It’s hard to believe but the holidays are just around the corner. If you haven’t finalized your wish list yet, don’t fret — we have the skinny on the best guitars and gear out there for all your songwriting needs.
For this year’s holiday gear guide shoot, we traveled to American Legion Post 82 in East Nashville. The venue is the home of the weekly concert series Honky Tonk Tuesdays. There you can find some of the best old-school country music in town and two-step you heart away.
Joining us for the shoot at the Legion was Jillian Jacqueline and her producer Tofer Brown. Jillian, a Nashville-based artist signed to Big Loud Records, grew up in Pennsylvania and has been performing since her youth. Her music spans country, pop and folk. Her new album, which will feature the single “God Bless This Mess,” is expected to drop in 2018. Brown, a Nashville-based songwriter, artist and producer, has released two solo albums under his own name. He also produced Jacqueline’s most recent EP.
All photos by Mackenzie Moore
Taylor 362CE 12-String Acoustic-Electric (above, left)
A 12-string is a great instrument to have around to add that extra spice to a track or to accompany oneself with a more orchestral sound, or even for creating innovating picking patterns and lead or slide lines à la Leo Kottke. Taylor’s 362CE 12-string acoustic-electric is up to the task for all of these and much more. Its Grand Concert body (similar to 000) projects with the gusto of a jumbo dread, and its 12 strings cover lows through highs with nice balance and a sustain that goes on forever.
This surprisingly lightweight guitar is a looker as well, with a Venetian cutaway, satin finish mahogany top, satin finish Tasmanian blackwood back and sides, and small diamonds for the fretboard inlay. The Grand Concert shape makes playing a little easier than a 12-string with a jumbo body might be while sacrificing no volume. It has a three-ring rosette against a black pickguard, and has chrome tuners with a chrome strap button under the heel. It comes with the ES-2 electronics system and a hardshell case.
Deering White Lotus 5-String Banjo (above, right)
Banjo players playing an instrument with a metal tone ring have long had to deal with keeping a heavy banjo in check when it wants to point itself to the floor, but the metal ring has long been considered a necessity that could make or break a banjo’s sound. Now, Deering, a company noted for a wide range of banjos for every price point and skill level, has built the ring-less White Lotus 5-string banjo, which offers an impressive, modern sound while allowing a picker to concentrate on his or her playing without having to deal with the banjo sliding south.
With a rim made of American white oak, the eight-pound, superbly-crafted White Lotus offers exceptional playability and a bright, crisp punch without a metal tone ring, and without losing the sound a banjo is noted for in terms of the delivery of solid mids, lows and highs. Deering is ushering in a new era for banjo construction for the modern player with the White Lotus, which is great for bluegrass, clawhammer, and overall contemporary playing.
Reverend Reeves Gabrels Signature Dirtbike
A veteran guitarist like Reeves Gabrels (David Bowie, The Cure) obviously knows by now what he’s looking for in an instrument, and the Reeves Gabrels Signature Dirtbike electric from Ohio-based Reverend Guitars was designed with the freedom of Gabrels’ old blue bicycle and blue dirtbike in mind. The idea was to build a no-frills, simple, functional guitar with the essential features a player needs, and Reverend has definitely succeeded with this unique and versatile axe.
The Dirtbike’s single Railhammer Reeves Gabrels signature pickup provides a professional sound that is controlled with not just volume and tone knobs, but with a passive bass roll-off knob for variable pickup voicing. The fretboard is blackwood tek, a technologically modified high-density wood with the appearance of ebony or rosewood, and it’s fast enough for a rock star. With a six-in-line headstock and a Wilkinson whammy, this modern guitar covers all the old basics. The Signature Dirtbike comes in cream, violin brown, and, of course, blue. The two-tone teardrop/submarine case is extra, and is a cool complement to a cool guitar.
Lee Oskar Quick Start Harmonica Kit for Guitar and Ukulele
His hornlike lead and harmony lines with the funk-jazz band War made harmonica (more commonly called a harp) player Lee Oskar a legend, and this ace musician decided to take it a big step further when he created his own harp company over three decades ago. Since then, the instrument line has become a mainstay in the harp industry for beginners and pros alike. Now, Oskar’s Quick Start Kit is available for that artist who wants to add something to spice up his or her performance, or just wants to have more fun.
The package contains four harps, minor-key as well as major-key, and a neck holder for those who want to accompany themselves on a different instrument while playing the harp. It’s labeled for guitar and uke players, but it goes way beyond that, as it’s the ideal package for both the novice and the experienced harp player. With a 16-page instructional booklet that is supported by the educational website www.leeoskarquickguide.com, this is a great holiday gift idea for any artist of any genre.
