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Take Back Your Heart, I Ordered Liver! - a jazz title without the actual song, according to Dave Van Ronk - Elijah Wald

Author Topic: What guitars did they use??  (Read 3515 times)

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Offline rjtwangs

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What guitars did they use??
« on: March 15, 2008, 09:13:29 AM »
Hey guys check this out...

http://www.earlyblues.com/blues_singers.htm

what do you think?? accurate??

RJ

Offline waxwing

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #1 on: March 15, 2008, 10:56:25 AM »
Hey Rick. Sure, the Early Blues site has been around as long as Weenie. I assume you found it through the Weenie Web Links? I'm not sure what you mean by accurate, as Dai Thomas doesn't claim these are the only guitars that the players listed played (who could know that?), just the instruments they were pictured with or were stated to have played by other players who were interviewed in later years. In that regard I think the list is pretty good, especially considering he has had a lot of input from other blues/guitar nuts and continues to update the list regularly. As you may have noted, he has had a lot of help from Neil Harpe, who is not only a leading expert on Stellas and other ladder braced mail order type guitars, but is also an extremely knowledgeable collector of Gibsons.

What do you think??

From the list, it does appear that L-00s were not all that commonly pictured or rumored to have been used by any of the early blues recording artists. Indeed, as most prewar country blues artists recorded before the Depression there would hardly have been a chance for most of them to have purchased what was a relatively new model at that point. But even among the later players they do not seem to be popular, perhaps because at the same time that the L-00 was gaining popularity, at least among white players, the National resonator guitars were also out and, obviously from Dai's list, these were very popular among later blues players. Even Robert Johnson was rumored to have played one, and, by all evidence, he was never pictured with or rumored to have played an L-00. We'll have to see if he is pictured with a guitar in the new picture that is supposed to come out soon showing a young RJ with a younger Johnny Shines, eh?

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #2 on: March 17, 2008, 02:36:43 AM »
And let's face it, most of them played cheap guitars, because it was all they could afford - hence the apparent greater popularity of Stellas, Kalamazoos, etc., rather than Gibsons and Martins.

Whilst I understand the thinking of all the ladder-braced fans on this forum, I still think that lots of the old bluesmen would have played sweeter sounding, X-braced guitars if they could have afforded them.  The so-called "country blues sound" is surely down to lack of funds on the one hand and recording techniques on the other.

Discuss...
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline blueshome

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #3 on: March 17, 2008, 03:11:35 AM »
PP 
IMO they preferred ladder-braced guitars because they were loud and cut through, easily available and cheap, but especially LOUD. I don't think tone would be an issue on Saturday night in the juke joint.

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #4 on: March 17, 2008, 04:36:39 AM »
I cannot imagine many old country blues players poked around inside their guitars to discover the bracing system.  I wouldn't mind betting that most of them wouldn't know ladder-braced from snakes and ladders... or X-braced from X Factor....

 >:D
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline blueshome

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #5 on: March 17, 2008, 06:29:33 AM »
Then why should we worry?

Offline Richard

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #6 on: March 17, 2008, 08:36:52 AM »
A very good point  :D
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline waxwing

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #7 on: March 17, 2008, 09:14:58 AM »
Considering how many players popped for the far more expensive Nationals, I don't really see the difference in cost between the smaller X braced models and the ladder braced models as being all that significant. I agree with Phil, LOUD was very important. And, according to interviews, some preferred Stellas and such over Gibsons, even tho' they could afford them. Let's also remember many of these artists were in more urban locales so availability is not that big an issue, either.

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline Richard

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2008, 08:05:07 AM »
Makes you wonder if they even knew the difference when they were buying anyway, being honest it's only since hearing so much about it on Weenie that has made me realise there was that much in it anyway.

 ::)
(That's enough of that. Ed)

bighollowtwang

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2008, 10:41:32 AM »
I wouldn't mind betting that most of them wouldn't know ladder-braced from snakes and ladders... or X-braced from X Factor....
Makes you wonder if they even knew the difference when they were buying anyway

I don't really buy that. I think that just like today, people bought the best guitars they could afford to get. X-braced guitars just weren't common in the 20s and 30s.
Yeah, they probably didn't know about the difference in bracing styles, but I'm pretty sure they knew a good (and loud!) guitar when they heard one. Seems a little condescending to paint the pre-WWII bluesmen as some kind of ignoramuses that just bought whatever they could find cheap. I'm pretty sure that if your gig involved playing unamplified for a juke full of noisy dancers from sunset to sundown, you'd want the loudest and most comfortable guitar you could get your hands on.

