Expanded Liner Notes
1994 Collings OM 3
Absolutely the best guitar I ever played hands down. An early 90‘s Collings OM3 with Indian Rosewood back and sides, Sitka spruce top.
First time I ever strummed this guitar, I knew it was a special one, even though it was still sittin’ in the case. Amazing tone, clarity and depth. Collings had issues with the early black guitars they made. The lacquer was unusually soft. The back of the neck on this one will confirm that!
This is my main on the road or in the studio guitar.
Used on: Lettie’s Song, Bloody Williamson, Bonaparte’s Retreat, Steel Guitar Rag, Tequila
Track: Lettie’s Song
1998 Collings OM3 HE
This is my back up Collings (everyone needs two!). Indian Rosewood with Engleman Spruce top and herringbone trim. It has a slightly wider fingerboard, darker tone than the Black Collings and slightly higher action. Great for Carter style flatpicking and drop D tunings. An Ebay purchase.
Used on: Lettie’s Song, Tequila
1940s Gibson Southern Jumbo
This is an exceptional guitar! Cleary, the luthier’s at Gibson were having a good day when they made this one! I took this guitar to the Kerrville Folk Festival years ago and Tom Russel, Ian Tyson and Nancy Griffith all tried to buy it from me. It only has a batch # so dating this guitar is not precise, but it appears to be late 40’s.
This guitar has a deep rich balanced tone with sparkling high end and perfect intonation all the way up the neck.
Used on: Silhouette Against the Stars, River Road, The Last Day of Winter, Lettie’s Song, Old Joe Clark
Track: Silhouette Against The Stars
1956 Gibson J-45
I picked this one up in Peoria around 1980. International Harvester was just failing, Caterpillar was shutting factories and folks were loosing jobs, pensions- everything. I bought this from a laid off worker in slightly rough condition. At the time it had the adjustable bridge with the ceramic “saddle” and the tone was just so-so. I had Luthier John Gray replace the bride with a new one built to the specs of the Southern Jumbo (quite thin, less mass in the bridge) and the guitar turned out to be a gem! One of the best recording guitars I’ve ever had; a sweet, bright smooth even tone with great intonation. Interestingly enough, it’s much brighter than the Southern Jumbo, essentially the same guitar without the bling.
On “Saugatuck”, there is some unusual fingering that I needed a wider fretboard to pull off. The baseball bat neck on this one was perfect.
Used on: Saugatuck
1930‘s Del-Oro Mahogany archtop guitar
When I was dating my wife back in the 1990s, this was her guitar (and technically still is). A gorgeous little Del Oro solid mahogany archtop, the top had split and the arch collapsed with the neck pulling forward. When she wasn’t looking, I stole the guitar, glued and re-enforced the split and carved a new bridge out of persimmon wood that came from an old tree in my yard. I then returned the guitar as a Christmas present.
Checker board binding all around. Pressed arch, beautiful black and white Mother of Toilet seat fingerboard and pick guard. Del Oro was manufactured by Kay, successor to Stromberg-Voisinet and this is perhaps the nicest Del Oro I’ve ever seen.
It’s got a clear, midrangey, honky tone that paired beautifully with the Tenor Lute.
Used on: Farther Along
Track: Farther Along
1936 Angelus Dobro round neck spider cone resonator
One day back in the 80’s my friend Ace Trone called me up and said “Chris, I got a guitar you need to have”. I told him to bring it on over. He showed up a bit later with beat up cardboard case. When he opened it up I replied, “ Yes, Ace, I do need this guitar”.
A 1936 wood body, this would have been a low end Dobro in it’s day but it’s become my #1, on the road, play anywhere, it always works, always sounds good slide guitar. Sturdy enough for road abuse with it’s 3 ply laminated sides, it still has it’s original spider frame and pressed (not spun!) cone.
In 2011 I did a slide workshop at Elderly Instruments and asked the repair department to give it a once over since I was having a problem with the first 2 strings not ringing clearly. The tech hummed and hawed and eventually suggested a wide range of repairs totaling about $750.00. When I got home I took a bone saddle blank and a 1936 Buffalo Nickel and jammed them under the tailpiece, forcing the strings farther down and solving the problem for about $12.00. What can I say, I’m my father’s son.
If you look close, you can see the
Buffalo Head nickel jammed under the
tailpiece at the treble side.
Used on: Steel Guitar Rag, River Road
Track: Steel Guitar Rag
2004 National Tri-cone polychrome resonator
I had called National Guitars to talk about them building a customized green tricone polychrome guitar (like this one) for me, only to find that they no longer made them in that color. The cost of the now special order color and other modifications I wanted almost doubled the price of the guitar and put it out of my price range.
