oh… uh…” It’s the biggest one on there.
Where were you when it was stolen?
Some crackhead stole it in Kansas City a couple of years ago. The story about it being stolen was in Vintage Guitar (September ’00, June ’01) and I firmly believe that if the crackhead had not brought it back to the place where we rented the equipment from that evening, trying to get 20 bucks, it would have come back to me because of the article in Vintage Guitar .
Jimmy Thackery and his very visible, and road-worn “Mergatroid.” Photo: Bob Dragich.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s April ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.