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From the October 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY NICK MILLEVOI

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Wilco guitarist and adept improviser Nels Cline is fatigued to a guitar that’s lived a activity and has a story. Each of his instruments—from a reconstructed 1940s Harmony Sovereign to a 1959 Fender Jazzmaster, which afresh appropriate the two behindhand of its anatomy to be alert aback together—seems to accept a bright background, and every time Cline cracks accessible addition case, I get the abounding briefing on what’s inside.

I’m visiting Cline at his Brooklyn, New York, accommodation on a late-May afternoon so we can baddest the appropriate brace of instruments to use for Cline’s accessible concert “Lovers (for Philadelphia),” area he will premiere a new set of Philadelphia-specific actual with his 17-piece Lovers activity band. Cline and I will accomplish a duo adaptation of Eddie Lang’s “April Kisses” and we charge to get aloof the appropriate sound. This leads us to the “mystery Dobro.”

“Nobody knows what it is,” Cline explains. Built in the 1930s, the small-bodied resonator guitar sounds like a cantankerous amid a banjo and a tin can, and sports an Art Deco–style acrylic job. Cline bought the guitar in an unplayable accompaniment and had luthier Tom Crandall accompany it aback to activity at his Manhattan shop, TR Crandall. (See a contour of Crandall in the May 2018 affair of AG.)

This apparatus is allotment of Cline’s accepted attraction with the resonator guitar, which kicked into aerial accessory back he bought his “Curtis Rogers” resonator at TR Crandall four years ago. “I antic that if they apperceive I’m coming, put some absolutely distressed-looking guitar up in the abundance and I’ll ask about it,” he says. The attraction of this apparatus led to the conception of a new project, the Curtis Rogers Memorial Resonator Excursion, which he premiered at this year’s Newport Folk Festival. The Excursion isn’t Cline’s aboriginal acoustic project, so he and I took this befalling to altercate his accord with the instrument.

What can you acquaint me about the Curtis Rogers Memorial Resonator Excursion?

I’m activity to comedy the accomplished gig on this old National that already belonged to a man called Curtis Rogers, who was some affectionate of traveling-cowboy accompanist affectionate of guy. I don’t apperceive if cowboy is the appropriate word, but added of a dust-blown guy than a dejection guy. There’s not abundant accepted about him—he didn’t almanac or anything; he aloof put his name, Curtis R, on the close of the guitar.

I acquired this guitar absolutely accidentally back I saw it blind at TR Crandall guitars, area Tom Crandall had rather obsessively and amazingly re-created its fretboard. There’s a blog about this guitar on their website. It describes all the rebuilding Tom did, including activity out and award the sequins that go on it to try to absolutely bout the close on the old fingerboard. I saw it and aloof thought, “What the hell is that?” It’s the best amazing-looking guitar I’ve anytime seen. I played it and it has the best amazing sound.

This guitar was so decayed out in some areas that Rogers would acrylic it gold over the blight and again that would rust. There’s additionally a painting of his wife on the guitar; it’s array of dematerialization and it looks amazing. The guitar still has the jute strap, the cord that he acclimated for a strap, that Tom actual acquiescently larboard on.

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I feel like in adjustment to absolve owning this aces instrument, I should apparently accomplish a almanac aloof on that guitar. So it’s accepting these thoughts in my arch that I came up with this abstraction for Newport: what if I comedy the accomplished set on the Curtis Rogers guitar and aloof address the accomplished set to him, to his memory, whoever he was, and comedy some actual that he may accept played or been in his wheelhouse?

Have you anytime done a activity like this—inspired by a specific instrument?

I created a six-piece resonator-and-banjo ensemble aftermost summer at [New York concert venue] the Stone, so I would say the apparatus of the resonator guitar aggressive at atomic some music, but not one accurate instrument. I didn’t comedy the Curtis Rogers because I was accomplishing guitar affairs and assault the hell out of my Supro Folkstar. I didn’t appetite to abort the frets or annihilation on the Curtis Rogers.

What drew you to resonators in the aboriginal place?

My antecedent absorption in resonator guitars was absolutely the aboveboard neck, the slide. I went for the aboveboard close aboriginal aloof because I comedy a lot of lap animate with Wilco. Back we comedy acoustic sets, sometimes there are four acoustic guitars playing, so rather than be riffing abroad like everybody else, texturally, I anticipate the accelerate absolutely stands out.

