Few guitar players have managed to redefine the boundaries of the art of guitar like Polyphia’s mastermind Tim Henson. Even fewer managed to do so in the twenty-first century, when it seemed like all that could be said on the electric guitar was already said. After all, didn’t Eddie Van Halen already redefine guitar as we knew it back in the 70s? What more could a modern player possibly do?
Surprisingly, Henson’s first instrument was not the guitar, but the violin. He was classically trained from the age of three, studying under “strict and disciplinary” Russian teachers. At ten years old, he picked up the guitar instead so he could fit in with his group of friends, all of whom were skateboarders rather than orchestra kids. Henson fell in love with Jimi Hendrix early on, copying Hendrix’s stage moves and learning his licks, and even auditioned for the prestigious Berklee music college. Astonishingly, Berklee knocked Tim Henson back, and he attended the local community college while grinding away on the local band circuit.
Here, we’re taking a look at the gear Tim Henson uses to meld the electric guitar’s storied past with its intriguing future.
What Guitar Does Tim Henson Play?
Tim Henson plays Ibanez guitars and is known for his broad catalog of Super Strat-based RG and AZ Series models. Since 2018, Henson’s primary guitar has remained his signature Ibanez THBB10 which has been designed to the last detail to meet his every need.
See the full list of Tim Henson guitars and gear below.
|Years Used||2018 to Present|
In 2018, with Polyphia’s star ascending, Tim’s long-standing loyalty to Japanese builders Ibanez paid dividends in this custom-made signature model. Based heavily on the Superstrat-style guitars he played during the years leading to his rise to success, with many of Henson’s personal aesthetic flourishes, the THBB10 is an eye-catching instrument built to shred.
The THBB10 features many high-end appointments requested by Tim himself, including its American basswood body and roasted maple neck. Basswood has enjoyed favor with shred-oriented guitar builders in recent years thanks to its soft, balanced tonal profile. Basswood has far less tonal personality than the more conventional (and, today, far more expensive) mahogany or maple, instead offering muscular midrange with a breathy, soft quality. Basswood guitars typically emphasize the sound of a guitar’s pickups and the player’s own technique over the personality of the wood itself, making it perfect for shred guitar like Polyphia’s music.
Its bolted-on neck is made from roasted maple with acrylic and abalone block inlays. Roasted maple has enjoyed some popularity among guitar builders in recent years. This is partially thanks to the attractive darker hue from the roasting process, but largely due to the increased tuning stability and humidity tolerance that roasting gives the maple. The neck uses Ibanez’s own comfortable AZ Oval C profile, designed for comfort and speed. Its jumbo stainless steel frets encourage softer, more dynamic playing, and the guitar’s twenty-four frets allow Henson to access the higher squealing notes in his guitar’s register. The guitar also boasts glow-in-the-dark side dot inlays to allow Henson to see what he’s playing even in darkened venues.
The guitar uses a GraphTech nut and Gotoh’s T1502 tremolo bridge, with steel saddles and a die-cast zinc tremolo block for rapid response and easy articulation. This also assists with tuning stability when Henson is performing the extreme dives as heard on Polyphia’s “40oz”. This is not a locking tremolo like a Floyd Rose, but a modern update on the same concept that allows for easier tuning and switching out of guitar strings. For Polyphia, who tour full-time, this is a welcome innovation. Also assisting in tuning stability is this guitar’s Gotoh MG-T locking tuning heads.
The THBB10 is equipped with three pickups from Henson’s other major endorser, DiMarzio. Following in the footsteps of the great metal players of previous generations, Tim Henson is a loyal player of DiMarzio pickups. However, as with his powerful playing, Henson eschewed the old-school Super Distortion humbuckers for something thoroughly more modern. His DiMarzio signature model pickups, Notorious, come in both single coil and mini-humbucker configurations. The THBB10 features three pickups, a single-coil in the neck position, another single coil in the middle position, and the mini-humbucker in the bridge position. These are controlled with a five-way selector switch.
