These are the instruments I use, though my main instrument is undeniably guitar. In addition to these, there are also a few flutes, shakers, maracas and whatnot around the house. I also frequently use my digital piano and my MIDI keyboard if doing any arranging.
Funny enough, despite the very long list of instruments here, I purchased almost none of them. They find their way to me as gifts, inheritances, and so on.
|My main guitar is this Blueridge jumbo cutaway. It has a neck like a baseball bat, and I like it that way. This model, BR-J33CE, is long since discontinued, and it it is from the early days of Blueridge, so nobody knows much about it at all. It apparently has a solid spruce top and mahogany sides and back, with a rosewood fingerboard. I picked it up in Tuscaloosa Alabama around 1993 or 1994. The electronics have been replaced with a Fishman pickup, as the on-board stuff finally died, but we got it wired up to the original pots.|
|This recent acquisition is my nylon-string crossover guitar. It’s a Cervantes Crossover I, with solid palo escrito back and sides, and solid cedar top. As a crossover, it has a 48mm nut rather than the more typical 52mm of a classical guitar, but it’s otherwise mostly built like a classical.|
|This Baby Taylor is my travel guitar, and it has been abused like mad. It is a pretty old 301-GB, the top has a vertical crack, and the back was inverted once by an aggressive flight attendant (!). It still sounds beautiful though, and I actually use it relatively often for recording.|
|I inherited this 1961 Gibson LG-0 from my father-in-law. It has been badly treated over the years — it looks like he actually took varnish to it at one point. The action is fairly high. I took the pickguard off, which greatly opened up the top. It sounds great on slide and with the right sort of fingerpicking stuff — otherwise, it can be a little chunky. It is super-resonant though!|
|This is another guitar inherited from my father-in-law. This one is a 1961 or ’62 Melody Maker D. This is my main electric guitar; I don’t play electric that much, but this is just a huge pleasure to play. It is all original — electronics, bridge, tuners, everything — except for a couple of the fretboard dots. Alas, the original alligator chipboard case fell victim to a damp basement.|
|This 1894 S. S. Stewart banjo was in the same damp basement as the above two instruments. When I lifted it out of the case, it fell through it. I wrote about this instrument extensively here.|
|This 1950’s Harmony baritone ukulele was inherited from my paternal grandfather. It has a very rich tone for such a small instrument, thanks to being all solid mahogany. It’s likely nothing special, other than the virtues given it by age. Since it is a baritone, it actually plays basically just like a small guitar. You can hear a sample and read a little more about it here.|
|This Washburn bass was a gift from Todd McKimmey when we moved away from Austin. I make no claims to being a good bass player at all, but I do pick this up relatively often, and have written a couple of tunes on it.|
|The Venezuelan cuatro was the instrument played by my maternal grandfather. Even though he was Puerto Rican, the family lived for years in Venezuela, and I suppose that is where he learned it. It uses a strike plate for percussive play, and four strings in reentrant tuning, like a soprano ukulele. However, it has an instant Latin sound to it. This one was a gift from my mother, and was built by Taylor Orozco García in Bolivia.|
|This Michael Kelly Legacy O mandolin was a birthday gift from my wife after I started getting into musicians like Chris Thile. I can manage a fair amount of chords on it, but I do still have trouble playing around with scales.|
|This is a charango purchased in Argentina, built by Artesanías Jujeñas Coro. The charango was an integral part of the Andean music I heard while growing up in Peru. It has a very distinctive sound, quite unlike most of the other instruments here.|
|This Applecreek mountain dulcimer was another gift — Christmas one, I think — from my wife. I have to admit that it is likely the least-played instrument in my collection, due to its position sitting on top of a shelf! I tend to keep it in an unusual tuning, because of a song I once wrote on it… which makes it hard to play anything else.|
|John Smedley gave me this Star Wars Stormtrooper guitar as a present upon the launch of Star Wars Galaxies. It’s a limited edition, and it’s a Nomad, so it has a battery-powered speaker built in. It sounds a bit like a dying duck that way, unless you overdrive it. But it sounds pretty good plugged in!|
|This is one of the fabled Rock Band “real” guitars. I use it for MIDI guitar — it has clever technology that offers better tracking than most fancy MIDI guitars on the market, actually!|
|We have lots more laying around. The kalimba was purchased in a Buenos Aires park from its maker. The bamboo flute came from a folk festival. And so on….|
I rarely play or write anymore in standard tuning. And ever since Don Conoscenti introduced me to the wonderful world of the partial capo, I’ve been doing a lot of that too. Here’s some of the tunings I enjoy playing in:
- EADGBE: Standard.
- DGDGBD: Open G, for Chuck Brodsky’s “Blow ‘Em Away,” Greg Brown’s “Poet Game,” and lotsa blues. I also find it to work nicely for Spanish-inflected pieces.
- DADGBE: Dropped-D (tune low E string down to D).
- DADGBD: Double dropped-D (tune both E strings down to D).
- DADGAD: a classic modal tuning. I play Richard Thompson’s “’62 Vincent Black Lightning” in this tuning, as well as much of my own material.
- DADGAE: This has some very nice qualities to it. I play modal stuff and also jazzy stuff in this tuning.
- DADF#BD: This is a lot of fun for blues in a major key.
- Standard, partial capo 4th fret, all but high E: This gives you a distinctive sound in C#minor.
- Standard, partial capo 2nd fret, strings 3, 4, 5: Both Don Conoscenti and Diana Jones are using this a lot. You can play standard tuning chords and modal scales at the same time. Try it. You may never go back. You can take a standard Kyser capo and put it on upside-down (use the rubber foot on the strings instead of the regular part) if your neck is wide enough. Otherwise you may have to cut a capo yourself.
- DADGAD, partial capo 2nd fret, strings 3,4,5: the DADGAD variant of the above. Lots of harmonics, lots of potential.
- DADGAD, partial capo 3rd fret, all but two lowest strings: You have to put the capo on backwards for this one. Very dark.
- DADGAD, partial capo 5th fret, all but two lowest strings: As above, but up. Great for fluid picking.
- DADGAD, partial capo 7th fret, all but two lowest strings: Like playing a high-strung guitar in D, with access to the bass notes. I play with my thumb over the neck a lot on all of these tunings. I even have one piece written up at the 9th fret capo with this setup…
- CGCGBbC: I got into this thanks to the playing of folks like Don Ross and Andy McKee.