two hands, one guitar
Photo by Michael Rauner
Brook great blues sea
Photo by Steve Johnson
percussive fingerstyle acoustic guitar journeys
Photo by Steve Johnson
percussive fingerstyle acoustic guitar 
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Performance Instruments


1950(?) Gibson J-50 (Probably Catalog) acoustic guitar.
Photo - Brook and Al Shachman at Bazaar Cafe.

This has become my studio guitar. It's been recorded dozens of times, the vast bulk of my acoustic (and even some electric) recording has been on this instrument. It has many "voices" depending upon how it's mic'ed (just listen to "Second Chants" or "The Great Blues Sea", "Circle Round", or Crone Song on "Moonrise".)

The guitar has had a huge amount of work done on it. It has the original neck, top, and sides. However, the sound board was shaved to make the instrument livelier; the owner at that time didn't like Gibsons! He also refinished it. He was making this instrument into his jewel, but decided to sell it. It wound up in a pawn shop, labled "1931 J-50" where I purchased it with a cheapo electric trade-in and $60 that I borrowed from a friend (and have never payed back. Brian - if you read this, email me - you should get some interest on the loan, I think?) I don't patronize pawn shops any more (ill informed youth). But I'm glad I was there for that sale.

My old friend and teacher, Jeff Dagenhart, used this guitar in the early 1960's playing electric blues. He'd put a hole in the lower side for a pickup wire. That hole got plugged by the guy who worked on it, to whom Jeff sold it. I didn't find out that it was Jeff's old instrument until one day a number of years later when Jeff was playing my guitar and realized it used to be his.

By around 1982 the neck was no longer able to maintain straightness. So, I had Peter Yelda (San Luis Obispo), at his urging, put a carbon rod in the neck and make a new fingerboard. The bridge had pulled up as well (due to the shaved sound board). Peter fixed all this. The instrument now plays beautifully, has a very straight neck which stays that way, and the bridge stays put.

I was told that this instrument is a 1931 "J-50". Problem is, I can't find such an instrument, a '31 J-50. Hmm, Gibson didn't make such an instrument.

Recently, Jim at The Fifth String (Berkeley) took a good look at the instrument. It has no serial number on the back of the head stock and, of course, never had a truss rod. That's a big clue. Since all Gibsons since 1902 (?) have had rods, Jim figures that this instrument was a "catalog" guitar. That is, it was sold, maybe by Sears, or some such, without the Gibson name. It was most certainly manufactured by Gibson, but it came without the rod, and possibly without a serial number. With all the pearl inlay on the head, it's hard to know what's been done to it (like remove the serial number?).

Dating this instrument is really a pain. If I was to guess, it would actually be a circa 1950 J-50, based upon size (it's a jumbo, 16 inch body, and the '30's jumbo's specs don't match up) and has a baseball bat neck - both hallmarks of the first J-50's.

This Gibson is getting so old, that I'm a bit concerned about taking it to gigs. I took it to an acoustic show in San Francisco in May, 2004. But the Barcus-Berry piezo under the bridge was screwy and the sound was poor. It didn't sound like the big-league instrument that appears on my recordings. It's not very loud. So, I've deferred live work to my Guild. I might bring this one as an open tuned slide instrument if I think it'll be safe.

1970 (?) Guild Brazillian Rosewood D50 acoustic
Photo - With Mokai at the Bazaar Cafe

My friend, Bruce Unsworth, (he plays on woodwinds "The Great Blues Sea") had this guitar for years. But he doesn't play guitar anymore. In late 2001, he told me he was selling, and I grabbed at the chance for a decent "knock around" guitar that I could gig with for a very reasonable price. The neck stock is slightly pulled away from the body and needs to be reset. However, this does not really affect the playability or tuning of the instrument.

This instrument is very loud. Close up, it tends to be just a bit tinny. But 5 feet away, it's lower end begins to develop. I didn't realize this until I started working with the instrument and hearing recordings.

Now, here's the kicker in the story. When I had my Lacy pick-up mounted, Jim from The Fifth String (in Berkeley - great guy, good musician, knows his stuff) started telling me that the guitar wasn't worth much when he realized that it's got Brazillian rosewood back and sides. Maybe that's why it sounds the way that it does? The wolftones on this instrument are fantastic! Anyway - thanks Bruce (he later said that he told me about the guitar. I guess I wasn't paying attention?) I have a great guitar.

I string it very lightly, like an electric, 43-10, but with acoustic bronze strings, wound 3rd. I lose a little volume, but make up for it with easy play and the ability to play for extended periods. It is hard to fingerpick, though. A light touch is called for.

It has a K&K Sound Western Pure bridge plate pick up in it. I love this pick-up: it's very natural sounding. Generally, I use the pick-up through a preamp, sometimes K&K's pure preamp (when I need to be fast onto stage). Or, if I have time and equipment, I'll use a class-A type preamp, like my Grace 101. And then I use one of my Nady CM-90 mics (great, cheap condensers for guitars) pointed at the 12 fret and angled back towards the sound hole. The mic sound is mixed as a secondary sound, with the electric sound underneath giving depth and warmth to the overall experience. You hear the bright, gorgeous overtones of this instrument through the mic, all the wood sound, and the density of the bridge plate piezo.

