As frontwoman and guitarist for Halestorm, Lzzy Hale lays it all out there, combining her wailing vocals and catchy hooks with a major dose of attitude. Having played music with her brother and bandmate Arejay since the two were teens, she's grown up in the scene and at 28 has the kind of chops that defi ne a professional.
The band's second album, The Strange Case Of…, has propelled the band into the national spotlight, earning them a Grammy earlier this year for the hit "Love Bites (So Do I)." Success has come in many forms for Lzzy, but perhaps most special to her is the relationship she's developed with Gibson Guitars, who developed a signature model Explorer that captures her style perfectly. We spoke with this rising star about her Gibson addiction, and all the gear that fuels the Halestorm juggernaut.
Musician's Friend: When you first got into playing, what drew you to Gibson guitars?
Lzzy Hale: I got into Gibsons because I wanted to be a badass, basically. [laughs] I got my first Gibson when I was 17 years old, and it was this huge tobacco burst Les Paul Custom. It more or less became my identity, to the point where you go around introducing yourself to people and work it into the conversation, like, "I'm Lzzy Hale and, by the way I have a Gibson Les Paul at home." When you think about the standard in rock-and-roll, that's Gibson, to me. Tom Keifer of Cinderella, Brian May and Tony Iommi. The people that you look at and you think "rock-and-roll." The tonality of everything they brought to the table is because of their guitars. So definitely from an early age I caught the bug and have been a Gibson girl always, even before I started talking with them.
MF: Was there any particular guitar that you really connected with the first time you saw it?
LH: It was a white Les Paul Custom. I was 14 years old, and one of my mom's friends gave me this VHS tape of Cinderella's "Night Songs." Tom Keifer is an amazing guitar player and doesn't always get the credit that he deserves. Watching him wield that freaky axe was a huge reason why I picked up a guitar. He had this white Les Paul Custom that he used on a couple of songs on those videos. That was a huge reason why I've been attracted to white guitars as well. It was the look, and it was also probably the hormones in me. [laughs] As I have grown up, this sound has become my signature sound as well.
MF: Joe Hottinger, Halestorm's lead guitarist, also plays Gibson guitars-an SG, the silverburst '84 Reissue Flying V. When you play acoustic sets, do you also stick with Gibsons?
LH: I do. It's interesting, again, with that [Gibson] tonality. It's become my go-to over the years. I think I'm a little obsessed. It could be a bad thing [laughs]. Joe has recently switched to Fender, so we've broadened our sound quite a bit.
MF: What particular acoustic model do you play?
LH: The SJ 200 and the Songwriter. I mainly use the Songwriter, but we have an SJ 200 as well.
MF: What other Gibson models do you own and play?
LH: I have my Signature Explorer and I also have another Explorer. I have, let's see, three Les Paul Customs. Is it three or four now? No, it's four now. [laughs] I have four Les Paul Customs. One is from the year 2000, one is a '99, one is an '84 and the other one is a 2013 Supreme. And then I also have a Firebird 5, a Joan Jett Signature Melody Maker. Let's see, what else do I got? [laughs] There's just too many! I also have a Flying V. It's one of their Tribal Series I got a couple years ago and I ended up using it for the "I Get Off" video. What else do I got here? Let's see. Well, I have a Johnny A model, but technically I bought it for my guitar player so it's technically his. But I bought it so I use it a lot [laughs]. I know I'm forgetting something. Oh, I've got a Les Paul Baritone. Does that make five Les Pauls? [laughs] It's getting crazy. On our days off we always search for a music store and are always looking at guitars. I think I definitely want a 335. I want a hollow body next. It's just never ending.
MF: When it came to your signature model Explorer, who approached who, and what was that whole process like?
LH: The Gibson people approached me at the NAMM convention about two years ago in Anaheim, California. We had just played an acoustic set for them in their showroom and they said, "Hey, we're interested in doing a signature model with you." Of course, I'm looking over my shoulder, like, "Wait, is Slash behind me? Who are they talking to?" "Me? Really?"
I was overjoyed. It's been a dream of mine since I was a kid to have a signature model and be able to do what I wanted with the look of it or have something that's my own, that came from my brain. They said to me, "Take a couple weeks and figure out what you want to do, and send us some ideas." I literally sent them the ideas next day, because I already had it figured out. It's something I had been thinking about for quite a while. With this signature model, I kept it very simple. I wanted to do an Explorer, because that's become my go-to guitar in all situations. I love the shape of it. I love the feel of it. When you have it on, it just feels like it's a part of you. I wanted really to do it to the specs of the one that I bought off Craigslist years ago. I kept the standard pickup and the standard shape of it. I love the idea of having the signature metal shape of the Explorer, but then I ended up taking some cues from the looks of a lot of the classier, jazz based guitars that are gorgeous. Maybe it's the girl in me, but I kind of wanted that feminine touch. It has a white finish, gold hardware, and I bound the neck and then double-bound the body. It's gotten a hell of a response live and there's a lot of people that are asking me if I can get them one.
