GEAR

BOREDOM ALERT!

Unless you are a fellow guitar fanatic suffering from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and with way too much time on your hands, the following information will likely bore you to death (or at least a befuddled slumber.)

Proceed at your own risk...

If there's anything in the world more obnoxious than a parent with pictures of their darling little offspring,  it's an obsessive guitar collector telling you about his guitars.  (But at least I've never seen a bumper sticker that says "Let Me Tell You About My Guitar Collection!") The sad part is, we know we're obnoxious, but we can't help ourselves.  Anyway, with all those caveats stated, here's a look at my babies...

Acoustic guitars

 

1999 Larrivee LV-03 Acoustic-Electric

Over the last several years, I have become a rabid fan of the guitars of British Columbia’s Jean Larrivee.  I think they are one of the best values for the money in acoustic guitars today.  I find the sound and playability superior to the ubiquitous Taylors and hands down better than the high end Martins, yet they cost less than either.  The model I now use as my primary stage  acoustic guitar is the LV-03, an all solid wood mahogany and sitka spruce cutaway that comes equipped with an excellent Fishman pickup.  After playing all of the Larrivees in stock at several local guitar stores, I found this pre-owned one in mint condition.  After five minutes with it, I fell in love with this guitar.

I'd never played, much less owned a mahogany guitar before.  The tone is amazing, and it just feels so good in your hands.  I love this guitar.

 

1932 Gibson L-00 Series Acoustic

The oldest guitar in my collection has one of the most interesting stories behind it.  In 1932, Rev. Asa Dorsey was a young 17 year old preacher in the mountains of North Georgia.  There wasn’t always a piano available for meetings at remote brush arbors, tabernacles or in homes, so Asa purchased this Gibson L-Series acoustic for $15.00 at Lancaster’s Music in Gainesville.  He learned how to play well enough to lead worship at meetings.  In the mid-1980s, Asa gave me his guitar.  The action on it is rather high due to a weakening of the bridge supports, but the tone is awesome.

Today, Asa is 89 years old, and retired from active ministry after having ministered for 73 years in the same geographic region.  He is a legendary and beloved figure in North Georgia.  I am so proud to have him as my father-in-law.  Recently, the Georgia Legislature proclaimed “Asa Dorsey Day” in the state and a book was published about his life entitled “The Greatest of These.”  You can find out more about Asa at www.asadorsey.com

Post-script: In December 2000, I played this guitar onstage in the premiere of The Secret Place, a musical that was set in Savannah in 1932.  Very few in the audience realized that this guitar was chronologically correct for the setting!

 

1962 Harmony Sovereign grand concert

Book value notwithstanding, this guitar is priceless to me.  In December, 1962, my father purchased two matching three-quarter size Silvertone steel string guitars for me and my brother John.  About the same time, he purchased this Harmony for himself.  The Sovereign was Harmony's top of the line Dreadnaught, and had a reputation as an affordable alternative to a Martin.  John and I were both immediately hooked on the guitar, and it wasn’t long before we realized the limitations of our little Silvertones.  So we would frequently sneak Dad’s Harmony out of his closet and play it.

By the early 70s, John had become serious about the bass and I was mostly playing a variety of electrics.  From time to time I still played Dad’s Harmony.  In 1972 I came to faith in Jesus Christ through the ministry of “The Sign of the Fish,” a local weekly youth event that attracted some 100 youth each Friday night to the home of Dr. and Mrs. Bill Shupert.  Not long afterwards, I was asked to help lead worship at “The Fish.”  I needed an acoustic for this task, so I talked Dad into letting me play his Harmony.  As a result of playing at “The Fish,” I was asked to play lead guitar for a Christian folk-rock group, “Good News Unlimited.”  My axe was Dad's Harmony.  Within a year, we got brave enough to form a bona fide Christian rock band, and I was back to playing an electric.  The Harmony returned to Dad’s closet, where it languished for 15 years until Dad gave it to my sister, Carolyn, who had it refurbished.  It followed her from Florida to California and then back to metro Atlanta.  Dad passed away in May, 1999, surrounded by all of his children.  In the spring of 2001, Carolyn gave me the Harmony. 

