My Stable of Instruments

Collings MT mandolin | Wendler ElectroCoustic mandolin | Seagull S6 guitar | Juzek violin | Peavey TL-6 bass | Trinity College bouzouki | Dunhuang pipa | Ashbory bass

My Acoustic Mandolin - Collings MT, serial #470

Collings Guitars (and Mandolins)

What can I say about these instruments that hasn't been said already? When I started mandolin, it was on an Epiphone that I picked up on a whim at the local Sam Ash. It was fun. It got me started. But then, one day during a visit to my sister-in-law in Pittsburgh, I stopped at a store called the Acoustic Music Works. I was thinking maybe it was time to move up to a mid-range instrument, but then the owner pulled out 3 Collings MT models from the back room, and I fell in love. Even my wife instantly noticed the difference in the sound (I think the quote was, "hey, now you sound like you actually know how to play!"). Somehow I convinced her that this was the mando for me, and I walked out with it tucked under my arm. I have not been sorry one moment since. The instrument is extremely playable, has a wonderful tone that is flexible enough to handle the wide range of music I play, and I love the matte finish on it. Many people come up to me thinking I am playing some old vintage instrument, and I like it that way. My only additions to the instrument have been a Tone-Gard and a King Brown, over-the-tailpiece armrest. I use D'addario EXP74 strings and Wegen M-150 picks. This was the instrument that made me obsessed with the mandolin!

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My Electric Mandolin - Wendler custom 10-string ElectroCoustic Mandolin, serial #185

Wendler ElectroCoustic

Dave Wendler at ElectroCoustic has come up with a pretty fantastic approach to the creation of solid body instruments. His philosophy revolves around creating a solid body electric instrument that still maintains many of the resonating properties of an acoustic instrument. For example, he carves the bodies out of western red cedar rather than the typical hardwoods used in other solidbodies. The bodies are also "double-carved" (the back is carved out as well). This combination allows the body of the instrument to behave more like a carved-top acoustic instrument. He has also developed what he calls the "Mag-Pi" pickup system, combining a magnetic pickup at the end of the fretboard with a piezo pickup in the bridge. The result is a pretty fansastic sounding instrument that retains much of the warmth and character of an acoustic mandolin with the sustain and flexibility of an electric one. This particular instrument is a 10-string, adding a course of C strings to the bottom of the range. All in all, I am already having tremendous amount of fun with this instrument. I see using this primarily for the jazzier end of my playing range, but I have only just begun to explore the possibilities. I am using Vox amplification, both their Amplug ac30 for headphone practice and their AD-30VT modelling amp for live playing.

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My Guitar - Seagull S6 Cedar Original

Seagull Guitars

It seems that for as long as I can remember, there was some old beater of an acoustic guitar lying around our house, so it was only natural that I at least get down the basics. I have taught myself a bit of classical style playing, have done alot of around-the-campfire strumming, and can occasionally get a decent blues groove going. However, when I began teaching elementary school general music, I needed to get myself an instrument that would actually perform a bit better than those old beaters. So, I picked a budget (I am a music teacher after all) and went around to all of the local music stores and literally tried every instrument I could find in my price range. There actually weren't as many as I thought, and it became clear to me very quickly that for the money, nothing was beating the sound I was getting from the Seagull instruments. That was basically it - in the end it is the sound of the instrument that is paramount to me - so the choice was obvious. It has served many years in many classrooms and jam sessions, picking up only the occasional little dent or so. Most recently, I have been experimenting with re-stringing and re-tuning the instrument into a kind of 6 string octave mando thing. Still working on the details with that one, but the trusty Seagull is putting up with my meddling quite well.

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My Violin - Juzek "German" 4/4

So, even though this instrument is coming third on my list, violin was the first instrument I learned to play, starting in the Suzuki program when I was 4 years old. My first instrument, lost to the winds of time, was a 1/8th size, and over the years, I gradually moved up to better and better instruments (though my sister's 1/16th size is still with my parents, and still gets played on occasion). This particular violin was put into my hands by the teacher I studied with in high school, and while I dont know much about its history, it is definitely the best sounding violin I ever owned. The little research I have done on the maker places this instrument in the later, German, period of manufacture, so I am sure it is nothing spectacular, but it gets me by. I use a traditional Kun shoulder rest, and was given a very nice bow several years ago by my wife, though I no longer remember who the maker was. I also use a Barcus-Berry pickup on the instrument for those rare times that I am looking for a more electric sound. I will probably never have a need for a different violin, so I am happy this is the one I ended up with. (Perhaps it is the peanut I have been carrying around in the case since my 11th grade year...)

