SCGC Vintage Artist

This arrived at my home a few days before Christmas, 2006.

The top is made of some special sitka spruce, dubbed ‘gray ghost’ by the good folks at Santa Cruz Guitar Company. The back and sides are some special old-growth mahogany with some really nice flaming.

It’s equipped with a D-Tar Wave-Length under saddle pickup, fitted by none other than Rick Turner himself (the “T” in D-Tar). It uses some neat electronic wizardry to get 18 volts from two AA batteries. The increased voltage means more headroom which means less UST quack.

I use this guitar for a lot of gigs with my band. We play a mixture of bluegrass and folk and this guitar fits that role extremely well.

Video


Clarksdale Crossroads

When Freya was born, I was feeling the euphoria that only comes with the birth of a child. I thought I would like to mark the occasion with a new guitar; something that I could pass on to her one day with the pride of a guitar-playing father and say ‘this is yours’.

Round about the same time, friends and fellow guitar junkies, Doug Jones and Mike Crixell, were in the process of having some custom blues guitars built to vintage specifications. They started up a company called Clarksdale Guitars and started work on two models: the Crossroads and the Corrinna.

Both models are the same size but made out of different woods. The Corrinna is sitka spruce on some of the most figured maple I’ve ever seen, and the Crossroads, an all-mahogany guitar.

So, a fledgling company, started in the same year that Freya was born, making small-bodied vintage instruments. Emails went back and forth, and before you could say Mississippi John Hurt, the deposit was down and the waiting began.

Doug Jones hosts an annual jam at his place in Conyers, Georgia and it was a dream of mine to go one year and finally put a name to all my Internet pals. So, we discussed the finances and decided I could go! Not long before I was due to leave, I got an email to say the guitars were ready and would be at the jam for me to get the pick of the litter.

As soon as I saw the Crossroads I now have at home, I knew that that was the one. Doug looked a little crestfallen as I think he had chosen that one for himself. But, true to his word, I got the pick of the litter and brought it home for Freya.

Having got to know it, I’m simply amazed at what a great guitar this is. The thing that makes such a difference to me is the neck profile and string spacing. The neck has an ever-so-slight V shape to it and it’s fat without being clubby. The string-spacing is wider than I’m used to and I’m amazed at the difference it makes; playing AMI triplets on the G string is so much easier now.

This is the first all-mahogany guitar I’ve played and it sounds so good with fingerpicking blues and folk music. Bert Jansch tunes sound great! It’s also a great strummer, too. The fundamentals are strong and there is no muddiness at all. Overtones are as one would expect with a mahogany guitar, which is why it makes such a great fingerpicker and strummer. It’s fun to play Celtic on it too; although it wouldn’t be my instrument of choice for such tunes, it’s interesting to hear the difference.

The biggest problem with this guitar is figuring out just how I’m going to be able to hand it over to Freya! Maybe I ought to buy another!

Recordings

Here are some recordings I’ve done on this guitar. I record using condenser microphones. Here’s a page showing the gear I used: Recording Gear

Strolling down the Highway – Rough and Ready!

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Gallery

Brook Bovey

I was thinking that I’d like a parlour-sized guitar for travelling and had a Larrivée in mind. Then I found Brook Guitars, a small outfit based in Devon in the south-west of England. Before I knew where I was, my GAS had got the better of me and I’d ordered a custom-build Brook Bovey. This is smaller than the Larrivée with a scale-length of 21.5″. And it just so happened that the boys at Brook had a piece of Brazilian rosewood lying around that was too small for a larger guitar but would do a Bovey-sized guitar very nicely! Well, how could I resist?! Custom-building is a time to indulge, is it not?

Specs are cedar on Brazilian rosewood, with Brazilian rosewood used for the fretboard, bridge, rosette and purfling. The headstock veneer is ebony. The bindings and heelcap are ovangkol to contrast with the rosewood. I’ve gone for diamonds and dots fretboard markers and gold Schaeller tuners. I’m also planning to have a nice bit of custom inlay work on the headstock.