MF: Will this be a production model at some point?
LH: We've definitely been talking about that, but right now there's only one, and it's mine. But we want to try to put it into production and see what happens with it. I think, personally, it's a good thing and I admire Gibson for being an inspiration to female musicians. There's not a whole lot of us out there, so it was definitely a bold chance they took on me. I really appreciate it.
MF: You mentioned that the Explorer was your go-to axe. Do you take many other instruments on the road?
LH: When we go out on the road I have to consolidate, just because we don't have a whole lot of room. I usually take out four to five guitars on tour. Fly dates, I usually take about three, that just fit into a small case. It's usually my Les Paul, a baritone and then my Signature Explorer. I like to switch it up. But the great thing about the Explorer is that it works in nearly any situation. If we're playing a song like "Here's To Us," which is kind of ballad-y, slower, a little twangy-it still works. Then you can flip the coin and play something like "Love Bites" with it, and it sounds amazing, too. However, for certain songs in our set I always use a Les Paul because just the tonality really works with the song. It's almost an emotional connection with the song.
MF: What's the rest of your rig like?
LH: I keep my setup very simple. Really, my amp and my guitar is like my meat and potatoes. And then my pedalboard is very, very simple. Right now I have a Dunlop Jerry Cantrell Wah, which is awesome. An Ibanez Tube Screamer that adds just a little bit of color, just a little bit of icing on the cake, smoothing some stuff out. And then of course I have this BOSS Chromatic Tuner that I've used for years. Really, that's about it. I have an MXR Line Boost just for the leads that I do. That's pretty much it.
MF: What's the process like for finding the right guitar for a particular song?
LH: I still love experimenting, especially when writing a new song. We have a home studio now, which is the first time in my entire life that I've had something like that. We end up just setting guitars up all over the wall. When you're down there and you're writing a song and you're working on something, depending on what you're looking at, you reach for the guitar and then you set it down. For some odd reason, it inspires the song. You just feel a certain connection to a certain shape or sound or whatever. It's really wonderful to have the collection that I have now. I think it's a huge source of inspiration for songwriting.
MF: You've played through a few different amps over time, including a Marshall JCM 800 and the Randy Rhoads Signature 100. What is it about Marshall that clicks so well with you and your sound?
LH: I've always loved Marshall. I've always been attracted to that old Plexi sound and the breakup of the speakers. No other amplifier does that. I have experimented with a lot of different amps and always go back to Marshall. It's like that boyfriend that you've had your whole life.
MF: Any others besides Marshall that deliver the kind of tone you're after?
LH: I love the EVH amps. I have some 3RD Power amps. I've even worked with a couple people that are not even really popular, but they need a leg-up in the business. I like testing certain things out in the studio, but when you're standing up on a stage and you have your guitar and your amplifier and people are looking at you and they automatically-even before you sing your first note or play the first riff-have an image of who you are. I really enjoy that image and I enjoy having the standard Gibson/Marshall kind of rock package. In a lot of ways, this is what I love about being in this business. I'm not just a musician and I'm not just a girl. I'm not just a songwriter; I also love something about the full package and how to sell something to somebody, how to put yourself out there in the right way.
MF: When you're on tour, it looks like you're using an upright piano…
LH: Actually it's a Nord keyboard, but the frame for it is from a friend of mine who ended up using it twice and hadn't used it anymore. So he's letting me borrow it for however long I need it. I just like the look of it, and it definitely helps kind of bring it down for a certain side of the set. You get to sit down at an upright and then have a conversation with the audience, and then play them a song. It takes away from the screaming. There's a couple different sides on The Strange Case Of… that we want to show. One of them is me screaming my head off, and the other is showing a little bit more of a vulnerable side. The piano definitely helps with that.
MF: Do you have any advice for any young girls out there who are trying to break into the male-centric, heavier side of music?
LH: It's interesting, because women aren't necessarily encouraged to, you know, run away and join the circus. We're raised to grow up, go to college, get a job, marry your high school sweetheart, have 2.3 kids and a dog and then, maybe, go after your dream later on; have that midlife crisis and open a bakery. Go for it now. You can always go back to college later. There's all the time in the world to have a real job, but if you don't go for it now, you're always going to regret it later. I think it takes guts to carve out your own path as a chick, especially since there's no rule book. You kind of have to make it up as you go along. I think it takes guts to do that. If I can encourage one girl to just, whatever her dream is-it doesn't have to be rock-and-roll-just go for it. Go for it with no backup plan. I know that sounds reckless. I guess it kind of was.
MF: Hey, it paid off.
LH: Yes. You know what, I did it. And if I can, so can anybody.