I found this one on Ebay in perfect shape, then sent it back to National to have them install a flat fingerboard, ebony saddle and a pick up. This guitar is a magnificent beast! Playing it is a lot like playing a old theater organ; tremendous power, ring and sustain. I call it the Amish “Les Paul”.
Used on: Old Joe Clark, Bonaparte’s Retreat, Steel Guitar Rag, Tequila
Track: Old Joe Clark
1929 National Triolian
After a performance in Douglas, MI a couple years ago a woman came up and asked me to take a look at her Dad’s old resonator guitar. It was a 1929 National Triolian with a Bakelite neck in very good shape. I ended up buying it and later learned from National Guitars, that it was built in January or February of the first year they made this guitar and was the oldest one they had ever heard of still in existance.
Bob Brozman was performing at a guitar festival nearby a couple months later and a friend who knew him suggested I come to the concert and bring the guitar thinking Bob would want to check it out. We caught up with Bob after the show and he looked the guitar over, pointed out a dent in the cover plate then played a bit on it. Needless to say, it sounded incredible in his hands. After a few minutes of playing, he said “Close your eyes”.
Now he’s Bob Brozman, king of the slide guitar world so, of course, I closed my eyes. As soon as I did, I heard a loud BANG! Bob had taken the cover plate and yanked on it by the saddle cover and pulled the dent completely out. He said, “I didn’t want you to see that because sometimes the cover piece breaks off when you do that”
Used on: Farther Along
Track: Farther Along
1924 Gibson Tenor Lute
In the early 90’s I was playing in Madison, WI and did a pick up gig at a retirement home (hey, you gotta pay the bills). That night I met 2 very interesting people. The first was a former cast member of the WLS Barn Dance, a life long friend of Lula Belle and Scotty. The other was an elderly woman who loved the vintage instruments I was playing. She told me about her late husband who had been a musician then mentioned he had left her an old Gibson instrument of some sort. She said she had turned down an offer of $150.00 for it a year before and wished she had taken it.
I told her I’d pay $150.00 for anything that said Gibson and she offered to show it to me. After about 45 minutes of following her all over Madison in the dark, I ended up at an apartment building where she showed me the tenor lute. I didn’t know just what it was but I knew it was worth more than 150.00. I was on the road at the time with little cash and it was late at night but I gave her every dollar I had on me since I was heading to Chicago to stay with family later that night. I was feeling pretty good about all of this as I was heading into Chicago until I saw the toll booth just up ahead. I had to pull over and dig through my gig bag for change! Fortunately I found enough to cover the toll.
I later found out this is a 1924 Gibson Tenor Lute which they built for only 1 year to try to capitalize on the tenor banjo craze. An oversize mandolin body with a tenor banjo neck, it has a thin reedy sound that makes a beautiful counterpoint to other stringed instruments. I had used it as a rhythm instrument on the Lincoln CD but I wanted it to play a bigger role this time.
Used on: Shenandoah
1930’s Kalamazoo Mandolin & 1919 Gibson A Mandolin
The Kalamazoo mandolin was a wedding present from the bass player of a band I was in at the time. Best thing I got! Mahogany back and sides, spruce top, it’s a very light clear sounding instrument that records extremely well.
The Gibson came from my friend Ken Carlysle who had left it sitting by the woodstove through a winter. Needless to say, it was worth every penny of the $35.00 he charged me when I first got it.
I had it put back into playing condition and it played and sounded great. I even got Deanie Richardson to play it on the Best of All Possible Worlds sessions but time eventually took it’s toll and the entire top collapsed in. Like many early Gibson A’s, this one had a very thin top which gave it a glorious sound, but made it weak. After the repairmen at Mass Street music refused to work on it (“it would cost more than it’s worth”) I spent the better part of 2011 dismantling and rebuilding the instrument. To my surprise, it all came back together better than expected and plays and sounds great again. You can see details of the restoration in the “On the Bench” section of the web site.
Used on: Lettie’s Song (Kalamazoo), Softly and Tenderly (Gibson A, not included on CD)
1890’s C. A. Potter Criterion rosewood parlor guitar
This is a beautiful, exceptionally well crafted instrument from a largely unknown builder, C. A. Potter of Cleveland, OH. “The Criterion” model, it has Brazilian Rosewood back and sides, spruce top and delicate X bracing with the curve of the headstock was reflected in a matching curve of the ends of the bridge. A fine piece of vintage craftsmanship in splendid condition.
Jim Baggit at Mass Street Music was intrigued by the guitar and agreed to do the restoration work on it. Though originally built for gut strings, it was X braced, though very delicately. He closed a couple splits and reproduced a thinner version of the original bridge (which I still have) and set it up with extra light strings. It sings like a delicate bird.
For this project, I string it up high string style.
