Brian Farmer knows what it means to handle precious cargo. The 46-year-old Tennessee native has spent the better part of the last decade working as the guitar tech for Warren Haynes, which means that wherever you find an Allman Brothers Band or Gov’t Mule show happening, you’ll also find Farmer—along with Haynes’ stash of electric Gibson guitars.

Brian Farmer at work!

The responsibilities related to Haynes’ two gigs, Farmer notes, are entirely different, not just for his boss, but for Farmer himself. “I joke and tell people that the Allman Brothers is kind of like a paid vacation for me,” Farmer says from Boston, where the Allmans were preparing for a two-night summer stand. “It’s so much easier. I’m basically out here with the Allman Brothers to take care of Warren and [bassist] Oteil [Burbridge] and whoever the guest guitarist might be. With Gov’t Mule, I’m the stage manager, I’m the equipment manager, I’m the crew chief, and I’m the guitar tech. I wear a lot of different hats. Gov’t Mule is a smaller band, and it’s a lot more intense, with a lot more running around.”

Much of Farmer’s extra guitar-related work stems from the fact that in four-man Gov’t Mule, Haynes is the only guitarist on stage. Haynes’ concentrated responsibilities, Farmer says, demand that he employ a wider array of tones and tunings. “With Gov’t Mule, some days I put out 12 guitars, depending on what’s in the band’s set,” he explains. “There are a number of electric guitars that we always put out, and they’re all Gibsons: There’s a 12-string Les Paul; there’s a 335; there’s a pair of non-reverse Firebirds tuned to E-flat; there’s an SG that’s in a Dobro C-tuning; there’s a drop-D Les Paul; there are two other Les Pauls that are in standard; and then we’ve also got an Explorer.”

Things are much more streamlined in the Allman Brothers, where Haynes likes to keep things relatively simple: Farmer brings out The Warren Haynes Les Paul Standard (part of the Inspired By Series), which features a ’58 body and neck. He also keeps on hand a ’58 reissue that bears the same preamp as Haynes’ signature model, a ’59 reissue ES-335, and a ’67 ES-355, a guitar that Haynes acquired in a trade from Gregg Allman, who’d played the axe for more than 20 years.

Brian Farmer at work!

Haynes, who according to Farmer loves to use capo on the third fret of the ES-355 to achieve a bright, biting sound for selected finger-picked numbers, gave Allman another Gibson in return: an Everly Brothers flat-top, which features a J-185-style body, an adjustable bridge, star-shaped inlays, and a pickguard that covers most of the top of the body. “Both Gregg and Warren will tell you that they aren’t that particular about guitars,” Farmer says, sounding a bit amused. “But they’re so particular. It’s the darndest thing you’ve ever seen. They both know what they like and what they want.”

Farmer is proud of the fact—and rightfully so—that during his near-decade run with Haynes, he’s never had a guitar stolen. In fact, Farmer says he hasn’t had one stolen since 1995, when he was working for the late country legend Johnny Cash and two acoustics turned up missing following a performance in Las Vegas. “Once you’ve had guitars stolen from you, and you’re responsible for them, you just get to be a real jerk about it,” Farmer says. “The guys in the Gov’t Mule crew think I’m paranoid. But if the guitars aren’t going straight into the truck after a show, then I’ll sit there with them. And when they’re on the way out, I’ll get on the radio and tell the truck: ‘Okay, I’m sending out four guitars now!’ I’m not about to have anything stolen.”

In addition to protecting Haynes’ guitars, Farmer stays focused on their maintenance: He cleans and restrings Haynes’ primary instruments on a daily basis. Haynes, like Farmer, may be a relaxed, easy-going Southerner, but he isn’t casual about his gear. And as one of the busiest and most sought-after guitar players in the music business, he can’t afford to be. “When you see Warren play—I mean, he’s not easy on his instruments,” Farmer says. “To him, a guitar is like a natural extension of his body. He told me one day, ‘Look, they’re like hammers. They’re tools.’ To get certain tones out of them, to do certain things, he’ll whack the hell out of them.”

Brian Farmer has a fan!

Haynes’ incredibly busy schedule keeps Farmer on the road more often than not. After spending a few years living in Jersey City, New Jersey, Farmer recently moved back to the Nashville area. But you won’t find him there very often. Back in 2004, when Haynes hit the road on behalf of the Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule, the Dead, Phil Lesh & Friends, and his own solo pursuits, Farmer was home a total of 31 days. In 2005, things eased a little: Farmer was home about 60 days. With a variety of Haynes’ projects still in full swing, the road schedule remains relentless.

“Sometimes I get beat-up tired, but I’m living the dream,” Farmer says. “I’m really lucky that I’m working for a guy who wants to work. I mean, I’m a little short fat kid from Pegram, Tennessee. Sometimes I wonder: How did all this happen?”