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Gibson ‘Country & Western’
This guitar was the first “serious” guitar I owned. Prior to that, when still a kid, I had inherited my older brother’s little acoustic which my memory informs me I should have taken more care of. It eventually gave up the ghost after I broke it trying to fit it into an electric guitar case shortly after moving to London. So, an Eko 12-string (also brought down from Scotland) and a second-hand Framus 6-string later, I bought this well-used Gibson in a store in London from an aquaintance who worked there. It immediately had the adjustable saddle replaced for a fixed one, a new set of Schaller machine heads and some cosmetic work done round the soundhole (the previous owner had clearly been a robust flatpicker).
The guitar saw lots of action in the London folk club scene, as well as tours of Europe and the studio recording sessions for two LPs. It was the guitar that got locked in its case when I “retired” in the early 80s only to see the light of day some five years later when I made some tentative steps into writing and (half-heartedly) performing again.
One evening after playing at my local folk club in Twickenham, I put the guitar down on the pavement (sidewalk, dudes) by the passenger door of my car while I was chatting to a friend, fan, or creditor (I don’t recall which). At the conclusion of these pleasantries, I walked round the car, got in the driver’s side and drove away leaving the guitar abandoned to the night. Not for long however, because after no more than two minutes with the jolting realisation and accompanying rising horror, I executed an immediate and rather noisy U-turn to effect a return to the spot where I had placed the guitar on the pavement. It was gone.
Was this a particularly good guitar? I’ve listened so some recordings of it since and I have my doubts. I don’t remember thinking – or anybody remarking – that it had a killer sound to it. It certainly wasn’t a bad sounding guitar – far from it – but specially good? I dunno”¦ still, we were very attached to each other and I was heartbroken to lose it. I went through a bottle of whisky that night in Twickhenham trying to keep down the anger and frustration – and the rising panic at realising I no longer had anything to play.
It’s all far in the past now, but it’s one of these experiences that are like bookmarks in life. There are no published recordings of this guitar available (the two LPs are “nla”, and likely to remain so!) although a friend recently sent me an amateur recording of a complete concert I did in Germany in the late 70s. Curiously, the last songs written on it were Red John and The Spaniard, both of which are, of course, on Interim Reports.
In 1987, as a consequence of having lost my Gibson ‘Country & Western’, I asked my friend Chris Eccleshall if he could build me a guitar. I had known Chris for a couple of years through playing in London folk clubs and had visited his guitar workshop in Acton on a couple of occasions. Chris had already a fine reputation as a luthier and had done some work for Mark Knopfler, among others. Now, even though I had been happy with the Country & Western, I had been wanting a J-45 since I had become better aquainted with Gibson guitars, their sound, looks and mojo. So I asked Chris if he could build me one to that specification. Of course, that was no problem at all for Chris. Actually what he built was more to a J-50 spec’ since it didn’t come with a sunburst finish and that is the only difference between a J-45 and a J-50, anyway. We also agreed that we should dispense with the pickguard. My guitar wasn’t part of Chris’ normal “line”, so it’s model ID was designated ‘Special’ and it came with my name engraved in the back of the headstock.
The guitar is technically a jumbo and has a spruce top and mahogany back and sides. It’s voice has a terrific projection and has a very identifiable “whump” in the bass, so characteristic of good examples of Gibson guitars. The top has plenty of “air” to it and there is never any hint of congestion or . The guitar likes to be driven and underpins the momentum of rhythmic material extremely well.
When I had a stock Gibson J-45 for a couple of years in the 90s, I found I actually preferred the Eccleshall’s voice – something about it’s relative maturity, maybe – it seemed more three-dimensional, somehow.
When I became enamoured of the Martin “sound” in the mid-nineties and traded the J-45 for my Martin OOO-28, the Eccleshall was played very little for a few years and remained in its case more or less permanently, to keep it out of harm’s way. That’s changed, though, and I’m finding I’m using it (for the time being) for keeping my “chops” in reasonable shape by playing blues and jazz stuff that I’ve picked up over the years – and still finding.
The Eccleshall wasn’t used for any of the songs on Interim Reports, but it’s back in the frame for a song or two in the next project (aka Uneasy Listening).
Classical: Takumi TC-118
I inherited this guitar from my father who passed away in ’92. He had harboured, I think, an aspiration to learn some classical guitar for a few years, already, and so bought in a store when he came to visit us in London one year. I think he viewed me as a guide with respect to the buying side. In truth, I was all-at-sea with classical instruments, but at least I could judge its playability and make a rudimentary judgement about its sound. But an expert guide? Nah!
