Rig Rundown: Buffalo Nichols

Although this singular stylist is based in country blues, his music reaches for the cosmos! Check out his dazzling array of pedals and rhythm boxes, and the classic instruments he uses to make trailblazing sounds live and on his new album, The Fatalist.

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Photo by Andy Ellis

The “inside” story of spiders, T-bridges, biscuits, and cones—and how the instruments that incorporate them became the sound of the American dream.

Everyone in my family plays a musical instrument. As a kid I wanted to play too, but someone else was already playing guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle, and that made it very difficult to choose my own instrument. I longed to find one that would be mine alone. I wanted to stand out.

One Saturday afternoon, I was watching television with my dad. We were checking out his favorite bluegrass band, led by guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo picker Earl Scruggs, who had the Flatt and Scruggs Grand Ole Opry Show, sponsored by Martha White flour. The band was gathered around a single microphone when suddenly one of the players by the name of Uncle Josh Graves came up from the back. I noticed he wasn’t holding his guitar in the usual way. It was suspended horizontally by its strap, and he played with his hands hovering over the top of the guitar. His left hand gripped a metal bar, which he pressed against the strings.

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