the toolbox

My father was very fond of working with wood. He had a lot of different saws, lathes, and various other tools in his shop. Dad worked with wood; I play guitar. This is my tool box. It is a blessing to own such a wonderful collection of instruments; it is the sole extravagance in my life.

I grew up in Rochester, NY in the late 1960s. At that time, there was a well-known instrument collector and dealer named Eldon Stutzman who ran a little shop called the Guitar Center. I bought my first Martin (a Brazilian Rosewood D28) from him for $399. Mr. Stutzman was the one that gave me a bug for instruments that has never let go.

I know a lot of fine guitarists who only own one or two instruments. There are others I know who own many more. The number of instruments someone owns has no bearing on the quality of one's musicianship. The only thing that matters is what you do with them.

I have spent a great deal of time learning about instruments, and I have pretty strong ideas about the ones that really work for me, as well as those that don't.  From my standpoint, this is the perfect collection: a combination of classics, some oddballs, and a few new designs. I use some of these instruments regularly, and others very infrequently. Some are quite valuable, and others are not....I could care less--they are all for playing.

Good instruments have their own stories, and their own personalities. I believe that they are like one half of a soul. The other half comes from the fingers, heart, and head of the player.

I have posted numerous reviews of these instruments(as well as some others no longer in my possession) on the "Harmony Central" website (check out my links page). HC is a great place to read up about a particular instrument or amplifier before you buy.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to e-mail me at steelstringer@gmail.com

 

ELECTRIC GUITARS

Hollow bodies
My favorite jazz guitar is--and always will be--my 1958 Gibson ES-175 ("Herbie"). I found it in 1974—when it cost me $400; those days are long gone!. It was sitting, unused, in an attic for about twelve years. It was born for thick flatwound strings, and when I play it, it's always like going back to an old, dear friend. I also own an Eastman AR-800. I purchased it in 2004--about the time that Eastman wasn't quite as well known as they are presently, so there is no logo on the headstock. It has a 16" body, a floating humbucker, and an oval soundhole, ala the Gibson Howard Roberts. It is much more of an acoustic guitar than the ES-175, and as such, works best with thick roundwounds. My third jazz box is an Ibanez AF71; another 16" body instrument with a floating humbucker.

Thin hollowbodies+semi-hollows

For a thin hollowbody, I own a Cort "Jim Triggs"--a fine instrument with two humbuckers and a Bigsby. It reminds me of a cross between a Gretsch and a Guild Starfire I had in high school. It even has the right color: orange!  For the semihollow sounds: First is an Epiphone Elitist ES-335 "Dotneck"--every bit as good as the comparable Gibson model. Epiphone Elitists (or Elites) are no longer being made. If you want a Gibson, but want to pay half the price, try to find one. Second is a Carvin Alan Holdsworth "Fatboy"--a thick tele-esque body shape with no f-holes, two humbuckers with pole splitters, 24 jumbo frets, and a super fat neck. A totally unique design. Third is a Burns Steer. It looks pretty bizarre at first blush (no cutaway; a faux soundhole in the middle; a humbucker, a single coil, a headstock that looks like a beetle, and a green color), but the more you look at it, the more attractive it becomes!

Solid bodies

The instrument I have had the longest is my beloved early 1960s Gibson SG Special ("Rosebud") (Read the story below the photo at the bottom of this page). For single coil sounds, I have a Blade "Texas" Strat--a rock solid, well built instrument that sounds great for all kinds of music. It has excellent pickups, and a rosewood fretboard. For whatever reason, they are hard to find in the US; they seem to be most popular, and more widely distributed in Europe. I also am a very pleased owner of a Bill Nash "Timewarp" Tele. It looks and feels like it's from the 1950s, and is fitted with Lollar pickups. I also have a Robin Avalon--a terrific Les Paul style instrument with a single P90 design pickup. Without a doubt, the most visually striking--and lightest--electric I own is a 1995 Parker Fly Deluxe. It has two humbuckers and a piezo that offer up a world of tone colors.

I have some other electric instruments: for bottleneck/slide styles, I have my old Hagstrom II (Rosebud's companion on many, many gigs over the years), and a 1950s Fender Lap Steel. I have a 3/4 size Xaviere Les Paul copy that is handy for travelling ultra-light. Bringing up the low end is a short-scale Samick bass guitar and an Ashbory bass.  I am also presently beginning to construct a hybrid Strat/Tele guitar as a belated 60th birthday present from me to me! I hope to have it finished by the end of 2015     

ACOUSTIC GUITARS

My main acoustics are a Collings D1, a Martin HD-28 , a Martin 000-16, and a Gavin Baird GD.

The Collings D1 is a top-notch dreadnought; it travels well, and always sounds great over a good mike. It has mahogany sides and back. I won the HD-28 at Winfield, Kansas in 1980, when I took 2nd place at the National Fingerpicking Championship. It took a few years for it to come around, but at the age of 35 now, it’s got a fine voice. My 000-16 (made in 1989; the body--with a cutaway--was redone at the Martin factory in 2008) has a well-balanced tone that works for just about anything. The Baird GD--the new addition to the family--is an absolutely first-rate J45 style instrument. If I have to fly and change planes, in order to ensure that the guitar does not get lost, I have a Voyage-Air VAD-1--a fine quality mahogany dreadnought that collapses into a carry-on baggage sized case.