I don’t play this guitar very often, but when I do, I am flooded with emotion.  Not only was this my father’s guitar, but it was the guitar that took me from playing “O Where Have You Been Billy Boy?” with partial first position chords to a fairly advanced teen player.  I just wish I knew what happened to our 3/4 Silvertones!

 

1972 Martin D-35

There is nothing sweeter to the ear than the awesome bass response of a vintage Martin dreadnaught.  This guitar is the result of several years’ search for a 30+ year old Martin that wouldn’t break the bank.  70s era Martins are wildly inconsistent in terms of tone and quality.  You can play two of the same models from the same year, and you'll might find one to be awesome and the other mediocre.  But if you can find one that plays and sounds great, they are much more affordable than their 1940-1960s vintage cousins.  I was very  fortunate to find this guitar.  It has a sound and feel that rivals any I’ve ever played, plus lots and it's got lots and lots of vibe and character.

1975 Ovation Legend Acoustic-Electric

Ovations, especially vintage ones bring out strong opinions in acoustic players.  Many feel it has an unnatural sound because of the non-wood backs.  Yet world class players like Al Di Meola and Steve Lukather embrace it.  I purchased this guitar used in 1981 at Don’s Music City in Burlington, NC. I fell in love with this instrument when I first played it and I took it home that day.  It was my primary acoustic for the next 20 years through both live and recording work, including 10 summers of youth camps.  It plays and sounds as sweet today as that first day I played it at Don’s.  I normally use D’Addario EXP regular light gauge strings on it. 

2001 Michael Kelly Classical Acoustic-Electric

Michael Kelly Guitars is a Florida based guitar company that began in 1999, and has become well-known in guitar circles for making instruments that sound and perform like instruments costing thousands more.  They are currently best known for their Dragonfly series of mandolins and resonators.  I bought this classical new in 2001 sight unseen after reading a review of the instrument.  I wasn’t disappointed!  It has a gorgeous sound and a great feel to it.  The pickup is OK for stage work, but I prefer to mic it whenever possible.  Michael Kelly is no longer making classical guitars, which makes me even happier to own this instrument..

 

Electric guitars

1950s Silvertone by Kay 

This beauty cost a whopping $189.00 in the 1958 Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog… a king’s ransom in those days!  It’s a Kay manufactured instrument and features a lipstick pickup and a semi-solid body. 

I came across this guitar in an estate sale in Virginia Beach in the late 1980s and bought it for a song (no pun intended.)  It stayed in its case until I finally restored it in 1998.  It’s a lot of fun to play and has a funky fat sound. 

1967 Fender Mustang Bass

The late 60s and early 70s Fender Mustang basses originally had pastel paint jobs and a racing stripe.  Somewhere along the line, someone stripped all the paint off this bass and refinished it natural.  The wood looks like alder.  In 1977, I did a church music internship at First Baptist Church in Canton, NC.  During my time there I got to help Morris Jordan (the minister of music there at the time and a great friend and mentor) make an album with his choir.  I played this bass in the recording sessions.  When I finished the internship, the choir presented me with this bass as a gift.

1971 Gibson Les Paul Custom

In 1975, while a student at Truett-McConnell College, a guy named Joe Boswell showed up to sit in on an impromptu jam session in Garrison Hall.  Joe was an adequate guitarist but was an awesome blues harp player.  That night he showed me two guitars he had brought with him to TMC, a black Strat and a sunburst three pickup Les Paul.  I fell in love with the Paul immediately and told Joe if he ever decided to sell it to let me know.  He said he’d consider selling it, but he’s have to get at least $300 for it.  Even though that was an entire month’s salary at my job as a part time minister of music, I wrote the check on the spot, knowing that back then it was easily worth nearly twice that amount.  This guitar has been with me for almost 30 years now.  It is all original, and causes heads to turn when I take it in once a year for a set up. 

The photo at left is a 1977 publicity shot of me with the Les Paul.  At least the guitar still looks the same!

1991 Epiphone Emperor II Jazz archtop

Like most guitarists, I grew up thinking that Epiphone was simply the low-end Gibson line.  My brother John bought an Epiphone acoustic in the early 70s that had great tone and playability (especially when compared to the Harmony I was playing at the time!), but I never knew the rich history behind the Epiphone nameplate.  I didn’t know that Les Paul was in the Epiphone factory when he invented “The Log.”  I didn’t know that Epiphone produced the first effects pedal (the Tonexpressor, a rudimentary wah-wah pedal), the first truss rod design, and the first pickup with individual pole pieces.

