Sarah Jarosz’s String Garden

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter


Jarosz plays a mandolin and a guitar that are both made by Collings, an Austin, Texas company near her hometown of Wimberley. Collings boasts an impressive roster of clients, from classic rockers like Robert Plant and Pete Townshend to Texas legend Lyle Lovett and Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst.

“The Collings factory is close to where I live,” Jarosz says, “and (general manager) Steve McCreary has just been great to me. I had a couple cheaper mandolins when I started out as a kid but I really wanted something better. I got my Collings mandolin in June of ‘03, and thankfully they really helped me out with a good deal when I was so young and trying to get a good instrument. It’s been a great mandolin for me, and it’s aged nicely over the years like a good instrument should.”

The mandolin is a Collings MF5, an F-style model with a carved red Adirondack spruce top, maple back, sides and neck, and a 22-fret radiused ebony fingerboard. It has an adjustable ebony bridge and a Collings original one-piece tailpiece. Other Collings mandolin users include Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons and Kym Warner of The Greencards.

McCreary says he’s been a fan of Jarosz’s since her early days as a performer. “A friend of mine had a pickin’ circle,” McCreary says, “and he told me about this young girl, she was 11 or 12 years old, that he said was really something, she was gonna be somebody. I’d been to enough IBMA shows and seen a lot of young kids who were really talented, but about a year later I met her and she was everything he said she was. Not just an amazingly talented girl, but soulful for being so young, a beyond-her-years type of thing.”

“I took two or three f-style mandolins to her house and she picked one out,” he continues, “and she’s still playing that one today. I’ve tried over the years to see if she wanted something else, told her we’d put something together, but she’s happy with that one. She sounds great on it because she’s one of those artists who can make anything sound good. So many prominent players recognize her talent; when she was young Tim O’Brien or Ricky Skaggs or David Grisman would be in town and just have her come up on stage and give her the mic. And the guys who play with her (Hargreaves and Smith) are amazing as well.”

As a soloist, Jarosz clearly stands out on the mandolin, the instrument she has played longer than any other. When it comes to guitar Jarosz concentrates mostly on rhythm and arpeggios of her not-so-traditional chord progressions to back up her acclaimed vocal abilities, and is studying guitar in Boston. Her guitar is a Collings D1A dreadnought with an Adirondack spruce top, as opposed to the company’s D1 with its top of Sitka spruce. The D1A has a Honduran mahogany back and sides, flamed mahogany neck, 15 5/8-inch lower bout, and 25 1/2-inch scale length with an ebony fingerboard and bridge. “When I started getting more into guitar,” she says, “I got my D1A from Collings, in ‘05. They had made two guitars for (multi-instrumentalist) David Bromberg to choose from for his birthday, and I wound up playing the one he didn’t keep. I love that guitar so much, it’s great! I don’t have the biggest hands, so I really like it because it fits my hands but still has a big sound. It doesn’t have a tiny body, and it just fits me really well.” Other D1A players include Andy Falco of the Infamous Stringdusters and country-rock and progressive bluegrass legend Herb Pedersen.

Jarosz uses the guitar on three tracks of her most recent album, along with a 1959 Les Paul gold top she borrowed while recording in Nashville, and a 1940 Gibson L-OO tenor guitar she borrowed from Nashville session guitarist Steven Sheehan. She uses Elixir Nanoweb strings on both Collings instruments. For pickups the D1A has a Fishman Acoustic Matrix, and she uses a Baggs Radius pickup on the mandolin, as well as on her octave mandolin and banjo (below).

McCreary says he’s proud of Collings’ legacy and its association with Jarosz. “A lot of great artists have owned Collings instruments over the years, and even though we’re much smaller than some of the other companies a lot of artists seek us out. But we’re really happy to have new young artists like Sarah playing our instruments.”

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