I also own two nylon strings--a 1980s C132 Takamine, and a Yamaha NTX1200 which is a modern instrument with cutaway and a built-in pickup system.I'm no classical player, but if I need to make nylon string sounds, both of these (solid top instruments) suit me just fine. I have an amazingly loud Gitane Macceferri copy--a fine acoustic guitar for swing. For 12-string, I have played the same huge-sounding Guild F212-XL since 1975. My 1960s era Harmony Sovereign is like a little time machine--it was the model (although not the actual guitar) that I learned how to fingerpick on; my other fingerpicker is a  Alvarez Parlor size Mini D . For acoustic blues, I play a Regal RD1 National copy. For lap style, I have a mid-1970s Dobro, and an ancient Oahu. For high string, I use a Rogue D size. I also have a Rogue acoustic bass guitar. (Anything with the name Rogue on it--like the Xaviere electric--is a ridiculously good value.) My old Martin 000-16 body was transformed into a baritone guitar with a neck made by Wes Lambe. I also own a Yamaha guitalele--a tiny nylon-string instrument that is tuned a fourth higher than standard pitch. For "plug and play" gigs I have an Epiphone Masterbilt DF500, and a Yamaha SLG "silent" guitar that collapses for ultra-portable travel.

I have various kinds of piezos installed in most of my acoustic instruments, and I also use magnetic pickups occasionally. My first choice is always a good microphone; nothing sounds better than notes with air around them.. At other times, for practical reasons, it will be a mike with a piezo signal added. (If you are an experienced performer, you probably know what I mean by “practical”) If I have to go with a piezo signal--either alone, or with a microphone-- I will use a pre-amp or blender to make it sound as warm as possible. I also like to employ a Fishman Aura that imparts an amazingly authentic acoustic texture to magnetic or piezo pickups.

MANDOLINS AND OTHER INSTRUMENTS
My second instrument is the mandolin. I was very lucky to get a Nugget A around 1986. I got it (previously used) directly from Mike Kemnitzer (the builder) for $750. Like I said, I am lucky—it would cost a great deal more now. I got the bug for Nugget when I saw Tim O’Brien play his A in Hot Rize, circa 1977. I am the proud owner of a Sheba A made by Gavin Baird to the specs of Peter Ostroushko, my favorite picking partner. I also play a Trillium octave mandolin made by Robert Abrams, who lives in New Hampshire, and a mandola made by Brian Dean, who lives in Quebec. Both of these men make exceptionally fine instruments—I recommend their craftmanship without any reservations. I also own a Red Valley EM--a wonderful oval hole instrument (with a flat tops and back). Additionally, I have two banjos--a four string, and a five string--and eight ukuleles( I have ukulele fever these days!), an autoharp, an acoustic/electric mandolin, and a dulcimer. I have an unusual "Loog"  (three nylon strings) that is a great teaching instrument. I also own a fiddle, which is played mostly in private, thank God. (Sounds like Nigel Tufnel's in the house?)

AMPLIFICATION/OTHER
For amplification, I like both tubes and solid states. For tubes, My main amp is a Tone King Imperial. It's the perfect tube amp for me--versatile, and incredibly well-made and great sounding. I also have a Fender Super Champ X2 which is ideal for smaller venues, and an Egnater Tweaker 40 for when I need more headroom. For solid state, I use an Evans AE100 (made right here in North Carolina) and the incredibly small and powerful ZT "Lunchbox" which is about the same dimensions as a loaf of bread! For acoustic amplification, I use a Roland AC-60. I also have several other small amps that I use for teaching, recording or occasional gigs. As far as toys, doo-dads, and stomp boxes go, I have more than enough—let’s just leave it at that. The two sounds that I like the most are compression and delay.

If you would like to see a photo of something not pictured here, feel free to e-mail me.

"Herbie" is my 1958 ES-175. Like Rosebud (see below), this guitar will never be for sale--at any price. It was born for beefy flatwounds.  
Eastman AR-800.This is an older (pre-logo headstock) instrument. Much more of an acoustic guitar than the ES-175, and as such, built for thick roundwounds.  
My Bill Nash Tele. A killer neck, and Lollar pickups. It looks and feels like it's fifty years old. I've no idea how he does it.  
This is my Martin 000C-16. I bought it in 1990, and the body was replaced in 2008 (long story). It is one of my three main acoustics.  
The other main acoustic. It's brand new, and an immediate favorite: My Gavin Baird GD.  
My third main acoustic: A Collings D1. I always have loved Mahogany Ds; this is as good as it gets.  
My Regal National Copy. Mark Kane added the humbucker. It sounds great.  
My Epiphone Elite ES-335. These are virtually identical to the comparable Gibson models, albeit at a lower prices. No longer being manufactured.  
This is "Rosebud", my ancient (1964?) Gibson SG Special that I purchased on December 23rd, 1971 at the original House of Guitars in Rochester, NY. I remember the date well, because it cost me $200 (I had $100 saved; my dad gave me the other $100 as a combination Christmas/18th birthday/high school graduation gift)--and that was a bunch of money in those days. It has very little collector value because of the nonoriginal bridge, pickups, and tuners (they were all replaced a very, very long time ago), but I could care less. This is a dear old friend; the monetary value is meaningless.  

My Blade "Texas" Strat. One of the features I like about this guitar is the simplicity: One volume control and one tone control. And of course, it sounds and plays great.

 
 
Copyright Danny Gotham.com 2011