love and sockets

Leni Stern is prepped to cut a track with her ngoni as her trusty Custom Shop Strat waits its turn. The guitar's weathering is the result of finish damage by mosquito spray she used while playing festivals in India and Africa.

Two combos are slimmed down for air travel, but beefy enough for a global musical adventurer. And for the ngoni.

Everybody knows it's easy to get a clean, full tone from a Fender Blues Junior and a Strat, but what about a ngoni? That's the 6-stringed Malian instrument that guitarist and singer Leni Stern has adopted as her third core voice. With three plucked and three resonating strings, and a wood, calabash, and animal-skin construction, it seems like a potential nightmare to amplify. But … with the right pickup and her little workhorse combo, she's got it dialed in both live and on her new album Dance—bright and punchy, with just the right touch of air, and a propulsive, fat snap that reveals the ngoni's role in inspiring the banjo while sounding, quite rightfully, from an older, nearly timeless place.

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