TOOLS OF THE TRADE: SONGWRITERS AND THEIR GUITARS

This blog was inspired by a chance encounter with Roy Book Binder at the International Folk Alliance in Kansas City. Roy and I where chatting as we waited for the audience to settle into their seats, and we exchanged guitars as a point of discussion. This is pretty standard stuff for most guitarists, and so it occurred to me that it’s pretty important to songwriters too.

So if you’re interested in songwriters, songwriting, and guitars, well you’re in the right place.

Scroll down and check out some pretty serious songsters.

Jess Morgan

jess morgan  

  1. Can you remember the first guitar you owned? What was the make and model and how did you acquire it?

It was a Westone Quantum headless bass - you know the one - with the compact square-ish body and crucially, no head. It was aged white and had belonged to my Dad and served him well as a gigging bassist, frightfully eighties but little enough for me to get under my teenage fingers. When our band kicked off we spray painted it blue to make it mine. I dropped it on stage once. It didn't care. It was a real workhorse. Dad has the bass back now - I don't think he'd ever part with it.

  1. What are the qualities that matter to you when deciding on buying a guitar, and how has this changed over time?

Acoustics now. I'm looking at the shape and the wood now more than ever. When I got hold of my Martin Mahogany I wasn't 100% sure whether it wasn't a bit dull. It wasn't anywhere near as immediate as the spruce top or lighter wood guitars I already had hanging around. I'd never spent that amount of money before and was a bit worried I'd made a mistake but soon enough I learned that what it was doing for my playing style was perfect. I play with the outsides of my nails and it tends to sound a bit abrasive and it just mellows it all out. The sound of that guitar has really developed too. Neck profile is pretty important too. The neck of my Blueridge guitar is the best of the bunch in that respect - put that on a mahogany body and I'll be the first in with my checkbook.

  1. How did you discover your present guitar, and how did it find its way home to you?

I bought that guitar from a shop called Northern Guitars in Leeds. I was in a bad mood and I had a student loan. It was the first 'folk shaped' guitar I'd ever owned having only really had Dreadnoughts. I was looking for something that wasn't so boomy. It was my number one for years until I bought the Martin 00015M from my good friend Dan Wilde. Dan makes guitar playing look effortless and I've got to admit part of me thought that maybe I'd inherit some of Dan's superpowers if I got his hand-me-down guitar. No such luck! Lovely instrument though.

  1. What historical aspects, if any, have you unearthed about your present or past guitars?

Ha! Up until recently, I've always bought into pre-owned instruments. Nothing really however that would pre-date shell suits or Duran Duran. The first brand new instrument I bought was last year and it was a Seagull guitar made of Cedar. The thing with it was though, it was a formidable shade of orange, I wouldn't like to be too rude about someone else's design, but this orange for me was just too much. So I took steps to have the finish changed and a friend of mine agreed to strip it and stain the wood for me. The nice surprise was that when he removed the orange lacquer, underneath was the most perfect blonde coloured wood. So we left it there and its now darkening beautifully and gently on its own. 

  1. What was the most recent song you composed on your guitar, and how did your present guitar tool lead you to discover the right music?

I've been touring in Germany - so I took my Blueridge, which is nice and light. I've been writing this thing in open G tuning and I think I made some headway on the second verse - which for me is the kind of make or break bit of a song. Sometimes even when it's only me in a room, I can feel a bit foolish bashing away at the same string of chords and shapes trying to break through to something. I think the best thing about doing it on this guitar is that we've travelled together all over the world - or working on it. I know it will forgive me anything! Its not my best instrument - which is why it's the one I'll sling on a plane or in the hull of a bus but I often wonder if it brings out the best in me.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRUCZubwpyQ&w=560&h=315]

 

visit Jess at www.jessmorgan.co.uk

The Honey Dewdrops

The Honey Dewdrops play folk and roots music that bring banjo, mandolin and of course guitars into their fullest glory. We got to chat a bit about music at a recent show together in Yonkers for Urban H20. honeydew-drops-pix

  1. Can you remember the first guitar you owned? What was the make and model and how did you acquire it?

Kagey: The first guitar I got was shared with my brother, a no name classical guitar our mom reluctantly bought. I didn't care what it was, it made sounds that sounded like a guitar. It was in the shape of a guitar. I still remember holding it not knowing how to play at all and being really happy.

Laura: My parents bought a cheap-ish Yamaha dreadnought for me while I was in grade school so I could take lessons. I loved that guitar and it inspired many years of playing Beatles' songs and other rock tunes throughout my academic years. 