My father had a keen ear for music – particularly for the symphonies of Sibelius. I remember as a child hearing most of the great romantic symphonies and concertos – he had a penchant for conducting the radiogram during the climaxes of these works. I was very proud when I introduced him Mahler’s symphonies because he he took to them immediately with great enthusiasm. His reaction to his first hearing of the finale of the Resurrection Symphony was a joy to behold. I was amazed at the time that he hadn’t come across them before, but I understand now that Mahler has only become really well known relatively recently and, incredibly, was hardly known except to champions of his work when my father would have been building his record collection in the ’50s.
Anyway, all that aside, on the guitar he made a none too shabby stab at Cavatina (aka the theme from The Deer Hunter) which he learned from the notation with John William’s recording of the piece as a guide. If his playing was a little stiff, that was soley due to his taking up the instrument late in life – late sixties, as a matter of fact. He was a very musical guy and I miss him.
Interestingly, the guitar was “specially” made for Ivor Mairants Music Centre, London – which is where it was purchased. I don’t it much, if at all. I experimented with it some time ago using it as a second guitar on some of my recordings and while the sound was not unpleasing, it got discarded when I realised that I was a solo singer/songwriter. So the guitar is in danger of becoming an heirloom unless I decide to play it as an alternative guitar for some songs, or write some songs specifically for it. Outside of that, it does take jazz fingerstyle particularly well. I have never had any affinity for classical guitar music, and have no desire whatever to play any of its repertoire. So there it is. We’ll see…
My 000-28 is a guitar I bought in a store in Aberdeen in 2002 and had come out of the factory in Nazareth in the same year. I part traded a non-vintage Gibson J-45 for it at the time.
This guitar has a definite “smoky” sound with the complex harmonics characteristic of guitars with rosewood back and sides. There’s a “growl” in the bass and a chimey sound in the treble – an oft-used piece of terminology. It’s a guitar (check at GuitarsJar) that most go to for noodling and trying things out on – very much a guitar to be contemplative with. It appears to lend itself to a darker, moodier turn of musical phrase and sometimes I’ve got to be careful when writing with it that I don’t go down too many wind swept and dimly lit avenues populated with shadowy things that go bump in the night. That notwithstanding, much profitable fun can be had with a 000-28 and a bottle of wine.
One thing this guitar is not, is loud. It has a definite ceiling in that department and it doesn’t take kindly to you trying to break through it. That’s not to say that it lacks dynamic range because it can rise from a whisper to it’s full voice very responsively and will bring you plenty of colour, thereby. It’s range of expressiveness is greater, particularly with slower material, than my OM-18V.
It’s a heavier guitar than the OM-18V, because of the rosewood, and the low profile neck with the narrower fingerboard and lesser string tension due to the shorter scale (all compared to the OM-18V) would make this an easier guitar for (eg) electric players and those with smaller hands (reputedly).
The smell? Wonderful. I could write a paragraph on that alone, but you’ll be glad that I’m not going to.
On Interim Reports, this guitar was used for The Spaniard, Apropos Of A Working Day, Mademoiselle, Everybody’s Somebody and Go Down. Mademoiselle‘s the odd-one-out here (being up-tempo) – I recorded it before I had acclimatised to the longer scale and wider ‘board of the OM-18V, which had been a very recent acquisition at the time, and which I probably would otherwise have used for this song.
The 000-28, then? A sensitive and complex soul with much to say.
In September 2005 the family needed to get away from the delights of Scottish autumnal weather so we headed of to Florida to put some colour in our pale British faces and just lie a back and get up to look around from time to time.
We did a bit of driving up and down the state of Florida and along the way spent a couple of days in Naples. This was for the express purpose of picking up an OM-18V at MyFavoriteGuitars.
The proprietor, Jon, is a great guy to do business with and offers very competitive prices (plug).
Inside the store, I auditioned the OM-18V against a OO-18V and while they were both fine guitars, the OM won out in terms of loudness and depth of voice. “That’ll be the long-scale talkin’”, I told myself. Anyway, I spent a pleasant hour, or so, picking away on these guitars, with Jon even joining in for a spell (marvellous).
Finally walking out the store into the blazing Naples sun – and keen to get the guitar in it’s black Geib case out of it – we drove into town and has some food in a fine Italian restaurant…
We walked about a bit, took some tourist pictures, and went back to the hotel where I ..erm “¦played some guitar “¦just for a while.