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Peavey TL-6 Electric Bass

Peavey Basses

My history with the electric bass began in junior high (I guess now they call it middle school) when my choir performed a couple of pieces that they wanted to use rhythm section on. I had messed around a bit with guitar, and had been playing violin for years, so I figured, why not add the bass? I borrowed the generic electric bass that my school owned, brushed up on my bass clef, wrapped my brain around the new fingering patterns, and was able to pull off the concerts without causing too much offence. The following year, I started playing as one of two bass players in the jazz band, and talked my parents into letting me buy my own bass (what I am now convinced was a homemade four-string fretless) and an amplifier. I started practicing more seriously, and by high school, the other bass player had moved up to play lead trumpet, and I was left as the sole bass player. I kept up with bass through college, though not seriously, and then took the instrument up again seriously when I moved to Connecticut in 1992. This was when I found this instrument in a local "for sale" ad, and as I was a big John Pattitucci fan at the time, I jumped at the chance to have a six-string. I then played for several years in a couple of local bands, most notably Fretwater, with Ron Cody, Frank Varella and Keith Mallory. These days I mostly keep the bass around so that I can add bass tracks to my own recordings, though occasionaly I still find a jazz gig to play here and there. I also use SWR amplification.

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Trinity College Bouzouki

I picked this instrument up a couple years back when I sold an old laptop computer (the only way I was allowed to buy another instrument...) Admittedly it is not the top of the line when it comes to bouzoukis, but this one has a nice enough tone, and is more than playable. It was the first time I had bought a used instrument sight-unseen, but I was not dissapointed. I use the 'zouk primarily as a guitar fill-in. When I do vocal numbers, I use this to accompany me, since my fingers are more used to Mandolin fingering now than guitar. I keep it tuned to GDAE, and use a capo frequently on it. I have worked up several solo tunes on it too, though the scale somewhat limits fast work in un-capoed keys. (I am thankful for all of the pinky work my violin teachers made me do over the years). I do also, somewhat uncharacteristically, use finger picks (thumb, first and middle fingers) to play, as opposed to a flat pick. It allows for fuller rhythmic accompaniment, I think, and well, just works for me. Someday, as a dream, I would love to upgrade to a better 'zouk, but for now, I cant really complain about how this one handles itself.


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Rosewood Dunhuang "Yun" Pipa

Eason Pipas

First, what is a Pipa? The pipa is the traditional 4-string Chinese lute, possibly one of the oldest such string instruments known today. The body is a very shallow teardrop shape, with bamboo frets running up most of the face of the instrument past the neck. The modern version is played vertically on the lap, with artificial nails being worn by the right hand to push ("Pi) and pull ("Pa") the strings. I bought this instrument after we returned from China with our daughter in 2007. Since it has four strings, I figured there had to be some connection to the mandolin, but of course I have discovered that the similarities end about there. The main challenge of the instrument is mastering the many, many right-hand techniques required to play music. I am only just starting my journey on this instrument, but look forward to the challenges, and to the connection that it helps me to build and maintain with my daughter's culture and musical heritage. If you would like to hear a real player on this instrument, check out Min Xiao-Fen.

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Ashbory Bass by Fender

Ashbory Basses at Large Sound

O.K. - So I thought I had seen and heard it all. I have been fortunate in my life to get to experience a VERY wide range of instruments, and have always had an attraction to the more... unusual... varieties. A short while ago I was perusing a forum at where a mandolinist was asking how to make their mandolin sound like a bass. As I looked through the responses, there were several that revolved around the "Ashbory Bass." Now, I have been a bass player for many years, and this was a new one to me, so I had to check it out. Turns out, a couple of guys discovered that running rubberbands over a piezo pickup results in a pretty useful and interesting sound. They developed the concept further, replaced the rubberbands with silicon-rubber o-rings, and added active electronics, and voila! the Ashbory was born. Now, who would expect the sound of an upright acoustic bass to come out of an 18" scale "dogbone" like this, but that is exactly what happens! The neck is fretless, and the mechanics of the rubber strings gives that same depth and character that you get out of an upright. I frankly didn't believe it until I got mine and tried it, and now I am a believer. It is a joy to play, is ultra portable, and will be accompanying me to many future gigs. If you are interested in learning more, check out Large Sound, which has become the internet resource for Ashbory. The instruments are now branded by Fender, but are still independently produced.

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