  1. What are the qualities that matter to you now when deciding on a guitar, and how has this changed over time?

Kagey: I really like acoustic guitars that sound like martin or gibson guitars that were made from 1930-ish - the 40's. There's something about an old guitar that sounds so guitarry, its a great sound. We are lucky to be living in a guitar making renaissance when a lot of builders are making very high quality Martin / Gibson golden era inspired guitars so there a lot of great choices.

Laura: I didn't know much about guitars before I met Kagey. I knew I loved the deep, resonant sound of a dreadnought guitar but didn't realize until later that it was the type of wood that would make a difference. I suppose that I prefer Rosewood to Mahogany purely because of the lovely, bass-y tones I can get as a rhythm player.

  1. How did you discover your present guitar, and how did it find its way home to you?

Kagey: Laura bought the guitar I'm playing now back in 2006. It was her first serious guitar investment, took her about 15 minutes to decide to buy it - a 2006 Huss and Dalton DR-H. Basically its Huss and Dalton's take on a D-28. When she bought it I had recently bought a Martin D-18 Golden Era, which was a good guitar, but it didn't really hold a candle to her Huss and Dalton. I was jealous form the beginning. A few years later I sold the D-18 and bought a Huss and Dalton T-OM and was finally happy. Now Laura has grown to love the T-OM and I have always loved her DR-H, so we swapped. Worked out just as I had planned!

Laura: Kagey pretty much answered the question. I love that H&D DR-H. It was my first "serious" guitar purchase and may even be my last. A lot of songs have been written on that guitar and it came to me through inheritance money from my wonderful and supportive Grandmother who loved that I played music. I think about her a lot when I hear it played (even more when Kagey plays it because I can REALLY hear it). Currently, I'm enjoying the smallness of the OM and since I've started flat picking, it's been a great learning instrument for that style. I'll get the DR-H back one day!

  1. What historical aspects, if any, have you unearthed about your present or past guitars?

Kagey: Jeff Huss claims our DR-H is one of the finest Huss and Dalton's he's heard....

Laura: ...And that is high praise from the maker!

  1. What was the most recent song you composed on your guitar, and how did your present guitar tool lead you to discover the right music?

Kagey: I wrote a song called Guitars. I felt some mysterious urge to write a song about guitars b/c I've always loved guitars. I've always been called towards the sound and look of them. I got to thinking how we are all kind of like guitars, aging and getting closer to our true selves over time and weathering.

Laura: I wrote a song called "Numb" last year while going through some rough emotional patches. I jokingly started playing Billy Joel's "Piano Man" so that I could learn the cool harmonica part in that tune and as the hours passed I started singing a new song. I believe that tune was written on the dreadnought, not the OM! Only in-progress tunes have been played on the OM.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehdIfLVb5hA&w=560&h=315]

Check them out at: http://www.thehoneydewdrops.com and on Facebook.

Brendan O'Shea

I was fortunate to bump into Brendan one night at his famous Scratcher Sessions in the East Village. My mate Roesy played there the last time he was in town, and I swore that I’d get back there and check out the incredible talent that passes through that doorway.Brendan O'Shea-3

  1. Can you remember the first guitar you owned? What was the make and model and how did you acquire it?

The first guitar I owned, as I can remember, was a Tackamine fp360. I bought it myself in my hometown of Killarney, Ireland.

  1. What are the qualities that matter to you when deciding on buying a guitar, and how has this changed over time?

To tell the truth I was always more interested in seeing people play, and playing myself than I ever was interested in what kinda guitar people were playing. I never was that guy who would go to guitar shops and sit and play a bunch of guitars all day and study the craftmanship too much until years later. I think different guitars suit different styles and people, for the most part I am drawn to older instruments, that have been played a lot and have a history without knowing what the history is you can just see it in the guitar .

  1. How did you discover your present guitar, and how did it find its way home to you?

The last guitar I bought was again a Tackimine as it was a good priced guitar it was made in the mid 90s and reliable for traveling and sounds good when plugged in anywhere. I have a few other guitars. I have a beautiful guild D25, 1976 which I love but doesn’t respond well to cold temps, so I don’t tour with it anymore, as when I did I would return to nyc and have to get work done on it every few months. But sound wise for me it suits me, and how I like an acoustic to sound.

  1. What historical aspects, if any, have you unearthed about your present or past guitars?

Well I have a Lowden [Irish made] by George, himself. I always wanted one but could never afford it so a friend of mine sold an old fender bass I had on line and he saw this Lowden, and I call George Lowden and he said that he had made this small body guitar to spec for someone and the deal didn’t go, so he was selling it for much less than it was worth so my friend sold the bass and I gave him the balance in cash to buy the Lowden. I love this guitar and it is a real piece of work great detail and love gone into its building, and I think Lowden have a real different sound than most guitars, which I like, again I don’t travel with this guitar but I love to record with it.

