Wednesday 5th of December 2012 01:02:09 PM By: Richard Flynn
World-hopping Aussie-bred bluesman Gwyn Ashton is back with a new album, Radiogram, and for the recording sessions he dug deep into his impressive stash of classic electrics, acoustics and resonators. Lars Mullen hitches a ride
‘Anyway, let’s calm down! The next three all have DeArmond soundhole pickups. I bought the cutaway Marris on a whim in Poland. I can’t remember why, but I needed an acoustic as soon as possible to get me through a gig that night, so I found the nearest guitar shop and this was in window. I think I paid the equivalent of about £60. I’ve since had it refretted with decent fretwire, as the original wire was as soft as lead. It’s turned out to be awesome for the money, and sounds ridiculously close to the Martin.
‘This Gibson Advanced Jumbo is so nice… it just does it all, really. I bought this at a recent show in LA. The store had a really good deal going, plus the exchange rate was good – I paid about a third of the UK price. I was just in the right place at the right time. Like all my acoustics, it features two outputs, one for the soundhole pickup and one for the Fishman Matrix undersaddle.
Finally, my old Eko Ranger VI has a DeArmond pickup in the soundhole, nickel strings and is set up for slide. I found it in Northampton Cash Converters and it sounds great.
‘I’ve got the same dual pickup system in this Tanglewood and Yamaha 12-string, but with Sunrise pickups in the soundholes and the outputs feeding quite an elaborate system. These two are working guitars that add sprinklings to the recordings, as are the mandolins, which are a Vintage resonator and a Suzuki electric.
‘Taking of inspirational guitars, this Otwin Cabinet semi-acoustic jazz guitar dates from around the mid-’30s. It isn’t all that easy to play, but I actually wrote half the songs on the new album with this one. I spotted this in a junk shop in Teplice in the Czech Republic. I was drawn to it by the f-holes that looked like lightning bolts! It was in a hell of a state, with the neck literally hanging off. I nursed it home and took it to Andy Vickers in Bletchley and he worked his magic, gluing it back to being a working guitar. He even got the pickup up and running.
‘I bought the Gibson ES-125T because Chris Whitley used one. This is a great guitar in every department. It was originally designed as a student model with an arched maple top and mahogany back and sides, and it’s mellowed wonderfully with age. I’d like to keep this one in the exceptional condition it’s in, so – like the Otwin – its purpose in life is now a songwriting guitar.’
So far, so normal… well, fairly. But now it’s time for Gwyn’s closet to regurgitate some wackier gems. The first ones are Jolanas, built on Czechoslovakia.
‘If it’s got lots of knobs and switches and tons of chrome hardware, it’s for me,’ announces Gwyn cheerfully. ‘The semi-acoustic on the left is a Jolana Tornado from the ’60s, while the Jolana Alpha is a bit rarer.
‘I’ve also got a couple of Weissenborn-type guitars for lap style playing. One’s an excellent Chinese copy which is built from Tasmanian blackwood, the same timber the originals were made from. The other one is a Style 4, built in Spain, which is just incredible. The tone and sheer volume are an inspiration. These guitars are renowned for their sweet midrange and they can cover a variety of different styles of music. I have this one tuned to open C#.
‘I also have a load of lap steel guitars that sound amazing when hooked up to a tweed Fender Twin. I have an aluminium National from the ’30s, and a brown pearloid Supro which I bought at the Texas guitar show… I’m not sure of the year of this one.
I particularly like the sound of the Supro split-coil pickup, the same one that David Lindley uses. I found the ’50s Bakelite Rickenbacker a little bit closer to home – in Birmingham, in fact. It’s getting a little fragile now, so I’ve retired it to the studio. I get a lot of inspiration for writing with different instruments… even from this Reeves biscuit tin guitar, built from parts from a skip!
‘I’ve also got a thing for some of the old classics in the “oddball and early starter” department. I have a single-pickup Victoria, a Cameo which has the gold foil pickups which Ry Cooder uses, and a Kay.
‘This Airline Town and Country is another favourite. It’s not all original and it’s not easy to play, but it makes me dig in a little further and there’s some nice sounds hidden in there. I have another Kay, a Value Leader from the mid-’60s; the output is a little weak, but it has a real sweet tone.
‘If you’re into alternative body shapes and lines, this Cox Classic baritone with three P90s is firmly in the Mosrite camp, while this very asymmetrical Chandler Austin Special is rather odd with its angled double lipstick pickups and surrounds.’
We just don’t have the space for photos of all of Gwyn’s amps, especially his beloved tweeds, but we can hear about them. ‘In the early days in Australia I used several Marshall stacks and AC30s all hooked up, then I decided to link three reissue Fender Bassmans together… I was the loudest bastard in town,’ he cackles. ‘I’m always on the road, though, so I’ve scaled down to tweed combos from the ’50s.
‘The main one for shows is a raggedy 10W Fender Deluxe combo, it’s just awesome and was used for all tracks on Radiogram mostly at full tilt with the guitar straight in, or with a few classic pedals in the chain.
‘My tweed Champ is a great recording amp, I mean, Joe Walsh’s Rocky Mountain Way… what a great sound. I love all the little amps that those guys recorded with. There’s a whole sonic palette on offer, and it’s just so inspiring when it comes to writing a song.
‘When Killer Kev and myself toured across Europe last year with Magnum as the Two Man Blues Army I really didn’t want to send these precious little amps off into the night boxed up for a gruelling schedule on the road, so I used two transistor Sessionette combos. They’re loud, light and sound terrific.
‘As you can see, I’m also a pedal head. I could talk for a week on this subject. I have original Tone Benders and Rangemasters, and a whole host of modern ones. Analogman’s King Of Tone and this tiny EWS Little Brut Drive are among my faves at the moment.’
So, overall, old school is best? ‘Yep. I’m just not that impressed with what folk are calling blues these days. I think it’s way below standard. I hate this transparent ultra-clean crystal-clear approach to recording that a lot of players want. I love an overdriven, compressed, distorted tape sound. It adds colour to the recording.’
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