April 2004: It’s here! Video review and recordings are now available.

Recordings

Here are some recordings I’ve done on this guitar. I record using condenser microphones. Here’s a page showing the gear I used: Recording Gear

Islay Ranters Reel

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Ye Banks & Braes

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Ye Banks & Braes with Vocals

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The Old Hag at the Kiln, DADGAD arrangement by Mark Thomson

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Gallery

Heiner Dreizehnter Model A

You don’t see many blackwood-topped guitars. In fact, this is the only one I’ve seen, my blackwood beauty, built by German luthier, Heiner Dreizehnter.

I met Heiner at the Open Strings Guitar Festival in Osnabrück. Of the many guitars that I played over the festival weekend, this was the one that I couldn’t forget. It took two months before I succumbed to the siren song of the blackwood, but succumb I did. I made the call, hoping that it hadn’t sold and, thankfully, it hadn’t.

It is Tasmanian blackwood throughout with maple bindings and ebony fretboard, headstock veneer, bridge and bridge pins. The specs are as follows:


* Scale length is 648mm (25.5″)
* Nut width, 45mm (1.77″).
* Lower bout, 395mm (15.55″)
* Upper bout, 290mm (11.42″)
* Waist, 245mm (9.65″)
* Depth at end pin, 120mm (4.72″)

The tone is deep and rich and it was that depth of tone that captured my heart. The craftsmanship is outstanding, something I’ve come to expect from German luthiers.

It has a nice oil-based finish, something which I hadn’t seen before and haven’t seen since. It really brings out the natural wood and there’s none of that swish of clothes rubbing against it as is the case with satin finishes.

But, aesthetics aside, let’s get to the meat of the matter: the tone. I’m a bass lover – always have the bass button pushed in on my stereo, iPod EQ set to bass boost, nice, meaty subwoofer for the 5.1 amp, you get the picture. And let me tell you, this guitar floats my boat. I don’t know whether it’s the depth, the wood, the bracing or what, but this guitar has some real meat to it.

Saying all that, one would be forgiven for thinking that the guitar is bass heavy. It isn’t. That’s what makes it so remarkable. It’s well-balanced but with presence, if that makes any sense.

The quality that this guitar has, besides the rich depth, is sustain. For Celtic fingerstyle, the only guitar I’ve played that I liked more was a Walker, and they are about three times more expensive. It has a kind of dry, vintage-like tone similar to what one would expect from mahogany, and also like mahogany, it favours the fundamental. But the similarities with mahogany end with the sustain – I could pick a note, switch on the kettle and it would be still be ringing as I was pouring in the milk.

I have posted a review of this guitar on Harmony Central.

UPDATE: September 2005

I took this guitar with me to Steve Kaufman’s flatpicking camp in Tennessee last June and am pleased how well it coped in amongst all those dreadnought banjo busters. Sure, it wasn’t a bluegrass monster, but it was certainly loud enough to stand up to some good pickin’. I had the action lowered a bit by luthier and Kamp Doctor, Ken Miller. He also installed a PUTW dual-source pickup. This guitar is now my gigging and pub guitar, as well as everything else. It’s my keeper!

Recordings

Here are some recordings I’ve done on this guitar. I record using condenser microphones. Here’s a page showing the gear I used: Recording Gear

My Mary of the Curling Hair

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Soundcheck

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Humours of Ballyloughlin

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Hector the Hero

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May the Fourth Be with You

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Gallery

Folk Festival 2011

Saggies Review

88B Recruit Troop

88B Recruit Troop, June 1989

88B Rawson Squadron. Click image to see high res.

Sodium Light

No-handed Cherry Picker

I was out at the high school dropping Freya off for Beavers. As I headed back to the car, I was caught by an intense bout of nostalgia for the BMX days: a dry car park, an autumn night. I could imagine the sodium lighting making the chrome of my bike glisten and the colours turn to shades of grey.