  1. What was the most recent song you composed on your guitar, and how did your present guitar tool lead you to discover the right music?

I have been writing songs for a new record, and I have been using all of the above guitars to do so. I am not too picky about which guitar I use to write and the lyrics, nor the music, are written in the wood , the writing comes to u and hopefully u grab it when it does .

Check out more on Brendan at: www.brendanoshea.com & Facebook

 

Youtube: [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7j1Nq8ClhKQ&w=420&h=315]

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

I first met Jeffrey at the International Folk Allliance in 2014, and was taken by his incredibly inventive guitar stylings. Check out his very insightful comments on his writing tools.r73c4560 (1)

1.Can you remember the first guitar you owned? What was the make and model and how did you acquire it?

The first guitar I played was a very cheap plywood model from Sears, given to me by my parents when I was 12. When I proved that I was serious about learning, I got a Yamaha FG340 dreadnought that I consider to be my first real guitar. After college, I started performing in a band with my brother and upgraded to an all-solid-wood Guild. But I kept the Yamaha as a backup/camping/beach guitar until, sadly, it was stolen from my apartment in San Francisco.

  1. What are the qualities that matter to you when deciding on buying a guitar, and how has this changed over time?

I want an acoustic guitar that can travel across a lot of stylistic territory--driving rock, percussive funk grooves, bluegrass-style flatpicking, fingerstyle folk, and more, both rhythm and lead all over the neck. I'd rather have one versatile guitar than a collection of guitars that each have narrow specialties.

The bass response is increasingly important to me. I use dropped-D tuning for more and more of my original songs and arrangements, and in some songs I lower the bass strings further. For instance, on "My Bad," from the new album Almost There, I tune the sixth string to C and the fifth to G:

https://jeffreypepperrodgers.bandcamp.com/track/my-bad

I like guitars that have low-end power yet aren't boomy or muddy--they also speak clearly on the treble end. Using D'Addario bluegrass-gauge strings (mediums on the bottom, lights on top) works really well for me.

For a songwriter, perhaps the most important aspect of a guitar is that it feels like it has songs in it. Something about the sound just gets the ideas flowing.

  1. How did you discover your present guitar, and how did it find its way home to you?

As the founding editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine in the '90s, I got to know a lot of great guitar makers and became aware of the renaissance of individually made guitars that was underway. I started dreaming about having a guitar made for me. One of the luthiers I met was Linda Manzer--the fact that she made Bruce Cockburn's and Pat Metheny's acoustic guitars certainly got my attention.

As it happened, I was in Toronto for a Folk Alliance International conference, and I decided to call Linda and pay a visit to her shop. I just had this clear feeling that she was the right one to build my guitar, so I took the leap and ordered one. I waited about a year and a half for the guitar to arrive. It has her very comfortable wedge shape (the body is narrower where you arm goes over it, and wider on the bottom to compensate). I'd spent several long stints in India, and the inlay I chose is based on a kolam--a form of south Indian folk art.

The Manzer is my main guitar for writing and recording. Live I mostly play a Taylor 712C from the '90s that is a great stage guitar and has a very nice-sounding Highlander pickup installed many years ago by Rick Turner.

  1. What historical aspects, if any, have you unearthed about your present or past guitars?

I feel like the Manzer's history is just beginning. I just know this guitar is going to sound better than ever a hundred years from now. In this age of buying expensive stuff from big-box stores that is obsolete three years later, it's deeply satisfying to own something so beautiful, timeless, and functional.

  1. What was the most recent song you composed on your guitar, and how did your present guitar tool lead you to discover the right music?

The most recent song I completed was "Turn Away":

https://jeffreypepperrodgers.bandcamp.com/track/turn-away

This song uses dropped-D tuning and a partial capo (covering the top five strings). The deep, powerful sound of the Manzer makes rhythm patterns like this such a joy to play, and that had everything to do with the birth of this song.

check out: http://jeffreypepperrodgers.com/

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cziePG4098g&w=560&h=315]

Cathy Grier NYCSubwayGirl

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGu2d0LRJ3A&list=PLB103032FA9FC9400&index=13[/embed] I first met Cathy at the MUNY (Music Under New York) auditions, as she interviewed performers about that inspired them to create. It's always great to meet a fellow artist asking questions and searching for answers. Find out how important her guitars have been in the creation of her art.