Martin Jason Isbell Signature Edition D-18 (above, left)
At the summer NAMM convention in Nashville, Jason Isbell said that the primary feature he charged the builders at Martin’s Custom Shop with in creating his Signature Edition D-18 was that he wanted a guitar that was LOUD. Well, he got his wish with this deceptively lightweight D-size axe.
Closely modeled after Martin’s Golden Era series, this guitar boasts an Adirondack spruce top with mahogany back and sides, which all contribute to a balanced and powerful tone. The authentic 1939 standard taper neck, also mahogany, has a fingerboard of ebony, which is also what the bridge and heel cap are made of. The secret weapon here is hide glue, which dissolves into the grain of the wood to help create more resonance. The thin finish and absence of a pickguard help make a loud guitar even louder. Isbell added a personal touch by including a custom inlay of the tattoo on his upper right arm at the 12th fret. This is a guitar that really projects, while combining the features of the old and the new.
Epiphone James Bay Century Electric Archtop Hollowbody
One way to get some attention is to play a cool guitar everyone else isn’t playing. It’s worked great for popular English singer-songwriter-guitar slinger James Bay, whose use of a 1966 Epiphone Century archtop has put him in the ranks of players who have signature model guitars with, namely, the Epiphone James Bay Century Electric Archtop Hollowbody.
This guitar’s body is thin but the instrument is deceptively heavy, courtesy of the dense mahogany neck. There’s not a lot of guesswork with the knobs — there’s volume and tone for the Kinman single-coil P-90 pickup, and the sound is cutting and versatile. The white PVC pickguard with raised Epiphone “E” against the gloss cherry finish makes for an awesome look. Whether you’re looking for something different for your guitar arsenal, or you’re just buying your first electric, the James Bay Century is worth a look and listen, as an axe this cool is sure to produce some good songs and some sweet notes. It comes with a 1960’s Century hard case and replica of James Bay’s strap.
Fender Brad Paisley Signature Road Worn Telecaster Electric Guitar
You can now count Brad Paisley among the musicians who now have a “signature” model instrument, and this one has been a long time in coming. Fender’s new Road Worn Telecaster was designed by longtime-Tele player Paisley, based on a ’63 Tele of his own, with a couple unique touches, like a cool paisley pickguard, a distressed silver sparkle finish, and a body core of extremely lightweight Chinese paulownia with spruce overlay. The neck and fretboard are maple, and the tuners and three-saddle bridge are vintage style.
This guitar has the standard two single-coil pickups, but the neck pickup is the custom-wrapped “Twisted Tele” pickup, which produces a sound that actually leans a little more towards the Strat side of things and gives the guitar a lot of versatility. The bridge pickup provides that classic Tele twang for funky double-stops and pedal steel bends, and the three-position switch allows for a combination of both pickups, making it a good guitar for nearly any situation because of the nearly-endless pickup possibilities. It comes with a deluxe gig bag.
Eastman PCH1-OM Acoustic Guitar (above, left)
For the veteran or aspiring picker who doesn’t have a ton of cash to plunk down on a top-tier guitar, Eastman’s new PCH1-OM, part of the company’s Pacific Coast Highway series, is an instrument that has features beyond its price point. It sounds good and plays easily and well, with good sustain, balance and intonation, and the maple neck’s rosewood fretboard is fast and accurate. It has a bone nut and a bone bridge saddle, which affect sound far more than some people think they do, and which are a bit of a surprise for a guitar in this price range.
The body is somewhere in the neighborhood of Orchestra Model size, and has a Sitka spruce top, and mahogany laminate back and sides. The maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard joins the body at the 14th fret. And it looks good, with an abalone ring rosette, pearl dot inlay, black ABS binding and nickel hardware. This is a great beginner’s guitar, as well as a good axe to just have around for writing or jamming.
Taylor 816CE Deluxe Acoustic-Electric
Taylor has long been noted for instruments that are cutting-edge while maintaining a sense of tradition, and this continues to be the case with the company’s 800 series of acoustic-electrics. Taylor’s 816CE Deluxe model, with its Grand Symphony body width of 16.25 inches, gives maximum projection without an overbearing bottom end, covering all the frequencies evenly with a uniform decay. With outstanding action from the tropical mahogany neck with ebony fretboard, the guitar uses the torque-balanced gearing of Gotoh 510 tuners for tuning precision. The neck joins the body at the 14th fret, and the guitar has a Florentine cutaway.
The sides and two-piece back are Indian rosewood, and the Sitka spruce top has a striking rosewood pickguard, abalone rosette, and integrated maple armrest with rosewood trim. Taylor’s ES-2 electronics system delivers superior sound that stays true to the guitar’s own natural acoustic characteristics. Taylor once again has a winner on its hands with this superbly-crafted instrument, which is a work of art visually as well as sonically. It comes with a deluxe brown hardshell case.
