Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Guitars

Now that I've completed a few tunes, including my first album of sorts, I thought I'd do a quick feature about the instruments that I'm using.

Sovereign Harmony Acoustic Guitar
w/matching Tobacco Sunburst PRS
After learning piano and moving on to alto and tenor saxophone, I started playing guitar sometime in middle school. I never thought I'd ever want to play guitar, but listening to the Allman Brothers piqued my interest. Electric guitar is easier to begin on since the string gauges are lighter and the neck is often smaller, so it was a year or two before I got an acoustic guitar. In fact, I got a Regal spider cone dobro before I got a standard acoustic guitar, having fallen in love with the sound of a dobro after repeated listens to The Duane Allman Anthology. Eventually I bought this Sovereign Harmony acoustic guitar for about $125. It sounded decent enough and the tobacco burst matched the Paul Reed Smith I had already swept floors for months to save up for. They were my only two guitars for about the next 20 years - I was pretty busy working, going to school, and just making enough to feed and house myself to think about playing and collecting more guitars.

Having no easy way of inquiring about the history of the guitar in 1997, it was only recently that I looked up the model number to find out it was made in the mid-1980s. The guitar still sounds fine, though the bridge needs some work. Prior to getting my recent resonators, I would keep the acoustic in open tuning for slide and finger-picking which meant I would also keep the action high. The bridge has since started to wear and split, so if I now lower the action, the strings buzz. Still, it has a relatively rich tone and resonance for a mid-range acoustic.

Recording King Spider Cone
That first Regal spider cone I bought didn't last long. The cone quickly loosened up and buzzed, it was pretty apparent it was junk, so I returned it towards a Marshall amp. It would be almost 20 years before I replaced that dobro with another Chinese-made dobro, a Recording King. Although it isn't quite as nice as a Beard, the Recording King has a wonderful tone for a mid-range dobro. I did a lot of research and eventually found this Recording King round neck at Elderly Instruments. It has a wonderfully rich, warm sound for a mid-range dobro, though I would love to find a dobro that joins the neck at the 14th fret rather than the 12th fret.

It's amazing how much easier it is to research and shop for instruments in this day than it was in the mid-1990s. It would be unheard of to purchase an instrument that you had not played or at least heard, but today the internet allows you to sample audio and compare options that your local instrument dealer could not provide. Even living here in New York City, you never know what a high end or low end instrument dealer will have in stock. I was so happy to find this dobro at a steal of a price ($350 for a $550 retail) at Elderly Instruments.

Republic Tricone
I had wanted a steel body guitar ever since I first saw a photo of one when I was in high school. There was only one instrument store in Madison, WI, that carried anything close, so I never really got a chance to play a range of resonators. Therefor, I didn't really know the difference between a biscuit, tricone, or spider cone at the time, just that the art deco design of a tricone looked incredibly cool. Last year I began to research and fell in love with the tricone's sound. A biscuit cone is short and punchy, and a tricone is lush and steely.

Sometimes you don't know what you want, even when you really do know. Even after trying out a few Nationals at an expensive guitar shop in Soho and deciding I wanted a tricone, I first ordered a Republic Highway 61 parlour biscuit cone as kind of an in between option. But it just wasn't right. I returned it, realizing that a tricone was what I really wanted. However, I didn't want the maintenance of a shiny brass finish, so I was really happy to see this weathered body finish available on Republic's website. Republic does not custom order finishes, so I quickly snatched it up, and it's pretty damned perfect for a mid-range tricone and compliments/contrasts the spider cone nicely.

Daddy Mojo Cigar Box Biscuit Cone  

I bought a 3-string cigar box guitar about a year ago at Wanee Fest and really fell in love with their folk art qualities and simplicity. Why pay $4500 for a new National when you can build a guitar by hand out of found materials? It's a piece of art in its own right. But, I had to take it further, and found Daddy Mojo custom instruments shop who happened to make a biscuit cone cigar box guitar with a custom pick-up. I fell in love with its sound (and it looks beautiful), and returning that Republic Biscuit cone months earlier made even more sense. I pulled the trigger and a few months later I had an insanely amazing and unique cigar box resonator. It is plucky and dirty at the same time, like a piano with the damper pedal down. Of course, I needed a better cigar box guitar amp for it, so after months of searching I found Hip Kat amps and added one of their home-made 2.5w cigar box amps (the one I purchased at Wanee never worked quite well). This one has a wonderful range of tones and looks great.

1 comment:

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