  1. Can you remember the first guitar you owned? What was the make and model and how did you acquire it?

The first guitar I owned was a sears guitar, but it frustrated me and I pinned away for the nylon string classical guitar abandoned in my brother Martin's closet when he got a Les Paul sunburst custom. Martin gave the guitar circa 1967ish Del Vecchio (my cousin Peter brought it home from Brazil when he returned from the Peace Corps). By the time I got the guitar it was seriously scratched up from rock n roll picking and I refinished it myself. I still have it. Sounds warm and lovely. The frets are slanted and the neck is thick, so it was a great way to learn.

  1. What are the qualities that matter to you when deciding on buying a guitar, and how has this changed over time?

Because I am not a session player looking for one ability from one guitar, I look for a guitar that has multi strengths: great playing ability in many styles, comfortable action not too low and a neck not too thin or thick, and comfortable. As a small woman I have found many guitars don't fit my build.

What has changed over time even though I haven't purchase a guitar in many years, is in the past I might have bought as a collector would, instead now I would buy for my needs. What sound is missing? And then try and find that guitar.

  1. How did you discover your present guitar, and how did it find its way home to you?

I am fortunate to have many guitars that are equally interesting to write about, but since I currently use a particular guitar for my busking gigs I'll share about that one. It's a Guild Songbird that I bought at Sam Ash on 48th st in 1990 after seeing Julia Fordham play one. It's a lovely thin-bodied acoustic electric and has a great sound. It amazes me because I have worked it so hard. It has never been in a hard case all these years and except for some regular tune-ups it's still in great shape.

  1. What historical aspects, if any, have you unearthed about your present or past guitars?

I had many guitars in my life that I no longer have the enjoyment of owning. I had a wonderful 1978 Ibanez jazz guitar (it was the first year they made them), which was stolen from my van in 1982 after returning late one night from a long tour. I still miss that guitar. Also stolen was a 1962 Gibson Cherry ES-330 (I never learned who owned it before me). I’m still sad to loose guitars to theft. I replaced the Ibanez loss with an '82 George Benson GB10 Ibenez, but sadly sold it for the more important need for cash when I lived in France in 1995. From the theft and also the subsequent sale of a prized guitar for cash I learned not to get attached to guitars. There are great guitars out in the world. Unfortunately the prices for any of the vintage guitars I now have or had possessed are so out of reach today.

  1. What was the most recent song you composed on your guitar, and how did your present guitar tool lead you to discover the right music?

I wrote a song for a documentary film about wild horses. My guitar helped me to find a gritty earthy sound that made me feel like I was out in the open plains of America.

Reach out to Cathy at:

Jen Larson

I've been acquainted with the bluegrass singer-songwriter Jen Larson since my arrival in NYC. Her name was one of the first I heard, and her voice had timbers that few can match. I was fortunate, as were many others, to hear her up close at jams and to have opportunities to share vocal duets. Here she discusses her unique approach to her songwriting, and informs us of her new solo EP. Jen Larson

 

  1. Can you remember the first guitar you owned? What was the make and model and how did you acquire it?

My very first guitar was a Sigma--but I quickly was introduced to a lovely 1990s Martin D-2 which I still have as my back-up, go-to instrument.

  1. What are the qualities that matter to you when deciding on buying a guitar, and how has this changed over time?

 In my case, affordability! But also, as I've evolved as bluegrass musician and had the chance to try out a lot of amazing and not-so-amazing guitars along the way, I've discovered that prefer a boomy, but well-balanced dreadnaught. I tend to gravitate towards rosewood (solid or plywood) because to me, that kind of wood seems to lend itself to a darker, moodier sound on the low end that not only compliments my singing style, but can also more than hold it's own in a full bluegrass ensemble.

  1. How did you discover your present guitar, and how did it find its way home to you?

I currently play a 1970s Martin D-28, which I love. It used to belong to the great NJ-based banjoist, Terry McGill, and when we played together in our bluegrass band, Straight Drive, I used it quite a bit. After that band ended, I realized that I wanted to continue playing it for both technical and sentimental reasons, and it was my good fortune that he was ready to graciously part with it.

  1. What historical aspects, if any, have you unearthed about your present or past guitars?

 1970s D-18s aren't necessarily known for their great sound, but I've found this particular guitar to have a lot of volume and beautiful tone. I call it my "workhorse" and it's never disappointed me!

  1. What was the most recent song you composed on your guitar, and how did your present guitar tool lead you to discover the right music?