Paul Reed Smith J-MOD 100 Guitar Amplifier
Known for decades for building high-end, aesthetically-innovative guitars, Paul Reed Smith’s namesake company is making its entry into the amp market with the J-MOD 100, designed by PRS and millennial guitar favorite John Mayer. The multi-stylistic Mayer was looking for one amp that could do it all, an amalgam of all the amps he has loved. With this amp, which can go from biting and soaring rock to funk to gritty blues, the mission seems to have been accomplished.
The J-MOD 100 is a single channel 100-watt amp with a switchable gain stage and effects loop for reverb and other enhancements. Versatility is the word here; a bright switch to add high end, and presence control that boosts the high-end in the power amp section of the amplifier, the J-MOD 100 covers a lot of bases no matter what type of guitar is plugged into it. The amp comes with a great-looking, stealth-color pine cabinet with a salt-and-pepper grill that houses two 12-inch Celestion speakers, and a footswitch for the gain boost and effects loop activation.
Ovation Glen Campbell Signature Custom Legend Natural 1627
The late and revered Glen Campbell helped make the now-iconic Ovation guitar, with its round back, a favorite of pickers of every genre. The Custom Legend Natural from Ovation’s Custom Shop is a faithful re-creation of the 1627 model Campbell played as he brought the brand to the forefront. With a mid-depth body, AAA Sitka spruce top and a neck of maple, walnut and mahogany, the guitar is nearly an exact duplicate of Campbell’s original axe, and has his signature inlaid on the truss rod cover and above the 20th fret over the soundhole.
With an actual inlaid acrylic pearl oak-leaves rosette instead of an applied one, ebony fingerboard and bridge, and gold strap buttons and Schaller tuning machines and pegs, it plays, sounds and looks great. The electronics is the SKM preamp with a volume knob on the upper bout opposite the strap button. This is a wonderful guitar, modeled after the instrument of a legend. It may be old school, but it’s a school most of us would love to graduate from.
Framus Legacy Series FD28 Acoustic-Electric Dreadnought
Framus guitars have been played by some of the world’s biggest stars, and the company’s Legacy Series features several fine models, including the FD28 acoustic-electric. With a AA Sitka spruce top and Indian rosewood back and sides, this guitar has excellent balance, intonation and projection, and sounds great both acoustically and electronically. The Fishman Prefix Plus T preamp allows for an infinite number of setting adjustments without touching an amp or PA head, with onboard controls for notch, bass, contour, treble, brilliance, contour frequency and phase. It also has a built-in tuner.
The 21-fret mahogany neck has a fast ebony fretboard, and a Venetian cutaway makes it easier to hit those high notes. The bridge and bridge pins are ebony as well, the nut and bridge saddle are made of Tusq, and the tuners are vintage open gear gold Grovers that match the gold strap button facing out from the back of the neck heel. Framus has been making important, high-quality instruments for decades, and this is another one that’s well worth checking out.
Framus Legacy Series Jumbo 12-String Acoustic (above, left)
German instrument company Framus has been known for more than half a century for building just about anything with strings and more, from amplifiers to zithers. The company has lately been making greater forays into the acoustic market, and its FJ14 Jumbo 12-string acoustic is a nice addition to the company’s Legacy Series line. With laminated AAA grade flame maple for the back and sides, a Sitka spruce top, and bone nut and saddle, this jumbo dread is a really loud and balanced guitar that rings forever, the way a good 12-string should.
Aesthetically this guitar is a beauty, with tortoise body and neck binding and dual rosettes that are awesome with the flame maple and the natural top. Between its body size, wood combination, tasteful peghead inlay and all those strings, this axe is as much fun to look as it is to play. It has endless applications in the studio, in the live setting, and in the jam situation, where it will totally hold its own against instruments like fiddles or banjos.
Batson GC21 Troubadour Acoustic-Electric Guitar (above, right)
Tennessee-based guitar company Batson offers an instrument that not only plays and sounds great, but is one of the most aesthetically exciting acoustic-electrics around, with its GC21 Troubadour. With a combination of East Indian rosewood and Sitka spruce that give it great tone and balance, the guitar boasts a sweet flamed-maple beveled armrest and binding, with an ebony bridge and tailpiece. The cantilevered neck has an ebony fingerboard that makes for fast and smooth left-hand work, and joins the body at the 14th fret, with easy lead-playing access up the 21-fret neck with the Venetian cutaway.
With a medium-ish body a tad larger than an orchestra model, this guitar’s soundhole is in the top of the upper bout instead of the top of the soundboard, making its appearance both sleek and modern. It has chrome tuners, and Batson utilizes the Buzz Feiten tuning system, helping provide accurate tuning when playing open chords. The Troubadour is a unique, nice-sounding axe, both unplugged and when run through an amp or PA, and is well worth checking out.