Used on: Old Joe Clark,
The Last Day of Winter, Saugatuck
Turn of the century SS Stewart skinhead banjo
I picked this up years ago in an antique store in a tourist town in WI. It was in very poor condition with the skin head torn and frets popping all over the place but just looked so pretty I couldn’t resist. It just sat around until I finally sent it off to Juel Ulvin for a new skin head and general overhaul since I needed a banjo for a Stephen Foster show I was writing. Now Juel can be pretty opinionated about banjos and he insisted on setting it up for gut strings… he was right.
The combination of a thin skin head and the nyla-gut strings gives this banjo an authentic old time plunky sound. I recorded it on Bloody Williamson with a single Neumann KM-184 mic and it just jumped out of the track.
Even though it’s quite fancy looking, it a fairly inexpensive instrument with a thin tone ring and unusually thin ebony fretboard. Juel suggested it was a Stewart; I’ve also heard some folks say it resembles a Bumble Bee, a brand I’m not familiar with.
Used on: Bloody Williamson
Track: Bloody Williamson
1976 Fender Telecaster
Drummer “Hammerin” Harold Sawyer’s little brother sold me this guitar back in my “Cadillac Cowboy” days. Also known as “The Telecaster Army”, the band featured triple Tele’s played through Fender Twins performing Buck Owns, Hank Senior, Bob Wills and Merl Haggard very fast and loud! I believe the body is ash through it weighs a ton. Of course, it has the classic Telecaster bite.
I played this guitar on the road for 5 years with one of the Midwest’s rowdiest bands with virtually no damage. A couple years after I left the road, I was sitting in with some friends when the strap button popped and the guitar hit the concrete floor putting the crack in the lower bout near the knobs. How annoying is that?
It was played through the 1950’s Gibson Discoverer amp on this project.
Used on: Tequila, Bloody Williamson
Track: Bloody Williamson
1956 Gibson ES225 & 1950’s Gibson Discoverer Amp
I traded an early 60‘s dark cherry red double cutaway Gibson Melody Maker for this guitar. I saw it in a music store in Silvis, IL. I LOVED the cutaway and when I picked it up, it had this amazing sustain even when played unplugged. I just had a gut feeling about this guitar.
I have it set up for slide and it sounds great through the old Gibson Discoverer amp. That thing has serious tremolo!
The 1950s Gibson Discoverer Tremelo amp was in the junk pile at a local music store years ago and I bought because I liked the Tweed cover. At that time nobody wanted old Gibson Amps, but a few new tubes later, it was playing again. It has a single 12” Jenson speaker that has that beautiful tube overdrive sound at relatively low volume and the best tremelo I’ve ever heard. It still has it’s original wooden tremelo pedal and the original schematic.
Used on: River Road, Lettie’s song
Track: River Road
Lyon and Healy 9 String & New Era Custom 9 string
Back in the 1980’s I was performing outside of Peoria, Illinois when my friend Steve Endsley walked up onstage in the middle of a song with a large paper bag in his hand and just stood next to me. I finally just stopped playing and said “What?”
He presented the bag to me which contained all the parts of an old Lyon and Healy model 1201 nine string parlor guitar – the neck, back and top off and in pieces – then demanded the $1.89 he had paid for it at a yard sale that afternoon and wouldn’t leave stage until I came up with the cash! It was a fine gag. and we all had a good laugh over it.
Later I realized that while it was a mess, all the parts were there. Since it was a cheap birch guitar with ladder bracing in terrible condition, it was essentially worthless to a collector so I decided to try to repair and modify it. I flattened out the warped top and back, did a couple crude splints to fill the splits, X braced it and added a fixed bridge then put it all back together. Though the neck was severely warped, the 9 strings (doubled on the treble side only) gave the guitar tremendous tone and a sweet harmonic ring on the melody notes. I used it for the occasional slide track (including “Shawneetown” on the Abraham Lincoln in Song CD).
In 2010 I stopped by Tony Klassen’s New Era Guitars shop to meet him and check out his work. Before long the talk turned to vintage guitars and I pulled out the 9 string. He loved it so much he offered to build a new version of the old guitar. I chose Zirocote for the sides and back (an incredibly dense hardwood with grain like Brazilian Rosewood on LSD!) and an Adirondack spruce top.
I went to Tony’s shop for the first 2 days of the build helping to bend the sides, glue in kerfing and trim the braces. We kept the headstock design and overall body specs and built it in the Larson Brothers style with a “chocolate” top and Style 6 details.
The original guitar has great clarity and sparkling high end while the New Era guitar has a similarly brilliant high end but with surprisingly strong depth to the low end and is strikingly loud for such a small guitar.
Used on: Steel Guitar Rag (Lyon and Healy), The Last Day of Winter, The Water is Wide, Shenandoah (New Era Custom)
Tracks: Steel Guitar Rag (Lyon and Healy), Last Day of Winter (New Era Custom