Category Archives: interview
I love a screaming guitar solo as much as anyone, but some of my favorite music to listen to is that greasy, slow, electric fingerpicking blues guitar. Lightning Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, and R.L. Burnside are some of my favorites in that style.
I’ve gotten several requests to cover the song “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” by Skip James. It’s a perfect slow blues song to perform as a solo 6-string arrangement, since it has such a killer vocal melody and baseline.
For this recording, I chose to pick on my vintage Harmony Monterey guitar. It’s got a clean and punchy acoustic tone, which I mic’ed with a WA-47 Tube mic from Warm Audio. I also plugged the guitar into a Fender Princeton Blackface (re-issue) with the vibrato intensity cranked to 11. The old Hershey bar pickup in the Harmony is in neck position, which also contributes to the warm, full-bodied electric tone. Watch the video above, for the complete details on the gear and settings I used.
If you want to check out more of my rig-rundowns, and get a behind-the-scenes look into my recordings and videos, Subscribe to my new channel “Live form the Guitar Loft” HERE. If you have song requests or gear questions, let me know in the comments there. That channel is devoted to answering questions and requests.
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While following my own passion for Roots Music and homemade Roots instruments around the world, I often run into other builders, players, and enthusiasts who are committed to offering their time and talents to expanding the limits of the Roots Music Revival and the Folk Art traditions that encircle it. During my last Australian tour, I met Mark Wilmot, a talented luthier and pioneer in the global Roots Instrument scene. Wilmot epitomizes the concept that the right combination of humility, talent, honesty, and community-minded work will resonate with a market of artists, crafters, and music lovers. What began as a hobby of building instruments at home for friends grew quickly into a full-time job, and gave rise to three separate companies.. MRWS Instruments, which offers an extensive array of guitar parts and accessories in support of the burgeoning global community of Roots Instrument builders, as well as sister companies Raven Box Guitars and Mortal Coil Pickups. Here’s what Mark has to say about how he got started and how he turned his love of music and woodworking into a business that serves as an oasis for those seeking quality parts, beautiful guitars, and some of the coolest looking electric guitar pickups available.
Check out www.MRWSinstruments.com
Q: What first inspired you to start building guitars?
A: You know what? I’m going to have to be honest about this: I haven’t a clue. At the very least, I don’t remember the catalyst. I do remember my first build, though: a paint can diddley-bow. And the only reason I built that was because I hadn’t built one. In general, I’ve always enjoyed building whatever I can build. From the first time that I picked up a guitar at thirteen years old, I knew I’d eventually build one. So I guess what inspired me to keep making them was the immediate interest from others to make them one as well.
Q: What defines your style of instrument building?
A: I love wood. Yeah, that’s right, you heard me. There are some amazingly beautiful timbers in Australia and I love to showcase them in my builds. All of my necks are between three and seven laminations and of at least two timber species. I also put a lot of emphasis on the shape of my heels.
Timber plays an integral role in guitar building, not only in sound but also in general aesthetics. I’m very specific about how things sound. I spend a lot of time on setting up my instruments to make sure I get the action and intonation as close to perfect as possible.
Q: Your instruments seem to be designed from a player’s point of view. Do you have a background in musical performance?
A: I was in a few bands when I was younger. I was never a professional, but I understood how the instrument I was playing worked and I knew from the first time I built a fretted 3 string guitar that the intonation was going to be an issue. The action was never a problem, but in my first few creations, I just couldn’t get the intonation right. So it was the bridge that was letting me down. To combat this problem I developed a multi-piece timber bridge that allowed me to move each section to get the right compensation for each string. This only worked for me up to a point as I tend to be heavy handed when I hit the strings, which gave the bridge a tendency to move. Then I had some electric guitar bridges manufactured for 3 and 4 string instruments. I do believe there are others who now stock this as well.
Q: What inspired you to make the leap from building guitars, to distributing parts and kits?
A: Australia is a long way away from anything. Depending on what and how you purchase parts from overseas, shipping can be exorbitant. I knew there were other builders in my part of the world, and if I was having this shipping dilemma, they were as well. This is the reason I chose to start MRWS. This way I could keep the prices on parts and shipping affordable. The first few items I stocked were kits, machine heads, and various guitar electronics. The kits were a natural progression from selling parts. There’s nothing better than having all the parts you’re after available in one place without going on a treasure hunt.
Q: I find that the guitar parts you sell through MRWS Instruments are affordable, but not “cheap” in quality. What process of quality control do you go through before offering your parts for sale?
A: I sample all of the parts that I stock before they’re available on my site, and I rigorously test them. If they don’t make the cut, I don’t order them. Simple.
Q: By distributing parts around the world to luthiers, you must see trends come and go. Where do you see the guitar building market going?
A: When I started MRWS, I was met with a fair amount of resistance from some already in the industry. Was this because the industry was too small, maybe only a trend itself? Luckily, no. It has grown quite a lot since I began. Certainly the needs of builders change, whether they are building cigar box guitars or 3, 4 or 6 string solid bodies, resonators, kalimbas or amplifiers. I do my best to add products as I see the industry evolve, as well as my own needs as a builder. I always try to keep the core parts for beginners as well as the more seasoned CBG builders. Regardless of where the market wanders, I hope to always be a part of it.
Q: You offer some amazing hand-wound custom pickups through your brand, “Mortal Coil.” Tell me a little bit about how this brand came to be, and what you offer through your line of pickups.
A: Like I stated before, I love making stuff. I made a conscious effort to build an entire guitar from scratch. This included the electronics. Unfortunately I don’t have the foundry to turn ore into metal, but I can make some of the components from already manufactured parts. I also have a lot of timber off-cuts and I tend to horde the nicer species. There’s only so much room in a person’s workshop, so I used the smaller of these off-cuts to make the bobbins for the pickups. After winding a few for myself and finding that they were successful in making the sound I was after, I thought I’d make a few more and offer them to the public to see what happened. I’m glad I did. I’m only offering single coil pups at the moment, but I am developing both humbuckers and low-profile pickups.
And the brand name? Mortal Coil just sounds cool.
Q: What advice would you give to luthiers who are just starting out building their own stringed instruments?
A: Make it your own. Take time to evolve your techniques. Don’t rush. Focus on the sound, not the look. It should be an instrument first and art second. There’s nothing worse than spending time and money on the finished look of a guitar, only to end up with an unplayable wall hanging. Keep your first build. It will be a reminder. Both good and bad.
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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
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