guitars
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My main acoustic guitars are Taylors – an 812c bought new in 1997 and a special order 710 bought in 2004. I have played just about every brand of high-end acoustic guitar, but I keep coming back to the Taylor line. For me, the most critical feature of a guitar is the neck. If the neck doesn’t feel right you will never play your best, and it doesn’t matter how great the instrument sounds or looks. Taylor necks have been described as more like an electric guitar – a bit smaller than other acoustic guitars and very comfortable to play. They are also very consistent from one guitar to another, something that I appreciate when I switch guitars between songs.

The Taylor 812c (1997) is a Rosewood/Spruce, Grand Concert (small body) guitar that is best suited for fingerstyle playing. I used a thumb-pick and various finger-picks for a long time, but I eventually gave up the finger picks, and now I just use a small thumb-pick (I think it is called a Speed Pick – I got my first one from Doyle Dykes at a Taylor workshop) and fingernails. This guitar came with no electronics so I had a Highlander IP 2 Dual System (internal microphone and under saddle piezo) installed. This can be used with a mono cable (piezo alone) or stereo cable to a Fishman Blender which allows mixing in a little of the microphone and EQ’ing for a warmer, more “acoustic” tone. This guitar is strung with either D’Addario Phosphor Bronze or Elixir Nanoweb light gauge strings (0.12-0.53).

The Taylor 710 (2004) is a Rosewood/Spruce Dreadnought. I wanted the tobacco sunburst and the factory-installed Expression System, but without the cutaway – so that made it a special order. I use this for strumming (with a large Fender medium flatpick), but this is also my favorite guitar for performing short sets where I use just one instrument. The Expression System requires less tweaking than the Highlander, and it has on-board controls that are easier to use on stage (and feedback is less of a problem). For this guitar, I use either D’Addario Phosphor Bronze or Elixir Nanoweb medium gauge strings (0.13-0.56).

I also have a nylon string Taylor NS62ce (2002) with the on-board Fishman Prefix transducer/blender system. This has been described as a ”hybrid” guitar, since the neck is a little wider than a steel string acoustic but narrower than a standard classical nylon guitar. It has a Spruce top with Maple back and sides. My last Taylor is a “Baby” bought in 1998. I originally thought that I would use this as a travel guitar, but I didn’t like the smaller size for serious performing or practicing. Fortunately, the Baby Taylor is perfect as a “high strung” guitar (think of a 12-string with the lower pitched strings removed and the high B and E strings single). This is fun to play around with and is great for adding some sparkle and range to the mix when recording.

My live performance rig depends on the venue and set length. For longer sets I like to use both the 812c (run through a Fishman Pocket Blender) and the 710. I use an A/B switch to make switching guitars fast and quiet. If it is more practical to use only one guitar, then I use the 710. For a small venue or short set I can go direct into the PA or use a LR Baggs Para Acoustic DI for some tone shaping and feedback control. For more elaborate performances I use a series of BOSS pedals: volume, tuner, compression, equalizer, chorus and reverb. These are set in a pedalboard that also has a digital clock (to help me stay on time).

I still have the Martin D-18 that my parents bought for me in 1960 . This was made in the era when that model had an ebony fingerboard and bridge and no truss rod. I had a neck reset and refret job done on it about ten years ago, and it sounds wonderful and plays perfectly. However, I won’t travel with it and I won’t put any electronics in it. I also have a Martin 00-18G made around 1959 - an unusual nylon string guitar.

February 28, 2007 - Breedlove Custom 12 String
I first heard the deep ringing tones of the acoustic 12 string guitar in the late 50s on some old Leadbelly recordings that my guitar teacher played for me. A few years later, when Roger McGuinn of the Byrds plugged in his Rickenbacker electric 12 string and put his signature jangly wall of strings behind songs like “Eight Miles High”, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, and “Turn, Turn, Turn” – I knew I had to play like that. Unfortunately, as a high school student, I couldn’t afford (or even find) a Rick, but I did manage to get a brand new Fender Electric XII in Olympic White. This guitar was not as fancy and easy to play as the Rick, but it did give me the folk-rock sound I was looking for. The Fender had a distinctive “hockey stick” headstock, two split-coil pickups, and a bridge with an individual saddle for each string. From what I can gather, the Fender Electric XII never sold very well, and it was only produced from 1965 to about 1970.