Early in your career you played a lot of acoustic guitar.

I was arena a lot of acoustic guitar at that time, aggressive by Ralph Towner particularly, but additionally classical guitar, alike admitting I don’t comedy classical technique. So I was alert to Julian Bream, Egberto Gismonti, Baden Powell, Bola Sete, and again John McLaughlin—Shakti, My Goals Beyond, those records—and Bill Connors’ Theme to the Guardian. These were important annal with important sounds.

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Quartet Music was one of your aboriginal groups that was all-acoustic.

I was in an acoustic duo with [bassist] Eric Von Essen that angry into Quartet Music with [violinist] Jeff Gauthier and [Cline’s percussionist accompanying brother] Alex and existed for about 11 years. That was absolutely acoustic, with all kinds of attempts at authoritative the acoustics aural while still authoritative them complete acoustic. Through the ’80s that was appealing difficult, but we had some appealing abandoned attempts. I had this little saltshaker microphone that I airtight assimilate all my guitars, again I had a aggregate bulge on a absolute box, again that would go to the PA.

We had our own monitors that we would accompany with us that were two Auratone speakers ashore calm that were abaft our active so that we didn’t accept to accept a block or anything. It absolutely formed absolutely well, but you know, the accomplished botheration with acoustic music is that it’s a loud apple and I don’t favor the complete of pickups in acoustic guitars. I anticipate that it’s consistently a disappointment, no amount how fancy, or no amount how well-installed. It’s an approximation.

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What was your guitar with that ensemble?

For a aerial academy graduation present, I got a little Kazuo Yairi apprentice archetypal classical guitar. I still accept it, forth with my Martin 00-17.

Talk about your history with the Martin.

In the backward ’70s I wanted/needed an acoustic steel-string, so I went to Fred Walecki’s Westwood Music [in Los Angeles.] Aback then, the guitarists I admired—primarily John McLaughlin and Bill Connors—played Ovations. I approved one and didn’t like it; approved a brace of dreadnoughts and wasn’t into them, either. Fred was stringing up this beat-up little Martin and appropriate I comedy it. The activity was sky-high. It was what some association ability appellation a bivouac guitar—never played aloft the fifth fret. The affability pegs were bent, rusty, trashed, and the case was for a abundant bigger guitar. But I admired it. I adopted $250 from my parents and bought it. Thank you, Fred!

Later you were in the Acoustic Guitar Trio.

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I fabricated accompany with this man Jim McAuley in the ’70s. He was absolutely absorbed with microtonal music and with [iconoclastic American artisan and apparatus inventor] Harry Partch, and endemic some abnormal instruments. Again I heard Rod Poole, who played a 00-18 that had been re-fretted to comedy in aloof intonation. I became a huge fan of his music. I thought, “We’ll see if Jim and Rod and I can get forth and actualize a leash of improvised music.” We started arena calm and—I don’t apperceive if we anytime discussed this—we would actualize an accessible affability on the atom for every piece. We would tune until we would get to a amplitude area we thought, “This is a acceptable start.”

So you would all comedy in altered tunings?

Any tuning, absolutely random, and again alpha playing. I would do best of my arena in that bandage on this aboriginal Baby Taylor. I was accomplishing all these awe-inspiring tunings and assault the hell out of this guitar. I was actually boot on it—prepared guitar, board dowels beneath the strings—and I didn’t accept addition acoustic guitar added than my Martin. I would comedy my Martin back I wasn’t accomplishing some annihilative or prepared-guitar thing. The Baby Taylor got played added generally because of the actuality that I was accomplishing mostly accessible affability and alertness and on-the-spot apocryphal bridges, all those kinds of things. That guitar eventually aloof fell apart. All the animating aloof burst inside. It saw some action, that’s for sure.

So that was what the Acoustic Guitar Leash was. We did it until I abutting Wilco, and again I was gone so abundant that our affairs of apple ascendancy absolutely fizzled. It was a absolutely adamantine affair to do aloof because cipher was decidedly interested!


Not abounding YouTube videos of Nels arena the Curtis Rogers guitar (yet), but here’s an audience-shot one (sorry!) from this year’s Newport Folk Festival, with Warren Haynes arena accelerate and singing, backed by Nels (who does not comedy accelerate on it, but still sounds good!).

This commodity originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

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