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The blues ain't nothin' but a good woman on your mind - Mississippi John Hurt, See See Rider

Author Topic: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?  (Read 3003 times)

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Offline Cartouche

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #30 on: March 02, 2013, 02:43:37 AM »
Just to clarify, I wasn't wondering why the re-discovered players went for instruments of a higher quality , I'm more curious as to why they would go for a completely different body type. I couldn't understand why they wouldn't have just used a cheap dread in the early days if that was their real preference.

From some of the previous posts, I see now that -
1. back in the 20s-40s, dreadnaughts tended to be more expensive than the smaller, mass-produced guitars

2. smaller guitars were more easily obtained at the local general store or mail-order catalog

3. in general, during the folk boom/re-discovery era, there was a lack of quality parlor guitars

Please correct me if I'm off on any of these points!

This is an interesting tidbit as well from the Martin website: Dreadnaughts were introduced in 1916 when Martin made them for a Boston company called Ditson, and they were marketed in Boston and New York. Martin didn't produce them under the "Martin" name until 1931! So maybe the dread body type was quite a bit more rare than I  assumed. Since it doesn't appear to have been a mass-produced body type, I can see this making them prohibitively expensive for most rural folk.

btw, thanks for all the great replies!

Marc

Offline Rivers

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #31 on: March 02, 2013, 06:11:13 AM »
Are you sure your Tonk is a "parlor" guitar and not just a smallish body guitar? My idea of a parlor guitar is a late nineteenth early twentieth century bridgepin , narrow waisted , spruce top, rosewood, mahogany, cherry, pear, oak and rarely maple, slot head guitar. They were marketed. To women who couldn't afford pianos in the days when folks had parlors.

parlor-ish. It's more parlor than anything else I own.

I have a theory that the musicians back then playing cheap guitars knew a thing or two about setting them up properly. We've all played cheap old guitars that have an 'agricultural' feel; and we've all played cheap old guitars that were a joy to play.

I will go out on a limb here and say I consider it impossible for the precision, virtuoso players like Blake & Jefferson to have achieved their results on a badly set up guitar. Simple buzzing, flubbed notes, poor intonation etc would be apparent in their recordings due to simple physics. They are not. Ergo the guitars may have been cheap but they were almost certainly quite well set up. Impossible to prove, either way.

Some players were not so astute or anal in this regard. Little Hat Jones comes to mind; when he gets 4 or 5 frets up the neck the intonation is revealed to be spectacularly awful. It doesn't make him any less interesting, on the contrary, I'm just comparing and contrasting here.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2013, 06:19:10 AM by Rivers »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #32 on: March 02, 2013, 07:09:28 AM »
My theory about dreadnaughts is simple and only half tongue-in-cheek: loud is one thing, loud, big and ugly is another. And uncomfortable. Today add ubiquitous to the formula.

Why didn't anyone start building dreadnaught violins or cellos? Ugly.

As for today's modern guitars by both the big companies and the many talented indie luthiers, there are lots of beauties, but some of those guitars really don't seem suited to blues. They are gorgeous and sound gorgeous, but not for blues IMO.

Of course, loud, big and ugly worked for several blues singers, but that's another thread.

« Last Edit: March 02, 2013, 07:13:00 AM by uncle bud »

Offline onewent

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #33 on: March 02, 2013, 08:33:07 AM »
Cartouche, I think you're digging down to the core points.  The key point being that Dreads, even though introduced in the late teens, were extremely rare and expensive, relatively. They didn't become more common until the late 30s, but even the D-18 was a fairly pricy guitar for plain folk.

So, the Dread shape was not even a consideration for the early players we know from the 78s. 
Maybe a weak analogy is that most people in the US drive Toyotas and Hondas because they're available, affordable and functional.  So, most of the players on 78s used non-dread guitars because they were available, affordable and functional.

Another thought on this, the guitars used in the parlor in the late 19th century, what we now call parlor guitars, were lightly built, and very 'sweet' sounding, commonly built for gut.  As musical tastes changed, and left the parlor for the dance halls and road houses, players needed a guitar that was louder.  The ladder braced guitars from the 20s and 30s fit this bill .. they were cheap, but most importantly because they were built for steel strings..!  Plus, just like today, people following 'trends' want the latest thing.  The 'old' parlor guitars could have been associated with 'old' out-of-fashion music.

And, I think we're referring to two types of musicians, too.  Some made a record or two and faded back into obscurity, and others had hits, were in demand and made some money..and these players were often more urbane or city-oriented musicians that O'Muck reference earlier.  So, they had some cash, and were in and around cities where 'better' guitars were readily available in large music stores.  Even though Leadbelly was presented to his white audiences as a hick or country exotic, he had the wherewithal to custom order a jumbo Stella 12-string in the 30s.  He knew exactly what sound and quality of guitar he wanted.  Even though his guitar was a Stella, it was Oscar Schmidt's top of the line in appointments. (Well, that and 'who else was making 12-strings!') ???

@Rivers .. good point about set-up.  I often wondered who and how these guys set up their guitars, considering today we freak out when the humidity reaches 35% and our strings begin to buzz.  But I guess it's like the craftsmen of days gone by, they know how to sharpen, and keep sharp, their chisels and saws, because it was their livelihood at stake if they didn't.

One thing I really enjoy doing is finding old pre-wwII 'junkers' and getting them back into playing condition, getting the neck reset, eliminating too much relief, dressing the frets and so on. .. Very satisfying and keeps me out of trouble! 