But here’s the real hero of this page, still reclined in its case in the store.
How does it sound? Well, as with all guitars there is much floral language written by some folks about the sonic pallette, or whatever, and while much of it is hogwash, I find I am in agreement with some of the commonly held opinions about the OM-18V. Here are a few of my opinions:
This is a loud guitar for it’s small body and is a match for any Dreadnaughts and Jumbos it finds itself in the same room with. In common with other guitars with mahogany back and sides it has a straightforward and direct tone; it doesn’t display the complex overtones commonly found in rosewood guitars. I find it to be a punchy sound with a very satisfying snap if played in a way to bring that out. It has plenty of bark and bite (sorry for the doggy analogies – better that than appealing to vocabulary used to describe wines!) but has plenty of authority in the bass. Now, that bass I would describe as a “grumble”, as compared to the “growl” (here, doggie, doggie!) of a rosewood equivelent. These mahogany / rosewood comparisons may seem fanciful, but afficionados will know I speaks not with forked tongue.
Feelwise, it’s as light as a feather. The longer scale (25.4″) and wider fingerboard (1 3/4″ at the nut) took a while to get accustomed to and it was some time before I was confident that I could play some of my things with more than a 80% success rate with respect to correct notes played! The beefier neck (“modified V”) didn’t bother me at all – which was a bit unexpected.
As you can see, it looks as plain as plain can be. Even the Martin decal on the headstock is subdued. It’s an ’18’ style guitar, so it’s never going to be fancy. Bling is not its strong suit (no pun). The ‘V’ suffix in the model designation designates it as a Vintage Series guitar meaning, in this case, that it’s a reissue of the (famous) OM-18 that was made in the 1930s. The history of OM guitars is fascinating (to me), but it’s not for here.
On Interim Reports this was the guitar used for Red John, Blah Blah Blues, Entropy, The Tumbler, A Little Bit Of Fun, and The Pretender. Aside from A Little Bit Of Fun, these are up-tempo songs and that’s no accident. I find my OM-18V, with its clarity of purpose, more suited to that kind of music than a guitar with a more “complex” sound, like my OOO-28 which prefers to meander down the byways, and dwell in the darker and more secretive corners, of the sonic universe. My OM-18V can take aggressive playing and can be pushed to limits that would be unreasonable to expect of some other guitars.
That’s about it regarding this get-up-and-slap-your-face guitar. A cheeky guitar certainly, but with a sunny disposition.
In July 2007 I took delivery of this guitar from my vendor of choice, MyFavoriteGuitars. Another great guitar which has all the richness and punch you would expect from a rosewood OM. Here’s a collage of some pictures that Jon Garon sent me before he shipped the guitar:
One slight puzzle that had me in a bit of a panic was that my attempts to find the truss rod to make some adjustments were entirely fruitless. Was this guitar sans truss rod? Has someone at the factory forgotten to put one in? I searched and searched with my wrench, feeling through the hole under the fingerboard, but without joy. I couldn’t believe it. I quickly emailed Jon and he advised that Martin had recessed their rods some. Some? Anyway, Jon sent me a longer wrench and the panic was over.
Sonic characteristics? Well, the long scale and scalloped bracing make it a loud and projecting guitar. The rosewood provides an ocean of rich harmonics and a grumble in the bass that can be made to sound menacing with the right material. Driven, there is a wash of sound that nevertheless remains quite balance over the six strings – although I’m looking forward to a fattening of the trebles as the guitar opens up as it gets played.
Playability? After a tweak of the truss rod, it plays just fine; so much so that I have been able to leave the saddle as per the factory set up. A minor quibble: the nut slots (again!) are cut too far apart bringing the top and bottom strings too near the edge of the fingerboard. I had asked Jon to check this aspect for me and he’d OK’d it, so can only assume that this is per Martin specification. Nevertheless, I assert that the string spacing at the nut should be less so that the top sting isn’t pulled off the fingerboard so easily ““ particularly with pull offs. It might be argued that this is more a reflection of my technique than a comment on Martin specs. but my view was endorsed by an authorised Martin repair technician in Glasgow with respect to my other OM.
Another feature of the guitar is the strong smell of vanilla that exudes from the soundhole every time I pick it up to play. It really is quite intoxicating. For the first few days I had to open a bottle of Chianti just to balance things out. Pity.
Of course, at the time of writing, no recordings have been made with the guitar – but that will change as soon as I switch on the red light. This is (another) great guitar and I’m looking forwarded to noodling on it into the wee small hours of the forthcoming winter nights…