Epiphone also was the first company to embrace jazz, and their instruments were embraced by legends like Joe Pass, Howard Roberts and George Van Epps.  Epiphone was the first to move the bulk of their business away from bluegrass instrument production and toward jazz and blues.  John Lee Hooker was a big fan of Epiphone guitars, as were Paul McCartney and John Lennon.  Lennon’s use of a Casino is well documented, and Paul used his Epiphone acoustic to record “Yesterday”, probably the most famous acoustic rock ballad of all time. 

After reading an article about Epiphone archtops and the company’s contribution to jazz, I began looking for a Joe Pass signature Emperor II.  I found this instrument on Ebay .  It was in need of some TLC after spending over a decade in an attic.  I had to reset all of the fretboard inlays which had popped out due to the heat.  I love it’s mellow tone and the quilted maple back always garners oos and ahs.

Check out more about Epiphone’s history at http://epiphone.com/history.asp, and the current version of this guitar at http://epiphone.com/default.asp?ProductID=9&CollectionID=1.

 

1996 Fender American Standard Telecaster

Of all the deals I’ve ever gotten on guitars, this 1996 Telecaster is probably the best.  This ’91 American Standard Tele has been fitted with EMG pickups that greatly enhance the Tele bite.  I traded an old Fostex hard disk recorder for it.  The Fostex deck was probably worth about $200 on the street.  The fellow I traded with bought it intending to take up the electric guitar, but after a few months, he decided to stick with the acoustic and to trade this for something he could record with.  Incredibly, I was the only person who responded to his offer in a recording forum.  After checking out the specs online, he really liked the capabilities of the Fostex and agreed to the trade.  I almost felt guilty.  I said “almost.”  The Tele gets played from time to time in church, and it really comes in handy when a corporate client requests a country or rockabilly feel to a song or jingle. 

1998 Fender American Standard Stratocaster

This maple-necked honey of a guitar has been my primary electric since I bought it from a fellow in Texas in 2000.  I love the speed and the slickness of the maple neck, and that unmistakable Stratocaster tone.  This guitar made a Strat lover out of me. 

I sold my 80s vintage red Kramer Pacer to a rabid Van Halen fan in Japan (who sent me a picture of himself with Eddie, I guess to prove he was worthy of the guitar!) and used the proceeds to buy this Strat.  Being a lifelong Clapton fan, I thought it only right and proper to own a “Blackie,” but I really didn’t want to get one of the signature models.

 

 

1998 Epiphone LG 1275 6/12 Double-neck

Anyone who has ever been a Jimmy Page fan has wanted a Gibson double neck.  No more than I would play it, it would have been very hard to justify buying the EDS-1275.  While playing a EDS 1275 at Andy’s Guitars in Tallahassee, one of my all-time favorite vintage guitar shops, Andy told me that the Epi he had there played much better.  Sure enough, it did!  I decided to look for one of the Epis at a reasonable price (as in really cheap).  After a couple of months of looking for one at the right price, I found this one on Ebay in ‘99.  I’ve played it in church several times, and I love to watch the reaction it gets!  The first time I played it in church, I played an instrumental version of “As The Deer” for an offertory, using both the 6 and 12 string sides.  After the service, an elderly lady came up to me and told me she was horrified when she saw what I was playing that morning, but then she added, “But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be!”  Gee, thanks, Ma’am…

 

Other instruments

Bestler Mandolin

 For years I have been a closet fan of traditional music.  Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs and Ricky Scaggs were all folks I greatly admired.  After becoming recently becoming a fan of Allison Krauss and Union Station and Nickel Creek, I decided to take up the mandolin.  Other than briefly playing one in a music store every now and then, I had never played one before.   I have fallen in love with this instrument!

Until Spring of 2005, I wasn't a mandolin player... but apparently I did play on in church once.  Let me explain: One Sunday several years ago, I was playing my black Strat in church.  An older member of the congregation came up afterwards and slapped me on the back and said, “I didn’t know you could play the mandolin!”  He walked away before all of the band started chuckling. 

I found this Bestler Mandolin online at a great price.  So far, so good, but it really is tough getting my chubby little fingers into the small spaces between frets!

 

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