Erin McKeown.
Photo by Pam Murray.



Check out these equipment picks from artists featured in the May 2001 No.101 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.


Erin McKeown

Erin McKeown plays a 1972 Gibson Hummingbird custom that she bought in high school for $400. "It’s an amazing-sounding guitar," she says. "It has a warm high end and a thumpy low end that suits my style. It has no pickup and I don’t care if it ever gets one. I can’t fathom how many problems they start, and then it takes four racks of something to fix them. If I’m going to play an acoustic guitar, it’s only going to be in the studio. Plus, the Hummingbird is a big dreadnought, and that’s not comfortable for me on stage." On stage, McKeown plays a Gibson Chet Atkins SST acoustic-electric with flatwound strings and a heavy pick. She also recently acquired a brand-new Gretsch Synchromatic G3900 archtop, which she’s dubbed the "Lady Baltimore." On Distillation, McKeown and Chalfant used the Hummingbird, a mid-’70s Gibson ES-335, and an Ibanez Telecaster copy.

––Rani Arbo

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Hot Club of Cowtown

Hot Club of Cowtown guitarist Whit Smith’s 1925 Gibson L-5 has a shorter scale than later L-5s (24 ¾-inches, as opposed to the 25 ½-inch scale Gibson started using on L-5’s made after 1929). "I have .014- and .018-gauge strings on top, but the tension is much less than it would be on a more modern instrument," says Smith. "The last four strings come from a regular set of bronze .012s." The L-5’s DeArmond pickup is "smooshed on with office putty," which, "won’t damage the finish, makes it very easy to move the pickup on and off, and also deadens the top a little bit, to cut back on feedback." In the studio Smith ran the signal simultaneously through a pair of ’50s Fender amps, a Pro and a Harvard, with the Pro isolated and the Harvard in the room where the bass and fiddle were tracking. Live, he’s recently switched from the Pro to a 1938 Gibson EH-150 amp.

Violinist Elana Fremerman plays a 1960 Mittenwald violin. On stage she uses an L.R. Baggs pickup run directly into a Roland JC77 or Polytone Mini-Brute amplifier. Bassist Matt Weiner plays a World War II–era German flatback bass.

––David Hamburger

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Jerry Ricks

Jerry Ricks plays a Martin D-76 that was a gift from his children when it was new. He prefers the old Bill Lawrence pickups to anything that’s come along since. He runs the signal through a Fender Twin or any other Fender or Peavey tube amp and then mics the amp and combines that sound with a mic on the guitar. He feels that the combination gives him something of the "wetter" sound that Lightning Hopkins had on electric guitar. Ricks has no preference for string brands, but uses medium-gauge (.013–.056) bronze strings.

––Duck Baker

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Keb' Mo'

Keb’ Mo’ is touring with only three guitars these days, a Martin or an Epiphone flattop, a Beltona electric resophonic guitar (Beltona, Old Parua Bay Rd., R.D. 5, Whangarei, New Zealand; [64] 9-438-3313; fax [64] 9-438-3361), and an Epiphone Sheraton (a Gibson ES-335–style instrument). For solo gigs, he also plays a 1995 steel-bodied National, and a Keb’ Mo’ signature model Martin dreadnought was just released.

On The Door, Moore used a koa Goodall with a cedar top (Goodall Guitars, 73-4786 Kanalani St., Bay 1, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740; [808] 329-8237;, one of producer Russ Titelman’s Martins, the Beltona on "It Hurts Me Too," a Larry Pogreba aluminum resonator guitar on "Don’t You Know" (Pogreba Guitars, PO Box 861, Lyons, CO 80540; [303] 823-6691), and an Epiphone Bluesmaster. During solo gigs, the acoustics go straight into the board. In band gigs, Moore runs the Sheraton through a Mesa Boogie Mark IV and the acoustics through SWR California Blonde amps. That way, he says, "I can feel it coming back to me, I can have control of my own monitor system." To save time and get a consistent sound, Moore just mics the SWRs. "What comes out of the amp sounds like a guitar," he says.

Moore uses Highlander pickups in his resophonic guitars. "I love that pickup," he says. "If you get a decent, balanced guitar, that Highlander pickup sounds really sweet. You have to mount it right; if you don’t, one string will be louder than the other. You have to get somebody that really knows how to put it in."

Moore strings his wooden acoustics with D’Addario phosphor-bronze light-gauge strings and uses phosphor-bronze mediums on his resophonic instruments. His electrics get D’Addario light-gauge nickel strings. Pick choices include Jim Dunlop plastic thumbpicks and metal fingerpicks and Fender or D’Addario heavy flatpicks; and for slides, Moore favors black ceramic Mudslides, made by Moonshine Slides (1011 Second St., Santa Rosa, CA 95404-6608; [707] 541-7350;

––David Hamburger

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Eric Bibb

Eric Bibb’s main ax is his 1961 Gibson J-45, which he bought in a guitar shop in Newcastle, England. "It’s a great-sounding instrument," he says. "I perform with other instruments as well, but if I had to take one guitar out on the road it would be that one. Gibsons tend to have a kind of self-damping thing in the bass that works great for certain types of thumbpicking. It’s very different from the sustain of a guitar like a Martin, which would be great for a flatpicker or bluegrass player. The Gibson is a much bluesier guitar, and I like that shortness in the bass, that thumpy thing. A lot of the older Gibsons lose volume, but this instrument doesn’t. It’s well balanced, and it doesn’t have a lot of ringing overtones so you can really get clarity." Bibb also owns a handmade guitar he calls the Plum, which was made for him by Andras Novak, a luthier in Stockholm. Other instruments in his arsenal include a 1960 Stella 12-string and a 1930s wooden National.

Bibb recently began using Elixir strings. "They have what I need in terms of clarity and tone, and that coating seems to be kinder on my fingers," says Bibb. "Somebody who plays and tours as much as I do needs to watch out for that whole sore-finger syndrome." Bibb experimented with different gauges and finally settled on .013–.056. "I play rather energetically on stage," he says, "and I try to keep accuracy but at the same time produce a sound that jumps out of the guitar, so I need a heavier gauge, especially with dropped-D tuning. But if I went heavier than .056, I’d start losing tone and speed. I want fluidity and some resistance, but I don’t want stiffness. I end up tuning my instruments down to Eb. With a dropped-D tuning in Eb, you actually go down to Db. And because I use a capo a lot, it gives the heavy-gauge strings a hair more slackness that fits my left hand nicely." He also uses Sunrise soundhole pickups and Trace Elliot acoustic amplifiers on stage.

––Bill Milkowski

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar magazine, May 2001, No.101.

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