Jimmy Olander

From Banjo to B-bender

From Banjo to B-bender

The double-bender guitar and Jimmy Olander go hand-in-hand. The innovative guitarist of Diamond Rio fame is a converted banjo player who is now mastering a whole new double-bending style that is as much a part of Diamond Rio’s sound as its award-winning vocals. He has performed on other projects; he exchanges licks with Steve Wariner and Lee Roy Parnel on “Working Man Blues” from the Merle Haggard tribute LP, Mama’s Hungry Eyes, and Diamond Rio contributed “Lyin’ Eyes” to Common Thread, the Eagles tribute album.

A fan of Ella Fitzgerald, Olander has a 150-pound dog named Elvis, a ProTools studio in his home, countless guitars (four Jerry Jones models, a Rickenbacker, Bajo Tele, Dobro, tons of acoustics, Taxicaster, and many more), enjoys skydiving, and is a creative guitarist who has found his own voice with the instrument.

Vintage Guitar: Did you come up with the concept of the double-bender guitar?
Jimmy Olander: It’s (Nashville luthier/repairman to the stars) Joe Glaser’s baby. He came up with the concept before I met him. He had just moved to Nashville, and I was still in college, playing banjo. A mutual friend hooked us up, and I ordered one of the first three guitars he made. I had nothing to do with the invention.

How did your technique with it develop?
I went straight from banjo to the double-bender guitar. Since I wasn’t a traditional guitar player – I didn’t play licks and bend strings with my fingers, then try to use the stringbenders. I just got a double-bender and started to learn how to play it.

The Nashville Guitars album was the idea of famed session guitarist Louie Shelton (VG, Oct. ’00). How were you approached to contribute to the CD?
Louie called Joe, who has been very instrumental in my career, then Louie called me, told me the concept, and it sounded really cool! I got the ProTools ready at home and wanted to cut it, but at the time I was sick with the flu – and I seldom get sick. So basically, I didn’t think it was going to happen. I wanted to do it, and I told Louie that. About three weeks transpired and it turned out things took a lot longer to develop, so I had time to learn to use the hard disk recorder. I wrote “Less Taste/More Filling” for it; Louie wanted that Nashville guitar sound – Tele, Strat – guitar, guitar, guitar, like we were getting paid by the note (laughs).

I wrote the song on the computer by throwing up a little drum groove, writing a few bars, working on it, and changing things. It kind of just developed. I actually learned how to use my home studio by working on this record – it was the first thing I cut on ProTools. I was writing the song with the manual open, trying to do this record (laughs)!

What does your home studio consist of?
It’s a ProTools Mix Plus system and a MacIntosh 9600. I plugged into an Avalon mic preamp (V7-734) and went direct into the computer. Also, a Digidesign digital converter takes the analog signal, converts it, and sends it into the computer. Everything else was in the program. Amp Farm is installed and the preset I used was the ’63 Vox AC 30 Top Boost with 2×12, mic’d “near-on” access.

And the playback speakers?
Mackies given to me by Mike Clute (co-producer for Diamond Rio). He mixed this project.

Where did the drums and bass come from?
It was just can drums. I got some loops off Acid (a PC-based program) and programmed a quick little part, but then had a drummer (David Lawbaugh) overdub some D-Drums on it. Then the bass player, Stephen Mackey, came in. I originally played the part, but it’s nice to have a real bass player. It all worked out pretty good.

Could you explain the working function of your dual-stringbender guitar?
The G string lever works off my shoulder strap. You push the guitar down for it to operate. The B string works off a keychain on my belt loop. I push the guitar away from me to engage it.

What about your strings?
10-46. I like to play with relatively high tension and high action. Tougher to play, but sounds better.

What are your favorite guitars?
The nicest acoustic I have is custom-made by John Grevin. It’s a fantastic guitar. I’ve done all the Diamond Rio records with it. The electric is the Mother Maybelle Tele copy made by Joe. “Wildwood Flower” is the first song I learned to play.

What kind of pickups do you use in that guitar?
One pickup is all I seem to play with. This is a prototype Seymour Duncan is developing. It’s a split combination of Alnico 5 and 2. It makes the high strings sound a little compressed and the low strings a little spankier. All my guitars are set up with a direct-out switch – pickup direct to the amp. I have to engage the knobs to use them. I usually play at full volume.

What about live?
On my live gig with Diamond Rio, I play with two Matchless 30-watt amps with two 12″ speakers run in stereo. They’re offstage. We use in-ear monitors, so I have my own stereo mix. And as far as volume pedals and that type of stuff, I let the soundman handle that. I don’t bleed into the vocal mics, and I also get to play as loud as I want…it’s a nice healthy volume. The amps start to distort just a little bit.

Apparently, Clarence White was an influence on your career. What other players have you admired while learning your craft?
When I think modern string-bender guitars, he was the guy! He and Gene Parsons, when they were with The Byrds, they had the B bender. The classic thing. My guitar here is kind of the disciple of that, in its own way. The same concept – off the shoulder strap.

I wasn’t that familiar with Clarence as an electric player, but I had listened to him in the Kentucky Colonels. As far as stealing licks from Clarence, I did that mostly while he was in bluegrass. His phrasing was just amazing. It’s everything you’d want to hear. I’m also a big fan of Tony Rice, and you can hear Clarence’s playing in his in a major way.

When I moved to Nashville, my first guitar hero was Leon Rhodes. Leon was a longtime Texas Troubadour and an amazing swing guitarist and Grand Ole Opry staff guitarist. Joe Glaser let me go through his album collection, and I tape recorded and learned alot of stuff Leon played. He’s amazing still! I also listened to a bunch of Albert Lee, Ray Flacke, and Vince Gill. Another guy, Brent Mason, was playing a gig at The Stagecoach (in Nashville, now closed). I’d bring in a tape recorder and set it right in front of his amp. He was very inspiring. You could hear him six nights a week and every song was great! I would come home and woodshed the tapes. He was very nice to let me do that.

This isn’t your first instrumental. “Poultry Promenade” was on Diamond Rio’s self-titled debut album, “Big” was on IV, and “Appalachian Dream,” was on Love a Little Stronger. So you’ve had a taste of this.
I’ve been the only one writing the instrumentals. And I must admit, when I started skydiving I went crazy for it for a while, so I wasn’t writing that much. You can tell the albums without the instrumentals – I was skydiving a lot then (laughs).

What should we expect in the future?
Right now I am working on a complete instrumental record. I’m about a third of the way into it.

Photos courtesy of Jimmy Olander.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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