Today marks what would have been Widespread Panic co-founding guitarist Michael Houser’s 60th birthday. Houser was WSP’s lead guitarist from 1986 until he sadly died on August 10, 2002 from pancreatic cancer. Mikey possessed one of the most distinguished guitar styles in rock achieved through his unique approach to the instrument as well as his customized rig. Last summer, former Widespread Panic guitar tech Sam Holt gave fans an intimate glimpse into Houser’s gear which JamBase takes a look at in honor of the beloved guitarist.
Holt starts out with Mikey’s main axe, a gorgeous Fender Telecaster Plus Deluxe with a Firestorm finish. While Houser played various iterations of the guitar throughout his career, Sam gave a little history on where Mikey bought his first one in 1991 as well as what makes the instrument special. Basically, the Tele Plus Deluxe features more pickup combinations than the standard three although Holt reveals that Houser often used the full Humbucker bridge pickup in live settings.
Sam also walked through Mikey’s signal chain including a tube preamp as well as wah, digital delay and volume pedals. The latter was Houser’s signature effect and his deft use of the pedal distinguished his sound. Holt also touched on some of the reverbs Houser used which included a vintage-looking Kendrick Texas Blues Reverb. But as Holt notes, the amp often got banged around in transit and Houser also used the more slimmed down Demeter Real Reverb later in his career. Both were spring reverbs which was Mikey’s preference. Holt then talked Mikey’s main amplifier rig which consisted of a Soldano SLO-100 head and Mesa Boogie cabinet, which Houser doubled in later years. As Sam points out, the Soldano coupled with the Mesa Boogie is famous for its heavy, crunchy lead tone which Mikey said “took care of itself.”
Sam then sits down and details some of Houser’s techniques including his forogoing of a whammy bar in favor of pulling up on the bridge to achieve tremelo which Mikey would couple with the volume pedal to give a shimmering effect. Holt plays the iconic opening strains of “Pilgrims” to demonstrate. Sam also shares an interesting observation about Houser’s circular right hand movement. “If you just looked at him, you’d be like, ‘that guy’s not doing much,’” Sam said. “But then you listen to him and you’re like ‘oh my god, this guy’s coming up with some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.”
Additionally, Holt touches on Mikey’s heavier tones as well as his use of wah and volume pedals and goes right down to the strings that he used and more. In honor of Michael Houser’s birthday, watch Sam Holt’s walkthrough of his guitar rig below: