Today when I make records, a lot of it depends on what we’re cutting. We’ll go in and do a gospel song where we sing four parts around a microphone, I’ll play mandolin and Cody [Kilby] will play guitar, and we’ll cut that live—and we love doing it live like that. But most of the time, we’ll go in and I know what I hear in my head. I give the guys a chart to play, or I’ll sit down and play what the song’s gonna be, and they’ll write it out. We’ll cut a track with no vocal.
Sometimes I’ll go into a vocal booth and sing and maybe even play to where they can hear the groove that I’m hearin’, and then I’ll go back in and fix my guitar and fix my vocal again. But we try to get fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar and bass—and many times banjo, if we’re cutting a track that needs a banjo. In my studio, we don’t have a whole lot of booths; most the stuff is right out in one big, open room and it sounds great. We got big thick, dense foam that’s like 8 feet long and maybe 4 to 5 feet wide, and we set them on their side and we sort of build ourselves in a little den there so we have some separation and we’ll cut thataway.
You’ve recently been involved with the creation of a couple of amazing acoustic guitars, the Bourgeois Ricky Skaggs Limited Edition and the new Paul Reed Smith acoustics, the Tonare Grand and the Angelus. You’ve had a long relationship with Dana Bourgeois, but how did you get involved with PRS?
Almost four years ago now, Paul Reed Smith came to me and brought me some really rough prototypes—they were very, very prototype, but he brought them to me anyway. He said, “I’ve called around the country and I’ve asked a lot of musicians, ‘If I was gonna create a great acoustic guitar, who should I get to walk with me through this process?’ and your name kept coming up as the guy to get in touch with, so I’m just bringing these before you so you can look at ‘em.” So I looked at ‘em and saw that they were a little thinner bodywise than the Bourgeois dreadnoughts and Martins that I’d been playing—but boy, when I strummed the instrument the first time the thing just jumped out of my hands. I realized right then that they were really on to something.
I said, “We gotta find something that sounds good, plays good and looks good, and all your electric guitars play great, so you’ve got that part of it down. We just gotta make sure that part gets transferred to the necks of these acoustic guitars.” So many times, you know, you find a great-sounding acoustic guitar and the neck is just hard to play—it’s not friendly. At 55 years old, I don’t want to have to be working to play an
PRS Tonare Grand
Bourgeois Ricky Skaggs Limited
Edition Bourgeois OM
1931 Gibson L5 Archtop
1959 Martin D28
1942 Martin 000-21 Herringbone
1935 National Dobro Guitar
1957 Fender Telecaster
Gretsch Country Gentleman
Danelectro 6-String Baritone
Fender Dual Professional
Lab Series L9
Roland Space Echo
instrument, I want the instrument to play me. That’s what I’ve always tried to find, instruments that inspire me and play me… I think that’s the mark of a great guitar, a great instrument of any kind—one that inspires the player to the point it is playing you, you’re just holding it. So I love these PRS guitars. Both models are awesome.
What about the Bourgeois?
We talked about doin’ a signature model a couple years ago, and I said, “Well, let’s think about doin’ something that’s a dreadnought, like a D150, but really dressed out, beautiful to look at, wonderful to play, something that would be like a collector’s item. We don’t want to do a D45, but if you could do a Bourgeois to the nth degree, what would you want to do?” So we talked about AAA fancy Brazillian rosewood sides and back, really choice Adirondack spruce tops. And we wanted to dress the tuning keys up, so I think there’s ‘RS’ on all the tuning keys. He said, what would I think about a fossilized ivory bridge, and I said I thought it’d be beautiful. I saw an old parlor guitar years ago that had an old pickguard with some silver wire in it, and it was just gorgeous, but he told me about silver wire and how hard it is to get in there. But also, as the years go and these pickguards shrink and expand, that wire gets loose and starts to raise up, so it’s kind of hard on the player. Then we talked and decided we’d just do pearl inlay; that’ll just expand with the pickguard. I think we came up with something really pretty, and it’s not overdone, it’s not understated, and they’re great-sounding guitars. It records so well. And we just did ten of these guitars… I think we only have maybe two or three left to sell now. There’s nobody makes a better dreadnought bluegrass acoustic guitar than Dana Bourgeois. I just think his sound, the playability of these guitars, especially for bluegrass style, they’re just great guitars for that.