Henson describes the pickups as “very cute”. Generally, Tim Henson uses the single-coil neck pickup for chords and ringing, sustaining sounds, particularly for his sustained arpeggios and extended jazz chords. Generally, Henson mostly plays with both the neck and middle pickup activated, using the fourth position for Hendrixian combined rhythm and lead playing, as heard in the song “The Worst”. Henson also uses the mini-humbucker in the bridge position for his articulate, saturated lead playing, such as the full-bore harmonized lead on “Loud”.
He describes the bridge as “the best bridge Ibanez has ever made,” and he uses the tremolo arm for the fluttery, buttery tremolo notes such as the opening dive in “GOAT”. Tim also owns an eight-string version of this guitar, which has yet to be made available to the public. The THBB10 is only currently available in the six-string configuration.
This guitar is Tim Henson’s primary live instrument and he used it to record Polyphia’s upcoming album. Henson can be seen playing his signature Ibanez in nearly every presentation and recording from 2018 and onwards, certainly he has found his match for the time being.
Ibanez RG Series
|Years Used||2015 to Present|
Tim Henson played Ibanez’s RG series during his early years with Polyphia, particularly an RG290 Premium in blue. Like Henson’s later guitars, these were classic Superstrats, equipped with ergonomic necks, double humbuckers, and dual cutaways. The curvature and the bouts are a little pointier than on Tim’s more obviously Stratocaster-inspired signature model, but like most metal-oriented shred guitars, these are aimed squarely at a non-traditional market.
The RG920 Premium was Ibanez’s way of offering a high-quality guitar to rival their Prestige line at a lower price. Like Henson’s signature guitar, its body is made from basswood capped with a maple veneer. It features a maple (albeit not roasted) bolt-on neck with six-a-side tuners, and its tremolo system is Ibanez’s own patented Edge Zero II vibrato system. This system was innovative for the time, featuring locking studs, individual knife edges, and a removable crossbar and counter spring. The counter spring was designed to snap the bridge back to the zero position after heavy use, as is Tim Henson’s preference.
The humbuckers in this guitar, initially, were DiMarzio IBZ, custom-voiced humbuckers designed by DiMarzio for Ibanez’s high-end instruments. These also use the five-way switching system, which allows Henson to switch between full-bore humbucker sounds and activate individual coils within the humbuckers for a more Fender-like clean tone. Both the bridge and neck pickup are medium-high in output, typically hotter than most passive pickups (and higher in output than Henson’s signature pickups).
Tim eventually replaced these pickups with white ones, presumably different DiMarzios, for their feature in the music video for “Crush”.
Ibanez AZ Series
|Finish||Ice Blue/Sparkle Blue|
|Years Used||2015 to Present|
For many fans, their first exposure to Polyphia and Tim Henson’s revolutionary guitar playing was 2018’s single “G.O.A.T.” and its accompanying video. In said video, Tim is seen branding an expensive-looking top-of-the-line Ibanez AZ2402-TFF, just one of the several Ibanez AZ series six-strings in his collection.
The Ibanez AZ series was designed, according to Ibanez’s website, with “Precision, Performance, and Playability” in mind. In 2018, when the series first emerged, it was Ibanez’s cutting-edge update to their classic Prestige series. The Japanese brand set out to deliver a high-end instrument with unparalleled comfort and playability for modern players demanding versatility and ergonomics. The back-bending Les Pauls and baseball bat necks of the past were set to remain there. With the AZ Series, Ibanez set out to seduce a younger generation of guitarists less concerned with tradition than with high-performance musical equipment. For Henson, whose highly technical guitar playing demands tonal versatility, these guitars were an obvious choice.
Tim has played AZ Series guitars in blue, pink, and a tobacco sunburst finish, as seen in the “G.O.A.T.” video. Henson’s preference of the AZ series seems to be the 2402, equipped with dual humbuckers and his preferred Gotoh bridge. Tim Henson’s signature guitar is based largely on the AZ Series and as such shares many of its features.
