Tommy Harkenrider is a respected world class musician originally from Las Vegas now living in Orange County, California. He specializes in performing and teaching American roots music. His education came from listening to countless records his mentors introduced him to. He was also lucky enough to perform and tour with Southern California's most influential blues artists. He has performed with James Harman, Candye Kane, Lynwood Slim, Phil Alvin, Rick Holmstrom, Jeff Turmes, Junior Watson, Kid Ramos, Big J Mcneely, Ray Campi, Big Sandy, and Canada's Paul Pigat. As a teacher he instructs students locally and world-wid. He is influenced by vintage music recorded from the 1930's through 1960. He has numerous musical heroes but, a few are George Barnes, Teddy Bunn, Grady Martin, Junior Barnard, Les Paul, and Robert Lockwood.
When it comes to equipment, I like to think I am low maintenance. The truth is that I’m not. I don’t care what brand of guitar or amp is as long as I get the sound I hear in my head. With that said certain amps and guitars give me my sound. When it comes to guitars my favorites are my 65 gibson 330, and my 52 ES-295. My favorite amplifier is my tweed pro and reverb tank. Though that is my favorite it’s not always the best rig for me to travel with or play out. So all the equipment that you see me play on gigs delivers the closest sound to my favorite setup, Gibson arch-top and Fender tweed amp.
Currently, my guitar of choice is a custom pine bodied guitar made by Dan Dunham here in Orange County Ca. I love the woody sound almost hollow-body tone. I have been using Pickups made by one of my favorite guitarists now pickup and guitar builder TK Smith. The guitar is equipped with his Charlie Christian style pickup. The sound is very clear and full. Even though I have a hollow sounding solid body there is still something about a hollow body guitar. I am currently using a flat top semi-hollow body built by Grez Guitars, in Petaluma, Ca. It is probably one of the prettiest guitars I have owned. Something I loved about my heroes Barney Kessel, Hank Garland and others was the clarity and organic sound of their guitars. I think Dan, Grez, and TK have done it.
My amplifiers depending on gig are a custom super tweed pro made by Kevin Nelson and in Garden Grove Ca, and a Quilter twin 10 made by Pat Quilter in Costa Mesa. The Kevin Nelson amp is a no frills amp with volume and tone. I use a 40’s ampro projector cabinet with a jensen 12″. The sound is big and always puts a smile on my face. I have all the sound I like along with good projection. I find that little cabinet through my arch-top guitars minimizes feedback issues when I have to play loud. Speaking of loud I have a Quilter pro block, and am using it with a cabinet made by nocturne loaded with a Warehouse Veteran 30. The amp is the best utility rig. It sounds great at any venue. It is extrmely light and I will never be overpowered. I’ve used the head by itself all over the world and it has never let me down. A new addition to the stable of amplifiers is the Nocturne Moonshine 39. The amp is a copy of Gibson EH-185. I will go on record saying that nothing sounds like a class A amplifier, and no other amp comes as close to a Gibson EH-185 as Tavo’s. The Nocturne is the best one out there. I recently tried an experiment to see if I could create an EH-185 with 9 pin tubes. Kevin Nelson built me an amp using 12au7 preamp tubes and it’s close. I will say octal tubes have a special mojo.
Pedals! I think they are great. For me they are okay as long as I don’t need to have them. I use a Catalin Bread Topanga, The Nocturne Mystery Brain Echo, a Nocturne Junior Barnyard, Nail Head Tremolo and most important, a tuner. None of them are critical for my gig, but they condition my sound depending on the genre. The delay is great for rockabilly or 50’s Western Swing. That echo is pretty remarkable. When I first got it I drove my family nuts playing Mystery Train through my Gibson 295. The Nocturne boost is great if i’m playing with another harmony instrument that plays loud. It’s my ace in the hole to add presence and definition. The Junior Barnyard is by far my most used and relied on pedal when traveling. That little pedal can make any bad amp sound tolerable, or make any clean amp sound like an octal tube amp. I will go on record saying the best travel rig is a Quilter and Junior Barnyard.
Strings, picks, and capos are important to me. I like D’Andrea Specra sharp picks 2.0mm or Clayton acetel 1.52mm. Most recently I’m a huge fan of the Dunlop primetone’s 1.5mm, I use Daddario pure nickels or Thomastic infeld round 12’s. I also like the sound of flats on a solidbody. Unfortunately, I have a hell of a time playing Otis Rush licks on a wound 3rd string. I do experiment quite a bit with different strings. It is a factor that can make the greatest difference without costing much. This paragraph can change without notice because I am always on the quest for strings and picks that suit my way of playing.
Obviously you can see I’m pretty easy going about my tone. Well, I guess not. I am easy about the sound I want to achieve, getting it is a little involved. The point is I know what I want so I can focus on learning and playing. Don’t get me wrong their are sounds I like, and am curious about tone and gear. I review my page at least once a year and am amazed on what has come in and out of my rig. I would love to have that Junior Barnard Tone, or sound like George Barnes, but I understand it all starts in the hands and that is something I can’t buy. Like James Harman told me “It’s the meat underneath the wire”