The Unwound Third > Gitfiddles, Harps, Washboards & Kazoos

The Guitars Of Early Blues

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Just so you know, and don't tell anyone, when we were implementing weeniepedia in the beginning we discussed leaving out weblinks entirely, since they're, um, weblinks.

We were very short of content at that time due mostly to people not being able to type fast enough. At that time things were changing on the interwebs less frequently, so we went for the padding option, as one does.:)

Blues Vintage:
Alright, I love Weeniepedia anyway.

I was at the guitar shop the other day. The owner heard me playing the blues. Next thing I know he hands me a 1933 Gibson and a 1918 Martin.
Then he says "you want to play the same guitar Robert Johnson played his Dallas recordings" he added "but I'm not selling it".
I said "sure".  Then he pulls out this guitar (picture) from the attic. I didn't believe it at first.
Anyone know if that's really the model guitar Robert played on his later records?

I don t think there is no one alive now that can know for sure, but we know that he had his picture take with a late 1920s flattop gibson and a later kalamazoo kg-14. So all we know is that he held those guitars and probably played them and owned them. His friends, like Johnny Shines also say he liked Gibsons and Kalamazoos at the time, so it is within reason he used a flat top or even an archtop Kalamazoo or Gibson on his recordings. But you played, did it sound like it could be the same type as on those records ?

I don't recall seeing anything about RJ using an archtop, but that doesn't mean he didn't.

Steve James discussed Robert Johnson's sound and possible setup at a Port Townsend workshop. He actually achieved a very passable imitation of his playing (and singing) using his usual wood body National of the time, late Nineties. I remember he had to work really hard to get as close as he did, I wasn't the only one present that was mightily impressed.

Capoes were discussed in reference to the very 'tight' sounding strings on the recordings. Steve theorized though that RJ was tuned up much higher than would be usual for those times, or for today for that matter. I recall he tuned his National up about 3 semitones (or something like that, crazy stuff I thought at the time). It sounded like the records to me. Disclaimer, I don't know if Steve still thinks that, it was a while back. I recorded that session, must dig out the tape sometime.

I mention this in case anyone would like to comment about the feasibility of cranking up an archtop like that. I'd never dare do it to mine.

There are various string tension calculators online, I found after filling in my most used gauges, that substituting a wound .024 g string with a plain .018  would correspond to going down one gauge for the whole set, and the guitar tuned up a semitone would be roughly equivalent to the tension before with the  wound string. Also going down one size in strings, you can get away with tuning up another semitone and end up at roughly same tension. You can play it safe by determining what tension the strings have now and see what gauge strings give the same tension with the same scale length tuned one,two or three steps up. Just DO NOT use mediums because lighter strings broke, I did that and it breaks the rules of physics and damages your guitar. Probably the original players did not always play it safe, but they were more dependant on cutting power and the days of $15 kalamazoos or stella s are long gone. Please do the calculations yourself and do nt just take my word for it, I have a set of .011 to .50 strings that i want to use tuned a step up instead of the .012 to.54 that I  use now and I haven t even totally convinced myself yet, but the physics say that the tension on my guitar will be even  less than it has to endure now.


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