But now, as a mostly acoustic player, I wanted a 12 string guitar to expand the tonal possibilities of my music, so I started looking around for an acoustic version of my old high school Electric XII. I was leaning toward another Taylor or perhaps a Martin, when I walked into The Guitar Shop in Washington DC and met Stephen Spellman (the owner). After a long and rambling discussion on the various acoustic 12 strings that I could buy, he showed me his own Breedlove Custom 12 string. This is an unusual guitar because it is based on the relatively small concert-size body style, although with some extra depth. The nut width is also relatively small for a 12 string at 1 7/8”. Those features were just what I was looking for and not finding in any of the standard 12 string models. Of course the guitar at the shop was not for sale, but I could order one just like it. The price was a bit intimidating, but Stephen managed to convince me that life is too short to live without the guitars you really want. I put down a deposit and went back to Seattle and waited. That was in March 2006.

Finally, in November, I got a message that my guitar was almost ready, and arrangements were made to have it shipped directly from the Breedlove Company in Oregon to me. After unpacking the BL Acoustic 12-string, I realized how special a custom guitar can be – it’s kind of like adding a new member to your family, only you get to choose exactly which features you want (and leave out the ones you don’t). The pictures really doesn’t tell the story, so here are the specs: concert-size body with soft cutaway, red cedar top, walnut back, sides, and neck, Koa binding, ebony bridge and fretboard (with offset fret markers), bone nut and saddle, and gold tuners with ebony buttons. The only modifications needed were a Fishman Matrix Pickup System, a strap pin, and a clear pickguard (all installed by Mike Lull).

How does it play and sound? Well it’s more of a finger workout than my Taylor six strings, but it is the most gentle-on-the-hands 12 string I have ever played. And the sound is unique among acoustic twelves – it has some of the jangle that caught my attention way back in the day, but the smaller body size gives it a less boomy voice that is balanced and mellow. I suppose a really aggressive strummer could overdrive the top a bit, but that is not my style. I might even try some fingerpicking in addition to the more conventional flatpick strumming and single note runs.

August 31, 2006 - Johnson Tricone Resonator
I recently acquired this “copy” of a National Style 1 Tricone – a Johnson JM-993 “Lily-of-the-Valley” Tricone Resonator guitar. The Johnson is similar to the National, but without the slotted headstock and bound ebony fingerboard. It has a nickel-plated bell-brass body, mahogany neck, rosewood fretboard, and T-bridge with maple saddle. The T-shaped bridge is connected to the center of each cone so that the string vibrations run through the saddle, into the bridge, and down to the cones. The sound then resonates inside the three cones and is amplified by the metal body. The tricone configuration, with two 6-inch diameter cones on the bass side and one on the treble side, gives these guitars a distinct bright metallic jangly tone and long sustain that is well-suited for blues and slide. The “Lily-of-the-Valley” engraving pattern adds a nice visual touch.

Since this is not a high-end guitar, the factory setup and fretwork were not acceptable, so it needed a refret job. At the same time I had a Highlander Magnophonic pickup system with external power supply and new Quarterman cones installed. The final setup for fingerstyle playing included medium Elixir acoustic strings (13-56).

The neck is cut in the thick, vintage style (1 7/8” wide at the nut) and takes some getting used to, but it is really fun to play, and it provides a nice contrast to the mellow sounds of the Taylors. This guitar has already inspired some new songs and instrumental pieces. However, it is not a guitar that I will play a lot, but rather more of a specialty instrument. So even though I had to put some money into it, I still ended up with a great sounding resonator for thousands less than a National. There may be moments when I miss the mystique of a genuine National, but if tone is the bottom line – this is a good deal.