Guitar players will always tell you – you can never have too many guitars.
I was approached earlier this year by the lovely people at Tanglewood, and asked if I would be interested in playing one of their instruments.
(I told them I actually already OWNED a Tanglewood, a beautiful little vintage-styled parlour guitar (see right) that I occasionally play at gigs as a back-up, and for those portions of the show when I play in different tunings – and it’s the guitar on the original recording of ‘The Road to Fivemiletown’)
They were suggesting that I try out a couple of their guitars, and I was delighted to oblige – why not have a couple of extra instruments in the house, after all…? They very kindly furnished me with a couple of beauties: a gorgeous vintage sunburst TW40 SD. It’s Tanglewood’s take on the old bell-shouldered Gibson J45, and a lovely thing it is, too. A big rich, rounded tone that sounds great in front of a microphone.
But they also sent me the Masterdesign TS1 (right), which is one of the more high-end ranges from Tanglewood, designed by the legendary Swedish luthier Michael Sanden. It’s also a gorgeous thing – a solid spruce top with mahogany back and sides. Very elegant and simple in its look and feel, with little touches of flame maple and ebony here and there. It has a couple of interesting design features – the ‘paintbrush’ shape of the bridge is designed to spread the resonance on the bass side a little deeper.
And the guitar also comes with a zero fret, right down at the bottom of the fingerboard, where most guitars simply allow the strings to go through the nut. It makes for a more comfortable playing position for the fingers at the lower end of the neck, and evens out the string height.
I have just had an LR Baggs Anthem pickup fitted to the instrument, and took it out for the first gig, at the Bronte Centre in Rathfriland on Saturday night, and was just blown away by the sound. The guitar has sounded wonderful on its own, when I’ve played it unplugged. The challenge is always how to replicate that sound at high volume in a concert setting, and I’m delighted to say, it sounds as fresh and natural and resonant at high volume as it does in my kitchen. And it’s a beauty to play – comfortable and well balanced and responsive.
My intention is to take the guitar on the road for the long series of gigs I have lined up for November, including the Irish tour with Barbara Dickson.
For a performer so closely linked with a particular instrument, this somehow feels a little like taking up with a younger mistress.
I won’t be neglecting my old faithful, though - my main stage guitar for 23 years has been a Lowden O-10 (left, above), a cedar beauty that I’ve owned and cherished since October 1993.
It has been across the Atlantic and back maybe a dozen times, for trips to Canada and the United States, and has been by my side on ferries to Scotland, and all over Ireland. It has been the guitar recorded on every single album I’ve released, and has been in and out of radio stations all over the place. Over the years it has fallen over on outdoor stages, been scraped by clumsy players who borrowed it (I stopped THAT carry on ages ago…), been thrown around by baggage handlers and has been knocked and banged against all kinds of microphone stands, amplifiers, drum kits, other guitars and all kinds of stage equipment. It was once played by The Jayhawks for a BBC Ralph McLean session. And it has – apart from one night the original EMG pick-up gave up the ghost – never let me down.
For November, I’ll hand her over to my friend Denis Currie, who has done amazing work on my guitars over the years, and ask him to give her the whole ‘spa treatment experience – perhaps a refret and a re-setting up of the guitar, to take account of wear and tear.
And I’ll take to the road with the new Tanglewood – if you’re at any of the gigs, come over and let me know what you think of the sound…