Handmade Guitars with a Blues Bias – Interview with Little Crow Guitars
Ever since I was a kid, when I brought my first electric guitar home from the hole-in-the-wall record store down the road, I have been searching for “my sound.” I started off with soaking up classic Blues-inspired rock, and then began tracing those riffs and tones back to where they came from. Having first been inspired by bands like Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Clapton, and Pink Floyd, I was immediately drawn to the Fender sound. I played for years in different bands, performing everything from Blues and Rock to Reggae and Country, all with that trusty Strat by my side.
Then one day I picked up a 4-string cigar box guitar, and my search for tone took a sharp turn. I became drawn the the one-of-a-kind nature of the back-porch tone that came from homemade Roots instruments. The fact that instruments like my Ironing Board Lap Steel, or Washtub Guitar, or Axe-handle One-String Diddley Bow, were made from found objects created an authentically bare-bones tone… it was a sound that reflected the eclectic history and DIY nature of Early Delta and Chicago Blues.
The classic tone of a Strat, and the rugged, down-home tone of the handmade & homemade roots instruments are two sides of the same coin… but I had always wondered if there was a way to merge these two worlds of tone into one sound that captures the classic quality of a vintage solid-body electric guitar without losing touch with the Rootsy simplicity of the earliest forms of Blues Guitars. This search led me to Dave and Viv Street of Little Crow Guitars, a company based in Perth, Western Australia. Once I got to know their work, and learned about the methods and philosophies behind their guitars, I realized that this was the company I had been looking for, for that perfect marriage of classic and one-of-a-kind. In addition to their lines of high-end, custom guitars and basses, they have introduced a brilliant line of guitars called the Blues Plank Series which boasts some of the most innovative and daring Blues-inspired guitar designs I’ve ever seen.
Q: What was the inspiration for creating Little Crow Guitars?
A: I’ve always had an interest in musical instruments. In my early years of furniture making I made some tongue drums and marimbas. A couple of years ago (mid 2012) when we were having a quiet period for furniture sales, my thoughts turned to musical instruments again, this time guitars. As often happens this was spurred on by an event of fortuitous synchronicity: I heard a radio interview about a well known Australian Luthier and how he got started. I was inspired and this set the wheels in motion. We wanted a bird as our logo and after some deliberation we settled on the Little Crow — Australian and pretty well suited to the blues ethos.
Q: One thing I love about your instruments, is that you use a lot of Australian timbers that aren’t often seen in American guitars. Do you have any favorites, and reasons for favoring certain woods?
A: Our favorites are Mountain Ash and Blackwood. Both are well known (in Australia anyway) as good tonewoods. Blackwood is actually related to the Hawaian Koa and has similar qualities. Mountain Ash is less used as a tonewood which I’m surprised about, as it is amazingly resonant. It’s a little trickier to work with, as it is subject to internal checking (tiny cracks) so it has to be carefully graded. These timbers grow in Victoria and Tasmania. Here in West Australia we have West Australian Sheoak which is also a good tonewood and very stable. We use this for fretboards. We also use some Hard Rock Maple, Rosewood, Queensland Maple and Fijian Mahogany.
Q: Your instruments all showcase your amazing woodworking skills. What kind of background do you have in woodworking?
A: I actually came to Australia as a surveyor. Shortly after arriving, I met fellow South African Neil Erasmus who was a practicing cabinet maker of immense skill. He encouraged me to take up woodworking and suddenly I’d found the creative outlet I needed. We ended up moving to West Australia and setting up shop together where I learned all my woodworking skills. Later I met my wife Viv and we set up our own business called Ironwood Studio which has now been going for 23 years. Viv is the finishing expert in the business and she has carried this through to our guitar-making endeavor where she finishes all our guitars with a beautiful satin oil finish. Viv is also the reliable sounding board for new ideas and like a lot of creative partnerships she’s often the unsung hero who keeps the show on the road.
Q: Your slogan is “Handmade guitars with a Blues bias.” Has blues music been a big inspiration for the designs at Little Crow Guitars?
A: Well I’ve always listened to blues music in one form or another and when it came to making guitars it felt comfortable aligning ourselves with the blues genre — it’s the music we know and feel comfortable with. So we make guitars that we know will work in the blues field. It’s not so much a conscious design decision about the blues, but more an intuitive thing, having seen the guitars all the bluesmen over the years have played. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for something new and innovative — I think the blues can be endlessly innovative and we hope to be part of that in a small way.
Q: To me, the Blues Plank Series from Little Crow Guitars represents a perfect marriage between custom shop quality and affordability. What is the concept behind the Blues Plank Series, and what type of models are currently available in it?
A: About a year after starting to make guitars I became aware of the cigar box guitar revival. This appealed immediately and instinctively to my love of minimalism. But not having much of a tradition of cigar smoking in Australia and so a lack of used available boxes I started thinking about other options. Petrol cans and biscuit tins were a possibility but then I thought: what about a basic solid body? We were already making 6-string guitars, why not 3- and 4-string as well. Then I saw Ted Crocker’s Honeydripper and was inspired. Then I heard Justin Johnson playing and was further inspired. Then I plucked up the courage to ask Justin if he’d be willing to demo and showcase a solid body 3- or 4-string (by this time dubbed t
he Blues Plank). He embraced the idea wholeheartedly, much to our delight, and they’ve been developing ever since, with Justin’s help and guidance.
We make a neck-through construction (NT 3,4) and a bolt-on construction (BO 3,4, resonator and bass).
The Blues Plank 6-String is also a neck-through construction. Initially produced with a single P90, this is still in development and will be available with other pickup configurations. A bolt on 6-string is also in the pipeline.
You can check out Little Crow Guitars’ website at: http://www.LittleCrowGuitars.com
Thanks for reading, and if you like this interview, please click the “FOLLOW,” button at the top right of this page to stay updated with future articles from RootsMusicSchool.org!
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive
Posted on July 23, 2015, in 3 string, 4 string, blues, cigar box guitar, diy, interview, justin johnson, slide guitar and tagged 3 string, 3 string cigar box guitar, 4 string, australia, Blues, Blues Guitar, Blues Music, body, builder, buy, Cigar Box Guitar, crow, electric, guitar, justin, Justin Johnson, little, little crow, luthier, resonator, Roots Music, sale, solid, solidbody. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.