 I've recently completed a solo EP recording project (produced by NYC bluegrass powerhouse, Michael Daves), and all of the original songs on that project were written on my beloved "workhorse." I particularly enjoy working with drop D-tuning, and because this instrument is well-seasoned from years of use, and because it has such a powerful low-end, it provided all the inspiration I needed. I owe this guitar a great debt of gratitude and my goal is an instrumentalist is to honor that by continually striving to make sure that my playing techniques bring out the best in all that it has to offer.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8MO0kUtr-E&w=560&h=315]

 

Jeff Campbell

I was fortunate to get a lift off Jeff Campbell to LA airport, and I left my food behind the back seat (sorry about that Jeff). He's gentlmen and a scholar and a fine judge of excellent songwriting. jeff campbell

Can you remember the first guitar you owned? What was the make and model and how did you acquire it?

It was a 1983, Martin Shenandoah Dreadnaught. I bought it used in 1995 for $500. Still have it.

What are the qualities that matter to you when deciding on buying a guitar, and how has this changed over time?

Guitars have a tendency to find me. I’ve had some amazing instruments fall into my lap or I’ve tripped over the right buys. Usually I find that if I go looking for one, I buy it and I’m rarely happy with it. I also don’t really care for newer instruments. I tend to like it when other people break them in for me… 30+ years ago :)

 How did you discover your present guitar, and how did it find its way home to you?

I have 2 acoustics that serve different purposes that I play regularly. One is a 1967 Gibson B15. I use this one when I’m traveling via airplane as it’s 100% mahogany and solid as a rock. It’s also a smaller guitar. Not 3/4 sized, but about the size of a nylon string. It’s also very warm and is great for solo gigs. The second is a newer Martin GPCPA1 that was provided by Martin and Guitar Center. I usually don’t like newer guitars but I love this one. It’s a beautiful instrument. I use it whenever I’m playing with my band as it has a great pickup system in it and cuts really well. And I use it at home for writing. For electrics, my go-to is a 1973 Telecaster Deluxe. I love it. My 2nd electric is a mid 90s G&L ASAT Classic.

 What historical aspects, if any, have you unearthed about your present or past guitars?

 I know that both the Shenandoah and the B15 were both “affordable” student models when they were put up for sale originally. And they’ve both stood up thru decades upon decades of use from multiple owners. A lot of the more affordable/intro models made today are flimsy, for lack of a better term. The ones I have are better than some of the higher end models being released today.

 What was the most recent song you composed on your guitar, and how did your present guitar tool lead you to discover the right music?

Last song I wrote to completion was a ballad called “Like a Glove” that I wrote on my B15 while on tour. I was in a finger-picky kind of mood and it just happened. I’m pretty proud of it. Will be on my next record for sure.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ys6wgOmTlHI&w=560&h=315]

For more on Jeff go to: www.jeffcampbellmusic.com

Diana Jones

Diana Jones 1. Can you remember the first guitar you owned? What was the make and model and how did you acquire it?

I was seven. I had been asking for a piano since I was three. My father finally broke down and bought me a little plywood nylon string guitar. He handed it to me and said, "This is it, now stop asking for a piano.”

2. What are the qualities that matter to you when deciding on buying a guitar, and how has this changed over time?

A good strong clear sounding B string has always been important, as well as an even tone throughout the strings. Good bass response but not overwhelming. In the past ten years or so the guitar has to have something I know when I hear that goes with my voice like a duo. This is important, as I'm a solo act.

3. How did you discover your present guitar, and how did it find its way home to you?

It's a 1947 Gibson arch-top. I played every Gibson at Matt Umanov's. It was the one with the clearest voice. It went with my voice. I was there for hours.

4. What historical aspects, if any, have you unearthed about your present or past guitars?

The 1947 Gibson has no truss rod since it was built during WWII. I have a Gibson 1930 tenor guitar. I call her Sparrow. She is the love of my life. I wonder who played her. I would love to know where she has been.

5. What was the most recent song you composed on your guitar, and how did your present guitar tool lead you to discover the right music?

One of the last songs I finished was "O Sinner." I wrote it on my tenor, which brings out completely different melodies and rhythms. Sinner is almost a stomp. I tune the tenor to CGCG like a cross tuned fiddle so it has more of a drone to it. I write in the old Appalachian style, so that helps to find songs that sound like they might have already been written.

