The AMS crew headed deep into the heart of New York City to the Gramercy Theatre to meet the one and only Churro! Oh, and his human John 5 was also there.

Luckily, Churro gave us permission to talk to John 5 all about his career, his inspirations, and his incredible guitar-playing abilities. We even got to head upstairs to take a look at his infamous rig — gear nerds beware! Check out the interview now:

Original Hee Haw inspirations

Being one of the best shredders around, you’d think John 5 would have gotten his initial inspiration from guitarists like Eddie Van Halen. While Van Halen was definitely an inspiration later on, John’s initial inspiration came from a denim overalls-clad ten-year-old named Jimmy Henley.

Henley was not a guitar player. He played the banjo — and a mean banjo at that. He won several bluegrass competitions and ended up landing a spot on Hee Haw alongside Roy Clark (opens in new tab). And that’s where John 5 first caught the music bug.

So, why didn’t John 5 become a banjo player? Well, “banjos don’t get the ladies,” John joked during the interview. Banjo just wasn’t cool enough for someone like John 5, so he picked up the guitar instead.

It wasn’t long after that John stumbled upon some Woodstock footage while browsing through TV channels and caught a glimpse of Jimi Hendrix. From there, everything went to Hendrix. It blew his mind! (as Hendrix still does for guitar players everywhere)

Hendrix introduced him to a brand-new style of guitar and led John down the rabbit hole to other bands like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, The Who, Van Halen, and (most importantly for his later hobbies) KISS.

And although he might have gotten pulled into the world of hard rock, John 5 never lost his bluegrass roots. He still occasionally pulls out a mandolin and a banjo on stage — when he’s not playing his beloved Fender Telecasters, of course.

John 5’s start to superstardom

After becoming obsessed with guitar and rock, John 5 learned the catalogs of as many incredible guitar players as he could, which in turn made him an incredible player. One day, he was sitting on the couch, flipping through a magazine, and saw an ad from David Lee Roth with a phone number. So he decided to call it out of the blue.

The person on the other side asked John to send in a tape and they’d listen to it. Shockingly, they did just that. And they loved his playing! John 5 landed a 30-year relationship working with one of the biggest names in rock simply by calling a phone number on the back of a magazine.

About that amazing turn of events, John simply says, “Without risks, there’s no life at all.”

Originally, John just wanted to be a session guitar player. However, his fateful chance with David Lee Roth opened the door for him to work with countless legendary artists, including many of the people he idealized when he was younger.

John’s 5 tips for musicians

John 5 has been rocking for a while. And over the years he’s picked up a few tips that have really helped him succeed in his career. Lucky for us, he shared some of his tips for success during the interview:

1. Listen

The most important tip John 5 has for aspiring musicians is to simply listen. And that doesn’t just mean to music. John says if there’s ever a meeting, any meeting, stick around and listen to what’s being said. It doesn’t matter if it’s an official meeting or not. Just listen!

You never know when someone might drop a nugget of wisdom that you can use later on. You’ll learn all the things you need to do to progress your own playing — and many of the things you shouldn’t. “These are the answers to the test.”

2. Be a good person

Being a professional musician is much more than just being a good player. After all, you’re only on stage for an hour and a half every night. It’s the time between shows that really make the musician, which is why John 5 always tries to be a good person and build positive relationships with those around him.

Understand who the boss is, be on time, and do your homework. If you get the opportunity to work with an amazing artist and act like a jerk the whole time, do you think they’ll call you back for the next show or refer you to anyone else? Likely not. That’s why one of John’s tips for success is Be a Good Person.

3. Play all the songs you can

When John 5 first picked up a guitar, he tried to learn all the songs he could from the musicians he looked up to. Years later, he got the opportunity to play with many of them. And much to their surprise, John already knew all their songs!

The more songs you learn to play, the more versatile a musician you’ll become. You can play in different styles, understand the references, and build your chops along the way, all of which will help you progress in your musical career.

4. Never stop learning

Being a musician takes a lot of brain power. At one point, John 5 was playing with Rob Zombie, Mötley Crüe, and his own solo instrumental songs all at the same time. How does he keep his mind sharp when he has to remember a “zillion” different notes every night? Just by playing!

John 5 likes to keep his mind sharp by staying active and always learning new things. According to his guitar tech David, all John does is collect KISS memorabilia and play guitar.

5. Stay healthy

When you become a rock star, it’s tempting to act like one. Going out and partying every night can quickly catch up with you, and there’s nothing worse than going on stage when you’re sick (which is something John 5 knows about, if you watch the interview). It’s not only hard on you, but it’s also not fair for the fans. They waited a long time and spent a lot of money to see the show. It should be as good as it can be!

On the road, it’s important to stay healthy. Eat right, get plenty of sleep, and try to do the right thing (see Tip #2). Not only will it keep you going longer, but it also helps you put on better shows for the fans.

John 5 rig rundown

If you identify as a “gear snob,” beware of the upcoming section. John 5’s rig is infamously simple and straightforward. He built his rig based on the idea that if something breaks, he can head out to the closest music store (or use AMS’s super-fast shipping) to get a replacement quickly. No custom stuff here!

At the heart of John 5’s rig are his beloved Telecasters. John 5 travels with four main Telecasters:

  • Ghost #1 (The President) – This is John’s favorite guitar. It never leaves his side! It’s a hardtail Fender Telecaster with dual humbucker pickups (in a sweet pink paint job) and a killswitch. This one always stays in E Standard tuning.
  • Ghost #2 (The Vice President) – This guitar is identical to Ghost #1, except it sports a pink Floyd Rose tremolo! John keeps it tuned to “Mötley Tuning,” which is a full step down in D Standard. Ghost #2 travels with John’s guitar tech, since the President and Vice President can never travel together!
  • Goldie – A gold-on-gold Fender Telecaster sporting dual humbucker pickups. It used to be John’s primary guitar for years, but it’s being used as a backup (unfortunately) for his latest run of shows.
  • LED Tele – A Telecaster, setup just how John likes, but with a front that’s entirely covered in super-bright LED lights! It’s a real showstopper (because the entire audience goes blind…).

John 5 also travels with two special instruments that aren’t quite guitars:

  • Mini Goldie – A shrunk-down mandolin version of his iconic Goldie Telecaster.
  • Six-string banjo – Despite choosing guitar, John 5 does still play a banjo in his shows. He has a custom six-string banjo he plays in standard tuning. This is the only custom piece in his entire rig!

To send his sound out into the audience, John 5 uses an EVH 5150 amp with EL34 tubes connected to a stock EVH cabinet. As if that wasn’t straightforward enough, John only uses the first two channels of the amp — one for his clean tones and the other for high-gain. He uses this setup for everything, even the mandolin!

Ready for the pedals? Because John’s pedalboard is crazy! Not really. It’s as stock as the rest of his rig. John 5 uses only six completely stock Boss pedals:

John likes to have two Super Overdrive pedals on his board to help with those high-gain pinch squeals that rock fans just can’t live without!

And to transport all that important gear, John 5 only trusts Gator cases. They’re the best at preventing all the bumps and bruises of the road from reaching his beloved guitars.

Sorry gear nerds, but it turns out you don’t need all that fancy equipment to sound good. Sometimes all it takes is a few Boss pedals and some ridiculous talent.

We had a blast hanging out with John 5 and his sidekick Churro. A huge thanks to John and his team for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer all our questions, and another thanks to Gator cases for setting it all up. Whether it’s with Mötley Crüe, Rob Zombie, Steve Perry, Marilyn Manson, David Lee Roth, or any other of his million collaborations, we can’t wait to hear what John 5 comes out with next!