And, perhaps in another topic, who can explain why so many musicians played 12-strings in the Atlanta area back in the hay-days of 78 recording?

Tom

Offline Rivers

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #34 on: March 02, 2013, 11:10:33 AM »
And, perhaps in another topic, who can explain why so many musicians played 12-strings in the Atlanta area back in the hay-days of 78 recording?

Tom, there is a thread that touches on that point, although the original premise was '12 string players NOT from Georgia'. There was some discussion as to why many were from Georgia. See also the linked-to page on Todd Cambio's site: http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=2446.msg18548#msg18548

Glad you're saving old junkers, thanks from all of us who appreciate them.

Offline Pan

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #35 on: March 02, 2013, 11:26:56 AM »
Perhaps THIS is the reason, why the Dreadnought guitar had to be invented!  :P



Cheers

Pan

Offline frankie

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #36 on: March 02, 2013, 11:55:40 AM »
one thing for sure - when i'm re-discovered, it's a J-45, advanced jumbo or D-18 for me.

Offline alyoung

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #37 on: March 03, 2013, 02:25:09 AM »
Did we mention Brownie McGhee yet? He was a Martin Dread guy, probably should have a commemorative signature model if he doesn't already.


Well yeah ... but I met Brownie McGhee during a New Zealand tour quite a few years ago and in conversation told him I had a Stella. He was quite offhand -- until he saw it "Shit," he exclaimed. "You've got a Stella like my daddy used to have." He'd though I mean a Harmony; mine is a 1920s Stella. He played it, offered to buy it, then asked for first option on it if I did decide to sell. Was he bullshitting? Well, he gave me his card, and when he came back a couple of years later and we met again at a press conference (I was working for a newspaper) he walked into the room, saw me and immediately said "Hey Al! You still got that Stella".  That Stella was my main acoustic blues guitar for years (I concede that the Martin 0017 is a bit more versatile), and it is an amazingly loud, clean and penetrative instrument. Patton, House, Wilkins ... no problem. Someone said above there was no comparison between the 1920s Stella and the Harmony Stellas  from the 1960s; quite right.   

Offline alyoung

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #38 on: March 03, 2013, 02:31:51 AM »
It's what the damn White folkies stuck in their hands upon "rediscovery"! Son House and the National being just one example. I was somewhat guilty of that myself in the 70s, but I did have a few really fine instruments for folks to chose from. Generally, they picked my Gibson SJ, or '39 National... see Trix LP covers for pics!

pbl

Pete, I believe I recall you telling me that it is your National  Johnny Shines is holding on a Biography cover pic. I went to a guitar workshop that Mr Shines did in Sydney, Australia,   in the early 80s, and turned up proudly clutching my Spanish-neck triplate. Mr Shines wasn't interested. Said he didn't like Nationals and wouldn't have one.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #39 on: March 03, 2013, 05:23:38 AM »
Great story there Al, thanks for sharing it.

Offline onewent

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #40 on: March 03, 2013, 01:58:36 PM »
@Al .. good story about Brownie and Stellas. 

Quote
Mr Shines wasn't interested. Said he didn't like Nationals and wouldn't have one.
Funny, I have a CD he did, maybe in the 80s, where he's playing a National, making it sound great, too.  Wonder what the story is behind that?
Tom

Offline Lyndvs

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #41 on: March 04, 2013, 11:39:44 AM »
Johnm - I tend to agree and thank you for one of the most observant, intelligent posts in a long time.

If they could have afforded them, those old players in the 20s and 30s would not be playing cheap mail-order, ladder-braced guitars, but better quality, better sounding Martins, Gibsons, Larsons or whatever.


Not sure,surely players such as  Patton,Jefferson and Blake could afford better guitars than they,supposedly, used.They were big sellers in their prime and made some good money,especially for the era.Didn`t Jefferson have a chauffer driven car?!.Surely he could have had a Martin or Gibson if he desired.
lyndvs

Offline banjochris

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #42 on: March 04, 2013, 01:26:25 PM »
Patton's last guitar (presumably the one he recorded with in New York) was a Gibson, according to Booker Miller in the Wardlow/Calt bio, if I'm remembering rightly.

Offline oddenda

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #43 on: March 04, 2013, 06:00:29 PM »
Shines did a session for Biograph Records (at the request of Arnie Caplin) where he used my 1939 vintage National... it's a very mellow sounding one that can also be heard on many Trix releases (save Wilie Trice - that was his own that I had refurbished for him by Bob Gear). Mine sounds unlike most Nationals which are quite plangent in tone. See the Tarheel Slim cover for a photo of it. The other guitar that I carried and was used by many on sessions is a Gibson SJ that is still a wonder: In tune and low action all the way down the neck, so I am told. Sounds good, too! Also had a Fender Princeton (herringbone) and Gibson 335 for electric players (Tarheel Slim, again). These were made available to folks who no longer had a dependable guitar for the purpose of recordings - many wished to keep said guitars!

pbl
« Last Edit: March 04, 2013, 06:03:43 PM by oddenda »

Offline Rivers

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Re: Why did so many players go for dreadnaughts after their "re-discovery"?
« Reply #44 on: March 04, 2013, 06:16:42 PM »


'plangent', after looking it up, is a great adjective in this context and makes two new words for me in a couple of weeks.
I need to practice working them into a conversation, the other was 'rodomontade'.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2013, 06:26:45 PM by Rivers »

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