It would be idiotic to single out one guitar as the best one. They all do different things. They're all individuals. But I'm going to do it anyway. As I said to my daughter just yesterday, if the building were on fire and you could only grab one guitar (assuming considerations of personal safety allow you to grab anything at all), this 1903 Vega 84 would be the one. OK, I didn't say it exactly like that. What I said was more along the lines of, "Honey, I know your mother told you to immediately exit the building. But - just between us - I'm telling you to make a wee detour to pick up this here case with the red ribbon on it." I'm pretty sure we understand each other.
The upcoming tour will mark a bit of a departure from the way I've been doing things recently. I'm a little maximalist when it comes to deciding what gear to bring out on the road. If there's a chance I might use it, I bring it. And the corollary to that has to be: if I've brought it, there's a really good chance I'm going to use it. And so it has been. If you've been to a show in the past several years, you would have seen me juggling as many as six instruments falling into three categories: acoustic, electric, and "big mandolin". None of those categories ever hit the ground. Not once. For the gearheads among you, here's the rundown. Everyone else just skip to the end (of this text, bien extendu, not the end). Glaze, glaze against the dying of the prose!
The acoustics would have been either (or both) a Martin D-18 or 00-18, both from 1952. There's also Taylor 562CE 12-fret 12-string (one fret for each string!) that might have been deployed here and there.
In the "big mandolin" category, I've been using an inexpensive Romanian-made Irish bouzouki, purchased on a lark one fine day as I roved out among the concession stands of the Shrewsbury Festival (UK) in search of Veggie Marmite (because someone had, hilariously, told me it was absolutely delicious). Recently that instrument has disappeared from the line-up because the pickup came unstuck. It's currently in the shop here in Buenos Aires, where the pickup is being re-glued with Marmite. Animal-friendly luthiers take note: if you're looking for an alternative to hide-glue, there's always Vegemite.
The electric category is a bit more complicated. Those who know me well might detect a bit of understatement here. At any given moment over the past several years, I have been seen at large playing a Collings I-35, a Les Paul Junior, an old Fender Esquire (gone to a good home in Woodstock), an early '60s Danelectro Convertible (given to me by a lovely fan who had bought it for $5 at a yard sale), and a white strat made by my friend (and extremely talented luthier) Daniel Caceres out of chestnut he found by a turquoise river in El Bolson, Provincia de Rio Negro, Patagonia, Argentina. Phew. That guitar is presently in the hands of the amazing Chihoe Hahn (Newburgh, NY), who is installing some new pickups. Apparently, Chihoe is building me another guitar. I had no idea! So you see it never ends. Finally, there's that Jerry Jones baritone that seems to do everything I ask of it even before I've asked.
As for amps, I've been a Princeton (Reverb) man since forever (that is, since the olden days when 48th Street in NY was still a place where a lucky 14-year old could buy such a thing). But these days I leave the original at home and go out with a perfect copy (thanks to Wayne at Headstrong).
Don't get me started on pedals and other vagaries of the signal chain.
Ok... maybe just a little bit on other vagaries of the signal chain. I have decided that trying to reproduce the pristine "authentic" quality of the way an acoustic guitar sounds (all on its own, unplugged) is pretty much impossible. I'll go a step further here: it might not even always be desirable. In fact, come to think of it, I do not desire it at all. At least not always. Instead, I've found that a good magnetic pickup (Sunrise, thank you) combined with one of the above-mentioned tube amplifiers is... well, Bob is your uncle. Or as they say in Spanish, Roberto es tu tio. Actually no one ever says that. And what does it even mean? In this case it means that the sound produced is neither acoustic nor electric (although technically speaking I'm pretty sure there's nothing but electricity between those vibrating strings and the speaker cone). It is its own thing. And to my ears it is lovely.
But sometimes one wants to go back to a simpler time, especially these days. [What on earth is wrong with these people?] So for this upcoming tour, I'll be going all acoustic, bringing the two Martins and a Stefan Sobell mandola. Regarding the Sobell, I have no idea why it took so long for this sublime piece of work to make it out of the house. Is that smoke I smell?
All acoustic is easy. It's what I did for years. But here's the hard part, and the reason this tour will be a bit of a challenge: I'll be doing it all into one microphone, an Ear Trumpet Labs "Edwina" (I hear they have a new version called the "Dark Edwina"... Hmmmm. must investigate). If you were in attendance at any of the CryCryCry shows earlier in the year, this is the microphone we gathered around near the end of each set. This time I won't have my friends with me, so it's going to be interesting. Limiting oneself to one condenser microphone in a live setting can be tricky. Since I'll be traveling alone, I'll be relying on the expertise and patience of other friends: sound technicians!
And of course this would be the perfect setting to finally take that 1903 Vega 84 for a spin. Except it's never leaving the house. Unless the house is on fire. You there... yes you. I know what you're thinking. Don't. Even.