The AZ2402 is closer in construction to a traditional Stratocaster than Tim Henson’s RG series. Much of his sparkling clean tone comes from this guitar’s combination of tonewood and pickups. It boasts an alder body, as would a vintage Stratocaster, with a roasted maple neck in a comfortable oval-shaped C profile. Its fretboard, too, is roasted maple, with black dot fret inlays and luminous side fret markers, just like Tim’s signature model.
The AZ2402 also boasts jumbo stainless steel frets for maximum fretting efficiency and a bone nut to assist in tuning stability. Unlike Tim Henson’s other electric guitars, which typically are equipped with DiMarzio pickups, the AZ2402 comes stock with Seymour Duncan Hyperion pickups, passive humbuckers with a balanced attack and lower output than Tim Henson’s preferred DiMarzios. Henson may have swapped these out for DiMarzio pickups to accompany his endorsement of the pickup manufacturer.
The AZ Prestige 2402 also comes with a Gotoh T1802 tremolo bridge with machined titanium saddles and a machined steel tremolo block. Rather than using Tim Henson’s preferred five-way switching system, the AZ series actually uses two switches, one five-way switch to select pickups and an alter switch for coil-tapping. This configuration allows Henson to access a broad array of both single-coil and humbucker guitar tones, and a “Power Tap” mode that Ibanez claims delivers a “realistic single coil sound” in spite of the guitar’s twin humbucker layout. In the video for “G.O.A.T.”, Tim Henson uses his stock AZ with the selector in the fourth position and the Alter switch on. This activates only the outer single coil in the bridge pickup.
Tim Henson owns two AZ prototypes, one in blue, and another in pink. These are differently appointed than the stock models. The humbucking pickups are open-coil pickups, not the covered lipstick and mini humbuckers of Tim’s DiMarzio signature line. It’s unclear whether these are the Seymour Duncan Hyperions of the stock AZ line or a DiMarzio pickup due to Tim’s endorsement deal with that pickup manufacturer. It’s likely that he is using DiMarzio pickups in the prototype guitars as these seem to have been custom-built for him. As with his other guitars, Henson typically uses this guitar’s fourth “single coil” position for clean playing and ringing chords. Henson in fact, recorded much of “New Levels New Devils” and “The Most Hated” using his Ibanez AZ2402.
Henson is a prolific young player who joins an already start stacked list of notorious Ibanez players, which includes guitarists such as Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Nita Strauss, Paul Gilbert, and so many more.
Timetable Showing Each Guitar Tim Henson Has Played Throughout His Career
|Ibanez||RG Series||Blue/Purple||2015 to Present|
|Ibanez||AZ Series||Ice Blue/Sparkle Blue||2015 to Present|
|Ibanez||THBB10||Black||2018 to Present|
Tim Henson Amps Overview
Tim Henson is best known for eschewing traditional guitar amplifiers for more modern amp-modeling software. He has his own signature Neural DSP plugin, typically running his guitar through his computer rather than a conventional amp. On tour, Tim Henson was happy to play through old-school tube amps with plenty of headroom such as those made by Orange, but in recent years has leaned towards running processors and amp sims over old-school tube gear.
Let’s take a look at how Tim Henson likes to run his amps or lack thereof.
Orange Dark Terror
Tim Henson and his Polyphia bandmate Scott LePage typically run the Orange Dark Terror as part of their live onstage rig. The Dark Terror is not a huge part of Polyphia’s live sound, although its plentiful clean headroom courtesy of twin EL83 power tubes contributes to their sparkling live tone. Typically, Tim Henson does not rely on the Dark Terror for its tone-shaping qualities, simply using it as a power amp and platform for his guitar processor. The Dark Terror is connected to an Orange cabinet with Celestion V30 speakers for on-stage sound.
EVH 5150III 50 Watt 2×12 White
In 2015, Tim Henson ran this combo amp from EVH. It was part of the higher-gain saturated sound Polyphia were using at the time, and the amplifier has been rarely used since. This was an all-tube high-gain amp designed by legendary Van Halen lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen, a rare example of Tim Henson running a traditional amp setup.
