Yup! That’s Venice behind me and my
Voyage-Air guitar—an instrument that folds in
half for travel.
My professional battle cry remains:
Have guitar, will travel.
No bar too far, no hall to small.
You buy, I’ll fly.
I go to work, work rarely comes to me.
That means an immense amount of travel
during the course of my so-called job. In
Nashville, anybody with enough money can
hire Brent Mason for his or her project, but
it’s considerably more difficult to get Brent
to travel 3,000 miles for a session.
On the other hand, I’m happy to do it.
Not only that, I’ll do excursion sessions
for much less money than Brent because
I love to travel and I’m not nearly as good
of a player as he is. Everyone wins: The
client gets a solid (though not legendary)
Nashville guitar player, I get to see the
world and make a little Dough Ray Me,
and Brent gets to stay home and earn a fortune
making hit records.
There’s just one glitch: I hate schlepping
gear by air.
With the exception of Southwest, airlines
and their greedy charge-for-checked-bags
policies have made life more difficult for us
all. It’s a shortsighted plan that encourages
passengers to carry on rather than check,
which makes for limited space on an already
crowded plane. Also, the slower boarding
process inevitably leads to fewer on-time
departures. This limited space available in
overhead bins makes the airline very reluctant
to let you carry on a guitar. Five years
ago, I could carry a guitar on a jet 90 percent
of the time. Now it’s 50 percent, at best.
Why I hate checking gear:
• Given enough time, airlines will convert
checked guitars into kindling.
• Music is a business. A business remains
solvent by keeping down expenses. If
I check two guitars for a session, that
$25-per-bag fee per flight translates
into $100 snatched from my profits.
• If my gear does not arrive before I go
to work, I’m screwed.
• Even if it all goes right and my bags
arrive on time and unscathed, I tend
to worry about it and actually lose
sleep over the whole potential mess.
Of course, this leaves me stressed and
brain-dead when it’s time to play music.
When I do a local session, I come loaded
for bear: a couple of amps, five to seven
guitars, and a big old pedalboard that can
get the weirdest sounds anyone might ask
for. But when I fly to a session, it’s a whole
Out of necessity, I’ve cut my bare minimum
down even further. Check it out: I’ve
got this little T-style guitar made by Voyage-
Air with a shorter neck that folds in over the
body. I was very skeptical of the design, thinking
that it would sound like a toy and play
like a Stella flattop circa 1962. Surprisingly,
it sounds very Fender-y and feels like a fat-necked
old friend. Best of all, in its tiny case I
can cram some socks, underwear, toothbrush,
and clean shirt, and still fit the guitar, cables,
picks, capos, slides, strings, my computer (the
case has a padded slot made for laptops), and
my essential pedals (tuner, compressor, overdrive,
tremolo, phaser, and delay).
Trimming down my pedals has not been
a bad thing. We pretty much record exclusively
in the digital realm these days, so a
good engineer in a well-equipped studio
will have a plug-in for any pedal sounds I
may want. These usually sound better than
the gear I have anyway.
Because I’m carrying loose pedals sans
board, I only plug in what I need for a given
song—and sometimes that’s just a tuner. I
let the engineer add delay and other effects
on his end. This gets a truer guitar-and-amp
sound and gives the engineer the luxury of
adding or subtracting any ear candy like
reverb, Leslie, filters, tremolo, and wah.
In addition to this Voyage-Air, I bring
my old PRS in a case and try to carry it
on. The PRS gets me that great humbucker
tone, as well as a convincing enough Strat-like
sound. It also has a whammy bar that
can do everything from sweet, Chris Isaak-inspired
“Wicked Game” shimmers to full-on
The airline will often stop me while
boarding and force me to gate check it, but
at least that’s somewhat safer—the instrument
is less likely to get lost—and completely
free of charge. I used to carry my
PRS in a gig bag, but after being forced to
check it once with nothing but a little leather
and some padding to protect that sweet
set neck, I now leave it in its factory case.
For amps, I’m at the mercy of luck and the
kindness of strangers. Most studios have guitar
amps they don’t mind sharing. When I know
where I’ll be recording, I call the studio, tell
them my plight and ask if there’s something I
can plug into. Ben Franklin said if you want
somebody to bond with you, ask that person
to do you a small favor. Franklin’s theory was
that the person will do the favor because it’s
easy, there’s no reason not to, and in doing
so, they will feel a connection to you—they’ll
want things to go well for you. The helper
assumes that he or she must like you because
they are helping you, and they wouldn’t have
helped you if they didn’t like you.
I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I’ve
found a quick ice-breaking phone call to a
studio makes for a more pleasant recording
experience and can even create some new
friends. My last fly-to session had a Dr. Z
, a Marshall, and a Vox free for the using.
I chose the Z without even test-driving the
others. It worked great, didn’t cost a dime,
and I didn’t have to schlep anything heavy.
The up side of going to a session with
just two guitars and six pedals is that I spend
less time trying different sounds and just go
with what’s handy. More playin’, less tweakin’.
I love my gear, but sometimes it’s freeing
to leave most of it at home and not get
caught up in the trappings of our own consumerism
and never-ending tone quest.
is a Nashville multi-instrumentalist best know for his work in television, having lead the band for all six season of NBC's hit program Nashville Star
, the 2011, 2010 and 2009 CMT Music Awards, as well as many specials for GAC, PBS, CMT, USA and HDTV.
John's music compositions and playing can be heard in several major label albums, motion pictures, over one hundred television spots and Muzak... (yes, Muzak does play some cool stuff.) Visit him at youtube.com/user/johnbohlinger