 

Learn more about Diana Jones at: www.dianajonesmusic.com

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_shhl06szA&w=420&h=315]

 

 

David Rovics

This month's featured songwriter is the amazing David Rovics. David and I met again this year at the People's Music Network. This organization promotes music for social change, and certainly David is all about that. images   

Can you remember the first guitar you owned? What was the make and model and how did you acquire it?

i guess the first guitar i owned was a bass guitar (does that count?).  i grew up playing classical cello, so when i got into rock and roll and other less stilted forms of music as a teenager, i figured bass would be the place to start.  The first 6-string guitar i ever got was a very cheap, half-size (or so) instrument mass-produced in china that was really barely playable, but that was it.  i mostly got it because i couldn't take a bass guitar on my acid-induced romps through the woods near my home that dominated much of my free time as a teenager.

What are the qualities that matter to you when deciding on buying a guitar, and how has this changed over time?

Gosh, there are so many factors.  Price is obviously one.  Otherwise factors like how easy it is to play, the feel of it, the depth of the bass and richness (or not) of the overall sound, and how it is as far as the intonation.  The most obvious way the change has happened over time is when i was in my teens and twenties i didn't make much money, so when i managed to cobble together enough money buy a martin d1 when i was in my mid-twenties, this was like a dream come true, to have a guitar that sounded that good.  it wasn't until i was in my mid-thirties that i was able to spend a lot more than that, and get a much nicer guitar.  But the other factors haven't changed, really.

How did you discover your present guitar, and how did it find its way home to you?

It was somewhere around 2002 or 2003, i can't remember exactly, when i was spending a lot of time in Houston, Texas.  Houston is a big city with a lot of money in it, and lots of music stores that sell really nice instruments.  i had been making a living as a musician for some time by then, and was starting to have enough disposable income to afford a nice instrument, so i went shopping.  i tried out lots of guitars.  My favorites that i tried then were martin and collins guitars in the $5,000 range.  i couldn't afford them, though, so i settled for a santa cruz that cost half that.  In that price range, it seemed to me that santa cruz had the best guitars.  I've been really happy with it ever since then, though it lacks the huge bass that i love so much that you get out of a high-end martin or collins, it has fantastic intonation.

What historical aspects, if any, have you unearthed about your present or past guitars?

For years my main guitar was an old guild 12-string with a massively cracked finish, which is probably how i was able to afford it in the first place.  It probably had some history to it, but i don't know anything about it.  Every other guitar i've bought -- seagull, martin, santa cruz, godin -- has been new, so from a historical point of view, terribly boring.

What was the most recent song you composed on your guitar, and how did your present guitar tool lead you to discover the right music?

What kind of instrument you're playing can make a big difference in terms of what kind of music you come up with, for sure.  (Though it's probably far from the biggest factor.)  Cheaper or less resonant guitars are going to lead you in different musical directions than a guitar with a big, resonant sound.  A more resonant guitar might inspire more open tuning stuff, for example.  But to say with any certainty how my guitar has shaped my music would be pretty impossible, overall.  So i can say with certainty that the last song i wrote was one called "bubbling up," about the hubbub surrounding scarlet Johannes’s soda stream commercial and all that.  But whether my guitar had a significant impact on how the music went, who knows...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_xJ4odPuwg

Catch David touring globally by checking out his site: http://davidrovics.com

Bob Wright

Bob Wright has been a mainstay of the Bluegrass & Folk music scene in the New York Tri-state area for over 30 years, and has the chops to prove it. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2Xsw2Kpopo&w=420&h=315]

Check out his vast repertoire of songs at www.bojomusic.com

1) Can you remember the first guitar you owned? What was the make and model and how did you acquire it?

The first guitar I owned was a cheap little steel string thing that my parents got for me when I was about 9 years old. I took lessons with it for a year or so. When I returned from the Navy many years later I used it as a wall hanger; stripped it of anything that could be stripped off of it and spray painted the whole thing a midnight blue. It may have been a Silvertone, it was certainly very like the old cheap little Silvertone acoustics everybody seemed to get back then, but I don’t recall and it went missing after I got married and moved out of my parent’s home.

The guitar that I really learned to play on, and the first guitar I played out on, was an inexpensive nylon strung, classical style guitar, a Carmencita brand. I still have it and have had it since I was about 15 years old.

2) What are the qualities that matter to you when deciding on buying a guitar, and how has this changed over time?

As I got better, I wanted the guitar that my heroes played: I bought a new J-200 Gibson in 1970/-71 (still have it). I had pictures of Eric Andersen, Patrick Sky, Dave Van Ronk, Rev. Gary Davis, Danny Kalb, etc. all playing big bodied guitars like that, although I later realized some of them were Guild guitars. When I got into flatpicking is when I started looking towards D style guitars, which have tremendous punch and power. I like guitars that play easy, don’t crap out when you lean into them, are capable of fat round tones when you need them, and come with several hundred songs just waiting to be coaxed out of them.