Sigh, instruments come and they go. This guitar has been replaced by the Lowden. I have sold it.

2005 Gitane "Selmer Macaferri" D-500

Photo - In concert in Barchem, Netherlands

I purchased this guitar for airline travel. It has a shorter scale than my jumbos: the neck joins at the 12th fret. The guitar fits into the overhead bins on almost every airplane, including commuter flights. No fights with the steward/ess. It's just a carry on. And, the musician's union in the US negotiated with US security to always allow us to carry our instruments on if they fit in the bins.

I got tired of fussing and hoping that they'd put one of my jumbos into the coat closet. Mostly, the air crew would oblige. But occaisionally someone would get balky. Now with my Gitane, their attitude is irrelevant.

Still, I do like the sound of this instrument. With the cut away and the extra little fretboard add-on, I don't really miss the longer neck much - and the instrument plays well enough (though not as well as either of my jumbos). It's a very live instrument, lots of wood sound, kind of round and middle rangy, but with plenty of bottom and top, too, and lots of resonance between strings. It's very lively. A good compromise for travel.

I use the recommended Argentine strings. they're very light and sound good on this instrument. My usual bronzes sound terrible.

I put a Macaferri K&K pure on the Gitane. As long as it gets put through a preamp, it sounds terrific. But, when I put the pickup straight to a HiZ on the house board, it's very thin on top. I'm still working on achieving the sound that I want.

You can hear this guitar for the podcast: "Andulasian Mist".

Lowden S25

Developing more percussive acoustic guitar material, I just wasn't getting the sound that I wanted from any of my guitars. Sigh. As many guitar players know, it's a never ending struggle.

I tried about 25-30 guitars in and around Berkeley: Taylors, Martins (Jim Hightower from the Fifth String has a lovely one - almost bought it), Breedloves, Gibsons, Larravee - I pretty much tried the circuit. I'd read that Kaki King uses a Lowden (along with her Ovation). So, that name was on my mind when I went over to my friend (wonderful singer-songwriter) Robert Temple's house to play and chat about equipment and stage preamps - another recurring conversation/test.

Robert has a wide and deep collection of guitars. If you ever see him, he will use no less than 3 at any gig! At any rate, he said something like, "you know, have you considered a Lowden? Mine just isn't working for me." I tried the guitar: the perfect blend of gorgeous fingerpicking tone with enough strength to withstand and open up its bottom end for percussive playing. I was hooked. I bought it.

I had Jeff Suits at Haight Ashbury Music put in the K & K Trinity pickup system. This is as close to a studio acoustic sound as I've ever gotten on any guitar. The sound fills a hall - all the overtones from the wood are conveyed to the audience, whether it's deep, bottom end strings slaps, or delicate harmonics. Thank you, Deiter and Karla of K & K Sound for working with me. I also want to plug Jeff's work - he really cares about what the instrument sounds like, and works hard to reproduce the beauty of the acoustic instrument.

This guitar is becoming my standard acoustic solo instrument. And, being a small body, it fits in the airline bins (too, like my Gitane - hurray)

1999 G&L ASAT Deluxe
Photo - With The Blue Stream Band at Pantheacon

Funny, me playing a Telecaster type instrument with single coil pickups. I was such a Gibson/humbucker enthusiast for years (Red SG, Les Paul Custom, ES-335, ES-355). Well, the sound I was trying to get out of those when playing blues was in a single coil pick-up. My, the lessons learned, eh?

I had a red Gibson ES-355 that had a cracked head stock (Photo - SF Pride). Silly me, I wsn't paying attention and didn't realize it, playing the broken instrument probably for years. I finally saw the crack and went into Blue Note Music (Berkeley) and asked James (tremendous jazz player - nice guy) about the problem. He said to stop playing it immediately. Problem was, I was to play on the main stage at a festival the next day: I needed a rock guitar. So, I started playing instruments in the shop, played the ASAT and fell in love with the feel. He traded me, more or less, straight up, and I'm still playing it.

This is my rock/blues guitar. I string it very light, D'Addario slinky, 9 high. Other than that, it's stock. I filed out the nut just a tiny bit and lowered the action just a shade. Action's a bit on the high side for me (no super fast runs or chord work), but I can stretch the strings easily. It's very precisely in tune. All around, a solid instrument.

19?? (probably '70's) Ibanez carved-arch top L5 "Birdland" copy
Photo - at the Nomad Cafe

When I moved from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco in the Fall of 1983, I stored my instruments in the "locked" garage owned by the head of the music school where I had been teaching. I payed rent; he assuring me that no one had access to that garage but he and his wife, who was the accountant for the school. Sounds too good to be true, eh?

Well, it was. The garage was in an appartment building that he owned. He also stored his garden tools there. Naturally, he gave the key to some workers to spruce up the apartment building. Ahem - Gone: 1936 Epiphone Broadway tobacco sunburst finish carved arch top (my jazz guitar fitted with a DeArmond pickup). Gone: Gibson blonde ES-335 rock guitar. Also stolen, my stereo. They had a field day. If you see my little red Broadway, won't you send her on home, OK?