Offline Johnm

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2008, 11:22:50 AM »
I agree with what you say in the main, bighollowtwang, but I also think that rejecting a guitar that you otherwise liked the sound and playing of because it didn't conform to your doctrinaire preference for ladder bracing vs. X bracing, (whatever one's preference) is a thoroughly modern way of looking at things, and completely alien to most Country Blues players of the early years, who I think would have been concerned with volume, tone and playability independent of the guitar's construction type.  I think this is the point that Parlor Picker and Richard were getting at.  For me, the kind of guitars these musicians played is of comparable interest to the kind of shoes they wore, or whether they preferred beef to pork barbecue (actually this issue is much more interesting), but I'm used to being in the minority in gear-related topics.   
All best,
Johnm 
« Last Edit: March 18, 2008, 11:29:23 AM by Johnm »

Offline Chezztone

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #11 on: March 18, 2008, 12:02:15 PM »
My experience with more recent jook-joint blues players in the rural South suggests that, in general (there certainly are some exceptions) they are not so concerned with particular brands of guitar or individual guitars as, say, many of the people who write on this website. Lots of selling, pawning, trading and lending of instruments goes on between gigs or tours. Remember that poverty is often a big factor.
As for barbecue preferences -- same as everyone else in the South, except for Texas -- pork, not beef.

bighollowtwang

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #12 on: March 18, 2008, 01:05:43 PM »
I agree with what you say in the main, bighollowtwang, but I also think that rejecting a guitar that you otherwise liked the sound and playing of because it didn't conform to your doctrinaire preference for ladder bracing vs. X bracing, (whatever one's preference) is a thoroughly modern way of looking at things, and completely alien to most Country Blues players of the early years, who I think would have been concerned with volume, tone and playability independent of the guitar's construction type.
Johnm, that's exactly the point I was trying to make, but it may have been less than clear, as I was a few coffees short of a full pot when I typed that.

I absolutely agree that tone, volume, and playability was what they were after.
I doubt that they stuck mirrors inside 'em to see what the bracing looked like, or could have described a difference in sound between x and ladder.
 As for brand names...I do recall reading some interviews with players who seemed to express that owning a Gibson was a sign of having "made it" as a musician, so there must have been some brand-related status. H.C. Spier taled about "Martins not being any good for blues" and that most of his blues discoveries preferred Stellas (probably because they were inexpensive, loud, and readily available).

Bottom line is that ladder-braced guitars simply outnumbered x-braced guitars in the 20s and 30s. With a few notable exceptions (Washburn, Martin) most manufacturers only offered ladder-braced guitars back then.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #13 on: March 18, 2008, 01:47:44 PM »
I understand that Skip james opted for his Martin D-28 (35?) over a Yamaha who's sound he actually preferred because the Martin had a better warranty. Just shows to go ya! Gary Davis told me he preferred Gibsons to Martins because" Martin's got the play-ability, but Gibson's got the LAST-ability!" Evidently being able to use the guitar as a club to ward off muggers was high on his list of priorities. Anyway EVERYONE knows that the best sounding guitars are the ones where you rip out all the bracing entirely! In the three seconds before the top caves in its the best sound you'll ever hear!
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Offline waxwing

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Re: What guitars did they use??
« Reply #14 on: March 18, 2008, 07:51:02 PM »
Reading back, I don't see where anyone clearly implied that any artist chose their guitar because of any knowledge about the bracing, just that most of the guitars they chose, for whatever reasons, and I'm sure in many cases they did have choices, were ladder braced guitars. In creating their music, the different tonal qualities of the guitars they used likely had an influence on what sounds were more expressive for their guitars. This is pretty clearly the case with National players and 12 string players, but, I think, has an effect even between ladder braced and x braced guitars. I think this is why many of us enjoy understanding the difference between the two, both physically and aurally, and why we enjoy playing the old music on instruments similar, tonally, to those they may have been composed on.

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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