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Rhett Smith

Rhett Smith

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a guitarist from Greenville, South Carolina. I’ve worked with a wide variety of artists over the years from death metal bands to Lyle Lovett. I am a bit of a serial hobbyist - I get into something and then become obsessed with it and have to learn everything about it. I guess I just have an appreciation for design and detail. I love coffee, denim, watches, architecture, and cars! 


What specific qualities and features do you prioritize when it comes to the guitars you play on tour?

The main thing I look for in my touring instruments is reliability. Guitars by nature are fickle, and some more-so than others. With the temperature changes they can experience day to day and rattling around in a vault on a semi truck, it can be a recipe for disaster. Certain features can help mitigate these issues, I prefer a hardtail bridge - meaning the strings go directly through the body rather than anchoring in a tremolo unit. Another trend is using roasted woods in the construction, woods that are fired in an oxygen-free kiln to remove the moisture within increasing rigidity, resonance, and stability. Some have carbon fiber or graphite rods in the neck to keep them from warping or bending. I personally love gigantic baseball bat necks, and prefer them quartersawn too which is a way the log is split so the grain runs with the neck, those by nature are more resilient.

I would be lying if I said aesthetic appeal was not a concern as well, I am a guitarist after all! I have a love for classic designs like the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster, but with modern updates. My favorite color is surf green…you would laugh if you saw my guitar vault - everything is green.


What was your journey as a guitarist that led you to Hardy and how did that unfold?

I grew up around music, my mom and grandmother both play piano and my dad had a great knowledge and love of music that inspired me at a young age. I started playing because of John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The song “Soul to Squeeze” specifically. I got my first guitar at 10, it was a red Ibanez. I became obsessed and around age 12 or 13 I started to get into punk rock and metal and it just really took off. I spent hours playing Blink and Metallica songs. Soon after I hit my “6 hours a day phase” and got really into shred guitar, guys like Paul Gilbert and Richie Kotzen, and more extreme metal styles. Then I went to college and studied Jazz - I love Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Joe Pass. 

 I did some work as a clinician with PRS Guitars out of college and moved to Nashville. I worked with a few artists there before I met my friend Lyle Lovett and began working with him. During some downtime I met Justin that also plays guitar with Michael (Hardy) and we began playing together around 4 years ago shortly after Hardy decided to take his songwriting career on the road as an artist.

 The musicians I look up to today are the same ones I always have - I appreciate roleplayer guitarists in bands that write great songs more than shredders today though. People like Teppei Teranishi from Thrice, Mike Einziger from Incubus, Paul Waggoner from Between the Buried and Me. Also guys I don’t necessarily try to play like but have been innovative and adaptive over their careers, I still love John Frusciante and Tom Delonge.


We've heard that you exclusively wear black denim during tours. Could you share the reasoning and why KATO was selected as a preference for tours? 

Yes, that’s true. I was on a quest to find the best black selvedge denim for some time. Normally when you find a black fabric it will have a black warp with a white weft thread, and I love that look too - but for my stage pants I really wanted a blacked out, inky looking pair but still had a nice selvedge Id as some call it. I also wanted something relatively lightweight for all the running around I do, but when I discovered the Kato pairs with the 4 way stretch, it was almost too good to be true. The exact combination of features I was looking for, made out of a super breathable fabric from a reputable Japanese mill and then assembled in the USA. They’re just perfect all around for me. I started wearing the Needle and Pen cuts, but have recently gravitated to the Scissor fit, they lend themselves well to cuffing and get great stacking fades. Normally if I wear a hemmed pair with little break I still go for the Pen. I probably keep 4 or 5 pairs in my stage rotation. But for everyday use I like to wear a pair until they’re destroyed and then start over.


Could you share the backstory to your family's history and knowledge with selvedge denim? How did this inspire your current style?

 Absolutely. My grandfather was Louis Batson Jr. of the Louis P Batson Company. He was instrumental in the textile industry, working alongside people like Roger Milliken and Kiyohiro Tsuzuki. Growing up in the southeast, textiles were everything. The cities were created and planned around the mills and those mills were the lifeblood and driving force behind not just the economy but the culture. My grandfather sold the looms to esteemed mills that made the great denim of our time like Cone Mills in Greensboro, NC. He even had a shuttle loom in his basement at one point!

 My style was definitely inspired by this. It’s a way to always have a piece of my family close by, and when you mix that with my obsession with detail - denim is just the perfect representation of that. I think my style is a lot like the guitars I go for - modernized classics. Things that appear timeless but with a cool edge. Maybe the average person doesn’t even realize, but I like that when you see someone rocking a cool pair on the street you have an instant bond. A head nod is all it takes to let someone know you see and appreciate what they’re wearing.

The textile industry ran a great race for years, but as the economy began to boom and industry and demand grew, it became more about optimization and automation. How to produce more, faster. The exact opposite of what makes these heritage-style fabrics prized today. We saw hand operated shuttle looms phased out, shipped overseas for pennies on the dollar, and now we wish things were made like they were back then. I think that’s part of what draws me to denim and these specialty fabrics today. It’s a symbol of quality and craftsmanship, it’s a way to hold onto something cool from the past but it looks just at home today as it ever did. It’s such a small dedicated group that cares to produce these amazing fabrics in this more laborious way, and that’s something I like to support.

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