Fractal Audio Axe-FX II
Instead of using the Dark Terror’s preamp section, Tim Henson’s live tone comes primarily thanks to Fractal Audio’s AxeFX digital amp modeler. The portability and versatility of this amp modeler are ideal for a primarily touring guitarist such as Tim Henson, and allows him to recapture the precise tones from Polyphia’s studio work in the live environment.
Typically, Tim Henson uses the presets built into the Axe-FX. He has been known to use the Corn Cob M50, which emulates Cornford’s boutique high-gain MK50 II amplifier, as well as “Boutique 1”, which is based on the Matchless Chieftain 1. The former is largely responsible for Tim Henson’s more saturated tone as per the Renaissance album, while the latter is for his cleaner sound like on Muse and “The Most Hated”. Henson said of the tone that “it’s clean until you dig in and then it breaks up and gets distorted. Not distorted, but a little crunchier.”
Positive Grid Bias FX
Tim Henson used Positive Grid’s Bias FX amp and effects simulator to record some of his guitar work on New Levels New Devils. This effects simulator is similar to the Axe-FX in concept, but is not a physical product that he uses live. It’s a program that Henson runs on his computer to achieve particular guitar tones.
Neural DSP Products
A massive part of Tim Henson’s guitar tone on Polyphia’s albums is his heavy use of digital signal processing (DSP) programs. Tim typically runs these with Ableton on his Macbook, often in conjunction with the Axe-FX or Positive Grid Bias FX.
Tim Henson mostly used Neural DSP’s Archetype: Abasi in the past, their plugin package based on the guitar tones of Animals as Leaders axeman Tosin Abasi. In 2021, Henson revealed that he had worked on a signature Neural DSP plugin based on his own guitar sound, named Archetype: Tim Henson, which he used to record the upcoming Polyphia album.
Tim Henson also uses the Neural DSP Quad Cortex, a floor modeler running Neural DSP’s amp modeling software. The Quad Cortex is about the size of a Macbook Pro, with a touch screen used to select an amplifier, effects sequence, and tone controls. The Quad Cortex may well replace Tim Henson’s Axe-FX on Polyphia’s next run of touring and be used in a similar fashion, particularly if it will be loaded with his own DSP software.
Tim Henson’s signature Neural DSP Archetype features three primary sounds. These are acoustic, rhythm, and lead amp modeling options. The “acoustic” modeling is designed to simulate the microphone/piezo sparkle often heard on amplified acoustic guitars, and is based on the very signal chain that Tim Henson himself uses to record acoustic guitars.
The “rhythm” amplifier is a low-gain “British-voiced” amp with two channels, one for a warm, sparkling clean sound and the other for the edge-of-breakup crunch heard on “The Worst”. The third amplifier built into Archetype: Tim Henson is “lead”, which is a dynamic, rich high-gain lead sound.
Tim Henson’s guitar tone is often highly compressed to highlight the lighter nuances of his playing and balance out the volume between fingerpicked, strummed, and hybrid picked passages. Accordingly, Henson’s archetype comes with three pre-amp effects pedals, including boost, compressor, and overdrive.
Similarly, it also uses post-amp effects pedals including stereo chorus, delay, and reverb, designed to capture the shimmering, swirling clean tone in the intro passage for “The Worst”.
This Archetype also features several cab simulators, allowing for maximum tonal tweaking. Fortunately, it boasts several presets for Tim’s tone, based on the guitar sounds heard on Polyphia’s studio albums.
The most intriguing built-in effect for this plugin is the Multivoicer, which adds up to four pitch-shifted voices on top of the guitar signal. This allows Tim Henson to layer harmonies on his recordings and performances without having to re-record his guitar parts, as can be heard in the below video advertising the plugin. The harmonizer can be heard in all its swirling, luscious glory in the below video. Also note the use of subtle chorus, ping-ponging delay, and Tim Henson’s signature clean, compressed hybrid-picked sound during the performance, all of which is captured in this Neural DSP plugin.