3) How did you discover your present guitar, and how did it find its way home to you?

I have two guitars now

- a 1997 Colllings D2H, sunburst with a Sitka top and East Indian Rosewood sides that I ordered through Mandolin Brothers and got to see being built when I visited Collings in Austin, Texas that summer.

-a 2002 Henderson D-18 style guitar with a natural Appalachian top and Mahogany sides; that is a long story, some of which appears in the first chapter of the book Clapton’s Guitar by Allen St. John

4) What historical aspects, if any, have you unearthed about your present or past guitars?

Whatever history my guitars have they have had with me, as I have rarely bought a used or vintage instrument. Pretty much every guitar and banjo I currently own I bought without ever having played it as they were all ordered directly from either the factory or the luthier, specifically for me. Sure, there have been instruments that spoke to me when I played them and that I lusted after, but I really feel that a players touch is so unique and distinctive that the instrument... as long as it is a quality made piece... will sound like you no matter who made it. Sure, there are tonal characteristics that come from wood and tone ring selection, and strings, and picks, etc, which is why I have more than one of each instrument, but when I hear recordings of mine I’m hard pressed to definitively identify which banjo or guitar I used on the recording. I just hear that it is me.

5) What was the most recent song you composed on your guitar, and how did your present guitar tool lead you to discover the right music?

The last song I finished was The Fisherman’s Waltz, one of the rare songs that I actually wrote with guitar in hand. Most songs I write the lyrics first,without an instrument, and can usually pick up a guitar or banjo and play what I have heard in my head right off. I had the Collings in drop D tuning, eventually capoed at the third fret, and noodled around with some ideas since that guitar has a more lush sound than the Henderson, which I attribute to the rosewood sides. It has a sweet balance across the strings that brings a nice richness to a solo guy singing with one guitar song.

sandy_bob_w_1

Lowell Levinger- Banana from The Youngbloods

I was fortunate to meet Lowell at this years (2014) International Folk Alliance. His performance was one of the highlights for me and his phrasing and voices on the guitar seemed so right that he most surely invented them. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzYxxE11E48&w=420&h=315]

1.     Can you remember the first guitar you owned? What was the make and model and how did you acquire it?

 It was a Stella and it came from Stanroy Music in Santa Rosa in probably 1958.  I bought it with money earned from mowing lawns.  It was horrible.  I traded it in on a Gibson LG-0 ( I think that's maybe what they called it back then, it had an unbound mahogany body, unbound neck, terrible fret job, challenging action, fat neck. Sounded like a cigar box.  Yuck.  I didn't have a decent guitar until I moved to Boston to go to Boston University in 1962.

2.     What are the qualities that matter to you when deciding on buying a guitar, and how has this changed over time?

Over time I've learned more and more about what makes a good guitar and I've owned a great many guitars (still do ... gotta get rid of some).  The sum of it really is that a great guitar, when you sit down awhile to play it, inspires you to come up with new licks, and new progressions, and new songs, and different ways to get different tones using only your fingers. 

But there are a lot of more specific things that add up to that result. 

 Of course, the thing has to sound pleasing to your ears.  And it's good it if can project that sound out always so that a couple of dozen people might be able to also hear that pleasing sound.  It's got to play in tune at all positions on the neck and it can't crump out on any notes anywhere.  Every note on every fret must play true and clear and fat and strong. 

And it can't be a bear to play unless you are in fact a bear yourself. Too low an action ruins the tone especially if you try to play loud.  Too high an action makes your hand hurt.  There is a happy medium but it's not the same for everyone.  So it's not a negative to have to have a guitar setup to perfection for your playing after you get it.

 A simpatico guitar STAYS IN TUNE.  An anitpatico has to be tuned for sure every time it is taken out of the case and probably all the time when it is being used as well.  Really great instruments stay in tune pretty darn well.  Every instrument has to be tuned of course but there are some that just seem to 'stay in tune' really well. Those are the ones to hang on to.

3.     How did you discover your present guitar, and how did it find its way home to you?

 Like I said I have a lot of guitars.  But my main axe now is a 5 string tenor guitar that Corrado Giacomel of Genova Italy custom made for me.  It is basically the same body as his octave mandolins but the top is carved quite differently and also the braces are done differently.  And the neck is made my specifications.  I was fortunate enough to be able to play this guitar 'in the white' (before the finish had been applied) and got to request final adjustments to the neck profile.  All my life I have only played old vintage guitars and this is the first new guitar I've ever owned (since those pieces of crap in the beginning).  It was made in 2010.  The more I play it the better it sounds.  20: scale length.  Tuned from bottom up:  F C G D A

4.     What historical aspects, if any, have you unearthed about your present or past guitars?

Please visit my Museum page at:  www.vintageinstruments.com/museum.html

The Tieri instruments are quite interesting. I hope to do an article about them some fine day.

