Monday, March 22, 2010

My musical instruments (Part 1)

I've had a good number of people over the past few years ask me about the gear I use to make music. You may wonder why I've hesitated to answer them. The reason is pretty simple, but it's not what you probably think.

Some musicians seem to want to keep their gear secret in order to keep their sound unique by not allowing other people to copy their setup. That couldn't be further from the truth in my case. First, I don't think that using the same guitar as another person is going to necessarily allow you to sound anything like that person. Music is a personal expression of creativity, and the sound you produce comes more from your soul, your brain, and your hands than from any specific guitar, bass, keyboard, and so on.

No, the reason in my case is that when I'm not being a musician, my career is based in the music products industry. I've not been forthcoming with the gear that I use because I don't want people to think that I'm merely being a shill for the manufacturers who make the instruments I play. Well, the fact is that I have no association at all with those companies, and my reasons for using their gear is simple: they work well for my music.

For this part, we'll focus only on one instrument, albeit the most important one to me: my main acoustic guitar, the Martin D-18V.

Martin D-18V: A living legend

Those of you who have listened to me playing live in Second Life, on Ustream, or elsewhere, have all heard this acoustic guitar. Each of the hundreds and hundreds of live shows I've done over the past few years have been fueled by my Martin. And on my debut album, the Martin D-18V is heard on "Falling Down", "Thanks Anyway", "The Sands of Redondo", "Always Tomorrow", "Waxing Gibbous", and "Waiting for This". In fact, "Waxing Gibbous" is the D-18V all by its self, and it really shines on that track. You can hear clips of all of this stuff, by the way, at the music page on my site.

So, what's so great about this guitar? First, it's a Martin, and C. F. Martin & Company was started in 1833, and have ever since been known as the world's premier guitar manufacturer. Like fine wines and vintage cars, most Martin guitars tend to increase in value as they grow older. My particular model is a Vintage Series D-18, meaning it was built to the specifications Martin used before World War II (hence the "V" in the model name). I'm a big believer in not having many things, but making sure the few things I have are of high quality. That sentence was written to justify the list price of this incredible instrument, which currently has a suggested retail price of $3349.00 USD. Ouch.

There's a neat story about how I got this instrument. A friend of mine writes reviews for magazines, and this guitar was one that was hand-selected for his review. He liked the guitar so much, he bought it, but shortly thereafter found another Martin that he wanted. Not being able to justify owning two high-end dreadnought guitars, he decided to sell the D-18V, and I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to get it from him.

It's an amazing instrument. The D-18 is a dreadnought... the largest of the acoustic guitar body shapes, so it's loud and proud. The sides and back are made of solid mahogany, while the top (the most important part of an acoustic) is solid sitka spruce. The fretboard is ebony. My Vintage Series model uses a tortoise-shell pickguard, which I like better than the newer black version. It also uses tortoise-shell on the guitar's binding around the body. The D-18 is one of the world's most beloved acoustics, and has been used by an insanely cool list of people, including Jerry Garcia, Neil Young, Jimmy Page, Elvis Presley, Joni MItchell, and many more. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that a huge portion of the world's most well-known acoustic guitar songs were played on D-18s.

Joni Mitchell

Neil Young

Jerry Garcia

David Gilmour

Jim Croce

if you want to know more about the D-18V, I recommend you look on the Martin site. For the next segment of my gear exposé, I'll be telling you a little about the Hohner Special 20 harmonica. Coming soon!

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