Buying a New Guitar? Here’s the Most Important Thing You Should Do, According to Jason Isbell

Country music star Jason Isbell went into more detail about what any guitar player should do when purchasing a new instrument. While appearing on Gibson’s YouTube channel Gibson TV in the “Collection” segment, Isbell noted that a small investment after purchasing your guitar will do wonders. He said (transcript via Music Radar):

“Anytime somebody asks me, ‘What’s the most important thing about buying a guitar?’ if they’re not a guitar collector or someone who has played for a long time. Get it set up – spend the extra 50 bucks and get it professionally set up.”

The Collection: Jason Isbell

He also added:

“Because how many people didn’t have that option in the ’50s and ’60s and thought, this Les Paul Junior is a terrible guitar… because the frets aren’t level or the intonation is off.”

And as Isbell also points out, some of these great guitars that were not properly set up ended up tucked away and forgotten for many years, which is a shame for such a good instrument. He concluded:

“That’s where the magic happens for me. For a guitar that somebody else might not have realized it’s a good guitar so they put it under the bed for 30 or 40 years.”

During the chat, Isbell was also asked about what he considers to be his go-to instrument for all occasions. Interestingly enough, he didn’t pick one of his usual suspects but rather a Gibson ES-335 that got from producer Dave Cobb. Isbell replied:

“Probably the 335. Recently, we did a show up here at just a little restaurant bar in the neighborhood and I brought a bunch of guitars for other people to play — I brought the old Gold Top and an old Strat for my friends to play.”

“But I just played the 335 all night with the [Marshall JTM45] Bluesbreaker and the Rangemaster and just used my volume knobs. And you can do any style, anything and it plays so easy that ’61 neck. It’s kind of flat — it’s wide enough but thin and wide. You can do anything with it.”

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - This Ain't It (Official Lyric Video)

We’re safe to say that Jason Isbell is known for his simple and very applicable advice when it comes to music. Be it gear or songwriting, what Jason says can help inspire musicians of all genres.

And that’s exactly what he did in an interview from earlier this year, particularly about songwriting. When asked to give any advice to new musicians who are just writing their first songs and trying to find their voice, Isbell said that the solution is to simply do the opposite. As he explained:

“Stop looking for it. Immediately. Stop looking for your voice as a writer. I was thinking about that this morning. Something I read this morning, somebody talked about finding their voice as a writer. And you’re looking for the wrong thing.”

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - If We Were Vampires

He also added:

“When Amanda [Shires, his wife] and I got married, we went around to a lot of couples — And we still do this — but a lot of couples that have been together for a long time that we knew.”

“And we asked them what’s the secret. And they had different answers. For a lot of people, it was a sense of humor or just ‘Don’t give up on each other’ or ‘Stick by the decision that you made no matter how hard things get.’”

“But John Prine said ‘You have to remain vulnerable.’ And of course John Prine is going to give the best answer to just about anything. That’s what he did.”

The Jason Isbell Custom Telecaster | Artist Signature Series | Fender

“He had a very recognizable voice as a songwriter. And it was the fact that he was open emotionally. And he realized that he had something worth saying. And so he just let himself talk. I think that’s kind of the trick.”

“And I think it is a little bit ethereal, it’s kind of hard to pin down. But just don’t run from things that you might consider mistakes if you think that this doesn’t sound like any song that you’ve heard before so it must not be right.”

“Second-guess that instinct and think ‘Maybe it doesn’t sound like anybody else because it’s mine.’ And if you do that over and over and you remain open and don’t judge yourself…”

“This is the thing, this is the Neil Young line where he says ‘People don’t wanna hear a song you like, they wanna hear a song you wrote.’”

Jason Isbell Shows Us His Rarest Guitars (ft. Les Paul "Holy Grail") | Collected | GQ

“And that’s huge for me. Because it’s like — don’t judge the work while you’re doing it. Save that for later. Later on, when you’re in the [vocal] booth, you can judge whether it’s any good or not. Or after it’s mastered, figure out if you want to put it out.”

“Give yourself a whole lot of leeway and a whole lot of time to do what you think might be a mistake. Because just like playing the wrong note, it’s not that — it’s the one that you play right after it, you know?”

“And I think that’s the thing. That’s it. Just let yourself screw up and then keep moving. And then, eventually, you’ll have the chance to go back and fix it if it’s wrong. But more often than not, you’ll find out that not wrong, that’s just me.”

Jason Isbell Talks Slide Guitar | Fender Artist Check-In | Fender

Photo: Bryan Ledgard (Jason Isbell – Cambridge Folk Festival 50th Anniversary)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.