There’s hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about BMX. In my AA meetings in Brodick Hall, I imagine a quarter pipe at each end of the hall, or doing airs over the brass bell that sits on the table. When I’m walking through the village, I’m doing tailwhips off kerbs or smith grinds on the benches.

What I should do is to take all that passion and direct it into something that I can do, which is play guitar and mandolin. But for the past couple of weeks, all I’ve been doing is reading by the fire, which is nice and enjoyable and relaxing of course, but it isn’t feeding a passion. Or am I passionate about books too? Perhaps that’s it. I used to worry about these fallow musical periods before I moved back to Scotland, but I know from experience that the passion will return and I’ll soon be playing a lot once again. What I do wish is that I had the discipline to follow a practice regimen, or at least to see something through. I’ve got so many books and DVDs that I’ve started to work through. If I could see them through, I’d be a much better player for certain. I just don’t seem to have the discipline though; the fireside is just too inviting. Of course playing by the fireside is just as appealing as reading, so what’s stopping me from doing that?

So I guess what I’m saying is that, even if I were able to ride a bike, it would probably be in the shed while I sat by the fire. All that I remember when I think back is the nights up at the station yard, or at the ramp at Prestwick puddle, or street riding wherever. What I don’t remember is the dry, autumn nights when I sat home while the bike was in the shed.

Open mike slot all to myself!

There was an article in the local paper a few weeks ago about the Arran Youth Foundation. They got hold of a portacabin and did it up for the local youth club to use and they were looking for volunteers. I had the idea of starting an open mike night. It seems like a good idea all round. I’ve got a mixer, amp, cables etc and it’s just the sort of thing that I’m sure I would have enjoyed as a kid.

Tonight was the first one and I’m sorry to say that nobody at all turned up. I’m sure it was just a lack of knowledge so I’m going to persevere for a few weeks. I stayed on for the advertised time and basically turned it into a practice session. I got my Spirit mixer a couple of years ago from a friend in return for fixing his computer and I’d never used it before. It has 8 inputs and phantom power. I was a little concerned that my 60w AER amp wouldn’t be enough, but my fears were unfounded; the portacabin is not very big and the amp fills the room without any problem. I had my guitar going straight into the mixer and then to the amp and it actually sounded pretty good. So it seems even less likely that I will make much use of my Mama Bear preamp and I might as well sell it. It was a lot of fun playing plugged in and with my SM58 vocal mike, the vocals sounded good too.

I’ll send an advert in to the what’s on section in the local paper tomorrow and try and get the word to spread at the school as well. Next week I hope to be posting a different story!

Saggy Bottom Boys’ debut gig

Our bluegrass band, the Saggy Bottom Boys, had our debut gig last night as the support act for Irish supergroup, Lunasa. Check us out!

Accompanying the fiddle club

At the Tuesday Catacol session it came to light that the fiddle club are playing their competition entry for the Whiting Bay Music Festival this coming Friday. Normally Nick the gardener would accompany them, but he’s off down south to see a man about a guitar amongst other things. So Carol and Sandie asked if I would accompany them. So I found out on Tuesday night and had to be at their rehearsal last night, giving me all of no time at all to figure out some chords. Thankfully I had my iPod and mic with me on Tuesday so I got a recording of the tunes and messed around with my guitar in the back room at the Post Office for half an hour when it was quiet. I figured out a few chords and then headed out last night to the rehearsal which I’m pleased to say went all right.

The gig is on Friday night. We’re playing three tunes in A, Am and Bm respectively. I have some nice modal chords for the Bm tune (basically Am with a capo on 2) from the Frank Kilkelly accompaniment book and I was thinking of trying some DADGAD chords for the A and Am tune. I’ve got something that works in standard, but I’ll try the DADGAD stuff tonight and see how it goes.

So, that means I played last Tuesday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and I’m playing again this Saturday. Things are definitey looking up! 🙂