The sad part of the tale is that the Epiphone was given to me "so long as you continue to play jazz" to use by a friend, Kelly - a great Luthier, by the way. I had to tell him that his guitar was stolen. I gave him the insurance money for it, but damn, that's not the same thing. A very sad tale all round.

Luckily, I had put my Gibson acoustic (see above) into a cheap plastic case. The thieves must have thought it wasn't worth anything and left it. Lucky me.

Anyway, with the the insurance money for the ES-335 in my pocket, I went out to source a jazz guitar. I knew nothing would come close to that Epiphone. I found the Ibanez in a music store in Berkeley, $500. I bought it in 1984. I wasn't intending to keep it - it was just to get me through long enough until I found the guitar of my dreams. Funny thing is, "life is what happens while we're making other plans."

Now, to be sure, people who "know" jazz instruments are not impressed with my Ibanez. It's not a "great" guitar. But darned, we've become very close over the years. It's just that it does everything that I want it to. It doesn't have the best native sound - but I tailor that with EQ so that I get the sound that I want (pretty much). And play easily? You can breathe on the strings and she'll play. In tune? Pretty close. What more need be said? She's a beaut and I'll keep her until I die or can't play any more. Like my Gibson acoustic, this guitar has pretty much become part of the Brook sound - it's inconcievable to me now to play on anything else.

I string it very lightly, D'Addario lights, 10-43, but I purchase wound 20's for the third. Without that wound third, I can't get enough density in my chord work. And, for early rock 'n roll sounds, (like, "Enough!") the wound 3rd is very authentic sounding. Coupled with a tweed Bassman, it's great.

Other instruments

1955 Kaye f-hole mandolin
Photo - Bazaar Cafe, 2002

I had purchased some cheap mandolin at a garage sale, $25, thinking that I might like to learn to play. I took that thing around everywhere. Mandolin's fun (not that I can really play it) and it's small!

Well, the sound board eventually caved in and it could no longer be played. I finally put that instrument in the corner free box to let it continue its life. I saw an advert in the paper and went to the West side of San Francisco. This fellow had this Kaye. It was his father's, who had recently passed away. We got to talking about radical politics, I made a friend and he passed the mando to me for $50. Lucky me. That was maybe 1986?

In the 1989 Earth Quake, the Kaye fell off of the instrument rack I had made on the wall (only instrument to fall) and broke the head off of the neck. Around 1996, I took it to James at Blue Note Music (Berkeley) and he fixed it up for me.


Genesis-3 Amp Modeler

I love this gadget. All my life I've been a slave to amp sounds and volume for texture. And I have the lost hearing to prove it. Amp modelers change all that. I can dial in my Marshall stack, a twin reverb (never!), my old tweed Bassman, you name it, I can find something in that range. I'm no longer a slave to the amp. And all at the appropriate volume for where I'm working. I love this thing. Freedom! Most of "The Great Blues Sea" electric sounds were crafted through this box (but not all! I played "The Lightning Strikes" on my standard jazz-chorus setup, a Boss ME-30, into stereo tracks)

Polytone Mini-brute 15

This is my workhorse. I can't for the life of me figure out why I sold my first mini-brute 12? But then other folks would wonder how I ever came to sell an original '57 tweed Bassman? Someday, I'd like to add a min-brute 12 for smaller gigs, since this thing is big and is pretty hefty.

But no other amp that I've ever used is capable of being this "flat", i.e., not coloring the sound much. And, no other amp can get a dark, round, jazz sound that doesn't lose the high strings the way Polytones can. Try that on a post-70's Twin Reverb: you'll get a fuzzy mess and lose the upper register. And, other solid state amps like Rolands just push the middle more, which gets a dense, cut through sound, but it's not pretty, IMHO. It's more electric and dull.

Acoustic Image


Nady CM-90 Condenser

These may be cheap mics, but they deliver a great sound. And if you bork on on the gig, not much lost. I got mine used for $20 for a pair. Now, this is my touring guitar mic. Can't live without it. It's a great pairing with the Guild on stage.

I have a pair of Oktava's that are very similar, but the CM 90's are livelier and seem more rugged, so that's what I work with.

Sennhieser S-835 dynamic

I've tried a bunch of vocal mics. I'm really used to an Shure SM57 (of which I have an old pair) But I wasn't getting the detail I wanted, especially the lower, soft detail. The Neuman KMS 105 renders a lot of detail, but makes my voice seem really dense. I think it's just to hot and even for me. I don't like the Shure Beta series - too bright with a real lack on the low soft stuff, and the super-cardiod pattern's too tight. I almost always play while I sing, so the mics on a stand and it's easy to get off-center. Sara Shansky turned me on to the 835. It's gets a lot of lower detail, which I need, and is not too bright on top. That's my biggest problem with the mic: I need to roll-off the mids just a bit. When I'm not "on", I tend to tighten up my vocal production and get a bit brassy. So this mic can make me sound brassier than I might through something like an SM57. Still, when I'm in my vocal groove, this mic picks it up and pushes it out to the room beautifully.



Contact Brook at: info(at)magicbrook(dot)com