Also the Howe Orme instruments are fascinating and there is a link to more information about them on their page.

5.     What was the most recent song you composed on your guitar, and how did your present guitar tool lead you to discover the right music?

Since my guitar is tuned in fifths and I learned my 'cannon' of a few hundred songs over the past half century mostly on the 6 string guitar and the piano, it has been loads of fun making new arrangements and voicings on the 5 string tenor guitar for a lot of gems.  ... some of them even of my own composition.  As far as new songs on the instrument, so far they have all been instrumentals.  The voicings that present themselves to me on this guitar certainly helped influence these pieces.

 Oh look, we’re done

Check out more from Banana at:

www.lowelllevinger.com

Roy Book Binder

It was an honor to finally meet Roy Book Binder and share a few tunes together. It was this encounter that inspired this blog, as we exchanged guitars for a moment he told me all about how he acquired his newest guitar. I was fascinated and felt that a songwriters tools are often neglected and this should be amended with a blog. Thanks Roy! [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQAAP9ZgD1g&w=560&h=315]

1. Can you remember the first guitar you owned? What was the make and model and how did you acquire it?

-I bought an EKO arch top at a Naval Base in Italy, a pal said he would teach me a few chords......and he did..... After my discharge from the Navy,in 1965,  at 21, I got into the Folk Music scene and bought a D-18 Martin on 48th St. in NYC.  Brand new it cost $195.

2. How did you discover your present guitar, and how did it find its way home to you?

-Hearing and meeting Dave Van Ronk & Then Rev. Gary Davis, and crazy about their styles and sound, I was convinced that I had to have the same model guitar that they both played..... About a year later, I traded my Martin for a J-200 GIBSON, at Izzy Young’s Folklore Center in Greewich Village.

 As I listened to old records and met various guitar picker's I ran thru some really cool instruments.  Realizing that I would never sound like my heroes, I  finally came to love the way I sounded on small bodied GIBSON & MARTIN GUITARS, built in the 1930's. 

3. What historical aspects, if any, have you unearthed about your present or past guitars?

 My favorite music was recorded  before WWII, and for the past 30 yearsI  have always played guitars from "The GoldenEra" (pre WWII)..... For years I favored my 1936, NICK LUCAS SPECIAL, GIBSON, (same size with a deeper body and higher quality than the GIBSON'S LOO, LO, L-1, and L-2 of the same era).  My 1930,  Gibson L2  is another favorite of mine.  These guitars from the very early 30's are the lightest ever built.... before any company worried about warranties.   This makes them very responsive to the touch...... with incredible volume and tone....( average weight is 3 lbs)....

I like to play with bare fingers.  No picks, no pickups, no capo...... just like 1933..... The small GIBSON'S  with light or even lighter strings really capture the sound and my guitar are set up to play real easy.... I dig in with my bare fingers.... and crank a lot of sound out of them..... (  D'ADDARIO (80/20 custom lights or lights)  have been my string of choice for the past 25 years)

 4.  What was the most recent song you composed on your guitar, and how did your present guitar tool lead you to discover the right music?

-THE GOOD BOOK, title track of my last CD was the last song I wrote......  I am now playing mostly on THE ROY BOOK BINDER model..... built by Tony Klassen at NEW ERA GUITARS....  Tony wanted to make me a guitar....not that I needed one, I was very happy with  the 4 prewar small bodied Gibson's I had collected over the years.....  He insisted..... and has now had 5 Custom  orders for the model named for me!   My RBB Special, is an exact replica(down to the weight of the bridge  plate) of a guitar, GIBSON  made in 1930, for Montgomery Ward's  Department store (branded, the Recording King) ..... For only one year, this guitar, a less expensive variation of Gibson's top of the line NICK LUCAS SPECIAL was available from their mail order catalog ..... When the depression came, Gibson began making less expensive guitars for Ward's. 

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The guitar, plays, sounds and looks like a vintage Gibson..... It is such a joy play, and it seems to understand the nuances of the old styles that I favor..... for the last 2 years, my vintage guitars have taken a back seat and  it just might be time to let them go.   At this point in this OLD FOLKSINGER'S life, they have become my 401K  and I sure was lucky to be able to tour with them for many years......

For more on Roy Book Binder check out his website: http://www.roybookbinder.com

Image  by Cheryl C. Kagan