Tim Henson Pedals and Effects Overview
Although Tim Henson’s guitar sound is defined and shaped by a multitude of effects, much of this comes from his choice of simulation and processing software, as described above. Much of Tim Henson’s thick, chorused, compressed tone comes from his use of effects and amp modeling in 2021. However, as of around 2015, Henson still used physical effects pedals live, as can be seen in Polyphia’s 2015 Dunlop Sessions video.
Tim Henson can be seen in the above video using the MXR GT-OD. It’s likely that this was used to push the amp into the lean, articulate saturated sound heard in the video, rather than as the primary source of drive into a clean amp. The GT-OD is a smooth, warm overdrive sound with the distinctive midrange “hump” commonly associated with pedals based on Ibanez’s Tube Screamer.
Boss PQ-4 Parametric Equalizer
Henson’s notorious tone-tweaking necessitated the use of this highly customizable EQ pedal from Boss. Henson likely used this pedal to shape his guitar tone into the warm, voicelike mid-heavy sound for which he is famous. Because Polyphia is a purely instrumental band, Henson often EQs his guitar like a human voice, occupying frequencies that would clash with the lead singer in a typical band. Generally, Henson runs his EQ with pronounced mids, a slight treble boost, and a controlled, tight low end.
Way Huge WHE707 Supa-Puss
This analog delay from high-end pedal builders Way Huge was a key part of the bouncy, articulate tone of Polyphia’s early work. Tim Henson generally runs his delay sound as a tight, natural-sounding echo, using delay the way many other guitarists use a reverb pedal. This is likely because most reverb pedals can become overbearing and washy, losing note definition in the process. Delay pedals allow for a tighter, more focussed guitar tone better suited to the lighting-fast runs and ringing chords of Polyphia’s music.
Chase Bliss Audio Blooper
This “bottomless looper” from Chase Bliss Audio makes an appearance in the above video from Tim Henson’s YouTube channel. It’s an intricate loop station that allows for both standard looping and carefully constructed effects-addled loops. The Blooper is likely more of a songwriting tool for Tim Henson than anything else, allowing him to adjust pitch, flutter, and speed on riffs and melodies without committing them to his recording software.
It’s a testament to Henson’s unparalleled creativity and genre-smashing technical ability that he managed to change the way a generation of guitar players approached the instrument. Rather than relying on old rock and metal tropes, he applied the blistering technical precision of his neo-classical metal roots to modern trap and EDM-influenced beats. With a generous measure of jazz-influenced extended chords, inversions, and unorthodox voicings, Tim Henson and Polyphia are to today’s generation of players for what Hendrix and Van Halen were to their forefathers. The fact that the band manages to appeal to a broad, modern audience while making almost exclusively instrumental music is merely the icing on the Polyphia cake.
Tim Henson’s prodigious musical prowess, however, came thanks to a rigorous practice routine, often playing up to twelve hours a day, and a desire to escape his underprivileged upbringing. The child of musical parents, Henson’s dad, like many other musicians, played in garage bands all his life without ever truly breaking into the industry.
On another hand, Henson broke into the industry with 2017’s “The Most Hated” EP. It changed the way younger players approached the instrument, in a way that Henson described as “essentially intricate guitar with beats which followed the guitars, that’s what all the kids are doing now”.
Tim Henson represents a futuristic sight for math rock and heavy metal, in a way that is both promising and exciting for the evolutionary nature of guitar-based music. This is after all one of the first guitar heroes the 21st century has seen rise to prominence.
My name is Chris and I’ve had a passion for music and guitars for as long as I can remember. I started this website with some of my friends who are musicians, music teachers, gear heads, and music enthusiasts so we could provide high-quality guitar and music-related content.
I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13 years old and am an avid collector. Amps, pedals, guitars, bass, drums, microphones, studio, and recording gear, I love it all.
I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. My background is in Electrical Engineering, earning a Bachelor’s degree from Youngstown State University. With my engineering experience, I’ve developed as a designer of guitar amplifiers and effects. A true passion of mine, I’ve designed, built, and repaired a wide range of guitar amps and electronics. Here at the Guitar Lobby, our aim is to share our passion for Music and gear with the rest of the music community.